Having completed about two-thirds of a circumnavigation of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, the final day was supposed to be an easy jaunt to the train station and a comfortable ride home to Tokyo for the Kangaeroo crew.
“Ha, ha,” laughed the devil.
On paper, the last leg of the Biwaichi circumnavigation was a mere 60 kilometers on a flat course, nearly all of which was isolated bike tracks.
For the first hour, that was precisely what Kanageroo and the missus got as they headed out of Seta and off toward Hikone.
The bitter taste of a terrible time at the Royal Oak Shiga slowly dissipating as we rode along Biwa, which offered a clear view of its built-up opposite bank with mountains in the background.
Nearing Moriyama, however, the wind suddenly blew up a storm…right into our faces.
The gentle ride suddenly became a herculean task as we ground the Brompton and BD-1 into the face of the 30-km/h headwind.
The steady rapid pace of the day’s first hour of riding was almost halved in the near gale, and pedaling became even more difficult in the open farmlands near Azuchi, where cyclists got no protection.
Finally, though, we rolled into Hikone at around lunchtime, an arrival somewhat earlier than planned.
It was here that Kangaeroo was to fulfill a 30-year-long dream of visiting Hikone Castle.
Before arriving in Japan in 1988, Kangaeroo read a travel guide that raved about the feudal era castle and its surrounding gardens.
Life intervened, though, and he never made it….until now!
Hikone Castle was a delight! The early 17th century castle is one of only a dozen that is in its original state. Glorious gardens that had once been the havens of the castle’s lords remain intact, as does the inner moat around the castle.
Even more delightful, a yakatabune runs tours through the moat, giving a wonderful look at the castle and accompanied by (Japanese language) guides with expert knowledge on the national treasure.
What’s more, there was also a little touch of Australia with a black swan (endemic to Oz, but this one was born in Japan) swimming its waters and frantically chasing the boat as it headed through the moat.
After an obligatory photo with the castle’s nationally famous mascot, Hikonyan, it was off to Champontei for a bowl of omi champon, noodles that are a local specialty.
Following the hearty and delicious meal it was a short walk to Hikone Station, where the bikes ended their fabulous journey by being packed back into their bags for the train trip home.
Being the year’s last long weekend, the trains were packed as the Kangaeroo crew headed back to Tokyo.
But it was essentially an eventful, though long, journey on the stopping all stations kodama bullet train to Odawara and then suburban trains to get home.
It was an amazing and rewarding journey with special kudos to Mrs. Kangaeroo, Brommie and Birdy for jobs well done.
Fatigue, muscle soreness and endurance were going to be the order of the day on the Kangaeroo crew’s second leg of Biwaichi, the circumnavigation of Biwa, Japan’s largest lake.
Mrs. Kangaeroo had completed the 70-plus kilometer first leg with barely a hint of trouble, but not being used to cycling, it was going to be the second day that presented a big test as it would display her recuperative powers.
Typically, she was magnificent! She woke with a huge smile and full of beans, getting into her Kangaeroo.com jersey and racing down to the hotel restaurant for the fancy buffet breakfast.
The buffet, as is often the case, left a bit to be desired (unless you’re really into Japanese breakfasts, in which case it was quite acceptable).
The restaurant, however, gave early risers like the Kangaeroo crew a great boost by having massive windows with a lake view, from which we were greeted with a glorious sunrise.
Following the previous day’s magnificent weather, the rising sun also lifted expectations, so we set off with a light heart and deep gratitude, especially as the hotel presented us with a bottle of water each to drink on our journey.
Once again, the early part of the ride offered a wonderfully maintained bike track that made riding a delight.
After about 3/4 hour on the road we cam across a huge windmill.
Closer inspection revealed that the windmill was just one of three in the area, and these served as symbols for what looked to be a wonderful glamping site.
Seeing the windmills was to be the highlight of the early morning.
Continuing along the bike track there was little to see as one campsite followed another on the lake side to our left.
