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.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Part 8 (Day 38 - Day 43) - From Lake Biwa to the origins of Japan 琵琶湖から日本の出身へ - Summary

Bicycle touring Japan - Lake Biwa and Nara - Part 8

In this post I review probably one of the best parts of my ride through Japan, because it was a long stretch, continuously riding in a region with a wealth of interesting sightseeing spots, and this although I did NOT do any sightseeing in Kyoto and Nara city. 

Bicycle: 284.5  km
Other transport: 420 km (to get to the starting point, but no further transport until reaching Osaka)
Region: Shiga, Nara and Osaka prefecture, from Maibara on Biwa lake through Uji to Nara and then deeper into Nara prefecture and out to Osaka
Total riding time: 18:53 h
Total ascent: 1,152 

Nearly a full week on the bicycle, without taking any bus, train, taxi or other mode of transport, skipping the more touristy parts like Kyoto and Nara and visiting the wonderful and more secluded areas around Lake Biwa and into inner Nara prefecture was probably, together with the Shimanami Kaido ride, one of the best experiences on my 2 months ride through Japan. 

With a region so rich in history and spots to visit, one picture isn't really enough:
From upper left to lower left, clockwise: Phoenix hall in Uji, historical building in Imaicho, pagoda at Hasedera, castle in Hikone
Here an approximate map of the ride as Google shows it, the actual rides are, as always in the day-to-day descriptions:

The actual routes I took are in the Strava or Garmin feed of each day:
  • Day 38 - Tokyo to Maibara and on to Omi Hachiman
  • Day 39 - Omi Hachiman to Uji
  • Day 40 - Uji to Nara
  • Day 41 - Nara to Yamatoyagi
  • Day 42 - Around Yamatoyagi
  • Day 43 - Yamatoyagi to Osaka

And here an overview of the costs.

In my original plan for Kyoto & Nara and for Shiga prefecture, I had envisioned to do a very similar ride through Nara, but coming from Mie prefecture. That wasn't possible as I had to go back to Tokyo for a few days after visiting Ise, so I did the trip the other way round. In Shiga, my original plan did foresee a full circle of the lake. Which might have been nice too, specially as there are relatively good cycling infrastructure around the lake. Actually lake Shiga was (again together with the Shimanami Kaido) one of the areas where I met the highest number of cyclists. On lake Shiga it seemed to be mainly race bike riders who came out to the lake for the day from Kyoto for a ride. And they do have a point: 

But the lake is also home to this very nice, old preserved castle.

Specially around Lake Biwa and also along the river from Kyoto to Nara, there are good bicycle lanes. The one on the Kizugawa even had a fee of 10 yen to cross one of the bridges. The only time I paid for a cycling lane (as the bridge fees of the Shimanami Kaido got [temporarily] waived). 

Thanks to staying in Uji itself I was able to get to the Phoenix hall right in the morning before the bus loads of tourists arrived. Even though the first few visits to the inside of the Phoenix hall was already full, but that wasn't probably a bad thing, as this way I could enjoy the garden around and the view of the hall with few tourists and then visit the inside in a small group when the park started to fill up with groups. 

On this trip I did not visit any place in central Nara, but did ride straight out of town to temples lying outside and specially to the UNESCO world cultural heritage site of Horyuji. While that one was nice, there were so many other nice temples in that one day, that it is really hard to decide.

But no need to decide... I simply visited them all. Luckily I don't get "templed out" quickly.

Further into Nara prefecture, in Yamatoyagi I discovered a really nice area. Yet unspoiled by tourists but full of interesting sights, small villages and nice landscape.

On my last evening in my hostel in Yamatoyagi I met a woman from Sapporo very enthusiastic about Nara region. She comes here frequently and never runs out of spots to visit. And while my interest (and understanding) of Japanese history is poor, I certainly can understand her. Not only after the trip to Hasedera and Asuka, but also what I have seen in Nara, between Nara and Yamatoyagi and also considering all the other places still to be seen here in the region which I will skip this time. 

It seems that Nara prefecture only has a set amount of money to spend on tourist information and promotion. And as there are already so many interesting places in Nara town itself, plus the UNESCO world heritage site in Horyuji, there was no money left to make the region more inland around Sakurai and Asuka known. This is actually great news for tourists searching for a place still authentically Japanese and beautiful. What you can find here:
  • Hasedera temple
  • Imaicho - old city
  • The oldest Buddha in Japan
  • Asuka - a history laden small village said to be the cradle of Japan
It was great to have an entire part of this journey by bicycle only. No folding up the brompton, just getting on the bicycle every morning and riding around. 

Both in Nara and in Yamatoyagi I went to two very old fashioned neighbourhood sentos. The one in Yamatoyagi felt like nothing had changed, including the clients, in the last 50 years. 

Both the accommodation in Nara, and even more so the one in Yamatoyagi were really nice. Old Japanese houses revived as guesthouses.

Before leaving Nara prefecture I went to see the small village of Imaicho, which essentially is a part of Yamatoyagi and is definitely one of the best preserved old cities in Japan. Much better than Takayama which is so famous. Really strange that so many tourists who are in Kyoto/Nara anyway, make the enormous detour to Takayama, when Imaicho is there just a few train stops down from Kyoto/Nara/Osaka. But well, much better for me.

The final ride from Yamatoyagi to Osaka was rather eventless with Osaka spreading through the entire plain and a bit boring, after all the nice riding through Shiga, Kyoto and Nara prefecture.

For the entire week I was also very lucky with the weather. The only day with rain was the day AFTER in Osaka, which I however mainly spent at work and then off by train to Okayama. And well, the ride from Uji to Nara was quite cold and very windy. Actually I could not really enjoy the Heijo palace in Nara because I (and most other visitors) was essentially freezing. But luckily on the next day already weather had made a U-turn and nice riding temperatures returned.

As I had passed through home before Day 38, I made a few changes to the stuff I am bringing with me, but nothing really dramatic. Essentially what I started packing for the initial ride in Hokkaido is still perfectly valid even now in early November (but obviously much more in the South of Japan).

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