Category Archives: Tours

June Diary

It’s been a great June. We’ve done some riding, some planning and some interacting with other cycle tourists. Our summer tour to Hokkaido grows closer each day, and we’re getting more and more excited. This is what we’ve been up to this month.

Bikes, tents, beautiful scenery: it's why we do what we do.

Bikes, tents, beautiful scenery: it’s why we do what we do.

The month begain with an overnight trip to nearby Lake Inawashiro. We sent our gear in the car with our friends, and rode our unladen bikes over the Ou Mountains. On the other side, we camped for free on the shore of the lake. We ate amazing barbecue food, drinking beer and playing cards as the sun went down. There are some pictures here. A week later, we rode past the same spot on day one of the charity event Cycle Aid Japan. Over the course of 160km of riding, we made some new friends, and gave ourselves some pretty impressive tan lines. It was exhausting, but very satisfying. You can read our report here.

It was his butterfly handlebars that made me suspect he was a cycle tourist. It turned out that Ushijima-sensei has cycled all over the world. He gave us details of his homepage.

It was his butterfly handlebars that made me suspect he was a cycle tourist. It turned out that Ushijima-sensei has cycled all over the world. He gave us details of his homepage.

Things are falling into place for our summer trip to Hokkaido. Our bikes will make the journey there by courier, and we’ll take a slow train over a couple of days. Our travel plans are here. Exploring the volcanic Shikotsu-Toya National park is how we’ll spend the first week of our tour. Clare and Andy, our friends in Hokkaido, will join us for a weekend of riding, then our destination is Rishiri Island in the far north. More details here. Preparations are going well – we’re just waiting on a few deliveries right now. It’s only three weeks away, and our excitement is starting to build.

We’ve had some interaction with other cycle tourists this month. Stefano got in touch with some questions about cycle touring in Tohoku during August. We answered them in this blog post. Eric and Amaya from World Biking arranged to stay with us via the Warm Showers network. The idea of hosting them really excited us; we were looking forward to hearing stories from their seven years on the road. Unfortunately, the visit fell through. Maybe our paths will cross some other time instead.

Lastly, we’ve been experimenting with some other online services. Byron from the excellent Tokyo By Bike blog introduced us to Flipboard. This is an example of a cycle touring magazine we’ve curated. What do you think?

We’ve had a great June, and we’re looking forward to a great July too. Next month is all about Hokkaido. We’ll spend the first part of the month getting ready for the trip, and the last part riding around a beautiful national park. We can’t wait.

Reading List

Each month we collect a few articles that we’ve enjoyed reading lately into a list. Here are our picks for June.

Our top pick is Cycling Dutch Girl’s post about her trip to Hokkaido, Avoiding Bears, Finding Beers and Going Bare. We loved the photos, especially as we’re visiting many of the places pictured on our own trip.

Joe Cruz at Pedalling in Place wrote about an amazing day in the Dolomites. Find out here how he got on with his folding bike amongst a peleton of thousands of road bikes. Again great pictures, and a great article.

We really enjoyed this article by Devon and Charlotte of Travelling Carrs. Their two days in Albania were manic, it seems, but also a huge amount of fun. Very entertaining.

Finally, in the light of our CTQOTW about bear safety, we recommend reading Nick’s post about how he survived a bear attack. It’s harrowing stuff. Find it here.

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Hokkaido Countdown

This time next month we’ll be in Hokkaido at the start of three weeks of cycle touring. Here’s an update on our plan so far.

Getting there:

We’re using the Seishun 18 Ticket to get to Hokkaido. It’s an amazing deal: unlimited travel on local trains for just over ¥2000 per person per day. We’re taking a leisurely journey from Fukushima to Hokkaido over the course of two days. Our first day sees us travel from our home in Koriyama to Aomori, travelling 512km in just over 10 hours.

Ten hours. Better find a good book or three for the trip.

Ten hours. Better find a good book or three for the trip.

The next day, we’ll travel through the Seikan Tunnel to Hokkaido, and then on to Date-Mombetsu via Hakodate and Oshamambe. We’ll collect our bikes, then begin the cycling part of our trip.

