Honshu Heights

Once I left Hokkaido I was happy and relieved that now, when I find my little forest tracks, I don’t have to worry about the big brown bears.

Because in Honshu they have only black bears.

And I quote :” Asian black bears can be very aggressive toward humans, and have frequently attacked people without provocation”     –wikipedia-

How wonderful.

They’re not the biggest worry though…

The road Covered

I arrived in a hot and humid Niigata and headed for the hills. I thought the rain season was supposed to have finished.


Seems I was wrong.

I don’t like cycling in the rain much, but I rather be in the rain than in the tunnel.


They are dead-scary! A lot of them have side walks. No problem there. But there’s others that do not.

And with trucks, busses and cars coming from both directions they’re a real problem. My tactic lately is to take my place before a car so they have to slow right down. In the hope they understand why I ride in the middle of the road. Some don’t, and try with extreme danger to overtake anyway. While I wave my flashlight around like a mad woman. Most cars seem to be ok with it. Lucky they don’t have such thing as road rage out here…

Nice Rain

As usual I ended up near a hot spring. After scouting the area for good camp spots (plenty) I went to the Onsen. It happened to be a ‘Ryokan‘. This is a traditional Japanese Inn.

The hot spring was glorious. With even a better view then I’ve had in any spa’s so far!


As I packed up my bike to head off  I got chatting to the owner.  Masaaki asked where I was heading so I told him.

A minute later he came back with a little note that said: “ You sleep here

He must ‘ve seen the look on my face because he quickly added :”No pay, no pay!

at the Furusawa Ryokan

His mum just had dinner ready so the timing was perfect.

When he showed me the room I was amazed, it was so beautiful! And after a fitful sleep on the ferry and a very wet day more than welcome.

my room in the Ryokan

According to my host there is absolutely no problem at all about heading towards Fukushima. But I figured I better take a turnoff earlier.


Seems I missed it.

But the road I was looking for is in the Fukushima prefecture. Route 400 winds its way through gorges and valleys and tiny small town where it’s absolutely blissful cycling.

Nice place

I even found a hot spring.

A very very scorching hot spring. And the tiniest I’ve seen so far.

Hot! Atsu!

I shared it with three local ladies all over the age of 70 whom didn’t seem to feel the heat at all. They kept pouring cold water in my corner so I really had to go in. I lasted about a minute.

The man who owned the shop had a spare little shack he let me camp in.

I camped in his shack

The scenery was beautiful even in the rain.

Love the flowers

One lady stopped me on the road to fill up my water bottles with ice tea and ask about my trip.

You what? Where??

She’d seen me on the road earlier and  was waiting for me outside her house.

I found a nice place to pitch my tent right in the middle of a village square. Nobody seemed to mind, and I had a hot-pool next to my tent and even some company as a guy on a scooter pulled up looking for a dry place to pitch his tent too.

Fellow Cyclist

I really like the road. Not all the time. But it seems the mountain roads have little traffic and when you get into the valleys there is usually a river with a road along the dyke or a quiet (er) road parallel to the main one.


I climbed my way into Nikko. Turns out there are some world heritage-listed temples there.


I wandered up to have a look and heard something familiar. Dutch!


It’s been a while since I’ve spoken that language.  But at this world heritage site I had a lovely chat with Anja, Mark and Wolfgang. Who were over for a holiday.


I hadn’t planned to ride up the mountain that day,

but I missed the turn off to my hot spring, and I rather ride 14km up the hill then 1km back.

I got to a lovely lake late in the evening and just managed to find a place for my tent.

Then the drumming started.


I pitched my tent next to a temple and since there was a big festival the next day there was some drum-practise going on.

You know you’re a bad tourist when you rather go ride your bicycle up the hill than hang around for a festival…

Early in the morning I had a visit from 2  gentleman on their way to a day of painting.

My camp and a visit

I got on my bike to ride to the top of the hill. I’m not sure how high it was,

Nice road

around 1800 meter I’m guessing, and I felt pretty good about getting there until a 63 year old lady over-took me.

Fit Lady!

She rode all the way from Nikko that day!

I came across a sign telling me I’m now on the ‘Japanese Romantic Route’ .

You see all sort of things along this ‘Romantic Route

Like people completely ignoring the fact it’s mid-summer and go skiing anyway.

Mid Summer ski field I had my lunch at the ski-field and a friendly fellow in a flash vehicle came over to see what I was up to.


Only about 10km down the road I saw the same gentleman and he waved me over to enjoy some locally famous corn together.


