Japan travel

The Asahi Super Line

I woke up at 7AM on a Sunday, got on my bike and rode for 12 hours and 140 kilometers.  I think that I love maps too much, and I let my imagination control what I attempt to do in reality.  The Asahi Super Line is a mountain road that begins about 15km away to the east, near a few dams and some completely uninhabited mountain terrain.  From the main route to the north to the main route to the south is 86km.  The actual super line is less, about 55km.  I had scoped out the entrance once by car at night, and once by bike while it was still accessible only by snowmobile.  I fully expected it to be open this time.  I arrived at the beginning of the road around 8:30 after a pit stop, to find a closed gate and a sign saying “Road Closed: Landslide.”  Well, I’m not the greatest at reading Japanese, so I just lifted my bike over the gate and started riding.  3 or 4 km later, I see this:


After a while, I realized that if the road really was closed completely, then I could be completely alone for the next 55km.  At once an exciting and fear-inspiring thought.  Strange, I realized, considering the population density I am used to and have experienced regularly.  Japan must be getting to me.  The road was really nice, winding slowly up, completely to myself, crossing over inlets into the dammed river below.  Eventually I got to a bridge that was completely blocked off with bars on the opposite end.  I was able to take off the gear from my bike and very carefully lift it up and over with one hand while balancing on a rung with my foot and, with my hand through the bars, lower it down on the opposite side.  At this point, another road from Oguni connected up to the main Super Line, and I saw two cars.

Lake view

12 or 13 km later, though, another “Road Closed” sign.  Hop.  Monkeys.  Lots of monkeys.  Monkeys with hanging babies and dangling red parts.  Screaming monkey profanity.  Up.  And up.  14 km to the prefectural border.  Intuition told me that the prefectural border would be the pass, since watershed boundaries often determine prefectural borders in Japan.  That meant down.  Came across some more “Road Closed” signs, confusingly, considering there were additional ones on either side.  Passed some long-abandoned campsites, and some recently used construction vehicles.  2300 feet, Prefectural border.  Gravel.  Shitty gravel.  Rockslide basketball-rock gravel.   Started walking.  For the next 15km.  Saw a guy in a little Kei-car gathering mountain vegetables.  Asked him “Is this the way to Yamagata?”  Dumb question.  Later, as the road deteriorated into the Super Line that Time Forgot and Knocked Rocks on and Planted Trees in and Turned into a River, I became less and less sure of myself and I realized I should have asked him “How the hell did you get here?!?!?”  I was running low on water, and ended up drinking from a waterfall by the side of the road.  Eventually, the gravel shit gave way to pavement.  For 400 meters.  Crud.  I started riding on the gravel, praying every second that my tires would hold.  I was a long, long walk from any cell reception or help.  Bless ’em, they did.  Kenda Kwests.  Again, pavement.  Sweeeeeet pavement.  Speed.  Then a monstrous rockslide!  Huge!  Seriously stood there for 15 seconds wondering what to do.  Up and over.  End of the Asahi Super Line.  But 25 km to the next main national route, and 50km total to Tsuruoka, from where it was probably 90-100km back to Murakami.  It wasn’t happening.  I made good time back to Tsuruoka though, probably averaging 30kph for a good two hours.  Alas, it wasn’t enough.  I was almost deliriously exhausted, and the sun was setting.  I called my co-worker Chris, who drove my car up to Atsumi Onsen and picked me up around 7 o’clock.

A fun ride, and a great story to make Japanese people fall out of their chairs.  But super?  The only thing extraordinary about the Asahi Super Line (other than the lovely nature and views) is the extent to which the road fails to live up to its name.  The Asahi Super Destroyed Gravel Path is far more apt.

Japan Murakami travel


fall topbar

Fall Path最近の週末は快かった. 『日本国』(昔の漢字は日本國)という山に登った。『日本国』といわれている山はとても面白いと思った。『日本国やま』、『日本国さん』じゃなくて、『日本国』だけです。僕の理解は、数百年前将軍がこれこら日本だとおっしゃいましたから、今までも日本国と言われました。

