We were out in the agricultural hills of central Kanagawa prefecture a couple of weeks ago, and stopped off at the 90 year old home of the Hekkoro / Gonbachi restaurant. It’s an old style wooden Japanese farm house, old wooden floors, a casual table layout, and the back is adorned with artwork from local art classes, mainly from children.
Aside from serving some very decent food using local vegetables and making dishes from noodles to curry, it also allows you to read some of the books they have, and even do some shodou (書道 /calligraphy), which a couple of junior high school kids did actually do whilst we were there. On the day we went it was raining, and as you can see, the condensation on the doors to the garden was a relaxing backdrop to the calligraphy table.
I’ve covered Kiva a few times over the years I’ve been ‘lending’ through it, so I thought I’d put up a post about where I am as we copme to the end of 2015.
At the end of 2014, I’d lent 125USD total in 3 years, and lamented I was far behind the average 330USD lend rate, and having just 50USD to rotate through loans.
Now I’ve got 105USD on deposit with Kiva, and have made 300USD in loans. I’ve also donated some money to Kiva itself. I think that counts as a good year for my Kiva involvement, and I hope in 2016 I can put a little more in there. I also collected all 7 of the ‘Social Performance’ badges, which is one of the ways Kiva tries to gamify the experience a little.
One thing I will say though is that I see quite a lot of small US businesses on there now, which you wouldn’t see before, such as a Manhattan fresh food start up. It’s certainly no bad thing, just something I hadn’t noted before. For my part, I think I’ll keep my small loan rotation focused on other parts of the world.
November is usually a busy month for me, albeit somewhat self-inflicted, sandwiched between family events in October, and the end-of-year craziness of charity events, bon-enkais and Xmas that December brings.
By self inflicted, I mean that in recent years, I’ve often participated in things like Movember and NaNoWriMo, but this year I’ve done neither of those as I’m working on some other projects which I just want to get done.
This year then likely also marks the fewest number of updates on this blog in a given year, just by being busy on other things. Also, some musings which previously I probably would have posted now end up in my journal.
However, I have quite a few posts ranging from photos to longer posts on unsung Japanese people which are in late drafts, which I’ll try to push out since I’m not trying to write 50,000 words in a month, or admiring the moustache.
Imagine if there was a place called ‘such is life’ . Well, potentially in Japan, there is, and it’s a huge dam.
I say potentially, as it’s a bit of a kanji joke – the name – Ogouchi – is written in kanji as 小河内, which with a liberal interpretation, could phonetically be read as ‘shouganai’, which is the Japanese equivalent of ‘such is life’. Yes, puns in Japanese can be many layered.
Anyway, getting past all that, when I found the Shouganai Dam on the map, I knew I had to go and take a look – partly for the name, partly because dams are usually impressive, but mainly because the twisty roads through the mountains to it were just so enticing to a biker such as myself.
I planned my route similar to my previous Tanzawa / Yabitsu Touge route, because it’s accessible but fun, coming in from the south on route 246, keeping on the back roads and those mountain routes pretty much all the way up, but then planned to come out to the east through the rural roads, and then get on the Ken O expressway to come back [map at the end of the post].
On the Road
I was out of my house by seven am sharp, and the weather was fantastic – dry, sunshine, mid 20s degC., not too humid, and made my way up to the Route 246 in fairly light traffic. Some people may have seen Route 246 as a course on Gran Tourismo. In real life, on a bad day, it’s far worse, especially in mid Kanagawa, where is it one of the main free roads west. Fortunately for me, Saturday morning wasn’t too busy and I could make good time, and not have to stop at every single traffic light, every 100metres, which is sometimes the case.
A few Km down and it was time for the interesting right turn onto Route 70. Interesting for a couple of reasons, mainly the convenience store after the right, which I usually stop off at for a breakfast snack, and partly for the petrol station on the opposite corner – a great place to fuel up, but between the crossroads and the various entrances/exits for these two businesses, you have to be a little careful on two wheels.
Whenever I have to use franchised outlets for things, I prefer to at least try something new, and this time, at that 7-11 on the corner, they had a new onigiri (rice ball) – dry curry – which they even heated up for me. It was nice. It was very nice. I would recommend it. You can also chat to the many cyclists and bikers who often use the place as a meet up spot, as it effectively marks the beginning for people starting a run on the Yabitsu pass.
