Monday 17 June – Sapporo-Bangkok-Perth

You’re going to Japan? … it has lots of hills!

This is my last blog post for Japan. Yesterday was filled with packing the bikes and our luggage to scrape into the 30kg limit.

The town turned it on with the Shrine Festival … a procession of colourful floats that paraded through the streets … drums, flutes, tradional dancing on the floats … it went on all day with 1000’s of people involved.

The evening was spent with 4 other cyclists we had met along the way on the road and through the Japan Cycling Navigator FB site – we all happened to be in Sapporo together an opportunity to talk about our travels and experiences, what a great night.


Reflections

Sue: I’d like to go away for 3 months and as it will be my 60th … push the boundaries and do something we haven’t done before … Japan??

Inspired by:

  • Steven Herrick’s travel books – ‘Bento, Bicycles and Bathhouses‘ and ‘Kimchi and Kimonos’

We cycled 4591kms … the hills were not at all that bad; the most climbing in a day was 945m. Tunnels are very scary and some without cycle paths. The longest tunnel was over 5km. One day we went through 21 tunnels; the hills, farm land, coastline, lakes and forest all amazing – I never tired of rice paddies – I prefer the country to the big cities.

We caught short ferries between islands and one 19hr overnighter from Oarai to Tomakomai to fast track to Hokkaido – no train travel as its too difficult with bikes on trains in Japan.

Couldn’t do it without Komoot (a mapping device) and syncing it with my Garmin made life so much easier it enabled me to map to the doorstep of our accommodation.

Accommodation was generally easy to find however at times we sought assistance from the tourist office. Golden Week was the worst … escalated prices beyond belief. We stayed at hotels, ryokan’s (traditional Japanese rooms with futon beds and straw matting floors – that straw smell will remain in my nostrils for quite some time), a few Love Hotels the first will remain in my memory – round bed which rotated 360° and lifted to another floor level adorned with mirror panels. (I’m not sure who got the most laugh … probably the two ladies who showed us the room and had to explain the bed controls), Guesthouses, Youth Hostels.

The bikes were very reliable – this is their 4th overseas trip, John had 2 punctures within the first few days then was puncture free; I had none. I had a complete set of brake pads changed once.

I loved – the onsens; Japenese people were so helpful; ability to park your bike outside fully loaded and it will be there untouched when you return hours later locked or not; convenience stores good for a snack, coffee and free wifi and extremely clean toilets; toilets were available everywhere; supermarkets – they had a sitting area with a microwave oven to heat up any purchases and eat there; security – you don’t have to watch your valuables like a hawk … nobody will touch them or steal your wallet from your back pocket; hotels have a microwave oven and coin laundry at very reasonable prices. Food was good and fresh … I still like rice and noodles, water drinkable from the tap, bakeries in rail stations and supermarkets were amazing.

Love that the Japanese have kept their traditional even if it does my head in – constantly changing slippers; when you enter a place (some restaurants, accommodations or shops); go to toilet; go outside – all different slippers – walking upstairs is very tricky.

The cycling network on facebook was extremely helpful with routes, general advice and friendships.

The weather – perfect, only one day we were held back due to rain a few days were spent riding to a hotel in the rain otherwise perfect.

12 weeks … done and dusted with some fabulous memories, friends, stories to tell. A great country to explore on 2 wheels.

Sapporo – Friday 14 June

I’ve missed a day … never mind, yesterday was securing bike boxes, the guesthouse owner had a contact only 1km away and kindly arranged it all. It was cold, cloudy and windy we walked to the Sapporo station then found many shopping centres and the underground space of 520m between stations with 2 shopping centres and general shops … and no wonder, this city has snow for 6 months of the year.

Today is very sunny and warm, a little windy – t-shirt weather … we picked up the bike boxes then headed out on our bikes, first the Former Government Office building, a lovely old building and open to the public and exhibitions in English (a plus); a ride through the Hokkaido University Campus surprisingly all the signage was in English and Japanese, then onto the Sapporo Brewery Museum which was very well presented and informative.

Another park up the other end of town … here we discover that there is a festival this weekend … the penny drops … accommodation was at a premium and hard to get. The park is full of stalls selling food of all description; game booths etc … I hear screaming … a ghost train ride. Lots of people taking advantage of the beautiful weather and the teens and above are out in their Komonos – such a pretty sight.

A nice soup curry for dinner … baseball is on TV what better thibg to watch on a Friday evening.

Shimamatsu to Sapporo – Wednesday 12 June

60th birthday …

A latte ride into Sapporo … along the cycle path from Chitose to Sapporo. What a wonderful route for our last hoorah … through farming and forest before reaching Sapporo – no trucks or cars just us and other cyclists, walkers and joggers.

