Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gone Surfin!

I recently traded in (not really) my bikes for a couple of surfboards and have been trying out some of the local surf spots.

Here's a short piece I did about a recent trip to Shimoda and Shirahama Beach.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Just Ride!

biking in japan, cycling in kamakura, biking in kamakura
So, Ok, I have no excuse. I took a prolonged winter break from cycling and developed an oversized but unimpressive table muscle.  The only biking I’ve done for much of the winter was using my wife’s electric bike to make beer runs to the local combini. 
To be fair, I live on a hill, and beer in the quantities that I consume, can be like really really heavy! So, like the electric bike is really really nice.
Well anyway, about two weeks ago, for some reason that I can’t recall, I jumped on the scale and got a nice little slap in the face.  I’m too embarrassed to say what I weighed in at, but lets just say it if I were a UFC fighter, I’d be in Octgagon with the big boys.
So, ok, I’m like what the hell?  How did this happen? After a little micro reflection I realized that I haven’t been cycling, swimming or running for a long, long, long time. 

cycling in kamakura, cycling in Enoshima, Folding biker japan
Beach near Enoshima
So, BOOM! I decided to get back on the bike and in the last two weeks have done three local rides that left me feeling great, refreshed, excited about riding again, and, combined with a reduction beer intake, a few pounds lighter.
The first ride was a repeat of one my earliest rides after purchasing my first folding bike, Yokohama to Kamakura, Enoshima, and then on to Chigasaki.
The best thing about this ride is that once you get out the coast you can ride along the beach, and from Enoshima to Chigasaki there’s a bike path ride alongside the beach and away from road.

Sub at Yokosuka Navy Base
biking in Yokosuka, cycling in Japan, folding biker japan
My Brompton Taking a Rest on Coastal Park Road Near Yokosuka
The second and third rides were from Yokohama to Kanonzaki and on to Kurihama.  From Kurihama, I fold up my Brompton and jumped on the train home. 

biking in canonzaki, folding biker japan
Beach and Lighthouse at Kanonzaki

There nothing really new to say about these rides as I’ve covered them in past posts. I guess the only new thing is a reminder to myself that it’s so easy to get distracted by this, that, or the other, and in doing so, forget about how fun it can be to get out on the bike and start cruising the local coastal and backroads.
Flowers at the JR Kurihama Train Station
Note to self.......JUST RIDE!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Loro - Folding Bike Shop in Yokohama

folding bike japan, biking in japan, cycling in japan
Rad Folding Bike at Loro

One of the good things about cycling is that you get to see things that you might miss if you were in a car, on a bus or a train.  The same goes for walking apparently.

Though I have crisscrossed most of the roads in the area from Yokohama Station to Yamate many many times on one of my folding bikes, I had never come come across a speciality bike shop called Loro in the area between Sakurakicho and Kannai.

biking japan cycling japan
Micro Folders

Fortunately, I decided to do several errands on foot on a recent sunny day and serendipitously (I have always wanted to use that word!) stumbled upon Loro, a very cool folding and recumbent bike specialty shop.

The owner told me the shop has been in business for seven years.  

The variety of bikes was impressive with the usual Bromptons and BD-1s and then several brands I'd never seen before.  I'm sure I'll be a regular window shopper and minor annoyance in the near future.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cycling in Aomori (Tairadate – Tappi – Jusanko – Inagaki Hot Spring Hotel)

biking in aomori,
Aomori Coast
After saying goodbye the nice owners of Penshion Diaba, I jumped on my bike and continued to head out along the coast of the  Tsugaru Peninsula hoping to reach the northernmost tip at Tappi by noon.

As the road is flat with very little traffic the riding was pleasant. The road passes through a lot of small fishing villages and there are plenty of places to stop for food and drinks.

aomori coast, cycling aomori, cycling japan
Cape Takano

aomori coast, light house aomori, cycling in aomori
Takano Cape Lighthouse
aomori coast, cycling aomori
View from Cape Takano

I really enjoyed the views from Takano Cape and Takano Cape Lighthouse and stopped for a short break.

Just as planned I rolled into Cape Tappi just before noon. This is the northern most tip of the peninsula and the area where the tunnel that links Honshu with Hokkaido starts.
aomori coastline, cycling aomori
Cape Tappi View
aomori coast, cycling aomori, cycling japan
Cape Tapi Aomori

There is a bit of a climb up to the lookout. But, I strongly encourage you to make the effort as anyone who does will be rewarded with some amazing coastal views.

