Tag "Japan"

A handy knife

Okonomiyaki on a stick!

April ’14

Leaving the Kansai region, I followed the nearby coast to cross into Shikoku, one of the main islands of Japan. It was the first time I was leaving Honshu since Hokkaido up north, and this time for good. There are a few massive bridges that cross onto the island, although they are mostly no-go for cyclists. On the way, I stopped in Himeji to see it’s famous castle, but it was all covered and locked down due to a multi-year renovation effort. The work being done there is quite impressive, but I’ll have to come back in the future… ah, yet another reason. I stopped on the smaller island of Shodoshima, Japan’s olives capital, before another ferry brought me to Shikoku.

And how to say, it has to be the best I’ve rode in Japan. Really quiet mountain passes, magical looking forest, tight valleys, hill-side perched village and more. The locals, while still thick in Japanese politeness, were even more friendly then usual. Anyway I just had a good time, seeing stuff I had waited to see in Japan for a long time now.

From Tokushima, I made it to the Iya Valley with it’s beautiful gorges and delicious hard tofu, through the pass at Tsuguri-san and then over a few more to the sea. Had a funny encounter with some other touring cyclists, a rare sight, enjoyed some last flower blossoms in the mountains and even got offered some fish, a great gift which proved to be quite a camping cooking challenge. I managed a few days of surfing, probably the only opportunity this year, and rode the coast to Kochi for a little break. The road there is filled with ‘ohenro’, pilgrims that are walking around the island to complete a circuit of 88 temples, usually walked in around 3 months. With their cone-shaped bamboo hat and white blouse, they are quite easy to spot! It’s also spring in the fields, so cheap sweet vegetables were everywhere on the roadside, another thing I didn’t saw much in Japan.

The road west was mostly another set of pretty mountain passes and valleys, with special mention to the alpine road at the Tengu Plateau, where Japan pretends to be New-Zealand for a moment. From there, to the coast, and a last ferry brought me to Kyushuu, the final island of Japan for me. Fighting some rain and a building knee pain, I only did a short trip there. I wished to see more, but I was eager to move on to Korea. After enjoying some onsen time in the hot spring city of Beppu, I climbed up to Aso, a town and mountain region located inside a massive crater. Quite impressive, even if most of it was drowned in a thick cloud and fog cover. It’s a pretty volcanic region and onsen villages are scattered all over the place. Kurosawa being one pretty example, although most of the accommodation there is ‘honeymoon-priced’ I would say.

Finally, the road took me to Fukuoka, the big coastal city from where the ferry to Korea departs. After booking my tickets, I spent two days trying to enjoy what I though I would miss about Japan. Not an easy task really.

And that’s it. After more then 7 months in Japan, I boarded the ship, the custom official clearly remembering me that it would invalidate the rest of my visa, and sailed away. Japan had been an incredible experience, but now it was time for a change.

Alright, gimmie my kimchi!

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Start of the sakura season


March ’14 to Avril ’14

After a brief stop in Nagano city, I made it back to the quiet village of Ueno in the Gunma prefecture. I had left my bike there for the winter, in the great company of my japanese friends Tsune and Miho. Just enough to say hi again and remember why I had stopped there for so long before, then I hit the road again. Had to get my feet moving fast, had the feeling I could get stuck there again very easily.

The pain of the winter’s riding came in my knees while I got used to the long cycling days again. A few freezing nights in the southern part of the Kita Alps brought me to region near Nagoya, then into Kansai. The roads were a good mix of quiet mountains ones lined with amazing forest of tall pines and bamboo, as well as wide and busy valleys that are typical of Japan.

I made a quick stop in Nagoya to plan ahead a little bit. I was going into Kansai right as the cherry blossom season was coming, the time when hanami, or flower viewing, is very popular. It’s one of the most touristy time of the year there, and people go spend all day in the park, sitting under the flowering trees to drink, eat and enjoy other’s company. Quite thrilled at the idea first, I realised it was going to complicate my visit as every single cheaper accommodations were fully booked for Kyoto, the main cultural staple of the region. Fortunately, with the help of great Warmshower hosts in Shiga and then Osaka, I was able to explore the region and enjoy the blossoms myself. I even got to use the very efficient train system of Japan, something I couldn’t do with my bike.

Kyoto can be quite a temple overload, but it’s still much worth seeing. I made stop in Nara too, where very tamed deer abounds in the parks near the main temple, scavenging cookies from excited, or scared, tourists. The pretty white flowers made the very busy roads of the Kansai region a bit more tolerable, slowing me down for yet another photo opportunity.