To our right were large numbers of holiday houses, most of them apparently deserted.
The “Japocalypse” of a stagnant economy, low birthrate and rapid aging was clearly evident near Lake Biwa, which is actually more of a vibrant place than most due its proximity to the Keihanshin megacity made up of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. Yet the decay and degradation afflicting much of non-urban Japan was clearly evident, together with the hangover of the 1980s bubble economy.
Most notable views came not from the lake, but the mountains of Takashima, which were covered by a blanket of mist and clouds.
It was quite an impressive view, especially as the day was essentially sunny, which made the clouds stand out more.
Also spectacular was a torii Shinto shrine gate in the water, which is one of the symbols of Lake Biwa.
Unfortunately, it’s located on a part of the Biwaichi course that uses main roads.
Stopping was not only inconvenient, but also uncomfortable.
The Kangaeroo crew made a brief stop, took a shot and headed on, hoping that we would be back on isolated bike tracks and getting lake views while off the main road as soon as possible.
It was not to be.
In fact, the course essentially continued along the main road through to the bottom of the lake, becoming more built up with each kilometer traversed as we drew ever closer to Kyoto.
What’s worse, though, was that there were not a great deal of lake views.
Considering we were on a circumnavigation of the lake, not being able to see the body of water was a bit disappointing and detracted from the sheer delight of the previous day’s riding.
The lake side has its appeals, with resort hotels, pachinko parlors, shopping malls, speedboat races and other pleasures that attract the local population, but it’s not really fare that the Kangaeroo crew get into.
One highlight, however, was passing through Ogoto, a place Kangaeroo had long sought to see in person but had never gotten around to doing so.
Ogoto is the location of one of Japan’s top soapland brothel districts, joining Kawasaki and Gifu.
It was this dubious honor that may have owed to the unattractive nature of the road.
There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of the late Emperor Hirohito touring Lake Biwa in the 1970s.
It was then the heyday of the soapland, or Turkish baths (toruko buro) as they were then known.
Route planners realized the Emperor, who had been born a god even though he had long renounced that status by then, would be driving through the fleshpits of Ogoto.
Quickly, a solution was sought, and within mere weeks a new road was built that avoided the district and saved the Emperor from having to see it.
Forward 40–odd years and it appears economics and changing mores have done to the Ogoto red light district what the prudes pulled off in the Me era, with little sign of the area being anywhere near its once heralded glory.
Drawing to a close of the day’s ride, the Kangaeroo crew came across a quaint, typically German-style cottage.
It looked so out of place it was worth a look. Turns out it was a restaurant set up as part of a sister city relationship.
Rumbling tummies decided it would be Deutschland uber alles, so we waited for the better part of an hour for a place.
It was worth it. The veal and pork served were exquisite and the garden setting delightful, even as the day began to cloud over.
While waiting to dine, Kangaeroo also realized he’d had his camera switched to the Effects mode for most of the day, making nearly all of the 200 or so photos he’d taken look like cartoons or something out of a Ralph Bakshi movie instead of photographs. A Google search revealed that the process was irreversible, which put a bit of a dampener on the day.
Worse was to come after the Kangaeroo crew rounded the bottom of the lake at Seta and reached their hotel, the Royal Oak Shiga.
Expectations were high as it was a beautiful hotel commanding a hefty rate, but worth indulging in, according to Mrs. Kangaeroo.
How hefty, though, we weren’t to know until checking in.
It was then we discovered that the hotel had double-booked us and double-charged us, inclujding one charge for a pricey suite.
Upon investigation, the hotel admitted its fault, contacted the booking service and pleaded for the charge to be refunded.
The booking service, Agoda.com., was less than forthcoming.
For he next few hours, the Kangaeroo crew went back and forth with the hotel Agoda, trying to fix the fuck-up.
Eventually, after we rejected the offer of a refund in Agoda dollars valid for a few weeks, the booking service backed down and agreed to a full refund.
By that time, the day had been spoiled and we had paid for a pricey hotel room that we could barely enjoy.
