Japan: Northern Honshu
Jun. 26 / Jul. 16, 2003

Michael J. Ferguson

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Journal Index


1  Introduction
2  Montreal to Mukaiyama, Tues. June 24/ Thurs. June 26
3  Kawaya Farm Hostel, Fri. June 27
4  Kawaya Farm Hostel to Towada-Ko, Sat. June 28
5  Yasumiya, Towada-Ko Sun. Jun. 29
6  Hachimantai AutoCamp, Mon. Jun. 30
7  Tazawa-Ko, Tues. July 1
8  Yatate Pass, Wed. July 2
9  Sakata-Shi, Thurs. July 3
10  Tsuruoka, Fri. July 4
11  Near Okuda, Sat. July 5
12  Near Niigata, Sun. July 6
13  Futatsu-Game, Mon. July 7
14  Iwayaguchi, Tues. July 8
15  Sawata, Wed. July 9
16  Ogi, Thurs. July 10
17  Near Nagaoka, Fri. July 11
18  Nagaoka, Sat. July 12
19  Nikko, Sat. July 12 / Sun. July 13
20  Maebashi, Mon. July 14 / Wed. July 16
21  Maebashi to Montreal, Wed. July 16 / Thurs. July 17
22  Maps

1  Introduction

The main reason for this 3 week trip was to add enough American Airlines Miles to get a ticket for Peggy to visit Virginia in Yosemite this September. American Airlines was having a Japan in June sale which meant I could fly

non-stop from JFK to Tokyo for $887Cdn. This is slightly more than the special 7day fare to Montreal/Fresno. Of course, I didn't want to totally blow the economies so I took an overnight bus from Montreal to New York, and a second one to JFK.

The equipment innovation, as a result of my traumas in Chile was to buy and create lighter tools for my bike, for example, a plastic Lexan handled chain whip and using light double-ended cone wrenches for most of my wrenches. I also discovered that Park makes a tire patch so I do not need to carry a spare tire. My cook kit is also lighter with a new stove by MSR that accepts both Primus and Camping Gas canisters. I also bought a new, old computer that is lighter, and more powerful than my old 486 IBM Thinkpad.

I also built a 4 wheel dolly that I can strap on the bottom of my the bag that sits inside the trailer when I am bicycling and into which fits the trailer when I fly. When flying, the dolly fits inside with the trailer. The bicycle bag, which is essential for Japanese trains sits on top of the trailer bag so I can pull them both as a unit. Although I much prefer elevators, I discovered that I can easily go up escalators that are wide enough. If I add a second strap around both bags, then I probably can go down too.

However, with my food and water the trailer was quite high and heavy - the tent, foam pad, and sleeping bag still take up a lot of space.

2  Montreal to Mukaiyama, Tues. June 24/ Thurs. June 26

Tony, my neighbour, drove me to the bus station and I rolled my two bags inside. They fit quite easily into the bus, and except for the 50lb weight limit imposed by Greyhound, were entirely bus legal. The bicycle bag was under 50lbs but the trailer bag was slightly over. There were no problems and the bus ride was quite pleasant, leaving at 10:30pm, taking only 15min to clear at the border, and arriving in New York just before 6:00am. It took some trial to discover that the JFK busses left from the sidewalk in front of the Port Authority. Getting a ticket also involved some trial. The Ticket office was closed when I arrived, and had barely opened before the bus left at 6:20am. I was tempted to wait for the 6:50am bus and get some breakfast at Burger King across the road but decided that I didn't want to risk the NY traffic. I arrived in the 45min prescribed to find the AA terminal a zoo, and getting worse. I didn't understand the procedure, or what the meaning was of ``Main Cabin'' so I ended up in the wrong line for 10min, and lost 20min while I was there in the correct line. My flight was at 11:40am so I checked in with plenty of time to spare. I did, though, have to convince the agent that there was no charge for my bicycle on a trans Pacific flight.

I left on time, on a very full flight to Tokyo's Narita airport. Although the 777 had several movies, it is very easy to run out of new entertainment on a 13.5hour flight. I was given a New York Times as we left which I was able to read rather thoroughly. One innovation on AA flights is that they now charge $5us for any liquor on all flights.

