The Road to Tokyo

Last post I was stuck in Niigata a couple days due to rain. I ended up staying three nights. One day was actually nice so I walked around a bit. Here’s a few photos.

This place does total beauty, but I’m guessing they specialize in ears.

Badass Hair Works… I’d go there.

Another baffling name.

I toured a sake brewery one day. Here is the guide explaining something. It was all in Japanese so I have no idea what she’s saying. But the sake was good.

Then I went to a sake tasting room. You pay 500 yen, about $4.00 and get to sample 5 different types of sake. They give you 5 tokens and you put your little cup in the machine, insert the token and a little shot of the sake comes out. Problem for me was that I could not read any of the descriptions. There were over 100 types of sake so I just selected 5 at random. Here is a short video.

https://vimeo.com/290482056

I went to a popular sushi restaurant for lunch one day. it was one of those conveyor belt types, where plates of sushi glide past on a conveyor belt and you just take whatever looks good. I made a little video of the process.

https://vimeo.com/290258384

This kid and his parents were sitting next to me waiting for a sushi table to open up.

The staff at Dangerous Chicken, a restaurant near my hotel.

A rare nice day in Niigata.

Leaving Niigata, I headed south to Tokyo over the mountains of central Japan. I had a tough day of 2500 feet elevation gain one day. The forecast was for rain AGAIN during the night so I stayed in a ryokan in a ski resort near the summit of the road. It did rain the next day but the forecast was for the rain to stop by 10 am. So I checked out of my ryokan but it was still raining, so I hid under a shelter for a bit. The rain stopped so I rode a few km. But then it started again and kept raining for the next 3 hours. Finally, at 2 pm I gave up and decided to return to the ski resort and stay another night. I got an expensive hotel but they had a great buffet dinner for $25. It was the best dinner I’ve had in Japan. Sushi, salads, BBQ, soups, fried chicken, crab, casseroles, noodles, desserts… it was too much. I pigged out.

Here is the hotel.

They had an onsen with one side open to the outdoors which was really great.

The next day the weather cleared up so I was able to leave the mountains and head toward Tokyo. Here are some views of the countryside.

 

 

A Shinkansen, or bullet train went past one day. they go at speeds up to 200 mph.

https://vimeo.com/290259173

The earthquake in Hokkaido generated many landslides which buried houses and people. Here is another example of how the Japanese take chances. Would you live in a building just below huge cliffs in a country prone to earthquakes?

I realized I have not taken any photos of cemeteries in Japan. Here’s a few. They are crammed together like everything else in Japan.

My last campsite in Japan. This was in a campground about 100 km from Tokyo. Right next to a golf course.

I booked a Tokyo hotel online, but turned out to be a “love hotel” where couples go for a private encounter. I booked it on Agoda and it looked great. It said no kids which was a little odd but fine by me. Then the confirmation email mentioned it was adult only. Again, this seemed odd but I did not think more about it. Then, when I got close, I was dismayed to see it was in a remote area, near industrial warehouses and such. I needed to get something to eat so this was annoying. Then when I finally got there, I realized it was a love hotel. Totally discreet and anonymous. When you check in there is even a screen so the receptionist cannot see your face. But they had room service so I was able to get my dinner. They even provided a couple of condoms, haha. It was actually a nice place, with soft lighting and mood music in the hallways.

Here is the reception desk where a screen prevents the clerk from seeing your face.

You can watch TV while taking a bath!

A little gift for the couple.

If you want to know more about love hotels I found this YouTube video by Chris Broad.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXgX_r-x-XE

I finally got to the bike shop that sold Brooks saddles. These are the best saddles I have used. Just a piece of leather but once broken in, it conforms to your butt and is very comfortable. Here’s the new saddle and my old busted one. You can see where the leather ripped near the front. I sewed it together with wire and it held up for the past month or so but it’s garbage now after 11 years and 40,000 miles. The new one is stiff as plywood so it will be painful for the first 500 km or so until I break it in. These things aren’t cheap either, this one set me back almost $200.