At least we learned never to use Agoda or the Royal Oak chain again.
Blessed with a long weekend and loads of motivation, Kangaeroo and Mrs. Kangaeroo got out the foldups and built up the resolve to circumnavigate Biwa, Japan’s largest lake.
The 235-km shore length is not for the faint-hearted, though plenty make the trip in a single day, courtesy of the almost completely flat course.
Nonetheless, it’s a demanding distance for irregular cyclists, so Kangaeroo had cause for concern regarding the missus, who admittedly cycles day, but does so on an e-bike and not an old foldup with no track record of triple-figure journeys.
Anyway, putting aside the concerns, Mrs. Kangaeroo remained deeply confident of her abilities and plotted out the trip, designing it to have full enjoyment at the lowest possible cost.
Thus the Kangaeroo couple headed out from home late on Friday night, racing to Kawasaki to catch the bus to Hikone, from where their circumnavigation would start.
Arriving at the bus stop and folding and bagging the deadly treadlies, Kangaeroo was surprised when the jobsworth driver informed him that bus company policy was to not carry bikes.
“We’ll let you on this time, but take no responsibility for any damage that occurs in transit,” the officious driver said.
The driver then wrapped the bikes in blankets, ensured no luggage was around them and went to enormous pains to make sure the bikes would be safe.
And, indeed, the Brompton and BD-1 were safe and unscathed when the bus finally made its way to Hikone the following morning, arriving more than 1 hour late thanks to roadworks and heavy traffic.
The less than ideal start was compounded by Kangaeroo having caught a cold, leaving him coughing and spluttering with snot running riot.
Countering that, though, was glorious weather. Blue, sunny skies and welcoming warmth greeted the riders as the foldups were unfolded, the luggage packed on the Brommie’s racks, and the riders set off.
Just one problem….which way to go? Fortunately, there was a sign to Hikone Port not far from the station and that seemed a logical place to head for considering the city is located on the lake (and not the sea).
Within a few minutes riding along the moat of the city’s renowned and beautiful castle moat, the Kanagaeroo crew reached the port and found the huge blue arrows that serve as the indicators for the Biwaichi, the abbreviation of 琵琶湖一周 (biwakoisshuu), or circumnavigation of Lake Biwa.
The remainder of the day was simply exquisite!
We rode north from Hikone, essentially hugging the lake’s shoreline.
It didn’t take long to reach Nagahama, the first big town after leaving Hikone, and also with a notable castle of its own, surrounding with a lovely garden.
Kangaeroo was worried about the missus, having seen seasoned riders struggle a little on a less than 80-kilometer trip in Kyushu just last month.
But she was resilient, pounding away on the Birdy’s pedals and less susceptible to the call for a cuppa than Kangaeroo.
A snack was partaken at a delightfully quaint, lakeside cafe basking in the sun in Takashima.
From there, it was a couple of kilometers off the beaten track to the Makino Metasequoia, a row of redwoods leading to Makino Pick Land, where punters can at times gather their own fruit for eating.
On the day the Kangaeroo crew arrived, there was a local market going on.
While Mrs. Kangaeroo went of to get a French lunch, Kangaeroo clumsily carried the bikes up a flight of stairs to score a seat.
Well, it was a right mess, but people flocked from all sides to help out, including another Aussie, who was there with her hubby and we had a wonderful conversation.
True to form, her hospitality was outstanding and we tucked into our French fare armed with an invitation to drop by her home during our trip.
Having eaten more than out fill, it was off to Imazu, where we would end the first day’s journey.
We even saw a couple of wild monkeys along the way!
The Imazu Sun Bridge hotel, while being nothing flashy, was simply outstanding in terms of its handling of cyclists and bicycles.
We were warmly welcomed, the bikes wheeled into a protected area behind the Reception Desk and the staff treated the bicycles with great care.
Imazu would be a nondescript town were in not for the existence of a few prewar buildings designed by an American architect who would naturalize and spend the war interred in Karuizawa.
