Cycling in Beautiful Fukushima

July 17, 2018

Last year I went to Setouchi area for cycling with my Brompton, and this year my bike mate, Haruna with whom I had traveled last year suggests me to go to Aizu area in Fukushima. I have been to Aizu many times, mainly for skiing but it is first time for me to go for cycling. So four of TGCT guides, Haruna, Etsuko, Kazu and I had two nights three days cycling trip in early June, when just before the rainy season has started.

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(Three beauties and our Bromptons 😉

The trip was brilliant, beautiful natural landscape, Onsen on top of local Sake and foods , nice bike friends and beautiful weather made our cycling trip such an unforgettable memory. We discovered a lot of hidden gems which only local people know. Unfortunately the name “Fukushima” became world famous after that hideous catastrophe happened in March 11, 2011. But Aizu in Fukushima is truly lovely place for cycling and we recommend to anyone who are planning cycling holiday in Japan. Actually Fukushima (福島) literally means lucky (福) Island (島). Fukushima prefecture is divided into three areas, Aizu, Nakadori and Hamadori. The nuclear power plant is located in Hamadori and the area we visited this time, Aizu is 130 km away from Fukushima Daiishi Nuclear Power Station. Although we reaffirmed that accident when we watched TV news at Onsen Ryokan room and news mentioned Today’s radiation level as well as tomorrow’s weather forecast. In Tokyo we hardly hear this news recently, so it was a bit shocking for us…

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Anyway, here is our cycling story…

+++Day 1+++

We met at Asakusa station in Tokyo at 8 am and took Tobu Line for Aizuwakamatsu.  The best part of cycling with Brompton is easy for Rinko (輪行). In Japan, we need to fold our bikes and put them into Rinko bags.

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After three hours, we got off at Yunokami Onsen station. The design of the train and the station building are so cute and we were so happy to take pictures. From the station, it is 6 km uphill cycling to Ouchi-Juku . Ouchi-Juku is a small post station along the old trail (Aizu Nishi Kaido) from Edo period. It is only 6 km but the hill was quite steep… But that’s why when we finally arrived at Ouchi-Juku, we were so excited by those charming thatched roof houses, pretty sure we enjoyed the scenery more than those lazy people who went there by bus, huh!

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After tasting yummy Soba noodle lunch, we enjoyed nice down hill back to the station and took the train again heading to Nishi-Aizu station. Before checking in tonight Onsen Ryokan, we enjoyed easy cycling in Aizu-Wakamatsu city, visiting Aizu castle, a few Japanese Sake brewers (shopping for tonight Sake as well!) and old downtown.

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+++ Day 2 +++

It was a big day. We started Inawashiro Lake ( 500 m elevation) ended at Noji Onsen at 1,200 m for about 40 km. Good thing is that the weather is just perfect for cycling again and another thing is that I had great cycling mates.

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We started at around 8:30 am and cycling in the fresh green rice paddies are just gorgeous. The morning fog coming from Lake Inawashiro covered the fields and that give us nice and mysterious scenery to enjoy. Mt. Bandai is at our back as if she is helping to push our back to pedal further.

After 20-25 km easy moderate cycling, hill climbing has started. Among us, Kazu is the most experienced hill climber, while Etsuko is the first time to do hill climb cycling and she was a bit nervous. I am just OK, it is my second one this year after the one in Nagano during Golden Week.

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I say some cyclists passing me but didn’t see anyone who are riding mini-velo and they are all surprised to see us as we were all on small wheel bikes (3 Bromptons and 1 Birdy), and which I was proud of ! We all made being at 1,400 meters point with big smile.

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We stay at the traditional Onsen Ryokan tonight. Sagamiya Ryokan at Shinojionsen. They are a member of small sized Onsen Ryokan group called Japan Association of Secluded Hot Spring Inns. Their Onsen has nice rustic atmosphere especially their outdoor bath was super cool!

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Smells sulfur and color is creamy white, look good for beautiful skins 🙂 So we jumped into the water!

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Before dinner, after dinner, just before going to bed (or Futon) and the next early morning before breakfast, I enjoyed four times at one night stay there.

