Sakura – Cherry Blossom Festival (Narita to Hirake)1st – 19th April

JAPAN

Sunday 1st April (Easter Sunday)

Narita International Airport to Matsuko

Distance: 9.61km

Total Distance: 20681.57

Despite a landing time of midday the cabin crew intent on torturing their economy passengers put the cabin lights on around 5am and start offering a drink of juice and then serve breakfast. 

 I noticed the business section was still kept in darkness. We land and at immigration we’re given a fingerprint scan and are issued a 3 month tourist visa – no charge.

At the luggage carousel we’re watching for our bags and wondering how to find our trikes when Daz suddenly notices them behind us.  We were so busy with our bags we didn’t even see how they got there. But most importantly they look absolutely fine although we need to do a more thorough check.

We wheel our trikes and bags out through customs and outside the airport we park up to sort everything out. Our bags need some repacking and mirrors, lights, head-rest, equipment mounts and Daz’s dynamo battery all need reattaching.  All is fine – only one casualty – our shower gel has exploded everywhere. We withdraw some cash £1: 150yen. And we purchase a SIM card and a couple of Japanese USB plugs. We cycle forth from the airport, so far all we’ve attracted are a few curious glances and tentative hellos, not the huge staring crowds of India.

Our plan is to cycle to Kairakuen, one of the top 3 gardens of Japan, then Fukushima, Sendai and Hirosaki Castle for the spring blossom and then on to Hokkaido.  A few kilometers from the airport and we spot a 7/11 – OMG how American.

These convenience stores sell a decent selection of groceries, hot snacks, alcohol, coffee and even have toilets, photo printers, photocopiers, ATMs and WIFI. There’s even a seating area where we consider our snacks – what are they and drink our coffee.  And somewhere to get water!

Another couple of kilometers and we admit defeat and put up our tent in, what looks like, a gravelled carpark with a porta-loo. It’s a bit noisy because of the overhead planes – we’re still very close to the airport (we’ve only cycled 5km), and it’s only 3pm.  

Within minutes we’re both asleep. Of course we’ve missed 3 nights of decent sleep. After a couple of hours suddenly we’re both awake. It’s very, very windy so it was probably the tent flapping. Daz is planning a quick trip back to the last convenience store we passed but notices that there’s an airport security van opposite and a police car has just joined it. And as we feared within minutes we have some visitors, 3 airport security and 3 police. Conversation is difficult but they’re really not happy with our proximity to the airport.

There are numerous radio conversations with higher command but eventually they ask us to move on.  They’re all very apologetic and seem a bit despondent as we pack up. It’s taken nearly an hour for this decision to be reached and now it’s dark. We cycle off. It’s only 7pm, it’s dark, it’s quite chilly and we hardly see any people. We stop at another 7/11 for dinner – home made cheese, ham and crisp sandwich washed down with coffee.

A couple of kilometers later we see a bit of waste ground with another porta loo. That’ll do nicely.

 

Monday 2nd April

Matsuko to Karori

Distance: 19.19km

Total Distance: 20700.76 km

It’s 10.45am.  We’ve been asleep for hours and slept like the dead.  From 8pm last night until 9.45am with just one wee break at 6am.  And I’m not getting up until I’m hungry. The only problem is we don’t have any cooker fuel, nor do we know where we can buy it in Japan, or if today is a bank holiday.

I was wrong.  Apparently I’m not getting up until Daz is hungry which comes around all too soon –  around midday but with the agreement to go just far enough to find food and a drugstore.  It’s not a bank holiday here so when we reach the town of Kozaki we find a restaurant, a supermarket,  a drugstore and a 7/11 and they’re all open. We eat in the restaurant and pick our food based on the menu pictures – one noodle dish and one portion of fried dumplings.

 Then a spot of shopping including the cooking fuel. We’re equipped now for brews and porridge (something that’ll be essential to keep the costs down here).

We keep remarking on how different it is here from India. There’s no rubbish along the gorgeous smooth roads, no packs of dogs, there’s plenty of clean water there’s an abundance of decent shops and it’s so much cooler so we’re not dripping in sweat constantly.  But it’s much more expensive, our restaurant meal cost £7.67, 1 litre of cooking alcohol £8.64, 2 coffees from the 7/11 £2; we will need to cook our breakfasts and dinners here.

