Kate and Brett’s Visit – Part 2 – Hiroshima, Miyajima and Kyoto – 2nd to 10th June

Saturday 2nd June

Takamatsu to Hiroshima

After breakfast in Mr Donut by the railway station we board the train for Hiroshima, via Okayama again. Since Sapporo, Daz and I have been hankering for some more cheese pies, which are absolutely delicious.  When we come out of Hiroshima station we see a queue around the block… it’s only a cheese pie queue. Daz joins the queue, and we go and get coffees and wait and wait some more. It’s a long queue and service is incredibly slow considering they only sell one product.  Finally he reaches the service window. We have 2 each with our coffee – OMG they are so delicious. Then it’s baggage dump time in our respective hotels before more sightseeing!


Obviously the main attraction here is Hiroshima’s Peace Park and the horrendous event of the World’s first atomic bomb used during the 2nd World War.  We walk over to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park the most prominent feature of the city. Even visitors not looking for it will likely stumble upon the large park of over 120,000 square meters. Its trees, lawns, and walking paths are in stark contrast to the surrounding downtown area.

Before the bomb, the area of what is now the Peace Park was the political and commercial heart of the city. For this reason, it was chosen as the pilot’s target. Four years to the day after the bomb was dropped, it was decided that the area would not be redeveloped but instead devoted to peace memorial facilities. The park’s main facility is the Peace Memorial Museum. Consisting of two buildings, the museum surveys the history of Hiroshima and the advent of the nuclear bomb. Its main focus though is on the events of August 6: the dropping of the bomb and its outcome in human suffering. The personal details displayed are harrowing and serve to remind all that we should not take peace for granted.

We spend a long time in the museum, the harrowing stories, details and displays vividly depict the build up and aftermath of the event.  Later, on the edge of the park we visit the A-Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The Dome is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. The building served as a location to promote Hiroshima’s industries. When the bomb exploded, it was one of the few buildings to remain standing, and remains today. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the A-Bomb Dome is a tangible link to Hiroshima’s unique past.

As a bright backdrop to our sightseeing today it’s festival time in Hiroshima. Hiroshima really comes alive over the three nights of Tōkasan, one of the three major festivals in Hiroshima. Tokasan is the summer festival for the god of Toka Daimyojin at Enryuji Temple, Mikawa-cho, Hiroshima City. Since the name Tokasan can be a pun on the “10th day” (toka) in Japanese, it is held annually June 8-10. The festival is also known as the Yukata Festival. Yukata is a kimono of lightweight cotton, like a summer robe. People in Hiroshima are supposed to begin wearing their yukata from this day on. Over 300,000 people will be donning their yukata for the first time this year and will take over Chuo-dori and environs to promenade, play festival games like fish scooping, buy strange inflatable novelties and stuff their faces with unidentifiable food on sticks being sold from one of the hundreds of stalls lining the streets.

As well as parades and summer bon dancing, there is taiko drumming and other performances on stages dotted around the center of town. Our favorite place is Yukata de Bon Dance in Shintenchi Park where people of all ages dance to classic Japanese songs crackling out of the PA.  It’s really an incredible sight so we stand, mouths agape, watching the action. Later we’re even treated to a performance by Japan’s equivalent to Val Doonican.

The streets are packed and it’s a relief to get back to our hotel for the night!


Sunday 3rd June


We have a relaxing morning before heading back for more Takosan festival and sightseeing.

Our first stop is the Museum of Contemporary Modern art and its park.

Later we return to the Peace Memorial Park again, this time to see the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims. The Cenotaph is an arched tomb for those who died because of the bomb, either because of the initial blast or exposure to radiation. Below the arch is a stone chest holding a register of these names, of which there are over 220,000. We also visit the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. An effort by the Japanese government to remember and mourn the atomic bomb victims, to pray for eternal peace, to deepen world public understanding of the horrors of atomic bombs and to convey the A-bomb experience to later generations.

We also take a view of the Peace Park from the Observation Deck of a nearby high rise tower. This beautiful wood decked area gives a commanding view of the A Bomb Dome and surrounding park.

The viewing gallery is absolutely spectacular.  And what’s really fab is the spiral walkway that takes you back to ground level, there’s even a slide beside it for the inner child in us. Of course we have a go! 14 floors of helter skelter!

We even manage to fit in a Samurai show.  We’re not entirely sure how historically accurate it is or even if it bears any resemblance to the real thing but it’s good fun and best of all BK dress up as Samurai warrior and Princess.

Then it’s time for more food and a gaming bar – there’s all sorts of bar games – our favorite being Pong!


Monday 4th June

Hiroshima to Miyajima Island

Before we head to the train station to go to our next stop, we catch a bus to see Hiroshima’s recycling incinerator.  Yes you heard right, we are sightseeing at the Recycling Plant! Admittedly it seems strange to suggest that tourists visit a garbage plant, but this world famous, stunning structure built by a famous Japanese architect is well worth a visit.

This is one of the buildings commissioned by Hiroshima’s government under the 2045: City of Peace & Creativity Project. This project was designed to commission innovative buildings around Hiroshima in an effort to create an “inspirational cityscape”. The project started on the 50th anniversary of the A-bombing of Hiroshima and there are currently 6 projects completed in the city. The incineration plant is certainly the most elaborate and ambitious of the projects thus far.

