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, 25 April 2020

Yamanote line by bike - 自転車で山手線

Bicycle: 42 km
Route: Yamanote line sotomawari
Total riding time: 3:27 h 
Total ascent: 230 m 
Average speed: 12.1 km/h
Weather: Sunny, but not that warm, specially some chilly wind, 16 C

Originally for today the picnic ride with my friends from the NPC was planned, but due to Covid-19 pandemic it was cancelled a few weeks ago. What a pity, today would have been the perfect weather for a picnic. Not like last year when it was cold and rainy and we had to do our "picnic" in our favorite Taiwanese restaurant. But at least we could do it and enjoy the time together. 

When I was thinking yesterday where to ride in order to start and finish in Shinbashi without the need for any train, I remembered the Yamanote line ride we did with the NPC a few years back in August during an entire night. It was actually my last ride before starting on my two months adventure through Japan. And it was the test ride with all my luggage.

In the initial part of the ride I came through some small neighbourhoods with their temples and shopping streets around Shinagawa:

In that shopping street about half of the shops were open. The restaurants mainly seemed to do take-out. And a barber had decided to sell his face masks at about 100 yen per piece. In one shop they also claimed to sell self made ones, but one needed to order them.

I continued on along Meguro river where the cherry blossoms have been replaced by azalea:

Shortly before Meguro I came by this temple. I really only stopped there, because the slope was so steep that I only managed to ride until there before getting of and pushing... so as I was off the bike anyway... well, I could as well visit the temple. The outstanding feature was this small buddha completely covered in gold. But not expertly, but rather in a DIY style by the worshippers themselves. One could (not now, but in normal times) buy some gold leaves and then apply them on the Buddha...

... in theory on the place of the body that one wanted to cure... but I have some doubts that there is the same amount of people that have head pains than people that have pains in the middle of their left lower leg...

From this oasis of tranquility to the normally crazy busy part of Tokyo: Shibuya!

Although the government of Tokyo is urging people to stay at home, people were around. Walking, jogging, cycling but also doing grocery or other shopping. However compared to any normal Saturday Shibuya crossing was very empty. All department stores, cinemas, museums, pachinko parlors, music venues... are all closed, so in Shibuya there isn't much to do. But in the more local neighbourhoods people are around to enjoy the sun and flowers or simply to do some shopping.

After Shibuya my next picture stop was Meiji shrine just besides the newly build Harajuku station.

But then on through the Northern parts of the city. It is easy to think that Tokyo is a huge metropolis full of skyscrapers, but actually most parts of Tokyo are pretty low-rise. Only that this time I didn't take any picture of that part of Tokyo. I took some pictures of a really interesting architecture (left up), of an exposition of houses (right up) and a very dilapidated sento.

As it was a ride very closely along the Yamanote line I obviously also took pictures of trains:

I was lucky that the ride was along Yamanote line, because my stupid Garmin decided at Meiji shrine that it didn't want to work properly anymore. It was impossible to reactivate the touch screen. Only that I hadn't even deactivated it. It only resumed to normal working order in Yanaka, probably around 20 km later after a stop at a toilet. But with the Yamanote line there to follow and google maps I made go without it.

Riding through the city was definitely not a normal Saturday, when the streets in Akihabara and Kanda would be full of shoppers.

It felt a little bit like a late night ride, after most of the shops had closed... only that it was in the afternoon.

When coming through Ueno, there is a market street that normally is too busy to even contemplate to cycle through, but today it was possible. Along the side several makeshift stalls offered paper masks at roughly 70 - 80 yen per mask (in packs of 50). So a little bit cheaper than in Shinagawa. But I had bought two reusable and hand made masks back in Shibuya in a small artisanal shop.

No one had yet time to replace the "Tokyo 2020" signs, so there is publicity around the city (and also at Narita airport) for the "Tokyo 2020" Olympics...