Already we’re seeing blossom everywhere and there are daffodils in flower. Gardens are well cared for with beautiful topiary.

After our shopping frenzy it’s just a question of finding a camping spot which turns out to be a park near the river.

 

Tuesday 3rd April

Karori to Godai

Distance: 70.07 km

Total Distance: 20771.59 km

Another good sleep last night so we’re probably slipping into sleep credit and we certainly feel better for it and with the cooler temperatures we’re getting a decent night’s sleep.  This morning we’re awake early, it’s only 5.45am and there’s commuter traffic already. After about 20 minutes we decide we might as well get up and make an early start.

By 8am we’re on the road and Daz finds us a beautiful, quiet, cycletrack beside Lake Kasumigaura.  

 

We’re on it for about 25km and enjoy watching for birds and saying Hi, (konnichiwa in Japanese) to the occasional fisherman. After the lake there’s more backroads and great views of houses and their beautiful gardens.  Then it’s through our largest town yet, Mito. I, for one, am very happy that I can cycle through a town and recognise restaurants,  supermarkets, launderettes, pharmacies, burger joints etc. I feel as if I’ve returned to civilisation! After town we see Kairakuen park. The name ‘Kairakuen’ comes from a saying in the Book of Mensius which states, “The ancients would share the pleasures with people so their pleasures would be hearty and deep.”  

And our pleasure is hearty and deep. Sadly we’ve missed the plum blossom but the park is still awash with other blooms and there’s a cedar forest, a bamboo forest, a shrine, a spring and a lake. The cherry blossom is gorgeous. This is one of the top 3 gardens in Japan.

We cycle around the outer area but in the inner ‘garden’ cycles are prohibited.   Daz wanted to camp in the park but I thought it was too public so instead we pushed on into the rural areas and found a camping spot on the edge of a field.

Unfortunately it’s not long before the police find us and ask us to move to a nearby park. It’s the packing up and then setting up again in the dark that’s so time-consuming.

That’s twice we’ve been moved in 3 nights – not a good record but at least the police are very sweet and rather apologetic each time!

 

Wednesday 4th April

Godai to Konakacho

Distance: 40.20 km

Total Distance: 20813.79 km

This morning we spot a huge supermarket, Maruto, and apparently the bigger the shop, the lower the prices so we pop in.  Peanut butter, jam, bread, coffee, milk powder and porridge. And at the till the cashier won’t touch our money, there’s an automated paying machine.  Today we continue north and we can see hills in the distance. So far it’s been incredibly flat with plenty of arable land, polythene tunnels and fields of solar panels.

 Now as we cycle into the hills there’s acres of forestry and the contrast of the cherry blossom against the coniferous woods is beautiful. For lunch it’s a picnic outside a 7/11.  Why are we picnicing outside a 7/11? 3 reasons – we thought we could tap into their WiFi, we can make our tea using their boiling water dispensers and lastly we can use the toilets and Daz has just discovered not only is the toilet seat heated but there’s a jet of water (warm I hasten to add) that’ll spray your nether regions.  I’m surprised he’s not in there for longer testing all the buttons. I’d seen all the buttons but was too worried they were some form of panic alarm and hitting one would result in someone bashing down the door to save me!

After our lunch we continue on our way but take a detour to check out an onsen – a Japanese bath.  I’m really tempted and they even agree that Daz can go (Daz has numerous tattoos and as a result may well be banned from most Onsens) but it’s 500yen each and it’s segregated so we’ll be bored in no time and I’m on a strict spending (well no spending) regime!  We see a picnic / parking / rest area and that’s our spot for the night. Hopefully we won’t be moved on.

 

An older Japanese woman walks through the garden with her grand daughter.  We say hello and Daz asks for if there is water nearby (water – mizu). She takes him under her wing, takes him back to her house. When they return he is loaded down with water and food, cooked rice and greens, cakes, sweets and chocolate!  Wow! Thank you kind Japanese lady!! And we get a lovely photo of them.

