North Honshu- Tohoku and Kanto

Boy- it’s been a very long few weeks since Hokkaido– We are currently in Takayama, more than 50% through Honshu (the Japanese main island)-

We’ve ridden 1200km or so in Honshu in 2 weeks without any day off~~ On average, we ascend/ descend 1500-1800m/ day. The most has been 2400m or so– that is like 2.5x Mount Diablo!

North Japan is not what I would ever expect Japan to be– the Northern section is definitely a representation of Japan’s aging population and more rural- farm towns. Last time we visited Japan in February of this year, we only visited the urban centers and touristy spots (Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto)– crazy large metropolitan with amazing array of food choices, weirdly dressed youngsters everywhere, barely any family or old people. The Japan that we have been experiencing has been way different- majority of the people we see have been really old (65+), old farmers harvesting their large plots of land, mostly rice. In Tohoku (Northern section), it was so hard to find restaurants! We have seen more barber shops offering perms than actual restaurants. There were barely any kids (0-16 years old), and barely any young people or young family!

It was/is also harvest season- it’s been nice noting the different progression in harvesting as we rode South- from the yellow ripe rice stalks blowing in the wind, to the machines that separates the grain from the stalk, collecting the stalks and drying them into hay stacks and balling/ wrapping them in plastic.

The autumn colors are also in full blast here- we are so amazed by the variety of autumn colors and the different trees– it has been an endless two weeks full of magical autumn views. It also seems that most Japanese choose to holiday in the autumns, rather than summers. We have been having huge difficulties with finding hotels in the weekends. There was also noticeable increase in traffic and people at the rest stops, especially as we got further South, closer to Tokyo.

A huge part of our biking tour has been the Onsen- public bath house– Brady has been hunting for these everywhere we go– they range from a huge place with pools with different temperatures, to a place with just a pool with 5 showers. Usually, they’re full with older people (again, 65+– not surprising since 25% of Japan’s population is of that age). It’s been a pleasant experience, soaking in really hot water after long riding days, especially after we get rained on.

Riding hasn’t been easy and we have been pounding through the miles indiscriminately– either it’s suburbia town where we were essentially forced to ride on the crappy sidewalk, or hilly places with no shoulders and incriminating buses. Either way– we are always happy when we encounter a place to stop for lunch- usually soba, udon or ramen. The visits to the supermarkets have always been amazing too– they have varieties of really good meat.

I have been filling my time with learning Hiragana and reading every signs obsessively. Too bad that Hiragana is only one of three/ four alphabets that the Japanese use….

We have been camping a lot more in order to feel like we can afford Japan– the hotels are so expensive! The campsites have been wonderful and cheaper (ranging from $5-$25). Japanese have a pretty cool camping culture- they have so many portable and compact gadgets. We need to visit an outdoor store before we leave this place.

Here’s where we’ve been in the past two weeks:

Disclaimer: Norikura Pass Road not shown correctly here- the road is not open for cars, so ridewithgps would not allow me to map it.

Without further ado– enjoy the pictures. The days feel like they merge together. We are so excited for this rest day.

thumb_IMG_7552_1024From Aomori, it was a wonderful ascent on quite roads towards Towada-ko Lake– First glimpse of the amazing autumn colors-

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thumb_DSC05508_1024We stopped so many times~ the weather was great- it was cold(ish), but not rainy– it enhanced the colors and the smell of autumn.

thumb_DSC05510_1024New profile pic!

thumb_IMG_6908_1024Autumn colors, mountain streams- what else can you ask for?

thumb_DSC05519_1024Accidentally (unplanned!), we biked through Oirase Gorge— a famous and amazing gorge with SO MANY WATERFALLS! If you ever go to Japan– you should bike/ drive through this place.

thumb_DSC05533_1024With the bikes~

thumb_IMG_6933_1024Towada-ko lake.

thumb_IMG_7546_1024Trying to dry the tent — the campsite was empty and there was no management there (so it was free!). The bathroom and water was on~ score!

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thumb_IMG_7549_1024There have been so many tunnels– we have probably passed through 50-70 tunnels so far- some of them are more terrifying than others. The longest one was 4km. We pedaled for 15 minutes in the tunnel, praying to not get hit by a truck~ Brady bought new (better and brighter!) front and back lights!

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thumb_IMG_6955_1024So happy with the autumn colors~~ nuff said.

thumb_IMG_6936_1024Due to lack of restaurants, we have been frequenting convenience stores lots for breakfasts and lunch– my favorite onigiris (rice balls) and Brady greedily consuming one.

thumb_IMG_6937_1024Lots of mocchis (glutinous rice balls) and adzuki (red beans!)

thumb_IMG_6911_1024Some of the downhills were so breathtaking–

thumb_IMG_6940_1024Here’s some progression of the harvest season– the golden fields with rice laden with grains

 

thumb_IMG_6969_1024This little machine chomps and separates the grain from the stalks.

thumb_IMG_6999_1024Harvested fields

thumb_IMG_7033_1024Then the stalks are dried before being rolled into balls (for animal feeds)– We have seen the harvesting process for the past 2 weeks– it’s been really fascinating. Not pictured: burning of the cut stalks to replenish the nutrients– not so good for bikers.