We raced the sun all the way to Narita and arrived, essentially on time, at 2:30pm. Tokyo is 11 hours ahead of EST so it was now June 26. There was still evidence of SARs paranoia with many face masks, and thermal imager at the entrance to immigration. Although the line appeared incredibly long, it was reasonably fast, but slow enough that all our baggage had been taken off the carousel when we arrived at baggage claim. I was continuously offered a cart, and was met by the surprised comment when I put on my dolly, with

``You made that yourself!''.

I redeemed my Exchange Certificate for a 4day JREast FlexiPass, made reservations Narita/Tokyo/Hachinohe, extracted money from the Citibank ATM, and was on my way. At 7:30pm, it was dark, and raining, so my hope for light when I arrived in Mukaiyama to try to find the Four Star Kawaya Farm Youth Hostel was pure wishful thinking. The final step was to take the last local train from Hachinohe to Mukaiyama. I arrived just before 10pm and put my bicycle and trailer together, in the rain, relatively quickly. Although Lonely Planet said it was a 10min walk to Kawaya Farm, there was no suggested direction. Fortunately there was sign, so I was on my way, only to discover that only the lowest gear of my front gears was working. At the bottom of the hill, just in front of the Hostel, I discovered that AA had bent the outer chain ring so neither it, nor the second one would work. I was able to get up the hill in the lowest one so there was no immediate problem but I was quite worried.

As expected, when you arrive at a Hostel after 11:00pm it was quite closed for the night. Just before I was about to put up my tent, I discovered that their restaurant was open so I went into ask if I could stay at the Hostel. The waiter phoned the Hostel, woke them up, and they let me in. I had a shower and went to bed, with a 4 bunk room all to myself.

3  Kawaya Farm Hostel, Fri. June 27

Today I rode 70km around in the rain looking for maps and camping gas. I found the Japan Road Atlas in the first bookstore. It was their last copy. The camping gas was more difficult. In one hardware store, it was suggested that I look for a sporting goods store. It took me 50km more before I finally found one. They had some, and I rode back to Kawaya for dinner. Dinner was an excellent salad, veal cutlet, rice, and soup for 1050yen, which given some prices I have found, such as 850yen for a tiny bento, box lunch, was a bargain.

4  Kawaya Farm Hostel to Towada-Ko, Sat. June 28

Today started out cloudy, with the folks at the Farm waving me goodbye and ringing bells. However, it did not last. Just before I reached the town of Towada, it began to rain, and continued all day. Although I have Gore-Tex from head to toe, I still end up soaking wet. The prettiest part of the trip was up the Orise Gorge a river canyon leading to Towada-Ko. Ko is Lake in Japanese, but the Romanised signs continually read Lake Towada-Ko. It was a relatively easy climb through dense forest, 100m cliffs, and Tour Busses hogging the road. I stopped several times to refuel, but was inhibited by not being able to find any place that was dry. One stop, with slight shelter from the rain was by the edge of Towada-Ko, one of the largest crater lakes in Japan.

Unfortunately, the mist did not really create a striking Zen image.

I left here at about 6:00pm, with only 12km to Yasumiya, and only 4km more to the campground where intended to stay. I believed I had plenty of time to get there. When I passed a Chain Control Station, just before the road turned inland, I new I was probably in trouble. I didn't really know how much. It was a very steep 500m climb, damn near destroyed me, and made

me wonder if I would even make it to Yasumiya. I don't really like to put a tent up and/or take it down in the rain and it was clear that would be the case now. I reached the summit lookout before total collapse, and saw no grand vista of any lake, only cloud. It was downhill from there to Yasumiya, still in the rain. With some help from people in a rival huge hotel, I found the Towada-Ko Grand Hotel that

has a youth hostel in its old wing. I visited their Public Bath, that allows them not to put showers in every room, and got refreshingly clean. The technology has improved since my visit in 1968. Each washing station has a portable shower head, with body soap and shampoo supplied.

5  Yasumiya, Towada-Ko Sun. Jun. 29

It is still raining, and does not look as though it is ready to stop.

