We are posting this today on our 1 year anniversary of cycling since we left the UK on 4.4.17. It’s been an incredible journey and thank you to all of you who have supported and encouraged us along the way. Right, back to the blog:
The Japanese and overseas tourists have gone into a frenzy. Cats go crazy for catnip and the Japanese seem to have a similar but more sedate reaction to cherry blossom. Suddenly after days of rain and a sudden cranking up in temperatures the buds burst open. Turn on the TV here and you see programmes dedicated to the cherry blossom. Detailed information graphics depicting the blossoms eruptions, extremely animated presenters forecasting the next burst. We are lucky to be here during Sakura season and cycling allows us to take in less tourist traps and on a more relaxed and smaller scale. While we were in Kyoto we witnessed hundreds of mainly young women and couples dressed in their Kimonos, posing under the blossom trees and gracefully walking to the next photo-spot in their “geta”, the Japanese clogs/flip flops. However we became a little cynical as we also passed many ‘rent a kimono’ shop. Perhaps a pilgrimage in spring to dress in traditional costume under a symbolic cherry tree. But then what would we do at home, sit in the sun to worship the first heat and then get drunk. Go to work the next day with a red t-shirt mark and have a hangover (not me obviously).
Spring is truly here and the warmth is very welcome after some cooler and wet days. However, as we know in the Europe spring can mean many things and we had a big surprise recently. We have had temperatures in single figures then days later exceeding 25 degrees and days ago we were pushing our bikes in knee high snow! More of that later.
Since we left Hiroshima we have cycled through Honsu, Shikoku and back onto Honsu Islands, which are some of the main islands in Japan (Japan has over 6,000 islands). It has been a mixed bag of cycling condition from the most impresssive and best cycling in Japan so far on the Shimano Kaido trail, to congested uninspiring busy roads, full of car sales rooms and restaurant signs. We have meet an old colleague, visited a paper mill, toured an art island and seen a fair few shrines and temples along the way. We have not been killing ourselves each day with long rides as we have the time in Japan and had the luxury of taking things easy but saying that i dont know where the time here has gone. Sometimes I think this is easy and should it be harder! I know i will regret saying that soon.
After our time in Hiroshima we made our way in a couple of days to the start of the cycle ride across a serious of islands and 7 bridges. It was cycle infrastructure gone crazy (a good crazy). It was so relaxing that we never had to look at a map as the wayfinding was excellent. The route most of the way was on segregated or completely independent paths. There were pit stops, cycle hire, cafes and even a cycle hotel. The riding was stunning, taking you around or through the various islands. There was also the bonus of very little motorised traffic apart from other cyclists. Many Japanese cyclists either doing the islands or the 88 temple pilgramage Shikoku Junrei. Most would wave, nod or would stop to find out about where we were going. Each of the 7 bridges demonstrated impressive engineering and the last bridge was 14km long. We even camped under a bridge on a tiny island under, which was a municipal and free campsite.
We met some very generous people along the way. Tashiki who dropped by one night (at an improvised camp spot under a concrete structure) to give us bread and fruit but we were asleep (as we had both hit our heads on the concrete structure) but awoke to a bag of these goodies (thank you if you read this as we lost your card). Also the lady in the cycle hire shop who ran to our rescue as my seat post bolt snapped, leaving me saddle less (2nd time this has happened in 12 months). She drove us to a hardware store, looking for a temporary replacement. Then she took us to a car garage to help with tools. Then a great thanks to the man in another hire shop who replaced the bolt with a proper seat post bolt from one of his hired bikes!
After our holiday on the cycle route we detoured to Matsuyama to the oldest Onsen in Dogo and enjoyed the historical baths joined by young Japanese girls who were demonstrating their young modesty and to the old women bent over scrubbing themselves on the floor of the bath as if they were at home and did not have a care in the world about how they looked.
After our many Onsen experiences we can say each one is very different but each one leaves you feeling so cleansed with your tired bones and muscles being thankful, especially if we havent washed for several days. This is such a million miles away from many of our other cycling destinations but a welcome one.
Our journey continued onto Shikoku for a couple of days to Takamatsu where we took the ferry to Naoshima, the art island. This has been something we were both been looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. We spent 2 nights on this tiny island, the first in a guesthouse/dorm room and the second night up a hill, wild camping. Which was a pleasant finger up to the ‘private art establishment’, as many areas seemed a little exclusive and restricted and camping was not permitted, let alone bicycles in certain areas.
The art island is packed full of art, some assessable and some of the museums a bit portentous and expensive (which we didn’t visit). The art house project was excellent, which comprised 6 houses which 6 artists had created responses to. We thoroughly enjoyed Shinto Ohtake Bathhouse. Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkins sculptures and the ArtHouse project made it well worth the detour.
Over flowing with art we returned to Shikoku and made our way towards Awagami paper mill to continue our paper journey and meet a friend (our ex colleague from LCC). It was a great reunion, which we shared with people from the mill over supper and beers in a local bar/restaurant. It was a short evening but we made plans to meet again in Kyoto in several days (the paper mill visit is documented in our last blog).
