Kamikochi, Kyoto, Hiroshima

I’m already almost on the ferry from Osaka down to Kyushu. But before, I planned to cycle across the Japanese Alps. That didn’t work out as though.

Matsumoto – Kamikochi – Matsumoto
As written in the last blog entry, I’ve heard from other cyclists, that the tunnel to Kamikochi isn’t that fun. So I was a bit nervous about what would come. After leaving Matsumoto, I first drove across the valley. It was pretty easy except the traffic lights, which slowed me down a lot. After I made it to the outskirts, the valley towards Kamikochi started and with it the tunnels. Some of them were pretty long, steep and especially the air was really bad. My lung started to protest even if I don’t have asthma luckily. After some time, I finally reached the cross road towards Kamikochi and with it also this famous tunnel. I was wondering how much worse it could be compared with the ones I already passed. The good thing was that only busses, taxis, cars, trucks with special permissions and cyclists are allowed to use this tunnel. So there is much less traffic. The bad thing is, that it is very steep (continuously 11% and more) and also pretty long (almost 1.5km). I took some short breaks on the way and reached the other end after around 20 minutes. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The ones before were worse… The road continued uphill for some time before reaching the bus terminal in the Kamikochi valley.
Before I started to cycle through the tunnel, one of the guards gave me a little map where was written, that I’m not allowed to cycle further than the bus terminal. The problem was, that the closest campground was still a bit further and I didn’t really want to carry all my luggage there. Therefore, I started to push my bicycle towards the campground and was waiting that somebody would stop me. First nothing happened. People looked at me a bit strangely but that was normal anyway. Shortly before I reached the campground, an older men stopped in front of my and showed me with crossed arms, that I couldn’t continue here. I tried to explain to him, that I only have to bring my luggage to the campground and even used the Japanese word tento for this. It anyway sounds almost like English but he didn’t move. He showed me, that I have to go back with him. So we walked back to the bus terminal and there, he organized a younger woman which spoke some English. She told me, that I’m not allowed to cycle here. I told her that I only have to bring my stuff to the campground. After some time, she allowed me to go to the campground but I would have to push my bike (what I already did before). So I tried it again and didn’t get stopped this time. I put up my tent, cooked dinner and went to bed. It was already pitch dark at 6pm…
The valley would be great for hiking but I didn’t really have time because I wanted to meet a friend in Kyoto in a few days. I left the valley already the next morning therefor and cycled down the tunnel. It took me only 2 minutes this time… The road started to climb again afterwards till the entrance of the Abo tunnel. I was hopeing to cross this tunnel but there was a blue car sign which normally can be found here on toll ways which are not allowed for cyclists. There was not really a sign showing that cyclists are prohibited and I therefor checked the Internet for more information. Unfortunately, I found several websites which said that the Abo tunnel was a no-go for cyclists. I therefor continued towards Abo pass.
I already did around 10 of the 16 curves up the mountain when I got stopped by a car. The driver told me, that the Abo pass just got closed today; also for cyclists. I couldn’t really believe it and continued. Unfortunately, just a few turns further, the street was blocked. I couldn’t really read the sign but it was clear that I couldn’t continue. Now I was stuck. What should I do? The pass was closed and the tunnel was prohibited. In South America, I just would have continued or even would have crossed the tunnel (it wouldn’t have been fun for sure). But here in Japan, I didn’t feel like breaking the rules that heavily. I wasn’t in the mood to be taken out of the 5+km long tunnel by the police… Frustrated, I drove back towards Matsumoto. I had no idea what I should do now. In the evening, I reached the same hotel again where I stayed two days ago. That wasn’t the idea but that’s how fast plans get changed. I still wanted to go to Kyoto and started to search for another path. And I found one through the Kiso valley a bit more south. This one should be nice too…