Route70 is a pleasure to ride – starting off with gentle curves, a steady incline, not many traffic lights, and lightly used roads. As you get up to the pass roper (as delineated by a larger bus stop, a gate, and a small bridge), the road narrows and widens, the bends are sharper, compensated for by fantastic views off one side – just beware cyclists coming the other way at speed down! I think I did a whole post on the Yabitsu Pass, or Yabitsu Touge as it’s known.
At the end of the pass there are a few ways to go, but this time, as I was heading further north, I took a left I’d not taken before, and since I was getting a little thirsty, I was looking for somewhere to stop. Then, just a few hundred metres from the junction, there was this nice Sunkus with some patio tables outside, so I bought a lettuce sandwich and an ice coffee, and watched all the various two wheeled vehicles come and go for a while, before setting off again, and regretting I hadn’t brought my CamelBak water-bottle on what was turning into a nice hot day.
Off again, from Route 64 to 518, twisting higher up into the next group of mountains, then a few junctions and up to Route 76, and over into Fujino. I wasn’t planning to, but I actually got off to take a few photos there – it’s a small almost-town where two rivers meet. It’d be very picturesque if it weren’t for the factory perched up on one mountainside. I’m going to say it’s a concrete factory, but I can’t back that up.
More uphill turns which were plenty of fun, and just great cornering out of and above Fujino, and keeping an eye out for a petrol station, since I’d hit the half tank point and I like full tanks. I missed one, a nice, small, local one which I kind of regret as there was a small group chatting on the forecourt, and so I ended up a few kilometres later on at a Cosmo – nice people though. Then I was through Uenohara, which seemed like a tranquil town save for its very congested main road, then up again into the countryside up to the dam. I came in from the south, weaving along the narrow road, but always with fantastic views, until I came to a small car park on one corner, overlooking the lake.
Actually, that lay-by had a camera club or something there, all with nice looking cameras with large zoom lenses all adorned with camouflage for some reason – I mean, they’re sat next to silver cars in a stopping area, chatting, so they’re not exactly blending in to the wilderness but I’d guess there is some bird watching to be done. One chap was also flying his drone out over the valley – I should have asked him where he uploaded to. I should have asked what birds they were hoping to spot too.
More twisties and we’re down to the level of the rivers and the lake behind the dam, and some nice small bridges. The lake is called Okutama, after the local area, and the small nearby town. I stopped to have a drink at one of a couple of restaurants nearby – both looked a little worn, but the staff were friendly, and the drinks were cold, and on a hot day like it had become, that was enough in itself.
Then it was on to the dam itself, which is a huge wall of concrete as one might expect. There’s a visitors centre, and a generous carpark too, which is free. On this day, it was pretty much empty, but given the coach spaces and the visitors centre having a lot of child friendly areas, I suspect it gets a lot of school visits.
I decided to take a walk across the top of the dam, despite the heat, and even though it is what it is, it’s still impressive to see a 100m plus drop on one side, and water on the other. I also went up one of the viewing towers, which have some basic models in them and don’t add much beyond some welcome air conditioning.
There’s not much on the other side of the dam – a shrine for the areas drowned, and presumably those who died in its construction, and a hiking route, which I followed for a couple of kilometres, but biker gear is not the best wear to go mountain hiking in this kind of heat! I’d be interested in coming back and doing it though, as it looks like a nice route.
It’s a very tranquil place all told, and I spent a couple of hours sitting and walking around it, talking a little with the staff in the towers and visitors centre, so it was a good destination, even though I was more interested in the way of getting up there.
Leaving the dam was simple enough though there are a couple of road signage oddities which clearly sent some people the wrong way, but I headed out from the east, through tunnels which varied in age from bubble era 1980s concrete ones, to ones which dripped water from their ceilings, and which I imagined had been blasted out in the early 1900s. The road out isn’t as twisty to the east and you soon get on roads which are more frequently punctuated by villages, but it’s still a nice run.
I’d taken a little longer than I planned up to the dam and at it, so I was thinking of ending the day with some expressway riding, and make use of the extension to the Ken O to Ebina and Chigasaki. It was a nice fast run, but there aren’t any services on it, so make sure you take a toilet break or have a drink before you get on! As a new road of course – and not busy when I got to it – the asphalt was beautifully smooth, and it was nice to watch houses and rice fields fly past (at the legal speed limit of course).
