The Working Monkeys (and Motorbikes) of Nagano

We were up in Shiga Kogen (Nagano Prefecture) again a few weeks ago for yet more snow fun,  and decided to go and see the famous snow monkeys in the hot spa pools of Jigokudani Park, since we were in the area and hadn’t been before. There are a million or so amazing photos of these monkeys around the internet so I won’t post any of my own of them, but instead, a couple of the valley running through part of the park to give you an idea of what it looks like when you take a step back.

The park is actually a ~1.6Km walk from the car park area to the monkeys, and  requires a fee of ~800yen per person to get in to see them, so be aware.  The walk up is through a beautiful valley side though, a long, winding, if somewhat icy track, which is quite relaxing. At the base of the stairs which mark the final few hundred metres, there’s a group of old traditional houses and a steam geyser – and the occasional naked man in an outdoor bath (routenburo) if that’s your thing!

You can see above where most of those amazing photos actually happen. It’s not always this crowded though, if you take a look at the webcams when they’re live, it’s often fairly empty. It is of course well staged – the monkeys are fed by the park staff to encourage them to come down, though guests are understandably discouraged from feeding the monkeys. As someone who has had a close face-to-face encounter with an adult male snow monkey in a carpark on a previous snow trip, I can vouch for not getting too close.

Also of interest to me was a group of old, and somewhat battered looking motorcycles down by the track, some Honda (Super) Cubs and an old CD90, all muddied up and with chains on for the snow, ice and mud. They look like they’ d seen some fun for sure. They seem to be used for running basic deliveries, and I dare say they’re probably road legal, but sadly there were no owners around I could ask. Definitely the types of vehicles you want for this terrain.

Protecting a Motorcycle the Traditional Way

A modern motorcycle has a number of safety systems built into it to help the rider stay safe, but we all know you’re also at the mercy of the other person and the universe in general. Insurance helps for sure after the event, but what if you need that little extra protection avoiding an accident?

Here in Japan we can also call upon the gods, and get ourselves an O-mamori [守り]. These are small amulets,  commonly looking like small bags, which are purchased from shrines, and intended to bring good fortune or ward off evil and bad luck. The bag usually contains something which has been blessed, for want of a better term – I don’t know what’s in mine since part of the deal is that you don’t open it.

I had an omamori bought for me from a local Shinto shrine, and I now have it safely tied on under my motorcycle seat, to help ward off crazy minivan drivers, Prius drivers, and all the others who seem to forget there are vehicles with less than four wheels. This one then is of the traffic safety or koutsuu anzen variety, and let’s hope it serves its purpose!

Omamori

Shimoda and the Hosono Highlands

There’s a little known requirement that you have to go on a full day out on your motorbike within a week of getting it.

Actually, that’s not true. But it should be true.

To do my part then, I decided to take a day off and ride down the Pacific coastal roads to the southern end of the Izu peninsula, to Shimoda.

I love coastal roads; just riding along, with the vast ocean on one side – hopefully with a sturdy looking metal barrier between you and the cliff down to that ocean – and a rising mountain on the other.

If this sounds good to you, then welcome, and come on down to Routes 134 & 135 on Japan’s Pacific coast.

Down the Coast

The day started at around 7am, I’d gotten all my layers on,  and warmed the bike up a little too, and then made sure I had a hot flask of tea in my backpack. The sky was a perfect blue, with almost no cloud, bright sunshine, and most importantly at that time – no ice or dampness on the road.

Since I was exploring the new Yamaha as well as the road, I decided to give one of the ‘other’ riding modes a shot – it has A, B and Standard. I’d only been using standard up until now, but decided to give ‘B’ a try as this is intended as the smoother, power-reduced rain mode. I thought that would give a nice gentle start to the day. Indeed it is exactly what that suggests – it’s smooth – it really is a wonderful mode to start the day on. It still pulls, there’s still the torque, but it’s like it’s massaging you into the ride.

