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Braving a Japanese bus tour

I'VE always revelled in getting off the beaten path and sleeping under bridges and taking unseaworthy cargo ships to remote islands in the South Pacific. So for me, straying from the beaten path means trying something more normal.

Recently I found myself on the incomplete-SBS- logo-shaped Japanese island of Sado with no plans or wheels. I hand over more than 50 dollars worth of crisp yen notes and booked myself into a day tour with other guests all roughly twice my age.

The bus tour in Japan is a tightly controlled activity where one is assigned a seat number and a neatly dressed woman with a pocket full of pre-packaged jokes does a roll call.

"First, we'll be panning for some gold," my host informs us in polite Japanese with the aid of a microphone.

"Now, it's like a gold buffet, so take as much as you like."


The bus erupts in polite laughter and I naively picture a group of us bathed in sunshine, panning for gold at a small stream in the hills.

Instead, we sit in a row under a roof panning from a long trough with plastic bowls. Twenty minutes later I have a few specks of gold dust in a tiny cylinder and we are on our way to our next destination: a tiny seaside village.

I'm already feeling cabin fever, so I sneak away from the group and walk through a hidden bamboo grove clinging to the side of the hill where I steal a few minutes of sanity.

Next on the agenda is a quick delicious lunch. Then I am whisked around a harbour in a traditional wooden "tub boat". At the helm is a talkative woman in her seventies with a toothy grin. The tour concludes with a visit to a conservation park where the locally endangered species of bird is nurtured and showcased.

Being Australian, I perhaps don't get quite as excited as the other guests when we finally catch a glimpse of the ibis.

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