Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tateyama to Awaamatsu

cycling japan
Attention! Strange Chiba Creature Crossing! 

After a long winter break, my boys and I decided to pick up where we had left on our last ride and cover some more ground on the Boso Peninsula in Chiba.

We started the ride in Tateyama and then backtracked on Route 410 to get us back to where we had last left the coastal route.  From Tateyama Station, it took about 30 minutes to reach the point where 410 intersects with routes 257 and 252 near the Merasaki Shrine.

boso peninsula, cycling chiba, folding biker japan
Chiba Coast

The wind was pretty strong and we were a little concerned that it might get even stronger once we started cycling along the coast.  However, as luck would have it, as soon as turned north along the coast we had the wind at our backs.  And, as there was little traffic on these well maintained roads, we were able to make very good time.  

boso peninsula cycling
My Most Excellent Support Team

The ride from Shirahama to Kamogawa was one of the best I have had in Japan.  The views of the ocean on our right and mountains on our left were great. The roads were wide, with little traffic. And, again, that wind was a great help.

There are few hills and only a couple of short tunnels.  There are plenty of places to stop for food, snacks, and even quite a few places where, if you were inclined to do so, you can pick your own flowers to bring home.

cycling in chiba, cycling boso peninsula
Pick Your Own Flowers in Chiba
Kamogawa is a large town with some surf spots and surf shops. I didn't find it particularly attractive, nor did we fancy the area around the Sea World Resort just down the road. 

So, we decided to push on a bit more and found a nice minshuku in small village called Awaamatsu. They weren't serving food, but they gave us two large rooms for only JPY 3,000 per person.  And, the ofuro (Japanese Bath) was in fine condition and just what I needed after the brisk three hour ride.

My only complaint about this ride was that we didn't start earlier and cover more ground as the riding was truly excellent.

I can't wait to get back out to JR Awaamatsu Station and start working my way further up the coast.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Japan to China Ferry Trip

inland sea japan ferry
View from Ferry in Osaka Bay

Not being a big fan of air travel, especially to China, especially since on my last flight to Beijing we encountered a severe dust storm and had to abort the landing TWICE!,  I recently decided to take the road less travelled, and take one of the international ferries that travel between Japan and China.

From what I could find on "the" line there are 4-5 different ferry  lines between the two countries including Shanghai to Osaka/Kobe, Suzhou (near Shanghai) to Shimonoseki, Qingdao to Osaka, and Tianjin to Shimonseki.

As I had to go Shanghai for business I opted for the Japan-China International Ferry Co., Ltd's ship called the "Xin Jian Zhen" that departs alternatively from Osaka and Kobe on Tuesdays at 11am and arrives approximately 48 hours later in Shanghai.

inland sea bridge
Massive Suspension Bridge in Japan's Inland Sea

japan china ferry
Lunch Time Onboard

japan china ferry
View Forward from the Ship's Cafe
Another Suspension Bridge

I booked my ticket on-line via the company's website and received a confirmation email the same day.  Once you have a reservation, you will need to pay in cash when checking in at the port.  Credit cards are NOT accepted.

Checking in was quite simple and there was only a short line for immigration.

The ferry boat is a fairly modern container and passenger vessel that seemed to be in pretty good shape.

I had reserved a shared room with four beds. But the only other occupant was a German tourist who also preferred trains and boats to flying.

While the boat wasn't near full occupancy, there was a large tour group from China that kept things onboard quite "lively."  Lot's of people, lots of noise, lots of laundry hanging in the halls. They were having lots of fun!

In terms of onboard facilities, there are showers, laundry machines, a restaurant, and cafe, a snack shop, a computer room (no internet access), a mahjuang room, a small ping pong table, and even a karaoke bar.

I spent most of my time in the cafe as it sits all the way at the front or "forward" end of the boat and offers a great view. It's also the quietest room on the ship.  Once in a while one or two of the tourists would pop in, look around, decide that it was too quiet for their taste and then quickly head back to main meeting areas.