The coastal road I take is a toll road, it’s true, but raised up, you get to look down on to the beach and the rivers flowing into the ocean as the sunrise hits the beach and you get to see the sun on the side of Fuji-san, all snow capped, before looking left again at the handful of surfers and fishing enthusiasts casting out from the beach.  Part way along this straight section is the Seisho Bypass Service Area (SA). It’s often a big meeting spot for motorcycle groups, but as I approached it I didn’t see a single bike unfortunately, so I passed it by this time. When I’m riding alone, if I see some people in there, I’ll sometimes stop off for a chat and exchange route ideas and good stopping points – but not today!

There was something of a cross-wind on the road, but unlike the old Honda, this was much less tiring (and chilling) thanks to just the small amount of fairing and screen on the Tracer, and the bike held its speed more consistently.

Once you get a little past Hayakawa at the west end of the road, the twisties start kicking in, rising and falling around the cliff edges, switching from cliff cutout roads, to short bridge sections seamlessly.  It’s fun.  Again, there’s a choice of free roads with a little more traffic, or toll roads, with a little more flow.  Be aware some of these toll roads are not ETC/NEXCO ones, you need to stop and pay, a bit like the Izu Skyline.

The road takes you down past coastal towns like Manazuru, Atami and Ito, but as I rode along I saw a couple of small signs for some place called ‘Hosono Highlands’, which sounded interesting, so I turned up an already narrow road, up into the hills, where the road gave way to a narrow, barely paved forest track, past some camping and cabin areas, before popping out into a clearing with what looked like some brand new parking spaces – the Hosono Highlands!

Hosono Highlands

I parked up, and was having a nice cup of two when a couple of cars pulled up coming the other way, and out jumped eight retired people, who made a bee-line for the bike and we spoke for about ten minutes about why we were all here – they had planned to come up, to see the highlands, whereas I was there almost by accident. We also discussed whether Japan still makes good motorbikes (they do), whether English is difficult to learn (it is), and after a swift toilet break, they jumped back in their cars and left.  One of the drivers had commented the road extended further up in to the the mountain, past a golf course, to the wind turbines I could see higher up.

It looked like a nice road, so after pondering the view, I decided to go up a bit further. For about a kilometre it a was fun, cracked road surface, steep inclines and corners, with autumnal leaf-fall and branch debris here and there, so it took some concentration.

Anyhow, I came around a corner into a shady wooded area and saw what looked like a run-off stream actively flowing across the road. Not so unusual in the hills around here, but only when I was too close to it did I realise from the reflections that it was actually solid ice.

Pants.

All I could do was make no change to my speed or direction and hope I was balanced enough to get over. Fortunately it seemed I was, though for a second or two I could feel the ice passing under the tyres, but my momentum carried me over.  I decided to get off and take a look at how this thing had duped me, and sure enough the water had frozen in rivulets rather than as a flat sheet, and was well over a centimeter thick even at its thinnest point. I decided then it was better to GPS mark the road, and come back to do it in the Spring, rather than have less luck further up!

Hosono Highlands

Fortunately, those leaves and such at the side of the road had virtually no ice on them, and so it was quite simple to walk the bike back down that way, bypassing the frozen stream. It was disappointing, but that road will make a nice addition to a future day out on warmer days.

Back down to the coast road, and more great views and soon another small road, this time down to a beach, which, given that it was about 5degC., was pretty much deserted. However, given the blue skies and sunshine, if you didn’t know that, you could think from a photograph it was a wonderful Summers day.

It’s called Sotoura Beach, and when the weather gets a little warmer, has quite a good crowd down there. On this day though, it was just me, and some fisherman repairing nets in the small harbour nearby.

The Beach

(Note that in a few photos my bike looks like it is on sand – it isn’t – I walked out to check the area and found it was actually an old asphalt car park with a very thin layer of sand and gravel on it.)

After another cup of tea just looking at that blue ocean, I pushed on just a few more kilometres to my lunch spot, the appropriately named Cafe Mellow, which is next to a small hotel we’ve often stayed at, called Ernest House.

