Category: Ride Into the Rising Sun

Epilogue: Some final thoughts on another epic bicycle journey

June 21, 2023

Every time I take one of these epic bicycle journeys I come home a slightly different person. Seeing different parts of the world and experiencing different cultures during a muscle powered journey that sometimes challenges my physical limits can have that effect. I learn things about others and myself that I don’t think could I could have achieved by staying within my comfort zone. This trip taught me some lessons about getting along with others and about my skills as a long distance bicycle rider. Meeting and experiencing a new culture with people that come from all parts of the world is a broadening experience as is dealing with the frictions that are inevitable when such diverse people are thrown together for a long and sometimes stressful journey. We all faced our challenges and overcame them while remaining good traveling companions and even friends. I rode with some really great people and feel privileged to have had that experience.

On this trip I learned that I could eat things that I never would have tried under other circumstances. While eating enough seaweed to foul the propeller on a battleship was not my favourite experience, it was one that I endured. Eating cold smoked herring for breakfast was an experience that I hope to avoid for the rest of my days. Outside of a few menu choices I really enjoyed the cuisines of Korea and Japan.

Some other observations:

There was little to no graffiti seen in either country. They just don’t seem to tolerate it.

While they manufacture ATVs in both countries, I never saw them zipping around and never saw any damage caused by their use. Where they can go seems to be tightly controlled.

Small is big in Japan. cars are small as are the parking spaces. They even use elevators to store the cars in some tighter spots. Houses are small by North American standards as are the hotel rooms.

The Japanese are winning the race in bathroom technology. Here I found bathroom mirrors with a section over the sink that would not fog up no matter how steamy the room. The Japanese toilet is a marvel that cleans all your naughty parts and some even dry you off afterwards. However, I did encounter a couple that I found creepy. I don’t feel I am ready for a toilet that opens its lid in eager anticipation as soon as I open the bathroom door.

Japanese people are polite, dedicated and very abiding of rules. Never have I ever received so may bows just for walking into a store or hotel. Even the workers who do traffic control on a road construction site bow to you as you pass by. Pedestrians will wait for the green light to cross an alley with no traffic of any kind in sight if there is a crossing light there and if the hotel says that check in is at 3:00pm don’t expect to check in at 2:59.

In Japan there appears to be a job for everyone. I saw no street people, bag ladies, panhandlers or vagrants of any type. I did see people picking up even the tiniest piece of litter and never so much as a cigarette butt tossed to the ground and this in cities where I never saw public trash recepticals.

In making these observations I an not advocating that we adopt the Japanese way of life but maybe we could take a lesson or two from them. I found Japan and Korea refreshing and interesting. Would I want to live in either country? My answer is a hard no. I like my freedom and independence. I like rules that have some flexibility. I want the freedom to cross the street against the light if I feel it is safe to do so. I do appreciate people who respect wild places and nature and wish some of my fellow citizens could see how their lack of respect damages these things and make ugly that which should be forever beautiful. We could be a bit more Japanese in this last respect. Finally, I am seriously thinking about buying one of those Japanese toilets but not the creepy type.

Some Statistics:
Days Riding: 29
Overall Distance: 2,738 Kilometers
Elevation Climbed: 32,609 Meters (Garmin) 43,697 Meters (Ride With GPS)
(Note: RWGPS and Garmin are known to disagree on elevation gain. There is debate over which one is most accurate. My guess is that the answer lies somewhere in between the two)

Me and my favourite tree

Last Leg to Home

Lake Shikotsu to Sapporo

June 19 and 20, 2023

With a pre-party the night before and free beer, I was surprised to see all riders up early, chipper and eager to get started. It was a short ride to Sapporo but it started with a climb out of yet another caldera. (Are any Japanese lakes not either reservoirs or calderas?) As climbs go on this trip it was fairly tame; not much more than doing the Foymount hill. After that there were a few rolling hills but pretty much downhill afterwards to Sapporo. There was a nice gale force headwind coming off the lake to keep us from becoming overheated.