Cycling Part One: Shikotsu-Toya National Park

We’re spending the first part of our trip exploring the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The park is an area of volcanic activity, with plenty of cool stuff to see. Its two large lakes, Lake Toya and Lake Shikotsu, give the park its name. We hope to explore the lava dome of Showa-shinzan, and to climb nearby Mt Usu. There are opportunities for canoeing on both lakes, which will make a nice change from exploring by bike. Volcanic activity means there are several onsen in the area, where we’ll be able to enjoy a soothing mineral bath. This guidebook can tell you more about what’s on offer in the park.

Shikotsu Toya National Park Map

Shikotsu Toya National Park Map

Cycling Part Two: Iwamizawa and beyond

Our friends Clare and Andy live in Hokkaido. They are pretty much the reason that we came to Japan. Their decision to leave England and sign up for the JET Programme inspired us to take similar steps a year later. In an unexpected twist, they have also developed an interest in bicycle touring during their time here. We’re aiming to get to their place in Iwamizawa by the 25th or 26th so that we can ride with them over the weekend. We’re not sure of a direction or a route yet, only of the fine company we’ll keep.

Cycling Part Three: Northwards to Rishiri Island

The final part of our trip is the most loosely planned. We’ll work our way up the west coast to Rishiri Island at the far north of Hokkaido, passing through other national and prefectural parks, and camping with our tent facing the sunset over the sea. Rishiri Island rises from the Sea of Japan, so we’ll get there by ferry from Wakkanai. If we have time, we might explore further, to nearby Rebun Island, or down the east coast of the Hokkaido mainland.

Getting home

We’ll send our bikes home by courier, in the same way that we sent them up to Hokkaido. Our general plan for getting ourselves home is also much looser. We’ll probably take several local trains using the Seishun 18 ticket, or maybe we’ll hop on a ferry to Sendai. We’ll decide nearer to the time.

The excitement is starting to build. Slowly, as things fall into place, I’m starting to look forward to our adventure more and more. Of course, we have a to-do list that’s as long as my arm. But for now, I’m just enjoying the anticipation.

Let us know your thoughts about our plans in the comments below.

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Reader Question: Touring in Tohoku

We received an email about cycle touring in Tohoku from Stefano. We thought we’d reply with a blog post, in case any other readers have similar questions.


Hello,

we are thinking of coming to Northern Honshu in August for some cycle touring. Do you know this area and what kind of climate to expect?!

Our ambition would be to visit some more humble rustic areas, not necessarily go great distances – maybe 40 miles per day for a week in a scenic area, arriving by train (with low geared Bromptons) from Tokyo.

Could you recommend any areas – preferably inland rather than coastal??

thank you,

Stefano


Hi Stefano,

Thanks for getting in touch. I’ll try to answer your questions.

First of all, we live in the Tohoku region of Japan. Tohoku consists of the six northernmost prefectures in Honshu: Aomori; Akita; Iwate; Miyagi; Yamagata; Fukushima. We live in Koriyama, a medium sized city in Fukushima prefecture. Much of Tohoku is rural, so if you’re seeking the rustic, you’ll have lots to choose from.

Some recommendations of things to do and see, and routes to ride:

  • Ouchijuku is an Edo-period postal town in the south of Fukushima prefecture, with straw roofed buildings and traditional crafts on display.
  • Nikko is a small town in Tochigi with several famous temples and shrines, including the mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns.
  • The Abukuma-do caves are limestone caves in Central Fukushima.
  • Riding along the Abukuma River was one of the highlights of our Honshu Coast to Coast tour. From Nasu, you can follow the river for 150 miles to the Pacific Ocean. The golden rice fields will look amazing at that time of year.
  • For inspiration on day routes to ride in Tohoku, take a look at the Cycle Aid Japan 2013 website. Many of the middle courses would fit inside your 40 mile daily target. We took part in the event last week.
  • August is a time of festivals in Japan. Most towns will have some kind of matsuri going on during the summer. The three big summer festivals in Tohoku are:
    • The Akita Kanto festival: many lanterns carried on spectacular bamboo structures.
    • The Sendai Tanabata festival: giant paper dolls decorate the streets of the city.
    • The Aomori Nebuta festival: beautifully painted paper lanterns illuminated by candlelight.

    Any of those would be an unforgettable experience. If you want something smaller, check the Prefectural Tourism websites via the links below to find out about local festivals too.