Just below the lookout area, there is a Tunnel Museum and a small restaurant. I had the soba for JPY 600, was fueled and ready to hit the road.  Little did I know what the road had in store for me.

Well after riding the flats for the last four days, it was payback time. Up, and up, and up, the road winds, literally into the clouds.  The wind was really ripping and the clouds were thick. On some stretches I could only see 30 feet ahead.

aomori cycling
Cycling in the Clouds Near Cape Tappi
aomori biking
View from Cape Tappi
At one point, I saw shadowy animal shapes moving up in front of me. Soon after that I could see that I was surrounded by some sort of monkeys. Unfortunately, they were camera shy as I when I tried to take their photo they scurried off into the trees and clouds.

I really don’t remember how long the climb lasted. My guess is around an hour. It was  tough, but in the end it was well worth it. Not just the views, but the ride down was a real kick.  I had the road to myself and could go as fast or as slow as I wanted. 

After getting down to the west coast, the road is relatively flat with some great ocean views.  I do have to say that there is fair amount of garbage on most of the beach areas.

That said, the locals had just cleaned a large beach at Orikoshinai Beach to prepare for upcoming beach soccer tournament.  I was hot, the water and beach looked inviting, so I took a short swim in the ocean to cool down.

aomori lake, aomori cycling
Lake Jusanko - Aomori

biking in japan, cycling in japan, folding biker japan
The Mark of Good Day's Ride

biking aomori
Rice Paddies South of Lake Jusanko
cycling in aomori
Aomori Sunset
 Later I paid my JPY 100 for a 3-minute shower, toweled off, and again, started down the road.

In the late afternoon I rolled into a rest area with several food stands just at the very north end of Lake Jusanko (Jusan Lake).  I had a couple beers to relax and tried to scout out my next lodgings. The husband and wife owners of the food stand where I bought my beers helped me to reserve a room at the Inagaki Hot Spring Hotel, another 22KM down the road.

The ride past Jusanko is pleasant and flat.  South of the lake there a rice paddies stretching as far as you see in all directions. 

Later that evening I arrived at the Inagaki Hot Spring Hotel, soaked for an hour in the indoor and outdoor hot spring baths, and had a great dinner, a few beers, and fell into a deep sleep, exhausted and content from long but enjoyable ride.

aomori coast
Small Fishing Village in Aomori

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cycling in Aomori (Shin-Aomori Station to Tairadate)

biking japan
View to the West of HWY 280 in Aomori
I didn’t leave Shin-Aomori Station until 3pm.  Thus, I already knew that this was going to be relatively short ride.

I immediately jumped on HWY 280 that runs parallel with the east coast of the Tsugaru Peninsula.  The road runs in a straight line for about 20KM.  I ended up jumping over the older road right on the coast after about 10KM.

This road isn’t as smooth, has some ups and downs.  However, it offers less traffic and more interesting views of the ocean and the small fishing villages that dot the coastline.

cycling aomori
Coastal Route Parallel with HWY 280
At about 45KM as the sun was setting behind the mountains in the west, I pulled into the village of Tairadate and tried to get a room at the hot spring hotel.  Apparently they were booked solid.  I tried a minshuku down the road a bit, and they were booked as well

I was about to get a little perturbed when I was told that there was pension house about 1KM further down the road.  So down the road I rode.  After about 1KM I entered into an impressive grove of pine trees, and just a little further I found Penshion Daiba sitting cozily with its back against the beach.

Even though I’m still not clear as to what differentiates a pension house and a minshuku, I have to say that Penshion Diaba is now one of my favorite places to stay in Japan. It’s a family run operation and the owners are helpful, friendly, and are always smiling.

minshuku aomori
Penshion Diaba
The building is clean, light and airy with great views of the ocean.  The rooms are very spacious (think like studio apartment!), feature in room bathrooms, and WiFi.  There's also a sauna bath area, and a nice little restaurant with a range of seafood treats such as Ika (squid) Burgers, and Uni (sea urchin roe) Dons.  The entire place is decorated with hand crafted wooden furniture and colorful art pieces.

aomori minshuku
Mother & Daughter Management Team

minshuku aomori
View From my Room.  Nice!
 My room was JPY 5,500 for the night and included breakfast.

I would have liked to spend a few days at the Penshion Diaba just reading, relaxing, exploring the local area, and perhaps joining one of the local guided fishing excursions.   But alas, I needed to get an early start as the next day was going to be a big one.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cycling in Aomori (Hachinohe - Misawa - Mutsu)

View to West of HWY 338
This is one of the best cycling routes for relaxed country riding that I’ve been on in Japan. The road is more or less flat with little traffic, and there is decent sized shoulder for most of the ride.