In terms of food, there was a ala carte menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner at set times.  The food was all Chinese style and wasn't exactly the best I've ever had.  You can get a decent lunch including a beer for JPY 750.

I had phone and internet access on my iPhone and iPad for most of the time while in Japanese waters (that's about the first 20 hours of the trip).  There's also a pay/card phone onboard that can be used for most of the trip to call phones in Japan.

I enjoyed seeing Japan's  Inland Sea (Seto Nai Gai) from a boat.  As we had good weather for most of the trip, the scenery and ocean views were very pleasant.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to slow down and get caught up on some of the reading, writing, and studying that I'd been falling behind on.

Perhaps that's the greatest advantage of taking a ferry, is that it put me in a isolated environment, free from distractions (Chinese tour groups aside), and gave me some much needed focus time.  

Ship in Yangtze

japan china ferry
Dry Dock Facility in Yangtze

Shanghai Pudong

Cool Building Next to Ferry Terminal Shanghai

Lively Ferry Shuttle Bus

As we neared China, we motored up the Yangtze River for a short time and then turned into the Huapu River which lead  us to the ferry terminal in Pudong, Shanghai.

I managed to be the first person off the boat, but was foiled in my plans to dash through immigration, as we all had to pile, and I mean pile, into small bus.  After a great deal of shouting and jockeying for position, we managed to get everyone and their luggage onto the bus. Again, I managed to get to the front of the line and was only the third person to clear immigration and customs.  And, yet again, my plans for escape were foiled, as there wasn't a single taxi in the taxi line.  

On the return trip I took the boat from Qingdao to Shimonoseki. This is a shorter trip on an older boat. For JPY 20,000 I got a room to myself.  The food onboard wasn't bad. My only complaint was that after boarding at 5pm, the boat doesn't depart until 10pm. And, they make it very difficult to get access to the outside decks during the voyage. I was allowed to venture out on one small section because, I was told by the crew, I was a foreigner.  ;-)

Cabin on Qingdao - Shimonseki Ferry

Exercise Area for Foreigners ;-)

The Qingdao to Shimonoseki route passes through South Korean waters and there are nice views of some of the more remote islands off the Korean coast.

We arrived in Shimonseki early in the morning and were able to disembark at 9am.  It only took me 15 minutes to clear immigration and customs and 10 minutes more to get to the local JR station to jump on the train home.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Review: Brompton S Bag (front luggage)

folding bike luggage
Brompton S Bag
One of the great things about owning a Brompton is the availability of so many perfectly matched accessories, including over 10 different front luggage bags.

As I frequently use my  Brompton to commute to and from the office, and as I often need to bring my laptop, documents, and other things with me, I had been carrying a small backpack.  But, I really don’t like having something hanging off of my back while riding as it’s both uncomfortable and traps the heat, resulting in a sweaty shirt by the time I arrive at the office.

So, last year I purchased a Brompton front luggage set.  As I mentioned, there are plenty of options to choose from.  After careful analysis (made easier by the fact that my local bike store only had two models in stock) I settled on the S Bag Set which includes the main bag, a removable internal frame, a removable front flap, and the front carrier block which is used to lock the bag in place on the bike.

The S Bag is described on the Brompton website as as:

“This smaller messenger-style bag has a low profile and plenty of compartments to store the paraphernalia of modern life. A bright lining and waterproof zips are among the improvements, while a removable front panel allows the bags to be personalised with different designs.  Capacity 20 litres; dimensions 420w x 260h x 170d; comes supplied with a shoulder strap and a high-visibility rainproof cover. Features the black flap.”

After a couple months of usage, I would say that bag is incredibly versatile for both use on the bike and off.  It doesn’t affect the ride or handling when mounted on the front of my Brompton. And, when walking, it’s easy to carry using either the adjustable padded shoulder strap or by the sturdy handle. 

The S Bag is built to last and has large variety of conveniently located pockets.  One of my favorite features in the outside pockets that I use to carry items that I frequently access during my rides including my mobile phone, sun glasses, maps, pens, and wallet.

