For the last week or so, Tokyo (and more specifically, the couch in my living room for a few nights) has been host to a round-the-world cyclist, Matt Blake, who arrived from England overland after an epic 14 month ride. (The above photo is Matt – in orange T-shirt – and the rest of our group at the finish line of the Tour de Utsukushigahara ride on 28 June.)
The Tour de France? No, the real tough hill climbing cycle event is the Tour de Utsukushigahara, with its gekisaka (檄坂 – severe slope). The race is only 22km in distance, but ascends 1,270 metres up to Utsukushigara from Asama Onsen (in Matsumoto) – the first few hundred metres of the race ascendup an 18% incline. Last weekend, I headed up to Asama Onsen, with a group of friends – Phil, Matt, Bruce, Naoko & Dan) to take on the mountain and join the Tour. Most of them had done the race before, but I was a first timer anda little unsure whether I’d make it. Matt is an around-the-world cyclist who has just arrived from England by bike (see worldwidebikeride.com), and was not going to rest up too much in Tokyo when there was a mountain to race up!
A 22km bike ride in the mountains? No problems, put my name down. What, a 1,270 metre ascent up the mountain? What was I thinking? Japan’s “gekisaka” (severe slope) hill climb event – the Tour de Utsukushigahara. What a way to celebrate the first anniversary of my arrival in Japan. I haven’t had time to post all the details yet, but to keep you interested, here’s a link to a photo album. All you need to know for now is that I survived, but my legs are still sore.
Today’s excursion around the Yamanote Line reinforced that Tokyo is a great city to get around by bicycle. Phil and I had been thinking about doing this ride for a long time, and finally put the plan into implementation today. We met at the Marunouchi entrance to Tokyo Station this morning, and set out clockwise. We uploaded a photo onto this blog when we arrived at each of the 29 stations. This of course created a lot of blog posts – 31 to be precise (1 at Tokyo Station the start, 1 at each station on the way, 1 at Tokyo Station at the finish, and 1 gratuitous photo of me holding my bike aloft at Shibuya Crossing).
The circuit took a lot longer than we anticipated. Much of this was due to mucking around trying to find the best road to get to the next station, but there was a *lot* of time spent waiting at red lights and giving way to cars. I suspect that Phil will very soon have a new entry on his Car Free Tokyo blog lamenting this situation. He might even mention the roadwork security guy who was absolutely insistent that we as cyclists ride around his hole in the ground on the pedestrian side rather than the car side. Phil ignored him despite his animated baton pointing, but he jumped in my way and forced the issue when I approached!
We passed lots of interesting sights, and only had time to stop for a few photos.
Tokyo Bay cruise boats berthed between Hamamatsu-cho and Tamachi
Modern installation between Shinagawa and Osaki
Garden gnome on steriods near Gotanda
Not sure who thought this through. The reason the bicycle parking is unused is (1) because it's inconveniently located away from the shops; and (2) nobody wants to pay 100 yen to pay for legal bike parking when in practice you can just chain your bike up anywhere you like.
Full moon and the Marunouchi lights from outside the Imperial Palace on my ride home
It was late November, and there were still autumn colours to be found. I cycled across Tokyo to Akihabara, and met Steve and his bike on the Tsukuba Express to Tsukuba. After a second breakfast of fast food, it was on the bikes up the road to Tsukuba-san (Mt Tsukuba). The sun was shining, the roads were quiet, the autumn colours were magnificent.
We rode up the steep hill to the shrine on the lower slopes of Tsukuba-san. There was a traffic jam heading uphill, as people were going to see the bright red Japanese maples at the shrine – as part of the annual Tsukuba-san Momiji Matsuri (Maple Festival). Although riding up that hill took some huffing and puffing, we were relatively cruising past all the drivers. It was a bit dicey riding up the wrong side of the road, and then pulling in behind a stopped car every time a car came around the bend down the hill, but there was no room to ride up the left hand side of the traffic jam on the narrow road.
After a wander around the shrine, we headed down to the old railway line, now a rare Japanese rail trail, and headed in to Tsuchiura to catch a different train back to Tokyo. All up, an easy ride and a cruisy day out in the sun (albeit with ear warmers on).