On the down side, the views aren’t that great, as you can’t really see the ocean.  And, even when you can, it’s not that impressive.

I started around 2pm in Hachinohe and worked my way to HWY 19 and rode up the coast where it eventually merges with HWY 338.  About 25KM from Hachinohe I took a left for a 5KM ride into Misawa. 

cycling in aomori,  biking in aomori
Looking Towards Takahoko Swamp on HWY 338
There are quite a few places to stay here, and I think I picked the worst one, a small hotel behind the train station.  The building was in terrible shape, my room smelled like cigarette smoke, and didn’t have a shower or Wi-Fi. On the bright side, it did only cost JPY 4,200 including breakfast and use of the public bath and shower.

There’s a good-sized US Air Force base in Misawa with around 10,000 Americans stationed there.  That night, having been eating local food only for the entire week, I went over to the area near the main gate of the base in search of some non-Japanese food.  I had a great taco and enchilada dinner at the Tex-Mex place.

It was kind of a surreal experience.   I had been out on my bike for a week, having used very little English, and having seen only a couple other non-Japanese.  And then, all the sudden, I pop into this restaurant and everyone is from the US, speaking English, eating tacos and drinking Coronas. 

I met a really nice family who gave me lots of good tips about cycling in the area. And, later in a bar-restaurant called My Place, I had chance to talk with a lot more people about recommended cycling routes in the area.

folding bike japan,
My Ride - Tartaruga Folding Bike
Most people suggested that I head inland and avoid the coast, as there isn’t much to see on that route.  That said, I AM on this silly mission to cycle Honshu’s coastline. So, in the morning, I decided to keep with the plan and keep going north on HWY 338. 

coastal view aomori, biking in aomori
Coastal View from HWY 338 Aomori

The highway, as I said, is actually very bicycle friendly. But, the views aren’t great, and there are some remote stretches. At one point, I stopped and asked some surfers if there were any convenience stores in the area. They all answered in the negative, which made me a little concerned about where I’d get my next meal.

Well, within 15 minutes, I had found a convenience store, and biked past two more.  I guess, when you are in car traveling at 80KM per hour, you tend to focus on different things. Us cyclists always need to looking for future supply points.

To that end, I decided not to ride all the way to the end of the Shimokita Peninsula as I couldn’t see if there were any places to stay or even get a meal on the map, and it looks pretty remote. So, when HWY 338 leaves the coast and takes a left to Mutsu, I followed it.

The last 20KM of the ride was pretty much up and down medium-height hills crossing over the peninsula. They were just high enough to keep the ride interesting, but were not even close in difficulty as I what I had ridden over in Iwate-ken.

Mutsu is not really an attractive city.  It sprawls in all directions and looks pretty run down.

There are several hotels on the road that I followed and I got a room in Hotel Green for JPY 5,200 (in room internet – but no Wi-Fi).  I spent a couple of hours walking around Mutsu and found a couple of redeeming points.

aomori sports complex, biking in aomori
Sports Complex in Mutsu

Sports Complex in Mutsu 
One, there is a beautiful new indoor and outdoor sports complex with grass fields, basketball and volleyball courts near to the coast.  It’s one of the best I’ve seen in Japan.

Secondly, right across from Hotel Green, there is a great sushi restaurant that has been in operation and managed by the owner for 30 years.  The service and food was excellent. Prices were very reasonable. And, the owner/chef is very talkative and entertaining.

When I was walking by the sports complex I met a group of cyclists who told me that the scenery around the end of the peninsula was fantastic and highly recommended the ride.

I’m looking forward to returning to Aomori and riding the remaining section of the Shimokita Peninsula.

Cycling in Iwate (Kesennuma - Rikuzentakata - Ofunato - Kamaishi)

cycling in iwate, biking in iwate, iwate prefecture, biking japan
Coastal View Iwate Prefecture 

Leaving the Karakuwa Peninsula just to the north of Kesennuma, I jumped on HWY 45 and continued my ride up the coast.

