Cycling in Hirafu – Japan

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Japan cycling is the best!
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Cycling in Japan

I have found that life always presents wonderful opportunities and if you don’t grasp them immediately they fade away as thought they were never there.

One of these opportunities came for me when one of my Australian friends got a job in Japan. I asked if I could visit. The answer was “yes’ so with that said this is how I came to travel in Japan when I was actually planning to go to Laos.

I was craving a holiday where I could be alone and able to “tune in” to my own inner essence, that part of me that is wise and kind and very, very quiet. It whispers to me and if I am too busy or have too many people around I really get to miss it. It is like missing a lover, a deep ache inside that can’t be placated.

I schedule a long trip every year that involves me being alone so that I can just be with no distractions. People call it meditation but I think that being is more than that—it is getting back to that inner truth where the meaning of life is revealed 24/7.

The first time I really connected to that part of me was on my trip to Sri Lanka and I have taken time like this since. Once a year I give myself a week of silence or what I call “not doing”.

After visiting my friends I decided that cycling in Japan would be the thing to do and Hokkaido would be the place. I read that Hokkaido was mainly forrest and had a very low population density. That sounded perfect.

The time I spent in Yokohama with my friends it was simply amazing. A cooking class, the expats club, wonderful shrines and parks. We actually climbed Mt Fuji in one day that started at 3 am and finished at about 7 pm — five hours up and three hours down with about one hour the whole day to stop. The rest of the time was getting there and back.

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On top of Fuji with Jane

I do recommend some training before doing such a climb, a tad silly to climb it without any prior conditioning.

This  is meant to be about cycling so I will get on with it.

I took the Shinkansen bullet train to northern Honshu and over a week finally made my way up to Hokkaido. I was “feeling out” Japan trying to work out where to go to get my cycling trip. Every cycle shop I visited was either absent even although they were on the map, or the bikes were rickety and slow. I hired an ancient bike in Aomori and peddled around with the fast traffic and no map, I got lost a number of times and forever thank Google Maps— paid for by a Japanese phone company—not Telstra thank the stars! Last year I had used Google maps with Telstra for a few hours in Portugal. The bill was $1500AUD so I didn’t make that mistake again.

Sapporo had only rickety bikes in the hire places I found. Finally I gave up on my cycling trip and just decided to walk up mountains instead. I booked myself into a small Japanese place called “Ramina” in the town of Hirafu in the Niseko onsen and ski area.

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Beautiful quiet and convenient Japanese home stay.
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A lovely place to stay for a week.

It was summer but most places were booked out, I was lucky to get a room.

I took the local clackerty clack train to Kutchan and was picked up by the host of the Ramina and taken up into the mountains to the little village of Hirafu.

Hirafu has already been discovered by Australians and the locals seem happy with that. There is a good amount of “great big melting pot” stuff happening with many little  Euro/Japanese children around.

The guest house was exquisite, the food was top quality authentic Japanese.

Hirafu has a cycling shop called Rhythm cycles  I think it is owned by an Aussie or two, I didn’t quite work out who was the boss. Joe who was my main contact there spoke excellent English and he was one of those melting pot people half Japanese and half Swedish.

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Here I am unfashionably dressed in-front of the Rhythm Cycles store with my bike.

Joe hired me a brand new road bike for approximately $45.00 a day and absolute bargain for the milage I got from this wonderful machine. It was an Allez bike now as I know nothing about bikes and don’t really care too much about the details. I sort of fell in love with this bike. I have a much more expensive Scott bike at home but this bike beat it hands down. It was stable and light and the gears were always just right. I guess some machines just connect with your body and some don’t?

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The Allez road bike

I am not really a cyclist as such, sure I cycle and most times I get the right cycling clothing on but I am not serious about it. I simply love to move. I find that if I don’t move I can’t sleep well. Therefore cycling is a fun way to move and that is why I do it. I know nothing about bikes except that they have wheels and gears and I still don’t understand which gears are “high” and which ones are “low”.

OK I have just googled that. “High” gear is for going down low and “low” gear is for going up high. I guess that must make sense (?)

Andy another guy at Rhythm cycles gave me a small map and this was by guide. Another thing I am not particularly good at is following maps when I am on holidays. When I am at home and I have a time schedule I am excellent at following maps. To get lost or find a new way is not on the agenda I simply don’t have time for that.