The ride along the lake was in a pleasant, and continual drizzle until I started to climb in earnest out of the crater. It was a continual steep 300m up to Hakka Pass that afforded, according to the signs, the ``four best views of Lake Towada-Ko. Today the view was totally obscuring cloud. There was a slight, and unwelcome, uphill until I reached the actual pass where it was steeply down for several km and then gently down until I reached Towada, not to be confused with Towada-shi, that I passed through yesterday. ``Shi'' is Japanese for ``city''. Just before I reached the city, I actually saw some sun for a few minutes, and it was sufficiently nice when I arrived that I removed my rain gear.

I continued during the afternoon through urbanity and rice fields,

with the occasional unnerving drizzle, with the realisation that there was no hope of me getting to Tazawa-Ko but hopeful that there would be

places to stay in another 20km at the junction of the Aspite Line. Sometime later I saw a sign

for an AutoCamp in only 4km. This turned out to be a painful 5km, all up, to my dismay at 4km, there was only the continuation of the steep uphill. However, a sign did magically appear as I came out of tunnel. The AutoCamp was not yet open for the season, but they let me stay, for 750yen, and an unexpected additional 200yen for a supposedly hot shower. It was nice to relax, and put my tent up with no rain. I went to sleep just after the 7:10pm sunset.

6  Hachimantai AutoCamp, Mon. Jun. 30

It drizzled during the night, but had stopped by sunrise (4:00am) this morning. I was up at first light, 3:30am.

It takes a while to do everything, and I was able to break camp just before 7:00am. It was a good day, no rain, with occasional sunny breaks in

the overcast sky. After the first 100m of climb, in about 1km, I stopped at a just opened convenience store to see if they had higher energy breakfast foods. No luck, so I settled for some more of my trail mix. Across from my ``patio'' table seat was an example of contemporary Japanese art.

Japanese roads have small paved shoulders terminated by an absolutely frightening 30cm wide and 50cm deep (12in wide, 20in deep) drainage ditch.

I understand now why one of the bicycling reports on Japan extolled rear view mirrors to detect arriving trucks. I presume the author sometimes stopped to prevent the bow wave from throwing him into the ditch.

The first part of the day was a 550m climb, through heavily wooded ridges,

up to the 1000m Obayachi Wetlands picnic area in the Towada-Hachimantai National Park. I stopped to stroll along the old and new boardwalk and admire the flowers.

From there it was mostly down, a loss of 700m, for the rest of the day. This was an absolute delight.

I rode past even steeper ridges in the National Park,

past a ``Fun Park'' and wildlife preserve, with a Fun Lake,

past a very pretty unnamed, on my maps, reservoir.

I arrived at the road to Tazawa-Ko just after

2:00pm and spent much time trying to make sense of my maps. I reread Lonely Planet, and discovered that, although the train station was called Tazawa-Ko, the town was 15min away by bus, and it turned out, up the hill in the opposite direction of the lake. I started up to the lake, but decided that I really needed supplies, so then I turned around and started up to the town After about 1.5km of continual climb, I decided that this was hopeless - the town did not even show up on my Road Atlas as a town - so I turned around

again determined to find supplies down below. I missed the Daily convenience store the first time and was able to resupply.

Then it was up over the ridge and down to the lake. It was about 4:30pm and I was now looking for a place to camp. Much to my delight, I saw a huge road sign that said Tazawa-Ko Camp Site in 1km. After going 1km, and not finding anything, I saw exactly the same sign again, but pointing in the opposite direction. The People's Park here, as I was emphatically told by the custodian, was not the place. After several more kms, and rejecting several possibilities, I found a narrow paved path, 800m long beside the lake, and leading to the Yacht Harbour. I rode the entire length,

found the harbour, and discovered that this was a bicycle/pedestrian trail. After much consideration, I settled for a paved parking spot on the path self.

It was a good day of 75km.

7  Tazawa-Ko, Tues. July 1

There was no rain and no traffic on the path - a good night.

The good night was followed by a very good day - the early morning mist evaporated, I had sunshine for the rest of the day, and it was the first day that rode without a jacket. Tazawa-Ko is a small crater lake, and the deepest in Japan. I stopped on my way out to enjoy its calmness and beauty.

I am sure Towada-Ko is equally pretty but Tazawa-Ko had the advantage of no rain.

Much to my surprise, the 5km to R105 was down. The entire route was through orderly trees until I reached the junction where there was the typical mix of flowers, rice paddies, and orderly trees.

