Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Monday, 28 September 2009

Tsugawa to Kitakata - part 4

After pottering around town and checking out some fantastic buildings it was easy to see why so many people come here, of course ramen is probably the biggest draw card in Kitakata as the town has over 100 ramen shops but it's collection of historic buildings and kura - store houses are fantastic as most other towns, cities around Japan have not had the foresight to retain their heritage buildings. Kitakata has a thriving tourist industry because in part of its heritage buildings and is a perfect example of what can be achieved through heritage tourism. Taking the train back to Tsugawa was the best option as neither of us would have had the energy to make the return trip by bicycle. Upon arriving back in Niigata city at 6pm we were both rather tired but even though it was far more difficult than I imaged we both enjoyed ourselves.

Tsugawa to Kitakata - part 4

After checking when our train would depart and the cost of the fare we had almost two hours to potter around Kitakata and as it's a very historic town there was plenty to look at in the way of nice trad buildings etc. Our first port of call was the supermarket were Brian purchased some cans of beer and because I had to drive later in the day I had a sports drink instead, it was torture watching Brian consume some beer but I knew a beer would taste great when I finally got back to Niigata. We checked out some fantastic old Sake brewery buildings and one located nearby the supermarket proclaimed that the fresh water fountain outside had amazing strength restoring properties so as I was feeling rather tired I consumed some, it tasted pretty good but I couldn't feel any new found surge of power rushing through my veins - never mind.

Tsugawa to Kitakata - part 3

Just before we entered the town of Kitakata we made a wrong turn onto route 16 , which actually turned out to be a better road to take as if we had continued along route 459 we would have encountered more hills and it would have taken us longer. Maybe because were were tired we missed a turn off to view a famous open air shrine that's listed as a national historic site but on entering town around lunch time and consulting our map over lunch we were not too keen to retrace our route back over the hill. Kitakata is renowned for it's historic stone store houses and it's ramen , a popular noodle dish which attracts ramen fans from all over Japan. Some people wait for over an hour just to get a seat at a famous establishment serving ramen and as it was Sunday there were quite a few people around. Having been to Kitakata several times before I soon located a small shop that I had eaten in previously and we both ordered some fantastic ramen and talked about our return route. In fact it was further than I had thought to Kitakata and upon arriving in town we had clocked up 72km and I was feeling rather tired after the steep hills I had walked up throughout the morning. So we decided to take a ride downtown to the local train station to check the timetable as in Japan bicycles travel free on all trains. As luck would have it there was a train passing through at 2.50pm that we could catch back to Tsugawa where I had left my van.

Tsugawa to Kitakata - part 2

After briefly stopping at the village of Hideya we pressed on and we were making good time in the cool weather but already we had encountered more hill climbs than we thought there would be along the riverside. Some of the villages we passed through had tiny train stations and not much else and most of the inhabitants seemed to be busy employed harvesting their rice crops etc. It was hard to believe that this road was a national route as in many of the villages the road narrowed to one car lane width and was only a few feet from the front door of many houses. About mid morning we came to the road sign stating that we were about to cross the border into Fukushima, as on our previous forays into Fukushima once you cross the border into Fukushima the roads deteriorate and the road surface is not as well maintained at least from a cyclists point of view. Not long after that we faced some serious climbs - by serious I mean there was a warning sign saying that the road ahead had a 9% grade and one foreign driver yelled out to me " Good luck " for a while I was able to slowly ride up the start of the hill in low gear however my 22T pass storming cog was no match for this mountain and I was forced to dismount and walk to the top . All this while my cycling pal Brian was slowing spinning his way to the top of the summit to lay in wait for a very knacked 3 speed cyclist to appear pushing a high tensile steel Humber sports covered in sweat. I almost thumbed a lift from a driver of a pick up truck but I'm sure I would have gotten a lot of grief from Brian had I done so. The downhills were fantastic and my drum brake and fibrax brake pads kept my speed under control just but as the roads were rather twisty there were more than a few hair raising moments taking sharp corners at speed. I'm sorry there are not any photos of the downhills but they went by rather quickly and at one point the Humber got up to 48km per hour when riding next to Brian. After the hills we descended into the highlands of Kitakata and had a short flat ride before one last hill into Kitakata town

