Lake Toya to Oshamambe – Friday 31 May

It can’t rain … it’s not Tuesday!!

Lovely night stay in the Grand Toya another night would have been great to discover more of the lake – a short 56km ride today on the coast of Uchiura Bay.

Troubles with booking accommodation again so off to the tourist information office for help. The Rakuten website English version is good until your ‘city’ then all goes pear shaped and an error comes up. Nice man at tourist office phoned and confirmed our booking … a white fib … I gave them John’s mobile number as contact which is out of credit … I’ll have to visit the temple that deals with the phone gods (with respect). The man asked if we were aware how far it was, ‘yes!’

‘Do you have a map?’

I show him my Komoot app and the route.

How long have you been cycling?’

‘9 weeks and 3 to go’

Where did you start?’

‘Fukuoka’

A roar of laughter from him and other 2 staff member in disbelief!

(I love people’s reactions … they look so shocked)

So a very late 9:45 am start. Heading around the lake for a few kms then across to the coast. Within about 10 minutes a 2km tunnel and views of the coast.

We went into Toya for a bakery breakfast and headed along the coast … it was overcast and rain due around lunchtime. A few climbs with lovely coastal views to our left and mountains on the right. I lost count of the number of tunnels; positive – they knock off a lot of climbing, negative – lots of trucks today thundering through the tunnels.

I love the roadworks … the traffic controllers take their job very seriously, all dressed in uniform with their flags waving the traffic through and whistles to slow down. They are not leaning on a ‘slow/stop’ lollipop signs like at home.

Komoot takes us off the highway through Okishi, wonderful few kms – no traffic and hugging the rugged coast with some interesting rock formations.

After a considerable amount of climbing and tunnels, rain threatening we had an amazing downhill run into Oshmambe. A stop at a supermarket to get to lunch. Our accommodation is a little out of town … just got there and within 30 minutes the rain came down.

We are minutes from the beach but too wet to investigate. The hosts are lovely, our age and we converse with google translate, he is a collector of any and every thing; and his trade is an architect. He built the guesthouse and a great coffee shop. He has a 60yo wall telephone; also working 60yo Mitsubishi radio. A gramophone, amongst all types of memorabilia too broad to describe.

Still raining and he drives us to the local ramen restaurant only 1 minute away. He offers to pick us up although we tell him we’ll walk bac

We immediately think we are on a ‘Happy Days’ set, the restaurant has booths and music from 50/60’s – I was just missing my poodle skirt and bobby socks, just waiting for The Fonz to appear … haha.

A lovely meal and very short walk back in the rain.

I nice touch to the day complete contrast to yesterday.

Lake Shikotsu to Lake Toya – Thursday 30 May

When you go to your local shops for 5 minutes and return 3hrs later … my day today – I met up with my mates!!

Late leaving as the guesthouse staff did their best to get us accommodation at Setana … downfall we didn’t have a Japanese phone number.

We hugged the lake with glimpses as there was forest all around, lots of trucks, however there was a nice wide path. Also glimpses of patches of snow on a mountain. The chirping of birds was drowned out by the deafening cicadas.

Our first tunnel was 1.5km and cycle friendly … a lovely surprise at the end … we meet Peter from Melbourne, also cycle touring and spending 3 months in Japan – lovely to meet someone and have a chat.

Meanwhile back on the bikes and climbing, we lost the lake and had a steady 10km climb over the mountains.

We had not had breakfast only 2 cups of coffee and feeling hungry, another tunnel 1.6km and no path … within metres a ute stopped and asked if we were okay to cycle the tunnel … he sounded Aussie … at the end of the tunnel he was stopped … Harley from NZ … now owner/operator of a landscaping business here … he offered us a lift but we declined as it was now a great downhill.

Soon we came across the first food outlet – Mushroom Kingdom – what a goldmine! A truck and car stop and lots of choices of freshly prepared food, ramen, tempura and a bakery and mushroom products. What a find!

Not long, after we meet another tour cyclist, Kelvin Tan from Singapore who I have been conversing with over the months on the Japan Cycling Navigator site … lovely to meet him in person.

We find a nice path that follows the river without trucks for a while – nice to leave the traffic behind.

About 10km before Lake Toya we have entered an apple growing region.

Back on the downhill into Lake Toya and another tour cyclist, Ivan from Birmingham stopped for a chat – also from the Navigator website. What a great day to meet so many cyclists.

We enter Lake Toya and find our hotel, the promised lake views exceed expectation. A trolley for our luggage, our bikes are in the foyer overnight, an onsen and sauna which was very welcome – inside and outside baths, a man prepared our futon beds while we relaxed with a drink and admired the view.

