Bicycle touring southern Kyushu: Ebino to Miyazaki

As with my ski trip to Hokkaido a couple years ago, I was grateful for Keiichi’s help in planning this bicycle tour in Kyushu.  He lives in Kagoshima now, and I was looking forward to visiting him there.  However, with our detour to Usuki and the days spent there at the bamboo lantern festival, Ferda and I ran out of time.  Being a fair bit out of our way we ended up skipping Kagoshima.  Thank you, Keiichi, for all the help and sorry that we weren’t able to get together.

Our crossing from Kumamoto to Miyazaki Prefecture was through the scariest tunnel of the trip.  As I mentioned in my last post, we hadn’t planned on crossing those mountains on such a busy highway, but the little road we wanted didn’t go through.  The 1800m long tunnel was pretty narrow.  We started the tunnel on the very narrow sidewalk with quite a high curb.  I keep hitting the periodic reflectors with my right front bag (we were riding on the left as always in Japan), scared that I’d lose balance and crash into the highway.  I had to stop part way through to calm my nerves.  It was good timing as a fast truck zoomed by followed by the typical swirling wind.  When the road started obviously going downhill, I got off the sidewalk and sped the rest of the way through the tunnel with no vehicles passing me.  We rested in the sun on the other end, again needing to calm down.

An 1800m tunnel to take us from Kumamoto Prefecture to Miyazaki Prefecture by bryandkeith on flickr

The rest of our days in Japan were characterized by the wonderful people we met.  We coasted down to Yoshimatsu, and an outgoing woman on a bicycle with two kids and good English gave us a short tour of the sites in her neighborhood: a spring and a shrine.

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Bicycle touring Kumamoto Prefecture

Even though it’s been over three years since a series of earthquakes rattled Kumamoto, the devastation is still readily apparent.  As a reminder that we’re in a seismically active area Ferda and I started our Kumamoto tour by slowly bicycling up the rim of the huge Aso Caldera, “one of the largest calderas in the world” according to the Aso UNESCO Global Geopark literature that we picked up in the town of Aso.  From the high point on the road we dropped quickly and steeply into the caldera itself.

Here’s a view from that descent looking down on the farmland in the caldera.  The opposite rim of the caldera is in the far right of the photo while the peaks in the center of the caldera start to be visible in the left of the photo.

Looking down into the massive Aso Caldera by bryandkeith on flickr

To try and get an idea of the enormity of the caldera also consider this photo, taken from the slope of the mountains in the caldera’s center looking toward the rim of the caldera.  The mountains in the background are outside the caldera, but it’s easy to see the caldera’s rim shown as an unbroken horizontal band of green all the way across the photo.
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Bicycle touring Oita Prefecture: Usuki and the bamboo lantern festival (Takeyoi)

November is apparently bamboo lantern festival season in Oita with Usuki the first weekend, Hita the second weekend, and Taketa the third weekend.  During my planning for this Kyushu tour, my original route was too long, and one of the places I skipped to make the route shorter was Usuki.  However, I added it back in when I realized it was the only convenient place for us to catch one of these bamboo lantern festivals.  It was an excellent decision as our time spent in Usuki was certainly one of our Kyushu highlights.

With a bit of extra time we followed the coast around the peninsula NE of Usuki and just like coming into Nakatsu we stumbled upon a bicycle path, the Saganoseki Cycling Road.  It’s interesting that South Korea really touts their cycling infrastructure, but you don’t hear much about Japan.  Off the designated routes in Korea, the cycling conditions were pretty grim.  In Japan, however, we found great riding almost everywhere we went.  Japanese drivers are perhaps the best in the world.

Another unexpected bicycle path in Japan by bryandkeith on flickr

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Bicycle touring Oita Prefecture, the north: Hita, Nakatsu, Usa, Beppu

A continuous surprise during our tour in Japan was just how good the riding is.  I went to South Korea expecting great riding and found great food.  I went to Japan expecting great food and found great riding.

IMG_20191023_093938 by bryandkeith on flickr

The start of our convoluted route through Oita Prefecture was downhill through rice paddies to the pottery village of Onta.
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Bicycle touring Fukuoka Prefecture

Japan!

IMG_20191019_085730 by bryandkeith on flickr

On the ferry from Busan to Fukuoka Ferda and I met a young Japanese woman who was returning to her country after two years on the road.  One of the things that she missed most was nato.  Indeed it is very difficult to get nato outside of Japan, and I was looking forward to tasting it again as well.  So the first thing that Ferda ended up eating on her first trip to Japan was a nato roll!  A tad unusual, I imagine.  If you don’t know, well, nato is fermented soybeans which are kind of sticky and extremely stringy.  When you take nato with your chopsticks, there’s always a long thin string of nato paste that seems to stretch infinitely.  It’s interesting stuff.

Welcome to Kyushu!  After a visit to an ATM and the aforementioned nato rolls — both taken care of at a 7-11 — we started our one day of sightseeing in Fukuoka, Kyushu’s largest city.  It’s all fairly exciting your first day in Japan.

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