But at Tokyo station, the clock has already been turned to next year for the countdown: 

When I passed through here in mid February, actually on my first ride back in Japan, it was only 5 months to the Olympics... Covid-19 happened and now supposedly it is exactly 454 days until the opening ceremony (the picture above is for the Paralympics). But we will see. Obviously all politicians say, that it will not be postponed again... We will see ...

The last stop on my ride today was around Tokyo station, right in time for the sunset, which I used for some special pictures. E.g. how to make even small brompton wheels look reaaaaaalllly big!

Sunset right opposite of Tokyo station ... 

... and by extension, just above the palace:

While the street in front of the palace was nearly void of traffic.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Back to Tokyo - 東京へ戻って

Bicycle: 4 km
Train: 550 km
Route: Osaka - Tokyo, but mainly by train
Total riding time: 0:20 h 
Total ascent: 100 m 

This "ride" wouldn't really be worth a mention, weren't it for being the last meters in Osaka for who knows how long and a very strange trip back to Tokyo.

Already when I came from Tokyo to Osaka quite exactly a month ago, the shinkansen wasn't specially crowded. Then there were about 2 people in each row. But nothing to compare to today, when there were maybe about 5 - 10 passengers in the entire wagon. (But this wasn't the most empty train I would experience in Japan... but for that you'll need to check my final post from this trip to Japan). When I took this picture a few minutes before departure, me and my brompton (in the middle of the aisle at the very back) were still the only passengers in the entire car, but a few others did make it in time for departure.

From a bicycle perspective, I did ride with my brompton T-bag full with those things I would need in the last days in Tokyo to a bicycle parking lot close to work, in the later afternoon picked up the bicycle, which at that moment was being admired by a fellow cyclist, folded up, hopped on the shinkansen and over to Tokyo. In Tokyo this time I went until Tokyo station and from there to my normal hotel in Shinbashi area. This time not room 707... but the neighbouring 706. Also okay. Actually slightly better as it has a little bit more space in the entrance section, so a bit more space to park the bicycle. Otherwise 706 is pretty much the same as 707.

Another mental note, is how nice the area around lake Biwa looked in late April, still with quite a lot of blooming sakura in the hills around the lake. So for next year definitely a good place to have some more rides in late sakura season.

In Tokyo when getting off I took this very empty picture of the platform. I guess normally only after the last shinkansen has left, the platform would be so empty. But no, there is one shinkansen to the right that has just arrived from Osaka and one on the left that is just going to depart versus the North. Both with minimal amount of passengers. So few, that the conbini on the platform was closed.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Kyoto without tourists (2) - 観光客無しの京都の2

Bicycle: 103 km
Route: Osaka to Kyoto and back
Total riding time: 6:07 h 
Total ascent: 251 m 
Average speed: 17.1 km/h
Weather: Cloudy, but no rain, 16 C

After the great success of the previous two rides to Kyoto without tourists (see here for Arashiyama and here for Kiyomizudera and Fushimi Inari Jinja), today was the turn of Kinkakuji and Ryoanji. Two more "must-see-spots" in Kyoto that are normally so overrun by tourists that they are hard to enjoy.

A few years back around New Years we went with some friends to Kyoto and visited both. Back then we made it a point to go to Ryoanji a few minutes before it opened, and yes, we had a good and relaxing time at the temple that day. But by the time we got to Kinkakuji (which is closeby), already the masses of tourists had started to arrive.

But not so today. Although I was at both spots in the afternoon, when they would normally be totally overrun by tourists, today both were extremely relaxing and nearly void of tourists. Thanks to Covid-19!