We had a lovely Okonomiyaki at a restaurant not far away and at 8:45pm a fireworks display on the lake started outside our hotel … a lovely touch for the day.

Tomakomai to Lake Shikotsu – Wednesday 29 May

What … no convenience stores …

Hokkaido here we come … nice onsen last night – proper mineral baths I did the whole hot, sauna, outside hot, cold.

Not an early start it was noticeably cooler 17°C … only 35km to Lake Shikotsu. Leaving with 1 1/2 bananas and some bakery items for breakfast. We were in the railway station precinct and passed by some industry … white plumes expelled from a smoke stack … very underwhelming – how long can I hold my breath. Within a couple of kms we were staring into forested hills – lovely brilliant green foliage.

A steady 10km climb about 6% through a mix of forests … todays game was picking the perfect christmas tree – self seeded pines of varying sizes were growing beside the road. What else is there do you do when you are climbing for over an hour. We were teased by glimpses of Mt Tarumae an active volcano – one of many mountains that surround the lake.

We descend through the forest and before we know it the lake is in sight and we are at the visitors centre.

Tourist buses are parked; there is an onsen and lunch deal at a hotel – great tourist attraction.

The township is so small, very touristy, this is their low season, tourist shops and a few small restaurants are open only until mid afternoon, we enjoy the best curry ramen for lunch. We ride along the lakeside road admiring the lovely lake it is known for its clarity.

The tourist buses leave and so does the population. A few drinks by the lake to capture the setting sun in its various stages.

Firstly, blowing a gale then a gentle breeze. We return to the guesthouse the township is deserted and all shops are closed.

Oarai to Tomakomai – Tuesday 28 May

Welcome to Hokkaido

Another adventure begins as we arrive into Tomakomai at 2pm.

The overnight ferry was extremely comfortable.

The 11 berth dormatory only had 6 sleepers, the gentle vibration of the engines and very slight swaying was a good recipe for a great nights sleep.

A lovely young couple, Robert from Germany and Leona from Austria were our bed buddies (with respect) they are also on tour with bikes and camping (I’m secretly envious).

The onsen and sauna was very nice followed by a lovely buffet breakfast.

We talk to our daughter and our Tuesday cycling buddies – we are very aware that it’s great being within 1hr of our timezone at home it’s extremely convenient.

Now back to business to plan our next few days.

I’m once again thankful for the advice from my requests on the Japan Cycling Navigator Facebook group, I feel a little bit more comfortable about the coming 3 weeks.

We berth at Tomakomai and a few drops of rain – nothing to get us wet … of course, it is Tuesday, my mind backtracks to last Tuesday when we were laid up at the base of Mt Fuji due to very unseasonal rain.

It is also cool … all I was hoping for. Our hotel allows us to our room at 2.30pm – a trip to the tourist office at the railway station. The kind lady arranges us accommodation at Lake Shikotsu for tomorrow – I feel we are on our way.

The hotel has a natural onsen and sauna … of course I take advantage …

Tsuchiura to Oarai – Monday 27 May

Only for a tour cyclist …

A short 56km ride – it’s still very hot – garmin recorded 27°C to 38°C.

The road out took us through renkon fields and rice paddies. We are off the beaten track and enjoying the agricultural areas a few undulations thrown in thanks Komoot! We cross at the very top of Lake Kasumigaura and see the cycle path associated with the ’round the lake’. We pass by small forests of bamboo and pine with small patches of dappled shade … so nice with the heat.

Lake Hinuma peeps into view as we go up a hill and a typical view of rice paddies.

I can see we are getting close to the sea – the road is wider and then up a small hill … what a lovely sight! Long beaches ahead, a surf club and beach umbrellas and shades; several swimming in the distance.

Our focus is the ferry terminal which was easy to find – it doesn’t open until 4pm however the waiting area is open and airconditioned. There are a few touring bikes there – a young couple from Germany and Austria.

The ferry is huge … is this our first ‘cruise’?

We venture to a supermarket, nice sushi, watermelon and pineapple for lunch.

The Marine Tower is minutes away ¥330 to get a panoramic view … a mother/child toilet and a disabled toilet allows us to have a sponge bath and change into human clothes … feeling much better. It’s 4pm and the ticket office opens – we get the prepaid tickets and wait until 6pm to roll the bikes on.

A wow moment … bike are in the depths of the ferry along with motorcycles, cars and semi-trailers we are on board ushered to our ‘tourist class’ dormitory of 11 futons all stacked in a row, they can be separated by curtains only.

