At the tail-end of Golden Week this year (May 5th to be exact) I took part in Touge Express’ 2017 Coast to Coast Twistybutt, an invitational run across Japan from the Pacific Ocean to Japan Sea purely via the mountain pass roads or ‘touge’ as they’re known. 500Km of turns with the occasional short local road connecting them.
If you were on a straight road, you were probably on the wrong road.
So where is the tale of this crossing? I did write one, but it’s not here, it’s on a real motorcycle website, so thanks to Chris and everyone at RideApart for bringing tales from the touge to the broader world – they’ll be all the better for it!
The Fourth Phase is the third snowboard focused film / travelogue from Brain Farm, mainly featuring the ideas and riding of Travis Rice and friends.
The very short version: It’s a well shot video of snowboarding and life following the water cycle across the north Pacific with some wit and wisdom from Travis Rice and friends thrown in. I enjoyed it the first time around on my home BD / TV, and I even enjoyed it second time around on my phone during my commute into Tokyo. It’s re-watchable.
Still reading? Thanks, here’s the slightly longer version.
This video came five years after the excellent Art of Flight (2011), and almost nine since That’s it, That’s all (2008). I recommend both of those previous ones by the way.
It notionally follows the cycle of water around the north Pacific, meaning it starts in Wyoming (as ever with a Travis Rice part), then scoots via Travis’ catamaran across the Pacific to Japan, then to Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands in Russia, before heading back to Alaska. The Fourth Phase of the title alludes to some wonderful property water possesses beyond solid, liquid and gaseous phases, derived from the book by Gerald H. Pollack.
That’s the metaphysical bit behind the title, but what about the film itself?
Compared to Art of Flight, there are fewer of the epic slow-motion and dolly shots, and more point-of-view and drone footage. That’s not a bad thing in my opinion, making it feel more personal. As for the other personnel, there are a few guests per region, but it’s anchored around Travis Rice and Mark Landvik. They’re both personable on screen, whereas some of the other riders look overly self conscious. Landvik always comes across well I think, so a good choice there, especially as things develop, but there needed to be more of them together.
The time in Japan I especially liked. I’m biased I know as I live and snowboard here, but those scenes more completely captured what it’s about – great tree runs, hikes out, the very surreal feel in the countryside during the epic amounts of powder snow and deluges of water the islands get, and the people who live in the mountain regions. The standouts were the fire festival footage, and the eerie illuminated night tree-runs, so well done to the team for the location work and cinematography.
Music is always a key part of snowboarding videos, and this one moves from classical to rock to synth pop, and it broadly works, though some bits don’t seem to work as well as others. The orchestral sections in Russia are excellent for example, but some of the synth-pop for the Japan sections seemed a little disconnected to the visuals. Much of the soundtrack was done by musician Kishi Bashi.
The Russian section is interesting even if there isn’t so much riding, just through the geography of the place, yet there are snowboarders there, even if the set-piece of the crew giving some local kids a board feels a little clumsy, a bit more explaining what the local boarder community is up to would have been more useful than the surf scene, which whilst fun, didn’t really add as much as more with the local kids would have.
There is of course plenty of big mountain riding, hikes, great heli-drops and at least a few nice ramps. There’s also the hospital section which is now either a requirement or a tradition at this point.
One minor disappointment with the BD version I have are the extras – not as many fun outtakes as previous discs, and even the behind the scenes sections seemed a little forced.
If you see reviews, reception was mixed – maybe they wanted Art of Flight 2 which is a little unlikely as this wasn’t directed by Curt Morgan, it was from Jon Klaczkiewicz, and as I understand it, there was an Art of Flight series which should’ve covered that?
I think there’s a few things going on here.
Firstly, as this is built around Travis Rice, he’s getting older, and whilst he brought other younger riders in, this is more about his thought process, and what he’s into, which was doing runs he hadn’t done before. Yes, his first world philosophizing about being a seeker is a little cringe inducing, but you can tell he believes it and to his credit, is getting out there and doing it.
Also, given all the snowboard videos available online these days, it’s difficult to know if the sponsors would go for yet another flurry of epic jumps in Alaska by itself, or whether Red Bull, GoPro, Skullcandy and all the other very obvious sponsors would want to do that, given they’re already saturating those markets online.
On the ‘missed opportunities’ side, I actually wanted to see a bit more of Travis Rice on the catamaran, beyond the philosophizing, actually following this water cycle the premise hangs on. I’m always keen to hear more from Brian Iguchi too, who just seems like a very calm chap to sit down with.
Ultimately it’s a great film to watch but it’s straddling two different genres – it’s not an hour and a half of shredding and epic jumps, but it’s not really a travelogue either since there really isn’t enough about what happens locally – even the Russian shutout wasn’t really explained for example.
If you want straight riding and tricks with the odd laugh, probably better to go back to That’s It, That’s All in this series.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
(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 yetmore 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. ]
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.
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:
Here’s to hoping 2016 continues as well as it started, and all the best to everyone.
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 comically 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.
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).
A few of us who live in this area of Japan (Shonan) are putting together a small blog about the place, and write some bits about locations, shops, foods, festivals and all of that and we’re calling it Shonan Press. I put my first piece up on there regarding Enoshima – it’s a great place to visit, and I’ve included a decent variety of photos from the place. I’m looking forward to getting more content up there! Feedback appreciated.