The only real point of interest on our short ride, aside from some nice scenery at the beginning, was a very large Buddha, reclined across what appeared to be a cross between a temple and a tourist attraction. I make this latter judgment based upon the fact that they charge an admission fee just to get close enough to take a nice picture. I guess all of that gold paint is expensive.

Sapporo From Hotel Window

We arrived a the very swank JR Tower Hotel in the heart of Sapporo and convenient to the train station. Convenient in the context that it is connected to the train station and owned by the railroad. Our first duty was to begin to break down our bikes and box them for the flight home. It is a sad but necessary chore to pack away your two wheeled companion after so many days of adventures. With three connections on my flight home I can only hope it somehow follows me there.

Since I was leaving the next day, I did not get to see much of Sapporo except for a walk to the Sapporo Tower for a final group photo and another longer walk to the Sapporo Brewery for an all you can eat and drink, goodbye dinner. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Still, I managed to retain my sobriety and enough sense of mind to find my way back to the hotel to finish my final packing for the next day’s long march home.

I can’t say enough good things about the TdA crew that took care of all the details to make our Journey to the East possible. They are a cheerful, skilled and professional group. Company founder and fellow rider for part of our tour, Henry Gold, can be proud of these people and the great job they do in making his company’s tours the enjoyable experience I have found them to be.

There was a lot of discussion on how to get our bikes to the airport. Taxis in Japan are ridiculously expensive with one that can fit a bike box and a passenger charging 21000 Yen for the trip. (app $200 Canadian) However, the train will make the same trip in half the time for about $10 Canadian if you don’t mind trying to drag your large, boxed bicycle and your luggage to the proper platform and squeezing the entire package onto the train. Two of us decided to team up to make the trip in case we needed to shuttle a piece of gear of two. As it worked out we both are good pack horses and accomplished the journey without having to do any back and forth trips.

My flights home were long, boring and stressful those times when there was not much time between connecting flights. Every time I hit a new airport I was put through security screening which made it that much tougher to get to my next departure gate on time. I made it but Air Canada was unable to get my bike onto my final flight, an expected surprise when I hit the ground in Ottawa. After a very long journey home I was not too pleased to stand in yet another line to report my missing bike and wait for the paperwork to be created to track it down and see that it gets shipped to my home.

With this last chore performed I was finally free to have my son and my wife Chris, pick me up and get me started on my two hour drive home where a rye and ginger ale awaited along with a comfortable bed. No matter how far I roam, coming home is always the best part of the journey.

The Last Full Measure of a Ride

Lake Toya to Lake Shikotsu

June 18, 2023

Lake Toya with Mount Yotei in the Distaance

Today was our last full ride before tomorrow’s short ride into Sapporo and the process of packing up the bikes and heading home. Today was our last day to stretch our legs over one last 500 meter climb and 78 kilometers of riding. Overall, an easy day but still a bit more work than tomorrow’s run to the finish.

The ride, while pretty, was not really all that distinctive from many of the other rides I have done so far. We did begin with a nice ride along Lake Toya with a view of Mount Yotei, a still active volcano, in the distance. No worries about eruptions. The last time Mount Yotei spoke its piece was around 1500 BC. Since then it has decided to keep its mouth shut.

Supposedly we are in bear country but you can not prove it through my experience. I have seen signs such as the one advertising that bears are not to be trifled with as well as one that seems to indicate that they do not appreciate tires being tossed on them.

Our last on route destination is at a resort on Lake Shikotsu, which appears to be popular with Japanese tourists. Our hotel is Japanese traditional, which means no showers in the room and bed rolls on the floor. They also seem to use some bean bag type filling for their pillows. The rooms are set up for living during the day and magically transform themselves in to sleeping spaces while we eat dinner. This has happened every time we have had this style of hotel room and I suspect house elves are involved.

Lake Shikotsu is a cold water, spring fed lake with a view of two active volcanoes, Mount Eniwa and Mount Tarumae. Mount Eniwa last erupted around 1700 (AD) while Mount Tarumae has a more active past with a 1982 eruption. Mount Tarumae is classed as an ‘A’ rank volcano and was voted, Most Likely to Erupt in the Near Future by the Japan Council Of Active Volcanoes. From a distance it seems pretty peaceful and I decided to not bother it as it appears to be sleeping.