 

Thursday 5th April

Konakacho to Kagamiishi

Distance: 63.44 km

Total Distance: 20877.23 km

There’s a real temperature drop today and we even had rain last night.  But despite the chill (only 9 deg C), the head wind and the hills, it’s still a lovely day.  So much to look at and enjoy, it’s so different from anything we’ve cycled.

And after the noise, smells,  fumes and rubbish in India we can’t get over how relaxing it is here. We haven’t heard a single car horn in 5 days and at red traffic lights even engines turn off.  If we’re causing a bit of a bottleneck we just skip onto the pavement so the lorries can pass safely. And there’s always a pavement or a cycle path, even in the 2 tunnels we’ve used.  It’s just stress-free, peaceful cycling – such a delight.

And towards the end of the day we even see snow capped mountains in the distance. Finding a camping spot was a wee bit harder but finally we snurgled into a timber yard.  We’re hoping no one notices us hiding behind some timber transporters.

 

Friday 6th April

Kagamiishi to Fukushima

Distance: 63.42 km

Total Distance: 20940.65 km

Today was pretty unremarkable, probably down to a bad route choice sticking to the Route 4,  which bisected endless urban areas but at least we didn’t have any trouble finding a 7/11 for our picnic lunch.

 The end of the day was the highlight, Hanamiyama Park on the outskirts of Fukushima.  The park and the surrounding area was a tapestry of colourful blossom, beautiful streams and countryside landscapes that have been crafted by the local farming community in the Watari area.  There’s a parking area at the bottom and then a walk up the hillside through the blossom to look down over the area. It is the most amazing sight, we’ve never seen so much blossom in one place.

The only negative is that the rain clouds closed in and we couldn’t see the snow capped mountains in the distance.   As we walk back to our trikes the rain starts to fall. We take shelter in the corner of the tourist welcoming area, under some sort of shelter. We prepare our snack and start cooking dinner, we’re hoping we can camp here. Rain is forecast tonight but tomorrow should be dry.

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Fortunately all the staff leave around 7pm and don’t seem bothered by our presence and once they’ve gone home and darkness starts to fall we put up our tent.  We have a lovely undisturbed night but there’s quite a lot of rain so it’s great we’re under cover.

 

Saturday 7th April

Fukushima to Funaoka

Distance: 59.86 km

Total Distance: 21000.51 km

We’re awake at 0630hrs and we don’t hang around.  By the time the staff arrive at 7am everything is packed away and we’re innocently eating our porridge.   

The skies are a bit clearer this morning so we take a walk up the hillside again so we can see the snow capped mountains in the distance.   Again it’s an unremarkable ride but we stop at Shiroishi Castle but we don’t have enough time to actually go inside.

We push on to the highlight of the day Hitome Senbon Zakura.   Senbonzakura literally means “a thousand cherry trees” and along the Shiroishi Riverside there are over 1,000 cherry trees along its banks stretching for almost 8 kilometers.

Against the backdrop of the snow-capped Zaosan, the cherry trees come into full bloom in early April, forming a beautiful painting of bright, pastel colors.  We’ve already been cycling along the river for about 10km waiting for this vision to appear but worryingly there aren’t any cherry trees but instead a fierce and extremely cold wind, almost gale force, blowing down the river. Fortunately it is at our backs. Then when we reach Ogawara and there’s traffic police and visitors everywhere and we spot stalls set up along the river – food and beer stands to celebrate the blossom.

The sakura flower, or Japanese cherry blossom, is considered Japan’s unofficial national flower and has been admired by people all across the globe for it undeniable beauty. They are so popular among tourists that thousands travel to Japan every year during the spring season to get a glimpse of the spectacle of the trees blooming with these pink or white flowers. It’s during this time that many Japanese gather with their family and friends to enjoy hanami, the tradition of admiring the beauty of the cherry blossoms, usually by making picnics under the blooming trees.

After admiring the views of blossoming trees stretching along the river bank from an elevated walkway we head off and finally find a camping spot on some waste ground between 2 railway tracks – quiet night – NOT!