Tsugawa to Kitakata

Well for a long time I had wanted to cycle route 459 from the village of Tsugawa on the Agano river to Kitakata the famous ramen noodle town in neighbouring Fukushima prefecture. I have often taken the Banetsu Monogatari steam train which runs parallel to route 459 and thought it would make a pleasant ride. So at 6am on the 27th of Sept I picked up Brian my cycling companion and loaded his bike into the back of my van and we drove up the valley along side the Agano river to the small village of Tsugawa. Upon arriving in Tsugawa a little after 7am we witnessed across the other side of the river a vast amount of cars , buses & people preparing for a day of rowing competitions as Tsugawa was hosting the rowing events for the national sports festival. After using the amenities at the brand new Tsugawa station we headed up the road on route 459. Not long after leaving Tsugawa we were faced with the first of many tunnels but at least these tunnels were rather short compared to the other tunnels we were to face later on. The first place we came to was the village of Kanose and to our surprise we found a local art gallery which really had to be seen to be believed, it certainly would not have looked out of place in the center of Tokyo but here ? , up in the mountains what were they thinking when they built this place. Not long after the crazy art gallery we had a chance to stop at a natural spring and take a drink - these spots are great for cyclists in search of fresh drinking water. Not long after that we came to the next village of Hideya where we stopped for a chat with a couple of locals.

Pictured above are the 1st series of photos that were taken along route 459

Monday, 21 September 2009

CTC - Cyclists Touring Club

Just today I received from a good friend in the UK two CTC patches one of which I have already sewn onto my cycle jacket. For those who do not know what the CTC is here is a brief history of the club from wikipedia 


CTC is the United Kingdom's largest cycling membership organisation. It also has members and district associations in the Republic of Ireland. It was established in 1878, originally as the 'Bicycle Touring Club', making it the oldest national tourism organisation of any description in the World, and was renamed the Cyclists' Touring Club in 1883. Since January 2007, CTC's president has been the newsreader and journalist, Jon Snow.


Members, like those of other clubs, often rode in uniform. CTC appointed an official tailor. The uniform was a dark green Devonshire serge jacket, knickerbockers and a "Stanley helmet with a small peak". The colour changed to grey when green proved impractical because it showed the dirt. Groups often rode with a bugler at their head to sound changes of direction or to bring the group to a halt. Confusion could be caused when groups met and mistook each other's signals.

Cycling accommodation

In earlier times, the Cyclists' Touring Club gave seals of approval, in the form of a cast metal plaque showing the winged-wheel symbol of CTC, for mounting on an outside wall of hotels and restaurants which offered good accommodation and service to cyclists. A few of the metal plaques still exist, as do a handful of road signs put up by CTC to warn cyclists of steep hills: usually steep going down, which was as much a problem for riders of large-wheel ordinaries, or "penny-farthings", as going up. Nowadays, CTC no longer puts up general road signs—although the right to do so is retained—and approved establishments are offered a plastic window-sticker carrying the blue and yellow logo shown above.

In 1898 CTC became embroiled in a court case to defend a member denied what she thought adequate service at a hotel carrying the club's badge.

The above CTC patches are available online at the CTC shop 

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The hills of Sekikawa part 5

After lunch I headed back up route 113 and turned off onto route 290 towards Tainai where I had started from earlier that morning. The weather was fantastic and many local farmers were harvesting their rice fields and on my way back which took me some of the way along the road I had ridden earlier that morning I saw the spot where I should have turned off to visit the camp ground & dam, never mind as that gives me something new to visit when I'm in the area next time.  The gradient returning was very nice with only a few small climbs and rather free of traffic as the only noise I could hear was the constant tick, tick , tick of my Lucas cyclometer recording my trip distance. Upon arriving back in Tainai village I checked out the paragliding club based at the local ski field to see if one of my former students was there but after watching all the members land and not seeing him I returned back to the van and stop by the Tainai brewery to purchase some of their beer to have with dinner. They make a standard German style range of beers which are rather good and I choose the Bock which I must say tasted very nice, I should have bought more. 

Next Sunday I have a long ride planned in Fukushima with my cycling mate Brian so if the weather holds there will be another report next week. 

Happy Cycling


The hills of Sekikawa part 4

After taking the photos in the last post of " Watanabe house " I decided I still had plenty of time to pay my old students a visit at their house located further along the busy route 113 over looking the Arakawa river. As I was cycling through Sekikawa I thought it was rather quiet as I had hardly seen anybody at all, but rounding a corner in the village and seeing a vast number of parked cars I knew there had to be some kind of local festival going on, I was right as it was the kindergarten school sports festival and everybody in town had shown up to lend support to the youngsters. After looking at the sports festival for a little while I pressed on and joined back up with the busy route 113 to visit my former students. Luckily for me they were home and very much surprised to see their former teacher from 7 years ago. I chatted for a while and consumed my packed lunch and then parted ways vowing to return again in the near future. The top photo in this post shows the countryside along side route 290 back towards Tainai

The hills of Sekikawa part 3

Quite some time ago my cycling mate Brian Southwick,  posted some photos on his blog showing    " Watanabe house " a fantastic historic home located in the back streets of Sekikawa and because I was in the area I wanted to take a look at it.

