shimano road race - suzuka
back for 6 hours after hokkaido and then out again at 4am to head to mie for the shimano road race. fortunately we had booked an airconditioned room behind the pits which, presumably, the teams use when suzuka is used for its better known event. I also got to sleep in the car and had a single room awaiting me at the hotel which were blessings. we arrived early enough for a few laps to get to know the circuit and just after lunch we had the 4 up team time trial (4TTT). having ridden at an easy pace for a week I was raring to go and found myself pacing the other two after we dropped our slow man (we've all been there). we ended about 4 minutes back from the leaders and a third of the way down in the results table which didn't seem too bad. the kit that even the beginner riders have in japan still amazes me - the kids too are decked out with quality frames - bet they don't even have a paper round.
hokkaido: day 12 - this is what it must be like to be retired
DEST: YACHIYO/CHITOSE DIST: 130KMS
on wednesday the schedule was somewhat shorter than our average getting to our hostel just south of obihiro and the foot of more mountains by 5pm. we made a civilisation stop after the rain started - had a big mac and then went to the flicks. it was great - like a traditional british holiday. we also topped up on our cash before spending a couple of days in the sticks. the hostel turned out to be clean and new if slightly unlived in. the countryside was like east lothian near edinburgh but without the nice farmhouses and their red tiled roofs. everything built is pretty much prefab here, soley to take the weight of the snow each winter. function without form. our hosts were jolly osakans who had left the rat race a few years earlier and it has to be said they now have a sweet little thing up here.
hokkaido: day 10 - d'you think the'll be a disco in Ikeda?
DEST: IKEDA DIST: 120KM'S
leaving kushiro was both a relief and a disappointment. relief we were only passing through, disappointment that the har was only just covering the industrial wasteland that surrounded it. we started singing a bad karaoke version of everyday is like sunday. our daily wrong turning didn't help spirits and with a lack of landscape, quiet roads and sun for 40 km's we decided to jump on the train. there was a lull in the traffic as we drew up to the side of the road to study the map and as we turned to look up a shire type mini valley, a pair of tsuru, long and elegant, flew past.
hokkaido: day 9 - this place is like a smiths song
DEST: KUSHIRO DIST: 70KMS
monday was never going to be anything other than a rest day after our 9 hour epic from sounkyou. we had our typical hostel breakfast (one difficulty at some hostels is the feeling of being rushed) of bread and coffee, one sausage and oddly, coleslaw, then hit the road. all the way to the train station. after a second breakfast during our wait we bagged the bikes and headed toward the coast. we passed a few hamlets and the famous marshlands of east hokkaido but the red-capped cranes (tsuru) failed to materialise just as the bus load of female, swedish hockey players had failed to check in to any one of our hostels. we had high hopes for kushiro though - our next destination. we needed recharging.
hokkaido: day 6 - seriously, what the fuck was that noise?
DEST: MASSHUKO DIST: 150KMS
monday morning. yesterday was a very long day and toward the end, a little scary - we headed down from the national park after climbing for an hour to the pass and descended down through the valley passing more tat and ice cream shops with stuffed bears outside - the vibrant colours couldn't hide the fact that most were dilapidated and the foxes chained up outside really didn't charm us. countryside was nice though - still european but a bit more danish than french. we got the train station just in time for the 1.10 to masshu and managed to waive putting our bikes in the bag hassle. dan reckoned the knee could withstand the gentle climb up from bihiro though so we jumped ship and made our way out of town.
hokkaido: day 4 - d'you remember catchphrase?
DEST: SOUNKYOU DIST: 112KMS
rest day in the mountains. yesterday was another long one but we managed up to our hostel in the mountains by 6.30, just as the sun was going down. the scenery was lovely - changing from lush tuscan hills in the morning to a dramatic alpine rocky gorge by the evening and we stopped in between for some scolding ramen carbs. thankfully the climb wasn't too steep either as dan's knee was causing him a fair amount of pain. the mist sitting on the river helped to take the edge off the final few kilometres and sounkyou ended up being a lot nicer than the guide books make out but then your perspective is always different when you've had a long day in the saddle. our simple bath and dinner last night was all we yearned for in the world and the woman who showed us to our family sized tatami room, an angel.
hokkaido: day 2 - it's definitely left after the tunnel
DEST: FURANO DIST: 130KMS
Dan's mate junko, and her man, picked us up from the port in otaru and we headed back to their flat in south sapporo. we had a few local beers while we looked over the map and altered our course slightly, choosing a nice campsite for the final night as they glared, initially, open eyed and taking sharp, serious intakes of breath at our route. today we got our bikes together, took the obligatory photo and headed off around 10. the road out was pretty busy but we had a tail wind and made the foot of the mountains at a leisurely pace, taking in all the peculiar sights (local graphics, cows, chimneys, elevated fuel tanks in gardens) and trying to get an initial feel for the place as dan taught me animal words I didn't know - kitsune (fox) and kuma (bear).
hokkaido: day 1 - what time is it?
both a little weary after a short sleep and not having had a holiday in a while but hoping that arrival in hokkaido will re-energise us. last nights stressful, getting the bikes to the ferry, bit is over and we're happy to relax on deck watching the wake fade into the distance. osaka is slowing being washed out of our systems and we turn to thoughts of big skies and animals skipping around happily, beneath rainbows. the weather on the japan sea is perfectly fine and naps seem to be in order for the rest of the day - the ferry from maizuru, just north of kyoto takes 21 hours.
Continue reading "hokkaido: day 1 - what time is it?"