 

+++ Day 3 +++

The last day of our trip was another beautiful weather! Today’s cycling is on the road named Bandai-Azuma Skyline with 29 km distance over the Tsuchiyu pass. This was originally toll road but it is now toll free for reconstruction after Fukushima was devastated by the earthquake in 2011. Actually the road is selected top 100 beautiful road in Japan.

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After the highest point of 1622 meters, we had a rest at Jyodo-Daira. The whole area was in National park and originally created by volcanic activity. There landscape is so unique, very stark but beautiful. There are 111 volcano in Japan and 5 of them are in this area. The latest eruption was happened about 120 years ago, but we can see the clear sign that the mountains are still active here and there.

 

 

Oops! What should we do? The caution says “Poison Gas. Another sign even mention ” You have better close your window” We are cycling, there is no window to close! No wonder this area is named “Fox hell” Means that poison gas might kill small animals such as foxes or rabbits.

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All of us enjoyed down hill cycling, yeah, downhill! That’s the reward of our climbing yesterday and this morning 🙂

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We finally arrived at JR Fukushima station, the goal of this trip. We cannot help jumping to joy.  We love cycling, we love Fukushima!

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Charity ♥

March 14, 2018

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A friend of mine is a knit designer working for a famous Japanese apparel company, after she had suffered breast cancer (sadly 😦 ), she cut her hair and donated it to Non Profit Organization who make special wigs for people who lost their hairs and need wigs due to anticancer drugs. As you need to donate hair at least 30 cm length, it is not easy to donate many times for a certain period. That is why she started her own charity to knit heart shaped charms with knitting yarn that is factory waste of apparel companies and ask people to buy them at 200 yen.

I liked her idea so I ask her to make some and now we put them on the counter of our shop. Check them out when you are here !

Hair Donation   HERO

Sakura forecast 2018

February 22, 2018

It was snowy rain this morning and freezing cold! We were about to cancel the ride, but our brave guests say they don’t care, so we have decided to hit the road.

So it is still mid of winter, but the season is surely moving on and we are seeing lots of signs that spring is approaching. If you check our recent pictures on FB, you will see some photos of plum and cherry blossoms.

Here is the latest Sakura (Cherry blossoms) forecast. It seems Sakura will start to bloom on around March 25 and will be full bloom on 1st. / 2nd. April.

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Send a postcard to your loved one from Tokyo!

October 26, 2017

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Sometime we are asked where to buy postcards in Tokyo. More people use email, SNS to contact and less people send cards or letter by post. But still it is nice when you receive handwritten messages. In Tokyo not many souvenir shop sell postcards, so we made our original cards with Japanese style design.

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It is our complimentary service, so you can write the message to your family or friends on your favorite design card and drop it in the box. We will put the stamp and send it for you. So please don’t forget to write the address :–) At this moment we have 10 different designs. If you want them all, we sell them as a set at 300 yen. (Thank you for sharing the printing fee…!)

We will add more designs soon. Do you want to know who draw this? She is very shy, so only from this angle… A lady named Toki  aged 70 plus (secret…) who is a mother of one of our staffs. Thank you, Toki for your lovely works!

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New route, our the 7th. route – Time Travel to Good Old Tokyo

October 16, 2017

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We have recently launched our 7th. route – Time Travel to Good Old Tokyo. This route has 30 km and several hills, it will be the most difficult route among our seven various different routes. This tour is designed for people who have stamina and physical fitness. However, look at the picture! We are all small Japanese girls and even  we can enjoy the tour including hills, so you don’t need to worry too much 🙂

Actually this tour takes you to untouristy and off the beaten paths, where you will feel nostalgic even though is is the first time for you to visit the areas.

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It is always very glad and honor that we have many return customers. They encourage us to create more and more new routes! This time we will visit the north western part of Tokyo central  area. There will be many more areas you will be able to enjoy cycling through.

