The camping site we stayed at, despite the lack of a single person in it, was probably the nicest since the beginning of the trip. It was located at the top of the hill and had an extensive network of trails that allowed visitors to go deep into the dense forest. The focus seemed to be a younger audience and, just from the drawings as our Japanese was not good enough, it seemed to focus on the flora and fauna making it some sort of open air zoo without cages. The open area where we stayed overnight was some sort of playground of the park and had a large wooden structure that may have been used to start a small zipline. To sum up, we had no idea why it was completely empty as it seemed like paradise to a 10-year-old me.
What the 25-year-old me was now eager to experience was the hairpin filled descent to the valley just south of us and then the return to the coast. It was indeed beautiful but we had to go quite slowly as the forest had invaded most of the narrow single-lane road blocking our view for 80% of each turn. We were now becoming aware of the beauty of the place as we saw that our hill was just another one in a long green duvet laid on giant bubble wrap (note: bubble wrap in Japanese is Puchipuchi – isn’t it funny?). The weather was very nice, I was feeling rested and the day was promising: we had no specific goal for today besides enjoying the cycling and placing ourselves within reach of Niigata for tomorrow.
We soon arrived at the valley and it was, as expected, filled with rice. This rice had a very different essence from the rice in the “sea of rice”. It was not the perfectly geometric arrangement of paddies with the perfectly timed wide tractor roads and the modern-looking water control systems repeating ad nauseam. It was the backyard plantation of the small traditional village we could see on the other side. We ventured on our first off-road cycling crossing the dirt paths in between the paddies. I felt like the general giving the take off order to an army of fireflies, beetles and many other bugs that stormed forward in front of us like a wave. I was happy.
In general, this day was amazing. The villages had very traditional architecture, many with old seals still in their wall and roof tiles. We did not believe these still existed in modern Japan. The dark, carefully designed roofs, ground to ceiling paper sliding doors, some with a protective extra glass door just outside of it, and beautiful Japanese gardens. Really impressive was that these houses were the majority in all the villages we found along the shore. The coast was inhabited in a well balanced mixture of agricultural, fisherman and small beach resort villages and people appeared to live a good life. I remember thinking that if I ever find the time to rest and, perhaps, think about writing a book, this would be a great place for it.
We proceeded slowly, stopping many times to enjoy the view and the sea breeze in a day that was getting hotter and hotter. Around midday the thermometers displayed a glorious 37ºC and the sky did not have a single cloud to cover us from the sun. We stopped at a small village temple to get some water from the ever-present washing fountain and rest for a while in the shade of the trees. Unfortunately we could not stay for too long because I was again under relentless attack from an army of tiny and fragile Japanese mosquitoes. They are annoying little insects: they attack in a massive group so even if you kill ten you will end up with twenty bites; they are so small you cannot feel them land, you only notice when it is too late; they can bite me through my lycra shorts (!); I have allergic reactions to some of bites that soon become the size of grapes; and, finally, they just seem to prefer me so much that Guilherme gets bitten at least twenty times less and stands there with a grin on his face as I jump around and run to the bicycle.
We finally decided on a seaside campsite which, again, simply didn’t exist. Nevertheless we had inadvertently picked a very nice small seaside resort with a small shrine on an island to which you could walk using a beautiful red bridge. After exploring the small island we decided to camp on the beach in front of a couple fancy looking hotels. We still had some food with us so after the usual ritual of locking the bikes, setting up the tent and finally changing into some clean clothes we sat down on the beach, listening to the small waves rhythmically breaking on the sand and eating mikan jelly (Japanese orange-like fruit) – perfect ending to a relaxed day.