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.
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.
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.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been out on my bike for a run, rather than just running errands, and in fact, the last time, I just did old faithful – the Izu Skyline. This time I decided to blend the old and the new, so I took my favourite ocean-side route 134 down towards Odawara, and then go up the Hakone Turnpike. It used to be called the Toyo Tires Turnpike, but now it’s the Mazda Turnpike. At the lower entrance they basically changed one cheap sign for another. At the top, they’ve renamed the cafe area to the Mazda Skylounge, though aside from that, it’s business as usual – and there’s nothing wrong with that – a good chance to see people who love to get out on 2,3 or 4 wheels. I await a unicyclist at the SkyLounge for that single wheel addition.
Sat outside the SkyLounge, on one of the benches with a view down onto lake Ashinoko, I was drinking some tea from my flask, and leafing through my Mapple touring map book, trying to find somewhere I could do in a couple of hours, and be back home in the early afternoon. It just wasn’t going to be Izu again I’d decided. As I leafed through I noticed a small spit of land out into Sagami Bay, that just hadn’t registered with me before, I suspect as I’m usually on the coastal road, which lacks an exit near it – the small peninsula called Manazuru.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, first I needed to get from (A) The Mazda Skylounge, to (B) Manazuru. Fortunately for me, a nice way to get there is via Yugawara and Route 75, a playful twisty something, meandering down through the mountain valleys, with plenty of tree overhangs, shade, and more corners than you can shake a moderate sized stick at. It must be five years since I last used this road, and it’s a shame because it’s a lot of fun. At Yugawara, at the base of the 75, it’s a short jaunt on that 135 coast road, but you jump off before the toll and express routes, and then in my case, headed for Manazuru station. I was wondering how these roads were going to work, as on the map there seem to me a mass of turn-offs in front of Manazuru station – and there are. However, after years of tourists, they’ve got it organised, with colour coded lanes to take you to different areas. Fundamentally, the 739 road loops the peninsula, but near the cape (as it’s called) a smaller road breaks off, but this is one way, and quite narrow, which is a good thing, as it keeps traffic flowing safely.
I stopped a couple of times along the road to watch people sea fish off the rocks, see the literally fresh fish being dried, and listen to the waves. Riding on though, and onto the one way loop through winding lanes, you finally get down to Manatsuru Cape itself, and a nice large tourist area with car parks and bus parking. From the building, you can get a great view of the bay, it’s very scenic, but I hadn’t come all this way to look at the Pacific from the top of the cliffs – I’d come to touch ocean, and see the shrine. Well, not so much a shrine but, well the photo explains it. As far as I can tell, it’s called ‘名勝三ツ石’ or Meishoumitsuishi. Literal translation – ‘A place of beauty with three rocks’.
As you descend by the steps though, there’s a nice looking cafe. I can’t recommend anything from there, as I was a little early for it to open, but it looked very inviting, perched on the sloping rocks with a grand view of the ocean. At the base of the slope are some toilets, then the pebble beach. The large rocks at the end of the spit are often cut off from the coast when the tide is high, but when it’s low, you can walk out towards them on the rock causeway. You have to be careful on the rocks, and there are thousands of beetles and such, but it’s nice to get out around the waves, and if you’re up for it, try to catch some small fish or shellfish.
The rocks themselves, between two two of which are stretched some Shinto based paper streamers on a long rope (called shime標, or even a rope version shimenawa), look quite striking against the surf, and it’s easy to see how people living near here in times past would want to make an acknowledgement to the gods of the sea. All it all, it’s quite a fetching place, and somewhere you can sit for a while and just look out over the vast Ocean. You’ll likely want that rest too, before the hike back up the steps.
The building at the top of the cliffs is nice, but it’s nothing special, if you’ve seen one tourist targeting restaurant selling local food and trinkets, you’ve pretty much seen this one, but it’s got a great view, the menus seemed OK (again, it was too early to try), the staff were nice, it had some nice places to sit outside, and vitally, the toilets were clean.
After I’d drunk some more tea on the lawn over the cliff, I could feel the bike calling me, so off I went again, giving cyclists plenty of space on the bumpy road, but actually not so far, as another building came into view, and in front of it, the Manazuru Fire Station, which is a simple building with large glass windows, showing off the single fire engine. It looked quite nice in it’s own way.
The building just behind it looks like a large converted house, in some old, and non-Japanese style; at first glance it looked almost south east Asian colonial – yes, I’m not much of an architectural scholar. In front of the house, what was once likely a large stately lawn, has been quite tastefully converted into a miniature golf course. Walk past this, through the palm trees, and again there’s a beautiful cliff-top view of the ocean. I think this is all a part of the number of hotel resort facilities in the area, for those who want to come down for several days.
There are lots of things to see on this peninsula actually – I’d quite like to come back for a full day and walk around a lot more to see more of them, and once you’re here, on foot is a good way to do it. Of course, two wheels are the best way to actually get here.