I know I’m lucky. I experience it every day. But there was one minor moment where I really got to appreciate it.

Riding along a steep narrow town road in Numata a gust of wind suddenly took my hat and blew it right into the fast streaming gutter next to the road. I looked in and saw my hat balancing on a pipeline right above the raging water. With a slightly acrobatic manoeuvre I managed to grab it before either wind or water could take off with it. Pfew!

I really like my hat.

The romantic Road

Down the hill Yasuo Kenjo found me wandering around his neighbourhood and decided to take me home.

Yasu's Home

To my surprise he does not have a computer, he does not like internet and you’ll never find him on facebook. He is content living in the house where he grew up and showed me the pictures on the walls.

One of which was his great grand-dad who died in WWII.


He also proudly showed me the Japanese snaps he brewed himself. I even got to try it.


That made the next day’s ride an awful lot harder.

I stopped before the ‘big climb’ in the small town of Naganohara where I pitched my tent on the sports field.

I was a little surprised when around 20.30 all the big lights came on, and a bunch of guys were probably rather surprised to find a tent at their baseball field. Oops.

Next door was a big sport hall, when I went to investigate (no sleeping with those lights on) I found a jolly bunch of locals playing badminton. So I joined them.

Playing Badminton

My arm still hurt the next morning as I climbed 1200 meters into the famous spa-resort town of Kusatu.


Here is the source of the water used by all the Ryokans and spa’s in the town. It gushes out 4.000 litre per min.

It smells just like Roturua. And I like Roturua.

And you think we're funny with our wooden shoes...

It was only 11 in the morning and I still had a big hill to ride up so I decided just to have a coffee. Luck would have it I stopped at ‘Cafe Spa Neue Post’

Where Takashi is running the show.


Not sure if I got a bit smelly during the climb up or if I just looked like I could use a bath but he told me his family runs a traditional Ryokan here and would like to offer me a spa, if I had time.

Well sure! Nothing like a hot tub in the middle of the day.

Traditional Spa

It was absolutely glorious.

Don’t know if it was the hot spring, the coffee, my mood or the scenery but I felt extremely energetic heading up the next pass.

Gotta love that road!!!

The views were unbelievable and I saw the most beautiful rainbow.


It reminded me of my Oma.

But the top wasn’t the top and the road kept going up and down for a good while before I finally reached the 2.172m point.


From where I shot down, getting rather cold, looking for a bear-free spot to camp.

Found it.

My Tent

I never thought I’d be dancing  Japanese folk-dance with 250 high school students in Suzurikawa. Yet this is exactly what happened that very evening.

There was a high school camp with lots of dancing, a big campfire and singing.

The dancing seemed not all too different from traditional Dutch folk dances. Although I doubt you get any high school student to do those back home.

After each little set the boys would move along so every boy got to dance with every girl. There were some very surprised, amused and slightly shocked looking boys when they had to dance with this weird Dutch girl who kept stepping on their toes (sorry ’bout that!)

It was hilarious for the first 20 minutes or so but I was happy they finished after two hours for a firework display.

BANG!Highschool students

I hadn’t seen any bicycles for a while and was surprised when another cyclist, with nothing but a small backpack, rode in after dark.

Syunnsuke Kondou is on his way to Tokyo and was going to sleep in the toilet building, as he didn’t have a tent and it was getting rather chilly up this high. He was lucky because my water had just boiled and I was about to have some miso soup 🙂

He made me a drawing;


I had the choice of shooting down the hill from there or climb over another one.


At 1920m a nice warm-up in the morning. And very conveniently a little restaurant on top. Where the owner gave me a very welcome complementary cup of coffee before heading down route 66.


And I sure got some kicks!

I couldn’t read this sign but the road says it all.


On the way down I came past another hot pool and decided to warm up before heading down the mountain.


By the end of the day I was wondering if I’m taking it a little too far. 4 baths in 2 days… hmmm. Maybe. At least I’m really very clean.


Route 66

I love the old houses, the colourful roofs,


even the gutters are pretty.

Pretty gutters

I passed a field with some seriously scary scare-crows. I’d stay well clear if I was a bird.


Matsumoto is a big town.

I had not planned to stay there at all, and I had no idea they had a famous castle.


But I stumbled across it and was staring at my map to find a way out (or a place to camp) when a lady came up to ask if I needed directions.

Sachiko was on her way to the library,


but when it started to rain she decided the books could wait and took me to her place where she lives with her 91-year-old mum.


A very happy lady who looked after me like her own grand-child.

As it rained I spent the next day doing some washing, shopping and inter-netting. The delights of a city.