After a tour of these buildings, it was back to the hotel room to watch the Rugby World Cup final where the Springboks blanketed England, ending an amazingly well-coordinated event where Japan excelled itself both on and off the field, as well as turned Kangaeroo into a rugby fan having (erroneously) previously dismissed it as a rich boy’s sport with little appeal.
Australia’s rugby team, the Wallabies, were ignominiously dumped from the 2019 Rugby World Cup that Japan is currently hosting (and being lauded for both its organization skills and the rousing performance of its unfancied team).
The Wallabies lost badly to England in a quarter final, mostly because they were not good enough as a team.
But Kangaeroo.com has also discovered another reason for the Wallabies’ woes.
Gorgeous Jindaiji Temple, which supported the Wallabies’ woeful World Cup, is situated in the Tokyo suburb of Chofu, location of the Aussies’ group stage loss against Wales on September 29 that effectively derailed their campaign on the field.
Jindaiji had proudly displayed Wallabies jerseys (alongside a Brave Blossoms team shirt, too, it should be noted) and supported the Australian team as it tried to regain the William Webb Ellis Trophy it last won in 1999.
The temple also displayed a daruma, a doll traditionally used to pray for good luck in Japan, as well as a message wishing the team well. Here is that message, reproduced in full (with spelling and grammatical errors intact):
The conetents the priest preached when he visited the camping place for the match
Daruma is a Japanese style a bringere of good luck which you can find at restaurants, in the houses and so son. This Daruma is representing a monk who was meditating for 9 years. When you think about meditation, you might think it’s static, but actually during meditation we are fighting against and enduring something like weakness or anger or worldly desires. Meditation is not just static, but also conflicting against ourselves. that’s the training of Buddhism and that’s the spirit which Daruma is showing to us. This spirit is exactly like the spirit of Rugby. It’s very dynamic in contrast, but you play desperately for one goal with focused. In Japan, there is a proverb associated with this Daruma. that is “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” It is a saying about never giving up no matter how many times life knocks you down because Daruma always comes back after falling down. The important thing is same in Sports. The high spirits touch people’s hearts. So, like this daruma, attend to the spirit and concentrate on the game and play a good game which touches people. I believe that this Daruma which you team put strong wish will bring good result. Today we want you to put one eye into Daruma. Putting an eyes means that you swear to start the mental training and achieve the goal. This ceremony is for the time which you have strong wish, so please don’t fool around make a wish.
Clearly, then, in spite of rumors of a rift in the Wallabies camp, the reason for such a dismal showing by the two-time champions and reigning runners-up was that they fooled around to make a wish.
Our tour has reached Kyoto, remarkably with only minor injuries and not a single puncture in the more than 11,000 kilometers the cyclists covered collectively since setting out from Izumi, Kagoshima Prefecture, on the morning of October 1.
The group battled a barrage of rain on the most prominent of climbs on Mount Aso and Koyasan, but got through unscathed each time.
The tour drew to a close in a journey between the two ancient capitals of Nara, where participants frolicked with the deer roaming freely through the city and saw its lauded Great Buddha at Todaiji, and Kyoto, where the group lunched at Inari Taisha Jinja.
Only a farewell dinner remains in a tour that passed way too quickly, but ends with typically outstanding timing as Typhoon No. 19 prepares to slam into Japan.
Incredibly, the final leg of the tour also included an unexpected encounter with a pack of kangaroos.
These marsupials were manufactured types, though, located in a children’s playground alongside the bicycle track running between Nara and Kyoto. The poor macropods had been crafted with a look of sheer terror on their face, perhaps because they were aware of Kangaeroo’s shoddy guiding?
Brommie performed outstandingly on the final leg of the tour.
His broken rack makes him harder to push, but that shouldn’t be an issue for a couple of days at least while he carries Kangaeroo back to Tokyo.
Thanks to Pedal Pedal, Japan Biking and all the tour participants for making it such a magnificent time for Brommie and Kangaeroo.