From there it was another flat 20km or so to Kakunodate, a small town famous for its preserved Samurai district. I had a little trouble with the signs but found the area easily by following the tour groups.

It was much fun to wander through the houses and gardens, and to be a two star ** Michelin attraction myself when I was beside, or riding, my bike.

Here I had a minor disaster. It was very difficult to find a place to lean my bike because of the very large drainage ditches in front of every wall. I carefully balanced the bike on its kickstand, worried that it might fall over, and when I came back from visiting one of the houses, it had indeed. The real trauma though was that my Japan Road Atlas, had, evidently, fallen into the fast flowing drainage ditch. I ran downstream and recovered it just as it was about to disappear forever. This averted the major trauma, but did mean that I had to spend some time separating all 280 pages.

After using my GPS to get out of town, I rode across the flatland on R105 towards the coast. By 5:00pm I had reached the Yatate Pass and was looking seriously for a place to camp. The pass road has been replaced by a tunnel, and it soon became clear that it dead ended at the top of the cliff. After some investigation, I returned back through the tunnel and climbed up the road. I was quite dismayed as I reached the top to see that there was a car. However, it turned out to be quite harmless. It was just a completely nude middle-aged couple making love.

I continued to the end of the road, beyond their view, and set my tent. It was a completely quiet and undisturbed night.

8  Yatate Pass, Wed. July 2

Today started out as ideal cool and cloudy bicycling weather, with only gentle hills to contend with all the way to the coast. I left just before 7:00am and followed R105 past small farming villages,

past several very strong, but temporarily deployed barrier (for what, snow?) fences,

and many very new, some still under construction, traditional modern housing compounds

until it ended in Honjo-Shi. This is a relatively big city, shi in Japanese, and I easily reprovisioned at the huge Jusco complex for which there are pink billboards everywhere, usually saying 11km or more. The large, and also the convenience stores, have a bewildering variety of bento box lunches and many other, totally mysterious, precooked foods. Usually I buy a random variety, just before lunch, and eat them for the next three meals. I am having real Japanese food, but not

normal restaurant fare.

From Honjo-Shi, I have to ride down the very busy coastal R7. Whenever possible, I rode, instead, on quieter parallel small roads that went through small towns, and right by the Sea of Japan.

I failed to find the Youth Hostel and campground in Kisakata-Machi, even with Lonely Planet's detailed directions, so I continued on looking for a place to camp. Almost every place there is a road, there are people. The small roads that I followed all the way to Sakata-Shi, were lined

with houses or rice paddies. I stopped to refuel at 5:30pm just north of Sakata-Shi, and a curious woman stopped to talk. She understood very little English, spoke none. It was possible to answer some common questions because I recognized words from previous conversations. She was no help, though, when I asked about camping. I left, not looking forward to camping in a park in Sakata.

However, I did not need to do this. About 5km north of town, I passed over the large Nikko river with quite wide banks, well below the main plain. I was not especially happy with the exposed, wet sandy spot I found, but would have stayed there except I noticed that the other bank also had a road going down. This one turned out to be perfect. There was a grassy track that led into some trees. It was protected, and I was able to wash, totally nude, with my No Rinse Body Wash, and was eating supper as the sun went down.

It was a very good day of 91km.

9  Sakata-Shi, Thurs. July 3

There is not a cloud in the sky ... and remained that way most of the day. On the way into town I saw the modern approach to rice paddie dusting, a remote controlled helicopter.

Sakata is a pleasant, small town, but not really compelling. I was going to take a boat to the small, island of Tobishima, famous for its gulls, sea caves, and isolation, but after finding the port, decided that the 5000yen plus 2500 for the hostel was too expensive. Instead I will go to the Dewa Sanzan, some sacred mountains in the interior. The R7 is just too busy to be fun so I left Sakata, carefully avoiding the school kids on their bikes coming into town, and rode south on the quieter, and pleasanter, R112.

My map has the disconcerting habit of indicating tunnels by a break in the road. The unnerving break in R112 at the Shonai Airport was just

that, so there was no problem. R112 runs right along the coast so it was possible to see how beach maintenance is done on their large beaches.