We are near the busy end of town but happy with a quiet Italian Restaurant for dinner, after securing our remaining accommodation.

A budget guesthouse for 3 nights and hotel for 2 nights … that is all good. The manager is taking us to a friend at a bike shop tomorrow to secure bike boxes which we will pack the bikes ready for the flight back home.

I can now relax …

Numanosawa to Shimamatsu – Tuesday 11 June

It’s Tuesday and it didn’t rain …

A lovely breakfast … the youth hostel prides itself on home grown produce. Lovely home baked bread, vegetable fritata, asparagus salad, vegetable soup and home made jams … lovely but not John’s cup of tea for breakfast. The manager does the cleaning and cooking while her elder sister helps out; her day job is working in the farms up the road in the hot houses.

We set off to do our last serious mountain climb, a very quiet road no traffic within 5km a farmer on a tractor stopped us and had an in depth, animated conversation with us. We gathered that we couldn’t go further so turned back on the main road headed to Sapporo.

Thoughts of his conversation:

‘I don’t want you stealing my melons’

That way is infested with bears chasing cyclists’

‘It is a dead end’

[Looking back it was a dead end … Komoot what are you thinking??]

Feeling subdued, we follow a main road, small climbs along the river sharing with trucks, then great downhill descents with great views of farming area. We are now on flat land with headwinds, it appears to be a truck route.

We reach our accommodation and get a prepared meal at the supermarket. In the meantime a Chinese family come in with food to cook and ask if we would like to join them …

Shimukappu to Numanosawa

On a deer and bear hunt …

We had a lovely Japanese dinner at the Guesthouse … no wifi so we were a little restricted with planning.

Another day crossing over mountains through the forest and over bridges and rivers.

An early start knowing there were a few climbs … why should we worry … we own the hills!!!

We were assisted with several tunnels, a busy road with several trucks. We heard a couple of woodpeckers drumming nearby. Rivers everywhere and on the lookout for bear and deer as roadsigns kept reminding us not to leave food scraps around.

We were at our destination by 1pm and able to check in

We are at a Youth Hostel in the middle a the forest/farming area. Lovely pine A-frame building surrounded by forest. A 1.9km trip to the supermarket through quiet roads and close to hot houses. I just love this country!!

We are on the patio watching a fox – poor thing has one mangled front leg.

I have spent a few hours syncing garmin/komoot/phone … something went wrong, now it’s all good. Technology is great when it behaves!!

An amazing dinner followed by a walk and seeing a deer and 2 foxes … my day complete.

Furano to Shimukappu – Sunday 9 June

A very pretty ride …

The Petit Melon Hotel had a free happy hour last night … it was nice meeting all the guests over a wine and snacks as well as the managers.

I’m so pleased we persisted to go this route. A short 50km ride – we were on route 985 from Furano, a quiet road among farms and mountains to our right some with streaks of snow. There were threatening heavy clouds but no rain. It is a Sunday and lots of people in the farms working … a tractor is busy spraying an onion crop, some hand planting in the fields. A couple struggling with lengths of plastic in the breeze as they make small rows of hot houses.

Gentle rolling hills … it’s 27°C and only 9am. Rockmelon vines well established under plastic, a scattering of vineyards and some asparagus, and of course rice and grain crops … possibly barley. The combination creates such an interesting landscape.

Water channels are a many coming from the hills, which adds to the beauty and tranquility.

After 14km we turn onto route 237 as the mountains close in we are going through a heavily forested valley crossing several rivers and attractive rail bridges. The forest is very thick and we are looking for deer everytime we see the familiar deer road sign.

Then up for a long climb over the mountains – a bit of relief with a 500m tunnel. Then a great descent, before we knew it, we were in Shimukappu at 1pm.

A small village in the hills with a few visible ski runs on the mountain above the township.

We are at a guesthouse that has seen better days – it has a public bath which is always nice after a ride … not the mineral water kind. Accommodation was extremely hard to find here.

Shirogane to Furano- Saturday 8 June

After a considerable amount of rain overnight we were lucky to have a partly cloudy day. We first climbed 295 stairs in a covered stairway to a lookout of the mountain range … sadly the cloud looked there to stay for a long time.

We back tracked a few kms from yesterday without having to peddle for 4kms – Komoot tried to lead us on gravel we managed to get around it on other roads through the forest. Gentle hills and great descents. The forests and mountains around us.

Back into agricultural areas … I whiff cattle … sure enough a sign for a dairy. Barns stocked with round hay bales. The cows are all housed in sheds so we don’t see them.

Closer to Furano we visit Tomita flower farm … this is what is seen on media outlets selling this area for the summer season. On the hills is the beginning of what will be a kaleidoscope of colour in weeks to come attracting tourists. Today it is very quiet … outlets selling local produce. This area is also renowned for rockmelon … a stall selling everything rockmelon.

Within a km we pass by Nakafurano Flower Park, the hill is starting to get a bit of colour as the seedlings are starting to grow. Then we pass the lavender park – no flowers yet.

The houses have lovely gardens with backdrops of the mountains. It’s very scenic here … snow activities in winter and beautiful gardens in summer.

Furano also boasts a winery and cheese factory, and located in the middle of Hokkaido; an annual Bellybutton Festival is held in July. All things have a center; for a person, this is the bellybutton. Hokkaido’s bellybutton lies in Furano.

We are based within metres of the ski lift … it is not operating at the moment but busy in the snow season.

A lovely Japanese curry (soup style)

Asahikawa to Shirogane – Thursday 7 June

John: when do we start to climb?

Sue: we are climbing … 2 – 3%

A very late start. The kind ladies at the tourist office booked 2 nights for us. We weren’t able to do it online ourselves and they spent invaluable time with us to phone and book.

So now we can cross the mountains and not backtrack. Whew!!

We stocked up on 11’s and lunch from the Deli France, bakery at the station … they have the best produce … yesterday by popular request from my kids I had to have a ‘Sapporo Cheese Tart’ it turns out locally it is a ‘Kinotoya’ and it was delicious. Today I had a double cheese bread … OMG a square bread roll topped with cheese and inside soft cheese … to die for!!! (11’s taken at 12:45pm); ‘lunch’ a salad roll … yummy and cranberry bread roll … also yummy. Lunch at 1:50pm at a road rest stop in the silver birch forest.

Memories of a picnic lunch with Mum and Dad in Caloundra, Queensland at some tables at a roundabout and as a 13yo I was so embarrassed.

A 47km day along a water channel with hills as a backdrop to rice paddies and greenhouses.

Loving the striking colour schemes of houses and their gardens with spring blooms.

Then we have some amazing rolling hills with spectacular patchwork views.

We go through the lovely town of Biei – they have put a lot of effort into tourism; street signs in English; cycle paths in place.

The road to Shirogane is straight and a gentle 1-3% climb – we don’t even feel it. Lots of tourist buses … ummm! Now I know Blue Pond!!

We have been just behind the rain today … before us is puddles that look fresh and cars with wipers on. Blue Pond turn off, the carpark has 10 buses … people everywhere. We join the hundreds and are amazed at the beautiful coloured pond.

Only 3km to our guesthouse … an onsen then the rain starts … luckily after dinner the rain stops and we venture down towards a bridge … John looks back and a WOW factor … the snow scattered mountain of Mt Tokachi what a sight along with the waterfalls. By now there is low cloud and visibility is restricted … tomorrow we will come back for another look.

Ashibetsu to Asahikawa – Thursday 6 June

Sometimes I miss my tent …

The rain has gone and blue skies with fluffy clouds. A little hill climbing through the forest of white birch and pine.

No traffic and only the birds, cicadas and frogs to join us. A descent which opened up into farmland; for a while I thought I was in Austria then I was brought back to reality when rice paddies appeared, terraced down the hills.

The far hills were a patchwork of colour. Amazing scenery through rolling hills. A short ride today 14km from Asahikawa we joining a cycle path along the river, the main road was above us and we were sheltered by bush following the river.

A small climb and we are confronted with a view of the mountain range with patches of snow.

Our hotel (9C) is conveniently close to the railway station and only 6 months old … very impressed – showers/toilets are shared and well appointed. An automated check in/check out system … my mind goes back to the new capsule hotel last year in Rotterdam. A great functional common area at reception.

We spent most of the afternoon planning the next few days … unfortunately we may have to do some backtracking to avoid sleeping under the stars in the mountains.

Mikasa to Ashibetsu Onsen – Wednesday 5 June

You only get wet once …

On with the rain jackets to start with this morning. A light shower to begin with then heavier unrelenting rain. We had the wide footpath to ourselves … who would want to be out in this? The road was busy with trucks … you tend to zone out from their noise.

We are going through farming country … rice and agriculture – houses with lovely gardens. Daisies and blueweed are prevalent in vacant land … and looking wonderful.

The rain eased at midday.

A trip to a tourist office along the way and given a different route … a very quiet road – no traffic at all … just the birds chirping … a few gentle hills, then a significant 7% climb for several kms and lovely glimpses of the valley in between low cloud and the forest. We are in alpine country – ski area signage and cleared hills for skiing.

3:30pm it rained – just enough to get us damp when checking into the hotel. The spa was welcome.

Hoping for some fine weather tomorrow.