Completed in March, 2004, this 400 million yen incineration plant project is the creation of Yoshio Taniguchi- a Japanese architect responsible for the redesign of the famous Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA).

Taniguchi has called this Hiroshima project the ‘museum of Garbage’. The plant successfully incorporates not only an educational aspect, but also functional beauty. It is a great place to learn about not only how garbage is sorted and incinerated, but also how a practical building normally connected to dirt, grime and things we throw away (and hope to never see again), does not in fact, have to be ugly.  The big glass walls inside the building offer not only an interesting perspective on the machines used for waste disposal, but also a connection to the natural environment outside.

The site itself is built on reclaimed landfill and is located at the end of Yoshijima-dori, the street that stretches from the Peace Memorial Museum all the way to the sea, the building rises like a colossal gateway to the blue skies and seas to the South.

Sensitive to the fact that placing such a huge structure at the southernmost point of the island would create a visual barrier between the people and the Seto Inland Sea, museum architect Taniguchi opted to extend the community’s main road as a walkway right through the factory to the waterside. This huge glass atrium effectively slices the plant down the middle, dividing it into two separate halls.  This building is like a gateway from the center of Hiroshima to the smaller islands in the Seto-Inland sea.

All in all, this is a very pleasant place to visit.

We head back to the town centre train station, queue for more cheese pies then catch a local train towards Miyajima Island. It drops us at the ferry port and we are soon sailing across the narrow strait to the island.  It’s a wonder the ferry isn’t listing to one side as everyone is on the starboard side to catch a view of the Torii Gate that sits in the waters just off the coast of the island. The sight is ranked as one of the top 3 in Japan.

While officially named Itsukushima, the island is more commonly referred to as Miyajima, Japanese for “shrine island”. This is because the island is so closely related to its key shrine, Itsukushima Shrine, in the public’s mind. Like the torii gate, the shrine’s main buildings are built over water.

Miyajima is a romantic place, best enjoyed by staying overnight at one of the island’s ryokan. While there are usually many day tourists, in the evening the area becomes much quieter and more peaceful. There are also wild deer on the island that have become accustomed to people. In the day the deer wander around the same sites as the tourists, and in the evening they sleep along the walking paths. We join the multitudes thronging the small streets, stroking deer and gawking at the Torii Gate.  And we’re booked into a Ryokan for two nights, a huge treat so we’re expecting great things!

In the evening we enjoy an amazing 10 course Japanese meal at the Ryokan. This really is the best meal we have had in Japan so far. An aromatic, delicious, traditional, multi course meal washed down with a nice bottle of Saki.

Wonderful. After dinner we take evening walk back to the Torii Gate.  The tide is out now and we walk across the floodlit beach and stand before this huge red (well orangey brown), wooden feature.

As the tide slowly creeps towards us this ancient gate and it’s reflection are a stunning juxtaposition to the bright twinkling city lights of the far shore.


Tuesday 5th June


Geocaching day! After a traditional Japanese breakfast, another gourmet treat with numerous tasty dishes, we set off to hunt down some geocaches.

The route takes us up to a pagoda and through parkland as we enjoy sights of the island.

The final geocache is very near the ropeway that goes up Mount Misen.  Miyajima Ropeway operates two types of aerial ropeway systems, circulating and funicular in series, which is unique in Japan. These 2 cable car systems take us very close to the summit of Mt Misen where we enjoy spectacular views of the Seto Inland Sea and primeval forest. However Brett has decided to walk up the mountain and finds us drinking coffee and eating snacks in the cafe at the top! No worries about the amount of food we’ve consumed, we’ll soon be back on the bikes!!

Unfortunately the weather is getting worse.  The rain and mist obscuring some of the views and we’re all starving so we decide to take the cable car back down and find a late lunch but Brett is heroically determined to make the summit and the temple trail.  It’s several hours before we see him again, literally steaming from his endeavours, and not overly impressed with his scenic adventure. Meanwhile we’ve finally grasped the opportunity to taste a local delicacy, baked oysters. And what oysters they are, big and fat and very fresh and locally sourced.  They were very meaty, nice, but not really the taste sensation we were expecting. Daz still raves about raw oysters but I’m not convinced that’s a taste sensation that requires repetition!

We spend the rest of the rainy day enjoying a long game of cards and coffee with a view out over the strait from the upper floor of Starbucks! Brett is making an incredible comeback and the pressure is on as we’re running out of card playing opportunities!


Wednesday 6th June


After another extensive spread of Japanese tasty morsels it’s time to leave our Ryokan.  The food has been stunning but the Ryokan wasn’t what I imagined as a traditional Japanese Inn and the bathing area was a bathroom with one wooden tub or the delux 2 wooden tub version filled with boring old tap water.  I was expecting a traditional, communal bathing area with a sauna and outside pool. So I may have to research another Ryokan experience – I need to experience a traditional Japanese Inn before I leave Japan.

Today we’re kayaking through the Torii gates.  When we booked our guide was a bit dumbfounded by our insistence that we were doing it despite the torrential rain forecast.  But actually the weather is fairly kind to us and we paddle down the coast and then return to paddle through the Holy gates. Horuna our brilliant guide pointed out the sights and told us the correct ritual to perform before paddling under the iconic gates.

After kayaking it’s back to Hiroshima and a baseball game, Hiroshima Carps v Nippon Ham Fighters from Hokkaido.   An assistant in 7/11 helped us buy the tickets, there’s a ticket machine in every 7/11 – how cool is that!

