Archive for the ‘Seasonal’ Category

Special ride in Nagano

May 26, 2017

DSC_0276

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.

 

IMG_2268

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.

IMG_2276.JPG

IMG_2280

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…!

IMG_1729

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.

IMG_2284

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 !!!

IMG_2291

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 🙂

Cherry Blossoms forecast 2017

March 2, 2017

sakura2017

It looks Tokyo is the place we can see the cherry blossoms the earliest time in this spring. There are many company who provide on-line cherry blossoms forecasts and they say cherry blossoms will start to bloom earlier than usual in Kanto (including Tokyo) and northern Japan, but it will come later than normal year in Kansai (Osaka or Kyoto).

When is the best time to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo? Maybe it will start to bloom around March 22 and will be full bloom at around April 1-3.

Have you booked our tour yet? Unfortunately cycling tours both on April 1 and 2 are full. But we have still kayak tours both on April 1 and 2. And our running tour is also available on April 1. Please check our Tour Calendar and book the tour when you fix your schedule!

 

 

Travel deep into the rural Japan – Akita

January 18, 2017

c2c95f2cb7a8083c7452a0545daacd7d

Tourism Agency announced yesterday that the total number of visitors to Japan increased by 21.8% from the previous year. More than 24 million tourists visited Japan last year but the same number in 2006 was just about 7 million, so this is really a big jump!

However, still tourists are visiting only specific areas such as Tokyo, (and around),  Osaka (and around), Hokkaido or Fukuoka. (See the above map. Red, orange or yellow are places tourist paid visits.)

Last weekend I traveled to Akita prefecture for skiing and hot spring (and of course nice food and Sake!!) with my husband and an Irish friend. My another old friend is now living in Akita for his work and he will soon move back to Tokyo, so I wanted to visit there while he was there.

Enjoying  a couple of beers and Sakes at the comfortable Shinkansen seats I fell a sleep and next time when I awake and looked outside the window, it was already completely different world. Snowing heavily and no more city lights. Shinkansen finally arrived at Tazawako station, three of us and two other unacquainted people stepped on the platform covered with 10-15 cm fresh snow. It was about 3 hour pleasant Shinkansen trip.

fullsizerender

We stayed at Kokumin Kyukamura hotel chain, and they have 37 hotels located in various national parks in Japan. This hotel chain is originally government owned so the price is relatively reasonable. (Kokumin Kyukamura website)  The room is a normal, traditional tatami room so we slept on Futon mattress wearing Yukata, Japanese traditional pajamas. We re-started drink Sake…..Akita has lots…..of nice Sakes!

15941184_10154920913204591_184624077966816437_n

These are the selection made by my friend, Kosuke! The middle one is “ゆきの美人” which means “ゆきYuki, 美人Beauty” and Yuki is my name, well done, Kosuke 🙂

~~~~~

The next day was started with Asa-Buro, the first Onsen of the day. For this way, I can reset myself from the previous nights drinking and be ready for skiing! As the weather forecast already had told, the snow continued for a whole day but not windy and snow was not that heavy so the condition was just fabulous for enjoying skiing in deep powder snow.This was my first time to ski in Akita, and to tell you the truth I didn’t expect too much about the snow condition in Akita, I thought it was wet snow but luckily I was wrong.

tazawako

Kosuke took a very good picture of mine with his Nikon D5. Immediately  I changed my Facebook profile picture to this one!

We skied until the chair lifts stopped their service at 4 pm. And drove back to the hotel. Soaked into Onsen (my second one on this day) to relax my sore muscle. The hotel is located well-known Onsen resort called Nyuto Onsen, actually Nyuto means a nipple, I know it is a very strange name… It is named after the mountain nearby and this mountain’s shape is similar to women’s breast, so that’s why. And also the color of this Onsen water is white, cloudy color like milk. I like sulfur smell very much and Nyuto Onsen is sulfur bath.I soaked Onsen one more time after dinner and Sake just before going to bed  (or actually Futon!).

img_2989

Next day was wonderful weather, we could looked down the lake Tazawa from the mountain. Amazingly there was no cue for lifts or restaurants, this ski resort has 13 runs some of them were well groomed and some are natural and lots of powder snow. Some are steep but mostly moderate. We skied until lunch time and then packed our gears to send them back to Tokyo by Takkyubin. I always envy when I talk with my bike tour guests who travel to Japan for skiing from Australia, New Zealand or even from Europe, as they have a few weeks holiday but my schedule is so tight, 1.5 days skiing and had to go home… Before taking Shinkansen back to Tokyo, we drove to Tsurunoyu Onsen, which is the most famous, popular and the oldest Onsen in this area. I have read many articles about Tsurunoyu and seen lots of nice pictures. We had originally tried to book this Ryokan (Inn) but was fully booked and we could not stay here this time. However you can try as visitors if you go there by 3 pm, and which we did this time. Even though I had heard about this place already but the actual impression was far above the expectation. The atmosphere, scenery, Onsen water, everything was just lovely. Simple and beautiful. I liked this place very much!

tsurunoyu

We took same way back to Tokyo, by Shinkansen. Although it is just 2.5 days short visit, I fully enjoyed the weekend retreat, I will definitely come back!