 

Sunday 8th April

Funaoka to Sendai

Distance: 35.79 km

Total Distance: 21036.3 km

 

Today we have a lie in because it keeps raining and I refuse to get up.  Then we cycle into Sendai which isn’t much fun because it’s very windy and bloody cold but eventually we arrive at Sendai (Aoba)  castle after a great lunch stop at a fab bakery.   It’s supposed to be a place to view cherry trees but there aren’t any of note but there are great views over the city.

Aoba Castle was built in 1602 by Date Masamune, the legendary “One Eyed Dragon” whose equestrian statue in the castle grounds is an iconic symbol of the city.   Date was a powerful ally of Ieyasu Tokugawa and it is Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun, who is thought to have renamed Mt. Aoba as Sendai. The castle is located on a 100m-high wooded plateau that offers great views of Sendai city below. The virgin fir forest on the western slope was protected from felling during the Edo era and now forms part of the Tohoku University Botanical Garden.  

Up at the Castle there’s a cycling club and we have a photo session before heading downhill, through town to Tsutsujigaoka Park.  The park is full of blossom, more food stalls, people sitting and enjoying the spectacle. We stop and watch a large group of kids skipping – at the last count there were 12 kids skipping on one rope – pretty impressive.  We’re near our warmshower host Ryouta, and we’re expecting him to finish work at 5pm so we grab a coffee at a convenience store and try and warm up.

Then he says he’s not finishing until 8pm so we head to a bar near his house but it’s super weird – like someone’s front room, a very crowded front room at that, with a mad ‘bag lady’ serving alcohol.   Funnily enough we’re the only patrons.

We share one very expensive beer and escape to a nearby supermarket cafe. At 8pm Ryouta comes to pick us up and takes us to his apartment. Wow it’s definitely bijou, just one long room with sliding doors to separate the hall, kitchen and lounge / bedroom. 

And there’s even carpet on the toilet seat.  At last a hot shower – what a pleasure. We chat to Ryouta about our plans and seek his advice – he says Okinawa is an absolute must but more immediate he suggests cycling the north east coast.  

 

Monday 9th April

Sendai

Ryouta heads off to work at 0830hrs and we head to the Immigration Office.  We want to extend our 3 month visa to 6 months. We fill in the forms and then we need to visit the Post Office to buy Revenue stamps – 4000 yen each (£27) and then we return to the Immigration Office and the stamps go on our application.   Ten minutes later we’re called forward. They’ve realised we’ve only been in Japan one week of our 3 month visa. We’re not allowed to extend until we’ve been in Japan over 1.5 months. But we can keep the forms with stamps and reapply later on.  We decide to head into town and check out a Japanese Mall. We visit a Noodle Restaurant.

Outside there are pictures of various dishes and its name (in Japanese). Once we’ve chosen our dish we must buy a meal ticket for the appropriate dish from the wall mounted machine outside.  Inside we’re asked what type of noodle we want, fat or thin. Then we’re served our meal. Actually the staff saw us and a lady came and helped us buy our tickets etc. We don’t understand what’s being said but we manage to get a lovely, cheap meal. The Japanese are really, really helpful and also very generous.   Already in one week we’ve been given food for dinner, a load of drinks on the Highway and yesterday a soup dish in a bakery. I decide I must visit Zara and try on some jeans. OMG a Zara size 10 – don’t think I’ve been this size since I was 9!

We get our laundry done and then meet Ryouta after work at a nearby supermarket.   He’s got 2 French travellers with him, Tiffany and Tibo. It’s going to be really cosy tonight. Ryouta cooks us all dinner and we chat about our travels. The French, brother and sister, are in Japan for 3 weeks and their plans to hike have been kiboshed because it’s so cold.

They planned to camp but they think they’d probably die of hypothermia.   At bed time there’s 5 of us in a row, tucked into our sleeping bags – aren’t I too old for this?

 

Tuesday 10th April

Sendai to Nobiru

Distance: 40.69 km

Total Distance: 21076.99 km

Daz and I see Ryouta off to work, so we can take some photos of us all and the trikes.  Then after another coffee we hit the road.