Matsumoto – Kyoto

After a Japanese breakfast, I started cycling again. It would be a very long day and I wouldn’t take a lot of breaks. My goal was to get as far as possible so that there was still a chance to be in Kyoto on time. I didn’t see that much from the touristic stuff in the valley because it wasn’t really in the main valley and I didn’t have the time to go further out. It got already dark when I finally reached the campground a bit in the country side after more than 115kms. The last few kilometers, I just cycled in the dark and was only using my smartphone gps to navigate… The campground was a bit expensive (first 4’700 Yen, reduced to 2’100 after complaining) but it was my only option and I had the whole campground for myself. Not that I really needed that as a solo traveler…
I continued the next day towards Kyoto. The road was kind of boring and I wanted to get as far as possible again. But I didn’t want to end up in the darkness. I found a campground in the city of Inuyama just around sunset. There were a lot of other campers around and one guy told me, that the campground is free. I put up my tent, ate something and went to bed. It rained during the night and I had to dry my tent in the morning first. I was just doing that, when an older men passed by. He talked to me in Japanese but I didn’t understand a word. After some time, I got that I had to get to his place to register. I did that. Afterwards, he kept talking in Japanese and again after some time, I understood that I also would have to pay 500 Yen. What I did as well. After that, I could leave. During the whole time there were several other Japanese (and some of them were young) standing around us but nobody would have translated something… Somehow it worked out. Lost in Translation…
Shortly before I reached this campground the day before, a spoke broke at my rear wheel. Because that never happened to me before (believe it or not), I wasn’t sure if I have to fix that immediately or if I can keep cycling. After some remote consultancy, I decided to keep going and to repair it in Kyoto. Other than that, the day was kind a boring because I cycled through a pretty inhabited area. However, I couldn’t move as fast as I thought because of all the traffic lights on the way. I figured out during the day, that I wouldn’t make it till my target campground south at Biwa Lake. I booked a cheaper business hotel therefor. And this gave me also the possibility to really enjoy the sunset at Biwa Lake (and I actually thought I’m at the sea…). When I reached the hotel and unloaded all the luggage, I recognized that my rear wheel wasn’t well at all. Because of the broken spoke, it moved sidewise and didn’t turn properly anymore. No wonder it was a bit exhausting that day… So nothing with a calm evening. I had to repair that spoke and  center the wheel again. I wasn’t sure if  I would have the right tools and spare material to do that. A broken spoke is one of the worst things, because you have to take the whole wheel apart. Luckily it work out fine and I could repair it in my hotel room… And I cycled with it to Kyoto the next day.

Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka
My goal was to be in Kyoto on the 8th of October and I made it precisely. I had an appointment for the next day. And it was great to be around other people again for at least a day. We visited several temples and enjoyed real Japanese food. Thank you Roger, Akiko and family!
My original plan was to cycle from Kyoto further to Hiroshima. However, I don’t really have enough time to do that and cycle across Kyushu (the most south island of the bigger Japanese Islands) as well. I therefor decided to visit Hiroshima by Shinkansen (Bullet train) and then take the ferry from Osaka down to Shibushy in the south of Kyushu. And this was anyway a good excuse to travel by Shinkansen :-).
I took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima the next day and continued straight away to the island of Miyajima. One of the must sees there is the floating torij (arch), which is standing in the sea. The tide was already receding when I arrived but it was still somehow floating. Good enough for me and like a Japanese tourist in Europe, I continued immediately to Hiroshima. There I visited the Peace Memorial Museum, the surrounding Peace Memorial Park and the Atomic Bomb Dome (a heavily damaged building from that time). It was staggering to read and see what huge destruction the bomb on the 6th of August 1945 created in the city and also why the bomb was finally used on Hiroshima (also for justifying its development costs and to test it in a city…). Till the end of 1945 more than 145’000 people died because of this attack. Or how it was written in the museum: Never before had mass murder been done that quickly. Unfortunately the world couldn’t get rid off this evil weapon till today.
I returned to Kyoto the next day by Shinkansen. And from there I will continue by bicycle to Osaka and further by ferry to Kyushu. And there should be another highlight of this trip: The very active volcano Sakurajima. I’m looking forward to it an hope it stays as active as it has been the last few weeks :-).

All the best from Kyoto,


PS: Pictures can be found in the Gallery as usual.

About Stefan

I'm a telecommunication engineer by profession and like to discover the world by bike. I think, that it is the perfect speed to move but still be in touch with the world and the people which live there. And I'm very happy, that my wife Susanna is joining me now on those adventures. If you are interested in other journeys we did so far, please also check my website www.biketravel.net. Stefan, Switzerland

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