All in all, another great day out, and I’d go back to Ogouchi to be honest – great runs, friendly people to chat with on the way, and plenty of small places to stop and check out.
Here’s a few more pictures, which include the obligatory bike shot:
We like to get out camping regularly, so I thought I should add one of the recent places we stayed at since I haven’t added any for a while – the BOSCO camp site.
BOSCO is up in the mountains of central Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tanzawa. I love the drive up there as you go over the Yabitsu Touge, a narrow winding road, which is great fun on two wheels, and still acceptable on four. Just beware hikers who walk on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
It’s a nice site – and a large one, but I don’t mean it’s pitch next to pitch next to pitch, it’s spread out along a valley and a stream along with some tributaries. It’s organised by pitch size too; as there were just 3 of us in a small tent with minimal ‘stuff’, we got a nice pitch by a stream and waterfall. Larger groups got large pitches further downhill, catering for up to six or seven family/groups it seemed, which I think it probably a good idea. Obviously then this is not back country, but it’s not cramped and impersonal either, and even the larger groups were friendly and the atmosphere was relaxed, which reflects the people the site attracts.
There are places for the kids to play, some hiking routes, and the main stream. Tip: always wear full shoes, not sandals though as mountain campsites do tend to have the small Japanese leeches – Yamabiru. I know that sounds disgusting, but trust me, they’re not actually that bad. If they bite you, you can lever them off with a fingernail, and put a plaster on it. As they use anesthetic (and anti-coagulant), it doesn’t actually hurt.
We didn’t hire a BBQ or fire bowl, but these are options, and the latter at least looked relaxing. I love BBQs, but when camping, I prefer my small stoves.
This also reflects the differences in camp style – I tend to travel light, small (4 sqm) tent, more backpacking sized gear, despite having the kids with me, and they don’t seem to mind. We have a small camping table, tarp and some chairs, and that’s about it. The 3 person family just over from us had a Snow Peak ‘Land Lock’ tent which retails at near 200,000yen, and is ~ 26sqm. That’s a serious sized tent, and though many ‘auto campers’ do indeed try to take a decent chunk of their house/apartment with them, that’s not to say all do – I picked up some tips on kit and technique from a few groups who had very functional gear and seemed to be having a better time, and one chap on a motorbike rolled up with just a bivvy bag and a tarp strung over his old BMW.
The site has decent toilets in quite a few locations, a shower block (we didn’t see it), and some good fresh water and plate cleaning sinks, which were great, and everyone kept them clean. The staff were also very friendly, which helped after a leech took an enthusiastic bite at my foot and after I levered him off, I needed a plaster, and answered the perennial question of ‘what did I forget this time?’. Yes, plasters. The chap at the entrance gave me a couple for free from their first aid kit.
I should also mention that the rubbish disposal area was excellent – allowing for not only the usual food packaging to be disposed of cleanly, but also the gas bombe cans, which was helpful. Of course we know to never, ever mix your gomi up in Japan! There’s a little shop too with some basic packaged food and fuel if you’ve forgotten anything, but sadly no plasters.
I should say BOSCO is a little expensive – at the time we stayed, just the pitch and with a ‘late out’ for the Sunday – meaning we could leave at 4pm rather than 11am – ran to 9,000yen. That’s a lot for a camp site pitch, but the 1,000yen just for the late out is probably worth it, since about 80% of people were up and packed away around 10am, leaving most of the day for us to mull around in peace.
We had a great time – there was very little rain whilst we were there, and it’s a beautiful location, and easy to hike around, and it kept us all engaged whilst we were there, which is really the objective of a bit of a camp – get away from it all, walk around, cook some food and read a book if I get a few minutes. There’s something very calming about reading a book next to a river, or watching the clouds drifting as mist down the stream through camp, and crossing the stepping stones, so we may go again later this year.
One thing that seems to happen all over the world, are hoaxes and frauds, like Piltdown Man, crop circles and Justin Bieber being a lizard, to name but three. Some have been subtle, and yet others were put on display almost as challenge hoaxes, such as those by entrepreneur P.T. Barnum. Many fall somewhere in the middle.
Is there a difference between a hoax and a fraud? I’m going to say a fraud is pretty much a hoax in these situations, but where someone has intentionally benefited either financially or through reputation. Let’s say that shall we? Here then, are four hoaxes/frauds from Japan over the last couple of decades.