Weather can make a huge difference to your cycling mood and experience. We both find rain one of the hardest conditions. You are wet, cold and it often means the road is more dangerous and then there is the camping. We had 4 days of continuous rain and being soggy, we treated ourselves to a couple of nights in rooms to dry ourselves at the end of the day which makes it all feel so much better.
Leaving Shikoku for the final time we took a 2 hour ferry to Honsu island and spent a couple of days cycling towards Nara. We had aimed to visit not just the shrines and the worlds largest wooden structure but to visit the deer. The park lies home to over 1,000 deer who have a safe haven and are completely tame and rather hungry. Many Japanese and Chinese tourist can be seen running as the deer nose into their pockets and bags. Being close to these animals was a rare treat and it reminded me of the importance of animals in our daily life’s. During the 2 months in Japan we have not really seen farm animals as the land is taken over by agriculture. The lack of any visible evidence of any cows, sheep, goats, pigs or horses is a worrying disconnection. Japanese are so entwined to the land, gardens, forests and plants that it is odd this is missing. However, there are many birds, the most hawks and herons I have ever seen. We have heard of wild boars and some strange shrieking animal in the night!
Still in Nara we visited the Giant Buddha in Todai-ji Temple, which was impressive and the sight of a cosplay woman trying to squeeze her body and costume through one of the timber posts was very amusing. It is said, if you can pass through the whole in the post, which is big as Buddha’s nostril, you will be enlightened in the next life. I think she certainly has that now.
A short distance from Nara was the city of Kyoto and we had made evening plans to meet Rahel again. We had camped several nights in parks, woods and in Kyoto we had to stay in a more conventional place, well in Japanese conventions: a capsule hotel. This one had 6 floors of capsules, more box like but kitted out each with 30 inches TV and one shared communal bathing area! We didn’t do a great deal of sightseeing while there as I think we were both tired and when we stop it is good to catch up on nothing! So we allowed ourselves to drift around the city and to follow the kimonos and cherry blossom.
We met up with Rahel and found a bar recommended to her, but on opening the door we closed it immediately and said “That’s not a bar, it’s an abandoned office!”. Several beers later we left the bar and all agreed it was full of atmosphere and it was if we were watching a Japanese programme, but said they must get a cleaner! The bar ran by a famous photographer from Kyoto; Kai Fusayoshi and the bar was full of thousands of books scattered and thrown everywhere, a librarians nightmare! Or an art piece we couldn’t be sure of.
I hardly drink anymore and after 3 beers I felt rough the next day as we cycled away from the city and in search of less crowded places. We had decided to head to the hills, to escape cities and built up areas as we were in need of landscapes and a little hardship!
We were cycling along riversides full of cherry blossom trees, away from tourists and traffic. The sun was shining and hot. It felt great to be away again, in the middle of nature and back to basics. We were on route to visit 2 further paper museums (which will be written about in a future post). We managed to free camp for 6 continuous nights in a variety of places and each one we were never bothered by anyone. In bed at 9 and up at 6 what has happened to us.
As we began a day of cycling, climbing through the hills we came to a road block. Several cars turning around and one man gesturing for us to turn back also. We had no alternative as the only other road was an Expressway and cycles are not permitted. We asked in the only house on the hill and a man said “cycles no problem”. That was enough to encourage us through the gap in the road block and continue. He had not seen our loaded bikes.
We sang loudly going slowly up the hill, knowing we had the whole road both sides to ourselves. We headed higher and higher and the snow on the hill side became more visible until the road on the next bend turned to a mountain of snow. The heavy snow was melting from the sun, which made riding impossible and pushing a heavy loaded bike certainly impossible. We tried different techniques to get ourselves up and across. Both of us pushing 1 bike to taking front panniers off and pushing which gave more steering power. Whichever we did was exhausting. A few swear words came out as a release and after several kilometres the snow began to disappear until we reached the junction of the Expressway we could join. There is something about hardship that drives you on and afterwards gives you a real sense of accomplishment, which you don’t get on a busy road in the urban sprawl. Saying that is also good when its over and you are rolling through stunning landscapes, admiring the scenery and listening to some tracks on your ishuffle.
The mountains loomed in the distance each ridge towering over another ridge; the Japanese Alps. We could see ski runs one the face of the mountains and day trippers returning with skis strapped to the car roofs. The road was excellent, quiet and breathtaking. We stopped in a small town and a man approached us from a white van who had passed us ages ago. He handed us 2 origami swans he had made. He walked away and we carefully folded our paper swans in our bags to admire later on.
We are at present starring out from the rain drenched window from our nice hostel in Kanawaza. Grateful we are inside and quietly celebrating we are still here together after 1 year on the road. It’s grey and very wet out there but we are bursting with colour inside as we look back at the 20+ countries crossed, approximately 13,000km pedalled and amazing people we have encountered on our way. You are most probably asking when are they coming back, and the answer is not yet…
Punctures during this leg 2 (both Jack)
Broken brake lever now temporarily held together with plastic tie and string (Barbara, doing something she shouldn’t have)
All photography by Jack Blake & Barbara Salvadori 2018©