Monday, September 7, 2009

"Riding" through the Mountains

I've gotten used to people here saying 'oh, you can't do that' when I ask about routes for biking from one city to another. Generally, they really just mean 'I would never bike there'. For the most part, telling them that I've already biked to where I'm standing from the northernmost point in Hokkaido, about 1,600km away, is enough to chance their concept of what is doable.

However, this time I got the full 'dame', with hands crossed in front of body in an X shape. (That's the most common way of expressing something that is prohibited, wrong, unavailable, etc. It doesn't necessarily have a negative connotation. The greater the certainty, the higher up the arms for the X. :) ) There are mountains between Tsu and Uji, today's destination. That's pretty common in Japan, and no news to me. However, it turns out that the two mountain passes within biking range of Tsu are expressways that neither allow bikes nor have provision for a place to bike on. Oops.

Generally, when looking at a map, anything marked as a bypass (baipasu) or as IC will not allow bikes. Everything else has some way for bikes to make it through, even if drivers there pretend otherwise (I'm looking at you, Route 12 in Hokkaido). The catch is not all maps bother to mention when something is a bypass (IC's are large, require tolls, and are generally very well marked).

So, today I am enjoying the gorgeous view of the mountains between the coastline where Tsu and Ise lie and the valley where Kyoto is from the air conditioned comfort of a local train. (Yes, they're slower, but they're also cheaper and, more importantly, it's easy to bring the bike case in because they have space for people to ride standing. Express trains, with reserved seats, look more like airplanes inside and therefore are a bit trickier when it comes to cramming a 32" suitcase.) Plus, you get to see a lot more from a local train (this brings back memories of going to Hiroshima on nothing but local trains... took 8 hours there, 8 hours back, leaving us with two and a half hours to see Hiroshima... but it only cost $20 for the train tickets! :) ).

Tsu, and the various cities around that area, seemed primarily industrial and bureaucratic. Lots of cement buildings, likely designed with a big brick as muse and inspiration, and wide paved roads formed most of the scenery. It's unusual for Japan in that it combines that wide open space, stripmall 'je ne sais quoi' with a few struggling elements of Japanese culture, making for something with what I think may be a rather narrow appeal.

Ise, with its shrines and nearby mountains, was the first to really show something like character in the area. As the train made it past Ise, where I'd biked to, and up into the mountains, it was like riding back into Japan. Small towns with more traditional Japanese houses with ornamented roofs (even a few bright blue roofs, something I hadn't noticed since leaving Hokkaido, where for no reason anyone there knew, ALL roofs are painted blue), shrines, and something planted in every available flat(ish) open surface.

As we come back down the mountains, the cities gradually got more densely packed. Soon, it was the end of the school day and kids in uniform started packing into the trains.

The sun was setting as I arrived in Uji. As I wheeled away from the station, the first people I talked to asked me if I knew of a good place to have tea around here.

Uji is off to a great start. :)

1 comment:

Ben said...

Hug hug HUG hug HUG huG HUG (in case Japan is still short on 'em)