Just recently I was sent to Guam for work and on my way back to the states, I had a layover in Tokyo. I decided to extend my layover and take five days to explore Tokyo and other surrounding cities by bicycle. I ended up going 191 kilometers over a five day period. Here is the map of my route:
Day 1: LEARNING CURVE
Tokyo to Yamato 30 kilometers..
To start the day I took the long metro buried beneath the Tokyo bustle to pick up my bicycle rental from an Ohio expat. Thanks to the tourist counter at Naritas airport (nevermind their crazy looks when I told them I was going to bicycle through japan by myself) I was able to find this small rental company. This was actually the only place with overnight rentals and at a very decent price. According to the ohio/tokyian, he had realized that foreigners had trouble finding long-term rentals, so he stored up several bikes in his garage and started a side business. Here is his site: tokyorentabike.com
And here is the bike I rented:
I was so nervous about this rental shop not allowing me to take the bike out of Tokyo, so I decided not to mention it. (Plus I would have received another crazy look!). So, his only tip to me on the way out was to stay on the sidewalks. And, that is exactly what I did for the next 30 kilometers!
So, with my only map being the photos I took of a map, off I went with no cell phone, no Internet, and not knowing a word of Japanese. It was only a matter of minutes before I was completely lost and as it turns out heading in the entirely wrong direction!
So, as I contemplated canceling the entire trip, I rolled past a coffee shop and as my luck would have it, I found free wifi! I quickly reoriented myself and decided to continue on..this time on the right road. I soon realized that what appeared to be freeways on my map were actually large roads, and perfect for biking. Yet, with the rental owners voice was still in my head, so I kept to sidewalks in only 1st and 2nd gear. Let’s just say that this first day was one of the longest!
As my head bobbled on each driveway dip, I would notice yet another car dealership, Denny’s or what appeared to be a long strip-mall of practical shops. I carried on as long as I could until the hunger truly set-in. After a few circles around a cement colored town, I saw the white and red colors glowing of a Ramen restaurant. As I walked in I was greeted with shouts by the cooks and waiters as they led me to my seat. Assuming from their big grins, these shouts were most likely big hellos and welcomes! After I loudly slurped up every last noodle, I was able to practice my new learned word, oishii (delicious).
After some warm goodbye’s and lots of smiles I trekked on and couldn’t be happier to finally reach Yamato, despite the fact that I was still deep into the industrial jungle.
However, as we all know..looks are always deceiving. Yamato was by far one of my most memorable nights. Some new found friends introduced me to a hidden sashimi restaurant, bowls of saki, and Karaoke for dessert!
I thought the were just humoring me by taking me to the Kareoke joint called American Dream, yet as I attempted to pay, my friend pulled out her members card…this wasn’t their first time 😉
I have never experienced such a bold and bonding event. With voices of all colors, my friends just started belting out as if there wasn’t a worry in the world. So, when it was my turn to take the mic, they were not impressed by my shy and quiet tone. They encouraged me to let loose and after a few more songs, I was soon united through extreme expression.
I then had to sprint back to my hotel for midnight curfew and crashed like a log.
Yamato – Hakone. 48 kilometers.
By now I was getting quite used to my granny rider and was actually able to kick it up a notch to 3rd and 4th gear. I was occasionally popping off the sidewalk and before I knew it the industrial city had faded away. Seagulls gawked their welcomes for the nearby beach. It was here the I finally hit route 1! I was finally joined by other bicyclist making there way to Hakone, even though they would always give my bike a strange look as they passed me by. 🙂
My hunger lead me to a gourmet Japanese market. My eyes grew large as I saw every type of Japanese cuisine perfectly packaged. Having heard about the Japanese tortilla (similar to Spanish tortilla) I was thrilled when I saw this…..
Here is my first view of the Hakone landscape! I knew I was in for a treat…
As I finally rolled up to the train station, I was looking up into the steep hills and then took a good look at my bike. If I were to bike up onto Mount Hakone, it would have taken every last ounce of energy. So, I decided to head to the tourist center for some guidance on low altitude hotels.