When is a stem cell not a stem cell?
Early 2014 was an interesting time in Japan with the rollercoaster scientific ride which was RIKEN and Obokata-san’s announcement they could re-program adult cells to become stem cells in a process called STAP (Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency). This was an exciting announcement, given with great fanfare in January 2014, making Obokata a celebrity in Japan, right down the apron she claimed to get from her grandmother which she wore during the experiments (and later proved to be largely untrue).
This news of a simple way to create stem cells was published in Nature magazine in fact – not a lightweight outfit in itself. The Japanese media lapped it up.
Quickly though, many peers became unimpressed, initially citing doctored images, and by April 2014, these doubts had made Obokata quite irritated, and so the press rallied to support her, given the pressure being put on their allegedly photogenic star scientist.
However, it was all for naught. In July, Nature retracted the paper as Obokata could not recreate the results she claimed to have been able to do 200 times, neither could any other lab; her mentor – Yoshiki Sasai – tragically committed suicide just a few months later, in August. It all came to a close in December when Obokata resigned, after six months working with an independent team and still not managing to recreate her results.
Like most hoaxes/frauds, this one took a lot of time in the checking and unraveling which could have been better spent researching in what is a very worthy field, so I label this one a fraud, and given allegations Obokata hadn’t been entirely honest on her doctorate submission, we await if she can make a comeback in the field.
Not The New Beethoven-san
It seemed that for years a man called Mamoru Samuragochi had been earning a fairly tidy living being known as a deaf composer, indeed a modern day Beethoven – except that he wasn’t actually writing the music. Also, he might not even be deaf.
The music was actually being written by another composer, a music teacher named Takashi Niigaki, who effectively was ghostwriting for the rather more flamboyant and charismatic Samuragochi.
This all came out in February 2014 (a good time for these things in Japan it seems), when the composition “Hiroshima Symphony #1” was about to be used by one of Japan’s Olympic skaters at the Sochi Olympics. In fact the truth was outed by none other than Niigaki himself. I expect since this was on an international stage, Niigaki decided it was time to get some personal credit for his work.
Incidentally, the New York Times called Samuragochi ‘beloved’, and referred to the incident as a hoax, but I’m going to have to call fraud on this one. The two were in cahoots for 18 years, and whilst I don’t doubt either of them had talent, they needed each other – would Niigaki’s work have received the same attention it had done if it was he doing the PR for it, or does it get more attention to have a hippy looking, deaf ‘composer’ fronting the works?
Sadly I can’t find any details of how it works under copyright, but Niigaki claims he’s received 70,000USD for his work with Samuragochi, and with his tune soon to be getting massive exposure in Japan with the popular skater Daisuke Takahashi, I have to assume the timing was related financially.
That Samuragochi may not be totally deaf is just another twist on this, as claimed by Niigaki and others, and even the man himself admitted, “The truth is that recently I have begun to hear a little again.”
The proof in this one is the calibre of future works by either of them.
I’m Your Biggest Fan!
It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that may not be the case when the other person doesn’t know you’re doing it, you’re claiming it as your own, and accepting awards and money for it.
In 2006, Yoshihiko Wada received a fairly prestigious award in Japan – the “Education, Science and Technology Minister’s Art Encouragement Prize”, except that, following an anonymous tip, it was alleged that Wada had in fact copied some of ‘his’ works from an Italian artist, Alberto Sughi.
If you look at two of the items side by side, they do look a little more than similar more than similar – that’s assuming you can find images as they seem a little scarce nowadays.
It’s not as if Wada had just randomly found the images either – he’d met Sughi whilst in Italy, studying, and claims to have worked with him, which might be stretching it a little, since that’s not how Sughi remembers it – he thought Wada was a fan and remembers he took a lot of photos of his work.
“I never knew he was producing works like this. They’re stolen” – Sughi
This then, has the added wrinkle of plagiarism to it, making this the only one here most definitely not a hoax. Wada also lost the award – and the tidy sum of money associated with it, and given his defence argument, it’s not difficult to see how:
“I borrow others’ compositions and add my own ideas,” he insisted. “Only artists who’ve studied abroad can understand the subtle differences in nuance.” – Wada via BBC
I’m not sure where he’s going with that, and neither it seemed, did his peers. It seems like he thinks it’s OK because it was outside Japan, so no one inside Japan would notice? Perhaps he underestimated the global nature of modern art.