We visit Matsushima, a pretty bay on the Pacific Coast.  For hundreds of years, Matsushima Bay has been celebrated as one of Japan’s three most scenic views alongside Miyajima and Amanohashidate.

 

Sadly this coastline was decimated on 11th March 2011 by an earthquake.   The magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck at 2:46 PM. The epicentre was located some 80 miles (130 km) east of the city of Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, and the focus occurred at a depth of 18.6 miles (about 30 km) below the floor of the western Pacific Ocean.

The earthquake was caused by the rupture of a stretch of the subduction zone associated with the Japan Trench, which separates the Eurasian Plate from the subducting Pacific Plate. The earthquake under the sea caused the huge tsunamis that hit the coast.  The first Tsunami was travelling at over 100kmph, but the waves continued throughout the night. Many, many lives were lost in this disaster – in the region of 20,000, Japan’s worst natural disaster. There’s still evidence of the damage caused and a huge amount of construction is underway to repair the damage but also to ensure there are sufficient sea defences. We visit the Disaster Recovery Memorial Museum and watch some footage from the disaster and several very moving interviews of those involved.

Wednesday 11th April

Nobiru to Misato

Distance: 46.82 km

Total Distance: 21123.81 km

This morning’s breakfast is accompanied by a practice display from Blue Impulse, a local air display team from Yamoto, like our Red Arrows.

 Today we decide to backtrack a little to see Miyoto Island and the incredible views from the top of Otakamori Hill. We have views back over Matsushima Bay and the 260 islands that litter this part of the coastline.  

We had hoped to see Sagakei Gorge by foot but our walk along the cliff edge didn’t give us the views we wanted but we did see a beautiful beach, Otomegahama, at the end of the peninsula. Then we considered taking the boat trip to see it but the boat tour wasn’t running today.  Once we’d explored the peninsula we returned to Nobiru Beach. There’s a continuous stream of trucks delivering soil for the new sea defences and yet despite the construction work the roads are still pristine because the trucks, before returning to the Highway, use a wheel cleaning roller rig.  And where work is ongoing and trucks need to turn onto the Highway there’s a traffic controller with a red flag and a green flag to direct the trucks. This probably sounds inconsequential but we’re talking numerous construction sites – we’ve probably seen 20 traffic controllers in 2 days.

After our sightseeing diversion we cycle up the River Naruse for about 20km before finding a camping spot for the night.

Thursday 12th April

Misato to Genbikei Gorge

Distance: 57.72 km

Total Distance: 21181.53 km

Today we start the day with beautifully clear blue skies and for the first time we get fantastic views of snow capped mountains – the Zao Mountain Range.   We also see the incredible bullet train. Hopefully we’ll take at least one journey in one or at least get up close and personal.

We head north with a short detour to visit Genbikei Gorge.   It’s quite pretty and the water is really blue but we really came for the flying dumplings.  At a special picnic table you place your money in a basket and wallop the board with a mallet.   

The basket is pulled over the gorge and sent back with green tea, dumplings and for us they attach Union flags  and play our national anthem. It’s really fun but the dumplings – well they’re like no dumpling I’ve ever had and hopefully I never have again.  They are pretty disgusting – even Daz, the human disposal unit, is unimpressed.

Friday 13th April

Genbikei Gorge to Kitakami

Distance: 44.90 km

Total Distance: 21226.43 km

We’re struggling against the elements.  Most evenings we go to bed with freezing feet and they take hours to thaw.   There’s also the head wind that usually picks up during the day and turns bitterly cold towards late afternoon and this morning are planned early start is delayed by rain.  Our first stop today is Hiraizumi where we visit Motsuji Temple, a World Heritage Site. The temple was founded in 850 by Ennin and its size and splendor rivaled that of Chúson-ji Temple.  We also visit Chúson-ji which was also founded in 850 by Ennin, a high ranking priest of Mount Hiei Enryaku-ji Temple.

Our camping spot tonight is in Tenshochi Park on the Kitakamigawa River.  The cherry blossom festival has started, with stalls and flags flying, but nobody has told the blossom, which hasn’t bloomed yet! In fact the festival has been open since 10th April and will continue until early May and yet the blossom isn’t expected until 18th April, another 5 days.  We can’t believe 100km south in Sendai the blossom is finishing now. Kitakami must have its own special, extra cold, microclimate and we can definitely vouch for the cold.