We could only get tickets for the NHF stand but when they take an early lead we think we’re in the winners arena. Japanese baseball is an amazing experience.   There is a special song for each member of the team so when they come into bat their song is sung over and over again whilst they battle against ‘No balls’, strikes and very occasionally actually make contact with the ball.

 These are 2 of the top teams in Japan but even so runs are rare and the final score is only 4:3 with the Hiroshima Carps coming in with a last minute big hitter to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. We had such a great time that I’d seriously consider another game.  It was 3.5 hours of great entertainment!


Thursday 7th June

Today is a very sad day.  We’re leaving BK today but first a trip to the Mazda Factory.

The Mazda Motor Corporation, founded in Hiroshima in 1920, still retains its corporate headquarters in the city of its origins. In addition to the headquarters, Mazda owns a large plot of coastal land which accommodates research and development laboratories, factories, and shipping facilities. In addition the complex has its own fire stations, hospital, education centre and workers’ accommodation.   The company museum and part of a factory are made available for public viewing. Like Toyota to Nagoya, Mazda plays a large role in Hiroshima’s economy. Although Mazda is not as large as Toyota, it still produces over a million cars a year and is an innovative player in the Japanese auto industry. For instance, in 1991 Mazda became the first and only Japanese company to win the Le Mans Grand Prix. Continuing efforts to create more efficient vehicles include improving its version of rotary engines.  The tour also passes through an actual vehicle assembly line, where we watched a variety of different car models being produced.

Alas it is time to say ‘Farewell’ to BK.  They’ve even bought us a leaving present – Hiroshima needles and a needle threader.  You might laugh but neither Daz and I can actually see the eye of our needles let alone get the thread through the damn thing!

It’s been a great visit with many fabulous experiences and seeing Brett and Kate again has been awesome.  Thanks for coming to see us!!

BK are heading into town for a final souvenir shopping frenzy whilst Daz and I head to the Hiroshima outskirts and attempt to hitch to Kyoto. This is our first Japanese hitching experience and after 1 hour with not even a sniff of a lift we’re losing the will to live.  Finally a guy stops. He totally reorganises his car and the seating of his wife and 2 kids to squeeze us in. He’s a young Army sergeant and he only takes us 25km but he drops us on the Sanyo Expressway (Thank God – we had planned to stay on the Highway 2 but it would’ve taken days to reach Kyoto) and our forward progress is secured.  

Each successive lift comes relatively quickly and we’re always dropped at a service station to find our next lift. We started at 1315hrs. Arrived at our Kyoto hostel at 10pm. 350km done!


Friday 8th June


Today our intended itinerary is cancelled,  there’s no point visiting the beautiful shrine and temple in this rain so we settle for a wet weather programme.   First stop Nishiki Market, a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this lively retail market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi.

Nishiki Market has a pleasant but busy atmosphere that is inviting to those who want to explore the variety of culinary delights that Kyoto is famous for. The stores found throughout the market range in size from small narrow stalls to larger two story shops. Most specialize in a particular type of food, and almost everything sold at the market is locally produced and procured.  We stop and sample some pickled veg and sake.

After the market we head off to The Philosopher’s Path.  It’s a pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees.  Approximately two kilometers long, the path begins around Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) and ends in the neighborhood of Nanzenji. The path gets its name due to Nishida Kitaro, one of Japan’s most famous philosophers, who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University.

After enjoying our walk and seeing some beautiful shrines we decide to sample some of Kyoto’s nightlife.  

First the Gion area.   It’s not the only geisha district left in Japan, but Gion, a collection of streets defined by its old wooden buildings, teahouses and exclusive Japanese restaurants, is by far the most famous. Spend an hour wandering the area and chances are you’ll glimpse a geisha or two shuffling between teahouses in their cumbersome zori sandals and exquisite kimono.

And then Pontocho Alley.  Arguably the single most atmospheric street in all of Kyoto, Pontocho Alley is a great place to do some geisha spotting in the evening. Pontocho Alley, which runs parallel to the west bank of the Kamo-gawa River between Sanjo and Shijo is considered by many Kyoto residents and visitors to be the most beautiful street in the city. It’s lined with traditional shops and restaurants, and no cars, modern buildings or gaudy signs are allowed.  By day, it’s not much to look at. But in the evening, Pontocho becomes a magical place – the sort of street you might have imagined before arriving in Asia. Many of the restaurants and clubs here are pretty forbidding for foreigners without the right connections, but there are a number of places that welcome foreigners and have English-language menus and English-speaking staff. If you spend some time waiting at the southern end of the lane around dusk on a Friday or Saturday evening, you’ve got a good chance of spotting a maiko (apprentice geisha) or geiko (fully-fledged geisha) scurrying to an appointment at one of Pontocho’s elite clubs.

Sadly these turn out to be super disappointing.   A thunderstorm has rolled in and the torrential rain means the streets are practically empty.  We spot one Geisha but we’re so surprised we don’t even get a photo!


Saturday 9th June

Today we’re blessed with beautiful sunshine.   Our Japan trip was inspired by Maggie and my kimono experience so today I’ve booked a Yukata experience because I can’t resist sightseeing in summer kimono.


Dressing up in Kimono in Rivel, France Jan 2016 with Maggie and Martin, our workaway hosts.