The sad thing here, like most artistic frauds, is that Wada seems to be a fair painter in his own right, a body of work which is now likely to be discredited or even ignored after this.
Making up History
I’ve saved one of the older hoaxes till last, because for some reason, I find this one the most annoying.
Shunichi Fujimura was an amateur archaeologist who participated in over 180 digs around Japan, and was responsible for making incredible finds which raised huge questions about when humans had first arrived in the archipelago, and thus how and from where they had come. At each dig it seemed he’d find stone objects in ground strata which suggested they were much older than expected.
In late 2000, he and a team had been working at a site near Tsukidate in Miyagi Prefecture, and after a few decent finds, Fujimura announced they’d found proof of human dwellings almost 600,000 years old. That’s a significant difference to what was then believed – most estimates put it at around 40,000 years ago that people had arrived in modern day Japan, via land bridges from mainland Asia.
It seemed almost unbelievable – and indeed, it was. The man had his doubters, and it seems they were correct when Mainichi Shimbun released photos of him actually burying the finds before they were excavated. They then did an interview with him, and he tearfully confessed that pretty much all of his most impressive finds were fraudulent, some going back to the 1970s.
That someone would do this to aggrandize their standing in a community may be understandable, for it did gain Fujimura a great deal of respect and drew admiration from peers, with the Japan Archaeological Association [JAA] and even local and national governments, some of which themed tourism campaigns around the finds.
It’s not clear though as an ‘amateur’ archaeologist, how much this financially benefited Fujimura, or whether it was just the adulation he craved. The man himself, by way of explanation said something along the lines of ‘being tempted by the devil’. This perhaps parallels that he was sometimes referred to as having ‘divine hands’ when it came to finding exciting artifacts.
Eventually, when he was outed by the Mainichi, he seemed to come clean as to the scale and duration of the lies, meaning much of his work could be quickly debunked, and updates were made in many textbooks to reflect that various sections they contained were now known to simply not be true.
So why does this one annoy me? Mainly because some scholars based years – decades – of research on his findings, trying to figure out and piece together the history Fujimura’s finds suggested, and the generation of archaeologists who would have to unlearn his findings from their textbooks. That’s a lot of other people’s time wasted for an ego boost. Some suggested he did it for vague nationalistic reasons, but I think was just an average man who got swept up by fame and forced himself to make the next ‘find’ even more incredible than the last, perhaps not appreciating the knock-on effects these finds had internationally. A review by peers found that the JAA was also somewhat at fault, in not checking for tell-tale staining and other environmental effects on the finds, which should’ve raised questions earlier.
So there are four hoaxes from the Japanese archipelago over the last few years, which join the thousands of others from around the world. Some hoaxes are sometimes started as a bit of fun, such as the crop circles, but as with many things, many seem to have more serious intent, either for fame or simply money. Having looked at these four, I came away at least thinking they should have taken a leaf out of P.T. Barnum‘s book and managed to put on a bit of a show with some of these!
Another new year is upon us – 2015, or heisei (平成) 27 by the local system – so Happy New Year, or Akemashite Omedetougozaimasu as is said. (Or Ake Ome to it’s friends).
After a year off, this year I was back down to the ocean to watch the first sunrise, and whilst there was the usual numbers of people, and upbeat atmosphere to it, it was pretty much clouded over. Ah well, it still felt good and it still qualifies as ‘hatsuhi’, the first sunrise.
This year there was a little more organisation along the coastal road to stop people parking and obstructing traffic, the usual modded cars with insane exhausts, and the bosazoku on their modded motorbikes. All in all, it’s a good thing to go down and witness, and after watching the eastern horizon for a while, you can turn around, and watch the year’s first sunrise on the snow covered sides of Mt. Fuji.
Yes – I managed to complete a 50,000 plus word ‘novel’ in November and win NaNoWriMo 2014!
Lets get the stats out of the way first – as of yesterday, I topped 50,000 words. That’s not bad given that still left me a day to add a couple of thousand more. However, this month didn’t quite go to plan, and it wasn’t actually until the 24th that I even hit the run rate, having trailed by a couple of days sometimes, whereas in 2011 I’d gotten up to speed almost a week earlier.
When I could sit down and write, I got words out – sometimes in an hour I could top 1,200 words. If there was a time in procrastinating, it was in the getting to the sitting down. Also, it was a much busier month than expected. That’s no bad thing.
