The forecast for this weekend was for fair and warm on Saturday and rain on Sunday. (It now looks as if it may not rain until Sunday evening.) So I contacted the Halfakid to let him know I’d be riding on Saturday, barring a change in the forecast, and he said he’d be at karate a.k.a beating up the neighborhood kids. So OK, a solo ride. I started thinking about routes and ride times, and settled on my favorite Tokyo Landmarks tour, with an option to add on some extra kilometers if the mood struck me.
Despite the projected high of 15C, it was a paltry 6C when I finally set out about 8:30, and so of course I had to dress for that. The black jacket I received from The Bro is nice and warm (black is not really my color, but it goes nicely with Kuroko), and on a mild day like today in the sun, it gets very warm very quickly. I was sweating within 5km.
The first stop is Meiji Jingu. There was something up today: the roads were lined with barriers and there was a plethora of baton-wavers in evidence. As I took the picture I said good morning to a couple of the baton-wavers and asked what was up. “Formula 1,” one replied. “In Tokyo? I hadn’t heard … ” I sent off a message to Nana asking about it and she replied with a virtual shrug. By the time I got to my next photo spot, though, she’d tracked it down. The Red Bull Showrun Tokyo is just a parade lap around Meiji Jingu, sponsored by the local Aston Martin dealer.
I continued on. There are a few climbs following this, the first one leading to Akasaka Palace (Geihinkan, the State Guest House). I felt strong, as if I had a motor pulling me up the hills. I imagined leaving the Halfakid in my dust (which is easy to do — imagine, that is — when he’s not around to put the lie to that). Following Akasaka Palace, there’s a sweeping downhill where I encountered the first road construction of the day, and I tucked in behind a line of cars. Thankfully, given the downhill, I had no trouble keeping up with traffic. This is followed by a short but rather intense climb at Akasaka and then another sweeping downhill bringing me to Kokkai, the Japanese Diet.
There’s more up-down after that, taking me past the Cabinet office and through government ministry territory, and then another short, rather intense climb to Roppongi. This is followed by an equally intense downhill, elbow-to-elbow with traffic, before finally bringing me to Shiba Koen, my first real stop of the ride. Swilling water, I took a few minutes to investigate the cherry blossoms. A little more … although the trees in this park are not the proper cherry trees (at least not the ones that were already beginning to bloom) as any Japanese will quickly inform you.
With beautiful weather in March comes a lot of pollen, and today was proof of that. I’m not sure how much pollen four dots is, except it’s too freakin’ much! I was OK while riding, but my nose was running constantly and at each stop I was using eye drops. I’d meant to wear a mask for today’s ride, and had even discussed with my mate about the interaction between mask and sunglasses, and in the end I’d set off without one. Neither Garmin nor Strava tracks mucus output, but I’m pretty sure today was a Personal Best.
After Shiba Koen it’s all flat and fast (apart from the traffic signals) past Hibiya Park to the Imperial Palace. On Sundays the palace grounds are closed to motor vehicles, but on Saturdays I have to contend with the traffic in addition to the joggers.
Leaving the palace behind I head into the financial district and take in the Bank of Tokyo (refurbishment is nearly complete) and the neo-Gothic Mitsui Sumitomo Bank, in addition to the main Mitsukoshi Department Store and others. From there it’s a right turn and then a long slog through traffic towards Tsukiji. Along the way I pass by Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple noted for its South Asia-influenced architecture.
At Tsukiji I turn left and cross the Sumida river, first via the Kachidoki Bridge and then taller Harumi Ohashi bridge. I felt very strong today climbing the Harumi, but according to Strava it was only my third-best time. The Harumi takes me to Toyosu, where I find the only cycle path on this route. There was a lot of pedestrian traffic today in the run from the bottom of the Harumi bridge to the Toyosu fish market. At last I passed it by and then the vista opens up to the Rainbow Bridge.
The Rainbow Bridge heralds my arrival to Tokyo Big Sight, Tokyo’s convention center, and a chance to stop for some carbohydrates. Today I opted for beef bowl (followed by a Snickers bar).
Tokyo Big Sight is more or less the halfway point of this ride, but it does seem like I’ve taken in more than half the landmarks by this point. After lunch it’s a long, long slog in traffic up the Arakawa towards Tokyo Skytree (passing Tomioka Hachiman Shrine along the way, reputed to be the the birthplace of sumo — although at least one other shrine makes the same claim). This leg of the ride is noted for traffic signals, with a stop and wait every couple of hundred meters.
At Tokyo Skytree I turn back across the Arakawa and am now truly on the homeward leg. I messaged Nana that I had decided against seeking out additional kilometers and was following the usual path home, and she messaged back that the wind was starting to pick up. After a quick pitstop, I turn right and pass by Asakusa Senso-ji, perhaps Japan’s most famous temple and the site of the Halfakid’s puncture on the inaugural ride of his new bike.
After a couple more kilometers of city riding in heavy traffic, it’s a sharp left and up an equally sharp hill over the tracks. At the top of the hill there was a barrier for motor vehicles. I asked a lady cop if it was OK for me to proceed and she said, “Sure, fine. But there are a lot of people, so take care.” I promised to be good. I rounded a corner and there was the throng she’d warned me about. A pavilion had been set up and a priest was making some sort of dedication in front of the massed audience and media. I dismounted and tried to prevent my cleats clicking on the pavement as I pushed Kuroko along behind the crowd. (I wasn’t entirely successful.) But I was soon past the crowd and turning towards Ueno Park. A few twists and turns, a fast downhill (and more road work), and then a climb up to Tokyo University. Again, I felt good and strong on the climb, which isn’t always the case.
From Tokyo University it’s a long, fast downhill to Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. Incidentally, here I also pass the cemetery where we visit Nana’s father. (She chose the location because he was a big Giants fan.) The traffic here is fast and one lane is always taken by parked cars, so it’s a bit scary and when I get the chance I like to get through it while the following traffic is waiting at a red light.
After Tokyo Dome, the final landmark is Budokan, halfway up the Kudanzaka climb. As there’s no break in the railing here, I need to climb all the way to the top and then coast back downhill on the sidewalk to reach Budokan. I took a couple of snaps, gulped some water, and let Nana know I would be home in half an hour.
After Budokan, it’s just a bit more up-down and then a whole lotta traffic to get home. Along Shinjuku Avenue I was overtaken by four members of the Meisei University cycling team. (Meisei is a private university established in 1964 in Hino, so they had a ways to go to get home.) I overtook them again at a red light, where their team rules forbade them crossing even though the pedestrian crossing light was green. (My team rules have no such injunction.) I got a couple of lights ahead of them after this, but they caught me again and then left me behind at Yotsuya Sanchome, where a red light really means a red light. For some unfathomable reason they seemed to have less of an issue than I with the crosswind, which was gathering steam by this point.
Finally I was in Shinjuku and still feeling strong. I zipped up the bridge over the tracks by Shinjuku Bus Terminal and flew down the opposite side. I took advantage of a red light to cross into Nishi Shinjuku a couple of blocks earlier than I usually do, and bypassed the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings. At last I turned towards home — and straight into the teeth of the wind. I was glad it was downhill at this point, and after another couple of lights I was wheeling into the plaza in front of our building. I messaged Nana that I was home, at 1:24 (beating my estimate by six minutes).