Friday, September 30, 2016

Daimonji-yama (大文字山), Kyoto

At the culmination of the Obon (お盆) festival, each year on August 16th in Kyoto, fires are lit on the hillsides surrounding the city. One of these fires is lit on Daimonji-yama (大文字山), which is right behind the main campus of Kyoto University. Unfortunately, I wasn't in Kyoto on August 16th but it should look like this:
Picture taken from wikipedia
In daytime, it looks like this:
Don't have my telephoto lens with me, this picture is borrowed off the internet
From the vicinity of my apartment building at dusk, it looks like this:
See the clearing up on the hillside?
It's actually rather close to Kyoto University. Here is my GPS tracklog:
red = bike ride, yellow = hike up to the 大, blue = hike up to the top
It's about an 8 min  bicycle ride (2.5 km) from Kyoto University to the Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺), or Silver Pavilion. At the entrance, go left and you will find a short road that leads to the path up the Daimonji (大文字) mountain. I parked my bike at the end of the road:
My Bike Friday at the bike parking area
The wooden board in front shows the route:

It's a 20 min (1.25km) walk. There was a lot of water running down the side of the road because it'd rained a lot the last few days here:
Cascading water besides the road

You proceed up the dirt/cement road until you see steps to this bridge:
Take the steps, go over the bridge and turn left.
We turn off the road here but just ahead at the end of the road is this cable-driven platform for taking supplies up the mountain. Useful for festival time.

Leaving the road behind, we have a dirt path, sometimes with steps:

Nearing the clearing, we have stone steps:

At the top, we're at the center of the 大 character. There is a panoramic view of the city below:
Panorama taken at the center of the 大
The elevation here is about 331m. Note the small fire pits made from brick. Each one will be lit (and extinguished) by someone come festival time.

(BTW, modern cameras are amazing. I took the stitched picture here hand-held, no tripod, with a 35mm effective focal length lens, i.e. not a telephoto. And the camera is only a 16Mpixel model. A lot depends on atmospheric conditions and a tripod will eliminate a lot of blurring, but even so, the level of detail available from a casual setup on this slightly hazy afternoon is impressive. A 100% excerpt:
At 100%, Kyoto Tower is plainly visible 

The panorama at full resolution is available here: 26MB.) I guess a calm day in winter with a 42Mpixel camera would be simply incredible.)

At this point you can climb up these steps to go on to the top of the mountain. It's another 0.85km, or about 15 mins. You're actually climbing the vertical part (of the 2nd stroke) of the 大 character initially.
Up the vertical of the 大
The clearing will disappear soon. And the path will go on up through the forest, past several saddle points, until you reach the top at 446m elevation. There is another panoramic view here:
Panorama from the top of the mountain
The top is marked here:
Daimonji-yama 3 corner point is at 466m
At the top there is another way down that goes to Nanzen-ji (南禅寺). Unfortunately, I can't go that way. I have to retrace my steps as I have my bicycle at the bottom behind Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺). Another time then.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A bike ride along Kyotoyawatakizu (京都八幡木津) Cycling Road and to Osaka castle

In the previous blogpost, I mentioned that my coffee run to Arashiyama (嵐山) along the Katsuragawa (桂川) used the Kyotoyawatakizu (京都八幡木津) Cycling Road. As the name indicates, it runs from Kyoto (京都), goes through Yawata (八幡), and finishes in Kizu (木津) about 45 km away. I was also told one can make use of this road to go all the way into the heart of Osaka (大阪); in fact, one can pop up next to Osaka castle (大阪城). How cool is that?

Well, it's such a cool concept that I had to ride it using the portable Bike Friday Pocket Rocket Pro that I recently brought to Japan in my checked luggage.
Bike Friday Pocket Rocket Pro all disassembled into its Samsonite suitcase

Reassembled in the apartment in Kyoto, this is what it looks like.

iPhone 6 Plus on the stem for Google Maps navigation. The aerobars are only used to hold accessories.
Here is the GPS tracklog of the route I took. I started from Kyoto University using the path along the Kamogawa (鴨川) to join up with the Kyotoyawatakizu Cycling Road at the confluence of the Kamogawa and the Katsuragawa. Then I rode the bike path to its terminus at Kizu. Turned around, and rode from Kizu to Osaka castle. Then turned around again and rode from Osaka back to Kyoto University. All in all, that adds up to a century, i.e. 161 km or 100 miles.

GPS tracklog recorded using my new Garmin Vivoactive HR

Notice that the bike paths are simply taking advantage of, and following, the path set by the local rivers (marked in yellow above). From Kyoto, it's along the Katsuragawa and Kamogawa. To Kizu, we simply follow the Kizugawa. To Osaka, and ultimately out to sea at Osaka Bay, it's the Yodogawa. The Cycling Road is nearly completely paved with tarmac and  built on paths along river banks or on top of flood embankments. Sometimes it seems like it splits into multiple paths that proceed in parallel. Then it's a question of spotting the next road, railway or utility bridge, and figuring which path stops and which path ducks under the bridge. Signposting exists, though not always where you need them for disambiguation. On a weekend, the route is full of cyclists, young and old. You will see groups of club cyclists in a paceline wearing their club jerseys, guys with gear in their baskets going fishing along the river, a line of kids in their little league uniforms cycling to riverside practice grounds, walkers, people pushing their bikes, mothers with babies, runners of all ages and styles, even Japanese men dressed in Arab robes - you get the idea. Along the river, you may see housing estates, golf courses, softball fields, industry, railways, allotments where hobbyists grow vegetables, farms, people camping in tents, ducks, naked men washing their clothes in the river, people doing tai-chi, couples sitting on the banks - sometimes sleeping there overnight, whole families enjoying a picnic in the afternoon, or ordinary people sitting on the embankment watching the river. In summary, it seems like a good way to see a fairly wide cross-section of Japanese society. Not many tourists though, unless we're talking about downtown Kyoto or Osaka. One thing I didn't see any of is watercraft until I got well into Osaka; there I spotted some tourist barges. But along the way, no boats, no barges, no jet skis, no kayaks, no paddleboards, and no swimmers (the rivers were flowing swiftly).