I did most of my writing on the Thinkpad, in the Scrivener beta for Linux, and it worked really well as I expected.
So how did the story development go?
Quite well actually. As I might have expected, it went in unexpected directions, mainly since I’d done virtually no pre-planning or outline, and somehow, the main protagonist turns out to be a bit of a bad person. Or not. I suppose it depends on how you look at it. As for the ending, I think it answered enough questions, without trying to close every single thread off.
What’s it about?
In a medium sized nutshell, its about a person who reincarnates and can remember certain amounts of his memory. by nature, its meant to be a thriller, and parallels the lives he/she leads, and those he/she is in contact with, the the things they are all trying to achieve. It broadly takes place in 17th century London, the 1930s China, 1990’s London, mid 21st Century Yokohama, and then mid 22nd century Nagano. Of course, when you have a protagonist who has lived for an undefined amount of time, you can place them any time really, but for now, that’s the kind of scope I’m keeping to.
So what’s next?
As Chuck Wendig would say, this is something of a draft zero, so I need to go back and re-draft it – likely several times over the next few years. I have a list of things I want or need to change, to fix some continuity, tweak the ending a little to make it a little more suspenseful. There’s also a lot of texture to add. In 2011 I tried to put the texture in as I went, meaning that at the end I was dropping major sub-plots to get over 50,000 words. This time I wrote more roughly, but got most of the plot points in, I think when I rework it, it’ll top 80,000 words, but it should explain character motivation a lot. I expect to revisit it around the New Year break.
Well, I can say if there was a soundtrack this time it was ‘Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys‘ and their album (rather ironically) ‘Soft Time Traveller’. I picked it up in October after hearing some tracks on a Rathole Radio show, and the tracks ‘Walls’ and ‘Pornival’ really captured a couple of chapters.
Oh yes, this year I actually managed to come up with a title too – “Times of Incarnation“.
So I’ve completed day 8 of NaNoWriMo 2014, and the best way to describe it thus far is ‘not bad‘. I came into this year’s event completely unprepared – I just didn’t do much beyond decide a concept for the story. This was certainly no master stroke, it was a combination of being busy with personal commitments and really struggling with enthusiasm to be honest. A bit of a departure from my first & last attempt in 2011, but my story idea this year also didn’t delve so much into any particular history or other real factual stance.
That said, here I am. After 8 days, I’ve done about 9,000 words – that’s fewer than the run rate of 13,333, but similar my last attempt, where it wasn’t until day 16 that I hit the run rate, which was lucky as I knew I had to finish 2 days early due to a business trip, whereas this month I should have until the 30th.
Enough of that, let’s talk about what I have done. The story is unfolding fairly well I think – I’ve established a morally ambiguous protagonist, and since this person reincarnates, I’ve already got female and male ‘versions’ on the go. There is also the mysterious and obligatory megacorp out to do bad things. Or are they? One thing I’m trying to do this time is make the morality of the various parties a little less clean cut.
So far almost all of the writing has been done on my Lenovo laptop in the beta version of Scrivener for Linux, on Mint 17 though I did do a few hundred words in the ‘real’ Scrivener on the MacMini also. So where have I been writing? Here’s a sample:
– The dining table – away from other distractions, and with a bit more space.
– The coffee table – sat on the floor, with a different view.
– The computer desk – I only did this once, at the Mac Mini, it just doesn’t seem to work for me.
– In the Kua Aina Burger Emporium – they have wide tables, and acceptable tea and coffee. Burgers are a bit expensive though so I haven’t actually been eating them.
– JR Tokaido Green Car train – this actually went quite well, but it’s too pricey to make a habit of.
As far as a soundtrack, or playlist goes, I’ve been listening to the Rathole Radio podcast a little lately, and trying tracks from that – mainly Creative Commons licensed works – specifically Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys with their “Soft Time Traveler” album.
As for a story title, I have a few in mind, which is amazing for me – I’m terrible with coming up with story titles. I’ll wait till next week to mention any, and see which ones are still with me. Right, back to the story.
I was looking for somewhere different to go on the bike for a few hours, and using a tried, trusted and very scientific method, I looked at my map to see where there were very few roads, thinking fewer roads meant a generally quieter area. It didn’t take more than a minute to see the Tanzawa area in central Kanagawa. With all the research I needed done, I got a fresh flask of tea, the camera, hopped on the bike and off I went.
