Tour of Hokkaido. Day 4, Oshamanbe to Lake Toya.

A church built by Batchelor, a temple so old it’s the first one in Hokkaido, and a lake that’s actually a volcanic caldera – today’s ride should be a little more captivating than what the past 3 days have been dishing out.

Breakfast at 5am. I finally get the good night’s sleep that has evaded me. The quiet and peace of Oshamanbe park has played a big part in that. I feel good today, too. The old legs are raring to go but first, coffee.

I brew a cup of freshly ground Guachoca El Salvador (flown in fresh all the way from Kuala Lumpur) with the Aeropress, and break out the packet of 7/11 bread rolls filled with little pellets of red-bean paste. Breakfast is slow, like everything else around me. Nothing and no one seems to be going anywhere. Actually, all the other campers are still in their tents.

Best thing to start the day touring with

The weather looks very agreeable this morning. So far, I’ve had nothing but ultra-violet days under clear blue skies. Sure it’s hot, but I can’t really complain. Folks back home have to contend with the annual Sumatra haze, not the best thing for your health when you’re cycle-touring.

The weather is so agreeable I make another cup of coffee. I’m not in a hurry. The projected distance today is less than a hundred kms, and that includes the bit of detour for sight-seeing at Usu Bay, just outside Toyaku.

While I’m packing up, the Japanese cycle-tourer with the Brompton is walking towards the wash area, a toothbrush in his mouth, with flecks of tooth-brushing foam speckling his lips. I’d already seen this spectacle before. It’s definitely a time-starved morning practice among the Japs.

He saunters over to check out my bike, toothbrush still in his mouth. He recoqnises the bike and makes appropriate noises in Japanese to show his appreciation. I find out that besides the Brommie, he also owns a Tikit. A foldie fan with an interesting stable; he probably has other foldies as well but I didn’t ask due to my Japanese language deficiency.

After we’re both packed and ready to leave, I call Brommie-san over for a photo-session. I ask Honda Girl to shoot us and she obliges. Honda Girl is an interesting-looking specimen, almost Harajuku-like in her appearance, so I ask to have my photo taken with her as well. Unfortunately, Brommie-san handles a bike better than he can a camera, and I find out later that night that Honda Girl will never feature in my blog.

We chat for a while, asking the usual questions. Again, I pull out the Mapple to show them where I’m going. I hear familiar words – ‘Up down, up down…’ These people don’t speak much English but when they do, they bring you down to Earth very quickly. Yesterday’s ride was relatively easy so today must be the day of ‘up down, up down’ reckoning. My friend from Onuma knew what he was talking about.

Oldies on foldies

A backpack and a Brommie front pannier holds everything. Very compact.

Out of Oshamanbe, the coastal road is flat. But not for long. Soon, the climbs start. The sun is unforgiving, baking up a stifling atmosphere, made worse by a tailwind in some sections. I hate nothing worse than a slow tailwind on a long slow climb. There’s no cooling effect. You ride, you sweat, you start to melt.

The map can be very misleading – the road leading from Oshamanbe to Toyaku hugs the coast. But the reality is the coastal terrain is hilly, and most of it not inhabited as well. That means no kombinis. I only have 2 bottles of water. Not enough for a ride like this.

Flat, and hugging by the coast… for now.

Fox crossing.

Dozo…if you please.

Workers in the tunnel make sure that I pass through safely

Looking back at the hilly terrain I had just ridden through

Up down, up down, up down, up down – there are 4 major climbs.

Where’s a vending machine when you need one?

Prayer answered.

4 vending machines appear, and gratefully, some shade to escape the broiling sun. I need a fire extinguisher. An ice-cold Coke does the job – I’m seriously burning up. A bottle of Pocari Sweat follows to replenish lost body salts.


After a bit more slogging in the heat, I roll down a final decline and enter the seaside town of Toyaku, which looks like another small town I’ve seen so far. They all look alike, right down to the welcoming flowers on the sidewalks.

A 7/11 lunch is on my mind. Hot noodles, bento, ice-cream, cold drinks, coffee – great motivators to pedal a little faster.