それから、山の名前の面白さから、ほかのALTと登りにいきました。 555メートルだけだから、2時間以下ぐらいかかりました。粟島と日本海がよく見えて、紅葉を楽しみました。

with katrina on nihonkoku

shamisen dudeその夜、初めての三味線のコンサートへ見に行きました。このブログのタイトルは三味線という楽器より名前があるのに、僕は三味線を聞いたことがなかった。でも、とても喜んで感動してよかったです。津軽三味線を弾いた男は小林史佳でした。とてもかっこい男だと思ったよ。若いのに、とても上手そうでした。私は三味線にあまり詳しくないけど、とても喜んでびっくりしました。コンサートの所も雰囲をよくしました。関川村の渡邉邸で伝統的な感じがありました。いい経験でしたよ。あったかい炭火の近くに座ってから、服がなつかしいにおいになりました。とてもいいにおいだったので、そのを着ると寝ました。

chris shamisen fire


Japan travel

The Real Deal

fall topbar

Fall PathMy weekend was incredibly pleasant. I climbed a mountain called “nihonkoku” (日本国) which is interesting because it means “Japan.” It’s not “Japan Mountain” or “Mount Japan,” but just “Japan.” From what I understand, hundreds of years ago when the border of control by the shogun only extended to the north reaches of this prefecture, nihonkoku and the ridgeline separating its northern and southern watersheds was the dividing line. Hence, the tribes to the north referred to the single mountain as a landmark representing Japan, and the name stuck. This is a great example of synecdoche!

Anyway, intrigued by such an interesting name, I set out to climb it, taking another ALT in Murakami along with me. It’s only 555 meters tall, or about 1800 feet, so it only took us a little under two hours round trip (the mountain guide book I was using said 3 1/2!). We got some great views of the Japan Sea and Awashima Island and the quickly fading red and yellow leaves. Plus, now I have something interesting to bring up during awkward silences in conversation with Japanese friends.

car Japan JET Murakami

Good ups and downs

I have had a cold for more than two weeks now, sort of a nasty thing keeping my immune system’s first line of defense hyperactive. My good friends Chris and Andrew visited over the weekend from Osaka, which was a lot of fun, if tiring.

My car blew a tire driving back from Yamagata Prefecture on Saturday. Sort of my fault for not putting air in it when someone said “Hey, your front right tire looks low,” but also route 290’s fault for suddenly turning into the Alcan without any warning signs. I drove the car down to Sanjo on Sunday to have it repaired, and I received a replacement car, which is a tiny kei-car, basically a tiny, short, lightweight, plasticky, rattly toy of a car.

Chris and Andrew also visited my middle school on Monday, and did a great job of making the classes interesting for the students. Later that day, we pulled a bit of mischief and hopped the fence into this funky little obstacle course up the coast, ziplining and swingfighting and then hightailing it when an old man slowed down and stared at us as he passed.

Today, I overslept for the first time, waking up, to my horror, at 8:20 AM, about when the morning meeting was starting in the teachers’ room and about 25 minutes before my first class. The rest of the day actually proceeded pretty smoothly. No one seemed to make anything of it except the older teacher I sit next to, who offered a helpful explanation that “because it’s so cold, maybe you just didn’t want to get out of your futon.” I swear she talks about nothing but the weather, which I still can barely understand. But all of these things have me feeling rather tired and antsy.

Basically, while I like it here and have settled in quite well, the weeks are beginning to fly by and I, always entertaining notions, have begun to consider them. Anyway, fall time is pretty nice here, even if the weather has recently been very wet. I’ll end the post with a happy photo of the fall colors and ocean from near the top of Gedo Mountain to the north of town, which I took during the very enjoyable and relaxing Monday I had off last week. I’ll post more soon about tetrapods, Andrew and Chris visiting, and other excitement.

Fall colors

Japan travel

Trip to Sado

With my recent three day weekend (for the autumnal equinox, of all things) I took myself and my bike to Sado Island, the biggest island in Japan (exclusive of the obvious four big ones), about a 2.5 hour ferry ride from Niigata City, to my south. My goal was to ride my bike around the entire island, or as I now call it, to circumcycle the island. The island itself looks small enough, but if you unravel the coastline, it’s pretty long. According to Tomoko’s cousin, who lives on Sado, the coastline is 280km. According to the map I bought it’s about 215. According to my GPS and my butt, it’s about 250. I’d add on 10km to that for tunnels, though.

Integrating photos into this blog is sort of a pain if I do more than a few, so here is the link to the photo gallery for the whole trip: Sado Gallery

I spent Friday night in Niigata City. I packed up all my bike stuff, tent, sleeping bag, and rode to the train station, where I quick-folded the bike, and hopped on the 6:44 train to Niigata. I got a hotel and then had a late night of accidentally paying someone else’s bar tab, and karaoke. I caught the 12:30 ferry to Sado the next day. I almost took the bus from the train station to the port, but instead, set up the bike, and rode it. I am glad I did. I saved 200 yen and actually beat the bus there.