A Rainy Day in Shizuoka

Shizuoka prefecture is mostly famous for being the geographic home of most of Mt. Fuji, and then for its tea production, and both of those are worthy claims, but I thought I’d spend a day just riding around and seeing what else was up in the prefecture next door.

I think I’ve mentioned on some of these ride reports that weather on the day doesn’t matter much – I’ve got the day off so I’m going. This day the local weather was due to be fine, but later on in the afternoon I knew there was a chance of rain in Shozuoka, and certainly likely in the more mountainous areas I was looking for. It was also late July, so still hot and humid down by the coast, so I took the liner out of my jacket, opened some of my vents, and opted for riding jeans over the all weather trousers, but stuck my rain gear over-trousers in the top box, just in case. For footwear, I stuck with my Forma Swift Dry boots, which have proven to be very waterproof already.

The ride to Shizuoka is essentially a simple run west. I could have taken the expressway and saved some time, but I thought I’d go through the Hakone mountain area on Route 1. It’s a nice winding road, and fortunately the morning I went, there wasn’t too much traffic – it can sometimes backup a little behind delivery lorries and commuter traffic. It was also fortunate because there was a light drizzle towards the top, and visibility was about 10m thanks to some mist and low cloud, meaning riding with the visor open for one section as the mist was just settling on the visor and reducing visibility still further. Of course, this also mean’t my face got wet, but I’ll take that to let me see a bit more of where I’m going.

There wasn’t much traffic on the road that morning and fortunately the cars there were had slowed too, which isn’t always the case. There are always people who seem to believe they have superhuman reflexes and F1 level cars even in these conditions. Coming down out of this cloud bank and into the town of Mishima, things were still overcast but at least dry. I stopped off for a quick cup of tea, and check the weather. Maybe a little rain apparently in the hills, and maybe in Shizuoka City. Well not too bad. I should also say that just outside Mishima is the Mishima Skywalk, which is worth a try.

To be fair, the rain was sort of holding off when I arrived in Shizuoka City, and stayed at a polite occassional drizzle. I found a small motorcycle and bicycle parking area near the Sunpu Castle park, one of those places they made from an odd ‘L’ shaped piece of land left after developments, meaning it wasn’t easy to get the Tracer in, and it looked somewhat out of place next to bicycles and small 50cc scooters.

From the outside, Sunpu Castle Park looks like a fairly typical Japanese castle park. The walls aren’t super impressive, though the moat looks nice and might have been stocked with koi or other fish – it was too murky and rainy to tell. Though many castles have heritage status in Japan, most have been rebuilt extensively – and recently – rather than be left as ruins, which is good in one respect, but it leaves the historical significance somewhat lacking for me. We’ll come to and example of this soon.

The park was relaxing, even in the humid drizzle of late July, and it pushes its history quite well, especially its connection to one of Japan’s major historical figures, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was linked to the castle and area throughout his lifetime.

Tokugawa – who looks to have been stabbed from this angle

Sadly, whilst the watchtower Tatsumi yagura looks beautiful over the moat, the main castle was under excavation and rebuilding when I was there, which wasn’t mentioned on the couple of sites I looked at, so this is what I actually got to see of Sunpu Castle:

Under Construction
Under Construction

After a wander around, I decided to head off, especially since there’s only so much earthwotrks you can look at through construction wall windows. I will say though on a nicer day, the park would be nice to stick around, and there other things you can go in and have a look at if you have the time.

For me, this was a rest stop, not a destination, so after getting the bike out of the weird parking area, it was time to head north and up into the mountains.

The rain respected my dedication, and came down with more enthusiasm once I got out of the suburbs of Shizuoka City on Route 362, the roads narrowed, and the only camera I wanted to get out was the GoPro. It’s a great road though, a mix of curves and twisties through the mountains, until I hit the town (village?) of Senzu, then turned on to the much smaller road 77.

As I climbed the number of vehicles became fewer, the roads innevitably got narrower, and I had to keep an eye on my navi (satnav) as it would be easy to miss a turn, and I was looking for the Yume no Tsuribashi (Bridge of Dreams) suspension bridge.

The rain was very heavy by this point, and the riding jeans had begun to look like a bad choice. The road’s asphalt was quite broken in places, the steep inclines and slopes were beginning to resemble streams and I decided I needed to put the light rain trousers on in the near future!

I should say though, I love this type of riding – poor asphalt, rain, stunning views down the valleys, mental fuel calculations, and wondering how many more blind corners to a destination is actually things I love about riding here.

As it was, I did stop now and then just to take in the dense foliage interspersed with small tea plantations clinging in terraces and small slopes in their neat rows.

Tea, tea everywhere and not a drop to drink

Eventually, I ran out of road – some barriers in a village a few kilometers from the bridges and dam area said the road was currently closed. Yes, I could’ve ridden around them, but given the weather, and literally no one around to ask, I decided to head back to a car park a few hundered metres away, and get my rain trousers on and have a cup of tea.

The car park was empty, impressive considering there were spaces for a few hundred cars, save for a lonely white SUV, parked across about three spaces whose two occupants were watching the rain like it was a meteor storm. Eventually, umbrellas in hand, they made a dash for the toilet block, then back, and left.

I took shelter at the bus stop put my rain trousers on, and tried to figure out how far a walk the bridges were. I wasn’t dedicated to doing the bridges, this was more a scouting out for a possible family trip, but since I was here, I wanted to know if it was do-able. After a few minutes an empty bus pulled up, and I was asking the fairly miserable driver how far it was to the Bridge of Dreams. It seemed that due to Covid and other things, they’d closed the roads, the minibus wasn’t running, nor were taxis, and to walk it would take about 40 minutes each way. A quick calculation showed there was just not enough time for me to do that and be home anywhere near plan, so I had a rest and a look around and decided to head back, and get some petrol on the way. Definitely one for a future trip.

Empty car parks and rain
Empty car parks and rain

On the way back down the 77, I stopped for fuel at an odd little place who unusually weren’t interested in any quick conversation. In these kinds of places, with few customers, I’ve often found the staff quite chatty as a bit of a break, but the tone here was as dour as the rain I suppose.

On the ride back, I’d become interested in at least walking one bridge over the winding river, and saw one from the road which looked nice – a simple suspension bridge, so I did a quick u turn, found the entrance, parked up, and went for a walk.

It was great, this narrow little bridge, little used or even known about judging by all the moss on it, joined at each side to roads verging on cycle track size. It was a great walk over a swollen and fairly angry looking river (the Oigawa?) full of the mountain rain higher up. Whilst I was there a couple of locals passed and at least returned a hello, and the place was really quite nice, especially since there was a break in the rain for a few minutes. Yes, I did wonder if I could get the bike across it, and decided very quickly it wasn’t a good idea to try – definitely possible, but ill advised.

Local walk bridges
Local walk bridges

Back on the road, and generally on downward slopes, the rain picked up again, but spirits were high, the road quality gradually increased, and before long I was down onto the coastal plain area, and heading east on the expressway this time, quite a bit behind schedule, but pretty happy with the run. I find little to write about with expressways. You do get the odd unusual service area, but on this one, it was pretty generic, though I was able to get a very reasonably priced cup of coffee which actually tasted decent.

All in all, a great ride, and also something to put on the list for next time to see the bridges in that area as it is truly beautiful. You can also do some tea picking at certain times of year, so that’s something to look into also.