Cycled away

2 weeks after our departure from Tokyo, we are pleased to present the tenth video clip of our bicycle trip 🙂

100% Japanese, these excerpts filmed mainly in Kyoto and in the central mountains of the island of Honshu will give you an overview of the (good) road conditions, the facilities (bike paths of the lakes of Mount Fuji, special edges in tunnels, etc.) and the the fall weather. All colorful and at a good pace!

12 days cycling from Kyoto to Tokyo

In 12 days of cycling on Honshu (interspersed with 10 days of volunteering), we covered 800km and 10km of vertical drop in total.

The regions crossed, from Kyoto to Chiba and finally Narita, simply offered us splendid landscapes at every turn and a new change of scenery in the middle of autumn. The weather (as often in Japan) was sometimes capricious but the roads remained pleasant in almost all circumstances! Just like our guests, whom we still thank warmly. Here’s our story day by day.

Day 1: Kyoto-Toyosato (80km)

Kyoto is a small paradise for cycling and tourism. Bike paths are plentiful and it is very easy to get around during the day, from Nishiki Market to philosophy path and multiple temples. G
etting out of the city is quite easy, Maps.Me gives us the opportunity to discover a first tiny road in the forest and we reach Lake Biwa. Reputed because bordered by a cycle road (200km of periphery!), we unfortunately do not enjoy much because the weather is bad. Headwind and intermittent rain, we arm with courage and we end up reaching Toyosato, its cultivated areas (rice, soy, etc.) and its haven of peace at Jacquelyn, our host Warmshowers.

Day 2: Totosato-Sakahogi (90km)

We are heading to our first mountains in Japan. On Jacquelyn’s good advice, we sinued between the woods following streams. Zen atmosphere and a little cool ness. In the afternoon, we reach Gifu and its multiple commercial areas. Not very sexy to pedal and we have to slalom between medium-sized roads not too dangerous and sidewalks shared with pedestrians. Camping, charming lying simple and free, is a nice reward.

Floor rice fields in the Gifu Mountains

Day 3: Sakahogi-Nakatsugawa (70km)

The night was cool and the dew takes us half an hour to find the tent. We go back to the East and our first real passes. Always lots of forests and some beautiful descents, we reach Nakatsugawa at 4pm. Wild camping spot in the municipal park and pubs to watch the Japan-Samoa rugby match. From the pasta to the stove as a feast and then a half at the bar nearby (500 euros …), a very nice evening.

Day 4: Nakatsugawa-Iijima (90km)

3 big passes on the day’s program, we tackle it quite early and the day goes smoothly. The roads are almost deserted and quite steep. Before the descents, a brake check is necessary and sometimes you have to wear a small wool. Drew, from Seattle, with his vintage road bike, catches up with us at the second pass and stays in our mini peloton until mid-aprem. A very nice meeting.

Day 5: Iijima-Suwa (80km)

On the way to Lake Suwa! The roads are not pleasant because they are too busy but you get by by sailing “on sight” on Maps.me. The weather gets worse as we approach the lake and we will end up going around it on its bike path a little in spite of us to find affordable housing. An “adult only” hotel will do the trick, a hot shower and in bed.

Pause in front of the geyser on the edge of Lake Suwa

Day 6: Suwa-Fujimi (30km)

The exit of Suwa is a bit painful: the commercial areas follow one another and we spend a lot of time slaloming on the sidewalks because of the lack of a pleasant bike route. We still end up finding a parallel road on a balcony that takes us to Fujimi where we dive towards the river and its Michi-no-eki (rest area) adjoining. We take advantage of heated public toilets and wifi and then we set up the tent below at the front.

Wild camping on the banks of Fujimi’s Michi-no-eki

Day 7: Fujimi-Minami Alps (40km)

Last pedal strokes for this first week. The weather is sublime, we do rather well to “grab” pleasant roads. Around noon the Fuji appears in the distance and we begin a gentle and long descent to Kofu, witnessing the passage of the rice harvest (by machine, we are far from the artisanal methods of Laos!). M
inami-Alps here we are. Our environment for the next 15 days will be made of apple trees, cherry trees, persimons and irrigation canals lined with micro-roads ideal for the “bike-taf” HelpX that awaits us!