Drop my rack pack and off we go to explore … a kids playroom; casual promenade with table and chairs; restaurant; shops; stage; onsen and sauna (I can’t wait!). The restaurant has a dinner & breakfast combo for ¥2300 – that’s our food sorted.

Tsuchiura to Itako – Sunday 26 May

Boy … is it hot again today …

Nice continental breakfast … I prefer Japanese traditional myself, however John was happy.

At a loss of what to do today a ride on the lake ring-ring road was an option but it would mean a 100km trip. I was particularly interested in the Suigo Itako Iris Festival, it opened yesterday and on for a month.

A trip to the tourist office at the station – after several options, the lovely lady suggested a 50km ride to Itako and we could get a ferry back. Set with maps in hand, she phoned the ferry company to book us on the 3pm ferry.

Back to hotel to get ready, the reception gave us fresh cold water bottles …

Off we go … the route is easy to follow as it is marked on the road. We hug the lake and enjoy watching the fishermen, lots of stone and wooden breakwaters. On our left kilometres of Renkon (lotus root) crops which was very interesting the workers are out in their waterproofs sloshing around in waist deep water, a high pressure hose like a fire hose is being used to loosen up the roots I gather. Large potato shaped vegies are piled up. There are also long roots which I guess are also part of the plant.

The land is very flat with small hills in the distance. The lake is huge, rice paddies take over from the renkon. We pass by small lakeside villages. It’s very hot and a small headwind.

We make it to Itako and see signs to the Iris Festival – lovely gardens along a canal … I think another 3 weeks and it will be stunning. Small bridges across the canal give great views.

As part of the festival a reinactment of a tradional wedding is performed … we were lucky that it’s happening today at 2pm … we can see the start. Ladies in traditional dress … umbrellas are all out for sun protection.

We leave to catch the ferry about 4km away …. I thought … the map was a little ambiguous, nice tailwind. By 2.30pm John said ‘something doesn’t seem right’ recheck the map and our surrounds – back we go … headwind this time to within minutes of the festival … 2 ferries berthed,

‘Are you two Australians?’

‘Yes!’

‘You are booked on this ferry you have 19 minutes before we leave’

By this time we are parched and hot from the to’ing and fro’ing.

‘We’ll be back in 5 minutes’

A 7/11 is up the road … John picks up some cold beers and we enjoy the ferry ride, 1hr 20min we are back to Tsuchiura.

The ferryman is very friendly and we talk about the hot weather, ‘this is very unseasonable … it’s hot for us too!’

Back to the hotel … shower and aircon on … we watch the finals of the Sumo tournament … and why not … it’s the number one sport in Japan! Later on the news doesn’t need any interpretation … there is definitely a heatwave, record temperatures have been reached everywhere especially Hokkaido.

I look on my garmin connect app and our temperature range while riding today was 27°C to 38°C … that explains it all.

Tokyo to Tsuchiura – Saturday 25 May

Think Japan … think rice paddies …

It has a Saturday feel about … minutes away a nice coffee shop breakfast near the station, it’s 7.30am there is hustle and bustle around as people are in a hurry … to catch a train? Get to work? Who knows but it’s lively … this is Tokyo.

Komoot has us out of the city without going through the centre. It’s already 26°C, the road is easier today than the footpath – the suburbs are clean and neat – everyone is out and about on their bikes; families – 1 adult with 2 kids front and back on one bike – it works well here; aged folk just enjoying the sunny day; middle aged school kids on their way to sport with their sports equipment bag over their shoulders. Komoot likes the suburbs and little lanes, so do I – you get a real feel for the place.

Then as we go further out we travel along several river levees – cloudless skies, a running track; looks like a pop-up golf course; baseball and softball diamonds everywhere with players in action; soccer pitches and many lycra lads on their roadies. I love travelling on Saturdays it’s always entertaining along a river bed to stop and watch a baseball game for a while.

Before we know it the temperature has risen to 37°C a few stops to refill water bottles. A break from suburbia and a very large plain before us as we ride over a long bridge and below rice paddies galore. More towns and agricultural areas before we reach Tsuchiura at the northern end of Lake Kasumigaura, the second largest lake in Japan.

Check into the hotel for 2 nights … we grab a few drinks and ride along a lakeside cycle path, find a bench and enjoy the serenity as the sun starts to set.

Tokyo – Friday 24 May

A lovely day 30°C+ started with a cafe breakfast and 9:30am Soshi’s City Bike tour. We covered a very different area to what we did yesterday so that was an extra bonus.