A route map along the Kyotoyawatakizu Cycling Road

Here is a signpost. On one side it says to Kizu (12.2km), on the other side to Arashiyama (32.8 km):

I have to say the end of the cycling route is rather disappointing. The start is near the beautiful Togetsukyō (渡月橋) in Arashiyama.  The route peters out at an ordinary road intersection. Since Kizu is near Nara, it would be nice there the bike path could be extended all the way into Nara.

Cycling Road terminus

So I decided to backtrack from Kizu northwards along the Kizugawa, and eventually south onto the Yodogawa (淀川) down into Osaka. This is near the confluence of the rivers in Yawata (八幡). The path on the Kamogawa is just a few hundred meters away over two back-to-back bridges.

Osaka Bay 37.0 km away

Arriving in Osaka, one can continue ahead to the high-rise district of Umeda (梅田) (in the far distance), or turn left along the channel to Osaka castle.

Following the water, it appears this is as far along the bike path as one can get. Notice you can make out Osaka castle 400m away. The board explain how a bicycle can get there taking two city streets and one bridge:

The end of the bike path along this section. Osaka castle is visible in the background.

Basically, at this point the Keihan railway line is in the way. Those stairs go down to the right and up under the line. Alternatively, as recommended on the board, ride down the street until you can duck under the line.

Entrance to Osaka Castle
Navigation came courtesy of Google Maps running on my iPhone 6 Plus velcroed to the stem. A iPhone Lightning to USB cable can be seen running from the iPhone down to the main tube and thereon down to the Profile Design bento box pressed into service to hold a 7000mAh Elecom USB battery. The battery has two USB outputs; the other output is actually connected to a WIMAX hotspot, also stored inside the bento box.

Bike Friday by the moat. I am not here to fish:

The moat at Osaka castle

Allow me to emphasize how cool this is: it'd be a bit like riding from Princeton, New Jersey along a bike path and somehow popping up next to the Rockefeller Center or Times Square in New York, having avoided all motorized traffic and traffic lights.

Unfortunately, the Yodogawa section of the route is not so friendly for an entirely different reason: there are frequently gates or barriers that are designed to basically force cyclists to dismount:

Along the Yodogawa
The one that can be seen in the background can be ridden through without dismounting if you're careful to unclip from the pedals and keep the cranks horizontal, i.e. at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock. But many of them are specifically designed to prevent even that. The motivating idea must be to slow cyclists down in areas where kids may be playing. I found them so annoying I preferred sometimes to take the road when one exists alongside the path. Fortunately, it is only along the Yodogawa that this happens.

Anyway, it's about 53 km from Osaka back to Kyoto University. And at 100 miles and 3000 kcal total, overall I'm a pretty happy camper:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Arashiyama (嵐山) Coffee Run

I finally managed it at the 4th attempt! I ran 14.2 miles, slightly over half marathon distance, from Kyoto University 's main campus to beautiful Arashiyama (嵐山), following the Kamo River (鴨川) downstream and then up the Katsura River (桂川), for a cup of coffee at % Arabica.

GPS track log of the run

Of course, Arashiyama is actually only about 6 miles away from Kyoto University as the crow flies (westwards). And one can do that on busy city streets but the idea here is to do the run using the bike/running paths along the rivers in Kyoto. The running paths along both sides of the Kamogawa through the city center, in particular, are iconic for me:

View of the Kamogawa looking northwards from the Shijō (四条) bridge
The Katsuragawa is also quite pretty and unspoilt in places; for example, especially as it approaches Arashiyama:

Katsuragawa near Arashiyama
This part of the course is also part of the Kyotoyawatakizu (京都八幡木津) Cycling Road. (More on this route in my next post.) The Cycling Road terminates in Arashiyama at the Togetsukyō (渡月橋):

Togetsukyō (渡月橋) in Arashiyama (嵐山)
The poetically-named bridge translates as "moon crossing bridge". (Emeritus Emperor Kameyama in the 14th century is supposed to be the one who came up with the name after observing it on a full moon.)

My destination is the inconspicuous white coffee shop, named % Arabica, on the other side of the bridge.

% Arabica is the white coffee shop on the other side of the bridge
It has a world-class view in Fall and Spring, plus look at that espresso machine from Slayer
The view from % Arabica

After coming across the shop during a visit to Japan in February 2016, the germ of an idea to run here for coffee began to form in my mind. Originally, I thought the Katsuragawa simply ran down into Kyoto past the university. As the GPS tracklog indicates, I have to switch rivers from the Kamogawa first, making the distance much longer than a straight line.

(You may wonder: how did I get back? For the record I took the number 93 bus (price: 230 yen). It basically goes straight east and I got off very close to the campus.)

It's a good coffee shop. Worth the run or bike ride in my humble opinion. My cappuccino:

Since I did this in July, the heat and humidity that is omnipresent in the basin that is Kyoto kicked my butt. (See the rise in HR near the end.) On the plus side, I got to burn 2000 kcal.
Finally, here is a 3min movie of the run I made from the GPS tracklog using Google Earth Pro. It's nice to see detailed 3D buildings, even in Kyoto: