A Zushi – Kamakura stroll about

Okay I have been back from Japan for nearly a month now and I am just starting to get caught up of some of my goings on while in land of the rising sun.    On one of my weekends there I set off to do a ride that I would involve a bit of this and a bit of that as far as riding goes.  I know quite a few trails over here and while I wanted to get in some dirt time I was also interested in taking in some of the sights and sounds of Japan life as well.   So I set off on my ride with a bit of eye for looking for new things along an old route.

I started out in Yokosuka  on the eastern shore of the Muira peninsula (about an hour and change south of   Tokyo) and pedaled the streets over to the city of Zushi.    The route itself is always interesting with lots of  Mom and Pop stores, stairways to temples and narrow streets and sidewalks.   There is this school that I pass by along this route and while I Have seen kids at play on it a few times in the past for the most part it was empty during my passings.    Today was quite different.  There was some kind of the school function that involved both the parents, kids and facility.   There were lots of chants, shouts, cheering and laughing on the playground.   I was already well down the street before I decided I needed to check this out with more than a pedal by so I hit the brakes and went back.

There was a hilarious race being held that had me laugh my arse off.   It looks like four groups of parents and children were split up into four teams. They were in lines at one end of the field and some guy/official was sitting in chair at the other end of the field.  At the man’s feet were two burlap sack filled with something.  One sack was small and the other was large.    Once the whistle went off, the person at the front of each line ran across the field to their corresponding guy in the chair at the far end.  As they approached the guy that had to play the guy in a single hand of “rock paper scissors”.   If the runner won, they got the small sack, if they lost they got the big sack.   Either way you the runners had to take their sack back across the field as fast as they could and hand it off to the next person in the line.   For the subsequent runners, winning the rock-paper-scissors bout meant you got to keep or get the small sack.  The entire race we exceptionally funny to watch.

After getting in my fill of giggles I soon veered off the narrow streets and onto trails on and around Mount Sengen.   Most of the locals refer to this area as “Duck Pond” as the most common route has you starting at a small pond.    It has rained quite a bit over the past week and the trails had a lot more moisture than I had expected.

The soil here is clay based and while it does not cake up on your tires at all , it is some exceptionally tricky stuff to ride on where power and balance but be carefully finessed to keep yourself from becoming an amateur geologist taking unplanned soil samples.

Now sprinkle in some leaves and wet roots over this clay and you have some exceptionally interesting bit of trail to content with.   You can find more information about this kind of stuff on Slickopedia.

One of my favorite little curves along the route, the ferns in this area almost popping.  Like many of the hiking trails in this area they have a long history of use to connect between the numerous temples throughout the peninsula.  This particular trail dates back to around the mid 1300s.   After dropping this trail off of west of Mount Sengen, I did a bit of residential street riding before hitting up another series of trails.   Shortly after this I found myself at several trail junctions enjoying the scenery while I sorted through the scribbled on maps and disjointed GPS files floating around in my brain.   Eventually I channeled “The Schwartz”  and figured out my way (The other ways, are now officially on my to-do list).

The series of trails I was on at this point where leading me to Kamakura on the western side of peninsula on Segami Bay.  These trails were created sometime between 1185 – 1333AD.      It is really kind of cool knowing that you are riding a trail nearly four times as old as my home country.

The drop into Kamakura proper is not a gentle one,   there is some seriously steep and slippery steps to contend with as most of your elevation is cashed out rather quickly.

The final bit of the trail before hitting tiny concrete pathways and alleyways that led down into the streets of Kamakura.

With its numerous temples and cultural shops and restaurants one could spend weeks enjoying Kamakura before they would feel as if they have done more than scratched the surface.     For me it was a quick stroll along the streets.

The “scramble” crosswalk.   All traffic briefly stops and pedestrian pandemonium ensues.    Very cool to watch.

This was what  I was really looking for on this day, some of the tasty street vendor offerings.   This stuff is some form of grilled chicken skin/bits will tasty sauce and shredded veggies.

So what if is bad for me, but yeah there were a bunch of skinny Japanese folks eating this stuff so how bad can it be.    After  mowing this thing down and a bit of Japanese fashion watching I made my way back over to Zushi along the streets.   I had big plans to hit of up the trails of Fugato-yama on my way back but by the time I reach the turnoff street my legs were wanking so I continued along the streets back to Yokosuka.   Turns out I did just a few yards under 27 miles so I did not feel bad about bailing on the last riding area.     Another good day to be on a bike and a great day to be out stroll around in Japan.

A Little Land of the Rising Sun Action

After spending a few days in Seattle finishing up some work, I headed out to Japan to spend a week scoping out a project for next year.   As always I was hoping to squeak in a ride if time permitted.   I rented a mountain bike for the duration of my visit to serve as my primary means of daily transportation and potentially some recreation as well.   The weather was  forecast to be pretty much icky for the week with Wednesday being partly sunny.    Wednesday came around and partly sunny was indeed the case with a full serving  of windy and brisk to boot.   I was able to open my afternoon enough to get in some “Off-Site Strategic Planning”  accomplished on the bike.   While I still have some places to explore in this area on my list from previous visits, I would not have time for that with the shorter days October.   I had a handful of miles to ride on the streets to get to Zushi City where I would pick up the first part of the afternoon’s dirt adventure.   I had nearly forgotten just how culturally interesting in can be riding on the streets over here.   Narrow sidewalks, mom and pop businesses, scooters whizzing by, Japanese School Girl Uniforms, lots of people out walking and peddling, etc…  It is just an intersting scene.  