The road very prettily rounds the base of Takadateyama - Mount. Takadate with a rocky coast,

and climbs up about 200m. By the edge of the road, was a Torii Gate, apparently leading nowhere.

There was a new, unfinished tunnel that would avoided the last 50m part of the climb but that will have to be for another day. On the other side of the pass, almost at sea level, is the rather rundown town of Tsuruoka. It showed somewhat greater prosperity in the centre, with some monumental buildings,

On the way out, I found what appeared to be an interesting Buddhist Temple. It was instead, an interesting Buddhist Cemetery.

I continued out of town, towards the mountains and, except for a confusing discussion with a policeman who stopped while I was fixing my bike, on whether I could ride my bike to the mountains and on to Yamagata. - He seemed to say I could not, but our communication was really quite limited - it was uneventful until I found another piece of old highway where I camped for the night.

10  Tsuruoka, Fri. July 4

It rained most of the night and was still raining when I woke up at dawn. It does not appear that I will be able to dry last night's laundry on my bike.

It continued to rain as I rode up towards the Sacred Mountains. There was some charm in the

mist but I would have preferred to have been dry.

I stopped at an elegant park for my first banana break,

and had the use of the classiest toilet I have ever seen. It sensed you were there and automatically heated the toilet seat. In order to maintain its external elegance, the flush lever was hidden behind a pop-out door.

I continued up the hill, where, after about 300m of climb, I saw a sign that said, Bicycles, Motorcycles, and Pedestrians were not allowed 5km up the road. I continued up, hoping to finesse the problem but was stopped twice to have it explained that I could not continue. I guess the policeman last night was trying to prevent this useless effort. However, if I had quit then, I would not have found last night's camping spot and I would not have seen the spectacular wooded cliffs and gorges, and waterfalls. For me, this was the end of the road to Yamagata.

Going back was very easy, the rain even stopped, and there was about an hour of sunshine. I am still going to avoid R7 and am taking R345 south from Tsuruoka. It wound through small towns, and had several 200m climbs and through several tunnels.

At Sekigawa, the map indicated Bad Road, Closed in Winter. It did indeed deteriorate to a single, brand new lane in Sekigawa, and continued as an old single lane, fortunately downhill. It was starting to get late, had been raining again for several hours so I was actively looking for a place to camp. The road hung on the side of a cliff, but occasionally opened up onto a small, semi-valley. Whenever three was a hope of flat land, someone had planted a rice paddie. Finally, as I was nearing a coast I saw a small, paved, single-lane road going off beside a tunnel. It soon became clear that this was the remains of the old road around the hill. At the other entrance, it widened, with a turnout apron., and I had found my campsite. I put the tent up in the rain, dried up the accumulated water from this morning, ate supper and went to sleep. It was now dry and cosy, but all my clothes are very wet.

11  Near Okuda, Sat. July 5

It has stopped raining and I can even see some blue sky. It remained sunny all day. The nasty rain clouds behind me never did catch up.

After about 10km down the coast, the Scenic Rocky Coast began at the small fishing village of Katsugi.

This was the beginning of a beautiful, slow, 35km ride, mostly on a bicycle path,

which occasionally was diverted through a small village beside the main road.

There were many fishing villages,

and, most amazingly, beautiful beaches running right up to the rocks.

It is clear that the tunnel lobby has much power in Japan.

However, they don't win them all!

Along here, as elsewhere, where there is some flat land, there is a garden.

Some rocks had religious significance.

While others were adorned by the ``lilies of the rock''.

Sometimes you find sculpture in the oddest places.

The Rocky Coast ended at Murakami, and it

was here that I saw some men getting their wagon ready for a festival.

It's tough to put on wheels.

The coast south of Murakami, on to Niigata

is very sandy and flat. After about 25km more, I found a nice place to camp, on the shore, in front of a tree farm, beside a small, poor fishing village, and enjoyed the sunset on the Sea of Japan.

12  Near Niigata, Sun. July 6

It is another beautiful day. Just after dawn, 4:30am, several of the fisher folks were out for early morning strolls, or to fish from the breakwater, and greeted me, one with a Good Morning, through the open door of my tent.

