How to ride a bike in rural Japan | lifestyle


When I was a boy I looked out the car window as we drove past the many fields of Daviess County, and I focused on the other side, which always seemed to have a line of trees on the horizon. I always wanted to go to these trees just to see how things were furthest from my vision.

I never asked because which parents would let their child run for miles to end up in the woods? It’s stupid. But the great thing about being an adult is that you can do the stupid things you wouldn’t allow a kid to do.

That instinct of going for miles just to see what’s left with me now, and from time to time it forces me to get on my bike and ride for a few days. Earlier this month, I decided to drive around the outskirts of my home, Ishikawa, to see this.

Ishikawa is a prefecture, and prefectures are the administrative districts into which Japan is divided. Think of a prefecture as a state. Japan has 47 of them, and since Japan is only about the size of California, a prefecture is typically the size of a large U.S. county. For example, Ishikawa Prefecture is about four times the size of Daviess County and about ten times the population.

You can actually select Ishikawa on a globe. Go to the next globe and take a look at Japan’s west coast. About halfway you will see a peninsula that juts north into the Sea of ​​Japan. This is the upper half of Ishikawa, and that’s why I wanted to cycle.

I live in Kanazawa, a town on the coast south of the peninsula. On the first day, I drove north and only stopped for the major tourist attractions. The first of these was the longest bank in the world.

Yes, go ahead and eat your heart out: in a town called Shika, just 50 miles north of my house, sits the longest bench mankind has ever thought. It’s 1,512 foot continuous bench that looks out over the Sea of ​​Japan. I stopped there, sat about a foot on it, and then started walking again.

(Full disclosure, Guinness recognized Ishikawa’s bank as the longest in the world from 1989 to 2012 when some upstart in Switzerland surpassed us. Even so, the signage remains and we continue to pretend it is number 1.)

About 63 miles after day 1, the freeway I was following left the coast and turned inland. I can tell you one thing about cycling in Japan and that is to hug the coast at all costs. Japan is essentially a mountain range that shoots out of the sea. So if you want to drive on a distant plane, you need to be at sea level. And the sea is generally the best place to be at sea level.

As Route 249 left the coast for the last 17 miles of Day 1, I knew I had to get into some easy mountaineering. As I walked, the muscles in my legs became severely tender and a worrying flare went out in my right knee.

I finally arrived at Guesthouse Umenoya in Wajima, half a hotel, half a ramen restaurant, where I was supposed to stay the night. It was way too stylish to be comfortable. My mattress was a few inches thick and my pillow was filled with pearls. After 80 miles on my bike, dead tired, I woke up 20 times through the night. Four stars.

Day 2 wasn’t that brutal. The drive was only 68 miles and took me around the tip of the peninsula where the Rokkosaki Lighthouse is located. This lighthouse is the main attraction in the north of Ishikawa, so I had an early lunch there.

Another Japan cycling tip: bring some food. Rural Japan is old-fashioned and most small towns have no restaurants or shops. I’ve covered the food groups in three points.

First chocolate chip bagels. Lots of carbohydrates, chocolate for pizzazz. Second, whole cucumbers. You need a vegetable that won’t be mashed in your pocket, and cucumbers are so juicy that they feel moisturizing to eat. Third, nuts. I took a 1 pound bag of mixed nuts, good for fat and protein.

That means I was sitting alone in front of a lighthouse and ate a cold bagel, half a pound of nuts and a whole raw cucumber. I may have been alone for a reason.

I landed outside a town called Ukawa and stayed at an elderly woman’s house. Her name was Mrs. Kawataka and she rented rooms. She was a delightful person. She chatted and joked and generally showed me the ropes.

Lying in bed is when your legs catch up with you. Mine had been forcibly tenderized on day 1, but now on day 2 they were furious about it. The worrying flicker in my right knee must have landed in a dry brush, because now a real fire started.

The clock in the next room struck half an hour, and I heard 10, 10:30, 11, and 11:30 go by as I crouched and thought of tomorrow’s 81-miler.

I woke up at 5:15 am to hear Ms. Kawataka be busy in the other room. She knew I wanted to leave at 6:00 am and got up to prepare some things for me. She sent me off at sunrise with a packaged meal of two hard-boiled eggs, two rice balls, an orange, and a tea.

Either she is the most hospitable person in Ishikawa or she received the message that I was eating whole cucumbers and pity came.

Day 3 was mostly about making the 81 miles home. Your body is more than exhausted so your only hope is to throw food at the problem. At 9 o’clock I stopped for a spaghetti. For lunch I had a curry with rice. Otherwise, I nibbled all the way home and it was just enough to get me there at sunset.

I drove 229 miles on those three days in March and did my lap north of Ishikawa. Since then, I’ve been home for three days, hobbling from room to room, wondering why I did that.

I think it is a pleasure to go somewhere far away on your own. You really get a feel for how your street connects to the next, and then the next, and how these simple connections can get you hundreds of miles away. They realize that a horizon is attainable.

It’s like walking across an open field to the tiny tree line in the distance. It’s the farthest thing you can see, but when you make the decision it can be right in front of you.

Justin Whittinghill is from Owensboro and is an Assistant Professor of English at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan. His column appears on the last Sunday of the month in Lifestyle. He can be reached at [email protected].

Justin Whittinghill is from Owensboro and is an Assistant Professor of English at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, Japan. His column appears on the last Sunday of the month in Lifestyle. He can be reached at [email protected].