 

[As this post is a little long,  I won’t fully recount the trip back, which was yet more happy riding, avoiding some bad drivers, and getting to test the headlights out. I’ll also see if I can get a short road video together for it.  After 350Km that day, I have to say, I’m really pleased with the Tracer for sure. ]

 

 

 

 

 

Last Fireworks of the ‘Summer’

A few weeks ago we were down at the beach near Enoshima, where it was the closing hanabi of the Summer festival season – yes, in October. I think it’s one of the last formal fireworks events in Shonan for the year, and it attracted several thousand people, on the beach and the strip of grass and parks between the beach and the main coastal road.

The whole thing went for just under an hour, a little longer than normal, but not as long as some of the big ones around Japan. The atmosphere was great though; there’s just something relaxing about being down by the beach, sitting around and watching fireworks – and quite a few people were finishing off BBQs.

When the fireworks finished, in an impressive finale, there was a generous round of applause. It was also good that  had quite a few designs I hadn’t seen before, and there were fewer ‘character’ based ones like Doraemon, which I find a little cheap.

I should say, I’m awful at taking pictures of fireworks, mainly because I’m, you know, busy watching them instead of getting the camera right. Instead of a shakey and blurry picture of fireworks then, I thought I’d put in an equally generic photo of sunset around Fuji from Enoshima I took as we were waiting, and a short video as I was testing out my new GoPro.

Fuji from the beach
Fuji from the beach

To give a rough idea, here’s a 60 second video of the finale, though if you look around the net, there are much better examples!

Tokyo Motorcycle Show 2016

I’d never been to a motorcycle show, so when the 43rd annual Tokyo Motorcycle Show rolled around this year, I decided I should take the 20min train journey down to the Big Sight venue from my workplace, and see how it was.

To set expectations, this isn’t a top tier bike show like EICMA, there aren’t usually major new bike announcements made there, but they are generally well attended, and showing the latest announced models from most of the major manufacturers, and many boutique brands which means there are lots of motorbikes!  Enough said.

The Big Sight
The Big Sight

So into the show.  Big Sight, the upside down pyramid in Tokyo Bay, with a giant hand saw in front of it. It’s a good venue all told and it was easy to the find the way on to Halls 1 & 2.

Ducati Making Music
Ducati Making Music

Inside, the show filled two of the four main halls, and there was a decent crowd on the Friday afternoon, plenty of atmosphere, and a fairly diverse demographic spread of all ages, and yes mainly men, but with a decent percentage of women riders too.  There was a ladies focused area, which had a lot of good advice on bike mods and models which emphasised lighter bikes, and seat height adjustments. I notice it also had a much better cafe area than the one near the entrance too. As you’d expect, there were a lot of smaller vendors, magazine vendors, parts vendors, and of course the bike manufacturers from home and abroad.

Red Space
Red Space

There were as many cameras as people, and most of the bike models you were able to sit on, excepting some of the more boutique bikes, such as the Italian Vyrus models, which start at 6,300,000yen (~55,000USD) and keep going to over 13,000,000yen. Ouch. But they are very nice.

A Good Vyrus
A Good Vyrus

I spent a little over three hours looking around, and it was worth the 1,400yen. There were plenty of people to talk to and ask questions, and some free samples and stickers, but at least whilst I was there there weren’t too many awesome give-aways.

One stall was promoting their various LED lighting systems, and had a bike all done up with sparkling glass beads, thousands of them. It looked great under the show lights, so we had a look at the stand, and even had a chat with the hard working lady whose job is was to attach the beads by hand.

Blinging it
Blinging it

So what were the highlights?

It was good to see bikes I don’t usually see really, such as the scooters from Adiva, Sym and Kymco – many of which looked very respectable – from the larger American oriented cruisers, European bikes including Norton, Royal Enfield from India, to the local Japanese bikes.  All had a presence of one size or another and most of the staff were able to answer all of the questions I had, even about insurance and spares.

