Sunday, 27 May 2007
The photo above was taken inside the old roadside store showing old glass jars of candy & sweets , and newspaper cuttings featuring the store. It was a very interesting shop and while we were there several family's stopped off to have a drink & a snack. After departing the store we headed further down the valley into Kamo and stopped to check out an old historic bank that had seem better days as it was now boarded up and falling apart. If this building was located in NZ it would have been restored by now but here in Japan some towns don't care too much for saving local buildings which is a shame. After leaving Kamo we took the Shinano riverside road back to Niigata which seemed to take for ages , but we finally made it back into the city at 1pm and after devouring several plates of food at a local buffet restaurant I was ready to head home. Upon reaching home my cycle computer read 107 km which was the longest ride I've done in a long time, but well worth the effort
Along the way down the valley into Kamo we passed a old roadside store which I had seen about a year ago while travelling in a friends car , so I yelled out to Brian and we rode back to the shop to check it out. We were greeted by 3 older ladies ( the owner who was full of chat said she was 80 yrs old and her family had run the store for the last 130 yrs ) . The shop sold can drinks that were held in carved out stone tubs laying on the floor with fresh spring water flowing through them and it seemed the shops main attraction was the konyaku ( a traditional Japanese dish made from a special kind of Mt potato ) which is cut in noodle like lengths with kurashi ( mustard & Soy sauce ) and boiled eggs. I sat down for a drink of lemonade and had two boiled eggs and smoked my pipe and checked out the vast array of newspaper cuttings and photos that were displayed around the walls. The shop had been featured on NHK TV several times and another film crew was due to arrive the day after to film this historic shop. The old train line could be seen directly across from the shop but over the years the road had been widened and was now dangerously close to the entrance about 30 cm from their front door. And traffic sped by without slowing down maybe unaware that the shop even existed.
As part of our ride exploring the Kanbara line we headed inland through a low range of hills behind Muramatsu , along the way there were farmers tending to their fields and the odd village or two but overall it's a fairly quiet road with not a lot of traffic. It's a far cry from the concrete of Niigata city and a fantastic place to explore by bicycle. The photo above shows me at the top of a small hill with a few rice fields in the background along the road to Kamo.
After leaving the spot were the two rail cars were located we headed a short distance up the road in search of the end of the line. And hidden behind a Lawson convenience store was another carriage and train. The electric train was built in 1930 and one of the oldest I've ever seen so it was strange to find it behind a convenience store alongside a busy road as if you were driving you would never see it . Parked out side the Lawson was a young farmer's son in a hotted up K truck ( a K is what all the rice farmers in Japan use and they are about 650cc ) and this truck was covered in racing stickers, speakers and had every automobile accessory known to man fitted to the dash. I wish now I had taken a photo of it as it was unreal. Pictured in this post is the old electric train & carriage behind the Lawson.
Earlier in the week my cycling companion Brian suggested that on Sunday the 27th we trace the route of the old Kanbara railway line that went from Gosen to Murumatsu. This line was closed in 1999 after 77 years of operation and I was surprised to learn it was the 1st electric line in Japan. So we met up in front of ICI Ishii sports in Bandai at 6.45am ( a very early start but at least there aren't many cars around at that time ) . After getting out of the city we headed for the small city of Gosen , it was overcast which made for perfect cycling weather and before we knew it we were in Gosen stopping off along the way at a Japanese sweet shop were the Mama san treated Brian like a long lost son ( even though he had only been there once before ) and even gave us some freebie's for the ride. After reaching Gosen it wasn't too difficult to find the old Kanbara line which we then followed towards Murumatsu. This line would make a fantastic cycle path but alas it's not to be, as now it's just overgrown with weeds and some buildings now intersect it along the way. Along the road towards Murumatsu we stopped off and took a look at two of the old rail cars which have been rescued from the elements and are now housed under a shelter built by the remains of railway sleepers and maybe even an old station roof. Pictured above is a photo taken along side the two rail cars
Thursday, 24 May 2007
Once I had entered Urahama I felt like lunch and what better to have with lunch than a cold can of beer. Small rural villages like this do not have any 7 eleven stores of course but almost every where has a local shop selling a few food items and ice creams for the local kids. After cycling up a small rise that leads towards the pass over Kakuda I came across a very old run down building that had several crates of empty sake & beer bottles outside. This is the place for purchasing beer I thought, so in I went and was served by an old Grandma who seemed rather cheerful and inquired would I be riding over the hill like so many of the Lycra clad cyclists that head this way. I told her I wasn't as I was just stopping here for lunch before returning to the city and paid for my two cans of Kirin beer before departing to find a suitable shady spot for lunch. After a short spin through the village taking photo's I chanced upon a large temple and found a shady spot for lunch next to the temple bell. It was a most pleasant place to have lunch as from there I could view the Hawks flying above the temple against the bright blue sky. After consuming my lunch it was time for a pipe and a beer , it's moments like this that I really enjoy as sitting at a temple in a small rural village is so different from the pace of the city. The speedo on my bicycle computer read 47 km and as lunch was over it was time to head back down the hill , through the tunnels and back into the city. I had a fantastic day out and by the time I had arrived home I had done 87 km , this years longest ride so far.