The Unscheduled Challenge

Pirika to Lake Toya

June 17, 2023

Abandoned resort

Today was the first of our last three rides in Japan. It was scheduled to be an easy 75 kilometers with a fairly flat 700 meters of climbing. However, that route was set up over five years ago and the current experience found that there were three tunnels on that original route with heavy traffic. TDA decided that it was unsafe and scouted out a new route to avoid the danger. That route jumped the distance from 75 kilometers to 131 and the climbing double the original 700 meters. Welcome to your day Bob.

Let me say that there have been longer rides and more climbing. The distance and climbing are things that I am built for and used to. However, when your mind has been set on a day to loaf along and now you need to get hard and gritty, it takes a bit of mental adjustment. All part of the adventure when you tour by bike, just suck it up and ride.

The ride was through a lot of countryside very similar to the places we have already been. I decided not to bother with more pictures of rice paddies and volcanic mountains. However there were a few things of interest.

Throughout the island of Hokkaido we have come across buildings that have been abandoned. Some have fallen in upon themselves while others seem to be in the process of doing so. Some are nothing more than shacks but others seem quite elaborate. In a land prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, things often lack permanence. The Japanese try to consider these threats when they build and they often build with the idea that nothing will last more than twenty or thirty years. Tall buildings are seldom seen outside of Tokyo and even the big hotels seem to top out at twenty stories. Of course there are exceptions and the Japanese are masters of building with materials and engineering that will withstand what the planet throws at them up to a point.

Another interesting sight was an ostrich farm. One of our riders decided to get personal with the birds and the bird decided to try to snatch his cell phone. He imagined that the bird may have wanted to phone its relatives back in South Africa.

Eventually, through ups and downs and zig-zaging turns that moved us in anything but a straight line we came to our evening destination, Lake Toya. The lake fills an ancient caldera of a still active volcano. While the volcano is still active, it is not still belching smoke and tossing lava and rocks the way it would if it was erupting. Active means that it may vent form time to time with time being measured in centuries and not years. Seems fairly safe for now and the Japanese flock to the Lake for summer recreation.

Lake Toya


Otobe to Pirika

June 16, 2023

The laughing fisherman

For the past day and a half we have been riding along the east and west coast of Hokkaido. Our route began yesterday with a dark and misty ride along the island’s Pacific coast and through a few easy hills and tunnels over to the west coast on the Sea of Japan. Almost as soon as we emerged from the long tunnel that cut through the range separating the two sides of the island the mists lifted and the sky brightened into an almost sunny and definitely warmer day. From there it was downhill all the way to the western coast and some of the flattest riding of the trip. We rode through fishing villages dotted with small marinas and smelling the salted seaweed scented air that seems to be nearly the same in coastal communities around the world. I paused at one marina to take some pictures of a tall ship that seems to be from that transition era when both steam and sails worked side by side on metal hauled craft.

This morning we continued our coasting with a climb to bypass a tunnel that was closed for repairs before we returned to the mostly flat coastal road that only had a few gentle hills to stretch our leg mussels. The shoreline is composed of rugged volcanic rock that centuries of weather and waves have formed into mysterious shapes.

One is known locally as Unseki or the Cloud Shaped Rock in English. There is a shrine at the rock and the local story tells the tale of a battle fought between the indigenous Ainu people who controlled the island of Hokkaido and a Japanese army under the leader Sokechi. The Japanese forces were losing and they had been forced to retreat to the coast in the area of this rock. Suddenly the sky grew dark turning the area as black as night with flashes of lightning and claps of thunder coming from the direction of the cloud shaped rock. The Ainu forces withdrew giving the Japanese time to escape and reform their routed army. Later and under a new leader that army defeated the Ainu. The shrine commemorates this event.