We are sure you will love the new route, too!  Route G 

Japan Tourism Awards 2017

October 5, 2017

Thank you for your great support, we, Tokyo Great Cycling Tour, Tokyo Great Kayaking Tour and Tokyo Great Running Tour had a honor to have a prize given by Tourism Expo Japan. We will try to improve our tours by all means!
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Setouchi Great Journey – Side trip from Shimanami Kaido cycling road – Day 3

July 22, 2017

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We left the hostel on the next morning, after cycling in the historical heritage district in Mitarai. It used to be a very prosperous port in Edo period as there were many important shipping routes and channels in Setouchi and sometime seamen needed to wait for the good condition of the wind and tidal current. So there are many old wooden houses preserved from that time, they are so lovely.

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We have crossed the last bridge on Tobishima Kaido to Okamurajima island, then took a ferry to Omishima island.

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We were planning to take Shimanami Kaido cycling route from Omishima heading to Onomichi, the goal of our cycling trip. We could leave depart for Onomichi directly, but again, this is our 4th. trip in Shimanami, so we would like to try something new, then we have decided to swing by Okunojima island, which is know as a rabbit island because there are many (more than 700) rabbits living on this island and you can touch and feed them. Although this island has a history that before and during WWII, there was a poison gas factory …

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(Haruna, Haruna’s travel company, Peter Rabbit and a rabbit at Okunojima)

Me? I’m not that big fan of rabbits, giving food to them is very childish! So I didn’t care at all…. but…

 

 

 

 

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Oops… Yes, they are cute…

Not like islands on Tobishima Kaido we saw many tourists visiting Okunojima from overseas countries, which is great. Many Youtube videos, blogs and other SNS about rabbits here are bringing more tourists to this tiny island, where not so easy to reach.

We stayed there 30 minutes and took the same ferry to back to Omishima island, then headed to Tatara Ohashi bridge, one of the most symbolic bridges along Shimanami Kaido.

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We were very hungry and decided to have a lunch before crossing the bridge, so we went to a restaurant. This decision was correct! When we were at the entrance, I heard someone were calling my name. What a small world is this!! They were actually guests from Singapore and I was a guide for them at  Tokyo Great Cycling Tour. 

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Very impressive encounter at Shimanami with Rachel and Kung (in yellow jersey) and their cycling mates Lilian and Tey. They bought lunch for us. Thank you very much!!!

They were cycling from Onomichi to Imabari, and we were heading to Onomichi, so we said good bye to them and continued our way. It was another nice weather today. Since we had started cycling, we only saw blue sky, blue ocean …. what a perfect cycling days. At around 5 pm, we finally arrived at our goal, Onomichi U2. Although Haruna has to work tomorrow and needed to go back to Tokyo tonight, I would stay here tonight.

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Finally our Setouchi Great Journey was over. We had cold beer at the terrace to toast our safe and fun cycling this time. We like cycling, cycling everywhere, especially at this beautiful cycling heaven, Setouchi. We will definitely come back very soon!

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Bye Haruna, she took train back to Tokyo at JR Onomichi station.

The third day  – Cycling around 45 km

 

 

 

 

Setouchi Great Journey – Side trip from Shimanami Kaido cycling road DAY 2

July 20, 2017

DSC_0305We had a reservation of a kayak tour in the afternoon, we left our hotel very early and head back to the Koyo port. There were a few hills along the north coast of Etajima but we could make ourselves to be in time to get the ferry to Kure. Kure is the 3rd. big city in Hiroshima prefecture and it is famous as its history of the naval dockyard which built the battle ship Yamato  before WWII.

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We took a bus to the first bridge, Akinada Ohashi, on Tobishima Kaido cycling road. We could cycle there, it is only around 10 km but cycling on busy streets is not so fun so we decided skip this part, and which we believe as a right decision.

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Tobishima Kaido Cycling Road is about 30 km connected 5 islands with four bridges. Other than those bridges between islands the course is relatively flat and it is only 30 km so you could of course ride through easily in one day. You could start cycling from Kure (which we did) or from Onomichi via Shimanami Kaido cycling road or even taking a ferry from Imabari to Okamura island.

We arrived at the second island, Kamikamagari island early afternoon and we cycled to Kenmin no hama beach where we tried a kayak tour.