~~~~~~~

My Irish friend was one of very few Western guests everywhere, at hotel, ski mountain or Onsen. The map above, the data can tell this fact. If you have JR pass, just jump into Akita Shinkansen and get off at Tazawako station. You need to reserve hotel / Ryokan and reserve the pick-up bus from Shinkansen station. Please enjoy this very local experience in Akita.

~~~~~

Tazawako Ski resort   website

Tsurunoyu Onsen website

 

 

Sakura forecast 2016

February 16, 2016

sakura_front_800x450

It’s still pretty cold here in Tokyo, but we can find some signs of early spring here and there in the city. And, yes, we need to talk about this topic – when the cherry blossoms open flowers? According to the forecast companies it is likely they will start to bloom on March 27 and the best timing to see full bloom is between April 1 – 8 in Tokyo area.

If you want to see cherry blossoms now, there are a few places that you can see early cherry blossoms. There are more than 600 different species of cherry blossoms, but more than 80% of cherry blossoms we normally see in Japan is just one type called Somei Yoshino. When we talk about Sakura, it normally indicates Somei Yoshino cherry blossoms and they usually open flowers in the early April. But for example, Kawazu Sakura has its full bloom season earlier like mid of February, yes now is the time!

someiyoshino
Somei Yoshino

kawadu
Kawazu Sakura

If you travel to Kawazu, they have Kawazu Sakura festival until March 10th. It takes 2.4 hours from Tokyo station to Kawazu station by JR. If you don’t have enough time to travel there, then how about to walk along Oyoko River next to Kiba park. There are about 100 trees planted along the river.
(Tokyo Great Kayaking Tour has a tour on Feb 21, 2016 and we will paddle along this river!)

In front of Tokyo Metro Takebashi station, near  Hirakawamon of the Imperial Palace is also a famous place to see Kawazu Sakura.

 

Cherry blossoms forecast 2015 – Vol. 1

January 29, 2015

sakura_front_1440x1080

Japanese weather forecast company, Weather Map announced today that they forecast the cherry blossoms may start to bloom in March 24 in Tokyo. Maybe it is too hasty to react nervously to this kind of announcement. Tomorrow’s weather forecast says it will SNOW in Tokyo !(@_@;).

But anyway we are such looking forward to cherry blossoms!! The tour in this season becomes very popular and easily becomes full. So if you are considering to join our bike tour, it is better to fix your schedule and book the tour 😉

Rinko (輪行) to Hanamigawa cycling road

October 6, 2014

hanamigawa1

This is Kazu writing. Peter and Kathy, our friends who are repeat guests of our bike tour had wanted to try something new. So we had suggested them to join our trial tour to Hanamigawa, Chiba Prefecture to test our plan by RINKO, train and bike. They had got interested in this idea, so that we decided to do the bike tour on September 19, 2014.

hanamigawa4

(Rinko literally means “putting bike into a bag”. Black bag next to Peter is the Rinko bag and a bike is inside.)

hanamigawa5

There are cycling roads in good condition and adequate distance along three rivers; Tamagawa, Arakawa and Edogawa in Tokyo and its neighborhood. Compared with these three cycling roads, Hanamigawa Cycling Road is not so famous but much better, I think. It has more varieties in scenery. It starts from sea shore in Tokyo Bay. As we go on along the river, it leads to a valley rich with woods and then open field of Inba-numa, swamps.

hanamigawa6

hanamigawa3

hanamigawa7

(Rice paddy is so beautiful and rice stalks are ready to be cultivated.)

 

The weather was just nice, neither hot nor cold on that day. Four of us, Peter, Kathy, Yuki and I enjoyed cycling, viewing Autumn flowers such as cosmoses, red spider lily and ripe rice just before harvesting.

hanamigawa2

As it was a trial, we made a few U-turns. Sorry, Peter and Kathy for the inconvenience. The distance we ended up was about 41 km and it took about 6 hours including breaks, sightseeing and lunch. It was a fun to explore countryside of one-hour train ride from Tokyo.

hanamigawa8

(A short break at the old Samurai’s house. Me, Peter and Kathy)

Tsuyu …. Rainy season is not fun at all but…

June 12, 2014

plum

 

As you may already know, it is the middle of  rainy season in Japan. This year it has been raining a lot, Tokyo has the most rain in the last 1/4 century… Oh, just too much… we look outside of the window with the bitterness when we need to cancel the tour.

