Shimanami Kaidō (しまなみ海道) Cycle Path

View of Onomichi from Mukaishima. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Vickerman625.

View of Onomichi from Mukaishima. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Vickerman625.

One Japanese blogger , who uses the moniker 吾輩は猫であるさん (from Wagahai wa Neko de aru, the title of a famous novel by Natsume Soseki), referred to this bike trail as a サイクリストの聖地 (saikurisuto no seichi), or “a cyclist’s holy land”.  The 海道 (Kaidō) in the name means “sea way” or “sea path”, and the trail obligingly hops islands from one side of the 瀬戸内海 (Seto Naikai, “Seto Inland Sea”) to the other.  After reading so much about the trail itself and individual cyclists’ experiences on it, I’m adding this ride to my bucket list for my next stay in Western Japan! (´∀`)ワクワ

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The Gios Antico mini velo

Gios Antico mini velo

Gios Antico mini velo

While reading some Japanese “pottering” blogs this week, I noticed that several riders speak fondly about a particularly type of bike they have.  The model is called “Antico”, and it is made by the Italian company Gios. It is a ミニベロ (mini bero, from “mini velo”) or 小径車 (shoukeisha, small wheeled bicycle).  Initially, I thought it must be one of the multitudinous folding bikes so popular in the uber-urban streets of Tokyo.  However, it turns out that it has a regular sized road bike frame, redesigned to work with the small tires.

This bike has 16 speeds and a frame made of クロモリ (kuromori, chromium molybdenum steel). The 20″ tires give it a much smaller profile than a typical road bike, making it easier to park or make pinpoint turns on the city sidewalk (which riders can and do use in Japan).  It also means you can more easily take it on a train (something “potterers” like to do), without having to remove the wheels and bag it up.

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“Pottering” in Japan (that is, “puttering about on two wheels”)

outside Matsumoto

On a ride outside Matsumoto. (c) Site author.

If you read many Japanese blogs on the subject of bicycles, you will no doubt come across the term ポタリング (potaringu). Since this is a relatively new term, you won’t find it in many dictionaries, but a quick internet search reveals that the term is widely used and evolved from the English idea of “pottering about”. In Japan, it applies specifically to leisurely and somewhat aimless rides on two wheels.  The Japanese Wikipedia entry describes it as an activity similar to “strolling”, but on a bicycle or motorbike. A Kotobank entry narrows the usage to bicycles exclusively, and describes it as the activity of riding around wherever one feels like going, just for the purpose of sightseeing.

Either way, “pottering” is something I have had the pleasure of doing many a time during my stays in Japan.  One afternoon I remember quite fondly was on a visit to Matsumoto, a beautiful “little” city, situated in a basin below the Japan Alps in Nagano Prefecture.  Before I went there, I really only knew four things about Matsumoto: 1) it has a famous castle, designated as a National Treasure,  2) it is the home of the “Suzuki Method” for teaching violin, 3) the area is known for wasabi, and 4) it was the site of a terrible Sarin gas terror attack.  While thoughts of the latter did float through my mind a bit when I was first making plans to go, these evaporated quickly as we emerged out of the station into the sunny, crisp April air and began to wander around.  I had read in advance that free rental bikes were available near the station, and a few of us decided to head out in search of the wasabi fields.

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