And here in Kyoto, picking my outfit and seeing the top sights of Kyoto.

With its 10,000 vermilion shrine gates, Fushimi Inari is one of the most popular sites in Kyoto. However, before you make the pilgrimage up Mount Inari’s trail, take a moment to stop by the Omokaru Stones near the entrance. The two stone lanterns are each topped with a heavy ornament called a giboshi. Make a wish and try to lift one of the giboshi. If you find the stone to be lighter than expected, then it’s said that your wish will be granted. However, if you find the stone to be very heavy, you may face hardship and trials in reaching your goal.

Kinkakuj is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Kinkakuji was the inspiration for the similarly named Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), built by Yoshimitsu’s grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, on the other side of the city a few decades later.

Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, and is the only building left of Yoshimitsu’s former retirement complex. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and once again more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk.

What a fab days sightseeing, and I’ve loved being dressed in traditional summer kimono.  It’s a shame I couldn’t persuade Daz to dress up too!


Sunday 10th June

It’s time to head back to Toyohashi and our trikes.  We decide to hitch but it’s a tough day. Perhaps because Sunday is typically a family day or perhaps our destination isn’t a popular route from Kyoto but it takes all day to cover 200km.


But finally we make it back to Aaron’s place. His landlord is predicting a typhoon today and tomorrow so Aaron thinks it’s best we stay put tomorrow. We chat away about Japan and our respective adventures but bed is soon calling.


Guest blog written by Brett Green

Our first full day in Miyajima after settling in the previous day we decided having first checked the weather forecast that our best chance of getting a fantastic view at the top of Mount Misen would be today. It was not guaranteed but we set off in good hope. Daz checked the Geocache App to see if there were any caches that we could take in as we travelled to the Roadway Cable car.

So, the competition started with five geocaches just waiting to be discovered. The first one of the day was found by Hels, the next one by Daz but we had to give upon the third after an extensive search. The fourth was found by Daz so it was up to Kate and Brett to find the last one of the day.
The fifth one was a bit of a challenge and ready us to get into the woods. Brett nearly stepped on a snake! He only saw the back of it as it decided the Brett was a bit too big to eat…

It would eventually turn out that Brett finished the challenge scoreless! When Kate finally discovered the fifth and final cache. The plan was now to retrace our tracks to the Ropeway Cable Car avoiding a long walk to the top. Brett decided that he had not earnt an easy trip so would instead as punishment walk to the top (the map stated it was 1.5hr walk and about 2.3km long – so it was sure to be steep at some points).

Brett eventually met us Shishilwa Station Café after about 1 hr so was obviously pushing hard. Unfortunately, the weather had shrouded the mountain like a nice comfortable blanket. We decided that there would be very little to be gained to go to the Observatory on top of Mt Misen which was another 1km along the track and 100m above us so we took the not so difficult decision to take the cable car back down. Brett, not feeling he was suitably punished for not finding any caches, said he would go on to see more clouds. It was only when Brett descended the mountain along the Daishoin Course that he noticed (more often than he liked) signs warning walkers on the presence of very dangerous Japanese Vipers (Mamushi).

The next time we saw him was back in Starbucks down at sea-level about 3.5 hours later where he confirmed that he did in fact only see more clouds! Feeling our decision not to go to the top validated we tucked into another round of coffees and started a mammoth game of Nominations! The rain was relentless so it after a nice evening meal we returned to our Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) to settle in for the night.

Day 3

Waking up on our last day in Miyajima we were again greeted with a viewscape bathed in rain. Unperturbed we decided we would still sea-kayak through the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Itsukushima Shrine Toril “(or better known as the O-Toril gate) although it would have been easy to not too. The kayak trip would last about 75 mins and gave us an unrivalled personal view of the seafront of Miyajimacho and allowed us to get up and close to the O-Toril Gate. The dramatic gate, of Itsukushima Shrine is one of Japan’s most popular tourist attractions, and the most recognizable and celebrated feature of the Itsukushima shrine, and the view of the gate in front of the island’s Mount Misen is classified as one of the “the Three Views of Japan” – along with the sand bar Amanohashidate and Matsushima Bay) – although we did not see Mt Misen due to a thick cloud blanket still shrouding it. Although a gate has been in place since 1168, the current gate dates back only to 1875 and is built of decay-resistant camphor wood is about 16 metres high.

We used the remainder of the afternoon to travel back to Hiroshima in time for a Baseball match that evening between the Hiroshima Carps and Nippon-Ham Fighters from Hokkaido (Japan’s second largest island and most northern). The Japanese league is made up of two divisions each consisting of 6 teams. The play around 147 games per regular season so you definitely need to love baseball – which of course the Japanese do fortunately. Our tickets put us in the away end which is be fair suited us just fine as they were very vocal. Daz and Brett pretended to know the rules and the scoring and to be fair they were about 40% right! The Fighters got off to a quick start going 2-nil up after the first innings. For the next two hours were indeterminable Strikes Out so by the end of the 8th Innings the Fighters were 3-1 up. A fantastic rally at the end by the home team meant the Carps ended up winning 4-3. Hels and Kate were convinced that it was all a fix!!
I don’t think we were converted to the benefits of watching baseball again but it was a great night and we did learn a new song…