As the number and height of hills started to increase, I decided to break my ride down into 15KM portions and to take a short rest after each one.  The first 15KM into Rikuzentakata was pretty much the same type of riding as the previous day, narrow roads, lots of truck, but now with the rain making it hard to see the road ahead and surrounding scenery.

biking iwate, cycling in iwate, biking japan, cycling japan
Rain Clouds are Fast Approaching in Iwate
There really weren’t many options for rest areas as most of the areas had been wiped out by the tsunami. There was a local convenience store and even a winery (it was too early for me to do a tasting.)  So, I grabbed a couple onigiri, a can coffee, and down the road I went.

cycling in Iwate, biking in Iwate
Ocean Bay in Iwate Prefecture
And again, more of the same. I was starting to wonder, why I was doing this ride. The roads weren’t particularly suited for cycling and with all the truck traffic, it seemed pretty dangerous. 

But, as usual in Japan, or maybe that’s just life, things change.  A few kilometers out of town most of the traffic jumped on the Sanriku expressway (not allowed for cyclists) and I had the road pretty much to myself for the next couple of hours.

That was the good news. The bad news was that from this point on the hills get higher and higher, and there are more and more of them.  But that really didn’t bother me too much. The climbing kept me warm, the views were grand, there were no trucks.
cycling in Iwate
Small Shop in Kamaishi
This lasted until I got through the town of Ofunato (which really is pretty little town) and into Sanriku.  Then the Sanriku expressway ends and all that traffic comes back on to HWY 45. Yuck!

From that point, I had the hills, the rain, and the traffic. But something was missing. What was it? Oh yeah, tunnels!  

biking iwate, cycling iwate
River Bridge in Downtown Kamaishi
The first two were o.k., as they were relatively short. However, on the run up to the third, I had a couple of close calls with trucks. If I would have reached two feet to my right, I could have had my arm mounted as a grill ornament.

The third tunnel is at least 2KM long, with very little shoulder space.  Since I had just had two close calls, I lost my nerve, or maybe I got my sense, and balked at the entrance.

I walked my bike back down the road a ways and waited for pickups or flatbed trucks to drive by. The third one stopped and let me throw my bike in the back. I’m glad I did as the tunnel was no joke, very long and very narrow.

He insisted that I let him drive me a little farther as there were two more tunnels just ahead.  He also asked if we could snap a photo together as his friends wouldn’t believe that he gave a ride to foreigner. I was very grateful, and of course, agreed to pay for my ride with a roadside photo. 

A Photo of Downtown Kamaishi Post Tsunami 
Another Post Tsunami Pic of Kamaishi
A short time after getting back on my bike I rolled into Kamaishi City. 

Kamaishi is another town that got partially destroyed in the tsunami.

There are five hotels in the “downtown” area near to the new AEON shopping center.  They all happened to be full the day I arrived. So I went to a minshuku near to the train station.

kamaishi minshuku, kamaishi biking, cycling iwate
Takakin Minshuku in Kamaishi
kamaishi minshuku, iwate minshuku, cycling iwate
Inside Takakin Minshuku
It turned out to be one of the best places I’ve stayed at in terms of comfort, hospitality, and value for money.  Additionally, the building has an interesting interior maze-like design and, while being over 70-years old and still having much of original wood work and floors, has been given a make over. So, it’s kind of like a cleaned up and refurbished antique, that, by the way, is the only minshuku that I’ve seen that offers Wi-Fi!

For anyone wanting to make a reservation please call: 090-2993-4027 (English), 0193-22-4559 (Japanese).

Takakin Minshuku

Original Staircase Takakin Minshuku
minshuku iwate, minshuku kamaishi, cycling iwate
Single Room Takakin Minshuku
On my first night in town I found a decent izakaya for some beer and deep fried dishes. Afterwards, on the way back to the minshuku I wandered into a nice little family run (mother and son) bar-snack called "Su-na-ku Rei."  No minimum charges, free snacks, and JPY 700 for large bottle of Asahi.  Nice!

The Most Popular (IE the only) Guy at the Bar!
Since there was a big typhoon passing through the area, I decided to spend an extra day in Kamaishi.  The second floor food court at Aeon shopping is a comfortable place to hang up, catch on emails, and get some cheap food.

iwate train, cycling iwate
The Micro Train out of Kamaishi
View from the Train in Iwate Mountains
On my second morning, there was a good-sized earthquake at about 4:20am.  Immediately after that the tsunami warnings started blasting through the town.  I was like up, out of bed, and half dressed before I realized the announcements were actually just telling everyone to be aware, not to run out into the street half naked in search of the tsunami escape route.

The best thing about riding along this course is the mountain and ocean views. The worst thing is the tunnels and trucks which get really bad from about 20KM before Kamaishi.  I would like to ride this area again when it’s not raining and when there aren’t so many trucks on the road.