Climate: August in Japan is hot. For us, coming from England, it’s really hot. What kind of temperatures are you used to? Daytime temperatures in Fukushima regularly break 30°C during August, with the north a little cooler, around 25°C. It can also be very humid. Be prepared, and pack hot weather clothing, sunglasses and a cool hat. If you plan on camping, a light sleeping bag should be fine.

Trains: It’s great that you’re bringing Bromptons. It will give you a lot of freedom to move between different areas by train or bus. If you plan on making several rail journeys, it might be worth considering either the JR East Pass, which lets you ride the bullet trains and express trains, or the Seishun 18 Ticket, which only lets you ride local trains, but is much cheaper. Both are a good deal, and both can be purchased once you get to Japan. Bikes on trains in Japan must be bagged, but with a folding bike that’s not too difficult.

There’s a lot on offer in Tohoku in summer. Travelling by train and folding bike is a great way to experience this part of Japan. If you have any other questions, please let us know.

Have a great trip.

David and Laura


We’ve put together a reading list of useful links below:

Official Tourism Information in English by prefecture:

General information about cycling in Japan:
Kancycling: a great site that’s full of useful information
Japan Cycling Navigator: another excellent source of information
Tokyo by Bike: Byron focuses on issues affecting urban cyclists, and much of what he talks about applies to all cyclists in Japan.

Do YOU have anything to add about cycling in Tohoku? Please join the conversation in the comments below.

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Summer Tour to Hokkaido – First Plans

From July 20th, we’ll be spending three weeks cycle touring in Hokkaido. This is a summary of our plan so far. We’ll say a little about Hokkaido, how we’re getting there from Fukushima, and what we want to do when we’re there. We’ve also included some useful links for other tourists who are planning a similar trip.

Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island.

Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island.

About Hokkaido

Hokkaido is the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands, and the most recently settled. It has a cooler climate than the rest of the country, which means that it can support a different kind of agriculture; uniquely in Japan, Hokkaido is famous for dairy products. Its cooler climate makes it a very popular destination for cycle tourists, especially during the summer months when the rest of Japan is hot and humid. Hokkaido is not densely populated, which further adds to its appeal for cycle tourists. It is home to several of Japan’s national parks, and has many areas of undisturbed forest, as well as dramatic volcanic mountain ranges. Its natural beauty is another big draw for us. We had a great time in Sapporo when we visited during Winter last year, and so we’re excited to see summer in Hokkaido too.

Hokkaido's warm summer climate.

Hokkaido’s warm summer climate.

Getting there

We looked into a few different ways of getting to Hokkaido from our home in Fukushima. This table outlines the costs and respective times for some different transport options.

Method Time Costs
(two people, one way)
Seishun 18 Ticket Two days ¥11,000 Train ticket for five trips
¥8,000 shipping bikes
¥4,000 shipping panniers
¥23,000 total cost
Ferry via Sendai 36 hours ¥18,000 passenger fares
¥6,000 bikes fare
¥4,000 shipping panniers
¥6,000 train to Sendai
¥34,000 total cost
Fast trains
– bullet train to Aomori
– express train to Sapporo
8 hours 30 mins ¥40,610 passenger fares
¥8,000 shipping bikes
¥4,000 shipping panniers
¥52,620 total cost
Hokutosei sleeper train
(Koriyama to Sapporo)
18 hours ¥51,000 passenger fares
¥8,000 shipping bikes
¥4,000 shipping panniers
¥63,000 total cost
Fly from Sendai 6 hours ¥62,000 passenger fares
¥8,000 shipping bikes
¥4,000 shipping panniers
¥6,000 train to Sendai
¥90,000 total cost

The Seishun 18 ticket offers the best compromise between speed, cost and comfort, in our opinion. We will ship our bags and bikes ahead of us, and travel by local train up to Aomori, where we’ll stay overnight, before travelling by local train again into Hokkaido.

When we’re there

Hokkaido has a lot to offer. We’re still trying to choose what to include on our trip, and what we have to leave out. What do we know so far? Our friends Clare and Andy are English teachers from the UK, who live just outside Sapporo. They are also keen cycle tourists, so we’re looking forward to riding with them for a few days. David wants to visit the northern tip of Hokkaido, at Cape Soya, and nearby Rishiri Island. Sapporo holds a annual summer festival, and this year it runs from July 21st until August 15th – roughly the same time as our trip.