Hiroshima Carp Ouenka “Sore ike caapu (wakaki koi-tachi)” Kaapu kaapu kaapu Hiroshima, Hiroshima Kaapu Sora wo oyoge to, ten mo mata mune wo hiraku Kyou no kono toki wo, tashika ni tatakai Haruka ni takaku, haruka ni takaku,  Eikou no hata wo tate yo Kaapu kaapu kaapu Hiroshima, Hiroshima Kaapu Which translates in English, (more or less) as:
Hiroshima Carp Cheer Song “Go for it, Carp (Young Carp)” Carp, Carp, Carp Hiroshima, Hiroshima Carp If you fly to the sky heaven will open its breast Certainly fighting at this time today Far and high, far and high Raise the flag of glory Carp, Carp, Carp Hiroshima, Hiroshima Carp

It definitely sounds better in Japanese. We found out that the Fighter beat the Carps 8-4 the next day with the Fighters scoring 7 runs in just one innings – we agreed that we might have gone on the wrong day!


Kate and Brett’s Visit Part 1 – Himeji, Takamatsu and Naoshima :29th May to 1st June

Tuesday 29th May

Toyohashi to Himeji by train

We’re off to meet Brett and Kate!  We get a lift from Aaron’s neighbour to the train station.  We’d looked at getting a cheap train but with 4 connections and 6 hours of travel we opt to use the bullet train, 1 hour 20 mins direct to Osaka!!

We need to go to Osaka first so we can buy a 7 day JR pass for the railway, which for us is only available in Osaka! Pass bought, but with a huge dent in the budget (what budget!!) we get the train from Osaka to Himeji, a local rapid train that takes 1 hour. We walk about 500 meters to our hotel but we can’t book in until 3pm, so much for rushing! We dump our bags and go out for lunch and some retail window shopping. We also decide to attempt dying my shorts khaki green – an absolute disaster!

Later back at the hotel we book in and find out Brett and Kate (to be known as BK from now on) have arrived but are snoozing after their long flight. We decide to take advantage of the hotels Onsen on the 12th floor.  After a relaxing soak we rest until early evening and then pop out for a bite to eat. BK eventually surface from their recovery slumber and we finally get together.

Hugs and kisses all around! We last saw BK in Toulouse, way back in 2015 and it’s great to see them again.


Wednesday 30th May


Ahh, would you believe it, BK have brought some good old English weather with them! It’s raining this morning and not supposed to stop until early afternoon, so sightseeing is on hold. Instead we do some retail therapy and since BK  love outdoor gear shops and have things to buy, it’s a great way to occupy our time.

We gossip and catch up over coffees whilst looking out at the bleak weather. Finally with just a spit of rain in the air we troop up to Himeji Castle.

Himeji Castle also known as the White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo) due to its elegant, white appearance, is widely considered as Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size and beauty and its well preserved, complex castle grounds. The castle is both a national treasure and a world heritage site. Unlike many other Japanese castles, it was never destroyed by war, earthquake or fire and survives to this day as one of the country’s twelve original castles. The castle recently underwent extensive renovation over several years and was fully re-opened to the public in March 2015.

Himeji Castle lies at a strategic point along the western approach to the former capital city of Kyoto. The first fortifications built on the site were completed in the 1400s, and were gradually enlarged over the centuries by the various clans who ruled over the region. The castle complex as it survives today is over 400 years old and was completed in 1609. It is made up of over eighty buildings spread across multiple baileys, which are connected by a series of gates and winding paths.

It’s a mighty impressive castle, set against the dark storm clouds.   Well, that’s enough sightseeing for the day, let’s get back to the drinking, gossiping and a good old game of cards!.  


Thursday 31st May

Himeji to Takamatsu

This morning we all troop down to breakfast in our hotel pyjamas, we’re really rocking the pyjama look, and fortify ourselves for the day.

We book out,  but leave our luggage so we can do more sightseeing. We catch a bus to the base of Mount Shosha which is the site of Engyoji an atmospheric temple complex with a history of over 1000 years, but more importantly a film location from the Last Samurai!  It’s located at the edge of Himeji City, on a big hill, but thankfully there’s a ropeway (cable car) up to the base of the temple complex. We still have a steep walk up around the dark misty forest to the temples themselves, but it’s an amazing sight. We’ve caught the weather just right with BK bringing a fine mist from England to shroud the forest and temples – very atmospheric .


Engyoji’s temple buildings are spread over a spacious, densely forested area on the mountain top. From the ropeway station it takes us 15 minutes to walk uphill to reach the Niomon Gate and another 15 minutes to reach the Maniden, a beautiful wooden temple hall, constructed on pillars on a steep slope. We take our shoes off and wander around the ornate wooden buildings, imagining we are Samurai!  Another five minute walk along forest trails brings us to the three massive wooden temple halls, known as Mitsunodo: the Daikodo (main hall), Jikido (lodging and dining hall, now exhibiting temple treasures) and Jogyodo (gymnasium). More buildings and an observation point with views over the urban sprawl of Himeji are located even further along the trails in the Okunoin area.


As we commented earlier, due to the beautiful scenery and absence of modern infrastructure on its temple grounds, Mount Shosha is frequently used as a filming location for historical movies and TV dramas. Besides mostly domestic productions, the Hollywood movie “The Last Samurai” was partially shot on the mountain, incorporating scenes taken around and inside the halls of Mitsunodo.  So we’re actually walking in the footsteps of Tom Cruise – awesome!