We cycle into the park and at the far end find a lovely clean toilet block with hand towels and warm water, only in Japan. To hide from the freezing wind we camp around the back of the block.

 

Saturday 14th April

Kitakami to Yahaba

Distance: 50.77 km

Total Distance: 21277.2 km

We cycle along the river for 14 km this morning and initially have crystal clear views of the mountains before the cloud rolls in, the sun is obscured and the chill sets in and its not even 10am.

We stop for some early morning entertainment, the old folk are gathered to play a game similar to crazy golf or normal golf but with a very short fairway but they’re using croquet mallets and balls.  Very unusual but it looks fun. Today we head to Hanamaki Hot springs, one of the top hot spring resorts in northern Tohoku and renowned throughout Japan. They were created in 1923 by drawing hot water from the Dai Hot Springs.

Unfortunately the only onsen we can find are in über posh hotels and very expensive so once again we decide to give it a miss.  However we do find the local waterfall and rose garden. We’re really disappointed by the onsen situation, we would have loved a really, long hot soak. Instead we continue towards Morioka and find a free camping site marked near our route. It’s actually incredibly well equipped for a free camp site, there are toilets, a shelter with picnic tables and benches and another shed with wash basins and barbecue pits but sadly no hot showers.  There are already 2 tents set up – both are absolutely massive. We’re curious to see what the inhabitants get up to.

We get to discover first hand what’s going on in the nearest tent – it’s party central and we’re invited! There’s heaters everywhere so it’s really warm and there’s 2 small gas barbecues inset into tables and the food just keeps coming along with beer and sake. There’s liver pate with soy sauce, Japanese sausage on the bone and shitake left right and centre!  Our hosts, one lady and 3 men don’t speak much English, hardly any infact but we have a great time playing music and using Google translate to converse. They are really fun company and by the time we wobble over to our much smaller tent we are good friends. It rains all evening and into the night so we’re glad we got to enjoy some real warmth and comfort before retiring to our little ice box.

 

Monday 16th April

Yahaba to Mishine Service Station

Distance: 36.49 km

Total Distance: 21313.69 km

Yesterday was cancelled due to rain. We just hid in our tent all day.  Our friends from the night before leave about lunchtime and then it’s just us on our own in the damp dismal campsite.  Today we cycle the short distance into Morioka and visit the castle. Again we’re ahead of the cherry blossom, but only just.  

We need to slow down so that we can enjoy the blossom in Hirosaki, which is supposed to be very special. Then we visit the Ishiwari Zakura, The Rock Splitting Cherry tree, designated as a national natural monument this magnificent tree grows out of a granite boulder in front of the Morioka District Court.

We also find 2 geocaches, probably our first in over a year. As we cycle north out of the city we have stunning views of Mount Iwate on our left, its flanks covered in snow.  It stands alone at 2038 metres and dominates our view for the rest of the day.

It’s actually a stratovolcano, which last erupted in 1919. By the time we pull into a roadside rest area we are only 9 kilometers from the solitary peak. As the sun goes down the last bit of cloud clears from its peak and gives us a great view. Amazing!

 

Tuesday 17th April

Mishine Service Station to Kaniwashibashi Onsen

Distance: 25.22 km

Total Distance: 21338.91 km

This morning we wake to an icy tent.  Gee it obviously dropped below freezing but we’re happy no-one moved us on.  

These boxy Postman Pat cars are incredibly popular in Japan

We have a stunning day today with clear blue skies, sun shining so we’re too warm in our thermals,  that’s the first time we’ve said that in over a week. We cycle over Appi Pass and we can see ski runs over to our left but whether the resort is still open is questionable.   

