Words and Photos by Eric Yeo Shumin.
15 October – 5 December 2018.
Wakkanai – Kagoshima: 3348km in 51 days.
After riding in Hokkaido, Eric continued his journey down South towards Tohuku.
Cycling the Route 103 to Lake Towada, throughout the whole trip the autumn colours were the best here (Oct, 26). The ride was challenging, but the downhill sections were exhilarating.
Hotspring/onsen enthusiasts would love Tsuta Onsen and its surroundings.
Walking along the Oirase Gorge and cruise around the lake Towada was particularly memorable.
I met some Singaporeans while staying at a farm in Yamagata, they were here specifically for Sakae. It is a rice-growing region and there are some famous breweries here.
Lovely persimmons along the road, but do not pluck and eat them as they taste horrible when not properly ripened.
The central spine of Tohoku, which is lined with numerous farmlands, boasts beautiful scenery and is very quiet. The road from Murayama to Urabandai via the Nishi Azuma Sky Valley was the hardest climb of the whole trip; a straight ascent from 250m to 1400m in the rain and fog.
It was also the most dangerous as the subsequent 1000m descent in the wet fully exposed the weakness of rim brakes. It helped that it was completely deserted (no cars), on the flip side there would be no help if anything happened. Made it to Urabandai late at night but the youth hostel was closed, I was so tired that I just crashed outside on the porch.
Autumn colours were also peaking in the Urabandai region. The whole place is like a resort town (i.e. expensive). I broke the bank and stayed at an Airbnb (EnCafe) to recover. It was still a fantastic value considering the scenery in the area.
Fate would have it that the Sky Valley I passed the would be snowed in and impassable, lucky me.
On the way to Nikko, I passed the former post town of Ouchi-juku. Traditional Edo period architecture on display, all water and electricity run underground to preserve the rustic feel.
Indeed walking around the town feels like you’re being transported back in time. Once there do try the Negi- Soba, no chopsticks, eat soba with a stick of green onion!
Once in Nikko, visit the stunning Toshugu temple complex and the fairytale-like scenery around the Kegon Falls by cycling up the famous Irohazaka winding road. Even though it was a hard climb, the masses of cyclists on that given Sunday gave me extra motivation to push.
It was forecasted to be freezing and raining that night. Thus I opted to splurge and stayed at an onsen ryokan called “Shiunso” at Lake Yuno.
It was a small operation ran by Ms Tomoko, and it was the most luxurious experience I’ve had. Dinner and breakfast was served in the room. Bedding was set up by Ms Tomoko after dinner, no faffing around with futons. Did I say the meals were terrific? I can’t remember what each small little thing was, but they all tasted fantastic.
The city of Toyota was going to be my mid-point rest stop for the trip as was going to be visiting friends there. I was going to be cutting through the historic Nakasendo via the Usui Pass to get to Toyota city.
The Usui Pass, similar to the Irohazaka, is famous for being featured on the Japanese manga Initial D and is one of the scenic roads of Japan. It has 183 bends and stunning scenery in Autumn. There are also old rail tunnels that were interesting to ride through.
While cycling along the Nakasendo, there are many preserved Edo-era post-towns much like Ouchi-juku. The most scenic probably being Narai-juku and the Kiso-no-Ohashi Bridge.
One of Japan’s largest pillar-less wooden bridges. They are made from 300-year-old cypress, spanning across the Naraigawa river. Also not to be missed are Tsumago juku and Magome-juku, grab a steamed bun along the way.
Just a few kilometres from Toyota in Fujioka, there was an anomaly in nature where cherry blossoms were blooming along with the autumn colours. Definitely not something you see every year.
I hung out with my friends Rika, Kyle, Bryan & Don who were English teachers for a week while I waited for replacement tires from Germany. Long story short, I wore out my 650b Schwalbe G-ones and could not get similarly sized replacements in Japan as my frame would not clear most 650b tires. The lesson here is to get hard wearing and more durable tires for high mileage touring.
It was a lovely week with friends, and they made it feel like a home away from home. Something notable is I have not conversed in “full” English for weeks, outside of major cities like Tokyo. I had to use “simple” English for any form of conversation. It was refreshing, and I only noticed when I got here.
Things moved quickly once I got the tires and Kyoto was soon behind me. It was my first time in Kobe and tried Kobe beef, just a sampler because the steaks are so expensive, but the taste was interesting, much fattier than usual beef. Probably not something I could eat every day. While at a hostel in Kobe, I met a fisherman and was invited to “sashimi party”, and had some of the freshest fish I’ve ever had.
Stay tuned for final chapter of Eric’s solo bike packing adventure!
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