A few more cables before Minami-Alps

Day 8: Minami Alps-Fujikawaguchi (60km)

With our heads full of memories and delighted with our volunteering experience, we leave Minami Alps in the late morning until the heavy downpours of Typhoon 20 calm down. Past the Kofu basin, we begin a long climb, passing first in a few deserted villages and then in a forest path lurking with dead leaves, supposed to be closed in prevention of typhoons. The fog makes the atmosphere really special and we are relieved to finally find the pass. A few dozen kilometers of bumps and a tunnel (not very reassuring by bike but well lit) and we finally reach Lake Fujikawaguchi! Mount Fuji is well hidden behind the thick cloud ceiling…

Day in the mist…

Day 9: Fujikawaguchi-Hadone (70km)

At dawn, on the roof of our hostel, we discover the Snow-capped Fuji. It’s sublime! Until the early afternoon, this landscape will captivate our winding roads towards the second Lake Yamanaka, bordered by a very pleasant bike path.

Fuji here you are!

After a good break, we set the throttle to Hadone where our American hosts Warmshowers Rich and Joan are waiting for us. The descent is really dizzying (often 15%) and we are not dissatisfied with doing so. We arrive at night and spend a great evening chatting bike, Japan, work, etc.

Our hosts and their two adorable cats

Day 10: Hadone-Miura (60km)

Departing 9am from Hadone, we follow a fairly convenient canal to the bay. The marine atmosphere of the Pacific Ocean is exotic after more mountainous days. Surfers are very numerous although the waves are quite rare! As we approach Miura, we choose to use the centre of the peninsula rather than the coast. It’s a bit hilly and full of tunnels that fortunately have wide sidewalks. The weather is getting worse and we are getting lost in Miura because we have not properly placed the gps coordinates of our host. Fortunately, Stephen eventually locates us and tells us the way forward. Relieved, we arrive at night and enjoy an excellent meal prepared by his partner Kyoko.

Day 11: Miura-Chiba (80km)

We will remember this 25 October for a long t
ime… It’s rainy day in Miura, and the sky doesn’t pretend. Waterspouts and gusts of wind but we have no choice: we have to reach Chiba so we don’t have to risk missing our plane the next day. We put on our k-ways, our rain pants and let’s go. After 10km, soaked to the bone, we take the ferry to cross Tokyo Bay. 40min later it’s left for 70km of non-stop shower. Sometimes the rain stops but it starts again and floods appear on the outskirts of Chiba. We take refuge years a department store and finally arrive at their destination at 6pm. Aya and her son Kai welcome us, then Yujio comes home from work. They are charming and especially experienced cyclists: South America, Central Asia, their photo books make you dream. And the meal we also share!

Photo stage under a great sun with Aya, Yuji and Kai already as on wheels

Day 12: Chiba-Narita (50km)

Last day, we have to close the loop. The temptation was great to put our bikes in the car trunk of Yujio towards the airport but we decide to rally the last 40 kilometers on our mounts. The road is pretty good, apart from the dangerous tunnels on the outskirts of Narita. 1pm, we have 3 hours to disassemble, pack our bicycles to check in and then board for Los Angeles!

Interview with Kazu, from Nakagomi Orchards (résumé)

We finished two great weeks of volunteering at Minami-Alps, joined in our daily tasks by 3 Frenchies, an Australian and Singaporeans. From the breathtaking view of Mount Fuji to Typhoon 19, including days of weeding, we didn’t get bored! As a review, we wanted to know a little more about the activity of the orchard and its current issues with its manager, our host, Kazu.

What is the history of the orchard ? What were the milestones? The dates? When did you start to work in this place and to manage it ?

History ? I don’t know. Maybe some thousands and thousands years. 

In Japan, it’s opposite to United States. We were always here. Our parents, grandparents, great great parents, always were here. 

So it’s a family farm. Your parents had this farm and they already had peaches, apples…?