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to have a day off and it was a fantastic day so after a hearty breakfast and making some sandwiches for lunch I set off for Sakata lagoon. I rode into the city and took the cycle path along side the river which leads out of the city towards the coast. There were many other cyclists out and about and I spotted a couple of them twice throughout the day as well as some local track riders out training. After heading along the seaside road I took a detour to a small tobacco shop that has a wide range of pipes and tobaccos not found in the city and there I spied a Made in England adjustable wind cap for a pipe, just the thing for cycling so I had to buy it of course. Once back along the seaside road heading towards Maki I made good time and took a left turn through some unknown small village and a low range of hills that brought me onto a road that led to Sakata lagoon. I stopped for a short time at the Sakata lagoon visitors center and took a look about the lagoon with the aid of some bench mounted binoculars ( very interesting ). It had taken me 1 hr & 30 mins to cover the 30kms to the lagoon with some stops along the way. So with plenty of time to spare and fine weather I decided to head over the hill towards Kakuda beach . From there I rode out through a corridor of fantastic green trees and wound my way slowly up the incline above Kakuda beach. The 1st gear of the Sturmey archer hub on my bike is not quite as low as I would like for hill climbing but at least it gives me a good workout. After passing through a couple of small tunnels above the coast I came upon Urahama village which is nestled under Kakuda Mt above the sea. I have ridden out to Urahama a few times over the years with my cycling companion Brian Southwick and it's a fantastic trad village with a small pop of 100 of so and several old Japanese houses. Also it's a popular point for cyclists as from Urahama you can head over the top of Kakuda and down into Maki town. But as I was in need of lunch I thought I would stop here. Pictured above is a photo taken on one of the small village roads in Urahama.
Monday, 7 May 2007
While cycling around the lagoon I took this photo showing several Ita awase boats moored at the side of the lagoon and a mihari goya ( bird hide ) located in the lagoon to watch the many different species of migratory birds that visit throughout the year. The Ita awase boats are slowly disappearing as they are being replaced by modern plastic & fibreglass boats. These boats are manly used for river fishing in Japan and it's nice to see some examples still exist as there are not many craftsmen left who can build this type of boat.
The next trip which I did was a 45km return trip from Niigata to Toyosaka City which is across the Agano river from Niigata City , the reason I rode out to Toyosaka was to visit Fukushimagata which is the largest lagoon in Niigata Prefecture. In this lagoon there are 250 different species of birds, including the large bean goose and 350 different species of plants. From the days of old, the people living in this section of Toyosaka made a living from the fish and plants around the lake. Even now, the ditch reeds which grow very thick in the lagoon are cut each autumn and used for roof thatching, making reed screens, and as a material for wall building. Located within the lagoon area is a reconstruction of a Japanese farmhouse and a large viewing tower plus a restaurant to cater to the many family groups that come here to visit. I had never been to Fukushimagata before so after asking a few locals for directions within the City I finally found the lagoon and stopped near the reconstructed farmhouse for some some photos and a pipe. The above photo shows the reconstructed farmhouse with it's fantastic thatched roof. It was a splendid place to stop and admire the lagoon while smoking a pipe. In the next few posts you'll see some of the other photos that were taken that day around the lagoon.
Well my Golden week is now over ( Golden week is a Japanese public holiday in early May ) and I'm back to work , but I was lucky enough to get out twice in G.W . The first major run of the season using my restored Humber Sports , the bike went well and I found out that it skips in 1st gear sometimes but I guess I'll also skip in 1st gear when I'm 60 yrs old . Apart from that small problem I had a great ride out of Niigata City along the Agano river and I stopped off at the Northern culture museum to take a few photo's . The photo in this post was taken at the temple next to the museum , I didn't enter the museum that day as I had been there several times before but the temple made a nice backdrop for a photo of the Humber on it's first outing. The main purpose of my trip was to visit Ken Sakurai ( the other tobacco pipe maker in Niigata apart from me ) so we spent the afternoon together smoking pipes and drinking a few beers. It was so nice to get out of the city and to cycling through the small villages that border the Agano river. The total distance when I arrived home was 57 kms so I was rather tired after that trip as I am out of shape from having not cycled for over 4 months while I was restoring my Humber.