However the story of the Ainu people is not a very happy one. These people are indigenous to the island of Hokkaido and other islands northward all the way to the Kamchatka Peninsula of Alaska. They are closely related to the Aleuts of the Aleutian Islands, as seen in the carving of totem poles by both cultures. After a series of military defeats during the 1600s, they lost territory and influence to the expanding Japanese culture. In 1799 events took a more destructive turn when the shogunate took total control over their homeland. From 1799 to 1806 the shogunate separated Ainu women from their men and husbands, forcing them to marry Japanese men or allowing them to be raped if they refused. The men were moved out of their communities and made to work as slave labor for periods of five to ten years. The result was the decimation of the Ainu population of Hokkaido and the near total assimilation of their people. Today, official estimates of their numbers are put at around 25,000 but could be as high as 200,000. No one knows for sure and most Japanese are unaware of what Ainu ancestry they might have. There is a movement to address this, much as there are movements to address the wrongs done to indigenous people in my home country of Canada as well as in many other countries around the world. It is a dark part of our past that can not be undone but that should be remembered and healed.

Religion and Culture

Hakodate to Otobe

June 15, 2023

Religion is a slippery thing in Japan. While all of the world’s major religions have a presence here and many faithful followers, the average Japanese tends to view religion as a buffet where you can pick and choose aspects that fit their cultural view of the world. Shintoism and Buddhism are so closely intertwined here that it is often hard to tell them apart. Both have many elements that overlap such as a respect for nature and the idea that God or gods are present and can be called upon for help. Prayers can be offered and special favors can be asked for in the proper way. Not so different from Christians praying to Jesus, God, the Virgin Mary or any of the heavenly host of saints.

Plain Torii

It is difficult to go very far in any direction without finding a temple or shrine of some type. So what is the difference? Simply put, temples are Buddhist and shrines are Shinto. Temples will usually have an incense burner and a statue of The Buddha in one of his many forms. Shrines will be marked by a usually bright red or orange torii at the entrance and contain an idol that is believed to contain the spirit of a god that can be summoned by two claps of one’s hands. Shintoism is a native religion of Japan while Buddhism is an import from China. Shinto shrines are usually closely related to some natural feature such as a waterfall or a mountain. Temples sometimes contain a burial site or a place for cremains.

Small idol at hillside

During my travels I have encountered shrines in some unusual places such as along a hiking path near a mountain top, or along a steep hillside behind a hotel. I even found one tucked into a nook along the side a busy highway. Sometimes a remarkable person is believed to have become a godlike spirit and shrine is created to envoke the power of his or her spirit. One such shrine was that of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji was responsible for the end of Japan’s last Shogunate and the restoration of civilian government.

Small roadside shrine

Another interesting addition to this religious mix are totem poles. I have always considered them to be exclusively a North American artifact associated with the Haida, Tlingit and Athabaskan indigenous peoples but they are far more global in nature. In Japan the indigenous Ainu people carved such poles in areass around the Pacific Rim. While the poles themselves have different religious meaning to the various people who have them within their culture they are far more widespread in cultures throughout the world. Still, to see one in Japan certainly raised a number of questions that led me to a greater understanding of the richness of their culture.

To Hakodate and a Morning on the Mountain

Amori to Hakodate

June 13 – 14, 2023

Our final travel / rest days started with a four hour ferry ride across the Tsugaru Strait between the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. We had a short bike ride as a group on both ends and our TDA para-medic, Chris had the chore of herding us cats from hotel to ferry and then ferry to hotel. The ferry ride was typical of our experience so far of being directed to a room without any place to sit and then being chased out of the comfy, premium seats that we all tried to migrate to. We settled for some less comfy chairs that the ferry crew seemed to not care about so long as we did not spread out too much, which we eventually did anyway. The ferry was not crowded and no other passengers were denied their choice of seating, so I guess the crew decided to just ignore us for the rest of the trip.

An easy walking trail up to the top of Mt. Hakodate

Hakodate is a southern city on the island of Hokkaido. It lies north of the Blakiston Line, a faunal boundary line that marks the division of Japan’s animal species between northern and southern Asian species. For example, no monkeys, Asian black bears or Japanese giant flying squirrels north of the line and no Ussuri brown bears or red squirrels south of it. No wolves on either side as both distinctive species that once existed are not extinct.