No. Talking about the fruit growing in Japan as a mainstream, the fruit growing started in mostly 1960s. Some people still doing before that. It was 70, 80, 90 years ago. But as a mainstream, fruit growing started in mostly in 1960s.Before, people weren’t growing fruits, they were growing rice and then mulberry trees. Mulberry trees to feed the silk worms. But what happened was in 1974. China and Japan got that official diplomacy. And then Chinese ships started to go in Japan and trade. That forced Japanese farmers to stop growing silk worms. So mostly they changed activities in the 70s and 80s. People have started to grow more and more fruits and also Japanese have started eating fruits. They liked it. But then in late 80s while people were growing lots of fruits the price went down. That was international, in many country. Then we were forced to start fruit picking, like a leisure business.

Break time for Kazu and volunteers !

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Interview with Kazu, from Nakagomi Orchards (complete)

We finished two great weeks of volunteering at Minami-Alps, joined in our daily tasks by 3 Frenchies, an Australian and Singaporeans. From the breathtaking view of Mount Fuji to Typhoon 19, including days of weeding, we didn’t get bored! As a review, we wanted to know a little more about the activity of the orchard and its current issues with its manager, our host, Kazu.

What is the history of the orchard ? What were the milestones? The dates? When did you start to work in this place and to manage it ?

History ? I don’t know. Maybe some thousands and thousands years. 
In Japan, it’s opposite to United States. We were always here. Our parents, grandparents, great great parents, always were here. 

So it’s a family farm. Your parents had this farm and they already had peaches, apples…?

No. Talking about the fruit growing in Japan as a mainstream, the fruit growing started in mostly 1960s. Some people still doing before that. It was 70, 80, 90 years ago. But as a mainstream, fruit growing started in mostly in 1960s.Before, people weren’t growing fruits, they were growing rice and then mulberry trees. Mulberry trees to feed the silk worms. But what happened was in 1974. China and Japan got that official diplomacy. And then Chinese ships started to go in Japan and trade. That forced Japanese farmers to stop growing silk worms. So mostly they changed activities in the 70s and 80s. People have started to grow more and more fruits and also Japanese have started eating fruits. They liked it. But then in late 80s while people were growing lots of fruits the price went down. That was international, in many country. Then we were forced to start fruit picking, like a leisure business.

Before that you were selling to the market ?

Yes. From farmer to local market, local market to delivery company, delivery company to major market, then middle one and then finally supermarket. So many, many, many, many people included. Even though your customer buy one apple or peach like 200 ¥ benefit will be maybe just 30 or 50 ¥. And then out of that, many things are excluded. So real benefil will be very little. Now clients come over and then pick. So no middlemen at all. Just us and the customers only. 

How is evolving farming and agriculture in Japan? Some people are old now, do you have young people that you can teach to ?

In the 70s / 80s still okay at that time, but in 90s a bubble collapsed in Japan, then people I mean, farmers are getting older and older. Now the average age for fruit farmers or any farmer in Japan is 70 years old. We are encouraging young generation to do that. That’s why, as you can see on our farm many young people come over, they’re learning from us. They’re helping. But we helping them, too. But as a national natural tendency. This is a very rare case. 

People are staying in Tokyo or in other big cities ?

People in Tokyo, or big cities like Tokyo, they want to get out of a city. You know, they don’t like city life. Because today they get the stress out of a city, right? Concrete jungle. Narrow space. Things are expensive. And then water and air are not clean. They want to have more green, more space. But the reality is difficult. Even though they dream about moving into the countryside, it’s not that easy. They need to find a job, a fast income. But still some people really want to move to the countryside and then want to start farming, they come over to us, we try to give help to them. 

What about climate factors such as typhoons ? How is impacting global warming ? Do you see a difference from some years?

Yes, I give you an example : cherries. Growing cherry is getting very, very difficult. 30 years ago, if I categorize into 5 categories like super good harvest (5), good harvest (4), so so harvest (3), bad harvest (2), very bad harvest (1), maybe bad harvest or very bad harvest used to be maybe one time every five or seven years before. But nowadays one time every two years. I’ve heard from other people, for example, from Australia, they said the same thing. And I’m not talking about typhoon. 

Is it about soil quality?

Temperature. As for growing fruit, the most important month is April because April is flower blooming : cherries, apples, plumbs, peaches, pears, whatever you know. We do cross pollination in Japan. In other countries they just use a box of bees. Besides the use of box of bees, Japanese farmers do manually pollination and they do that work in April. And the temperature of April is up compared with 20, 30 years ago. For growing cherry, the temperature for pollination has to be 15 to 20°C. Over 23/25°C, even though you work hard, you pollinate, it cannot get success. 

