25 Mile Bike Ride and One Strange Beach

It’s Chad’s first time in a hostel, and I can’t say he’s thrilled about it. I loved it, hidden in a small cove of Onomichi downtown area, we slept on futons on the floor and heard whispers of travelers through the thin walls. There was a magical garden in the back near the outhouse toilet and cats hidden in the trees. There was even a vintage closet full of great Japanese souvenirs you could buy at the front restaurant. We arrived in Onomichi last night, a port city in between Osaka and Hiroshima. We had researched great beachy things to do, and this bike ride is all the rage online.

Japan is a beautiful island with hot, tropical weather, but does that mean that they enjoy the beach and that they have a beach culture? Absolutely - not. Everything I’ve learned about Japanese culture leans conservative, and laying out in a bikini while tanning isn’t the most desirable thing to do despite the fact they have crystal clear waters and sunshine. I did a bit a research, and it turns out they have a few reasons for not beaching it; they work a lot, they follow strict seasonal rules so after summer months beaches close down despite the weather being hot into October, and they don’t love being tan so if they do head to the beach they really cover up.

I decided to see for myself. Shimanami Kaido is a bike path that goes from one Japanese island to another. We planned to bike from Onomichi to Setoda Sunset Beach, considering we’d be hot from biking around 25 miles. From there, we’d take the ferry back to Onomichi and head onto Hiroshima. Sounds like a plan! Beautiful islands, bridges, views, and then jumping into water at the end.

Too good to be true. It was one of the strangest, hottest, bike rides we’ve ever completed. We started off at 8am, getting on a ferry to the first island with a bunch of school kids and their bikes. We ferried through the port, which is industrial to say the least, and I figured once we got into the other islands the industrial vibe would change. That wasn’t the case at all.

As we rode our bike off the ferry onto the Shimanami Kaido path blue line trail, we rode past factories and ship making facilities and strip malls. Large cranes stood overhead as was shifted gears going up inclines. The landscape was pretty, but the industrial vibe threw me off.

The water taunted me the entire way, beautiful crystal clear but no beaches in sight. Barricades more like it, alongside the pretty lapping waves. We climbed a 3% incline up to the first bridge, which was a great view, and hoped the next island would be more nature, less industrial.

Wrong again, we ride through more factories, empty village towns, with overall an extremely lonely vibe. You know that feeling of lonely you get, when human spirit isn’t felt and you’re kind of left with just empty machinery? No? I didn’t know it until this bike ride.

With temperatures reaching 95 degrees I really, truly though the beach would have people on it and in the water swimming. I couldn’t help but think it cannot be empty though only a few weeks into off-season, people must want to cool down. We rode our bikes down a pretty bike lane that had palm trees lining the way and small staircases down to the water, but no people. I compared this to the US or Europe, where people would be down the steps swimming and sun bathing in the crystal clear water to matter what season, as long as it’s hot.

We were just about to the beach when we saw a line of stuffed people. Yes - you heard this right - stuffed people sitting on benches. The beach was deserted.. except for these stuffed people. It felt fitting. It felt like a scary movie, actually a scary movie could easily be filmed on these islands for sure, that sounds like a really good screenplay ready to be written. It looked like beach-goers were there one minute, and the next they all grabbed their things and made a run for it. Leftover cafe chairs were knocked over, flags were ripped and hanging up, a few people walked along the beach. I was determined to swim so I went in and dunked my head but the water was filled with plastic and luke warm. Weird art sculptures are scattered around. Occasionally a biker will pull over and walk out onto the beach to have a look and then quickly get back on their bike to keep on going (you can ride this route all the way through to Imbari). I have a feeling that if we continued onward, the best was yet to come, but we were ill-prepared for a 50 mile bike ride. Oh well. We sat in the shade to cool down and rest, and then showered off to get back to the port much earlier than expected.

The ferry brought us by the islands we just biked, giant industrial ships in the port, a Honda cargo ship, cranes and concrete docks.

