Hagi to Tsuwano
Distance:37 miles
Total Distance:170 miles
Tsuwano Photo Album

Today was a short day on the bike (only 37 miles…we’re still building up our riding legs and getting used to all this weight!), but ended up being long all the same–for VERY good reasons this time!

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Vicky had a small accident on the way out of Hagi :(

We woke up very early after sleeping under a “no camping” sign on the beach in Hagi–I had tossed and turned all night worrying about being evicted from our campsite, and shook Vicky awake at first light. She quite patiently rolled out of bed and helped pack up camp–we had the tent down and were on the bikes less than 20 minutes, with only a couple of fishermen to the wiser. After using the public bathrooms to clean up and change, we were soon on our way out of Hagi for the mountain town of Tsuwano.

The climb back up into the mountains was difficult, but very beautiful. The first few miles took us quickly upwards through a series of pine-covered hills, sparkling waterfalls, and short tunnels. Once over the first major pass, we dropped into a succession of farming valleys. Each valley was separated by a steep climb and descent, so they seemed very isolated from each other. The residents were all extremely friendly though, waving and smiling from their tractors and porches as we passed by. One local bus driver even paced us for several hundred yards to make sure we were ok, before finally waving from his driver’s seat and cruising on down the road!

Farms in the Shimane mountains

A view of flooded rice fields and greenhouses on the road to Tsuwano

In the last 25 kilometers before Tsuwano we ran short of water, having consumed quite a lot during the heat of the early afternoon. As we pulled into a michi no eki (road station), we saw two cyclists in full road gear next to their carbon Cannondales, taking a short break before heading out again. Like them, we were so excited to see other cyclists on the road! While bicycles are very common in Japan, most people ride “mama-charis” (mama’s chariot), which are sort of like beach cruisers, and it’s very rare to see a real cycling enthusiast.

Our new cycling friends!

Our new cyclist friends!

We couldn’t have been more fortunate in finding these two men on the road–they were very interested in our trip and asked a lot of questions about where we were headed, our equipment, and what we had seen so far. Both of them were extremely friendly, and were clearly very happy to have people visit their area. They also gave us good advice about where to camp in Tsuwano, saying that we could put up a tent anywhere around the main onsen without any problems.

After ten or fifteen minutes, they got on their bikes and headed back to Tsuwano, and we left soon after. After one more long climb, we were able to enjoy a long descent through a beautiful green valley, finally ending up in the small town of Tsuwano.

Tsuwano's main street

Koi ponds along Tsuwano's main street

Tsuwano’s main attraction is a set of shrines and castle ruins centered around a well-preserved street of Tokugawa-era townhouses and merchant buildings. Vicky and I wanted to take a walk through the town, but stopped to clean up first at the onsen where we would be camping that night. As we pulled in, we saw one of the men we had met earlier that afternoon, waiting for us in a reclining bike with his dog! He invited us to stay at his house that night–needless to say we accepted! Yoshida-san guided us back to his house, and we had a very nice ride together back through the town to his house. Once there, we left our luggage and went to ride around town (our bikes felt so light without all our gear!) while he called his wife to let her know that they had house guests.

Sightseeing in Tsuwano

Climbing up the hill to Taikodani Inari shrine in Tsuwano

Me, Vicky, and Yoshida-san

I can't believe we ate all of this...

Leonard and Yoshida-san propose another toast

Leonard and Yoshida-san propose a toast

Whisky time!

Vicky likes the high ball

Vicky and I had a nice time hiking up the hill to Taikodani Inari shrine; the path to the shrine is lined with more than 1,000 red torii gates and provides wonderful views of the town and the surrounding mountains. Once we were done sightseeing, we returned to Yoshida’s, where we were welcomed by Yoshida-san, his wife Reiko, Leonard (the JET teacher for Tsuwano), and their four dogs. After taking an amazing hot bath, we were soon feasting on a huge meal: edamame, 10 different kinds of sashimi, ika (squid), tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets), sea urchin, pizza, and spaghetti. All of this was accompanied by copious amounts of Asahi beer and (after Yoshida’s brother dropped by) Suntory whiskey. While Vicky and Leonard discussed the life of an English teach in a small Japanese town, Yoshida and I discussed more important matters like this year’s Giro d’Italia route, Armstrong’s prospects in this year’s Tour, and how impressive Cancellara has been during the Classics.

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Passed out on the comfy tatami mat (after camping for a few days, this was heaven)

Unfortunately, I was exhausted after getting up so early and biking all day, and my translation skills quickly declined (I admit, the beer didn’t help). We finally crawled into bed late, but slept wonderfully on the tatami mats of their guest room.

Vicky and I are so grateful for this experience, though–this is exactly the kind of thing we have been wanting to do since we started planning this trip. We hope to be able to see Yoshida and Reiko again someday, but in the meantime this experience has made us resolve to try and offer the same kind of hospitality to people that we encounter once we get back to life in the U.S.