They were beyond helpful and reserved a room for me at a traditional Japanese hotspring hotel.
As I took my first step into the lobby, they came running and shouting, then pointing at my shoes. No shoes in the entire hotel. I locked up my worn sneakers, checked in with the electronic check-in machine and off I went to my traditional room!
This is it. You make your own bed with the bedding in the closet! I loved it…simplicity!
When I returned for my hotel I went straight for the ladies curtain that led me to the women only hotspring baths. I was quite nervous at first as I didn’t know the bath etiquette, but luckily there was a list of rules translated into English. One of the more interesting rules was that you cannot enter the baths if you have tattoos. Another rule said no clothes, but I had assumed that a bathing suit would be acceptable. It was only a matter of seconds before I was corrected by a hotel worker as she pointed at my suit and signed with her hands that it must be removed.
So off it went, as if to shed off another layer of unnecessary inhibition. (The first layer being the embarrassment of my voice at Karaoke). I sat comfortably in my skin in the warm and welcoming waters of Hakone.
Day 3: MORNING HIKE AND LONG BIKE
Knowing that every twist and turn of Hakone would lead to another stunning landscape, river, or temple. I decided to let the granny cycle rest as I explored by foot. I find it hard to capture the beauty in words, so I’ll let the images speak for themselves…
After a couple of hours, I decided to pack up and move on as I was determined to make a lot of mileage!
By now I realized that the sidewalks were quite limiting and it was actually safer to be farther from driveway where cars were quick to inch out. Now I was starting to reach gear 5, which was incredibly rewarding as the kilometers seemed to melt away. It wasn’t long before I was in Kamakura where I decided to stop for a light lunch and to figure out the best route to the Buddha! It turns out he was practically towering over me, just a few blocks away.
I arrived in decent time, and was delighted to find a hostel where I could save big bucks and still have a private traditional room. I had to share the hostel with some interesting critters, but my wallet needed the rest!
The hotel staff gave me two suggestions for food: foreigner zone or Japanese zone. I went straight for the local scene found in the Nobe district. Not a single tourist – my kind of place! I had an awkward solo dinner sandwiched in between smoke and sake. But, I was thoroughly amused by the Japanese baseball game on TV…
Yes, Japan loves baseball. And, yes, they copy the exact U.S. team names and colors!
One thing I love about Japan is that the smaller bars have a culture of true inclusivity. despite differences in age and even language, everyone in the bar will start talking and often go out together to sing Karaoke. So, off I went again..to karaoke night #2!
We ended the karaoke night with Michael Jackson’s, ‘We are the world’ song! What an awesome experience!
Then I was out like a light on my homemade bed and up and out by 9.
Day 4: FINAL STRETCH.
Yokohama – Tokyo 38 kilometers.
On my way out of Yokohama, I stopped by some landmarks as I got yelled at by security to keep my bike off the boardwalk. I also had a strange encounter where some young girls wanted to take a picture of me! I guess my blonde hair is an anomaly.
Knowing that I was not far to Tokyo, I upped to gear 6 and made it in just a couple of hours through the chaotic blend of cars, people and bikes that miracoulsly harmonize into a productive flow. Finally, I arrived at my hotel and despite my love for the ride, I couldn’t be happier to see the familiar mask of the receptionist and grab a coffee at my favorite corner shop.
So here I am enjoying a refreshing drink, thrilled to have completed yet another bicigrino!!
Day 5: BICYCLE RETURN
I enjoyed my last day of the bicycle rental by touring more within Tokyo. I felt like I truly had to dodge all 8,967,665 people that live in Tokyo and realized that biking is much better outside of the metropolis. I said goodbye to granny bike and headed back by metro..talk about a great layover!
If you are ever interested in doing something similar, let me know and I’ll share some tips and tricks! But, my best advice is to just go for it…you can always figure things out along the way!