CAMPSITE PICTURES:

thumb_IMG_6974_1024Enjoying $3 salmon and tuna sashimi from grocery stores

thumb_IMG_7545_1024Campsite west of Yonezawa– we camped next to mallet golf course– (this weird pseudo-golf that Japanese love).

thumb_IMG_7544_1024Still working on it!

thumb_IMG_7046_1024It was wet there.

thumb_IMG_7129_1024Camping next to lake Chuzenji– there were 30 other tents on the site~ this place was only 2.5 hours driving from Tokyo and it was a long weekend.

thumb_IMG_7015_1024Trying to keep the tents dry– it rained a few nights and we always happened to be camping.

thumb_IMG_7043_1024One of the rainy nights- we cooked inside of the shelter house- Brady pictured drinking sake from a juice box.

thumb_IMG_7047_1024And eating breakfast the following morning of Japanese yams. His hair is getting gnarly.

thumb_IMG_7133_1024breakfast at the campsite. Brady has also been on a matcha (green tea powder) binge.

 

We have been staying at Ryokans (Japanese style accommodation) when we’re not camping.

thumb_IMG_7081_1024You sleep on a futon on the floor- this one was a fake futon (it was actually just a mattress on the floor)– but all the floors are tatamis (woven straws)

thumb_IMG_6946_1024And you bathe in the public bathing — here’s Brady, wearing extra large yukata (the robe-thing)– one of the many yukatas he has worn.

thumb_IMG_7064_1024We were so sick of getting rained on and decided to stay at a (very expensive) hotel that includes dinner and breakfast. We were in for a treat!

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thumb_IMG_7078_1024Very drunk (and tiny) Japanese guy, hitting on Brady.

thumb_IMG_6997_1024We passed many Pachinko (Japanese slot machine) places– more Pachinko places than restaurants.

thumb_IMG_7059_1024After the rain- everything seemed wet–

thumb_IMG_7058_1024And foggy~

thumb_IMG_7054_1024We could see the bridge for a few minutes before it was engulfed again by the fog.

thumb_IMG_7061_1024More riding in the wet~

thumb_IMG_7088_1024But sometimes it’s sunny and everything is glorious again.

thumb_IMG_7547_1024My phone app- Pocket Earth- has been right majority of the times. Except this one. We rode through bushes for a bit before turning back.

thumb_IMG_7543_1024Bridge~

thumb_IMG_7143_1024Tunnel

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thumb_IMG_7012_1024Really cool bridge next to one of our campsites.

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thumb_IMG_7037_1024We passed through many dams and reservoirs

thumb_IMG_7155_1024And some new dam construcion- Yanba Dam in Naganohara- a controversial really big dam project that has been proposed for 63 years before finally being started in January of this year.

thumb_IMG_7156_1024Looking upriver from the dam construction site- This whole thing will be covered in water when the dam is completed.

thumb_IMG_7158_1024Further upstream– the deeper canal has been constructed/ lined, ready for the new dam.

 

thumb_IMG_7091_1024We did some sightseeing in Nikko

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thumb_IMG_7101_1024Going up to Lake Chuzenji from Nikko- it was a long uphill with supposedly 26 switchbacks (each, representing hiragana character).

thumb_IMG_7121_1024I get to practice my hiragana on the way up.

thumb_IMG_7103_1024switchback with Nikko in the background.

thumb_IMG_7115_1024It was warm and sunny up top.

thumb_IMG_7124_1024We’ve been getting 4 flats in Japan (only 2 ever before Japan)– all of them from this super thin staples

thumb_IMG_7125_1024View from the top.

 

thumb_IMG_7518_1024We biked through the most wonderful Onsen towns – this one is Kusatsu- supposedly one of the best (if not the best) Onsen towns in Japan

thumb_IMG_7519_1024Main square- it was sulfur-y pungent.

Now, random pictures:

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thumb_IMG_7147_1024Found a lunch place!

thumb_IMG_7145_1024Met another cycle tourists~ We barely have seen anyone! Lots of motorcycle riders here, though- especially in the weekends.

thumb_IMG_7162_1024Laundromats have special machines for washing and drying shoes (on the right hand side).

thumb_IMG_7514_1024Brady likes Natto (fermented soy bean which has icky texture and dirty socks smell. I HATE IT.

thumb_IMG_7515_1024It’s gooey and nasty – and sticks to his gnarly beard.

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Apologies for the fragmented entry and narration- It’s so hard to puzzle together the events from the past two weeks (it feels like a lifetime!)– I should do these more frequently so they’re more comprehensible.

Next entry– going up the Norikura pass– the highest road in Japan!

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