 Listed below is a description of Watanabe House by Brian Southwick  from

The Watanabe House, located in Sekikawa Village, is a splendid example of an Edo period samurai dwelling, or yashiki. The Watanabe clan were retainers of the Murakami daimyos, whose powerful influence during the Tokugawa Shogunate was widespread throughout Niigata. The main tourist attraction in Sekikawa, the house and its outbuildings are in an excellent state of repair. A wing of the structure is inhabited by descendants of the former samurai warriors.

Pictured above are a few photos of the Watanabe house buildings 

The hills of Sekikawa part 2

After quickly coming upon route 113 much to my surprise as I thought it was further ahead I pottered about the village and found the above new train station. I've seen many older small wooden stations in rural areas but this is the smallest modern one I have ever seen, It was tiny and by looking at the train schedule, trains don't often pass by this village very often. After checking out the station I headed onto route 113 which was not so pleasant as it was the beginning of a new 5 day public holiday called " Silver week " and the road was rather busy so I soon found another quiet road up on the river bank and followed it till I came to the village of Sekikawa. Along side the river was a large park with playing field's and there were several games of baseball underway, plus a few people camping & fishing.

The Hills of Sekikawa

As the weather has been fine recently , I've been making the most of my free time by getting in some rides before the weather will get colder etc. So Today I put my Humber into the back of my Kei Van ( 650cc Japanese mini van ) and headed to the resort town of Tainai which is about 1 hours drive away. From there I wanted to explore the hills of Sekikawa as when I lived closer to Tainai many years ago I didn't venture beyond the town itself. My plan was to ride along route 494 which starts from the 2nd bridge up the river and I made the mistake of crossing the 1st bridge which took me away from the route I wanted but luckily there was a adjoining rd further down which I took. The hill climb was rather steep but short and if I didn't have a large pass storming cog 22 T on my Sturmey ABC hub I would have been forced to walk. After skirting the road around the golf course I was soon flying downhill much to my delight. After consulting my touring map several times trying to find route 272 I finally located it and it turned out to be a brand new rd by passing the older road which was down below. Because of this I missed the turn off up the valley to a camp ground and dam that I wanted to see. I think now I know where the rd is as on the way back spied a small village down below the new road which I'm sure leads to the dam. Pictured above is a map of my ride plus some photos I took showing my van, Tainai park hotel and a view from the hill top

Thursday, 17 September 2009

By the sea - part 3

After checking out the campground I cycled further down the road to another lookout and found a covered seating area out of the wind to relax with a beer and a tobacco pipe. There's nothing better than relaxing with a beer & a pipe away from the noise of the city. And luckily I had my wind cap for the pipe as even though I thought I was out of the wind I had trouble getting it lit.  Not far from where I was sitting was a Japanese salary man trying to drive his car up a sandy track towards the sea, I had no idea what he was doing but of course he soon got stuck and then a little while later his mate arrived to help him out. Even though I was just pottering about and not far from home it was somewhere that I hadn't been before and it was great to get out on the bike again.

By the sea - part 2

After stopping at the lookout I continued along the road which was rather quiet and posted along the road were many signs not only in Japanese but English, Russian & a few other languages warning people not to dump rubbish along the sea side. Because you have to pay to get rid of larger items in Japan some people just dump unwanted items like fridges, TVs , bicycles, tables etc at the side of the road. But it appeared the warning signs were working as I didn't see any rubbish at all. Not far down the road I can to the campground pictured above. It's operated by the city and was very clean & tidy with covered cooking areas and plenty of trees and  tent sites with some large tents erected on raised wooden platforms suitable for school groups etc. Although the camping season appeared to be over as there was a barrier across the entrance I cycled in for a look around. 

By the sea

Well as it was fine today and I was finished work by lunch time I decided to go for a short ride along the coast and I was interested in a camping ground I seen marked on my map. At first I rode out across the Agano river and on the bridge were many old retired guys fishing, there were quite a lot of them so I guess it's a good spot to catch fish swimming up river from the sea. After that I stopped off at a 7/11 to buy a can of beer to have later on and proceeded towards the sea. The 1st area I came to was a large port with a few small fishing boats and quite a few people fishing from the wharf, it was nice and sunny and seemed to be a popular spot. It also seemed to be a popular spot for " Boy racers " as there were many burnout marks all over the concrete.  Up above the wharf area was another road and there was a lookout built in the style of an old lighthouse.