Sundial was not working. Someone forgot to change the batteries.
WWII shore gun position

My “rest day” began with a trek up the 334 meter height of Mount Hakodate. Mt. Hakodate is the remains of an long extinct volcanic eruption from the seabed that began 25 million years ago. Over time the volcano stop pushing its way out of the sea and sand filled in the space between it and the main island to from today’s mountain. The hike was a shady climb through cedar and deciduous forest to the observation station and antenna farm at the summit. The forest that I walked through is a recent creation the island having been denuded of its trees in the past for lumber and smoking herring. In 1899 Fort Hakodate was completed here to protect the harbor and city. During World War Two it continued this function by housing well protected shore batteries. Until 1946 it was illegal for citizens to visit the mountain, take pictures of it or even sketch it. Today it is a botanical garden containing over 600 species of plants as well as being a sanctuary for many animal and bird species.

Mt. Hakodate in the 19th century

There is a cable car that will take you to the top of Mt. Hakodate and back for a fee but I, like the many Japanese that I encountered on my morning hike preferred the beauty and solitude of an early morning walk to the summit. It also avoided the crowds that form at the observation deck once the cable car starts to run. I took the longer and less traveled rugged route back down to the city with the reward of a delicious banana and ice cream crepe for my efforts. Now to finish my day of rest and then five more rides to the finish line in Sapporo.

Following a River and Into the Clouds

Kazuno to Aomori

June 12, 2023

Coffee and Pie at Lakeside

It looked to be a ride like all the other rides at first. I was wrong. While it started in an ordinary way with a ride on a somewhat busy road out of town and through the inevitable rice plantations, thing began to change after the first climb. On the down side we began to encounter tour busses that seemed to stop at exactly the spot that we planned to, However, at the bottom of the mountain at Lake Towada we came upon a coffee shop known for their apple pie. If there ever were something that could stop a cyclist on a downhill glide it is fresh apple pie. We stopped, we ate and it was delicious!

We turned from Lake Towada to follow the Oriase River Gorge downhill for about ten kilometers. The gorge is fantastically beautiful with dozens of fairy like waterfalls feeding the clear mountain stream that flows from the lake. It is a popular tourism destination and appears to be on the ‘must stop and see’ list of every tour bus in Japan. During my passage through the gorge I counted 16 parked busses and another eight busses coming into the gorge from the direction ahead of me. While there were people everywhere, hiking, taking pictures and at least one plein-air artist capturing a scene, I was able to take my time, stop where I wanted and enjoy what natural Japan had to show me.

With the waterfalls and rapids behind me, I turned and began a trek uphill for over 700 meters into the mountains. It was a long climb and I rose quickly into the low clouds, heavy with moisture. Surrounded by white mist I pushed my way upwards feeling the pressure in my ears build and pop from time to time. The fog that surrounded me gave everything a surreal, Twilight Zone quality that was both mysterious and beautiful. Eventually, the pedaling became easier and I could see I was headed downhill for a long and fast glide through switchbacks and hairpins that were both fun and more exciting than the best roller coaster. As the grade lessened and my speed slowed, I found myself in an open valley with low vegetation and a surprising display of wild flowers. The mist was slowly lifting and my downhill speed increased until I was once again flying at highway traffic speed the remaining downhill grade with the wind whipping at my face and a smile on my lip as well as a shouted, “Ya-Hoo!” as I hit sixty kilometers per hour.

Hills, Homes and Gardens

Kakunodate to Kazuno

June 11, 2023

If there is something less apostatizing for breakfast then a platter of cold, bony fiI was determined to experience foods outside of my comfort zone on this trip and I think I have done a pretty good job of eating most things that were placed in front of me. Having eaten nearly this same meal, only warmer, for dinner the night before, I was reluctant to just dive right back in for breakfast. This was even more true when I saw what the vegetarian breakfast offered. They received a hard boiled egg, a fresh banana and a nice looking salad. Unfortunately, I did not sign up for the vegetarian fare and there were only enough made to feed those who had requested them in advance. If I only had the foresight to see this meal, I might have jumped ship and become a non-meat person. Instead I said, “Domo arigato,” (thank you very much) and walked next store to a Lawson’s convenience store for an egg salad sandwich, bown of fruit and a pastry.