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It was a perfect day for kayaking! Actually yesterday was too hot and we thought we would like to jump in the water at any moment we were hill climbing but today it was a little cloudy so very comfortable. Our guide, Shiroki-san was young, nice guy and luckily we were only guests and when we told we’re doing a kayak tour in Tokyo, he was kindly suggested to take us to a little further than usual course. We were so relax and enjoyed paddling. We saw a small Shinto shrine on the rock which paddlers or boatmen pray for safety at the sea.

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(The message at the bottom of a kayak saying  “Take care! Bye!!” They offer a paddling school for children and when they see them off, they capsize on purpose to show this message to them. Wow, what a hospitality!! Shall we do the same thing at Tokyo’s canal? No way…..)

After kayaking we head to Mitarai district on Osaki Shimo island where we will stay tonight. Mitarai is the name of historical port and the area is preserved old houses and streetscape. We book a hostel whose building was a former medical clinic. It was Sunday and the owner of the hostel said to us there were no restaurant open nearby. This is the important point for cycling on Tobishima Kaido. Not like the previous Kakishima Kaido or Shimanami Kaido, there are very few convenience stores, so you need to prepare emergency food and drink in advance.

On the way we happened to meet the owner of orange and lemon farm where they sell fresh fruits and juice. That gave us really a power back. Only 100 yen per a cup!

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When we travel it is always the most interesting is meeting new people. After a while of chatting with the owner, we continued cycling heading our hostel.  And we found a small restaurant open very close from the hostel. Lucky! Although we got some foods from the shop, it is much nicer to have cooked dishes along with cold beer! That was a Okonomiyaki restaurant  and they serve Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki, so even better. (Be careful! Hirochima people never say “Hiroshima style” , those are proper Okonomiyaki.) At the restaurant we met a group of local people (who seemed already having some amount of beer, Sake ;-)), and we started chatting each other. They were surprised when we told them we were from Tokyo. It was nice and funny talk and I enjoyed food and drinking over chatting a lot. After they left, we also asked the restaurant owner for check, surprisingly she said the bill was settled by those men…! Thank you so much! They didn’t tell anything when they had left the restaurant. Actually they were a bit rude, as they called Haruna as Onesan ( a young lady) and me as Okasan (an old lady) ! But I’ll definitely forgive them 🙂

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We had more drink at the hostel with Yano san, the owner. Again, meeting and talking new people is always great fun. According to Haruna I was too talkative on that night and talked the same things many times… I was totally drunken… Sorry,  Haruan and Yano san.  By the way the hostel did very good jobs to renovate an old clinic to a nice cozy place to stay. Highly recommended!

Hatagoya Kusushi  (Website  http://hatagoya-kusushi.com/)

Second day – Cycling around 45 km   Kayaking around 5 km

Setouchi Great Journey – Side trip from Shimanami Kaido cycling road DAY 1

June 23, 2017

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This is my forth trip to Shimanami Kaido (please see this article for the previous trip.) as well as for my cycling buddy, Haruna, thus both Haruna and I wanted to try something new. Under searching on the internet, we found that there are some more cycling courses in Setouchi (Seto Inland Sea) area. Especially after Shimanami cycling road had come to be very popular domestically and internationally, local municipal governments are trying to develop more cycling courses to attract more tourists visiting the area for cycling. I totally understand and agree that Setouchi is the perfect destination for cycling for its mild climate with low rainfall level. Adding to cycling, this area has lots of beautiful beaches where we can enjoy water activities, such as kayak, SUP etc. Cycling and kayaking! What a great combination for us.

Travel is always fun and travel planning is also a part of the fun. We did lots of on-line search and read someone’s blog etc., finally completed a rough plan for our 2 nights 3 days “Haruna & Yukiko’s  Setouchi Great Journey”

 

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Day 1 :   Tokyo – Hiroshima  Cycling on Kakishima Kaido in Etajima island 

 

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We took Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Hiroshima station, we had reserved the seat at the most end in the compartment so that we could store our bikes at the back of our seats. Although our bikes are Brompton and it can be folded nicely in small size but even so it is important to get this seat as Shinkansen has no luggage space 😦  The advantage of Brompton bike is not only its compact size but also easiness to put in Rinko bag. In Japan we can not bring our bikes in the train without putting them in the bags or boxes.