~~~~~~

Rainy season is called “Tsuyu (梅雨)” in Japanese, it literally means “plum rain”, and actually this is a season for Japanese plum fruit. You can easily find the light green or yellowish fruits on the trees in the gardens, shrines or temples even in Tokyo.

With these plum fruits, someone make plum jam, another make pickled plum (Umeboshi) or maybe plum juice. For us it is definitely, “Umeshu (梅酒)”!!  Umeshu, or plum wine is a Japanese liqueur made from steeping Ume into “Shochu” (Shochu is a kind of Japanese distilled beverage) and sugar. After three months or more maturing in the jar, it becomes very smooth and mild Umeshu, normally Umeshu contains about 10 % of alcohol.

On the other rainy day, we made TGCT home made Umeshu, we may be able to start tasting in this winter, so please come to our shop to try them before we finish them all by themselves :-p

umeshu

Cherry Blossoms Forecast 2014

March 14, 2014

sakura_front_600x450_2014       As we post a blog entry at this time of the every year, it is already the season people start to forecast when is the DAY in 2014. As cherry blossoms are very short-lived, we should not miss the chance! And also we need to well plan in advance for our Hanami Party (Flower viewing party) with our friends, family and colleagues etc as the time is really limited!!

This year, according to the latest forecast, the flower will start to bloom as usual year, which is on and around March 25 in Tokyo. And then it has its peak on around April 2.

MG_Tokyo  Tokyo

Some of our tours are already booked out, but we have also some tours still available. For the availability of our tours, please check out our website! Please don’t miss this chance to enjoy Sakura flowers by bike!

 

Cold but beautiful winter morning in Tokyo

January 16, 2014

お濠に氷 バイクと お濠に氷

Hi there I am Masa.

We had the coldest morning in Tokyo today.

Temperature dropped to -2c.

Please take a look at above photos. Some part of the moat, surrounding the Imperial Palace, were frozen. Can you realize that on the photos?

I shot these photos on the way to our office. I bike to work every morning. It takes about 40 minutes for 11 km from my house to the office.

I also sometimes enjoy kayaking in the downtown Tokyo, in the canals, small rivers or in Tokyo bay.

~~~~~~~

There are 13 million people living in Tokyo. But it is seldom to see other kayaks on the water, especially in winter.

I like the feeling to row the kayak in the mid of Tokyo.

~~~~~~~

January to February is the coldest moment In Tokyo.

But we are operating the bike tours.

I will be the guide for the tour on 26th. so hope to see you soon on our bike tour!!

The traditional event – Shichi – Go- San

November 14, 2013

priest and her

Hi there. I am Masa again!

Our family celebrated  Shichi-Go-San ceremony for my seven years old girl last Sunday.

Shichi -Go-San literally means Seven-Five-Three in Japanese and we Japanese have a traditional event to celebrate their children’s healthy growing up at their three, five and seven years age. (Usually three years old and seven years old for girl and five years old for boy.)

I have two daughters aged seven and four. So our family had an elder daughter’s Shichi-Go-San festival at local Shinto shrine near our house.

We appreciate Shinto’s God for her safely growing-up and also pray her healthy growing up in the future.

The ritual is taken place as follows.

Shinto priest

First of all, a Shinto priest says some words of appreciation to God for my daughters growing up and asks to watch her in the future. Then he performs a purification ceremony for my daughter. And finally she sips some sacred sake (non-alcohol), then this traditional ceremony has finished.

local Shinto shrine

My daughter dressed up with kimono, a Japanese traditional clothing. She was a bit nervous during ceremony. But when Shinto priest gave her a book and candies, she returned to herself. (The first picture above)

November is a season of Shichi-Go-San festival, so if you visit shrines in Japan, you will see many kids in Kimono walking hand in hand with their parents. They are all so pretty. When you find them at shrine, don’t hesitate to call to them “Omedeto gozaimasu” which means congratulations. And usually they are happy to pose for your camera.

In old days children who are younger than seven years old are supposed to be belonged to God. Because children died easily by disease in infant medical situations. That kind of thought  may comfort parents who lost their children. “Our child went back to God’s home, not just died…”

So children older than seven are regarded to be a member of normal human beings’ world. Now I big welcome my daughter coming to our world!

Sometimes bitter yet life is enjoyable. Our life is worth to live. Let’s enjoy living together for a while, my little girl!