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.

Sunday, 8 January 2023

NY2023 D8 Up in to the hills and down to Biwako

Route: Kyoto - Ohara - Takashima - Biwako
Bicycle: 101 km
Train: 25 km
Average Speed: 19.1 km/h
Total Ascent: 752 m
Riding Time: 5:17 h
Weather: Sun & clouds, but no rain today, 4C

On my last day, a bigger ride, up the hill I cycled up a part on Day 6, and then up and up. There is a long, very straight valley parallel to the Biwa Lake, with a good road, not too much traffic and a nice incline, not too steep. So actually quite perfect, both for riding up, as well as rolling down. This is the view from close to the highest point:

Shortly after I entered a tunnel (the first in a row of maybe about 3 tunnels) and when I came out, there was this:

Snow! But the road was very much free of snow, so no problem at all for riding: 

This descent was quite perfect, only the road surface could have been smoother... but I guess one cannot complain for a road with relatively little traffic and harsh winter conditions, it was reasonably well maintained and had a perfect incline. And nice panorama off the road:

On the mountains around and the one here in the distance, there was already snow. Not a lot of snow though... but that is probably going to change over the coming weeks. 

Continuing down and down, I came to Takashima, which was my minimum goal of today, as that is the first place with a train line, but it was still early enough in the day, and I still had energy, so I continued on riding along the famous Biwa-ichi cycling road. This is in some places a real cycling road, in others it is just a blue line on a street. Sometimes there is a fast track (generally on the bigger streets) and a slow course, which is generally more on smaller, neighborhood streets. 

Along the way, in an area with not a lot of space between mountain and lake, so on a rather busy road, there was this torii standing in the Biwa Lake in the late afternoon sun: 

At around 80 km in, I still felt I had enough energy, so I decided to make this my first 2023 100 km ride. Last year, I only managed one 100+ km ride, since moving to Japan. (I don't remember where and when, but probably it was a rather flat ride). So I continued on, always parallel to the train line and for most part on the Biwa cycling course. Although at some point I must have missed a turn... but sometime later I found the course again. And anyway, with the train line to one side and the lake to the other, there isn't any getting lost. I had planned to look for a station once I hit the 100 km, and by pure chance right at that point, a sign appeared showing to the right for Ogoto Onsen station. I had comfortable time to pack up the bicycle, while it got dark outside. Then hopped on a rather empty train directly back to Kyoto station. 

Saturday, 7 January 2023

NY2023 D7 Kyoto - Otsu - Uji - Kyoto

Route: Kyoto - Otsu - Uji - Kyoto
Bicycle: 63 km
Average Speed: 17.3 km/h
Total Ascent: 380 m
Riding Time: 3:39 h
Weather: Cloudy, rainy from Uji onwards, 3 C

After a 1 day hiatus yesterday (the first working day in 2023, that I spent in Osaka office, so that I could extend my stay in Kansai a bit further), today back on the bike. The weather a few days ago didn't look very promissing for today, yesterday evening it looked a bit better... so I actually had planned a quite ambitious ride for today... but then today in the morning it again looked like it would be raining in the afternoon... and sure it did... while I was still on the bike. But it wasn't a too strong rain and by the time it started raining, I was already in Uji, so already back in civilization. 

Actually today's ride I kind of copied from someone I met 5 years ago, while cycling through Japan, when I headed down from Omi Hachiman to Uji. Since then I am following him on Strava. Normally he makes very long rides or rides with a lot of climbing, but a few days ago I saw him making a ride from Kyoto to Otsu and then down to Uji, so I kind of copied that for today. 

The first stop was on lake Biwa which lay in the mist of the cold day.

When riding into town, I remembered that there was a German Brauhaus in a German half timbered house. Last time I had just bought a conbini lunch when I spotted this restaurant, so I decided to go there today... but it was closed as the building is under complete renovation. That's how it looked like in 2017:

So I just had a nuts bar and then continued on my way along the Kizugawa, which flows out of the Biwa lake. Down a very nice valley, with a very gentle slope and not too much traffic. Somewhere midway through hunger set it in, but I didn't need to wait until Uji, but found a small village along the way where 2 middle aged women had a small restaurant in their living room, where I had fried chicken with tartar sauce, i.e. Chicken Nanban

Continuing down the river I came to Uji, took a picture on the bridge, went to the toilet and then continued in the starting (light) rain back to Kyoto. 