Super Cub and Side Cub
Super Cub and Side Cub

It’s easy to point at the Steve McQueen replica bikes, the Vyrus or high end BMW and Honda Rallye race bikes as the most memorable items, but for some reason, I quite liked the more accessible and fun items like modded Honda Super Cub Cross with a side car. Sure, I couldn’t fit in the side car, and I’m not sure what the performance would be like, but in it’s yellow and black, it looked the part.

 

 

 

明けましておめでとうございます 2016!

A slightly belated greeting into 2016, which we’ll be calling Heisei 28. It’s all about the reign of the Emperors, and is designed to confuse me when I come to sort my taxes out next month.

We did the midnight tick-over at home with the family, but for Hatsuhinode – the first sunrise of the year – I was out on the motorbike to meet up with some friends.  Since I was riding into the sunrise, I thought I’d get the old GoPro Hero 2 out and do a timelapse:

We met up at a Konbini, and I was able to get my traditional biking breakfast of onigiri, but this one was unfortunately common – grilled salmon (焼き鮭) but still did the trick.

Shake Onigiri
Shake Onigiri

Then it was time to ride back up the 134 through lighter traffic, to meet up with a few more people at the Seisho SA, which boasts a great view of the bay, clean toilets and allows you to enjoy the quality musical coffee machines. I never get bored of this Pacific Ocean road on the bike, and just have to remember to take my turn inland – it’s easy to just keep following this road down the Izu pensinsula.

From there, it was on up to the Mazda Skylounge to take in the view along the Mazda turnpike (now 520yen one way).

At the Skylounge you can guarantee a good selection of people on any given day, and here on New Year’s Day I was impressed to see a steady stream of older people – alone and in groups – come up in taxis, take in the view and perhaps have a drink, then get back in the taxis to wherever they’d come from. For myself I had a cup of tea and decided to try the chili cheese hot dog. In no way traditional, or even advisable, but it did taste pretty good. No photo sadly.

Finally, thanks to Frank for getting a line-up shot and for putting the day together:

New Year 2016
New Year 2016

Here’s to hoping 2016 continues as well as it started, and all the best to everyone.

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Bike Tour: Lakes, Tea and Senbei

It’d been quite a few weeks since I’d been out on the motorbike for a day trip, so when my old friend ‘CS’ offered up the middle day of a 3 day weekend for a trip out in November, I was up for it, and so spent some time staring at my Touring Mapple book and Google Maps to see where we could put in a few hundred kilometres.

As I’m all about style and culture, I had decided we should meet up on the infamous 246 road before moving up into the mountains of central and western Kanagawa Prefecture. The meeting place: The Eastern Gods Truck Station.  Well technically it’s the Toushin Truck Station, but the literal translation of the kanji sounds a lot better in my opinion. Yes, it’s a truck stop – a fair sized one too – with a restaurant, showers, some rooms, and of course ample parking for large trucks, and a smaller area for vans. We parked up in the latter car and van park, CS’s Triumph Tiger 1200 dwarfing some of the vans, whilst everything dwarfed my CB400.

tonkotsuramen onigiri
tonkotsuramen onigiri

A cup of tea and a catch-up later we were on the 246 for a little while before heading north on the 412 and then moving onto the 413 and pushing west. The 413 is a decent road – well surfaced, the odd narrow portion, with plenty of twisties to play on. For the most part you’re going along valleys, but at elevation, so expect some dampness and mist, especially on an overcast day like we were on. It was at this point I discovered the mist loved settling on my visor and stubbornly refused to roll off, so I need to sort that out.

About half way along, we came across a rest area near the town of Doshi, and sailing past all those people in cars who like to queue for parking spaces, we parked up in the bike area which was packed with bikes and bikers – men, women and children of all ages, with all manner of bikes, trikes and quads. It was a good place to take a break, with people queuing for various hot snacks or grilled chicken, pork, vegetables , some tasty looking grilled fish, as well as a shop selling powdered radish roots, fresh veg and other things there was no way I could fit on my bike. In the end I had a bottle of hot lemon juice from the the vending machine. A missed opportunity in retrospect – I should have queued for the grilled fish.