Reading list

Here are a few links to do with cycle touring in Hokkaido.

Long Ride Home: Pete Gostelow’s Long Ride Home journal includes a section where he’s warming up in Hokkaido.
Peter Westcoast’s Autumn in Hokkaido journal
David and Adele Arthur toured Hokkaido on folding bikes.
Adam and Beth made this great documentary about their trip, Cycling Japan’s Abandoned Rail.

Can you help?

Do you have any tips on cycle touring in Hokkaido? Have you been there in summer? Is there something that you think is unmissable? Are there any horror stories you want to share? Please let us know in the comments below.

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Inawashiro Overnight Trip

Some friends organised a camping trip to Lake Inawashiro, and we decided to go there by bike. There’s no way to avoid the range of hills between our home and the campsite, but luckily our friends offered to take all of our camping and cooking gear in their car, which made our ride much easier.

The rice fields are planted, and the first shoots are starting to grow.

The rice fields are planted, and the first shoots are starting to grow.

"The next seven km has quite a lot of climbing." "No problem."

“The next seven km has quite a lot of climbing.”
“No problem.”

The lake is on the other side of those hills.

The lake is on the other side of those hills.

We left home on a familiar road, past the Culture Park and towards Naganuma. At the Laurel Valley golf course, we turned on to local route 67, and began to climb. The road narrowed as we pushed on uphill into the forest, and soon it became barely wide enough for a single vehicle to pass. It grew steeper and steeper still, and before long we’d worked through our gears, and were exhausted. We stopped and rested, then started again.

The road became steeper as we climbed the hill.

The road became steeper as we climbed the hill.

The road was narrow, and quiet. We only met a handful of vehicles as we pushed on through the woods.

The road was narrow, and quiet. We only met a handful of vehicles as we pushed on through the woods.

The forest on the west side of the hill had ferns amongst the evergreens.

The forest on the west side of the hill had ferns amongst the evergreens.

David is probably still a little heavy for this top.

David is probably still a little heavy for this top.

The twisting course of our route and the high trees made it difficult to get any sense of progress towards the top of the pass, so we relied on the speedometer to judge how far we had to travel. Eventually, the gradient defeated us, and we decided to get off and push our bikes over the final kilometre or two. The downhill route was full of blind corners, so our descent was measured and cautious. We broke out of the forest, to a stunning view of Mt Bandai in the distance, and a long straight road ahead of us.

Mt Bandai in the distance, along a glorious straight downhill road.

Mt Bandai in the distance, along a glorious straight downhill road.

There's still snow on the top of Mt Bandai.

There’s still snow on the top of Mt Bandai.

The hill we'd climbed over is in the background. With its gradient of 7% over 7km, it was probably a category 2 or 3 climb.

The hill we’d climbed over is in the background. With its gradient of 7% over 7km, it was probably a category 2 or 3 climb.

Through the small town towards the lakeside.

Through the small town towards the lakeside.

We camped on the south-east shore of the lake, in what seemed to be a semi-official but entirely free of charge campsite. There were toilet facilities, a dishwashing and grilling block, and a big parking area. But there was no office, no signpost, and nobody collecting camping fees. A family with a huge frame tent were set up in the woods, and not far from them were a group of younger people with small dome tents. We chose a quiet spot where the grass of the woods merged with the sand of the beach and set up our tents.

Our tents, at the edge of the grass and the sandy beach.

Our tents, at the edge of the grass and the sandy beach.

Eric grilling alongside Mt Bandai and Lake Inawashiro.

Eric grilling alongside Mt Bandai and Lake Inawashiro.

Bikes, tents, beautiful scenery: it's why we do what we do.

Bikes, tents, beautiful scenery: it’s why we do what we do.

Our barbecue was a feast: spiced belly pork; a whole chicken, spatchcocked, Jamacian jerk style; gourmet sausages; tender beef steak; garlic prawn and chorizo skewers; whole mackerel; langoustines. We played cards and drank beer as the sun went down.

Mist rolled across the lake at dawn, hiding the mountain from us.