The business; high end fashion areas this included Uniqlo which isn’t high end but the worlds largest flagship store – 12 floor high; the Lion Beer Hall – first in Tokyo in Ginza district; the geek area in Akihabara was interesting with anime, anything electronic in billboarded buildings.

The Sumo stadium where we stood and watched the wrestlers enter and leave. The morning session is the low end ability and later in the evening the higher class begin. Sumo is still Japan’s first major sport, followed by baseball and soccer.

The Imperial Palace; the richest real estate in the world, 300 hectares – 2 people live there and 1000 staff.

The Hibiya Park – we hear an orchestra – a weekly free midday concert … however this park will be transformed later this afternoon as the 10 day Oktoberfest is in progress – 17 – 26 May … only in Japan …they have the ‘Oktoberfest’ 3 times a year.

The ride finishes – a couple from Tel Aviv and a father/daughter from Washington DC all nice company. We decide to have a drink at the Lion Beer Hall, then find a bakery in a shopping centre in Hibiya – I have wifi and can Komoot our way back to our guesthouse.

Washing to do and meet a lovely Turkish couple living in Spain, equally impressed by their first time in Japan.

Nice day … 2 nights is enough in Tokyo.

Tachikawa to Tokyo Thursday 23 May

You can’t go to Japan without going to Tokyo …

Well, I could but didn’t get away with it. A short 27km ride and here we are in Tokyo. It just seemed a continuous ride through suburbs nice 2 story housing, schools, parks and lots of tree lined main roads. We are staying at Okubo, just outside Shinjuku the administration and nightlife area.

A trip to the station to the tourist office was very fruitful … I’ve been trying to book our passage on the ferry to Hokkaido several times but unsuccessful … a help from the staff and I can now say we are off to Hokkaido on Monday on the 19hr overnight ferry.

Meanwhile here we are in the capital city of Japan – bustling with tall buildings and people. There is nothing more exhilarating than riding like a local – switching from road to footpath to avoid people, traffic lights and traffic.

I’ve read about bike parking and confiscation. John managed to get himself a warning – I was in a dedicated cycle bay – he was chained next to me (not in a ‘spot’) Lucky it was a warning only.

A visit to the Meiji Jingu – a lovely large park – very bushy with Torii Gates and temples then off to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – 45 floors in 54 seconds and we are getting a panoramic view of the city. Just a short 15 minute queue.

It’s after 5pm amd we haven’t checked in to our guesthouse and my phone battery is getting low. A few pics of what will be extraordinary in the dark tonight … the billboarded buildings.

A walk to where the action was in Kabukicho – no street lighting required, the neon lights do enough. Lots of restaurants and entertainment. Nearby is Shinjuku Golden Gai – narrow alleyways full of tiny bars.

What an exciting evening.

Kawaguchi to Tachikawa – Wednesday 22 May

It’s all downhill … just a little spike …

A mostly cloudy day … great breakfast and off again. Mt Fuji was still asleep … we were hoping for a view but it didn’t happen. All was behind us as we descended through the valley with mountains close by. It was very pretty through the mountains, river, a few rice paddies and vegetable gardens. I’m a sucker for reflections in rice paddies. Komoot took us on backroads which was a nice break from the pitted road and many trucks today. Although there were a few times that the main road got our vote.

The towns just blended into each other. Lots of bridges and spectacular views across the river deep down below us. The river was flowing quite rapidly … did the rain yesterday have much effect

Some nice bridges and hilltop settlements, stunning views. There was an opportunity to go by the main road or Komoot, we chose Komoot.

‘I hope I don’t live to regret this, John’, I say.

Down we went to the river – lovely views … but the main road was above us! Sure enough we had to make the ascent in switchbacks. It was a lovely forest road and good climbs … I think it’s all relative now … no pain – just take it slowly and enjoy. We finally reach the main road and once again have wonderful views of the river and mountains deep down below. We are hoping for a shopping centre for a bakery lunch … fat chance! The towns are small before we start climbing again.

‘I think this is the spike, John!, I say,

He replies, I thought we had the ‘spike’ on several occasions before!

After many swichbacks and hoping for a tunnel that didn’t happen we scaled the mountain unfortunately we were on the wrong side of the road to capture a complete view – the descent was great then a 2km long tunnel … the landscape immediately changed from a forest environment to a large cityscape.

My thoughts were ‘take me back!’ I was loving the natural environment!

We are now on the outskirts of Tokyo – high density living – a huge railway precinct surrounded by shops and restaurants and people.