On one section of road with a bit of a climb in it I came across a new sign that was not there in June of last year.  I can’t read this sign but I know what it means.  And I like it.  The Japanese have a knack for iconing things so that just about anybody can figure things out.  Rider Up!

Once I made it over the Sengen Trails which is commonly referred to by us Engrish folk as Duck Pond since the trail starts at a small pond that typically has ducks in it. What a bunch creative Gaijins we are .  The trail starts with a heiniouly steep hike-a-bike up to a ridge that typcially requires you to shoulder the bike.   With the rain the day before I knew this was going to be a fun section with plenty of slick clay.   It was about this time I thought about the fact I had never taken the trail around this little pond.  So I decided to delay my hike-a-bike fun and go around the pond.  I was fairly stoked to find that at the end the pond was a little boardwalk that was quite fun on the bike.  It was just tight enough to be interesting and combined with the really brisk air and the thought of falling into the shallow mucky end of this pond made this section downright fun.  I had to do it a couple of times in both directions.   This was a pretty cool 5 minute detour and added some newness the ride right out of the gate.   The Hike-A-Bike up to the ridge was every bit of clay treachery I expected, but I was soon rolling along the ridgetops. 

After climbing along the trails I made it up to the top of Sengen Hill (or Peak – can’t remember ) there was some nice views of the mountains in the Hakone National Park in the distance, but it tooks some effort to see as mother nature is reclaiming the clearing in a hurry.  As is often the case, Mt Fuji was hiding behind distant clouds.  From here it was time to head down and I took one of my favorite routes down through the Tennin trail system before popping out on another street.  

After a short bit of road interconnecting I got onto a series of trails that headed westward towards Kamakura.   There are some really good trails that are quite popular with hikers.  Many of the trails are hundreds of years old with some of the more direct routes between the temples being over a thousand years old.   

There are several sections along the route where the trail cuts through the top of the ridge via a slot or notch.  Sometimes the notches are 20-30 feet deep.  I orginally thought that this was a result of the trail being “cut” by some machinery or tools sometime in the past.   The slots in the ridge were actually created from the countless footsteps of people who have walked these trails for hundreds of years.   Feet, time and errosion have cut through the ridge tops.  After riding and climbing along these ridges the exit was like most of the trails in the mountains around here, Hike-A-Bike up and White Knucklers on the way down.   The wet conditions earlier in the week made the descent quite challenging to ride and not much easier to walk.    There was a least a couple of clay samples taken.

Once I dropped off the ridgelines down into Kamakura I worked my way along the streets back to Yokosuka and my hotel.  Later on that evening I met some old friends for dinner to catch up on thngs and to fawn over their new baby girl.   It was good times on pretty much all facets of the day.

Exploring the Kamakura Mountains

Last weekend I went out to revisit some of the Kamakura trails I have been on in 2004 and also check out some of the trails I had never ventured down before.   This area is really awesome and it offers a lot of great trails that range from mild buffness, to scary hairball rocks and roots.   Navigating around here can be real interesting.  There are lots of trails optons and not all of them are well marked.   Even when marked, there is the whole language barrier thingy for me to help keep things interesting.

There was no shortage of good trails.  

 One of my favorite things to do when riding out here is to stop by this mountain rest stop were you can grab a bit of local grub as well as a mid ride snack.  It seems like you are out in the middle of nowhere until you come upon this place.   This group of hikers I had been leap frogging around for about and hour or so as I checked out most of the various splits in the main trails while they plodded along.   

 Yummy Oden.  It is mostly different types of Tofu, veggies and seaweed. 

 After lunch I decided to check out a route that none of my friends had tried before.  (Or at least not talked about)     The trail started near the mountain hut and went to the Kencho-Ji Temple in Kamakura.  

 For being a trail to place considered peaceful and good, the trail was more like a guantlet of trail evilness.  There were enough roots, rocks and drops to get most riders thier fill of technical playtime.  This would be a good trail to come and session all the features on. 

After a but of tough riding and a fair amount of hike-a-biking I arrived to the mountain peak above the Kenchoji Temple.   What followed after this was a very long, narrow and steep set of twisting stairs.

The stairs lead to the upper area of the temple known as the Hansobo which is the temples inner sanctuary. There are numerous and very impressive statue of creatures known as Karasu-tengu which roughly equates to Crow Goblins.  They are considered part of the protective spirit of this place.


 The Kenchoji Temple ranks first among Kamakura’s so-called Five Great Zen Temples and is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan.   It was built in 1253.

The light was pretty crappy that day for taking pictures and I seemed to be having a “bad camera day” for some reason when it came to getting a good shot of the temple buildings.    There were lots of artists out working on thier craft and I soon figured out they had all the right viewpoints.   Thier paintings were much more interesting than any pictures that I was trying to get that day.

