Arriving to Niigata came with a real lot of excitement: we had finally made it to the other side of Japan, crossed the Japanese alps and we were damn ready to enjoy the city for a couple of rest days. Too bad, thought, that all of that enthusiasm hit a brick wall straight away: long story short, there’s nothing to do in Niigata. NOTHING at all.
We reached the centre of the city around sunset and we went through our usual we-made-it-back-to-civilization routine : hot springs, coin laundry, food and looking for a place to pitch the tent. It was pissing rain, it was late, it’s was dark. As in : real dark. So we just decided to completely rely on google maps and blindly followed a strangely curvy road until we found a square literally the size of our tend under a tree, and stopped there, completely disregarding the fact that there was a peacock in a cage, literally a few steps form us.
When we woke up the next day, it was with no surprise that we realized we had slept in the middle a go kart course! At least that explains the curvy road to get there, but still no clue about the peacock in the cage. That mystery will remain unsolved…
As soon as we unpacked the tent, we headed towards the nearest (and only) Starbucks in town and we started working on our blogs, blogs and photos while having coffee and trying to figure out what to do in Niigata.
Regardless a couple of hours on research, and having asked to every human soul in that coffee shop, we came to the tragic realization that Niigata has got nothing to offer. Besides its rice paddies. That to be honest, are not that impressive either!
So we spent the WHOLE day at Starbucks, stealing every little bit of electricity and super-mega-fast-high-speed-internet we could, just to close the day pitching the tent in a park and realizing we had no reason to spend any more time in Niigata.
In the morning we left Niigata and, exactly like every single time we left a city before, first tens of kilometers to get out of the urban area were a nightmare: traffic, traffic and more traffic. And of course, not a single bike lane in sight.
But the situation got better as we left big roads and started cycling along the coast. After all of that delusion from Niigata, the wonderful landscape that opened up in front of our eyes was a literal bliss : calm seas, woods with super cool trees, lots of animals… Happiness!
After a little break on the coast, laying down listening to the sea and soaking in the afternoon sun, we got back on our bikes and decided to cycle “hardcore” until the sunset.
Funnily enough, not even a kilometer after, we met Kazuhito and Yumma, two guys that just like us, were traveling the length of japan; the first one on a bike, and the second one… on a scooter! Needless to say, we stopped to meet them and to have a chat, after which we spontaneously decided to ride together for 20km until the next village, Murakami, where we almost literally took over the local park with out tents.
We all had dinner together, telling each other stories from our travels, high fived at how cool life is, and went to sleep.
The following day, we woke up very early, determined to cycle as much as possible and cover some serious distance. Little by little, spending the morning cycling with mount Shirakami at the horizon, by the time we stopped to have some lunch we had already gone over 60km. And it was exactly at that point that we saw Kazuhito pass in front of us!
“WOOOAH KAZUUUU! STOOOOP!”
After an initial over-excited amount of hugs and high fives over the coincidence of running into each other again, we agreed to meet at a certain point, 65km later, at the end of the day. After a little over 3 hours, we reached the destination, met with Kazu again and celebrated the hell out of breaking our personal record of 125km in a single day, by rocking out Sio’s little guitar and singing under the starts until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore!
With a great night of sleep on our legs, in the morning we woke up, packed down the tent, gave one of our Babel Line t-shirts and a pair of cycling gloves to Kazu as a lucky charm, said hello and left to proceed towards Akita. We cycled the whole day keeping our eyes on mount Shirakami, and by the end of the day, we had reached Akita.
Now, since Niigata proved itself to be such a delusion, we really had our hopes high for Akita. What a mistake!
Akita is a rather known city in Japan, but for no particular reason! (with the exception of the dog breed that takes its name after this city)
In fact, it turned out to be yet another city with nothing in particular to offer, and we spent most of the time in a Starbucks, working on blogs, vlogs, photos and everything else, for the next two days solid. On the evening of the second day, exhausted by having spent so much time in front of our computers to get everything done, when we had lost almost any hope to find anything interesting about Akita, we had a conversation with a old man that told us about the local dish, the Kiri-Tanpo.
Literally 30 seconds later, we were already in a restaurant, eating our bodyweight in kiritanpos (while a super lovely waitress explained us the whole story of the dish with illustrations!) and commenting on how that one delicious dish alone made coming to Akita worth it!
With our bellies full, we pitched our tent in the central park and thought the day was over. But no! Surprise: in the middle of the night, we got woken up by 2 policemen to… basically chat. They initially wanted to check who was in the tent, but when they discovered we were cycling the length of Japan, they got interested in our story and kept on asking us about our adventure. After a good 20 minutes of answering their questions, we asked them “So… do we have to take down the tent?” “Oh no, not at all. We just wanted to make sure you guys weren’t homeless. We’ll pretend we never saw you… Good luck!”. On that note, while still a little confused by the whole situation, we simply went back to sleep. The next day we left Akita and started cycling towards the northern tip of Honshu, still fresh of our personal record of 125km in a day, that we sure didn’t think we’d beat anytime soon…
Ah-ha! Plot twist! Because that day, starting from the coast and going back into the mainland, through forests and abandoned hot springs centre, we cycled like the wind and, before actually realizing how far we were going, beat our record and closed the day with 135km on our legs! Boom!
At the end of the day, we stopped in a hot spring centre (not an abandoned one, luckily!) on the road and fell asleep in literally, no time!
After a well deserved coma-like sleep, we packed our bikes and started our last day in Honshu heading towards Aomori, where we would then take a ferry to reach Hakodate, in Hokkaido.
In the morning we passed though Hirosaki, one of the most famous locations in Japan when it comes down to cherry blossoms. After spending a good hour in the castle’s park, and finding nothing but empty branches (we were a little late for the blossoms), we had a pizza (yup, i’m serious. And a good one too!) and started riding towards our final destination for the day.
We arrived in Aomori pretty late in the afternoon, after having battled against some of the nastiest headwind we had ever encountered.
Because we’re not exactly the smartest knives in the drawer (you might have figured that out by now), instead of doing the responsible thing and looking for a spot to pitch the tent onto first, we rushed straight away in a yakitoriyasan (chicken skewers restaurant) and vigorously celebrated the fact that we had reached the last city in Honshu. Which lead to finding ourselves under the biggest rainstorm of the century, without any clue on where to sleep. In the best homeless fashion, we headed for the biggest bridge in the city and slept under it.
In the morning, we started visiting the city, that unlike Niigata and Akita, has a great deal of awesome things to see! An example? The Nebula Matsuri museum, where they store the massive, several meters tall, 3d statues made of paper that get used during the Nebuta Festival, the biggest event of the city!
After spending a few hours being dead set speechless at the craft that goes into creating those statues, we went to a cider tasting event and, although we couldn’t figure out the difference between each cider to save our lives, we really enjoyed all the free booze!
Once we headed back to our Tricross bikes… SURPRISE! 3 more bikes, loaded with travel gear, locked to the same pole! We looked around until we spotted 3 other cyclists (we’re all pretty easy to spot with our lycra suits on!) and realized they were going to Hokkaido as well!
Over excited about meeting them, we all went together and had what can be only described as “the single best meal of the whole adventure”, the Nokkedon : in one of the city fish markets, you get a bowl of white rice and ten tickets that you can trade to buy fresh sashimi directly from the stalls. BEST RAW FISH EVER.
After such an amazing lunch, we all headed to the ferry terminal and waited for our ferry to Hakodate, scheduled to leave a couple of hours later.