This blog is about travelling through Japan on a foldable bicycle (Brompton) but also by train, ferry, plane, bus or any other transport, if sea, weather, mountains or the like come between me and my desire to ride.
I have tried to summarise information that could be potentially helpful also for other bicycle travellers through Japan, such as list of bicycle roads, helpful web pages etc. Once I start my ride, I will upload the actual routes taken, together with some pictures and description.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Day 40 - Uji to Nara 宇治から奈良へ

Bicycle touring Japan - Day 40

This blog post is about sightseeing in Uji and then bicycling on to Nara using the bicycle road alongside the Kizugawa.

Bicycle: 40 km
Riding time: 2:50 h 
Total ascent: 205 m
Route: Uji to Nara
Weather: Sunny, cloudy, very windy and a few drops of rain, temperature descending from 20 C to 13 C

The morning today was completely dedicated to sightseeing in Uji. I had only once before been in Uji, over 20 years ago, and remembered that I did not like the Phoenix hall (Byodoin). In my memory it was a very somber, dark, black hall with a lot of gravel around.Well, I am happy to have come back today. I have no idea why I remember it black. Have a look:

The gravel part is true, but then that is true in a lot of temples and shrines. So I should not have been so impressed by it. Maybe I went on a specially hot day and the only thing I saw was the heat coming up from the gravel?

I started extra early. Initially with the idea to be there at the time of the opening... well, I didn't make that, but still achieved to be at the ticket gate about 15 minutes later. At that moment already a good number of visitors were on the grounds, and when it was my turn to buy a ticket to see the inside of the temple, I "only" got a ticket for the 9:50 guided tour. I.e. the second tour of the day. Which turned out to be perfect timing. This way I had enough time to walk through the grounds, take as many pictures as I wanted still without any tourists inside the temple (as the first tour was only starting at 9:30) and with not groups yet "littering" the grounds. I even made it to the museum, where some really amazing statues from inside the temple are exhibited. Even there, no tourist groups yet! "Normal" tourists yes, and not too few, but no groups to circumnavigate. When I left the museum at about 9:20 the groups started pouring in. They all seemed on a very tight schedule, just enough time to take a few pictures of the outside of the temple, then off to the museum and hop back on the bus. Probably Nara or Kyoto was on the program for those guys as well.

Inside the museum it was no-photos policy, so I can't share anything. But I was specially impressed by the small "Worshipping Bodhisattvas on Clouds". They are small wooden statues originally fixed to the upper inner walls of the temple, of bodhisattvas that worship Buddha, e.g. by playing a musical instrument, by holding their hands in a specific position or otherwise adoring him. Specially the ones playing a musical instrument were very nice. One could nearly hear the music.

Once finished with Byodoin, I had breakfast at a very elegant Starbucks right outside of the temple. And then set off to see the other side of the Uji river, where the Uji shrines are located. The river was carrying very high and fast flowing water. So fast, that the small sightseeing boats remained moored.

Now in November it is time for the 7-5-3 festival and a lot of families with their small kids dressed up for the occasion were visiting the two shrines. Additionally there was also a stamp rally in course, it was Saturday and the weather was nice, so Uji was really full of people. But I think most came only for Byodoin, already at the shrines there were no groups anymore. 

After a stroll back over the bridges to "my" side of the river, I started today's cycling. 

When I had planned the ride many months ago (in the revers direction), I had wanted to incorporate the famous bicycle lane between Nara and Kyoto, but as it does not go through Uji, I needed to make some detour. As always, I tried to search for small streets rather than the bigger ones that Garmin takes by default. In doing so, I saw that there were a lot of small streets in the plain around Uji to the river. I choose some of those and just hoped that they would be asphalted country lanes. I was wrong! Not about the asphalt, they were all asphalted, but about the country. Actually all the parts between Uji and the river are built up with small houses and small plants.
By the way, who ever said that a chemical plant could not be entitled to a nice Japanese tree?

And finally at km 9.4 of the ride, there it was, the entry to the mythical bicycle road along Kizugawa:

The strange thing was that over the entry to this cycle road, it was written that it did cost some usage fee... and well, it did. When coming to the end of the bridge (that was running alongside the express way), there it was the box to collect the fee also from cyclists. 10 Yen! Which I obligingly paid. 

The cycle road along this river is similar to cycles roads on Tamagawa (in Kanagawa), on the top of a dyke, for cyclists and pedestrians, well asphalted, and no interference with cars. It is also used by the same type of cyclists: racers and local people on their mamacharis. 

The bicycle path is well indicated and with the river there is really no chance to loose your way... Actually at a certain point I got over enthusiastic and continued on even after the point where I would have needed to turn to get into Nara, so had to back track a bit.

As mentioned above, today it was sunny, later cloudy and VERY WINDY! I was lucky though that mostly it was tailwind! For me... but not for the poor cyclists coming the other way who quite often had faces of pure fight against the elements. 

At some point close to Uji I had considered to take off the T-shirt and ride in short sleeves, but at a later point, already closer to Nara, I took out instead my cardigan and put it on. As the TV presenter said yesterday evening, the wind was strong and cold! 

See the bambu succumbing to the wind (and the tea plantation not being bothered)

Feeling a bit cold I arrived to the Heijo palace. 

It is all reconstructed (i.e. both buildings). An enormous area, on one side the big ceremony hall and very far (many soccer fields away), the entrance gate. Per the archaeological findings, all this space was only used for mass events. View from the ceremony hall over the courtyard to the entrance gate. Yes, there is an entrance gate, way back in this picture!

Also today it was used for a mass event, sounding some totally normal music and having a lot of stands where to eat... and I ate Yakisoba.

At a certain point I was feeling really cold with the wind and the temperature dropping so I decided to call it a day (and not venture further to the Yakushiji temple) but to come to my accommodation for the night. Luckily as soon as I was on the bike, the sun decided to come through the clouds again, heating up the air immediately.

My hotel (actually it calls itself hostel) is in the old part of Nara (Naramachi) in a very nice old house:

Before dinner I went to a traditional sento recommended here closeby... It seems that the owner likes the Alps:

Walking tonight through Naramachi, I was thinking that Nara is really a nice city, where I could perfectly imagine to live for some time. Nice old houses, but still in normal use, a lot of sentos, and well, then all the deer you could go and see (and feed) every day.

But not me this time, as tomorrow I will get out of the city to the West to see the temples I did skip because of the cold wind today. 

On a side note, how do you know that you are in Uji and how do you know you are in Nara? Easy, just look at the road work:

Uji = rabbit

Nara = deer

Bicycle touring Japan - Ride maps

For details on the bicycle tour today in Kyoto and Nara, checkout the below maps:

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