I wake early with every intention of setting off before 7am but it’s so comfortable in my hotel room that I linger watching some TedX talks on YouTube and slowly packing my gear. By the time I leave it’s about 8am and I still need to stop at Lawson Station (convenience store) to buy some breakfast. It’s fantastic.
I head down towards the waterfront. I have decided that my route to road 52 will be to use natural features for navigation. Besides, I love ports. I can’t explain why but there’s something about the clash of industry and the sea that makes my heart beat a little faster.
It’s the containers and the trucks and the big ships. There’s just something so ugly about it that it is beautiful and artistic to my eye. Patterns about in everything at the port. From the way the colours of the containers might fit together one day like a rubics cube or the way the truck beds form neat lines leading to the feature of the tug boat. It’s the size of the ships compared to the tiny people and the shear scale of the cranes that tower over everything.
Turning away from the port I find myself face to face with my first Zen Buddhist temple. Stepping through the gateway I feel instantly at ease despite being right next to a railway line and close to the port. It’s totally different to the Shinto, Chinese and Thai Buddhist temples I’ve visited. Thai temples are ornate and beautifully decorated. Chinese Buddhist temples have a lot of red and are quiet but fully open to the public. Shinto temples are more like shrines with lots of timber and closed small wooden structures. This place is something in between with a complex network of buildings and gardens, some closed shrine-like structures and an air of purity about it.
The gardens contain hundred of statues of monks. I wonder whether these are to honour monks who have lived and passed at the temple. The temple was built in the Joseon period to ease tensions between what is now Korea and Japan. Funny how the places I visit seem to dovetail together proving that we are all linked in so many ways.
While I am at the temple another cycle tourer rocks up but I don’t see him or her. From the way the bike is packed it is likely to be a local Japanese cycle tourer taking advantage of Golden Week. I have seen many Japanese tourers traveling light both here and at home. I love their ability to do this and must keep working on my minimalist packing skills as I travel (though I doubt I’ll ever get as good at it as the Japanese).
I turn up road 52 and start riding uphill out of Shizuoka. The road is busy so I spend most of my time on the foot/cycle path. After about 20km I am turning off and heading onto the minor back roads. I pass under a huge bridge. The structure is epic and worthy of a show like MegaStructures.
This road takes me into rural Japan again. I love the way the bridges here often have decorations on them. This one seems to be a lady collecting a harvest. She looks so content.
And why wouldn’t she be. The rhythms of farming life seem to have a routine of their own. I love cycling through this kind of landscape more than anything else. There’s a simple complexity to life in these places where Sundays and Golden Week are unimportant because if the rice paddies are not prepared then there will be no crop. It looks like a tough life and everyone I see is at least fifty years old; again the youth seem to have left the farms. Men push or drive tractors while women conduct the manual labour like pulling the huge big wooden smoothing planks through the mud.
Baby rice seedlings are prepared for planting and look so lovely and soft like a carpet.
Water filled paddies fill every spare bit of land and vegetables grow in whatever space is left. The air is filled with the scent of agriculture. There’s the rich scent of mud and animal manure mingling with the sweet scent of fresh air and flowers. At times I pass plots where the onions are growing close enough to smell them. Fortunately there are few cabbages today so the smell of fart is largely absent.
Small shrines dot the roadside. I feel the urge to stop at this one and pay my respects to whoever is here. Maybe they were someone important in days gone past that they draw my attention. Or maybe just a farmer who worked the land. Either way, I listen to the call and stop.
The weather has warmed up over the past few days. I have taken a liking to these huge cans of lemon soft drink because they are so refreshing.
And the can fits nicely in my chaff bag. I can place it in there without worrying that it will spill. And the chaff bag seems to insulate it a little bit despite the warming weather. For the record, the other chaff bag is where I keep my camera for easy access while riding.
Shortly after I buy the drink I see the mountain for the first time. That’s Fuji-san’s snowy flank that you can just see through the clouds. I take a photo because I know that this might be all I see of the mountain. But more than that, I am in awe of the mountain’s massive size. I feel so small beneath the volcano.