Down from the pass and its a detour to an onsen. We’re definitely going today – we’re both in desperate need of a good wash. We’ve swatted up on the onsen etiquette so hopefully they’ll be no faux pas.  Japan has been volcanically active since ancient times and it appears that people have been using hot springs made possible by this activity for just as long. The earliest mention of hot springs appear in the latter half of the 7th century. The Hot Spring Law defines an onsen as “water, water vapour or other gas (excluding natural gas) that gushes out of the earth with a water temperature of 25 deg C or more.  Apparently there are numerous benefits to using an onsen including health maintenance and fatigue relief. I’m really looking forward to the experience but I hate being the ‘new girl’ and being unable to ask. But basically I undress and walk into the room where there are several pools and a group of women having a good gossip. They completely unnerve me and I feel naked under their stares – oh no, that’s right, I am naked, as are all traditional onsen in Japan.  First stop is to use one of the many washing points around the edge of the room. No-one should enter the onsen until they’re clean. Then it’s time to relax in the hot, very hot, pools. Daz discovered that he had a sauna and a cold plunge pool but I was too on edge under the scrutiny of the gossiping women to investigate. An hour later, squeaky clean, it’s time to leave – plus the heat makes me feel a bit light headed. We spend an hour or so in the relaxation area and then set up camp just round the corner behind a Nissan hut.

 We can see pisteing machines running up and down the ski runs so the resort must be open although it doesn’t look that extensive.

 

Wednesday 18th April

Kaniwashibashi Onsen to Kawakami

Distance: 70.48 km

Total Distance: 21409.39 km

A pretty uneventful day although we did summit Tayama Pass, not particularly high but noteworthy because it is part of a dividing range of mountains.

It is at this point the Kitakami River, the fourth largest river in Japan (249 kilometres long), has its source.  In Mount Nanashiruge in northern Iwate, the river flows south between the Kitakami Mountains and the Ou Mountains. The river is unusual in that it has two mouths, one flowing south into Ishinomaki Bay and the other flowing east into the Pacific Ocean, both in Ishinomaki City.  It’s quite rare in Japan. We also see Yuze Gorge. The day ends in rain so, after many months, my poncho comes out for its Maiden Voyage.

Fortunately it’s only a drizzle and at about 5pm we pull over onto some waste ground and set up tent during a lull. A quick brew and some cheese and crisp sandwiches (we know how to dine!) and that’s us for the day.

 

Thursday 19th April

Kawakami to Hirake

Distance: 33.57 km

Total Distance: 21442.96 km

Only a short distance today but there’s another long climb and we’re overtaken by another cycle tourist – Daniel from Germany.   We stop and chat for ages and then meet further on for coffee. He’s been in Japan for 6 weeks and on the road for a year. He’s come from the Philippines so he’s feeling the cold too.  

 

He’s quite funny because he hasn’t enjoyed SE Asia or the Philippines because he doesn’t like the heat. Eventually we push on and cycle to Hirake where we’re staying with Tama, a couchsurfing host, for 2 nights.  The first thing we notice when we arrive is a ‘Welcome Home, Heulwen and Darren’ sign in the window. How lovely! The accommodation is absolutely fantastic, a lovely break after all our camping.

Tama is also an Airbnb Superhost and we’re expecting many guests over the next few days.  

Friday 20th April

Hirake

Last night we cooked dinner with Tama – an Italian pasta dish from us and some Japanese dishes from Tama.  His were definitely tastier and more delicious than our meagre offerings. This morning he prepares our breakfast.

Then we work in the garden with Tama and his friend Nishi.  Tama wants to sieve all his garden soil but fortunately he’s made a home-made drum filter.

After a few hours work we take the train into Hirosaki to meet Daniel, the German cyclist, and see the blossom.   We’re still a few days early to see the blossom in all its glory so we plan to return in a few days.

Unfortunately Daniel is busy trying to arrange delivery of a replacement bike frame since he developed a large hole in his chainstay.

2 thoughts on “Sakura – Cherry Blossom Festival (Narita to Hirake)1st – 19th April

    • Hi Pierre
      Just sent a message to the other cyclists but they are way down south. Yup April is a bit chilly and made worse because we decided to head north. We had planned to hit Japan for spring blossom but unfortunately our forecasts were off and it came early to Tokyo so by our arrival Tokyo blossom was done so we thought given the updated forecast we had to head north. But it’s been worth it. Japan in blossom is incredible

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