Cycling the Length of Japan: Hokkaido

•September 21, 2017 • 2 Comments

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Hokkaido is a really big island. Our route occupied a thin vertical sliver down the western side of this vast Prefecture.

 

 

 

LOJ-Hokkaido-4Our group

8 days of open spaces, farms, some nice climbs, lakes, and some busy roads circumnavigating the edge of the Uchiura bay.  Oh, and that particular section had about 13 tunnels out of the total of about 20, with another dozen or so “galleries” (kinda half tunnels).

A 2.5 km tunnel… just peddel like mad.

A 2.5 km tunnel… just pedal like mad.

In all, we cycled 492 miles (787 kms) and climbed 23,747 ft (7420 mts) and there was rain day.LOJ-Hokkaido-8

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Hokkaido is an OK place to ride, a bit unvaried with lots of farms and open spaces. The roads are good, some great, but some are simply ridable. I’d say there are more young Japanese bike tourers here riding with fully loaded panniers and camping gear then anywhere in Japan. Apparently, going to Hokkaido cycling – which is not really on the radar for most Japanese and is considered a remote place – is a thing to do for young Japanese boys.

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HOWEVER, the food here is amazing. Wonderful seafood: scallops, uni, small fishes, crabs, plus some wonderful ramen and udon. The udon is particularly nice, being light and subtle. I could forget the cycling and simply do a food tour of Hokkaido and it would be fantastic.

LOJ-Hokkaido-3above, sorting baby scallops so the can be tossed into the sea and become these…LOJ-Hokkaido-1-8

more wonderful Hokkaido seafood…

 

Next, Honshu….

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The Length of Japan Cycling Tour is about to begin…

•September 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The Length of Japan cycling tour starts next week.  I’ll be the ride leader for our 30 day journey from the northern tip of Hokkaido, Cape Soya, to the southern tip of Kyushu, Cape Sata.  It’ll be over 1,600 miles (2,600 km’s) with more than 100,000 vertical feet of climbing (30,000 mt’s) on (mostly) fantastic roads.

There will be plenty of updates and photos here during the next month…

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Kochi – Katsuo and Keirin…

•May 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A few days in Kochi.  One of our favorite meals in Japan is katsuo no tataki, or bonito seared over a flame of burning straw.  This is the signature dish of this region. Cooking it looks like no fun. 

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A few simple examples of elegance in Japanese design…

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Then we went to the velodrome where they hold Keirin races. Keirin is Japanese cycle track-racing for the sole purpose of gambling.  Kinda like the horse race track in the US. The only women were working, 100% of the betting was by men. Unfortunately, the actual race was being held at another track, so these guys were betting and watching it on video monitors. There are velodromes all all over Japan, and the race schedule moves around the country all year long. 

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And then this: on the street, delivering fish, with the truck running, the woman is whacking off the head of an eel. 

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And of course the price of specialty fruits and vegetables. About $36 for a box of tomatoes.  And these were NOT the most expensive I saw, yesterday I saw a box of 20 small tomatoes for $50!!  They better be damn good, 

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A few days of cycling on Shikoku

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment
After finishing our three weeks in the Zen Temple, I’m now doing a three-day cycle tour on Shikoku, my favorite Japanese island to ride. Day one was a short ride from the Yamatahama ferry to Uchiko, a ride I’ve done before. 
 
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We went to a paper making factory in Uchiko. This is hard, repetitive work.
 
Day two was also relatively short (only 40 miles) but was a monster climbing day on a touring bike (just under 6000 feet). The roads were (mostly) very very good and it ended up being a really great ride.
 
This is my first springtime cycling trip in Japan; usually I ride in the fall when the rice is being harvested, now it’s being planted.
 
 
This area has lots of covered bridges
 
 

And of course, some great cycling roads
 

I spent the night in Yusuhara, a small town in the mountains. This is my hotel…
And the Yusuhara municipal building
 
 
 

Week 1: The Zen Retreat & Spring Cycling “Camp”

•May 8, 2017 • 2 Comments
 This is the first of our three weeks at a Zen retreat in a rural village on the island of Kyushu, Japan. 
 