After spending about an hour on the temple grounds I meandered my way through downtown Kamakura and back to the apartment.   It was good to get in some culture along with a nice chunk of riding as well. If you like to read some more about the Kenchoji Temple first check out this site before hitting up Google.

“Feeling” my way around — A Nippon Navigation Weekend

The weather Gods showed favor on us last weekend as we had a couple of days of no rain and it looked like it was going to hold through most of the weekend.  Friday afternoon, Dan and I headed out for some riding in an area near Zushi.

We were enjoying the afternoon as we had plenty of daylight ahead of us.  We had time to stop and smell the flowers (so to say)

Over the course of ride through the  area we came to one of those spots were either going to be at the apex of your loop or you are going to jump ship and head for another area near Kamakura and extend your loop.   The fork in the road at this junction was at the top of a pass know as the Asaina-kirodoshi.  Kamakura sets on the ocean, but is also surrounded on three sides by mountains. They are not tremendously tall, but really steep.  For defensive purposes notches, passages and passes call kirodoshi were cut through some of these mountains. The Asaina-kiridoshi is one of the seven greater kiridoshi leading in and out of Kamakura.  It was built in 1241 and is rumored to have been built in a single night.   We opted to descend the eight century old road down towards Kamakura and see if I could figure out a route I followed a local on five years ago.

After quite a bit snooping around I had to resort to “Umm, it feels this way” tactics.   My “it feels this way” tactic has gotten me and the poor saps with me in trouble on more than a few occasions.   We were starting to watch our daylight as things can get dark really quick under the foliage of the forest.  Just when I was really starting to doubt if I was on the right track, I recognized a trail feature and had a “full navigational recall” occur.  The feature is a trail junction know as the Okirigishi juncture, in the Nagoe Kirtoshi pass.  (It was too dark in this area to get a photo) This pass was used primarily from 1185 to 1333 to connect the Kamakura and Miura areas.  It was just a narrow path back then just wide enough for a single horse to pass through.  Today it is still narrow and quite a bit on the burly side with some natural stone steeps that require your due diligence to navigate.

There are a few spots along the trail were some trees were and underbrush are strategically cutout to provide scenic viewpoints.   It was amazing to see home much light was actually being obscured when under all the foliage.  Below us and in the distance were could see where we were going to be dropping out at.

From here to there took a little longer than expected and there were a couple of trail junctions were some thinking had to be done before choosing a direction.  We ended popping out right where I expected (okay hoped is a better word 🙂  ) to and we still had just a bit of daylight to play with.  From here we did some street cruising back to where we started from.   We did make a pit stop along the way at a small mom and pop restaurant that my friend Ken turned me onto during a visit last year.  The food here is just awesome with the kind of yumminess that “grandma used to make”.  The husband and wife who run the place are in fact grandparents and she kindly treats us like one of her grandkids.  She sees enough of the local mountain bikers that she keeps a newspaper around so that we can cover up the chairs so we do not funk up their chairs.  She even helps me out when I screw up my Japanese and notices when I use a new phrase.   It is always more than a meal when eat here.    I slept good that night.

The following day still looked good and by lunch time I had polished off all of the work than needed to be tended to so Dan and I headed out for some more exploration.  This would be another area that I had ridden a few times five years ago and but I was always just tagging along.   We did quite a bit of street exploration before finding a route up into the trail system.  I had never been this way before to get up into the trail system and we went for quite sometime before we came to a trail junction that “felt” like I had been here before.   Riding around over here would be a whole lot easier if I was just learn kangi, hirokana and kitokana.

A few trail junctions later and I knew where I was at and where we were going.  Takatori has some really cool technical features strewn about on the trails.  The section below is gnarly little root fest and it is also the spot where five years ago I cracked by sternum and bruised up a few ribs pretty good.

The summit of Mt Takatori is the site of an old stone quarry that has become a favorite spot for area climbers.  There are at the least a dozen such faces where folks can come and get thier climb on.

The quarry area also has some cool rock features to play on so we did.  Here is Dan giving his front tire and fork a workout.  Take note that Dan is riding with flat pedals and no shin pads.  Dan told this was the first time and months he had gone for a ride without them on.

I have a feeling that Dan is going is not going to forget those next ride.

After playtime on the summit, we set off on another trail that included a bunch of steps to descend, but the cultural payoff is really awesome.   You are literally just riding along and pop out into a clearing with this in front of you.

This carved relief statue is around 30-40 feet high and is simply impressive.  If you do not say something along the lines of a awesome, wow, or holy crap when you first see this then something is wrong with you.  Dan was pretty stoked to see this.  After this point we continued  along the trail that included lots of steep descents and natural log steps that dumps us out at the bottom of Takatori off the north slope.

From here we worked our way back up the mountain on a easily climbable road.  Once back at the peak were retraced our way back to where we started.  I have a new to-do list item to go back and explore the numerous trail juctions in the Takatori area.  By the time we got back I was pretty much done and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.  A couple of days well spent.