Me and my new saddle.

The bike shop employees were interested in my trip and were very helpful.

I was not planning on riding through Tokyo but was forced to in order to get a new saddle. Big cities are horrendous to ride through and Tokyo was no exception. Not a pleasant day.

I stayed one night in Tokyo, and surprise surprise—it rained again. I was in the old part of town called Asakusa. As I was riding out of town I took these pics. Here is a guy doing some morning stretches. Tai Chi?

A guy reading about this buddhist shrine.

Typical narrow street in Tokyo.

Well that pretty much wraps it up for Japan. I leave for Vietnam tomorrow. Japan is a fascinating place. A tough place to cycle for me due to the heat, hills, and traffic, but the culture, people, nature and food more than make up for the hard times. Here is a summary:

The tough parts:

  • The heat and humidity. It was brutally hot when I arrived in July, and even north in Hokkaido, although cooler, it was still humid every day. I was drenched in sweat all day every day.
  • The rain. The first couple weeks were not too bad, but by the time I got to Hokkaido August. 1 it seemed like there was rain every other day. It drove a lot of my planning and route decisions.
  • Traffic. I thought I could get away on small back roads, but often I had to take major roads which were filled with non stop traffic.
  • The sidewalks. Sidewalks are very common and used by most average cyclists. But they are rough and bumpy, and caused me to get two broken spokes here. The alternative was to ride on the road with traffic–dangerous and not fun.
  • The horseflies. The dreaded Abu did not turn out to be as bad as I thought. After my first encounter with them I assembled an arsenal of repellents and they did not bother me too much after that.
  • The cost. Japan is relatively expensive, which I knew. But that meant I had to skimp on many things: searching extensively for cheap hotels, eating in cheap restaurants or cooking my own food, not spending a lot on tourist attractions, etc. If I came back here it would be with someone who has a big fat expense account.

The great things about Japan:

  • The culture is totally fascinating. The obsession with cleanliness, hygiene, order and politeness is unlike anywhere I have ever seen. Pedestrians standing on the corner waiting to cross a road will wait until the sign says walk. They will NEVER cross on a don’t walk sign, even if there is not a car in sight. Everyone bows and says please and thank you. I almost hit a guy once and he said to me, “gomenasai”, which is a real deep apology. Yes, he apologized to me, after I almost ran him over. That’s Japan.
  • The food is great as I’ve mentioned. Sushi, sashimi, yakitori, pork buns, ramen, roasted chicken, I could eat that all day. I did not try the famous Wagyu beef, though, too expensive.
  • You’re in nature. Japan is filled with mountains, streams, rocks, rivers, trees, beaches, the sea and waterfalls. It’s no wonder they developed the Shinto religion, which emphasizes harmony with the natural world.
  • The convenience stores. There are a million convenience stores in Japan and they saved my life. I probably stopped in one of these every single day I was here. Either to get a water refill or use the restroom, or get some gatorade or a snack. They also have full meals there which I needed once when my stove ran out of gas.
  • It’s safe. In Mexico I was always a little nervous about theft or violent crime and would always take my bike into my hotel room for security. But in Japan, I left it outside almost every time (locked of course) and never gave it a second thought. I also did some urban camping, which is just finding a city park and setting up my tent right there in front of everyone (well I tried to be discreet). Never a worry about being bothered or molested.
  • The public baths. As I’ve mentioned, the onsens are wonderful, although it takes some getting used to. There is a process you must learn. First, you enter the changing room, where you strip naked except for a small hand towel or washcloth. Then you enter the bathing room where you sit on a small plastic stool under a faucet and clean yourself thoroughly. Only then do you enter the baths, holding your washcloth over your private parts. After soaking for a few minutes (the water was usually too hot for me) I would go back to the bathing area and shower with cold water to cool off. Then you dry, put on your yukata and slippers and enjoy the rest of the evening.

Stats for Japan:

Total days: 67
Total riding days: 60
Miles: 2122
Miles per riding day: 35

That’s it. Next stop, Vietnam