Mist rolled across the lake at dawn, hiding the mountain from us.

The red buttons are hot drinks, the blue buttons are cold drinks. Let's have a coffee!

The red buttons are hot drinks, the blue buttons are cold drinks. Let’s have a coffee!

Our campsite was at the 5 o'clock position on the lake.

Our campsite was at the 5 o’clock position on the lake.

The next day we decided to go home a different way, so as to get to know two routes through the hills. We took local route 6, which is more direct, but goes through a long-ish tunnel. We climbed gently from the lakeside, stopping a vending machine for a hot coffee, and soon arrived at the start of the tunnel. A narrow pavement meant we pushed our bikes the full 1365m of its length. Once we’d cleared the tunnel, it was downhill all the way home. We stopped for sandwiches made from barbecue leftovers, and let gravity guide us back to our front door.

The tunnel took us through, rather than over, the hills.

The tunnel took us through, rather than over, the hills.

Tunnels often have decorative metalwork at the entrances and exits. Can motorists see them, or are they going too fast?

Tunnels often have decorative metalwork at the entrances and exits. Can motorists see them, or are they going too fast?

The metalwork boats on this tunnel wall show that the lake is on the other side.

The metalwork boats on this tunnel wall show that the lake is on the other side.

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May Diary

The highlight of our month was a Coast to Coast tour across Honshu. We booked a little time off work, and spent a week travelling through Fukushima, Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures. Our route took us over some tough hills, and through some pretty hairy tunnels. The fields of rural Japan were finally waking up to springtime, and the last of the cherry blossoms were slowly fading away. We had the chance to try out all of our gear, with our rainwear getting an especially thorough test in the wet conditions at the end of the week. Despite the bad weather, we had a wonderful time. If you’d like to read more about it, you can see out CGOAB diary here, and a set of photos we put onto Flickr here.

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea


We’ve also been on several day rides. The botanical gardens at Sukagawa are only a short hop away down the river, so we invited some other English teachers from our area to join us for a group excursion and picnic. It was a beautiful day, as you can see from the photos at our gallery page here. We also went out for a couple of afternoon rides, including a fully loaded training ride to Miharu Dam, and a quick dash along the Konan highway. It feels very satisfying to say that we have been out on our bikes every weekend this month.

When we’ve not been riding our bikes, we’ve been busy planning our summer tour to Hokkaido. Japan’s northernmost main island has a cooler climate than the rest of the country, and is a very popular cycle touring destination during the humid summer months. We’re planning to meet up with our friends Clare and Andy, who live just outside Sapporo. They are also keen cycle tourists, so we’re looking forward to riding with them for a few days. There’s a little more information about our plans so far at this page, including a few interesting links to do with cycle touring in Hokkaido. We’ll add an updated plan as we make more choices nearer the time.

Warm Showers is a hospitality exchange network for cycle tourists all over the world. We signed up as hosts in February, and this month we had our first hospitality request. We’re really excited about hosting Amaya and Eric from World Biking as they travel through Japan. Eric and Amaya are on a quest to cycle in every country on the planet, and we’re glad to be able to support the Japan leg of their epic mission.

Tom Bruce’s amazing journey through the harsh Karakalpakstan desert featured in our March reading list. This month he released his book, Every Inch of the Way: My Bike Ride Around the World, and we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. Our review is available here.

June is another busy month for us. As well as hosting Amaya and Eric, we’re participating in the charity cycling event Cycle Aid Japan 2013, so we’re riding around Lake Inawashiro on June 8th, and then from Inawashiro town to Fukushima city on June 9th. We’re cycling out to meet some friends for a spot of lakeside camping on June 1st and 2nd, and on June 15th and 16th we’re going on a road trip to Akita. In June we’ll also be putting together a more detailed plan for our trip to Hokkaido, and picking up any extra gear we need for our summer trip.

Reading List

This month’s reading list includes an amazing touring story. We also develop the discussion of some topics we’ve covered in previous posts, and look at a new one.

Our pick of the month is a tour journal across Lake Baikal in Siberia. Andy and Waltraud cycled on the frozen surface of the lake for more than 1000km, in temperatures that reached 40 degrees below freezing. Their site includes videos and kit lists. Jaw-dropping stuff.

