Leader: Robin Howe
Co-leader: Dan Carey
Tour Contractor: Spice Roads
Trip Dates: Sun, 8 Oct 2023 — Mon, 23 Oct 2023
Trip Classiﬁcation: Intermediate
It may surprise you to know that Japan consists of a total of 14,125 islands and a population density of approximately 340 persons per m2. Our trip covered a small section of the western coast of the largest island of Honshu. Some of our days were spent riding along bike paths, on rural roads, along sea shores, through tunnels and some navigating streets heading out of towns. Our journey began in the city of Kyoto, once the capital of Japan and the centre of Japanese history and culture.
There were 20 participants including the trip leaders and we were very aptly supported by three guides, Brad Bennett, Paul Taylor and Zac Reynolds, long-time residents of Japan and experienced cyclists. They were joined by two Japanese locals, Zen and Koichi who drove the support vehicles. Our rental bikes were Trek hybrids in new condition and well maintained during the trip.
Over the course of the 15 day tour there were two “free days” planned to do self guided tours in the cities of Nara and Kanazawa and two other short ride days to spend time visiting a knife factory and a large family estate of historical signiﬁcance. We experienced one planned 90 km cycle day along the coast where the weather prediction was for wind gusts and heavy rain all day. The guides determined it would not be safe to ride in those conditions and made an executive decision to ﬁnd alternate means to travel to the next destination. They quickly began the necessary complicated steps with the locals and Robyn to make plan B happen. The negotiations were successful and we were able to travel by bus to Suzu city. Over the course of the remaining 11 cycle days, we cycled approximately 660 kms and climbed approximately 5,242 metres.
Each day our ride began with the twists and turns required to navigate an exit from a city or town. These early starts to the rides allowed us to see and experience some of the older sections of towns with the predominantly wooden structures that remain as local shops or townhouse residences (machiya in Japanese). Zac (aka Zacopedia) was a wealth of information about the historical signiﬁcance of these iconic and important structures. There are 1700 temples and 800 shrines in Kyoto alone and many many more dotted throughout villages, towns and cities. The major religions in Japan are Shintoism and Buddhism and their places of worship are thousands of years old. We stopped to wander many of them along our routes. Some temples were very large and consisted of several buildings while some were small and tucked away. Each temple and shrine exuded an aura of peacefulness and calm. They continue to actively be used as places of worship and prayer.
Although we were too early in the season to to experience the deepest colours of the fall foliage, we marvelled at the beauty found in the lush greens of the gardens that are an integral part of several of the temples, castles and estates we toured. They brimmed with emerald mosses and well trimmed trees and bushes.
Time spent in a garden is never a waste of time!
Our rides also took us along tea plantations, and stunning canals. We rode the shores of Lake Biwa (the largest lake in Japan) and the Sea of Japan. On our last ride day we glimpsed the snow capped Japanese Alps.
Our accommodations were a combination of “western” style hotel rooms or a room in a Ryokan (Japanese hotel). Somewhat puzzling. There was no bedroom and no bed! Beds appeared while we were down to dinner and yes …..you sleep on the ﬂoor.
The food on the trip was plentiful and meals were generally enjoyed as a group. For breakfasts we sometimes had a choice of Japanese or “western”. A Japanese breakfast may consist of Sayu (plain hot water) as the starter. It is to help food turn into energy by warming the stomach. This is followed by Sashi (a simple plain broth). There are also small amounts of chicken breast or ﬁsh with green pepper, simmered sweet potato with lemon, rice with corn, marinated ginger with miso (soy paste) and a salad. Lunches were either picnic style or, as the stop permitted, some were also in a restaurant. Wonderful and nourishing snacks appeared out of the support van at about every 20 kms. Everyone was pretty adept at using chop sticks by the trips end!
The trip promised more than just cycling but also learning and enjoying Japanese culture. One afternoon’s delight was attending the Umemori Sushi School in Nara where we learned about making sushi and sashimi “the right way” and once done, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch.
We visited the Takefu Knife Factory and spent time watching the artists perfect their craft.
We also enjoyed visiting the Asakura Clan Ruins in Fukui. The clan was a powerful family and the warring lord ruled over the area and the 10,000 Samurai and townspeople. Much of the town had been preserved underground. Excavations began in 1967 and continue today. A part of the town has been restored and artifacts are on display in the museum. It is the only such site in Japan. We wandered among the restored village buildings and garden.
When asked about highlights of the trip several respondents spoke to the respectful Japanese culture and the tolerance demonstrated to us and each other. Others mentioned the architecture both old and modern and how well the people had learned to live in small places. The cleanliness of even the largest cities and in particular the public toilets (not to forget to mention the delight of a heated toilet seat!) delighted everyone. Apparently the sashimi was superb as was the ride out of Kanazawa. We were all grateful for the company we kept and the opportunity to ride with friends known as well as new. Collectively we agreed that we were most fortunate to have three knowledgeable, competent and fun guides and two equally competent and fun support drivers. Each of them was eager to share his knowledge of Japan and make this the best trip it could be. Our heartfelt thanks were also extended to Robyn and Dan for all the work behind the scenes on our behalf.