Why don’t you “use” bees?

No, we’re using bees. We’re using bees! But they fly away some kilometers. So if you have a farm here, if you put a box of bees, thousands of bees, you are not guaranteed that they are working for you farm. Whereas for humans, we have a memory so we can remember which branch we pollinate. 

But isn’t it long and hard work ?

Yes it is. But Japanese are hard workers. 

And about the typhoon itself ? Do you have insurance? 

Two years ago 80% of apples were damaged. This year the same. Last year about 1000 pears dropped. And many trees broken. This year also many damages, not just apples. We have insurance but it does not cover except if you get more serious damage. 

Apples dropped and lost after typhoon 19

Can you tell us more about the fertilizers and pesticides ? Do you use it and why ?

Basically, in order to grow fruit, you need to use pesticides. It’s impossible to grow fruit without the use of a pesticide. But you cannot choose any kind of pesticides, Japan is very, very strict. For example if one farm is growing peaches and neighbour growing apple : they check randomly. If one pesticide for apple and not supposed to be used on peach is detected at the market, they all reject.

Also for growing the Japanese fruits in most of the cases like peaches, nectarines, plumbs, apples, pears, grapes, we cover them when they are tiny. Which means that in high percentages pesticides are also blocked. That’s a difference between Japanese fruits and other countries. To be precise, tastier, high quality, sweeter and then also safer.

What about organic farming? Would you like to have a certification?  

As I say, for growing fruits, it’s impossible to grow fruit without the use of pesticide. Vegetables, it depends on. Potatoes, carrots or onions, many over them you can grow without the use of pesticide. Except cabbages or Chinese cabbages or letuce.

How do you see the future of your activity? Do you plan to expand ? What about volunteers ?

You know, I think that this is the maximum size for us, as long as we do family business. We family are maybe five people plus 5 or 7 workers. So maybe 10-12 all year round. Plus June to September, on Saturday. Sunday, we hire maybe five or six more. Which means 15-17 in total.

For weeding volunteers help. Weeding and mowing are the basic work, whatever you grow. People come from all over the world, France but even Russia, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Scandinavian countries. Many, many Asian countries. China. Malaysia. Singapore. Taiwan. Hong Kong. Thailand. Australia. New Zealand. Many, many, many. I receive a request for a stay out of roughly 3000 people in a year, I accept maybe a hundred and fifty to two hundred. That’s the maximum. 

How will you prepare to typhoons next years ?

This is usual now. We cannot stop, this kind of disaster will occur every year. Which means we have to think for the possibility of damages on September. October. Because of typhoon, maybe we shouldn’t do apple anymore. Very difficult because every time you spend a lot of money and a lot of time. And then damages. 

Maybe persimmon is easier ?

As you know, we are doing fruit picking as a business. People come over and they enjoy it. So for this kind of business, there is a ranking : which fruit is a more popular, which are less popular. This trend, though, is changing. 30 years ago, apple picking was very popular, now it’s anymore. So we have to catch this change of trend. And then relatively, as you might have noticed, the customers are young generations. 20s or 30s, maybe 40s. I would say 70-80% young generation. So we have to see what fruit picking they are seeking. Now cherry picking strawberry picking most popular, grape picking peach picking next. Pears, apples, down.

Break time for Kazu and volunteers !

If you are visiting Yamanashi province and would like to help Kazu in his activities: https://www.helpx.net/host.asp?hostid=24462

Japanese atmospheres

Following its reputation, Japan has enchanted us as it is full of mystical facets, endearing people and harmonious landscapes. Here are some atmospheres gleaned by Cléa to try to convey the flavors of our many Japanese discoveries.

As soon as we arrive in Kyoto, we visit the covered market of Nishiki, very different from those encountered in Southeast Asia, animated by commercial announcements and exchanges between employees across the shelves. In addition to the ubiquitous plastic packaging and typical Japanese meals (suchis, bentos, skewers…), it is above all the sounds of the place that immediately put us in the mood!