Sunday Morning Rice Farming

The result was an early start for me and a brief period as the lead rider of the pack. This was a lead that vanished at around kilometer twenty when speedy Glen zipped by me with a whoosh, a hello and a see you later. Others were not far behind him as I took my lazy time riding around Lake Tazawa where I missed finding the statue of the Golden Lady in the Lake but found something more interesting than some flashy, watery tart soaking her feet. Under a Sister City program the people of Lake Tazawa are paired with the folks at Lake Chungqing in Tiawan (Republic of China) They donated the statue shown here to commemorate the preservation of safe drinking water, something important to all of us who love our lakes.

Dam Waters Rising
Look closely to see the submerged trees.

We also followed a series of rivers into the mountains and into a series of dams that have been built to supply Japan’s need for rice irrigation, hydro electricity and drinking water. One was a recently completed project that was still filling with water. It’s waters were sky blue and we could see submerged trees, still in leaf as the rising waters slowly changed their environment to one in which they will not survive. There was a strange beauty to this none the less.

After lunch came the big climb of the day and we slugged our way through bear country with little chance of actually seeing a bear. It was a Sunday and traffic on this parkland road was heavy enough to discourage even the boldest of bears. Warning signs and closed off parking spots prevented people from enticing them with food that could easily make them as the main course. The climb was scenic with numerous tunnels and landslide shelters that snaked their way up the mountainside. I was glad to see the summit.

Garden at our hotel

The Longest Ride

Hiraizumi to Kakunodate

June 10, 2023

Today was our longest ride of the tour at 138 kilometers or about 86 miles. It was not a flat route with Ride With GPS (RWGPS) showing about 1650 meters of climb in the route compared with over 2000 meters actual. The reason for the difference could be tunnels. There were four tunnels on then route where GPS was cut off and maybe RWGPS just filled in the missing elevations from the map rather than the actual climb registered. In any event, 138 kilometers with even 1650 meters of climb was enough to satisfy me.

Our route took us above a large dam that creates a massive reservoir to supply drinking a irrigation water as well as hydro electric generation. The route around was a bit of modern engineering so the 420 meters of climbing was spread out over a fairly gentle route. It still took a good and constant effort but was easier than many of the climbs we have had previously.

Along the way were numerous waterfalls that created deep chasms that were spanned by quite a few bridges as we snaked our way around and gradually up and over the surrounding mountain. Tunnels also helped to limit the amount of actual climbing required.


Once out of the mountains we moved into an area of somewhat industrial scale rice plantations fed by a intricate irrigation aqueduct network. One curious addition to this landscape were the billboards and bridge art that were apparently erected by the various local communities. I am not sure what the dogs on the billboard were eating but the ones on the left seem to have ingested hallucinogenics, while the ones on the right appear to be auditioning to become sled dogs. It might also be because they are the Akita breed which originated in this area. As for the narley guy with the beard, your guess is as good as mine.

Our evening town is also home to another group of cyclists doing a tour of Japan. By chance, one of those cyclist is Wallace, a man that two of us know from doing the Trans Europa tour in 2021. As I have said, the long distance cycling community is a small but tightly knit group and you almost always meet someone you know when you venture forth boldly and broadly.

Our town tonight is also know as Samurai City, having once been home to a legion of samurai warriors. Today many of the homes here war still owned by the proud descendants of these skilled and lethal warriors. Some even are maintained in the traditional style and open to the public for a small fee. Unfortunately, I arrived too late and left too early to visit one.

My high point occurred right at the end of the ride when I pulled into the hotel and one of the TDA staff, Chris, handed me a cold beer. Happy endings!