As the other times I went to Kyoto from Osaka, I first had to ride up the Yodogawa river. While the cherry flowers are now all but gone, the rapeseeds are in full bloom:

I had brought some onigiri with me, so I didn't need to get into a restaurant (they are still open during day time, but closing at night... but as we are all asked to limit our interactions with other people to the bare minimum, I opted for some onigiri that I had bought in the conbini below my monthly apartment (with my dinner yesterday night). I had them at the typical Sakura spot at the confluence or Kizugawa, Katsuragawa and Ujigawa and then continued on, on the typical bicycle path along the river, which I now have already taken innumerable times. Well, innumerable isn't really accurate. I guess I could still very well number how often I have been riding up and down Yodogawa (if I'd do some digging through my Strava data... but it kind of feels like innumerable, as it is always the same ride. But a convenient ride. Like bike-conbini.)

Kinkakuji did not disappoint:

The below picture might not be the best of Kinkakuji, but it shows just how few people there were visiting. In normal times all this place would be absolutely teeming with tourist groups trying to take selfies. Today, I only had to wait a minute or so, so that even some people more in the back ground of the picture had walked out of frame.

But probably this is my favorite picture, with the tree island in the lake in front of the golden temple reflected in the pond. Very Japanese indee. And if you don't know the actual dimensions those trees could be perfectly a bonsai.

In Kinkakuji there is no temple interior to see, so it is really this one sight, which however is really rewarding, as long as you can enjoy it without crowds.

After this meditative experience I was briefly considering not to go to Ryoanji and head straight back, but then luckily decided to go. When will I ever get again this quiet experience at Ryoanji and anyway I had enough time to get back to Osaka... and if I would be too tired, well, I would "cheat" and hop on a train somewhere between Kyoto and Osaka.

Ryoanji is mainly famous for this rock garden. There is actually more to the temple, with a garden... but well, it does not get paid enough attention due to this outstanding rock garden. And yes, it is probably the nicest of all rock gardens in Japan, at least one of the most strict ones. I cannot imagine that it is enjoyable with hordes of tourists, as the enjoyment of this space is its quiet, meditative atmosphere. So in normal times, I would not want to visit it anymore. There are other, much less famous rock gardens, that one can admire with the needed tranquility. But today, I had to share this space only with a few other tourists. All admiring in ewe the rocks.

Only the cherry tree had already nearly lost all its flowers.

Proof of the number of visitors:

This is the actually quiet nice pond which also is part of the Ryoanji temple complex... but does not get duly admired.

Komoot had done a great job in finding a good approach to the area with one nearly straight and small street through Kyoto up the hill. On my way back, I had tweaked the route in order to ride through another temple complex, Myoshinji temple. This is a huge temple complex, which feels like a small city, maybe a bit like the forbidden city in Beijing. I like that place, but today I definitely did not have enough time to stop and enjoy it... and this place anyway is also enjoyable with tourists as it does not get that overloaded. So a good place for a future excursion. I took however one, relatively uninspired picture of the place. 

Riding back, again along the rivers, I decided to take this double bridge, with a dedicated bike lane and then ride down the Yodogawa river on the Shin-Osaka side.

The region around Oyamazaki is fully dedicated to transportation:

  • Shinkansen tracks on the left
  • Entrance to the high way next
  • Bike and foot path over a bridge in red in the middle
  • High way bridge crossing the picture
  • Normal big road on the right of the cycling lane
  • Exit from the high way to the right (where the lorries are standing waiting for green)
  • An other pedestrian bridge in light blue crossing over them
  • And probably even more

Not nice... but connecting. Just a few meters after this bridge traffic craziness on a bicycle one turns left, onto the river paths and away from traffic all the way to Shin-Osaka. Incredible!

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Around Osaka - Nakayamadera 大阪の周りに・中山寺

Bicycle: 69 km
Route: Osaka - Takarazuka and back
Total riding time: 4:46 h 
Total ascent: 241 m 
Average speed: 14.4 km/h
Weather: Humid, some sun, some clouds, some rain and strong wind, 16 C

Today the weather was a bit uncertain so I put off the ride to Kinkakuji in Kyoto to tomorrow and instead decided last minute this morning to ride out along two rivers towards the North of Osaka. I found on google maps one potentially interesting goal, Nakayamadera and then added an other one, the Takarazuka theater, plus I knew that at least along one river there would be a cycling road and strongly suspected (but actually was wrong) that there would be one alongside the second river as well. 

I had my typical late start and started along the Naniwa river, a cycling path I have used several times before, among them in an aborted attempt to get to Minoh park a few weeks ago (which ended in rain and an onsen). 

Today did see a little bit of rain, but no onsen. With the state of emergency extended nationwide on Thursday this week, it seems that the local governments have urged more companies to close... and from all I can tell, the onsen and super-sentos have all accepted this guidance. So probably the ride I did earlier this week was my last onsen for this trip to Japan. I hope not the last onsen for this year, as I hope to be able to come back to Japan later in the year... but who knows. 

Well, it did rain... for a little bit I did hide under a bridge, then it seemed to become less, so I restarted... but so did the rain. So I donned my lovely rain coat and just for effect also the face mask and took a picture. But by the time I had finished putting all the gear on me and take the selfie the rain had nearly stopped. So literally after another 500 m I got out of my raincoat again. The mask I did wear in the more urban parts of the ride, where pedestrians were around and could not be avoided by many meters. But for most of the ride I didn't wear it. 

The ride along the rivers up to Itami and Takarazuka isn't definitely one of the most scenic ones, but at least the cycling lane has less hurdles than the one along Yodogawa river. 

Already quite close to the temple of the day, I came by this really strange, European style garden shop with park. And it wasn't the only garden center around. I didn't buy any tree or other plant... but did use their facilities... before making the final km to the temple.

Shortly after I also came by this shrine and took a quick picture.

I had been once before in the area of Nakayamadera, but without making it to the temple. Actually without even knowing about it. Instead I went to a very nice onsen there, after a brilliant ride through the more far flung countryside... which however would require me to use a train to get there... so for the time being that is off.

So Nakayamadera was a nice surprise. In normal times it must be a rather busy temple seeing that it had it's own shopping road leading up to it. But today half of the shops were completely closed and the other half (the restaurants) were open but had no patrons (it was however already a bit late). So even if Japan is very far from a complete lock-down - restaurants are open for lunch but not dinner - number of customers is definitely way down.

The temple must be relatively old, but I would say that currently most of the buildings are quite new, including the stunning blue pagoda.

What I learned only now, while writing this post, is that it is part of a 33 temple pilgrimage tour of Kansai, of which also Kiyomizudera (where I was two weeks ago) and a few other temples here in the wider region, that I have visited before. But today, I would say there weren't any pilgrims. There were a few other visitors, but few.

Behind the temple, was a small flower garden with nice views...

... and nice flowers (as to be expected).

I had my simple lunch on a bench looking over towards Osaka, below a cherry tree way beyond peak and a stupra in the background. Perfect!

After this rest I continued towards Takarazuka, where I had my second goal of the day, the theater building of the Takarazuka Revue theater.

Well, a uniquely ugly building. But here captured with a train in front, which makes total sense, because this theater is part of a railway company. The story, according to Wikipedia is that the founder of the Hankyu railway company wanted more people to use his trains, so he was trying to find something interesting for one of the stops of his train line... and came up with the idea of a theater. Which worked great. The theater is now famous in all Japan... and has expanded to Tokyo, where however none of the Hankyu trains can reach it.

I had tickets for a performance a few years back, but for some reason I couldn't go. So maybe something to consider next time I am in Japan for a rainy weekend.

The ride back the second river was uneventful but fast, thanks to a good tailwind.

Back closer to Shin-Osaka, I decided to go on an exploratory trip of the Naniwa Cycling Train and did ride it all to the end in Dekishima, then turned and back all the way to Shin-Osaka. From Amagasaki to Dekishima this cycling path is the contrary of scenic... but useful I guess. Closer to Shin-Osaka it becomes a little bit more scenic, but is just a useful cycling path along the river away from traffic (but mixed with pedestrians and joggers).

For dinner I picked up some gyoza in a nice restaurant in Higashi-Mikuni where I often went... but now it is take out only and only until 20:00. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Last onsen (for this Japan trip) - 今回最後の温泉

Bicycle: 22 km
Route: Around the outskirts of Osaka
Total riding time: 1:36 h 
Total ascent: 121 m 
Average speed: 13.9 km/h
Weather: Quite warm, some sun, some clouds, 16 C

Unbeknown to me at the time of the ride, this turned out to be my very last visit to an onsen for this trip to Japan. Not because I hadn't wanted to go again after the long rides on the upcoming weekend, but due to Covid-19. The government must have asked Onsen owners to close their doors as well. Understandable. It is after all a closed space where people come together. No idea if the coronavirus like humid and hot (probably not, at least the hope is that over the summer it will go away due to the temperature), but it seemed a sensitive move to close sentos & onsen in order to avoid people coming together. 

But on the day of this ride, onsen were still open. 

I had seen on the map two rivers branching off the Kanzaki river and actually tried them the day before. Only that then I had forgotten my head & taillight, so I needed to make do with a much inferior lamp that I have permanently mounted to the bicycle. But the light it gives is not really good for seeing. Only for "being seen". So the day before I did ride very slowly as I was able to see only for a few meters. But today, lamps were on, so I could really ride.

Along both rivers are small streets that are mostly used by cyclists only. And then one comes to a quite big park, which I actually did not visit, just circumnavigated it, before searching for a way back to the second river and back down versus the more known part of Osaka and my onsen of the day.

Some last hanami along a river...

And the sunset between some high rise buildings.

The cycling was nice, and it definitely seems like a good way to approach Minoh park. Probably nicer even than the river out to Itami, because while that ride is longer it also leaves one more far from the entrance into Minoh-park... but this time not mountains were my goal but the deep hot waters of the onsen.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Arashiyama without tourists - 観光客無しの嵐山

Bicycle: 114.3 km
Route: Osaka - Arashiyama and back
Total riding time: 6:37 h 
Total ascent: 299 m 
Average speed: 17.3 km/h
Weather: Some sun, some clouds, no wind to speak of, 13 C

Although since earlier this week there are some restrictions in place in Osaka (among other prefectures), going out to do sport is still perfectly allowed, and I was definitely not alone, although kept to myself. 

After the great experience last weekend in Kyoto and Nara without tourists, I decided to give Kyoto (this time Arashiyama) another try. I had a few other rides also planned more local in Osaka, but will do those some time in the future.

Today's highlight was definitely the Arashiyama bamboo grove without tourists:

Normally nowadays this bamboo grove is just packed with tourists. So much, that it can easily seem that there are more tourists than bamboo around. But not so today. But before I got there... I needed to ride up again the Yodogawa River.

There were definitely less people around than in the last 2 weekends, specially less people doing picnics, but still some groups playing baseball, rugby, tennis or football, which technically is allowed as the web page of the local government exercise is one of the examples of necessary activities for daily lives, as long as done with the smallest number of people attending... so 22 for football... 1 for cycling. Although I have to say, I saw a few cyclists in groups. Mostly it was probably families, but some were clearly riding buddies (unless there is a unknown subculture of polyamorous gay men in Osaka and around).

I came again to the hanami spot at the confluence of Kizugawa, Ujigawa and Katsuragawa where they form Yodogawa and it was clear that mankai 満開 was last week.
Top left: today, top right: 2 weeks ago, bottom: 1 week ago
But still, some nice hanami shots:

As mankai was over, the path leading out into the peninsula was open for cyclists. I didn't need a second invitation and rode it. Probably the first 2 extra km of today.