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Inside the cycling store

On holidays I go into another time zone and I tend to just play around and find my own way. This proved to be very good for my health because daily I would add another 7 or 12 kilometres to my ride because I simply missed a turn or was having so much fun zooming downhill that I would just not be thinking of where I was meant to be going.

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The Rhythm Cycle – Cycling map

I love to get lost and found again – interesting experiences occur when you allow yourself to “not know” what you are doing or where you are going.

The first day I cycled around the base of a mountain called Mt Yotei. I didn’t read all about how far it was or anything like that I simply saw there was a cycle around the base and thought that it would be pretty thing to do on such a lovely sunny day.

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Mt Yotei

It was is a 59.4 kilometre cycle around the base of this mountain, by the time I limped back up to Hirafu my quadriceps were complaining. This cycle can be a tourist cycle with lots of stops as there are shrines, a organic tofu making place, a National Park and all sorts of restaurants along the way.

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I went back another day, here the local collect fresh mountain drinking water, they back their cars and vans up and fill containers full.
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Fresh mountain water directly from the “gods of the mountain”.
It was freezing cold and delicious.

I simply got on the bike and did it I stopped for the odd photograph and once again when I got a puncture. Murray an Aussie  from Rhythm cycles came out and fixed the puncture for me. Mobile phones are just so useful on a trip like this and a hire bike that gets fixed by using a phone is just the thing.

Japan has smooooooth wide roads. The drivers are respectful and calm  they leave lots of room so I didn’t feel any danger, I actually got a surprise at the difference between cycling in Japan compared to Australia. I didn’t realise how much stress I felt in Australia where I am constantly feeling as though drivers are too close and much too fast. I only realised it when I didn’t feel the stress here!

The sides of the roads often have a lane that is wide and smooth, however you have to keep your wits about you if you use it because it often peters out or there are huge drains.

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The drains often mess up the side of the road “cycle way”

They are not a cycle lanes but often you can use them like that in places. To top off the amazing cycling Hokkaido is not very populated so there is hardly any traffic.

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Smooth wide roads

The second day I cycled what they call the Goshiki Loop. Again I didn’t really take much notice of the map and of course I got lost and did an extra 12 kilometres. The Goshiki Loop is meant to be a 43.3 kilometre loop around another mountain called Annuputi.

What I didn’t realise was that the ride was up for 16 kilometres you get to the top and then the rest of the ride is down. 16 kilometres up and 16 kilometres down with a few kms getting to the up bit and after the down bit.

I started this ride in a wonderful blissful state as I don’t know what I was in for.

Then the road went up and up and up. At one stage it sort of levelled off a bit and it looked like the road was going down. So, I changed in to my big gear thing on the front and decided to coast. Now that caused me to come to a complete stop and I just about started to roll backwards! Back into the little front geary thing and keep peddling hard! It had been so steep that a gentle rise looked like going down, an illusion.

At first I thought “just around this corner it will go down”, and then “just around this next corner it will go down”…however after a long time of that I simply peddled and stayed in the moment listening to the trees,birds and insects looking at the view and enjoying the slow burn of muscles.

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At one stage I had to ride thought a tunnel.

As I was cycling up other cyclists were coming down and talk about respect! Each person who passed nodded at me as they went by. Even the Westerners. Mind you there were not many cyclists doing this silly mountain. Finally I reached the top and then had this terrifying feeling that going down was going to be as difficult as coming up. I am not a star at going fast down hill.

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On top of the Goshiki ride.

I spent the whole time cruising down being very careful to keep my speed in check and finally made it to the flat bits of the land and then I was completely lost.

Anyway, finally after some faffing around I found my way home.

When I got back to Rhythm Cycles they told me that the other direction was the best way to go for various biking reasons that I failed to listen to.

Therefore, I did the whole thing another day the other way around. Guess what? I got lost again. I simply don’t switch my serious “business woman” brain on during holidays.

I think that Japan must be one of the worlds best places to come to cycle. Give it a go and if you ever get up this way Hirafu has the best food and accommodation as well.

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Garbage in Japan – an art and a science.

I was in Japan visiting my Aussie friends Jane and Tony. One morning I found Jane sitting with her cup of tea catatonic with “post-traumatic rubbish disorder”

I will explain.

