UPDATE OCTOBER 2022
With Japan now reopened to independent travellers, I thought I’d bring back some stories I wrote about Japan last year and update them. This one was first published in MARCH, 2021. Some tourism industry companies haven’t survived the downturn in overseas tourism brought on by the pandemic. But I’m really pleased to see Satoyama Experience in Furakawa, near Takayama in Gifu is still thriving. My husband MJ and I did an easy cycle with them back in 2017 – one of the most memorable experiences I have in three visits to Japan in the last 20 years.
CURRENT 2022 prices include 8400 yen to take part in a group ride – about $90 Australian – or 12000 yen – about $130 for a private tour. As I mentioned in the story below, MJ and I opted for a group tour back in 2017. But no one else turned up on the day, so it turned out to be like a private one. Hiro, I understand, is no longer with Satoyama – but I’m sure their current guides will be wonderful.
Satoyama Experience also operates snow shoe tours in winter!
I won’t be doing the cycle ride again on my upcoming Japan visit, but I will return to Furakawa to buy more of the ginger cracker biscuits Hiro introduced me to! So below is my updated March story.
I am not a cyclist. So don’t expect that this is one of those gung-ho cycling in lycra touring stories that you can’t possibly do.
I do own a bicycle. It hasn’t seen the light of day for about two years! The bottom line is that I can ride a bike, and I’ve never fallen from a bike. But I have a constant fear that I’ll fall as I’m a wobbly uncertain rider with poor reflexes! However, I wanted to do something a bit different and challenging to celebrate my 65th birthday in Japan – so I decided on a 2.5 hour bicycle ride in a small rural town and its surrounding countryside. It was a moment of madness that paid off handsomely with a really wonderful experience!
I trawled the net and found a little touring company called Satoyama Experience, based in Furukawa near the popular tourist city of Takayama in Gifu Prefecture. They offered a 2.5 kilometre cycle ride which they assured me by email I could manage!
The ride was mainly on flat ground, with a few small easy inclines. Hills were something I worried about as Gifu can be quite mountainous! I was very apprehensive, but decided to go for it!
Satoyama Experience were supportive throughout my planning process, providing informative replies in good english to my endless emails querying the pros and cons of undertaking the ride.
Furukawa is a 20 minute train ride (covered by the Japan Railways Pass) from Takayama. Local trains regularly run between the two towns. The railway timetable for this route is not easy to find on the Internet, but Satoyama was able to provide it to me by email. You don’t need to book a seat. It’s a country train and doesn’t get very full.
On the day of my ride, I left Takayama on the 9.40am train, arriving in Furukawa at 9.57. From the tiny town railway station, it was a short 7 minute walk to the Satoyama Experience office where my hubby and I were warmly welcomed by staff and our guide.
I thought we’d be part of a small group undertaking the ride, but on the day we were the only people who turned up. It felt like a private tour!
The quality of the equipment – bicycles and helmets – were excellent. I was even provided with a little bicycle clip to rein in the bottom on my jeans so they didn’t get caught up in my bike. Our guide Hiro was Mr Personality plus – warm, engaging and full of information for us.
So off we went – exploring ancient streets in Furukawa with its many Edo style buildings – stopping regularly for commentary and explanations from our guide. And being introduced to local people! It was enough of a taste of Furukawa to ensure I would return later for a better exploration by foot (more on that in another blog).
Heading off on country roads near the town, we observed local farms, rice paddies and people going about their every day life. The road traffic was very light, and drivers often gave us a friendly wave. It was relaxing and enjoyable with plenty of rest stops. We enjoyed interactions with locals with the assistance of our guide acting as a translator.
We also enjoyed drinking crystal clear mountain water from a local spring. It came out chilled and tasted so pure.
Another memorable stop was at a local shrine where our guide explained regional customs and religious events. We met a lovely lady here – a local businesswoman who was so excited to meet us. She had a grand daughter about to head for Australia on a working holiday. I didn’t like to tell her that Brisbane – her grand daughter’s destination – was nowhere near Western Australia! The lady had no english, we had no Japanese – only our guide who translated back and forth. But language difficulties are no barrier to a great conversation and encounter!
Then there was morning tea at a little picnic table by a roadside. Our guide pulled out from his backpack a small camp stove, tea, coffee, sugar, milk, water and some locally made Furukawa biscuits which I loved. It was at that point that our guide found out it was my birthday.
The following day he sent us two packets of the biscuits I adored as a present!
Satoyama has a longer route cycling tour covering 3.5 hours and about 22 kilometres. It also runs town walking tours and other activities, including a walking tour in nearby Takayama. You can find their latest information and prices on their site – http://www.satoyama-experience.com
You can also email them at email@example.com
I booked and paid for our cycle rides with the company direct. They have a secure site and I had no trouble with it, apart from my bank going onto alert and contacting me to ensure it was really me sending the money! I have subsequently done a walk with the company and again had no trouble with their booking/payment system.
It is a reputable company and has been operating for many years.
By the way, I wasn’t bothered by sore leg muscles after or even during this ride as I had expected. But my shoulder ached a bit. It had been hurt when I tripped over a step in Singapore a week earlier en route to Japan. When I got back to Australia, I found out I had a fracture.
So there you go .. 65 years old with little cycling experience and a fractured shoulder. Easy!