I left, at my customary 7:00am, to ride to Niigata and take then to take the ferry to the small, mountainous island of Sado-Ga-Shima. Lonely Planet is rather negative about Niigata-Shi and gives most of its coverage of Niigata-Ken to the island. It apparently has many campsites and hostels. It is supposed to be a place where you can get a feel for an older Japan.

On the way, I passed one of the huge Buddhas for which Japan is famous.

Although R113 is relatively quiet, it was nice to get off through some small villages. It was about 7:30am and the entire village was out to clean the drainage ditches. it is nice not to fall in, but they do require maintenance.

They, also had a small Shinto Shrine.

One foray onto a sideroad dead ended me in the middle of a huge Mitsubishi Chemical Factory. The only other problem I had was a sign for R113 that pointed in exactly the wrong direction. I followed it for a short while, and decided to turn back and believe my map. One other disconcerting aspect of Japanese highway signage is that if two highways merge into the same road, only the smallest numbered one shows up on the signs.

I arrived at the Sado Kisen terminal in Niigata at about 11:30am, just in time for the next ferry at 12:10pm. After two hours we started into the bay where we would dock at Ryotsu Port.

I was given an English Tourist Map of the island so was able to mark all the campsites, just mentioned, but not located, in Lonely Planet, along with several hostels. I decided to aim for the campsite at Futatsu-Game, and if they did not have power to recharge my computer battery, to go on to a highly recommended, Sotokaifu hostel about 10km down the road. This coast becomes very cliffy near the upper tip of the island, and is a continual succession of pleasant fishing villages, some of which are obviously more prosperous than others.

There was also one of those little mysteries that you always find when you travel. What is it that is being hung out to dry?

It was almost dark when I arrived at the camping ground, only to find an almost deserted, and slightly depressing hotel, and no power in the campground. The hotel was much too expensive at 7,000yen a night so I decided not to stay. It was almost sunset so it was clear I would not make it to the hostel.

About 2km later I found a perfect piece of old

highway around a new bridge. This piece was blocked off to very effectively eliminate all auto traffic.

I set up camp during the last light, had supper, and went to bed.

13  Futatsu-Game, Mon. July 7

The early morning clouds have now been augmented by a continuous, light rain. This spot is incredibly isolated so there is no reason to be in a hurry to leave.

I spent most of the day reading and enjoying the solitude. I finally left, still in the rain, at about 4:00pm and discovered that this north side of the island is very rugged. I was up and down, at about 80m above the ocean until I dropped down to the fishing village of Iwayaguchi to find the Sotokaifu Youth Hostel. This is a very Japanese hostel and I have an eight tatami room to myself. A tatami mat is about 1m by 2m. It was nice to get really clean again. Unfortunately, I am the only one in the hostel, but my hosts prepared supper for me and will prepare breakfast.

This hostel also has a high-tech toilet. Not only does it heat the seat, the seat has a multi-function bidet built in.

14  Iwayaguchi, Tues. July 8

As I was packing my bike, the early morning drizzle stopped and I was able to remove my rain pants and jacket. The upper tip of the island remained very rugged and I had several very steep 80m climbs. There were a new pair of tunnels, leading to a new bridge that I dearly wish had been finished.

My GPS went really wild in a couple of places and said I had just climbed to 10,450m. It also spontaneously moved me a couple of km. I may be getting into better shape, but this kind of movement is really limited to transporter technology. I still don't really know what was happening.

The clouds remained low, and at times became fog right onto the ocean. The misty rocks and villages added to what was a very pleasant ride.

This is hydrangea season in Japan. They are everywhere, even adding colour to the cemeteries.

In Chile the plastic bottles decorating the roadside shrines were less than beautiful and quite enigmatic. Here the soft drink cans were unopened, an evidently there as offerings.

There also were coins at the foot, but the personal sacrifice of the offerings was limited to 1yen and 10yen coins.

I arrived in Sawata in the early afternoon to look for the Town Hall where my map indicated I would find free internet access. The free was not nearly as important as the existence. I have seen no Internet Cafes here in Japan. I was given an English map of the island on the boat and made a strategic error of not getting a Japanese version too. Asking directions is obviously much easier if the map can be understood.