From here the road will climb for about 30km without a break. It’s not a steep climb, just a steady plod every upwards. I should have known because the signs said that I was heading for some highlands. This area is famous in Japan for producing dairy products. So of course I have to stop at Milk Land. I don’t trust that the milk is not yogurt because I can’t read the text and have been caught out before. But I do buy a delicious soft serve ice cream with strawberries and strawberry sauce. I could have gone back to my bike to grab the camera for a photo but this is too good to wait and I am super hungry. But I did take a photo of the grasslands up here in the highlands so you can imagine what the cows that produced the milk that was used to create my ice cream were eating.
The ride is epic. The climb doesn’t seem like it will ever end. I am fatigued from some big days on the bike but there is so much to see as I climb. Like these gorgeous bulbs that have popped up all along the side of the road.
Or the hundreds of motorcyclists who pass me in big groups. The ones in the photo above are riding pretty boring bikes compared with most who came past on the most custom of custom bikes I could ever even conceive existed. As I tire the sound of their unmuffled exhausts does start to rattle me but I guess this is how the Japanese express themselves in a culture where uniforms of some sort seem to be worn by everyone when they work (I include business suits in this). It’s like an explosion of self-expression is taking place here on the road with these motorbikes.
There are a few late season cherry blossoms left on the road and they still take my breath away, even after a couple of weeks here. I am starting to appreciate why the Japanese go so crazy for them because I am enjoying them and I haven’t even endured the blanket of cold white snow that is the Japanese winter.
I see a sign that declares I am at “Stuck Land”. I wonder what it is until I reach the Stuck Land proper. This is a 4WD park filled with mud and ruts. There is a long queue of hotted up and raised 4WDs waiting their turn at the track and I watch as those already on the trail bump and grind their way through the mud. It’s fun to watch and must be fun to do too. Again, this seems to be more than just adventure but a form of self-expression with almost every car being driven by a couple, not just boys.
It’s now about 2pm and I’ve been climbing for over four hours. I haven’t eaten enough so my legs are starting to feel hollow. They haven’t yet reached jelly stage so I am grateful to see a vending machine, toilet and bench in a carpark. Coca Cola has rarely tasted so good and it gets me ready to eat the salad I have in my panniers. And then, as I sit there catching my breath the clouds blow away a little, letting me see the top of the mountain. I somehow find the energy to jump up, grab my camera and run to the other side of the carpark to get a better photo. I feel a wave of emotion rush over me. I am here in Japan eating lunch under Mt Fuji. Is this for real?
There’s a lookout over one of Fuji’s lakes but it’s too hazy for a photo. After the lookout the road finally starts to descend. It’s not 30km of descent like the 30km of climbing but I’ll take what I can get. The scenery along the road changes to gnarly mossy forest. It is magical … like wonderland. Or is that the fatigue-induced dopamine filling my brain talking? A friend told me once that extreme physical exercise like this can cause a high that is similar to a hit of heroine. I wonder whether he is correct? Either way, it’s an awesome feeling.
And then, at the bottom of the hill, as I join the line of traffic heading towards Kawaguchiko it happens. The clouds are gone and Mt Fuji is fully visible. The traffic moves at a snails pace for no other reason than that everyone wants to see this view. There’s a michi-no-eki along the road and it’s like a carnival with food being sold and people posing for photos with the magical mountain. I have met more people who say that Fuji-san was hidden by cloud or rain than those for whom the skies were blue and the mountain perfectly topped with white snow. I count my blessings.
I have a choice about whether to ride directly to the hostel or whether to drop down to the lake. It’s a no-brainer so I find myself cruising along the lake in the late afternoon. It’s perfect. Families play with their children on the grass. A couple has a romantic moment taking photos. Fishermen try their luck. And then I see a fellow cycle tourer in the distance. Tori is a round the world cyclist. She has just spent three months cycling right across the US and is now in Japan for a bit. She’s slowly making her way home to Bristol in the UK. We have a good yarn and then part ways: Tori is going to an onsen and I’m going to my hostel. Tori has a blog: Little Blue Bike.
Let me leave you with these last two photos for the day. Fishing boats on the lake shore.
And one last view of Mt Fuji from just near my hostel. I love cycle touring 🙂