Just like that we were on a train to Hiroshima, tired, sore and ready to shower.

Kimonos in Kyoto

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I hit my head on an iron lantern in the small garden in the back of our airbnb here in Kyoto. Hard. I ran inside with an irrational fear that I would have a concussion right away. A bump swelled up instead. I was putting out our wet laundry out to dry. We’ve done so many loads of laundry mostly because we’re sweating through our clothes within only a couple of hours. The weather is really hot and humid and we’re clocking in an average of 7 miles a day of walking.

Today was a more mellow day, we woke up later, went to a Zen Buddhist temple and shrine and then went shopping at the mall. We found the cutest pet shop and bought Penny a little dog kimono. 😂 I mean, I had to in the capitol of kimono. Chad and I saw a glimpse of a geisha the other day walking with some well-to-do business men. We didn’t realize at the time that it was a lucky sighting, that sometimes you may come to Kyoto and never see a geisha.

Also, don’t confuse geisha with kimono wearing tourists in Kyoto. Our guide from our walking tour told us they are mostly young Chinese tourists. The trend is to dress up for the day, usually as a couple, walk the streets of historic Kyoto, while a photographer follows you and takes your photograph.

So yes, indeed, I bought my dog a little dog kimono as a souvenir from Kyoto.

We’re planning on watching Memoirs of a Geisha tonight while hang out and eat Pocky.

Chrysanthemum in Course 2

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“Chrys-tham-them-mum… Chrystham-them-mum.. Chrystham-themum!” We were on the first course of our 9 course Japanese dinner (what were we thinking, seriously??) and our server, a cute, little Japanese woman dressed beautifully in a kimono, was explaining an ingredient on the menu, chrysanthemum. We taught her how to say the English word, and she repeated it over and over. As she slide out of the room (literally slid, bowing coming in and out of the sliding doors to our room) we could hear her walking down the hallway to fetch the next course saying “Chrys-tham-them-mum… Chrystham-them-mum.. Chrystham-themum!”

I was completely filled to the brim after course 4, but we pushed onward. After two hours, we were both ready to stand up off the floors, stretch our legs, and go to bed. Chad and I are eating meat on this trip ‘traveltarians’ or ‘flexitarians’ (though we’re mostly sticking with fish) and this was a meat heavy meal so we were both feeling it. I think I’m getting enough meat for the rest of my life and I’m really missing vegetables. I’ll be happy to be going back to vegetarian once we’re back.

Gora, Hakone was so incredibly relaxing after Tokyo. It rained the entire time we were there, which was really nice because it kept the air cool and we went in the hot springs for most of the night and early morning. We also swam in the pool, which as filled with dragonflies. We read books and relaxed before we fell asleep on our futons.

Treat Yo'Self

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“I like this one because it reminds me of the Hamburgerlar.” We’re inside a Picasso exhibit on the side of a mountain in Hakone, Japan and Chad is explaining to me why he likes a specific Picasso portrait. I start laughing, a bit too loudly, and we continue out into the Open Air Art Museum that sits next to our hotel on the side of a mountain.

We’re in Hakone, in the mountains close to Mount Fuji (which we could almost see from the train but weather is cloudy). We’ve made the mistake of spending far too much money on a ryoken that has a private onsen in the room but the deed has been done and we’re going to enjoy ourselves whether we like it or not. We’re here for the night, which will be nice because we need some relaxation after our Tokyo adventure. We are preparing to eat a nine course meal for dinner served in our room and then enjoy the hot springs. What can I say, we really splurged… (I’m looking for freelance work if anyone is hiring!! haha)

We ate a small lunch at a place called Woody’s, a tiny restaurant dedicated to Toy Story. The town we are in, Gora, is a really quiet town with just a few streets so after lunch, we stumbled upon a brewery and had to try a beer. It was delicious and a perfect way to spend our afternoon before our onsen experience. We’re in Hakone for one night of pure bliss and then onwards to Kyoto.

Cheating A Traffic Death

Our exploratory bike ride started off really wonderful. We had scouted out our ride to the park the day before and knew the back roads were mellow and flat. It took a turn for the worst when we decided to keep going past Ueno Park to try and get to Chiyoda Park. We were using Google Maps, which usually has biking directions, but this time there weren’t (red flag?) so we were navigating with walking directions. I failed to remember that when you walk, you can take stairs and shortcuts, but that’s not really the case with bikes. We soon found ourselves lifting our bikes up stairs and in the middle of traffic of an extremely busy and un-bike-able road. We pushed closer and closer to our goal, but I eventually had to call it. Not only were were constantly riding down one way streets the opposite way, but we kept forgetting the backwards roads. We didn’t make it to our goal park of Chiyoda, but we end up back in Ueno Park dehydrated from the humidity and hills, and decided to stop and get a refreshing juice drink. These drinks ended up costing us $18.00 (I mean, they were delicious coconut drinks, but $18?!?!?) In total we biked around 5 miles. Our morning Frogger biking experience prepared us for our next traffic activity that day, go-karting throughout the streets of Shibuya.

MariCAR in Tokyo is a very touristy thing you can do Tokyo, mostly foreigners participate, and I was somewhat dreading it. To be honest, I was really nervous about driving a go-kart through road traffic dressed as Pikachu.. (I mean honestly who wouldn’t be?? Oh, Chad). It only took me around 5 minutes to get into it, and soon the adrenaline ignited my need for speed and soon enough I was flying around corners trying to keep up with our guide. It was such an insane, terrifying experience. We sped through Shibuya crossing twice, speeding at 50mph (or what felt like 50mph). When we got back to the garage and parked our go-karts, our guide said happily, “No one died!”

The interesting thing about the traffic here is that the back roads are mostly small roads that you can walk freely on. There are no sidewalks but suggested painted lines in the asphalt. The back streets built for pedestrians and small cars, which is a really nice feeling compared to cities in the US where the card dominates all of the time. There is less noise pollution once off main roads, it’s safe for bicycles and there is an overall calm to the back roads of Tokyo. But yesterday Chad and I decided to jump into oncoming traffic.

10 Miles In Tokyo

A four-year-old whizzes past me on a little bike while we walk to Ueno Park. Where are his parents? No where, and they don’t need to be, since the streets of Tokyo are so incredibly safe and clean. We are on mile 7 of the day, after waking up at 4am, exploring the neighborhood and closest temple, and signing up for a free walking tour (which unfortunately I had to leave early because I got an extreme migraine and had to lay down in a dark room). Luckily, Chad’s energy is contagious (or is it incessant?) and pretty soon after my headache went away we were on our way to get our first taste of sushi and then another long walk.

We make our way now to Ueno Park, the weather a perfect temperature with the sun setting. I take in the architecture of Tokyo, a light, modern feeling, and a surprising amount brick. As we enter the park, there are a group of Japanese men dressed like Elvis dancing to his music, in a circle, with no one cheering or watching. Curious. We meander throughout Ueno Park as the sun set a cotton candy color. There are food stalls and we eat our fifth fried food of the day. Americans are not the only ones who love fried food. A child starts to scream bloody hell as Ed Sheeran’s song, Perfect, is played by a street musician. The child’s shirt says “Peace”. I’ve noticed that so many children’s clothes are have adorable English phrases on them. I noted one that said “Cute Fun Great”. I love it.

We walk a giant loop around the park, before we head back to the hotel. Mileage is clocking in at 10 miles for the fist day. We end up back to the hotel around 7:30pm, my feet with 5 new bandaids. Just like the energizer bunny, once the battery is drained, Chad’s head hits the pillow, he’s out cold. Day one in Japan, 14 hours of walking, a total of 10.2 miles and a crash onto a pillow.