Thursday, 5 January 2023

NY2023 D6 Kyoto - Ohara

Route: Kyoto - Ohara and back
Bicycle: 50 km
Average Speed: 16.2 km/h
Total Ascent: 472 m
Riding Time: 3:06 h
Weather: Sun and clouds, and a few rain drops in the hills, 5 C

In principle today I wanted to avoid the mountains, but surprisingly I did more vertical ascent than yesterday... which kind of sounds surprising. 

After the cold and rainy experience yesterday, I took it easy this morning, getting up late (after all I am on vacation) and then deciding on a rather random route not too far from Kyoto. I just looked at google maps, marked a few temples that looked somewhat promising and planned a route. 

As I started so late, I didn’t make it to all my spots, but I had a great and very varied day, with more than sufficient “temples” 

  • A cat temple
  • A temple dedicated to pickles
  • An actual Buddhist temple up in the hills above Kyoto
  • An onsen temple

The cat temple is actually called so in Japanese ニャンニャン寺 (NjanNjanJi), the sound that cats make in Japanese. It’s an old Japanese house dedicated to everything cat:

Per google maps it seemed that they also had a restaurant, but no. At this point I was a bit hungry, so another look at google maps and saw that there was a Kyoto delicatesse restaurant a bit further up the hill. It turned out to be a pickles factory with restaurant and shop. 

With every lunch, there was a free pickles buffet... and I have to admit these pickles were good. I am not a total fan of pickles, but these were extremely fresh and tasty. 

From there it wasn't too far to the only actual temple of the day, Sanzen-in ab ancient buddhist temple with a nice garden, that seems to be very famous (for its azaleas)... and seems to get a lot of visitors, except today. But there were parking lots all over the village.

From there it was a fast and easy ride back to Kyoto, passing by briefly by my accommodation to pick  up some clothes, and then off to another super sento in the center of Kyoto. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2023

NY2023 D5 Kameoka - Miyama- Wachi

Route: Kameoka - Miyama - Wachi 
Bicycle: 65 km
Train: 90 km
Average Speed: 19.4 km/h
Total Ascent: 303 m
Riding Time: 3:21 h
Weather: started with sun and clouds, ended in icy rain, 1C 

While I write this, I am sitting in a warm train on the heating, and am still quite cold as my cycling pants, shoes and socks are pretty wet. This was me in the - nicely warm - waiting room or Wachi station, trying to bring life again into my wet and freezing feet (with a warm drink between them). Hail to Japanese vending machines! 

The plan for today in principle was good, cycling from Kameoka to Miyama and the catch a train back to Kyoto from Wachi, only that it started raining about midway through and that in winter in the mountains. Not too much higher that rain came down as snow.

But the valley of Miyama with its traditional farm houses is definitely nice and merits a new visit, with better and slightly warmer and dryer weather. 

I had this page of the Japan Guide open on my mobile phone for maybe 3+ years as a reminder that I want to visit. Maybe not the best way to make a list of places to visit and other reminders, but it does work. I also have some more pages open:

  • A page about Tamba Sasayama (actually not too far away from where I was today) 
  • Kabuki program in Tokyo
  • A list of travel highlights 2019 from a Japan guide author
  • A page about Awaji

You get the idea. 

Miyama would for sure have been nice. It’s a remote valley but good to cycle (no steep gradients, good road with not much traffic, and several villages along the road with probably some places to eat as well, at least when it isn’t New Year period when many things are closed. Everything should be back to normal tomorrow, 5/Jan.)

Now some hours later, back in my accommodation in Kyoto, I have had a nice warm (but not too hot) bath in the local sento, just around the corner... 