Toyaku town

Sightseeing time. I to detour to Usu Bay, about 4kms north of Toyaku. First up is the Batchelor church, not one that’s exclusive to single men, but the one founded by missionary John Batchelor in the late 1800s, and who translated the bible into the Ainu language (the Ainu are indigenous to these parts of Hokkaido). It’s a rugged looking church, built on top a hillock, with a gravel footpath leading to the front door, looking just like it was more than a hundred years ago. It’s an active church, still being used but nobody’s home, so I can only peek through the glass on the door.

Usu Zenkouji temple is just less than a km away and I locate it easily enough. The temple and its surrounds look the part of ‘the oldest temple in Hokkaido’. Thatched roofs, time-worn timbers, beautiful gnarly trees with bonsai-like branches. A peaceful place to meditate on one’s karma, if one is a Budhhist.

Usu Bay

The Batchelor Church

You can’t drive up to this church

Usu Zenkouji, a beautiful specimen of Japanese temple architecture

Prayer petitions outside Usu Zenkouji

Lake Toya is next. I double back towards Toyaku, locate the road that swings sharply east, and there before me, the bane of my cycle-touring …., is a tunnel opening. Worse, the sign says 1.9km. And that’s just the first one. I come out of the cold, long tunnel thinking ‘ok, that’s the tunnel done’. But I was in for another tunnel shock – this time it’s 1.7km. I’m getting tunnel-phobia, made worse by the fact that both are on a slight incline. Finally, I get out of it and breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Soon after, Lake Toya comes into view. It’s magnificent, dimpled with a small island right in the middle of it – Nakajima Island.

I’m almost done for the day so I cruise at an easy speed, enjoying the lake air and atmosphere. Toyako town is a bit touristy. My plan is to stay the night at a Touring Mapple recommended campsite. Another visit to a 7/11 for supplies and I’m ready to end the day.

The first of 2 long tunnels before Lake Toya.

Lake Toya

I can’t locate the campsite on my first attempt. So I retrace my tracks. This part of the island is only lightly inhabited so the road is a bit sparse of traffic. I spot a promising looking dirt track on my right. It slopes down and forks left and right, following the lake edge. But, the entrance is blocked by an official looking barricade.

Dutifully, I sidestep the barricade, ride down the trail and follow the one on the right, if only to see where it leads to. I ride about 100 metres and come to a small clearing fringed by slender trees. A small opening leads down to the lake’s edge, it’s waters gently lapping the pebble-filled mini-beach. I see remnants of a fire in the middle of the clearing.

Only one thought crosses my mind.

Forget the recommended campsite.

This is it. As perfect as a campsite can be. The setting sun is beaming its dying rays on this prime camping spot; the ring road is quite a distance away. No one can see me. And the fact that the trailhead is barricaded from illegal entry by vehicles is quite reassuring. I catch myself on that thought: illlegal. It’s hard not to laugh out loud, but who cares. No one can hear me.

The tent is up in no time. A swim in the crystal clear waters of the lake is obviously next. All the while, the setting sun is slowly turning a golden yellow-red. I’m out of adjectives here … but cycle-tourers who wild-camp know exactly what and how I feel right now, encamped in a little piece of cycle-touring heaven on earth.

All I can say is ‘Thank you, Lord’, with a very big grin.

No entry…except for non-motorised, foldable 2-wheelers with panniers

Beautiful trees at the back of the campsite

Lake Toya is among 2 of the clearest lakes in Japan

My little Shangri-La ..

A fire, a setting sun, a hot dinner, a cool evening, a cosy tent. Life should be so good…

8.45pm. I’m waiting for the finale to close a near-perfect day. It should be happening any time now.

9pm. From across the lake, where the town centre is located, the daily summer evening’s fireworks display explodes in wondrous colours, lighting up the sky. Again, and again. It’s a grand one, lasting almost 20 minutes. I sit on the rocks by the water’s edge, enthralled by it all.

My heart feels like exploding with happiness, too. It would be very, very hard to top such a stupendous day.

There is plenty of dry wood around. I will be very warm tonight, and not just from the fire.


Distance today: 79 kms

Distance to date: 223 kms