And I marvelled over the little things that make live easier. Like light-in-the-dark light switches. So much easier to find! Why don’t we have those? (maybe because I live in a tent… Ah)

After a great rest, glorious food,


and the wonderful hospitality of Sachiko and her mum I rode out of town towards the highest public road in Japan! Even the roads near mount Fuji are nowhere near as high as the Norikura Sky Drive!

I was very excited about the ride but had to get through some horrible tunnels to get to my road.

As the rain hadn’t eased off yet I decided to camp in a bus stop the first night.

Perfect Spot

It was conveniently located right across the road from a small (free) hot spring.

Route nr. 84 heads up to a height of 2702 meters and is popular with cyclist.

Route 84

The wonderful thing about this road is that it’s closed for private vehicles so once you’re through the gates, where the security guard gave me a helpful push up the hill you got the road to yourself and a few tourist busses.

I stopped to have a chat with this fellow who camped on a small piece of snow.

Skiing in August

He had a bicycle and a pair of ski’s and seemed to spent his day skiing down the snow patch and hiking back up. He also mentioned he’d seen a bear last night.

The climb itself was a fair bit easier than the last big hill I rode over. Some steep bits but nothing to serious.

I sat on top of the hill where there is a big bus stop, some souvenir-shops, and restaurants. Chatting and taking pictures with people, mostly other cyclist who couldn’t believe I got the beast up the 2702 meter.




I was planning to camp up here so had to wait for all busses to leave before pitching my tent in the most glorious spot.

Happy Camper

Just then a guy came walking down the mountain.

Ryohei Ichakawa

Ryohei Ichikawa is a classic guitarist from Saitama with a passion for night-time photography.

He thought I was very lucky to end up in this spot on this very night.

I thought so too.

It is good to have some company, it makes camping amongst bears a lot less scary and it was nice to have somebody to have a whiskey with 🙂

awesome sky

What we didn’t realise is that this seems to be Japan’s most popular spot for watching the sunrise. I found out as three tour busses pulled up next to my tent at 4.30 in the morning.

Suddenly you realise why they call this the land of the rising sun.


22 thoughts on “Honshu Heights

  1. Thank you…what a great way to start a Friday morning in the office. You are the best ambassador for the Japanese Tourist board I have ever seen and can’t wait to go. Love Harry

  2. Hoi Mir,
    Mooie foto’s en super verhaal. Leuk om te lezen, Stella kon vannacht niet slapen; bang voor de beer! Verder alles goed hier, gekampeerd in Eibergen, ook leuk 🙂
    Geniet ervan! Liefs van ons, Karin

  3. Beautiful, as always. So glad you are having a good time in Japan. It is impossible not to. The most hospitable place I have come across. Glad you are making the most of the onsen, one of the highlights of Japan!

  4. Hoi Mirjam, geweldig weer om te zien hoe je Japan ziet zoals volgens mij geen enkele toerist het zal meemaken. En geweldige foto’s, maar dat hoor je vaker.. :-). Ook leuk te zien hoe het er uit ziet na je te hebben gesproken, kortom, het is weer genieten.


  5. Amazing…..I have just started road cycling and Japan is next on my list to visit…….so stumbling across your blog was just perfect!

  6. Hi Mirejam, thank you for uploading our picture of my friend Nakamura Satoru at left and me Kosaka kihachiro at right.
    At this time on the chuzenji lake I have get your facebook and your cyclingdutchgir.com address from your card. I’m very suprised to know your long long cicling trip.
    I’m looking forward to watch your blog in the future. Keep up the good journey with care.

  7. Hi Mirjim! Two of you Aussie grannies – Shirley and Gerry have just got back from a fabulous 3 week trip to Ireland to meet my three grand children. We didn’t do any cycling but did plenty of walking and even participated in a 5 km Kilworth Festival Fun run which we both completed with about 200 Irish people. How’s that for two over 70 year old Grannies? Weather was perfect but it’s cold and wet back in Oz. Caught up with Granny Isabel when we got home today ….poor gal she’s doing it tough on the first of her ‘C’ treatment which will happen every three weeks for 6 times.
    Thanks for your interesting Japanese pics …..always fabulous too!
    Cheers from your three Aussie Grannies.

  8. Just found your website and really enjoyed it. We’ve stayed with Yama-san a few tims now on visits to japan from the uk. He has the best hostel in the county. Keep on having a great time.

  9. Hullo! Great pictures and such lovely people! I’m currently planning the outline of my Honshu leg and was wondering if you could share the route you took? 🙂

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