While traveling through Bosnia and Herzegovina several years ago, I saw a street performer in Sarajevo. There’s really nothing unusual about this, street performers are everywhere in Europe and I would have passed him by if my fellow traveler hadn’t stopped me to watch. After a few minutes, my companion walked up to the ordinary looking musician and they started talking in Japanese like old friends. This man, it seems, was known in Japan, not for his magic, but because he left Japan on a bicycle with just a few dollars in his pocket and has been cycling around the world ever since.
Through my friend I learned that Keiichi Iwasaki had recently arrived from Albania, riding his 3-speed bicycle over mountainous terrain and camping wherever he was tired. When in a city, Kei would perform magic tricks, hoping for enough change from spectators for a meal. When things went well and he was feeling flush, Kei would spring for a night in a hostel, other times he and his bike would find an out of the way spot in a park and hope to be allowed to stay and avoid the police.
With Kei was a charming Japanese woman with an easy smile. Kei explained through my traveling companion that he had met Yuka while traveling, and she had decided to join him on his journey. He doesn’t talk about her on his website, at least not in English, but this article from the Urbino Project makes me hopeful that they’re still together.
This ordinary air-conditioner repairman has lived more in the last 12 years than most people do in 80 years of life. He’s seen the best of people and the worst, climbed Mount Everest and rowed the edges of the Caspian Sea. He’s collected a string of friends and admirers across Europe and Asia, and I’m sure he leaves a more personal with the young people that love watching his simple magic tricks, delivered with a smile and a laugh. A fascinating life so far, and he's still on the road.
I wish I knew more about Kei. I would love to follow his journey, but most of his website is in Japanese. I'll have to be satisified with the occasional post in English, or the random magazine article that appears.
I started thinking about Kei when I came across his photo in my stash. There isn’t much written about him, and for some reason this struck me as odd. A man and his bike travel over 40 or so countries, thousands of miles, and it’s barely news. National Geographic has done a nice piece, and there are few other bits scattered about the web, but no big stories that I could find. Are you only news if you’re the fastest, or the oldest, or the craziest? Why can’t you be news if you are just an excellent example of humanity, quietly making people smile on your slow journey through the world?