Further to the article by Shane Cycles about touring with folding bikes in our April reading list, we recommend looking at Tom Allen’s assessment of touring on the Tern Link P24h folding bike.

We talked about cycling with technology in a Cycle Touring Question of the Week recently. There’s a comprehensive breakdown of dynamo hubs, solar panels, power supplies and batteries over at Cycling About. If a fuller exploration of cycle tourists’ charging options exists, we’ve yet to find it.

The Adventure Cycling Association wrote an interesting piece for cycle tourists on how to be a good guest.

Finally, we recommend checking out Japan By Bicycle, an excellent touring journal. As well as a blog, the site includes a video documentary and a free 300 page ebook. It’s easy to get lost in all the detail they’ve included.

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Honshu Coast to Coast – Gallery (part 2)

Here are some more pictures from our Honshu coast to coast trip that we made at the start of the month. You can read our quick report here, and our Crazy Guy on a Bike journal for the trip here. These pictures cover the second half of our trip. If you haven’t already, you should check out part one as well.

The shadowy outline of Mt Zao in the early morning

The shadowy outline of Mt Zao in the early morning

Dave on the Yamabiko Suspension Bridge

Dave on the Yamabiko Suspension Bridge

Resting by an oilseed field in the foothills of Mt Zao

Resting by an oilseed field in the foothills of Mt Zao

The Nametsu Otaki falls

The Nametsu Otaki falls

The flowers of the mizubasho bloom only during late April and early May: we'd come at exactly the right time for them.

The flowers of the mizubasho bloom only during late April and early May: we’d come at exactly the right time for them.

The three-tiered pagoda at Takahata dates back to the Muromachi era.

The three-tiered pagoda at Takahata dates back to the Muromachi era.

The manager of the ryokan gave us a gift. Doburoku is homebrew style sake, with a soupy texture and a sweet taste.

The manager of the ryokan gave us a gift. Doburoku is homebrew style sake, with a soupy texture and a sweet taste.

Leaving our stealth camping location

Leaving our stealth camping location

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea

We left the bikes against this pile of wood at the harbour, and climbed up to look at the sea

The Sea of Japan, our final destination

The Sea of Japan, our final destination

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

Bikes are permitted on most Japanese trains, but they must be packed into a bag

Bikes are permitted on most Japanese trains, but they must be packed into a bag

Part two of two. You can see part one here.

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Honshu Coast to Coast – Gallery (part 1)

Here are some pictures from our Honshu coast to coast trip that we made at the start of the month. You can read our quick report here, and our Crazy Guy on a Bike journal for the trip here. These pictures cover the first half of our trip. Check out part two as well.

Pulling on a rain jacket just outside Koriyama.

Pulling on a rain jacket just outside Koriyama.

In Japan, decorative manhole covers are everywhere

In Japan, decorative manhole covers are everywhere

A tunnel next to the Abukuma river

A tunnel next to the Abukuma river

Lunch between two bridges at Marumori

Lunch between two bridges at Marumori

Our spot at the campsite looked over the rocky creek below

Our spot at the campsite looked over the rocky creek below

The curve of the tunnels makes it difficult to judge how far you've travelled, and how much further you have to go

The curve of the tunnels makes it difficult to judge how far you’ve travelled, and how much further you have to go

The path up to Shiroishi Castle was lit by sixty or so of these lanterns

The path up to Shiroishi Castle was lit by sixty or so of these lanterns

Shiroishi Castle

Shiroishi Castle

A mountain stream between Shiroishi and Yonezawa

A mountain stream between Shiroishi and Yonezawa

We saw this sign on Tuesday afternoon, and visted most of what it pointed to over the next 24 hours.

We saw this sign on Tuesday afternoon, and visted most of what it pointed to over the next 24 hours.

The cooking shelter at the Bungalow Village

The cooking shelter at the Bungalow Village

The Minamizao Alpine Bungalow Village, where we were the only guests

The Minamizao Alpine Bungalow Village, where we were the only guests

Move to part two.