I made a Google Map link, as the image above is a grab – it didn’t want to show for some reason. However you get here though, the compactness of the area makes it worth the trip.
Another quick 1 second a day video. More of Tokyo and the suburbs, and a couple of days in Okinawa. I think I got a little more variety, but there’s still some similar shots which means I need to plan a little more! It’s surprising how addictive and helpful these short shot collages are.
It’s fair to say that I like to get outdoors. Although I’m not a frequent or avid camper, now that the kids are sort of old enough, I think it’s important we all get out and get some outdoors and tent time in.
We first went together in 2012, but for a pile of reasons we missed last year, and so this year we’re trying to make up the trip count. June is part of Japan’s rainy season, but undaunted I booked a spot at a place I hadn’t camped at before up in the mountains, near a river,called Yamagoya. It’s only a bit over an hour from the house, so I thought that if it turned into a complete disaster I’d just have to up sticks and it would be a short drive back.
As the date came up, it was clear it would rain at some point. On the day we drove up it was raining, and when we arrived, I expected the kids to complain, but actually they loved it, and I have to say, they didn’t complain once during the whole weekend.
The site is small, running about 100m along a small river bank. Come the real summer they’re mainly set up with family sized BBQ sites, but right now they just had a few tarps up covering about half of them. They actually only have 3 designated tent pitches. This was the first odd point – the pitches were away from the river, and broadly flat, but they’d put several layers of stones there, which may have helped run-off and drainage, but made getting the tent pegs in quite a bit harder, and of course the rain makes everything more slippery. Like the previous camp though, I set up my GoPro on time lapse, and afterwards made a video from it – the kids love watching the tent go up at high speed!
The stones could have been a bigger issue, had I not brought our Thermarests, of which I’ve become a bit of a fan over the last few years, meaning for the kids especially, they could get comfy in their sleeping bags on one of these mattresses, and get some sleep.
Once the tent was up we went in to the adjoining cafe for some lunch. They only have a small menu, very Japanese oriented, which is fine, but not much for the kids. That said, the tofu salad and udon we ordered was excellent, and we could divide it between the three of us. They also do desserts and kakigouri (shaved ice with some fruit cordial), which obviously did go down well with the kids. It wasn’t expensive, given they’re serving a relatively captive audience, but marginally more expensive than a family restaurant.
As the rain came down gently, it was actually quite picturesque, looking down the river, and off a slight cliff down the valley. The kids were happy with my decision that since they were wet anyway, paddling into the river a little wasn’t going to do any more damage, so we passed quite a bit of time just exploring the riverbank and the site.
One of the best things about camping is cooking outside though, and it’s something my kids like too. For normal meals at home they can sometimes be picky, but when it comes off a BBQ or the camping stoves, there are no arguments. The drizzle had let up a little, so I broke out our two stoves – one is my normal lightweight backpacker stove, the other is a domestic ‘cassette gas’ burner. I found one of the set out tarps which was anchored quite high up, and set up just below and to one side of it – you don’t want to be melting or setting fire to tarps – so we got some rain shelter and played safe. I do like cooking outdoors, and with two stoves, got some spaghetti bolognese going.
One thing I was glad I brought is my Gerber multi-tool – I somehow bent one of the guide lips on my camping stove, and had to gently bend it back into shape with my pliers.
There wasn’t any showers that I noticed, but the toilets were clean enough for a camp site, and part of a concrete building, so the kids weren’t too fussed about it. It’s still odd to me that the same kids who complain about a small mosquito at home, don’t seem bothered by much bigger insects when they’re camping.
Let’s talk about insects. I don’t really have a problem with insects when I’m outdoors, with the possible exception of the midges in Scotland. Insects live outside, it’s what they do. However, twice over the weekend, I must have looked like a tempting and tasty target to Yamaburi, which are Japanese mountain leeches, and I had to remove them both forcefully, but safely (well, safe for me, not so much for them). They’re hardy things I can tell you.
I should probably discuss something about the staff at the site too. They’re very nice and polite, but a little slow, and aren’t entirely intuitive. I noticed this when I booked the site as I booked over a week ahead, confirming everything down to kids ages, arrival and departure times. When my wife called a few days before to check on things (if they rented towels etc.) she got into a weird conversation that the booking was somehow not complete. Finally she got confirmation that actually it was all booked. We still don’t know what the story was there. If it wasn’t complete, why hadn’t they called the mobile number I’d provided. I wonder if they’re the off-peak part timers?
All in all then, a good, simple one night camp. I think we’ll go back later in the year, and take advantage of one of the BBQ spots, as well as the tent pitches, as that would be fun. All that remains is for me to find out how to dissuade the local leeches, or a better way to remove them (if you have any ideas, please add to the comments).