Back in Himeji we jump off the bus at Kokoen, a relatively recently constructed Japanese style garden, which was opened in 1992 on the former site of of the feudal lord’s west residence (Nishi-Oyashiki). It consists of nine separate, walled gardens designed in various styles of the Edo Period.

Among the gardens are the garden of the lord’s residence which features a pond with a waterfall, a tea garden where visitors can enjoy green tea in a tea ceremony house, a pine tree garden, a bamboo garden and a flower garden. Just to mention, we really don’t enjoy green tea!!   

We head back to the hotel and pick up our luggage then pootle over to the train station. Next stop on our sightseeing tour, Takamatsu… well actually it’s Okayama, but only to change trains to Takamatsu. Our first train is a high speed Shinkansen, fondly known as the Bullet Train, for its elongated nose.

They are beautiful to behold, and when they silently scream through the station at high speed you wonder why the British Rail system runs on moldy leaves and occasionally to its timetable!!  We switch to a more sedate local train in Okayama and cross the long bridge over the Seto Inland sea to the island of Shikoku and n to Takamatsu. For those of you that haven’t worked it out, Japan is an island nation, and there are lots of islands. The archipelago consists of 6,852 islands (“island” defined as land more than 100 m in circumference), of which 430 are inhabited. The four main islands, from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu; Honshu is the largest and referred to as the Japanese mainland.

Tonight we’re in different hotels as we are making a vain attempt to keep our costs down. BK are in another Dormy Inn whilst we are in a hostel but actually it’s very comfortable, the showers efficient and hot and we’ll only be sleeping in it.

As an added bonus our hostel is above a bar, so we enjoy a refreshing beer before heading out to meet BK for our evening meal.  Yet again we have fun ordering various snack dishes from the Japanese language menu, murdering our food with chopsticks and then trying to work out what we’ve actually ordered!!

It really is a voyage of discovery!


Friday 1st June

Takamatsu and Naoshima Art Island

This morning we’re all catching a local ferry to the small island of Naoshima.

Naoshima is an island in the Seto Inland Sea that is known for its modern art museums, architecture and sculptures. Part of Kagawa Prefecture, the island with its Mediterranean atmosphere, sandy beaches and sunny weather, combined with a laid back, rural feel is a relaxing getaway from Japan’s large urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka.

Much of Naoshima’s art was installed by the Benesse Corporation, which oversees art museums, installations and sculptures both on Naoshima and on neighboring islands. Benesse’s museums were designed by the well known Japanese architect Ando Tadao and include the Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum and all the buildings of the Benesse House. In addition, Naoshima’s municipal buildings and schools were designed by the modern architect Ishii Kazuhiro.

The sun is shining at last and it’s a beautiful crossing ; just one hour with scenic views over the many islands, bridges and fishing boats. We spend the whole crossing playing cards on the top deck. In our defence we are playing our favourite game, Nominations,  and with a rolling score sheet for the whole of BK’s visit, a very important part of our time. B (he of BK fame), has been steadily falling behind and needs every opportunity to recoup some points, but yet again the cards are not in his favour and it’s Kate who maintains and extends her early lead!

We hire some folding 6 gear bikes with 20” wheels when we get to Naoshima and with the sun in our hair cycle off to check out the island and it’s may art installations. First stop a large red and black pumpkin at the terminal! This is Kusama’s first pop art installation, one of the most acclaimed Japanese artists, a precursor of Pop Art and she influenced Andy Warhol as well as Claes Oldenburg.  From the terminal we cycle on. There’s golden beaches, pine forest covered hills and…. Wait! Did I just say hills?? 6 gear mini bikes are not hill climbing machines, whose idea was this! Breaking out into a fine sweat was not on the agenda today!

On the beach near Tutsuji-so we see Kusama’s most famous yellow pumpkin, overlooking the sea with the numerous islands as a backdrop.   It’s definitely worth visiting.

After more art/sweat we descend into Honamura village, a beautiful quaint town on the northern coast. We decide to stop for lunch, and boy, we aren’t disappointed with the quality of the food.  They even have an English menu for us non Japanese speaking tourists!

Honamura village is home to 9 art house projects, or old abandoned buildings that have been artified by local and internationally recognised Japanese artists (go on I dare you to name one,  we couldn’t!!). We don’t have time or really the arty inclination to visit them all so BK visit one and we visit another that has a statue of liberty inside!  We weren’t actually supposed to take photos so don’t tell anyone!


On the ferry trip back we reminisce about the many beautiful things we have seen today. No we don’t!  We play more cards!! On our arrival back in Takamatsu we still have more sights to see. Takamatsu castle is next, also known as Tamamo Castle, it was built in 1590 adjacent to the Seto Inland Sea. It is one of the few Japanese castles built along a waterfront, and features saltwater moats that draw directly from the sea. The Ikoma Clan ruled from the castle for 54 years before their fief was given to the Matsudaira Clan, relatives of the Tokugawa Shogun, who kept the region for the remainder of the Edo Period. Exciting stuff hey!

Takamatsu Castle’s keep was destroyed during the Meiji Period, but there are plans to reconstruct it in the future. A first step towards this goal was achieved in 2013 when the restoration of the castle tower’s foundation was completed after many years of work.