Posted by stupot at 08:56 PM Wednesday 16 Aug
paul was in town today with a band playing summer sonic in osaka so I headed over to see him. I was going to meet up, hang around and head home if he was busy but then I saw daft punk were playing. I always thought they were scottish to begin with - probably because they were on soma records first off. from the opening close encounters theme tune and the star-wars-esque outfits daft punk were great fun: the light show was a bit like blake-7 meets tron. It was a good show but you can't help wondering if they get bored with doing the same stuff no matter how good it is live. it was also a bit like going to club and just as a song begins to work up, they change to another to keep the easily bored crowd, happy. no encore but the other french guys, phoenix, were good too.
the sony tower has always been a bit of a landmark in shinsaibashi in osaka. it used to be the place that you could go to and try out all the new shit in clear plastic casing which also allowed you to see the mechanics. it looked tired for a while and then a few years ago the sign came off and I realised you couldn't go in it. today, from a mexican restaurant next to the tower, you could see it being demolished. I live in hope a wee park or something will be built in it's place, but I know I'm just being overly romantic. the next time I pass I'm sure a 20 storey restaurant block will have sprung up in its place.
Posted by stupot at 09:42 PM Saturday 12 Aug
I picked up my new road bike today. It's a long time coming - in part because I had to wait for the tube to be ordered but also because I've wanted a made to measure number for quite a few years now. she looks great - the colour only being a little lighter than the duck egg blue I specified. The weight is the big difference - my old machine is steel and I think the new one is 7.7kg which will work out quite nicely in the mountains. unfortunately though, I have now run out of excuses for being slow.
my lovely japanese teacher lost her husband last week and we went to his wake in kitaku. I don't think it's particularly different to a celtic wake where everybody drinks all night and considers that the deceased is going somewhere better. surely the key though, is striking a balance between fun subjects and solomn ones in conversation, although these situations are hard enough in english, nevermind japanese. there were flowers galore - each with a timber plate hanging underneath bearing the names of the givers. in the presbyterian church of scotland we never saw the dead so it was a little unusual for me to attend this 'viewing'. I think, though, that it's a healthy part of the process - I was surprised that the daughter had done the make-up (a nurse was present) but she'd made a very good job. people came and went and eventually we had to go - it shouldn't have come as a surprise that even at a funeral in japan you are given a gift - we came home with some tea to drink and a sachet of salt to ward off any bad spirits. a little embarrasing given we had forgotten the obligatory koden bukuro or money envelope for the family.
Posted by stupot at 10:46 PM Thursday 10 Aug
despite my frequent rants on the ugliness of osaka there are occaisionally little gems to be found. not far from the picture I posted last friday, you can find this quaint, traditional house with thatched roof. of course your view will always be scarred by a telegraph pole though.
went to nara on sunday, a short train ride from osaka but, like kyoto, a world away in terms of pace and beauty. I was with some photographers who were going to snap the lantern festival or 'toukae' (light flower event). the afternoon was very, very hot as we roamed the back streets of what feels more like a big town than a city - the sacred deer which roam the streets only helping to compound the feeling. we ducked into a few places for an air-con breather before heading back out for more. gradually we met up with more people, some by chance, some arranged and walked around all the many parks and ponds and temples that were scattered with lamps. my favourite place was just an undulating park at the back of todaiji temple which felt like a dream or heaven, with lights going almost as far as you could see and people slowly making their way around.
I give up on cycling as a professional sport - I really do. just when we had the most competitive tour in years, the winner is found positive for doping. anyway - congratulations to pereiro for a collosal effort. and it looks like landis will have time out to have that hip operation. interesting that although his upbringing was Mennonites Christian which reject modern amenities such as television or computers, testosterone is okay. there has been a few rumours circulating about some underhand actions to frame landis (it was said someone rubbed on testosterone in the form of cream) but frankly I don't have the energy to follow these stories.
dan and I are heading off to hokkaido for ten days from the 15th. we're taking the ferry from maizaru in kyoto, cycling for 9 days and then coming back by plane from chitose. we've been getting out on saturdays to get a feel for distances but we have a feeling that although hokkaido will be a lot less humid, the mountains could give us a shock. most days have been planned in a pretty conservative way though and as it's summer we have a lot of daylight to make use of. we're planning to stay at hostels and the biker houses that hokkaido is famous for. the main reason I'm posting this is to get any idea's from people who have been, so if you have, feel free to tell us about some must-visit places.
Posted by stupot at 02:13 PM Saturday 5 Aug
in japan, to the untrained eye, it often looks like there has been no town planning - certainly in the modern cities like osaka. mega-cities are built on medieval layouts with no long term investment and this temporary approach results in dilapidated looking buildings and a general feeling of uncertainty. I thought it would be helpful to outline typical views within the city and to demonstrate why I go to the mountains three times a week whenever possible. I like the photo above which kind of epitomises osaka. essentially it's as rough as a badgers arse. you've got your two tiered overpass which dark rusty shadow allows people from other cities to get home but hangs like a black cloud over the local area, threatening anyone who goes near it. then you have your apartment block with some token features which can't even make their mind up what style they want to be. in the fore-ground, despite the houses being rather ramshackled in appearance, apparently knitted together by telegraph poles, you can be safe in the knowledge that the neighbourhood is tight, that all the plants are kept well and the people proud.
yesterday, being the 1st of august, meant that everyone escaped town and got mad with the asahi in the suburbs to watch the famous fireworks.
I went along with some new work colleagues who were having a barbeque at the bosses hoose, conveniently located near the site and beside a wild pond. having bought a cheeky bottle of laphroaig I was almost kicking myself when his wife, on accepting it, told me that her husband didn't drink. I couldn't bear to think of it go to waste but she informed me she might cook with it and was partial to a wee shnifter now and again. If she's anything like the mother-in-law it'll be tanned by the weekend. fruit next time though.