Monthly Archives: September 2014

Northern Honshu

DSC03319Northern Honshu is Hokkaido’s bigger brother, the mountains are higher with a myriad of rivers carving deep valleys and gorges down to the sea. The roads are steeper and as long as you avoid the main ones very quiet. They take you through neat villages where all sorts of fruits are grown. From persimmons to huge apples and pears to vines and peaches. Rice fields are tucked into the smallest of spaces with vegetable gardens next to every house. Bamboo and cedar groves cover the mountains with their lush green foliage.

DSC03260DSC03338The leaves were just starting to turn autumnal as we started heading south. We caught a ferry from Tomakomai,  Hokkaido to Akita on the north west coast of Honshu. This was quite an achievement considering nobody at the ferry terminal spoke english and everything was written in japanese. We slept on the floor in one of the dormotories. Fortunately we had time to get our mattresses, not being quite as stoical as the japanese.

Akita is a modern city with a compact centre with some older housing, home to most of the restaurants just off the main drag. There is a great range of eateries in Japan but it can be difficult to tell what they are from outside. The ones in malls are generally easy to decipher as they have an array of plastic food on show in the window. Some have photographs on their menus but most just have japanese script. We ventured into one of these one evening forgetting our japanese phrasebook. They were very helpful and we managed to get something to eat!

Temple in the evening

Temple in the evening

From Akita we headed down the coast a bit before cutting inland along the beautiful Mogami river picking up route 9, a small road that wound around cliff edges giving fantastic views of the countryside. The farms were all small scale and the farmers were busy either with their mini combine harvesters or even manually harvesting the rice.

We again were lucky with the weather climbing the Shirabu pass and then the Funaka pass over into lake Onagawa in clear weather. We still are managing to stay in campsites. Some have been closed, but all have been very quiet and set in beautiful landscapes. Most seemed to be set on the side of a mountain which usually meant climbing a few more kilometres after a long day in the saddle.

Cycling on route 9 next to the Mogami river

Cycling on route 9 next to the Mogami river

We have found the Japanese to be very friendly and although they don’t speak much english very generous. Offering us food from their barbecues and an old lady selling fruit by the side of the road kept on giving us peaches. The roads got a bit busier with more high end cars and motorbikes as we made our way through the ski areas of Nasu on to Nikko. For some reason the Japanese bikers are into Harleys and some pretty weird choppers despite having a huge motorcycle industry of their own.


Lake Kussharo

Lake Kussharo

Hokkaido is my idea of the perfect place to go cycle touring. Beautiful mountain scenery, gentle gradients and quiet roads.  Not to mention excellent cheap camp sites, wonderful food and plenty of “onsen”,  japanese public baths, often in hot springs. DSC03137

We posted our bikes and most of our panniers on to Hokkaido from Tokyo airport using the excellent carrier service in Japan. They were scheduled to arrive when we did and with typical Japanese efficiency they did, all in one piece as well! We stayed the first couple of nights in Sapporo with Ken and Hsiu-hsia  our warm-showers hosts. They were brilliant and  helped us plan our route, as well as looking after us very well. Ken had spent 4 years cycling around the world a few years ago.DSC03147

Sapporo is easy to cycle around and there were bikes everywhere, some of them not parked in the correct bays were getting parking tickets. After 2 days of being spoilt, we headed up the west coast of Hokkaido along an impressive coastline with mountains tumbling right down to the sea. There were plenty of tunnels to get through and we mainly had plenty of room on the hard shoulder. The traffic was pretty quiet and Japanese drivers are very considerate.  The scenery was fantastic.DSC03219

The campsites were all very quiet, often free or less than 1000 yen about £5. There were rarely any showers, instead you went to the nearby onsen for a communal hot bath. These were segregated by sex. You stripped off and then had a thorough wash before dipping into the hot baths. After a sweaty day on the road it was a great way to recover.

We headed into the centre of Hokkaido. The maximum gradient we had to climb was 8%, a pleasant change from the Turkish mountains. The weather was glorious with amazing scenery. The mountains in Hokkaido are mainly volcanic. Five are still considered active so plenty of thermal activity with an abundance of hot springs. The caldera have been filled by lakes and the mountains are tree covered. In the more remote areas there is a risk from Higuma, fierce brown bears related to the North American grizzly, fortunately we didn’t meet any.

There are numerous skiing areas and some had a distinct alpine feel.  The weather finally broke and we took shelter in a hotel by Lake Ankan for a couple of nights. The food is excellent. Seafood is so fresh and relatively cheap, wild salmon is a local delicacy and tastes completely different to the farmed stuff.  Huge scallops and shrimps and all kinds of fish can be bought readily in most of the supermarkets. The ground is black and fertile so all sorts of crops are grown, from flowers to root vegetables, pumpkins, cabbages and sweet corn.

DSC03237Temperatures were dropping and leaves changing colour. People are friendly and helpful. The road signs are also in English, but we rarely found anyone who spoke it. We covered 1200km in 3 weeks and loved the mountains and all the lakes. We caught a ferry to Akita on Honshu, to carry on our journey south.





Tokyo is amazing!!! (I miss the) Tokyo Skyline………..

DSC03087We could have flown back to Central Asia to carry on where we left off but we both decided we would like a change. We were planning on going to Japan at some stage, why not now? We would be there for autumn and the weather should be good. We boxed up the bikes and flew to Tokyo with Turkish Airlines. We had booked an Airbnb with Matthew in Tokyo  and were planning on staying a few days before heading up to Hokkaido. Tokyo was wonderful, but humid with temperatures in the high 30s. It is a huge city of over 13 million people connected by an excellent network of trains with tens of different subway lines often run by different companies. It is made up of 23 separate municipalities and each is a city unto itself.

We spent 5 days exploring it and touched only a small part. It is so diverse ranging from state of the art high rise buildings and malls to quiet parks, beaches, and amusement parks. It is all very clean with no litter and feels very safe. It is generally much quieter than most cities apart from a few districts like Shibuya, an area full of  clothes shops where the piped music really does your head in.

The crossing at Shibuya just ouside the metro station.

The crossing at Shibuya just ouside the metro station.

DSC03069It is a great city to cycle round with the municipalities only separated by a km or so. We posted our bikes on to Hokkaido so ended up booking on a cycling tour for 1 day. There are plenty of cycle lanes and if the roads are busy everyone cycles on the pavements.

The architecture is fantastic and despite the variety of buildings doesn’t seem to jar. Some of the buildings are connected by walkways above the roads which makes for a much more relaxing experience away from the traffic. There are whole blocks full of restaurants ,which can make deciding where to eat more difficult faced with so much choice. You can find Ramen (noodle bars) everywhere, you pay at a machine outside and hand the tickets over to collect your delicious ramen.