Grilled Fish!
Grilled Fish!

Back on the road, more twisties, but then a slower section in traffic around lake Yamanaka.  I always like the lakes around Mt. Fuji, especially for the novelty ferries. I didn’t take a picture, but Yamanaka had the giant swan ferry on the water as we rode past.

Another missed food opportunity here: we went past several nice local places and pulled away from the commercialized lake area,and only when we were stopping for some fuel did we decide we were hungry, by which point our only real option was the nearby Royal Host.  It’s perfectly acceptable as a place to eat, but as a franchise, we’d usually avoid it.

As CS has a GPS system, he oddly likes to make use of it, and due to this, it likes to run him a merry jaunt on occasion. This time, instead of taking us to a small tea house on a mountain road I had spied on Google Maps, it decided we really wanted to sit in more traffic around the outskirts of the larger Kawaguchi lake  in a market stalls area where it continued to confidently claim the tea shop was always 3 minutes away,.

After fifteen minutes, we called it out, told it we weren’t happy, did U-turns and followed my direction following my paper map. That was better. Or at least it was better for a while, since on the 137, we were to look for road 708, a svelte mountain road where this legendary tea shop would be waiting for us. Unfortunately CS was a couple of cars in front of me, and he missed the turn. This left me bombing up the road thinking I was way behind,  arriving at the beautiful tea-shop and realising it was just me. Long story short, CS did finally locate the place, and it was worth it.

Tenkachaya
Tenkachaya

It’s called Tenkachaya (天下茶屋), as in, ‘whole world under heaven’ tea shop.  They also make and sell senbei rice crackers. There’s no parking as such, and the collection of cars and bikes basically hug the sides of the road.  Inside it’s all wood, modestly lit, and very relaxing. The staff were really friendly, and explained what was available in the shop and on the menu. That’s when we noticed we’d misunderstood something. They do sell tea –  indeed they give you a complimentary cup when you sit down – but their speciality is a blend coffee. I had to have one, and yes, it was very good. Also, the senbei were sweet, sort of lemon flavoured, and the staff advised us to break them in their plastic wrappers before eating because they could probably stop a bullet. They do taste rather good though, so we bought some as omiyage to take away too. It’s by itself really on that 708 road, which the tunnel making it far quicker to get to and from the lake, but it is worth the ride/drive up for a rest stop and to take in the view.

The Tea House
The Tea House

After that good rest we started winding our way towards the Chuo expressway, joining at it’s southern starting point, and following it east. There was plenty of traffic – perhaps people returning Sunday night to avoid the read traffic insanity of the Monday return, so we ended up filtering for a couple of kilometres before stopping before the Hachioji junction where we parted ways. My route would take me onto the newer Ken-O extension south. I like the road as it’s not so busy, there’s plenty of distance between junctions, and even though there aren’t yet service areas, it’s a relaxing ride though I should note, there’s no street lights along some sections, so with just me on my bike, even with the headlight on, it felt oddly isolated.

The only notable thing on that final stretch was that all the auto-payment arches (ETC) were broken on my exit ramp, so I had to stop and get off my bike, get my bike seat off to give the chap on the gate my ETC card so he could manually check it through, then put it all back together. I’ve never had to do that before. Odd really.

All in all a good day out.

(An aside here: the lake is called Kawaguchiko. That ‘ko’ denotes lake [], and though most signs in English say Lake Kawaguchiko, it’s technically Lake Kawaguchi I think).

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Calligraphy and Food

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.

gonpachi1

Bike Tour: Shouganai Dam

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.

Route Planning
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.

curry onigiri
curry onigiri

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.

SunKus Cafe
SunKus Cafe

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.

Fujino
Fujino

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.

Above the dam
Above the dam

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.

Cafes
Cafes

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.

Ogouchi Dam
Ogouchi Dam

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:

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Camping at BOSCO

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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