The ride to Toba city, located in Mie prefecture on the eastern side of Kii peninsula, was my second longer bike trip. I knew I was going to be back the next evening, so I took enough food and drink for 2 days only and a foam mat to sleep on. It was summer and I didn't have to bother with extra unnecessary weight like a tent or a sleeping bag.
Izu peninsula where Toba city is located is rich in history. In fact the Yamato plain was one of the first settled regions in Japan. The combinatiom of very fertile soil and a mild climate made the place perfect for rice growing twice a year. The region is also famous for Ama divers - traditional women abalone divers, 2 sacred rocks at Futami, pearl farming and the most important Shinto shrine in Japan making the peninsula Japan's Vatican City of Shinto.
In the afternoon I reached a coastal highway connecting Nagoya and Osaka cities with the bottom of the Kii peninsula. The highway ran about 1km from the coast and it was busy. The weather was incredibly hot and all I wanted to do was to reach the sea and go for a nice, long awaited swim too cool down and wash off the burning sweat. But instead of a beautiful, wild coast that I knew from Shikoku, I found a coast lined up with factories. After about an hour of riding down the highway in car fumes and Japanese summer heat, I finally found a beach. It was empty (Japanese swimming season begins on July 20 and ends on August 15) and it had a hose with fresh water that I could use too wash off the salt afterwards. It felt like heaven.
In the late afternoon I reached Futami, the place famous for 2 sacred rocks laying in the sea. I imagined the place to be a typical Japanese tourist trap, but it turned out to be a pleasant spot with small shrines built in huge rocks on the shore and a few small restaurants. There was also a walkway between the rock walls of the coast and the sea with a viewpoint on the 2 famous rocks.
Toba city was only 10 km away and after resting and for a bit and eating late lunch I set out to find a spot for the night. It took me about an hour to get there with a short swim on a tiny beach by the road to wash off the burning sweat once more. The place I chose was a tiny park with a fountain right on the concreted seashore. There were no people except for an occasional cyclist riding along a bicycle path that ran between the park and the sea. The park fountain became my bathtub where I sat for an hour in the cool, pleasant water and finally washed the burning sweat and sea salt off.
Around 4:30 I was awaken by a light drizzle and returned to Futami for the sunrise. When I reached the place, the rain stopped and there were breaks in the clouds making the sunrise quite spectacular. I set up my camera on a rock near the viewpoint already crowded with people and took some photos.
BACK TO OSAKA
The way back was different. I followed the coastal highway north towards Tsu city for about 30 km. It was extremely boring, but fast. Right before Tsu city where the road became busier I turned off and took a back road parallel to the highway. It ran across rice paddies through small, pleasant villages with the mountains to the left that I knew I had to cross to get home sooner or later. After reaching the main highway connecting Nagoya with Osaka I turned west and followed what seemed like an original road between the 2 cities. The difference was that it was smaller, a bit cooler being in the shade of the trees and most importantly it was empty. Despite all that it was already very hot and the sweat was burning my skin when I came across a paradise place that I will never forget. I think, at that point I was one of the happiest people in the world. The spot was just perfect. There was a mountain stream entering the plain and already transforming into a river with a man-made waterfall right by the road. On the left side of the road it looked still like a stream with trees around it, but on the other side it was more like a river about 10 m across with crystal clear water, sandy bottom (not even one plant), grassy meadows on both sides and huge rocks by the waterfall. There was only one house nearby without a fence that looked like a summer cottage. Except me there was an older man sitting under the fall and a few young guys who came for a short swim, but took off after a while. The cicadas were buzzing in the trees above the fall, the cool water was falling on my head and every 45 minutes or so a 1-car train slowly rolled across a nearby bridge. I remember sitting there and thinking that a day and a half of cycling in Japanese summer heat on Japanese busy roads was worth it even if it was only to spend a part of a day in that amazing place. It was one of those perfect moments that you don't want to last forever.
After 2 hours or so of experiencing what it felt like up in heaven I had to get back on the road. The way back was much longer than the one I came by. It passed through 4 prefectures. By noon I was still in Mie and knew that I had 2 prefectures and half of the 3rd one to pass before reaching home. The road from the paradise place (Shizuka river on old R25) after a couple of sleepy mountain villages began climbing and continued to be empty until I reached Nara prefecture and descended on the other side of the mountain pass. I reached some town and a junction that gave me 2 options of returning home - one to go south across northern Nara prefecture to Nara city and the other to go west across the bottom of Kyoto prefecture to the main road connecting Nara with Kyoto and from there south to Nara city. I chose the latter one looking more pleasant and interesting on the map, but in reality turning out to be a nightmare. At first it continued going up and down, but at least it had a large shoulder on which I felt a bit safer from the passing trucks. Later though, when I entered Kyoto prefecture the road became very narrow running on the bottom of a beautiful valley with a river on one side and mountains on the other. Unfortunately, the beauty of the valley was disturbed by a neverending train of passing trucks. At this point the road was full them going towards Nara and Kyoto and pushing me against the railing. The place must've been really special in the past and I'm sure it will be again when a new law will force the truck drivers to take the parallel paid highway, but for now it's one of the worst places I have cycled in Japan.
The day was hot. I had 2 stop twice to cool down in the river. After a couple of hours of stressful riding I stopped at a 7/11 and had a short nap right in the parking lot. Later I reached a main road connecting Nara and Kyoto cities and for the first time in hours I had a sholder to ride on. The road took me to Nara city and from there about 1.5 hours later I was home.
see the map