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We are heading to Etajima, an island located in Hiroshima Bay and just 30 minutes by ferry from Hiroshima (Ujina*) port. Etajima is very famous of its oysters, and which is my favorite food!!! OISHII!! Actually Kakishima Kaido, the name of the cycling road in Etajima is taken after oysters (Kaki means oyster in Japanese). There is no reason we won’t go there! While making cycling plan, I was already dreaming to enjoy oyster over nice white wine after cycling….! (I knew May is not a season for oysters, but I though we can still have chance to eat some…)

*Ujina port is about 6 km south from JR Hiroshima station.

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We arrived at Koyo port in Etajima around lunch time and we were the only cyclists in the ferry. We though there were more but not… A ferry port crew, a nice gentleman named Saito san kindly talked to us. He welcomed us warmly especially when we told him we were from Tokyo.

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I asked Saito san if he knows any good place we can enjoy oysters, but his answer was NO… not in this season… Some of the restaurants had offered oysters last months and their guests had got sick. OMG!!!

IMG_1805 (OK, at least I got this at a local shop, so I could enjoy a canned oyster with beer after Onsen!)

During our cycling trip, we met quite a nice local people and we had chat, drink, picture etc. Meeting nice people is always fun part of the trip.

Saito san recommended to go to the Naval Academy Etajima, which used to be Imperial Japanese Naval Academy trained officers for the Imperial Japanese Navy before WWII. According to the guidebooks, it is really “must visit” place here in Etajima, however, as our schedule didn’t match their visitor’s program and we were not so interested but interested more in local food, so we rather skipped this and head to Etajima Olive Factory . Under perfect condition (good amount of sunlight, less amount of rainfalls, less impact of typhoon etc.) their olive cultivation is getting bigger. What a beautiful color of their olive oil! But just a bit too expensive…

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Shelves to cultivate oysters… I need to come back here when oysters are in season!!!

 

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The view from our hotel. Sun is setting – our Day 1 is going to be over. Total distance for today was about (only!) 30 km.

Special ride in Nagano

May 26, 2017

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We, staffs of Tokyo Great Cycling Tour traveled to Karuizawa, Nagano during Golden Week holiday in this year as has happened in the past.

This year, we have decided to head to Kirizumi Onsen which is located in the deep mountain in Gunma prefecture. karuizawa map

The first 2 hours were rather easy ride with lots of fun. With decent distance and angle of hill climbing, we enjoyed watching cherry blossoms in the mountain. Here is about 1200 meters high from the sea level, so flowers have just started blooming. We were trying to cycle in the same pace as we were afraid of meeting bears who might have just come out from their hibernation. Yes, there are many bears in this mountain! Actually the area is named Kuma no Daira and Kuma means bear in Japanese.

 

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Two hours later we arrived at a kind of dead end but we found the sign pointing the very steep cliff and narrow road to Kirizumi Onsen.

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We put our bikes on our shoulders and climbing up this mountain wall standing in front of us. There are not many pictures we could take as the road was so hard and we didn’t have enough remaining power to do so… Some parts of the road were very slippery and one side of the slope face is all the way down to the bottom of the valley…!

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After another one hour of cycling (well, actually we were pushing our bike most of the parts), we finally arrived Kirizumi Onsen. It was truly a hidden gem, very quiet even in Golden Week and wonderful location Onsen in the serene hush. Onsen water contains lots of carbonic acid so when you soak in the bath you can see your hands and legs would be wrapped lots of fine bubbles. We had late lunch along a fresh stream.

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The time spending in the heaven can last only a short time… We need to cycle back to Karuizawa. We cycle down from Kirizumi Onsen which locates 1200 meters elevation to 400 meters (fun and easy!)  and then hill climb again to Karuizawa which also is 1200 meters! What the hell !!!

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In total, we are very much enjoying a day between the heaven and the hell. If you are interested in this route, we can tell you more details, or you can join us next year golden week 🙂