All sightseeing completed we decide to try out one of Japan’s top fast food joints, Sukiya. This noodle, rice bowl restaurant is a refreshing change to our normal deliberations over unfathomable menus, with not only an English menu, but pictures too,  they’ve obviously decided to take pity on us. And it’s another delicious meal (nearly all our Japanese food experiments have been great – just don’t mention the wet smelly mouth popping fish eggs (roe)).


Hommoku Makano – Fuji 5 Lakes – Toyahashi : 22nd to 28th May

Tuesday 22nd May

Hommoku Makado to Hadano

Distance: 44.65 km

Total Distance: 22369.74  km

We’ve received a message from Rich and Joan, warmshower hosts in Hadano.  They’re going to host us for a couple of nights which is great because we’re in desperate need of some down time for laundry, bike maintenance and to publish the blog etc.  And the forecast for Wednesday is rain. The ride is pretty unspectacular although it’s entertaining when we discover we’re not allowed to use the road tunnel under the multiple train tracks but instead have to use the pedestrian overpass – thank God the elevator is big enough for the trikes.  We arrive at Rich and Joan’s house, they’re both university lecturers from Tokai University who hail from the USA but have lived in Japan for 10 years.

They’re having some friends over later for a barbecue and then we’re all going to visit the kittens they’re going to adopt in the next week or so.

 So it’s a busy evening and once Joan’s friends foolishly show a hint of interest in our videos, Daz insists on playing them all, it’s like someone with their holiday snaps although I must admit shots of the Pamir Highway and whale watching are pretty cool. After we’ve eaten we head off to see the kittens.

There are 4 beautifully cute kittens in the litter and their colouring is reminiscent of the cats Rich and Joan had back in the States.  They need to decide which 2 they want – tough choice!


Thursday 24th May

Hadano to Yamanakoko (Fuji 5 Lakes)

Distance: 52.27 km

Total Distance: 22422.01 km

Yesterday was an admin day.  Laundry, bikes cleaned and serviced and after 15000km I’ve got new tyres. My rear and front right tyres were showing very definite signs of wear so 2 new tyres have gone on the front and my front left onto the rear.

Finally we managed to publish the blog which took most of the day and then Daz cooked a fab egg curry for us all and we then taught Rich and Joan how to play Nomination Whist. Rich and Joan have been great helping us with our future travel plan; they are incredibly knowledgeable about the area and have some great top tips.

They show us the bikes and trailer that they use. They have small folding bikes with a Burley Travoy, a kind of trailer that folds up as small as the bikes. It’s a great set up for travelling on the trains in Japan so they can get to those far flung destinations quickly and then cycle and camp. They also tell us about the Fuji 5 Lakes. These lakes to the north of Mt Fuji give incredible views of Fuji so we decide to change our plans and cycle there rather than Hakone.  This morning we packed up, all fresh, clean and with bikes that don’t squeak although first Daz has to repair a puncture in my front left tyre!

We say goodbye to Rich and Joan, they have been fabulous hosts and we can’t thank them enough. The cycling is flat after an initial climb and we follow a busy road through a valley for some time. In fact, there are 3 main roads running through this narrow valley and it looks like each is quite busy! We are glad we are on the lower, slightly quieter one!

After 30km we turn off and then the ascent to the first lake begins. Oh my God!! 17 km straight up, over 1000 meters of climb. And it’s steep, very steep.  I then get another puncture but now it’s in the rear tyre. The tyre has a minute splinter of metal in it, so when Daz switched my front left tyre to the rear, the metal splinter dislodged sufficiently to puncture my front left tube but then remained in the tyre that went onto the rear to puncture that tube too. We carry on climbing, at one point passed by a procession of racing cars, including a Lambourghini, seemingly driven by Europeans?!

They don’t offer us a lift and we keep climbing, got the picture yet? It is the toughest cycling we’ve done for months and clearly we’re no longer hill fit. At one point I can barely force my pedals round. Finally at 5 pm we reach the top, the sun breaks through and shines down on Yamanakoko Lake – it’s a fantastic sight!

We can’t see Mt Fuji yet because of cloud, but hopefully tomorrow it will be clear. We drop down to the lake, and pit stop at a 7/11. There’s a fantastic cycle lane around the lake and we head onto it.  We know there’s a camp site closeby and an onsen at the other end of the lake. The campsite is closed but there’s a public area next to it which we can camp in. It has toilets but no hot water, only a cold tap.

We decide to stay put, we can’t be bothered going any further, we’re shattered from the day’s climb. So it’s a cold bucket wash, but we are camped by the lake and the fish are jumping. Swans sail by serenely and we can hear birdsong in the trees all around us. What a beautiful end to the day. Thanks again Rich and Joan for the recommendation.


Friday 25th May

Yamanakoko (Fuji 5 Lakes) to Lake Saiko

Distance: 35.00 km

Total Distance: 22457.01 km

This morning there’s still a lake mist at 7am so we’re off to a very slow start waiting for the tent to dry.  There’s something happening on the adjacent beach because numerous cars are coming into our car park. I go off to investigate and discover a gathering of model water aeroplane enthusiasts.   I watch one plane flying a circuit before coming in for a water landing. I go and tell Daz, he’s going to love these and in our excitement we’ve both failed to spot the incredible views of Mt Fuji because we’ve been looking in completely the wrong direction – Doh!

