But what was I doing hanging around Mt Fuji anyway? My friend Dimitri decided to make a week-long Japan stop-over on his way to his European holiday and it seemed only hospitable to come to Tokyo to meet him at the airport and escort him back to Sapporo for a few days of cycling. I ruined my green credentials by flying to Tokyo instead of taking the train but at least I could get straight off my plane and be waiting for Dimitri as he got off his.
We jumped on to the train to Tokyo and by the time we had negotiated our way out of Tokyo station, it was clear to both of us that the last thing we wanted to do was try to walk to the hotel I’d booked in this heat and humidity and with all our luggage – I was already a bit sick of carrying my bike around in a box and Dimitri’s bike suitcase has dodgy wheels. The concept of a taxi would never have occurred to me but Dimitri’s out-of-the-box thinking got us there in the end. With our luggage safely stored in our hotel room, we could spend the rest of the day investigating Tokyo.
Tokyo is definitely one of my favourite cities. You couldn’t by any stretch call it attractive and I certainly wouldn’t want to live there – it’s a ceaseless concrete jungle – but there is just so much to see and do and we only had an afternoon. We walked around the Tokyo station area, had lunch at a Korean restaurant and then got on the Yamanote line, a circular train line that passes through all of Tokyo’s main areas, to do some exploring. We headed for the very fashionable district of Shibuya but I couldn’t let the train go through Ebisu station without getting out for a look at the Yebisu beer museum. The museum itself was actually smaller than its own lobby and also less interesting. The museum section only had old pictures whereas the lobby had a giant beer can made of beer cans. Ingenious. We opted not to pay for a guided tour of the museum and kept our money for a quick beer then headed back to the train station.
Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s busier neighbourhoods with all the fashionable young people out and about, walking from one place to another and probably back again. It has that pedestrian crossing that you see on the telly whenever they show a scene of Tokyo. We crossed over it just to make a point. We also walked past the famous statue of Hachiko, a loyal dog that used to come to the station every day to wait for its master and continued doing so for nine years after its master died. The statue is still a popular place for people to meet up before going out together. Not that anyone in Japan needs to do this any more – Hello, young people! You’ve all got at least two mobile phones each. Anyway, my mission was to wear out Dimitri by making him walk everywhere in the heat all afternoon. We walked north to Harajuku, through the area around the Tokyo Olympic stadium where we discovered that it happened to be Pedal Day.
There were plenty of Japanese hipsters, a few small stalls and more Surly bicycles than I had seen in my life up until then. Here’s a Surly Big Dummy which was carrying a spare bike. Just in case.
I thought there should have been more fixies about the place – maybe they are falling out of fashion or maybe they couldn’t compete with the novelty of this one:
Actually, it’s not a fixie at all. There was no front derailleur although there was a mount for one on the down tube but it did have gears at the back. There was also a little playpen for novelty bikes:
When I was certain I had worn out Dimitri with too much walking, we headed back to Tokyo station and on our way back to the hotel stumbled into a little sushi bar where it was a novelty, at least for a short time, to have a couple of foreigners eating there. All the staff seemed to be beyond retirement age and none of them spoke English but they were able to point us in the direction of a reasonably-priced sushi set course and the old boy who made it for us then spent the rest of our meal standing politely behind the bar in front of us and staring at an inexact point in the distance somewhere. After the meal, it was back to our hotel room to put our bikes back together and while Dimitri was sensibly hydrating himself for the net day, I had myself another beer.
The next day, our plan was to catch the Tokaido Line along the coast and change trains at Kozu for Gotemba from where we would ride to Mt Fuji and up to the Subashiri fifth station. However, at Kozu, we found we had just missed a train and it would be an hour for the next one, so decided to start riding from there. The road we took was mostly one lane in each direction but there was plenty of traffic. Luckily, the speed limit was low and the drivers were very cautious. There was only once all day when I thought a driver had passed too close to me and even then it was going uphill and at such a low speed that I was fairly untroubled. On the other hand, it was soon evident that Dimitri was much stronger than me, especially when we started going uphill. He’s 10kg heavier than me but I still couldn’t keep up so once he was out of sight around a corner, I stopped trying. I was also a little uncomfortable because I finally realised that my Mono-q frame is defective. It’s always made a little noise and about half a year ago I noticed a couple of cracks in the gel coat where the chain stays meet the bottom bracket but recently I started noticing my rear wheel occasionally rubbing against the brake pads. On this ride, I noticed the bike wobbling underneath me for the first time so I didn’t have a lot of confidence in it, especially for the descents. Naturally, I kept riding it though – you wouldn’t expect me not to try and get up Fuji-san, would you?
After a quick refreshment stop at Gotemba (or Gotenba – no one seems to care how they spell it) we pushed on to Mt Fuji, where Dimitri saw this:
And I didn’t.
Here’s how our day looked on the map. It wasn’t such a long ride – only 70km or so – but plenty of climbing:
By the time we got back to Gotemba, it was five o’clock and we had another two hours worth of train time to get back to Tokyo. A passing Dutchman took our photo blurrily:
And seemed happy to escape from his girlfriend’s family for a short time.
The next day, Dimitri and I had to get up early to catch the bullet train (part of the way) to Sapporo but you’ll just have to wait to hear about that. I have a 200km brevet tomorrow and I’m going to spend the rest of this afternoon figuring out how to edit Dimitri’s video of our ride to Mt Fuji. If there’s no video below when you read this, check back later because I’ll put one up at some stage. Here’s a video. I had to go out and get the new Imovie because the old one was really, really rubbish.