In terms of durability, design, ease of use, and overall satisfaction, I would give this bag a 9.5 on a ten-point scale.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hamarikyu Gardens - A Nice Park in the Middle of Tokyo

tokyo parks
Hamarikyu Garden Pond

tokyo parks
Tea House  Overlooking Pond at Hamarikyu Gardens

Hamarikyu Gardens (浜離宮恩賜庭園 Hama-rikyū Onshi Teien)

We had a very nice stroll through Hamarikyu Gardens (浜離宮恩賜庭園 Hama-rikyū Onshi Teien) the other day.

If you are looking for nice place for relaxing walk in central Tokyo, I strongly suggest checking this place out.  It's a 5-10 minute walk from Shiodome and Shimbashi stations.  

Description from Wikipedia:

"Hamarikyu Gardens (浜離宮恩賜庭園 Hama-rikyū Onshi Teien) is a public park in Chūō, Tokyo, Japan. Located at the mouth of the Sumida River, it was opened April 1, 1946. The park is a 250,165 m² landscaped garden surrounding Shioiri Pond, the park itself surrounded by a seawater moat filled by Tokyo Bay. It was remodeled as a public garden park on the site of a villa of the Shogun Tokugawa family in the 17th century.

Visitors can also enjoy refreshment at a teahouse in Nakashima located in the middle of the pond in the garden that offers matcha and Japanese sweets in a tea-ceremony style. A peony garden, plum tree grove and cosmos fields have flowers for every season. Japanese falconry and aikido are demonstrated at New Year."

Lake Sai Cabin, Caves, Hiking, and Biking

japan lakes, cycling in japan
Lake Sai-Ko

Lake Sai-Ko

As part of recent vacation I had opportunity to spend some time in Lake Sai  (also known Lake Sai Ko or just Sai Ko) area in Yamashi-ken near Mt. Fuji.

The six of us rented a spacious fully furnished cabin just across the street from the lake.  The cabin has a nice lake view, includes a full kitchen with dishes, utensils etc. and bathroom and bedroom linen.  There was also lots of firewood to use in the wood burning stove.

lake sai
View from Hiking Trail
hiking japan, lake sai
Hiking Trail Near Lake Sai Ko

The best part was the daily rate was just JPY 10,000 total for all six of us.  

I took my Brompton and did some nice rides around the lake.  The roads are well maintained and had very little traffic.

Road Around Lake Sai-Ko (Good for cycling!)

Model Airplane Gang

Nearby lake Kawaguchi-ko also has a nice walking trail along its' south shore.

Overall, both lakes are very pretty and clean.  I did, however, notice, that in some places the locals have taken to simply abandoning old items at the lakeside instead of properly disposing of them.  I can't really understand why the local authorities or even the local residents would put up with this. But, hey, that's their choice.

What's up with that?
At the west end of Lake Sai  there are some nice hiking trails that pass through  forests of pine and cedar trees and have routes to three nearby caves.  We spent almost a full day on these trails and took some time to explore the Bat Cave, the Wind  Cave, and the Ice Cave.  

ice cave japan, cave lake sai
Entrance to the Ice Cave

cave japan, lake sai
Ice Cave
Around Lake Sai there are a few campgrounds, hotels, an outdoor hotspring "onsen", and several restaurants. 

We had a nice lunch of soba noodles at  lakeside restaurant.  The owner was very friendly, showed us her pictures of the local scenic spots, and provided us with a lot of info about local attractions etc.  The noodle were a bit pricey. But, the owner kept assuring us that it was because her noodles had a lot more nutrients than standard noodles. :-)

Soba Restaurant on Lake Sai-Ko
Proprietor of the Soba Restaurant w/Our Gang

More Views from Hiking Trail
Cool Tree
There are several other lakes, lots of hiking trails, and tourist attractions in the area.  This is a very nice, quiet and scenic area that can be reached by car in about two from Tokyo or Yokohama.