Last Thursday morning Jane thought that it was “bottle day” for the rubbish collection. In the searing heat and high humidity she took four bags full of bottles and cans and clanked her way up hills and down stairs only to find that the wire cages that were meant to take them were all collapsed. She wandered the streets looking for other cages that were yet to be emptied… no luck so she clanked her way back home feeling frustrated and very hot.

Much later I went for a walk and found many cages with “bottle and can” rubbish neatly stacked in them. I then assumed that these cages were still “open for the business of collecting rubbish” so, helpfully — in the searing heat and humidity — I too clank down to the collection point with their rubbish and disposed of it.

 Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 8.07.32 PMThe collapsible rubbish collection points.

The next day we go past the collection point and our rubbish has not been collected. Jane decides to take it back to the house rather than “break the rules”. We take it out and take it back home, Jane is concerned about the “rubbish police” and rightly so!

Some of their expat friends had trouble learning the system. Every time they took the rubbish to the collection point the locals would yell at them for doing it wrong. In the end the woman of the house simply refused to take the rubbish out, so her partner was the one who had to suffer the abuse. Eventually, they had a visit from the “rubbish police” and we are waiting for the next exciting episode on that recalcitrant household.

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Easy peasy it is all carefully explained for you on the top!

Today Jane has frantically and neatly packed their “cardboard” rubbish. Cardboard rubbish is totally different rubbish to the “bottles and cans” variety and it has a different day. At the final minute Tony has taken it down to the rubbish place.

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Jane’s cardboard origami rubbish

Neat as, the cartons washed, dried, cut up neatly, stacked and then tied together as the diagrams in the rubbish manual show you how to prepare your rubbish.

They have to get there before 8 am when it is picked up. They have missed the “cardboard rubbish” for about two months.

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More origami

They arrived back elated with the news that “bottle day” has changed and it is now today! They have also missed “bottle and can” day for a while so this is a very happy event.

 Let’s hope they make it back with their bottles before the cages collapse and they have to wait another fortnight!

So, again they rush outside with all the bottles and cans they have used for the last month.

How lucky! They get there in time and even luckier because at the collection point a Japanese neighbour gave Tony a huge Golfing book.

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You can give and receive rubbish – all in a day of rubbish news.

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Some of these books were collectable

Apparently on cardboard day you also bring out old books and magazines.

One day recently Tony staggered home with a pile of Japanese motorcycle magazines about half a meter high from the “cardboard” day. Much to Jane’s chagrin!

The Actual System explained

Japan has recycling at its’ best it is exciting stuff and the source of much conversation and stress here for a new arrival.

They take recycling very seriously and this is a great thing, however, it is extremely difficult to learn because it is a detailed and exacting science, with very little room for error.

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The cages are meant to stop the crows from getting at the burnable rubbish.

There are eleven different rubbish types and each has a different day to dispose and a different method for handling it before it is disposed.

In order to learn the system you are given a fifteen page A4 booklet in both Japanese and English. Plus you can look up a website called MIctionary.

Here are the different grades of rubbish.

  1. Burnable garbage – this is kitchen scraps, cooking oil, nappies, garden waste (neatly tied and bundles no longer than 50 cm) – plastic items that don’t have a special logo on it. Yes, they burn kitchen scraps and some plastic.
  2. Plastic containers and packaging – this is all plastics that have a special logo on it. This is not “cans, bottles and PET bottles” these are at point 6 of this list.
  3. Dry Cell Batteries
  4. Spray cans
  5. Non-burnable garbage. This must be wrapped and labeled for example fluorescent lights or glass
  6. Cans, bottles and PET bottles
  7. Small metal items such as bottle tops, aluminium foil and perhaps saucepans?

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    Small metal items?
  8. Paper
  9. Used cloth and clothing
  10. Oversized garbage
  11. Dead pets – yep! You read it — dead pets.

You must dispose of the correct type of garbage on the correct collection day before 8 am. I am yet to discover what you do with your dead pet before the collection day — the freezer perhaps?

No leaving it overnight! Get up early and put it in the mesh container before eight.

That means lots of mornings a week taking a different type of garbage to the collection point on the correct day.

If you ever live in Japan you will need this blog!