It’s time to add a new chapter to my bike-repertoire. In the past, I’ve raced the road, track, CX and adventured on my mountain-bike, but never before have I loaded my road bike with a bunch of bags and just pedalled away. But there’s a first time for everything – especially when you adventure to Japan.
First off, how did I end up here in Japan? Long story short: About 1.5 years ago, I was contacted by some people working for a local Japanese government: Kochi Prefecture. With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics coming up, they were exploring the possibilities of hosting sport teams in preparation for the games. They thought Kochi could be a great area for cycling, but they weren’t sure and needed to consult an expert. So, if you want to be sure, who do you ask? The Dutch, of course! And how did they end up contacting me? It was a combination of coincidence and personal connections, but I’m happy they found me. After they contacted me a year ago, I travelled for a few days to Kochi and saw how awesome the area was for cycling. Then again this year, they contacted me as they organized a two-day cycling event and they invited me as a special guest. Having already experienced Japan the year before, I decided to give myself some extra time to explore and discover more of this fascinating country.
During the first week of my trip, I travelled together with photographer Maarten de Groot, and we took this opportunity to shoot the new collection with some local riders in Osaka. If you are interested in seeing the collection, feel free to check out the Look Book Osaka. Then we continued our travel to Kochi. Together, we wrote an article about the two-day cycling event ‘Infinity Ride’ for Soigneur magazine (check that out here). We had such a great time, Japan is incredibly special. It’s really like being lost in translation, and at the same time people understand each other without words (although having a translator during the event didn’t hurt…). Kochi Prefecture is an enchanting place and I enjoy every kilometre (and every food stop) of this cyclo-sportive.
Once Monday morning came and the event was over, Maarten flew back home and I geared up for ten days of biking by myself through Japan. The plan is to ride from Shimanto (Kochi Prefecture) back to Osaka, via Hiroshima and Kyoto. Soon I discovered my first ‘rookie’ mistake. I prepared a route and uploaded this in my GPS, but I never thought of downloading the map of Japan for the Garmin. So, this prepared route + GPS strategy turned out to be useless. “No worries”, I thought, “I’ll do it the old-fashioned way…click in and ride away, and let’s see how far I will get on this first day.”
I crossed the island from the Pacific Ocean coastline until I hit the ‘Sea of Iyo’ and then followed the coastline up North. 170 Kilometres later, I arrived in Matsuyama. Shukoku Island is truly beautiful, but it’s also pretty remote. I rode through valleys and rice fields, all with very small villages. It’s an enjoyable ride and it actually went much easier than I expected. The bike bags work well and my legs didn’t protest either. Even the climbing goes well! Unfortunately, there wasn’t any mayor town where I could spend the night, until I reached Matsuyama, but there were plenty of opportunities to get food and coffee on the way. In Matsuyama, I found a very friendly hostel and immediately made friends with one of the roommates and she takes me out for some local cuisine and to the ‘onsen’. An Onsen is a public bath-house built over an ancient hot spring. The one in Matsuyama ‘Dogo Onsen’ is famous across Japan and it’s quite an experience to have my bath with about 50 other women.
The next day, my route took on one of the most famous bike routes of Japan: The Shimanami Kaido. This is a chain of bridges that connects Imabari (Shikoku Island) with Onomichi (Hiroshima Prefecture) via six inland islands. The weather is beautiful and it’s lovely to be breezing along 50 m or more above the sea, over the bridges, passed villages, temples, rural areas and citrus groves on the islands. I ended up lingering around a bit too much on the islands and have to push myself to make it to Onomichi before dark…which didn’t happen. Upon arrival, it was so hard to find a hostel and when I finally do, it was full. But the hostel management was so kind and offered me a mattress to sleep on in the living room. After a home-made dinner and a few glasses of sake with the other guests, I feel at home and can sleep anywhere.
Including the cyclo, I have ridden almost 600 kilometres in four days and my butt screams for a rest day. So, I decided not to ride but take the train to Hiroshima. The Atomic Bomb Dome, the surrounding Peace Memorial Park, and museum are really impressive. Although it makes my heart sad, the people of Hiroshima have turned this tragedy into a firm call for peace.
I thought, “Since I’m here, I might as well visit the small island Miyajima to see the floating torii”. This Unesco World Heritage Site is one of the most visited tourist spots from Japan. And yes, it’s a pretty crowded place! But the torii is impressive and worth fighting the crowd. A small hike away from the floating shrine, there are beautiful temples and it’s a lot less busy.
From Onomichi I continue my ride to Okayama, then to Kyoto via art-island Naoshima. The roads are a lot busier here and also the weather turns around. So, I have to admit, I decided to take my bike in the bus for part of the trip. Kyoto is another place that was high on my wish-list and did not disappoint. I took some time to visit the most famous – but also less famous – temples, gardens and shrines. Also, I spent some time in the Manga Museum (if you don’t know the art of Manga: Japanese comics, please google it!) which is a lot of fun. Also, the cycling community of Kyoto gave me a very warm welcome. They took me for a ride around the city, sightseeing and dinner. It was a ton of fun to ride with some of the local ladies!
The end of this trip was in sight and I took my last leg from Kyoto to Osaka. A short one, on a chilly, rainy day. Then it was time to pack up, enjoy the Japanese food for the last time, say goodbye to my Osaka-cycling friends, and catch the plane home.
A big ‘Arigato’ to all the friendly people I’ve met on this trip. Japan has something enchanting; it’s ancient, traditional and modern, and high tech all at the same time. It’s fascinating. I’ll miss the toilets that talk to you and have heated seats. I’ll miss the udon, miso, onigiri, mocha, sushi and all the other delicious food. I’ll miss the smooth, clean roads, the stunning nature and the busy – but at the same time so organized – cities, the patient drivers and the politeness of the people. Yeah, the people… those are the ones I’ll miss the most.
Big thanks to Cannondale and Mavic for the equipment, that never let me down for a second. And now that I’ve had a taste of it, I’ll probably gear up more often for some bike packing trips!