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Okutama: June

People often think that a rainy season means dark, gloomy days of relentless downpours that only ducks enjoy. Well sometimes you'd never know it was rainy season and this week was no exception. Even the weekend was nice, which according to Murphy's Law sometimes dictates otherwise.

Saturday, 6 a.m.
Weather: A+
Wife: away for w/e in Korea
Buell: not Gassed-up but otherwise ready to roll.

Knew I should've gotten fuel the night before because most gas stands around the house don't open til 8. Took a slight detour over to the SELF-SERVE Shell station on Hongo Dori - one of the very few self-serve stands in Tokyo and perhaps Japan.

Jumped on the expressway and made my way to the Hachioji exit from where I would then head for my first stop, Sawai. Made the usual pit stop at one of the super rest stops where I did the usual - free green tea and bathroom break. It's always a laugh at these places because the bikers are always clustered in one area and it is like a fashion show runway; everyone showing off their latest duds or newest bike, and sizing each other up. The nerdiest of nerds are rock stars if they have a Harley or some other souped-up rig. And the clothes - oh dear; custom leathers or other racing suits fitted with NFL pads and such; picture a Japanese Herman Munster. It's a wonder they can fit through some of the tollgates without lubing their shoulders.

I hadn't ridden this particular route before so I was real excited to see what was in store. Okutama is in close proximity to Tokyo, so a day ride is real easy yet chock full of great roads and scenery. I could on my map there were several nice mountain roads (perhaps logging roads) that were worth a gander so I loaded those into my navi beforehand. The GPS guided me like a champ through the twists and turns along the Tama river.

Tama River

I arrived at Sawai around 8:30 a.m. Love this place. Been there many times and never tire of it. It has a stellar location along the river and is a great place to come with friends, sit outside in the garden cafe and sample some of the local sake that is distilled in town. Of course only if you are riding the train.

The grounds are meticulously maintained and due to it's many kinds of Japanese maple trees, and cherry trees, it is especially fantastic in the spring cherry blossom and autumn seasons. The river is all snow melt so it is very clean and clear and is a popular spot for kayaking and fishing, so there's always plenty of sporty entertainment beyond the natural beauty of the area.


The gem of Sawai however is the Kanzanji Temple that is easily accessed by crossing the walk bridge across the river. I rather enjoy giving the kane (large bell-pronounced 'kah nay') a smack or two with the battering ram tethered to it. It really resonates nicely through the valley.

Kanzanji Temple


After loading up on edomame (soy beans) and skewered chicken I got back on the bike and made my way along route 411 which takes you out and around Lake Okutama. Not a bad looking lake. It has some interesting land formations making up the border and picturesque inlets. I couldn't help thinking about a few laps on a wakeboard through it but it appeared motorboats are off limits. I did a quick ride through the town of Okutama, which is located further west along the lovely river. Didn't spend much time here but according to the official Okutama website, it is 'a pleasant city that cherishes water and green, where human harmonizes with Nature.' Hmm... yeah I can see that.

Route 411 connects into 33 where I headed southeast. There was virtually no traffic so this was fantastic non-stop riding. The area is heavily forested and has the sweetest cedar-rich air imaginable. I slowed and sucked in as much of the good stuff as I could in hopes of storing a few breaths deep in my lungs; folks I live in Tokyo. There are a multitude of streams and waterfalls abound here, as well as fantastic roads typically found in the mountains of Japan. I continued on my way along rt. 33 until I got to Kichijoji Falls and Kita-Akikawa Falls, neither clearly sign-posted.

I was working up a hunger with all the short trails I was stopping at to trek so I ferreted through my bag for a power bar. Nice... nothing like protein fondue on a bike ride; evidently it got a little too warm in the tankbag. Guess I'll bring bread next time for dipping.

Today's ride was largely exploratory, as I wanted to try out some roads I hadn't ridden before, so I went out along some dead-end roads simply to see what lie in store. And I'm glad I did. I found an outstanding waterfall village called Hinohara. There are no less than a dozen different waterfalls, including Hossawa Falls, that can be accessed via a labyrinth of walking trails that vary in distances from under 1 Kilometer to over 2K. Next time I'll investigate a little further on the trails but today the beautiful pictures on the giant map of the area will have to suffice. I rode up in the hills a little further and found a guy out front of his soba shop barbequing up a storm for a few customers. Man that meat smelled great but I couldn't be bothered stopping again; especially as I had quite a lot of riding still ahead.

Hossawa Falls

I blazed on through rt. 205 to Motojuku. The town, worth missing; the ride however was fabulous. More streams, curves, and FRESH air. Oh and in case you are interest in church camp- there's a pretty slick one along this route replete with modern cabins; undoubtedly where renditions of Kumbaya ring out through the night. Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya...

A little past church camp I split off onto an unmarked road which took me through a tiny, charming group of homes where I saw several obasan(old ladies) tending to their front gardens. One lady apparently hadn't seen a foreigner on a bike ride through before, because she inadvertently turned the hose on her dog as she gawked my way.

I turned around a little further up the road and headed back to rt. 33 and through Akiyama Valley and onto a mountain road that cuts through to rt. 521. Riding this mountain road wasnít the brightest idea of the day. There was an open gate at the entrance with some writing in Japanese that I couldnít be bothered working out what it said but one thing I could work out was '4km.' Iím guessing the '4km' was referring to the length of road that was basically impassible for a car due to the numerous rock slides I had to maneuver around.

I snaked my way through the barely one lane mountain pass, along lovely streams and outstanding views of the peaks and valleys of the surrounding hills. There was nobody else around for quite some time until I finally nearly clipped a bicyclist coming around a bend. I gave him a nod and continued on to the exit. To my very disappointed surprise, the exit gate was CLOSED! I sat there for a minute contemplating how I was going to either get through, over or around the gate - I sure as hell wasn't going to turn around and ride back to the entrance. It was looking grim as there was a rusty chain stretching across the barricade, but upon closer inspection I realized the chain was only hooked, not locked. Nice one. It was well worth the adventure, but I definitely wouldn't want to do it on a street bike. The Buell Ulysses worked beautifully as would any of the BMW GS bikes.


After getting on to rt. 521 I wound my way through some more great kinks and bends through the forest. Along one stretch there was a vegetable stand set up out front of a long flight of stone steps leading to a temple. I climbed the 100 or so steep steps to a clearing and a simple temple. However what was amazing about this place was the massive old growth cedar trees hidden within the sanctuary. Gorgeous trees, some with trunks as wide as 2 meters.


Further on up the road I spotted several 'pods' of monkeys scurrying along a fenced-in area but couldn't get close enough to shoot one...with a camera. They can be real shy and skittish at times and too friendly at others; it all depends on whether they've been fed by tourists or not. These clearly hadn't which is a good thing. This stretch of road also had many homes, displaying a unique architectural style that you don't see so often. They had detached outbuildings called 'kura'. They are always painted white and have fixed ornate shutters, decorative crests, and are used for storage of just about anything. I think they'd make a great pad for the in-laws to stay in.


Great ride. A 7 out of 10. One of the best parts of an Okutama ride is the short distance on the expressway out of Tokyo before you get into some great riding, scenery and air. All I can hope for is another attacking crow scene to play out before my next journey, as that clearly had everything to do with today's stellar ride.