I eventually found the Town Hall, and indeed the Internet access was there but for me it was almost useless. They were running Windows NT and had disabled the floppy drive. This meant that I couldn't send my trip report and pictures. However, although it was not possible to browse the CD-ROM drive, it was possible to add attachments from it if you knew the filename. I was about to write the information onto a CD-ROM when, Doug,

who is originally from Nanaimo, but has been working in the JET - Japan English Translation program here on Sado-Ga-Shima came over to say ``hello''. His desk, when he was not in the schools teaching, was in the office beside the computer terminal and he offered to let me use his laptop. He also invited me to stay at his place tonight. The second kindness of the day was an invitation from Hitomi, who has cycled all over Asia but not Japan, to have lunch with her tomorrow. I was also able to contact Yoshi, my friend at Gunma University where I am giving a seminar, and with Doug's help, have put together a reasonable plan to get from here to Numita on Saturday morning by riding and train.

It was a good, misty, day.

15  Sawata, Wed. July 9

It started out to be a beautiful sunny day, so Doug was able to give his classes outside. Doug wanted to take my picture, so he took one for me too.

I spent a lazy morning riding around town and sitting in a picnic gazebo on the beach listening to a middle-aged woman sing to her mother. At noon I met Hitomi, whose email name is pedaller,

to go to lunch. She brought her atlas so I could show her where I had been. Since there are about 40 trips, it is very difficult to detail them all, so I gave her my CD-ROM, and discussed some of my experiences.

As we finished lunch, it started to rain. By the time we got back to the Town Hall, it was starting

to pour. I went on the Internet again nd I finally was able to agree with Yoshi how and where I would meet him. Now it is up to me to make it happen.

As I left to ride to the west end of the island, it was pouring, and continued that way all afternoon. I wanted to camp on the extreme tip of the island, but missed the unmarked roads and was almost in Ogi when I finally saw a sign for a Sobama Beach Campground. It was on the other side of the island, but entirely downhill, a 125m drop. In Japan, it seems normal that I can't find the campground. This was no exception. The coast road continued for about 2km more and seemed to dead end in small harbour. The only other road went up the hill, all 125m climb of it and ended up back on the road to Ogi. It was about 6:00pm when I finally reached the centre of town. I rejected the very exposed city park as a place to camp and started out of town along, what appeared on my map as coastal road. Almost immediately, it started to climb into the interior. I already had four 125+m climbs today and didn't want any more. I rode back towards the center of town, and noticed that there appeared to be a road, or something, on the other side of the bay which served as the Ogi harbour. The obvious way to get to it failed, but I did find a small street back near the cliff that led to it, which was in reality, a widely paved, and new walking trail. This was perfect, and the heavy rain, that had now reduced to light mist reduced the incentive of the townsfolk to wander by. I set up my very heavy wet tent, mopped the little bit of water that was on the floor, washed myself, had supper, and watched the sky go totally dark over the harbour with a glass of Hokkaido


16  Ogi, Thurs. July 10

I was hoping that it would continue only moist, but it was not to be. In the middle of the night the light rain started again, and it is still continuing, and occasionally became heavy as I was taking down the tent. The tent is getting very heavy.

The ride to Akadomeri Port

where I was to get the 13:30 ferry to Teradomeri was very easy, completely along the coast, with only a couple of small cliff climbs. I rode the 18km very slowly, then rode very slowly around town, but still arrived with almost 5 hours to wait. I looked again carefully at my map of Sado and finally found that the 102a blue star on the map in Akodomari, was the Hokusetsu Sake Brewery and that it offered free tasting. I had passed it earlier on my bike and thought that the Japanese symbols for the name were stylised karate experts.

They let me taste seven, very different, sakes, all cold, and none of which tasted like the hot sake I am used to at home. I really was not expert enough to tell if any of them were good, very good or excellent, but I must say that the one that won a prize was the least interesting that I tasted.

The highlight of the ferry trip were the occupied apartments that we carried along with us.

It is tough to have a stable family life when your house keeps moving away from your parents!

Teradomeri has a very active fish market right by the port. The colour reminded me of China.

It began to rain again just as we arrived, but had stopped just as I got off. It continued muggy and damp until I started to put up my tent when it started to rain, and then pour. It continued most of the night, occasionally very, very, heavily, but I remained essentially dry except when I had to venture outside.

17  Near Nagaoka, Fri. July 11

It is not raining at the moment, but I have not yet started to take down the tent.