Even though we struggle to stay awake until 9pm, the 5am chime on my phone still comes far too early.  We then get ready to settle into our cushions in the temple at 5:25 when the monk arrives for his 30 minutes of chanting.  Then it’s 30 minutes of zazen (sitting meditation), a few minutes of kinhan (walking meditation), and 30 more minutes of zazen.  Tea time is 7:05.
 
There’s no breakfast as the monk says, “breakfast is poison”. No doubt a bit of Zen hyperbole. We sneak some fruit from the stash in our room. I’ll take a bit of poison, arigato gozaimasu.  
 
Alison and I have coffee, then I do 30-45 minutes of yoga, sometimes in the temple, sometimes in my room by following a series of videos on the iPad, which brings us to Samu (service to the temple).  Samu is often simply weeding, but sometimes digging up the vegetable garden or raking leaves on the path in the bamboo forest. The first and latter items are perpetual chores, the point of which is very Zen, in that there’s obviously no point. 
 
Then lunch. Mostly it’s stuff from the garden, plus maybe miso soup, marinated mackerel, and gohan (rice) or soba noodles.  No meat yet. One day I helped make handmade udon noodles, which were oii-shi (delicious).  Jiho, our monk host, says we should only “eat to 80%”.  It’s hard to measure, but we definitely aren’t eating anywhere close to Thanksgiving Day fullness.  
 
 
For everyone else, the afternoons are either personal times or excursions with Jiho in his car.  So far these have included trips to a local onsen, or a historical site.  I’ve joined them to the onsen, but my afternoons everyday include a bike ride.  
 
The roads within a 30 mile radius are very small, very hilly, and have few cars. Some roads turn into paved cycling paths deep in the forest, some simply disappear.  My touring bike is perfect for this type of riding. 
 
 Typical road in the area, and below a woodland cycle route…
 
 
The bees must be a serious problem to warrant a road sign!
 
 
And of course, there’s the tunnels…
 
(Speaking of Jiho in the car. I think he’s a reincarnated Formula One race car driver.  Riding with him is not for the faint of heart.)
 
Dinnertime is a Leasure World Early Bird Special, normally 5pm, but Alison has gotten him to almost 5:30. 6:00 is clearly out of the question.  Like the rest of Japan meals, dinner looks a lot like lunch, and breakfast too, if we ate it. 
 
Then it’s hanging out, reading, socializing with the other guests (max 4) and forcing ourselves to stay awake till 9:00, ‘cause that 5:00 phone chime will be right around the corner. 
 
Those two spots are where Alison and I sit in the temple. 
And that’s Fabian, the Italian Bhuddist, doing some martial art thing.
 

 

 

A Zen Retreat, and my “Cycle Training Camp”

•April 24, 2017 • 2 Comments

We’re in Japan for 5 weeks; three of them are at a Zen Retreat on Kyushu.

untitled shoot_20-Sep-15_042-Edit-EditOur typical daily schedule includes waking up at 5:00 for 30 minutes of chanting, followed by an hour of meditation, then tea time, and an hour of Yoga. Then, a few hours of “Samu”, or service to the temple, taking us up to lunchtime.

The afternoons are mostly free, with Alison doing a daily art project, calligraphy with the monk, and hikes to the beach or the village. 

I’m bringing my bike, and plan to do a daily bike ride up into the tiny, twisty, quiet roads into the hills.  My Spring Training.

There’s internet, but we will be on a self-imposed 3 week total news blackout.  No politics. No news.  Just doing the Zen thing and me cycling as much as possible. 
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An Indigo Master, & a Pottery Village

•October 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The Little Indigo Museum in the small village of Miyama, north of Kyoto.  We took a subway, two trains, and a bus…but it was well worth it.

 

11.jpgHiroyuki Shindo has been using Indigo since he was a young man.

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The pottery village of Shigaraki

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1.jpgThere were art installations around the village, this one inside a kiln

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