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Honshu Coast to Coast – Tour Report

We took our new bikes on their maiden tour during Golden Week. Our route took us to the Pacific Ocean near Watari, and then across Honshu to the Sea of Japan at Murakami. Conditions were mixed, flat and hilly, warm and cold, wet and dry. We rode 375km in seven days. From difficulties we faced, we learned a lot, and there were some amazing highlights. This is a summary of our trip. We wrote up a day-by-day journal for Crazy Guy On a Bike, so if you want more detail, please click here.

Leaving directly after work on Saturday, we rode into the night to get from Koriyama to our friend’s house in Date. Riding in the dark wasn’t much fun, but it meant we could start our next day in relatively unfamiliar territory. From Date we headed north-east towards the Pacfic, following the stunning Abukuma river, and camping by a rocky creek near Marumori. We rode to the Pacific the next day. Watari district suffered severe damage as a result of the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, and though reconstruction work has started, there was still a tangible sadness in the air. We turned west, and climbed up towards the castle town of Shiroishi. Climbing continued on Tuesday, as we followed route 113 into the hills of southern Miyagi, and through several harrowing tunnels, towards the vast dam at Shichikashuku.

Day 02 Two Shot

The second half of our trip began with some sightseeing. We visited most of the signed tourist attractions that we passed on Wednesday morning: a stunning suspension bridge; dramatic waterfalls; a marsh full of pale calla lillies; an ancient triple pagoda. We faced headwinds and rain in the afternoon, and were exhausted when we arrived at our campsite, only to discover that it had been abandoned long ago. We took refuge that night at an onsen-ryokan in Iide town, soothing our muscles in hot mineral baths. The rain didn’t let up at all the next day, as we left Yamagata and entered Niigata. We camped in a carefully chosen and well-hidden spot close to a parking area, only to meet two friendly guys with a similar plan, except that they didn’t bother trying to disguise that they were camping. We were shattered, and soaked, so we didn’t accept their offer of a drinking party that night. In the morning they brought us coffee as we packed away out tent. Our final day was an easy downhill cruise to the Sea of Japan at Murakami. We were almost too tired to celebrate, but we had finished our coast to coast journey.

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

Celebrating reaching the Sea of Japan

We learned a lot on this trip. We’d tested most of our equipment before setting off, but it was illuminating to see how well it functioned in the bad weather we faced at the end of the week. Based on how we slept, for example, it’s clear that Laura needs a thermal sleeping bag liner to keep her cosy on colder nights. Our concerns about stealth camping have considerably diminished since we spent the night at the same parking area as the two friendly men. In spite of the difficult conditions we faced – bad weather, tough climbs, terrifying tunnels – our mental fortitude held true. At our lowest points, we supported each other. The highlights were accentuated as we shared them. The most important thing we took on the trip was each other.

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Honshu Coast to Coast Tour – the plan

Our first tour with our new bikes is a coast-to-coast route across Japan. During Golden Week, we’re travelling from the Pacific Ocean in Fukushima Prefecture to the Sea of Japan in Niigata Prefecture.

Our route is shown on the map below.

From Koriyama we travel to Date, where we’re staying overnight at a friend’s house. We then head east, camping at Marumori, and touching the Pacific at Shinchi. The main part of the trip is a journey west, roughly along the path of national route 113. We’ll climb up towards Shiroishi, then past the lake at Shichikashuku, camping nearby. We travel onto the plain of Yonezawa, and head back up into the hills of Oguni. We end the coast to coast section by following the river down to Murakami on the Sea of Japan. We have a few options at that point, depending how we feel.

Golden Week is the main spring holiday period in Japan. Four public holidays fall in seven days, and so many people here use this time to travel. With the help of a couple of leave days, we have nine full days away from work. We’ll set off on Saturday 27th, and we’re back at the office on Tuesday 7th. Our other dates are flexible. Depending on the time we have left, and how well our legs have coped with the climbs of Miyagi and Yamagata, we might extend our trip south to Sado Island, or north up the Sea of Japan coastline.

This is our first fully-loaded self-supported multi-day tour. Gulp! Well, maybe no need to gulp – we’ve done plenty of backpacking in the past, and some light touring, so we’re not totally green. This tour will be a new challenge for us both, but I think it’s one we can handle.

We’ll write up our tour in full for this site, but if you’re desperate to follow our progress, keep an eye on our Crazy Guy On A Bike journal here. (link to follow)

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