Nishiki Market in Kyoto

Very quickly we leave the urban areas towards the forests. There, among the huge resinous and their Arachnean tenants, only the chimes of villages, the wind and the streams pierce the silence.

In forests in the Japanese Alps

In Suwa, we discover the hot springs and the associated public bath. A geyser installed behind the tourist building just a stone’s throw from the lake, spits out every hour and a half its water in front of onlookers.

Announcement and show of the geyser at Lake Suwa

While we have often camped in the open countryside, we have also ventured into the city. At least to try local bars that broadcast the Rugby World Cup! Like this Japan-Samoa, on October 5th…

Japan rugby match, with a win!

The train, as in every country where we have been able to use it, is also of a special sound character. The villages are announced regularly but we still need time to locate ourselves. Fortunately the controller, very attentive, checks our destination and tells us the fare that will have to be paid at the arrival station!

On board the Minobu Express

Finally, of course, the temples that are innumerable all over Japan. Their architecture is splendid and the rituals that take place there are also impressive. Here is a ceremony that we attend by chance during our visit to Fujinomiya.

Ceremony at Fujisan Sengen Temple in Fujinomiya

Passengers in Vietnam

For this ninth video episode, we’ve put together the best of our Vietnamese adventures. From Ninh Binh with friends to Hanoi, via the island of Cat Ba, the roads were hectic but still charming! Not to mention the highlight of the show: the packaging of our cycles before we fly to… Japan 🙂 Let’s go!

Xe Dap is not dead!

After 100 days of travel from Singapore, 4130km of pedaling and a good thousand by train or bus, we arrived in Hanoi on September 26 🙂 So many paths and so many great moments in the head on bicycles!

Since we entered Vietnam 15 days ago, we have had a few more great moments on our bikes. On the small roads of Ninh Binh, its canals adjoined by ducks and its hypnotic hills surrounded by rice paddies, with the friends Caro and Vianney. In Cat Ba too, where the hilly coastal road has plunged us back into the maritime atmosphere of Indonesia or Thailand.

Cat Ba Coastal Road

But let us be frank, and careful for those who would read us with the aim of crisscrossing Vietnam on two wheels (non-motorized): the country, or at least its north-central part, is far from being a paradise for cyclo-travellers. Motor vehicles, especially trucks, honk their horns for nothing, double without any visibility, even if they fall back on our wheels, while scooters insert themselves with anarchy on the main road, consult their smartphone while driving or stop unexpectedly…

Bikes stored in the alleys of Ninh Binh

Of course the volume of vehicles is the main cause but we still see a clear difference with the previous countries: the risk is everywhere and the Vietnamese are tough on the road.

We especially regret that the bicycle, which has long been used by sellers [1], has became so minor. The electric scooter is fashionable but does not solve congestion or danger. In Ninh Binh, Sabine our host explained to us: motorbikes are a sign of richness, the bike of poverty. So it disappears from the urban landscape. However, there are still a few shops that would allow everyone to equip or maintain their bike: they repaired Sylvain’s pedal box in 1/4 hour for 8 euros!

Bike shops in Hanoi

As for the collective bus in Hanoi, yet cheap (0.3 euros per ride) and quite reliable, it is far from being full except during rush hour.

In short, here we regret more than ever our European bike paths and the cycling rights acquired in pain by the French associations. About this topic, there is still time to fill the bike barometer of the FUB [2]. Let’s fight to conserve and extend rights, perhaps such beautiful countries like Vietnam will take inspiration from its to give the little queen a place of choice in an ultra-motorized urban landscape.

[1] See about the beautiful exhibition: “Street vendors and the cries of the street in Hanoi” at the French Institute

[2] Public inquiry of the French Federation of Bicycle Users, open until 30 November 2019

Remembering Cat Ba

Cat Ba is the gateway to the famous Halong Bay and its wildest little sister Lan Ha. It is therefore a tourist hotspot, with all its contrasts and excesses. While the surroundings are wild, mountainous and populated by the last langurs monkeys, the city and its waterfront look more like Canet-en-Roussillon, with its ugly hotel buildings and its uncharming bars.

In the harbour, the boats wet while waiting for a next trip between the karst islets.

Thanks to Charles for this illustration!