I continued on on the same river as last weekend, after a while transferring to yet another river, that brought me smack into the center of Arashiyama and over the Togetsu bridge:

Last time I was here was right after a massive typhoon had hit Kansai and destroyed the bridge to Kansai airport (from where I was supposed to leave a few days after the typhoon). As that didn't happen, I decided that weekend to go to Arashiyama (by train), ride around on a rented mamachari and explore the lesser known (and much less touristy areas) of Arashiyama, which was a nice ride, although I got my feet wet on the river banks riding through some puddles that profed deeper than I thought.

Today, the river was well within its shoulders. While riding up the river and getting to the 50 km mark, I was getting hungry. Not too hungry, but well, hungry. So I discussed with me my options but finally decided to make it until Arashiyama, as I remembered that a few years back (maybe 10?) we had a very nice vegetarian lunch in a restaurant in a temple (Tenryuji). The restaurant was still open, just if they had waited for me, one of their few customers of the day, and definitely the only one to make it to their door after 13:15

After lunch I explored the gardens of the temple, which are apparently dating back to the 14th century when this place first was a palace and then became a temple. Today for sure one could admire the garden as it must have been 700 years ago. Quietly sitting on the veranda, gazing out over the pond into the hills where some cherry trees are flowering.

Also across the rest of the garden more trees were flowering, most prominently the rhododendrons.

I would say that today there were more employees around (gardeners working on their knees with tiny knives weeding out invisible weed and guards who had no one to guard or amonish) ....

... than tourists.
Top: handbag in social isolation, bottom: shoes in social isolation
... okay, the shoe picture is slightly tricked. There was one more rack for shoes just behind me, where there were actually 3 other pairs of shoes. So no, I was not totally alone in the temple.

In total, lunch included I spent 2 hours at this temple complex, feeding, relaxing, taking pictures. I even paid the extra entrance fee for the Dharma Hall where a dragon on the ceiling will follow each of your steps... and watches carefully that no one takes a picture of it.

So now it was nearly 15:30 and I knew I needed to get moving back, did I want to make it back to Osaka before nightfall (or at least back to the onsen of choice of the day). But I could not leave Arashiyama without a quick peak to the famous bamboo grove. Last time I was here, it was packed with tourists, and I just had a quick peak and no picture. This time tourists were sparse.

Normally this path is no longer ridable with a bicycle due to the masses of tourists walking through. But today even this was possible. I met the guy in this picture a few kilometers later as we were both riding back towards Osaka (only he had 20 km less than me before him), right when we both were trying to take a picture of a shinkansen and hanami:

Shinkansen hiding behind the petals 
The ride back along the rivers was eventless. I stopped for a quick snack at the hanami spot, where there is a rest area for cyclists and then continued down the Yodogawa river, where I noticed this bicycle cemetery that I must have passed already quite often, without ever noticing it properly.

I passed through some more of these terribly annoying roadblocks ...

... before heading "inland" to my choice of onsen of the day, a onsen of the same chain I went to yesterday in Amagasaki. This one however a bit newer. I had a great relax in the different outside pools, including one lie down option on stones with hot water flowing over it, and just made it in time for last order to their restaurant for my solitary dinner.

The plan for Arashiyama was a 108 km ride, which I knew was doable, after the 101 km ride last week to Kiyomizudera. I got up a bit earlier than normal and was out on the road at 9:00 (early for me... late for many others), which gave me the full day ahead. Also I didn't have a heavy sightseeing plan due to Covid-19 but also due to the fact that I needed to ride all the way back, if I didn't want to cheat on the restrictions to only do essential travel. But my timing was perfect arriving at the onsen only shortly after it became dark.

While I road at the beginning of the day I thought, well, 111 km would be a nice number, knowing that there are always a few extra km that one rides by missing a right turn or by just straying off the route. However during my dinner at the onsen, I looked at the date, 11th of April and first thought, oh perfect 111 km on the 11th, is a nice number, until I realized that 114 km on the 11/4 would be even nicer. So that's why I did a few extra loops just below my house - no Strava art :-) 

And oh yes, it was my longest ride ever, by a whole 7 km!

Tomorrow it will rain. So a rest day, and time to write some posts.