There’s a rough route here on Google Maps (I hope this works – it’s been a bit hit and miss lately):
There are actually several ways to get to where I needed to go, but I thought I’d get some faster roads in to warm up, and avoid some traffic, so I took the quick Fujisawa bypass down to the coast, did a little on the 134 before cutting north on the 61 up to Isehara. Isehara is a notable place for me since it’s where I lived for two years on my first tour in Japan, teaching English in schools on the JET programme. It seems not much has changed, a few new places, more car parks, but it still seems as nice a small town as it was.
Contrast that with Route 246 which is as comedically evil road out here in Kanagawa as it is in central Tokyo. It’s not a fun road on two wheels, but fortunately on this day, it wasn’t too bad, and most of the drivers were relatively sane.
It was route 70 I really wanted though, and the climb into the mountains aiming for the Yabitsu pass, so just before Hadano I made the right and began the ascent though increasingly relaxed housing, more fields and a great view of the mountains.
I’ll be honest, I somehow managed to take a wrong turn, for which I blame my being easily distracted by small and interesting looking roads. I realised my error when I… ran out of road. This was to be something of a theme for the day.
I soon got back on track, and onto the important job of loving the road and the scenery, it’s just a great little area to go and look it. It also seemed popular with cyclists.
There are a number of things to see along the way, some small shrines, which aren’t really notable, and a few viewing points, which give great vistas of the towns below.
There’s a small service area at the beginning of the Yabitsu Pass. OK, there are some vending machines and a toilet at the start of the Yabitsu Pass to be honest, but don’t worry about that, it’s fairly secluded, and offers just kilometre after kilometre of beautiful twisty roads, shaded tree cover, mountains, and small rivers running down these small valleys.
On the day I went there were also quite a few hikers which is great, but I noted many walked on the left, and not (per international convention I thought) facing oncoming traffic, which would be their right, so be careful on real hairpins, since not only could there be someone walking on the road, but they may well have their backs to you. I think this was a bit of an issue for the cyclists a few times.
I love twisties, have I ever mentioned that? I don’t ride a bike for speed, I just like seeing what’s out there, meeting people at stops, and winding, winding roads, and this area is great for that.
There also seem to be a lot of camp sites around the area, so I’ve pencilled them in for next year.
As you come out from the Pass, you start to skirt Lake Miyagase, which looks stunning, and is actually a man made lake supplying water for much of east Kanagawa and Tokyo, so if you look carefully you can see dead trees just below and protruding through the water line.
The colour of the rocks, the water and the treeline just looks so different to many of Japan’s lakes, and is quite a contrast to the very green feel of the place.
The lake has several smaller rivers feeding it, so I chose a road that followed one which the map suggested ended closest to mount Tanzawa, and headed up. More twisties! There were some small collections of houses, presumably for farmers, and the required white kei vans, coming and going, and more and more, signs were for hikers, pointing out hiking routes and estimated walking times. The roads started to get narrower, and there were more pieces of rocks and leaves in the middle.
Along the way I came across and angling farm, if that’s what they’re called, so I pulled over to have a look. At a turn in the river, a makeshift gravel carpark (and BBQ spot I suspect) had been created and several pools with weirs of rock built for fishermen to fish their own spot.
It looked like a lot of fun if that’s your thing, and each pond was well stocked. It looked a bit rigged if you know what I mean, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it. Yes, I know nothing about angling.
Further on, I made another wrong turn and hit another dead end, retraced my steps, and got back on route, and saw some beautiful waterfalls, but it was increasingly obvious that the road was not well travelled at this time of year – branches on the road, a rock slide, a stream flowing across it, and even a snake at one point. Some bent barriers also suggested a few drivers had been a little over enthusiastic on the corners.
I pushed on, taking care between the rocks, and trying to avoid branches in case they also turned out to be snakes, whilst at the same time trying to enjoy the view as the road was now quite high above the small river below.
Finally though, as all good things must come to an end, this did in the shape of two large steel barriers across the road, which didn’t entirely come as a surprise since the 50m of road up to them was basically a rock track.
That then I decided was the end of the run, and I headed back the way I came, stopping to take some photos of the lake, waving to a few bikers as they passed, and felt a little sad that this place was so close and yet I’d never ventured up here. I am planning to come back as part of a group next time, and perhaps we can try some other roads.