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!
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.
We have crossed the last bridge on Tobishima Kaido to Okamurajima island, then took a ferry to Omishima island.
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 …
(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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
Bye Haruna, she took train back to Tokyo at JR Onomichi station.
The third day – Cycling around 45 km
We 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.
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.
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.
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.
(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!
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 🙂
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
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”
Day 1 : Tokyo – Hiroshima Cycling on Kakishima Kaido in Etajima island
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.
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.
(Map of Kakishima Kaido)
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.
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!!!
(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…
Shelves to cultivate oysters… I need to come back here when oysters are in season!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…!
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.
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 !!!
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 🙂
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!).
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!
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
<Arakawa Cycling Road>
Yes, we will launch a new route again! – Tokyo Downtown Riverside Ride.This tour takes you to the east side of the city, where we will ride a lot along the river and canals. Very relaxing 26 km long course is relatively flat and there are cycling roads and parks, and you will see local people walking with their dogs, playing tennis or cycling with their beloved bikes.
Beautiful cherry blossoms trees are planted along the river, so the scenery in the end of March to early April is stunning!! But other seasons are also enough lovely 🙂
We’ll pick our food at popular local shopping street, called Sunamachi Ginza. This shopping street has about 180 small individual and unique shops. It is very interesting to have a fun chat with the owners of those retail shops and this is the reason the street is still bustling even a new big supermarket chain was built in the same area.
We will walk pushing our bikes and buy our food to take those to the river side for our picnic lunch.
Of course, we will stop at some sightseeing attractions, like Japanese Garden, Shinto Shrine etc. The below picture is in front of Kameido Shrine.
We will ride again along rivers and canals to back to our office.
If you want to try this new route with us, please send us a booking request through our website. The website is not ready yet for “Route F” but please tick “special” and mention “Route F” on others column.
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!
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.
We will launch the new route in a short while. “Tokyo Hills and Backstreets Ride”, as this name indicates, we have many hills and take small backstreets on our way. There are 12 hills (half of them are uphills) and some of them are quite steep 🙂
We will depart our office at around 9 am then pedal through Ginza to our very 1st. hill – Miyake-zaka along the inner moat of the Imperial Palace. By the way, “Zaka” or “Saka” means slope or hill in Japanese. We will have a quick visit at Yasukuni Shrine known as War Shrine.
After the shrine, we will go up another hill called O-Saka, which is quite steep and challenging. Even our guide might dismount from the bike and walk… The area is now Kagurazaka, the area’s name itself contains the meaning of slope, so there are lots of hills in this area. Some time ago, Kagurazaka had many Geisha houses and still there are many small and nice restaurants at their hidden backstreets.
Cycling up and down some more hills, we must become very hungry. Yes, now it’s lunch time!
After lunch, we will stop at Japanese garden, Rikugien.
When you see Shinobazu Pond, you have nearly done all the hills already and now we take flat way back to our office. We will finish the tour at around 3 pm.
Total distance is 30 km, although this is a hard course with many hills but we will promise you will enjoy the entire route and find different part of Tokyo, and will also promise the beer after the tour is very tasty without a doubt!!