Our first bicycle tour to Kyushu island in Japan proved to be very colourful indeed. Our tour started off with a fabulous meal in Kumamoto. We dined on too many courses to count and for some of us it was the first time eating raw fish! We have a new sushi convert in the group! Our first taste of Sochu was also had! A distilled drink, in this case made from rice that is 25% alcohol. After dinner we took a stroll to see the famous castle that still dominates the city. Its origins date back to 1467 but it was burnt down during the during the Satsuma Rebellion led by Saig? Takamori, also known as the last samurai. The castle was rebuilt and truly gives you a sense of what life would have been like during the Edo period. The next morning we were up early and ready to face the chilly and windy day. Bikes adjusted and off we rode through a quiet city. It didn’t take us long to reach rice fields and open countryside. We quickly found ourselves along the shore of the Yatsushiro Sea and saw the islands in the distance that we would be crossing via bridges across the Amuska Archipelago. The area is also well known for citrus and lucky for us they are in season! A 70 km flat ride was a perfect way to start our tour.
Days 3 and 4
A very quiet road took us through the heart of Amuska Island on this warmer day. The wind was kept at bay but the temperatures were still chilly. Along the way we came across two methods of rice planting taking place side by side — the traditional manual method and a very clever rice planting machine. The road took us up and up and again we were in citrus country, but this time they were giant Tangelos growing. In almost every village we came across we saw flags at at least one house. Signifying that a son lives there these are in preparation for Boys Day on May 5. Once we arrived at our Onsen (hot spring bath) for the night, there was an option to do an extra 20 km ride along the Sunset Line to see a 130 year-old Catholic Church. The hot bath at the end of a ride is a great way to end the day and loosen up those sore muscles! To leave the Amuska Islands we took a ferry to back to the main land and here the landscape was flat as we rode along a dyke and reclaimed land. The day ended with a tough hill up to a tea estate where we spent the night in the home of the farmers. A long day of cycling means an early night!
Day 5 and 6
Waking up in the peaceful tea estate we enjoyed breakfast with very fresh eggs from the farm and went for a visit to the tea processing center and to see the natural weed eaters for the tea bushes – goats. We bid farewell to our hosts and it was a nice downhill start of the day towards the city of Kagoshima. We had many stops on the way, including to a cold spring with shocking pink flowers, a waterfall and we saw the old road to Tokyo. Seeing the size of those cobblestones we were very glad we weren’t riding on it! Hugging the coast of Kinko Bay we had nonstop views of Sakurajima, an active volcano. One last climb to end our longest cycling day – 97 km – took us to our hotel with a fabulous view across the bay to the volcano. After our epic day we were looking forward to an easier day with a ride around the volcano. We left Kagoshima via a short 14 minute ferry to Sakurajima. This one-time island is now connected to the mainland due to lava flows. There have been 300 eruptions this year, but the last major eruption was in 1947. Though puffing a bit during our cycle we never felt in danger. We had to be more careful of the slippery black ash that was on the roads! Was a great day riding and seeing how the locals live at the base of an active volcano!