... and Uber dinner... and am ready for bed. No real plans yet for tomorrow... but not into the mountains. Probably up to Biwako. Weather should be fine. Just cold. Hope that the shoes will be dry by then. I even bought a Japanese sports newspaper (seemed to be the thickest of them all) and have stuffed my shoes with it. Luckily I brought a second pair of shoes, just not totally apt for cycling. So "worst case" tomorrow just some Kyoto city sightseeing. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2023

NY2023 D4 Kyoto - Kameoka

Route: Kyoto - Arashiyama - Mizuo - Kameoka
Bicycle: 51 km
Train: 20 km
Average Speed: 14.8 km/h
Total Ascent: 714 m
Riding Time: 3;28 h
Weather: Sunny but cold and a few snowflakes, 4 C

Today did go to plan and was nice and different from the previous days. Since I am in Kyoto I thought it only fair to explore some areas around Kyoto where I haven’t been before. So when I looked at a map yesterday it seemed that the plain around Kameoka might be a good destination. But as so often it isn’t the destination but the way to it. 

I saw that there was a pass behind Arashiyama and initially planned to ride up there and then turn on a street that runs parallel to the Sagano Torokko train, but per Komoot that road isn’t passable (although per Google maps it even has a road number), so I also planned an alternative route further up into the mountains and then down to Kameoka plain. 

While riding I met one other cyclist and I met him at the right moment, not too far from the turn I would have needed to take to get in that road. But he advised that that road has trees lying across and is generally more something for a mountain bike. So I continued up the “main” road to this mountain village, famous for its Yuzu

I am saying “main” road, because although technically it is the main road there is hardly any traffic. So perfect for us cyclists. 

It was a long ascent but doable. I only pushed the bike for a few meters on the first ascent close to the top, and with the excuse that there was a car behind me that wanted to take over, so I got off... and there was just no possibility to get on the bike again, too steep for that. But the rest, I slowly but steadily made my way up. 

Already on the way down, I even passed this Gassho zukuri house:

The descent was also okay. Not too steep, the road surface good enough, only very few cars... but cold! Although I had put on again all my layers of clothing, which admittedly as a cyclist in winter aren't actually that many, my fingers were frozen when I arrived in the valley. But once down in the plain, I found a conbini, got a hot drink and a hot bun and was on my way again for the two tourist spots of today. 

Frankly I hadn't done a lot of research yesterday, but saw on google maps two temples which I picked. The first one seemed to be closed today... so I only have a picture of the gate (which was open... but nothing behind it was open): 

While the second wasn't exactly teeming with activity, but there must have been something shortly before I arrived. At least there were still a lot of people clearing things up. I also saw a few people leave with their Kagami Mochi.

In a corner of the temple was a small fire, where a long rope was being burned. I saw on New Years Eve quite a lot of people in Kyoto walking around with small ropes (maybe about 30 cm long) that were burning on one end. 

From there it was a short way to the station in Kameoka, where I left the bike in a proper bicycle parking house to wait for me until tomorrow... so now I need to make plans for tomorrow starting in Kameoka... 

Monday, 2 January 2023

NY2023 D3 Nara Wazuka Kyoto

Route: Nara - Wazuka - Kyoto
Bicycle: 80 km
Train: 40 km
Average Speed: 14.8 km/h
Total Ascent: 486 m
Riding Time: 5:23 h
Weather: Sun & clouds, and some rain, 3 C

I left my bike yesterday at the bike parking at Nara station, so today I could start from Mara and head back to Kyoto. The idea was to explore the tea plantations around Wazuka, from where most of the famous Uji green tea stems and to get over some mountains there and then down to Uji and back through Fushimi Inari jinja to Kyoto. 

Also today didn’t go to that plan, but being flexible is part of enjoying being out and about with the bike. The first part to Wazuka went as planned and I had a wonderful ride through the hills of the tea plantations. 

As the information on the internet already told me, these tea plantations are on surprisingly steep hills. 

I had originally planned to ride over one of these hills (they are steep but quite short, only about 1+ km, so worst case totally walkable), but when I was at the base of the climb it started raining. Luckily I was at the only conbini in the valley, so could hide from the rain, but I thought that it would be wiser not to climb up and ride down (!) a wet, steep hill, far away from civilization and train lines. So instead I decided to return back to the Kiso river in the Nara - Uji - Kyoto valley where there would be multiple train lines to choose from. However the rain wasn’t persistent, so I waited it out at the conbini and then head back down, back over the river ... 

... and along it, and back to the cycling road on Kiso river. From there it was a rather uneventful ride back to Kyoto, until arriving at Fushimi Inari Taisha, a very famous spot for Hatsumode. And thus rather busy... but that is part of it. These shrines and temples are in use, specially the first few days of the year. 

I had come here also in early January 2016, which was my first Hatsumode experience in Japan. I don't remember, but I am not sure if I expected anything special or just wanted to see this shrine again, one of my preferred shrines in Japan. So back then I was very surprised by all the offers standing on display. A lot of alcohol (mainly Sake, but also beer), but also other products. E.g. Kleenex, soy sauce, fresh fruit and vegetable, water, ...). Everything the companies that are coming to pray for an other successful year, are producing. Looking back through my old pictures, I saw that last time I was here on January 4th, so already a working day. Not sure if for that reason, but back then, there were a lot of business men coming to give their offerings. It seemed like the president of the company plus a few senior managers all together visiting the shrine. The produce they offer is only "for display" I think. What they are actually offering is money. Back then, there was also a dance / singing of some shrine girls on a stage. But not so today. Anyway, I have my fond memories of this shrine, even if today wasn't anything too special. 

BTW, last time I visited was also special... and can be found here

The day finished in an onsen / super-sento (Makoto no yu) not too far from my accommodation. Apparently in what was the red light district of Kyoto in the past, but now a very residential area, with this onsen. It had just one rotenburo, but with a nice view into the night sky with a decoratively shining half moon. After getting my well deserved soak, I had a very good dinner there (steak prepared by myself on a small iron plate) and then headed back to my room, where I am now sitting on my futon, completing this blog post. 

Sunday, 1 January 2023

NY2023 D2 Kyoto to Nigatsudo (Nara) 二月堂へ初詣

Route: Kyoto - Nara
Bicycle: 58 km
Train: 40 km
Average Speed: 16.9 km/h
Total Ascent: 347 m
Riding Time: 3:25 h
Weather: Dry, sunny, cold and quite windy, 8 C

On the first day of 2023 I cycled to my preferred temple in Nara, unfittingly my called “February temple” 二月堂. There is even a March and April temple in the same area, but no January temple (to my knowledge). 

Anyway, I like this temple for its superb view over Nara and the valley it lies in.

Unfortunately Japanese cities, even Nara, are pretty much destroyed by new developments and the tiering down of old buildings, so one can only imagine how nice this view must have been in the past.

My original plan was to cycle from Kyoto to Nara and back through Inari jinja, but I started late (I think I was only in the bike at 11:00), had quite fierce headwind or sidewind (also a bit of tailwind but not that much) and even lost my wallet. Luckily I noticed in a conbini (which saved my bladder from explosion) and hadn’t cycled too far from a vending machine where I had bought a drink. So after eating something at the conbini (praise be to ApplePay), I retraced my steps, and luckily found it lying there on the road. So that was a close call, but things worked out. 

The ride from Kyoto to Nara is nearly all on a cycling path along the Kiso river. It seems the complete route is now from Arashiyama all the way to Wakayama, 180 km! I have probably done the entire ride already in bits and pieces. 

As cycling back to Kyoto was out of the question, I decided to park for the night at Nara station, ride back by train and pick up the bicycle tomorrow. Probably for cycling through the tea plantation hills around Uji and back to Kyoto via Inari jinja. 

While I write this I am comfortably sitting in a train back to Kyoto. Still rather empty but the conductor already several times reminded us, that this train will become very crowded. For sure he is referring to Inari jinja station. (In the end it wasn't that bad, yes, the train got crowded, but nothing to compare to normal rush hour in Tokyo or even late rush hour in Tokyo).

Nara itself was also pretty crowded as was an area at the confluence between Kisogawa and Yodogawa, where there must be an important shrine or temple , which I totally ignored.

NY2023 D1 New Year in Kyoto お正月京都で

Route: To Higashi Kyoto
Bicycle: 18 km
Average Speed: 11.5 km/h
Total Ascent: 138 m
Riding Time: 1:36
Weather: Cold and dark... but dry, 3 C

For my first year back in Japan, I have come for the New Year (and until 9/Jan) to Kyoto. And it did not disappoint. 

I had come without a precise plan for these next 10 days. The new not fixed appointment is on Friday, when I have to go to Osaka office for the first working day in 2023. My company is closed 2-5/Jan and the 9/Jan is a local holiday again. Luckily Kyoto /Osaka are so close that commuting there won’t be a problem. 

An other reason I decided for Kyoto is that in smaller cities there is a risk that everything, including restaurants & shops are closed for the first few days of the year. But in a big city such as Kyoto that isn’t a risk. Many things are closed, but enough is open to still have plenty of choice. 

So anyway, I came without detailed plan, so while I was waiting for the delivery of my suitcase I planned some rides. 

Although this isn’t my first New Year in Japan, it was the first time I went to temples at midnight. And which city better for that than Kyoto!

I had searched a bit on the internet which temples and shrines are the best for New Year, and - not surprisingly - there were several suggested temples in Eastern Kyoto. The first temple I went to (and where I parked and then explored the area on foot) was Koudaiji 高台寺 and it was the best of all. 

Quite serene, albeit the many visitors and they even had free Amazake (a kind of sweet , warm , rice porridge drink). 

I was there too early to wait for midnight so went over to Yanaka shrine, which must have been so full that it was impossible to even approach it. It seemed that all ways leading to it were cut of by friendly but resolute watchmen. There was a big night fair behind the shrine though.

When it became clear that this shrine wasn’t going to be reasonably easily accessible, I walked back to Kodaiji, where I arrived a few minutes before midnight, right in time for the midnight countdown.

At the temple itself a monk was playing a huge drum, hitting it not only on the surface, but also the sides and striking over the nails that hold the skin in place with his drum sticks.

Shortly after midnight I left and went in search for an other temple, which however turned out to be closed so decided to head back to my holiday apartment. 

Saturday, 5 November 2022

D3 Behind Mt. Iizuma

Route: Kurohime - Togakushi Jinja - Nagano
Bicycle: 47 km
Train: 30 km
Average speed: 12.0 km/h
Total ascent: 1025 m
Weather: sunny, some clouds, but cold (because of the elevation), 6C
Riding time: 3:53 h 

Yesterday I had left my bike at the local bike shed outside of Kurohime station... and it faithfully waited for me (not totally alone) the entire night.

And then the climbing started... all the way up to the Upper shrine of Togakushi, through stunning landscape of volcanos. 

But it was a gradual climb with no crazy slopes, so I was able to work up my way, little by little enjoying the views.

At the top of the climb was the upper Togakushi shrine, but getting to it from the street involved nearly 5 km of hiking (walking) including the last part some uneven stairs up to the shrine. I wasn’t alone to have set out for it, there was a formidable “procession” making its way up the slope.

If you expected some extremely unique or even old shrine or a beautiful view at the end, those expectations were trashed  there was a rather normal , relatively new, small shrine and although we had walked uphill for 2,5 km, there wasn’t any real view.

At the entrance there had been two soba restaurants, but unfortunately the waiting list was so long that I gave up and instead continued on to the Middle shrine, which also turned out to be a pretty normal shrine. 

But somehow both of them are very famous (and popular). For Japanese probably there is some religious meaning to these shrines and for us foreigners I guess it is the landscape they are in.

Then the descent started. Initially it was quite gradual as there is a high plain around the Mt Iizuma… with some more nice views. 

I even went to an old (but rebuild castle above Nagano (which was closed and semi abandoned) , but then the real descent started and it was literally terrifying. 7 sharp bends at 16% inclination on a rough surface in a kind of half tunnel with cars coming up and down through it. Never again! 

Miraculously safely back in the valley, I went to Zenkoji temple. I had been a few weeks before at the end of Silver Week already, but back then in the rain, today with maple trees glowing in the sunlight it was a nice view.