It did indeed, stay rainfree for the 20km for the flat ride to Nakagoa train station. The route numbers seemed to only occasionally correspond to the ones on my road atlas but there were sufficient Nagaoka Central and finally Nagaoka Sta. to show me the right way. However, after I got my ticket to Takasaki and asked, with no success, at the Tourist office where I could find a laundromat or public bath, it started to rain, sometimes rather heavily. Although I did get a map, and had a reasonable feel of the layout of Nagaoka from the map in front of the station, I was lost most of the time. However, I had placed a waypoint at the station so I was confident I could find my way back using the GPS.

Doug indicated that the river flowing through Nagaoka would probably be a good place to camp. I found a park by the river, and a dry place under the Oteohashi Bridge. Unfortunately even in the rain, the dog and kid traffic was relatively heavy, and after the rain gave way to hot, humid sun, it became even greater. It was clear that I would have to wait until quite late to set up my tent and that I would not be able to wash in my customary nude fashion. However, this was a park, and there was a brand new washroom with a handicapped bathroom. That was perfect so I washed there, and dried the floor with my old towel.

I set up the tent, with a couple of people watching and had two groups, neither of whom even glanced at me, stroll by just after sunset.

It was a good day, and this ends the bicycle part of my trip.

18  Nagaoka, Sat. July 12

The ride to the station was only misty and I was able to arrive as I had hoped at about 5:30am. Packing for the train is less precise than for the plane, and I was finished by just after 6:00am and went upstairs to wait.

Unfortunately, this train was a double-decker Shinkasen MAX and does not have a luggage area. Although I could have placed the bags behind the last seat, I got in the wrong door and the only seats were either up or down a set of stairs. There was supposed to be no baggage in the passage way, but I left them anyway, and went downstairs at every stop to make sure they were not blocking anything. The conductor saw them, and me together, and did not say anything.

I arrived in an hour and Yoshi was waiting, to begin an absolutely wonderful visit with him and his family.

19  Nikko, Sat. July 12 / Sun. July 13

We went home, dropped off my stuff, and drove up to spend the weekend Nikko. Although Nikko

is most famous for its World Heritage sit of

Shinto Shrines, it is also a large national park. We spent Saturday exploring some of the more accessible natural features.

On Saturday night we had an 18 course meal, and indulged ourselves in the onsen, the hotel's hot springs.

Saturday was a glorious sunny day but Sunday returned to the seasonal norm.

It also appeared that I was an attraction. A woman, with three children, asked Yoshi if I would let her take my picture with each of her children. Her little girl was learning English so, with a little prompting, she asked, ``May I take your picture?''

The littlest one needed some reassurance that it was safe.

On the way back home, we found a little country restaurant and I finally had some tempura. It was the largest plate of tempura that I, or Yoshi, had ever seen.

20  Maebashi, Mon. July 14 / Wed. July 16

This was a wonderful 3 day visit with Yoshi and Masako, their children, Ai, who was home from college in Tokyo, and Chica who is now in high school. Ai had just turned 20, and had just had her coming out ceremony.

In fact, I met all three generations of Yoshi's and Masako's family, Masako's mother and Yoshi's mother and father. It was much fun.

I gave my seminar at Gunma University on Tuesday, and started back home on Wednesday, using day 3 of my 4 day JREast FlexiPass to get to Narita. I still have one day left, but I guess that will be wasted. Yoshi felt that my first day's travel from Narita to Mukaiyama would have cost more, at regular fares, than my entire pass.

21  Maebashi to Montreal, Wed. July 16 / Thurs. July 17

Except a delightful encounter with Yukiko, who was taking her 17 year old daughter to Narita to go to the California for riding lessons, it was a reasonably uneventful trip of 2 trains, a 13 hour plane, and two buses to Montreal. Yukiko was having all those standard motherly worries about her daughter getting safely out of LAX, while her daughter was having the usual 17 year old, ``There really are no problems.''

I arrived in Montreal, an hour and half early, at 4:30am and my neighbour Tony came to pick me up at the bus depot.

22  Maps

It was a good, wet, trip of about 800km (500 miles). This is a link to the Google Earth Map of the complete trip.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 12 Nov 2008, 13:06.