I played cricket. Got drunk with old mans. Got a glimpse of traditional archery. Found some ‘homesick’-inducing belgian beer. Climbed the most ridiculously steep road I’ve ever seen, and then fumbled my way down on the other side, water-cooling my brakes every few minutes has their were squealing to death in all new terrible tones. I even managed to obtain my Chinese visa through all of it. Not bad.

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December ’13 to March ’14

Spent most of my time in Hakuba working or snowboarding instead of taking pictures. I lived three months there, in the mountains of the Nagano prefecture, the so-called Kita Alps (‘North’ Alps). By March, when the rain and the warmer temperature came ringing back, I left my temporary adopted home town along with the new friends I made and headed back down south to find my bike again. So here goes, to the West of Japan.

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Miho & Tsune

November & December ’13

It was going to be simple. I was going to stay a few days with a couchsurfer in Kiryu, pick up my replacement part for my gas burner from there, and then spend a few days with another host in the mountains nearby. From there I’d head for Nagano, before the snow blocked the road, to find a job for the winter.

I had it all planned out, and actually the first half went pretty much like that. But that’s usually when travelling gets you, and pulls out a surprise. I got my parts and cycled to the mountains.

When I got to Uneo village to meet my hosts, Tsune & Miho, in their little cafe, they had an event coming up for the weekend. I though I’d give a hand, for a few days. These few days became a week, then a bit more, and then some. In the end, the snow came to Nagano, and I had been in Ueno for a full month. Time had flown too fast and well, it was good time.

Indian Musical performance. Cooking. Kaki drying. K-truck driving. Dog walking-Cursing at a dog in japanese. Crazy kid slides. More cooking. Language learning. Cooking bread. Onsens. Cold, cold house. Soba beating. Tofu making. Single trails.

But at last, winter came. I found a job online in Hakuba, a ski town in the province of Nagano, left my bike in pension at the cafe, and took the train North. I could see snow on mountain tops. Sweet.

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Temples of Nikko

November ’13

I was headed for the Pacific again, with expectation of a nice rugged coast. I went trough Tono village on the way, a nice mountain town worthy of a few days stop. But I was on my way south, trying to get there before the winter did. I escaped the busy road in favor of the old mountain route, saving another crazy tunnel at the same time. Nice and quiet.

Coming down on the ocean side of the range, I was fast confronted to my main problem with japanese coast. It’s busy, super busy. Big industrial city and narrow cliffed valleys means the camping space is pretty sparse. I headed for the local soccer field, but even there, it had been reclaimed for houses of a nearby project’s workers. Still, I wanted to gave the coast another chance before heading back to the mountains. But the next day proved worse, with even busier roads, more truck traffic and not much views.

Along the hilly road between each bays I started realizing the causes of all of this. In all of the bays’ flatland, construction was everywhere, prominent. More then 2 years later, in that region of Northern Japan, the destruction from the 2011 tsunami was still evident, I just had to realise it. A lot has been cleaned, but not much reconstructed. The scars aren’t so impressive anymore, but few destroyed walls scattered around, along with massive piles of debris act as good reminders. I was going back to the mountains.

I was now rushing southwards. If I wanted to be in the Japanese Alps before the winter to find a job in time, I had to hurry. I made it to the Yamagata prefecture, a few nice mountains passes in tow. At the start of my biggest day yet, I crossed my 3000th kilometer while entering Yamagata-city. That night, after a solid mountain pass, monkeys and a frigid descent, I made it in Ura Bandai my headlamp opening the way. The nights were turning quite cold up in the mountains.

And mountains there were more, with more rain and more wind to be enjoyed before I could get to Gunmna prefecture – the last one before my endpoint in Nagano. But there was also some sake to be drank, some incredible japanese hospitality to be enjoyed and incredible views to see. I made it to Nikko after a few days, to visit it’s UNESCO worthy temples, luckily dodging the crowds of the fall ‘colors’ season. There is also the best hostel in Nikko – Sumica Guesthouse – with the best hostel owners ever. Just go there. What hostel owners just give you cakes?

On the way up to the last pass, some very light snow felt down. A reminder of what to come for the next months.

When I made it to Gunma, I was expecting to spend a few days there. First, I had to pick up parts for my broken MSR pump, then I was gonna be on my way to Nagano. Not quite what happened.

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