From Nikko we headed up into the mountains, slogging up the Irohazaka Climb, the Japanese version of the Alp d’Huez but with only 20 hairpin bends. This got us up to lake Chuzenji a beautiful lake with autumn colours appearing on the hill sides and waterfalls tumbling down. Then another climb up to the Akechidaira plateau which is a stunning marshland. Then more waterfalls, more climbing, reds, orange and greens. We finally made it through a tunnel at the top of the col, dropping down to find a place to camp on a ski slope.
We loved the japanese mountains. The roads are good and mostly quiet and the scenery is jaw dropping. It was getting colder at night but the days were still warm. We cycled down to Matsumoto a beautiful city nestling amongst the Japanese alps and stayed for a few days sheltering from a Typhoon.
Then up through the Alps heading down towards Kyoto. We followed route 158 which unfortunately turned out to be a busy road with coachloads of tourists heading up to see the autumn colours through some long tunnels. You get to appreciate clean air when you share a tunnel over 1km long with some heavy traffic ! Rather than face the three and a half kilometre tunnel through the mountain top we took the old pass over the top. This was quiet, the only slight worry was to see one of the volcanoes smoking from the top. We were about 50km away from Mt Ontake.
We were lucky enough to see a total eclipse of the moon whilst staying in the old city of Takayama. It is one of the few Japanese cities which managed to avoid the relentless modernising of the 1970s.
From Takayama we followed the Hida river as it carved it’s way out of the alps towards the sea. Leaving behind quiet roads for a metropolis of cities which stretch all the way across the plain. We managed to find cycle tracks along the river. We headed past Lake Biwa into Kyoto a day earlier than planned to take cover from another approaching Typhoon.
Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and has 17 world heritage sights 1600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines not to mention a fantastic modern station. A great place to shelter from a typhoon. It is popular for cycling. The only problem is where to park your bike. There are bicycle traffic wardens who will sticker your bike and remove it if you leave it in the wrong place. We did manage to find an underground bike park where you can safely leave your bike complete with a special conveyor belt to get it back up again.
We spent 3 days exploring Kyoto but were lightweights on the temple and shrine count only managing a few. The first we saw was the most impressive the Sanjusangendo Temple built in the 1200’s with statues of 1001 Kannon-Bosatsu each five and a half feet tall, carved out of wood and covered in gold leaf.
It is a great place to wander around with lots of different neighbourhoods. We loved the ultramodern station complete with 15 floors of open spaces malls and hotels.