  We follow the cycle path around the north shore of Lake Yamanakoko. I want to see Hana-no-Miyako Park, 300,000 square metres covered in flowers with Mt Fuji as the backdrop.

Then from Lake Yamanakoko we cycle to Lake Kawaguchiko again following the north shore and always with Mt Fuji as the stunning backdrop to the beautiful lake views.  

We decide to continue to Lake Saiko because we’ve spotted a campsite with an adjacent onsen. The campsite has great views over the lake but views of Mt Fuji are blocked by the hills around the lake.

Tonight we’ve got a disposable barbecue and it’s steak night tonight!


Saturday 26th May

Lake Saiko to Shimizu

Distance: 75.03 km

Total Distance: 22532.04 km

We were rudely awoken at 6am by the campsite owner asking us for 2000 yen.  The site had beautiful views but given there was no hot water or showers and we usually get these same facilities for free, we’re a bit annoyed- Bah Humbug!  After breakfast and another puncture repair we continue along the north shore and soon Mt Fuji comes into view.

Adherents of ‘Fuji-ko’ (faith that worships Fujisan) make a pilgrimage around the lakes including Lake Saiko, which is a major spiritual spot, to purify their bodies. Lake Saiko is dedicated as a National Place of Scenic Beauty.  The views of Fuji and it’s reflection mirrored on the lake have been depicted in artworks such as those of Ukiyo-e wood block prints.

From Lake Saiko we head to Lake Shojiko, stopping to do a short woodland walk. Being called the ‘Wild Birds’ Forest’ we were hoping to see some birds but sadly we don’t see any except a grey wagtail (or was it a yellow wagtail?) on our return.  We just touch the southern tip of Lake Shojiko and head on to Lake Motosuko. We stop to do a short walk up to Mt Eboshidake and then on to the panoramic viewpoint. We climb and climb up through the woodland and finally we break through at the top of Mt Eboshidake and have views of Lake Motosuko and Mt Fuji.

Then it’s another 30 minutes to the panoramic viewpoint – we should be able to see all 5 Lakes and Mt Fuji but the weather is against us and we can only see 4 lakes. But it’s still impressive.   We head back to the bottom and our trikes spotting a bird’s nest on the way with a cluster of eggs. The nest is right next to the path and I hope the mother hasn’t abandoned her eggs because of all the foot traffic passing-by. We have one more stop and that’s at the northern tip of Lake Motosuko where the view is that shown on the 1000 yen note.


Now we just need to cycle around the rest of the lake and then head south. There’s a wind surfing competition in progress and then some sort of Army exercise in progress and they’re camped on public ground with civilians, how strange.  

From Lake Motosuko we have a fantastic downhill, ruined somewhat by the head wind. We see some paragliders off to our right, it looks as if they’ve jumped into a storm front and we can see the fliers being buffeted by the turbulence – looks very scary. We’ve been seeing a few runners, then down in a valley we catch sight of a huge campsite full of people and tents.

Japan’s Mt. Fuji World Heritage Center, designed by Pritzker winner Shigery Ban. Located 20 miles southwest of Mt Fuji in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, the sculptural building pays homage to Fuji with its inverted latticed cone that, when seen in the reflecting pool, mimics the shape of the famous dormant volcano. We were blown away by this building – beautiful!

Then we see a sign, it’s the Mt Fuji Ultra trail race, no wonder there’s so many running groups out. We make good progress to the coast and camp in a small park with a toilet block.

The toilet block is heated so we have a good wash without freezing our arses off!


Sunday 27th May

Shimizu to Fujikawaguchiko Machi

Distance: 83.21 km

Total Distance: 22615.25 km

Well sadly not much to report today, just a very long, hard slog with a nasty headwind and tough navigating.  We knew we were going to have a lot of ground to cover over these 2 days to make our date with Kate and Brett, but the reality is still unpleasantly tough.  We have seen some lovely tea plantations today and yesterday evening which we weren’t expecting.

We find a nice camping spot by the river with ensuite bathroom – another thorough washing opportunity.


Monday 28th May

Fujikawaguchiko Machi to Toyohashi

Distance: 60.49 km

Total Distance: 22675.74 km

We had a lovely undisturbed sleep last night except for the occasional big fish launching itself out of the river after mayfly and making a thunderous splash on landing,  This morning we blow the cobwebs and launch into a fast pace.

We’ve got 40km done in less than 3 hours and stop for a snack and drink. Then a final push sees us arrive in Toyohashi where we are staying with Aaron,  our warmshower host. He’s going to look after our trikes whilst we tour by train with Brett and Kate who arrive tomorrow. We cycle around and find a coin laundry and then get changed into clean clothes with a little bit of a scrub in a town hall. All our dirty stuff we chuck in the washers and sit on our trikes waiting for them to finish, riveting stuff.

We cycle over to Aaron’s and are welcomed by his landlord with a beer, an excellent start.  There’s a huge antenna on the roof, and we ask the obvious question, but it’s just a ham radio setup. The landlord can reach the whole world with his set,  no wonder with the size of that antenna.

Aaron soon returns from work and we chat about our travels whilst sharing beers and crisps. Aaron is a Spaniard who gave up his job in Spain to go cycle touring, about 10 years ago.  He ended up in Japan where he found work with VW as an IT project manager looking after projects all over Asia. He’s been in Japan for 10 years and finds the Japanese culture rather suppressed compared to the easy-going, social Spanish way of life.