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KS Cover no. 78 2006 November

NOV 2006 :: 078
 

A spin through ancient Japan

Away from cars, big town noises and concrete, the Kibi Plain offers one of the most historical and beautiful paved bicycle paths through the flourishing countryside of Okayama Prefecture.

On a recent trip to Okayama, my partner and I decided to see what the Kibi Plain Bicycle Trail had to offer. We encountered the legend of Momotaro and the imaginary Oni monsters, ancient tombs, a magnificent five-story pagoda, stunning temples and shrines and lots of smiles, while enjoying a gentle breeze on our faces and the warm sun on our backs.

As far back as AD 400, the narrow Kibi Plain was a significant cultural region. This prosperous area is rich with legends and ancient sites; many of which are located on the well-marked 15 kilometre long trail or close to it. The Kibi Plain Bicycle Route is one of many bicycle paths constructed by the government since the 1970s. An easy ride over rolling hills and through the plains, the trail officially begins and ends at either Soja Station or Bizen- Ichinomiya Station.

We arrived at Soja Station just before 9am and swiftly picked out our bikes for the day at the shop beside the station main exit. After hiring two bikes and reviewing the complimentary trail map with the shop owner, we cycled through the quiet streets of Soja, past the massive sports complex and headed into the plains.

Within a couple of kilometres, after passing the Sumotoriyama Burial Mound, we came across one of the most remarkable landmarks and the symbol of the Kibiji District: Bitchu Kokobunji, an 8th century Buddhist temple that was commissioned to bring peace in the provinces and the awe-inspiring five-story 17th century pagoda. Nearby, we found the foundation stones of Bitchu Kokubunniji Convent, the excavated Komorizuka Burial Mound, which can be entered to view an ancient stone coffin and the Kibiji Archaeological Museum.

At this point, an optional detour three kilometres north off the trail will lead to the birthplace of the famous artist Sesshu (1420- 1506). Once a novice monk, he was renowned for his famous Japanese style paintings and practising asceticism in Iyama Hohukuji, a zen Temple. Legend states that he drew a rat with his tears there. As we continued our easy ride over rolling hills and through the plains along the official route, we passed the enormous 5th century Tsukuriyama-kofun Burial Mound that rises from the surrounding plain. One of many ancient tombs built in the area between AD 4 and AD 7, the 350-metre long keyhole-shaped hill is the largest burial mound in Japan.

We followed the flowing waters of the Ashimori River and stopped for a picnic lunch at a picnic table under the trees. We enjoyed the silence and were entertained by the farmers working in the fields and the birds that closely followed them, hoping to find their squiggly lunches in the freshly turned soil.

Half an hour later, back on the trail, we pedalled past Koikui Shrine, a shrine connected with the legendary figure Kibitsuhiko, one of Japan’s most popular folk heroes.

A couple of kilometres further along the path, at the base of Mt. Naka, we found Kibitsu Shrine, one of the biggest and oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. We parked our bikes and climbed a wide flight of steps to the hilltop where the main shrine and sanctuary, built in 1425 and designated as National Treasures, magnificently rest above the countryside.

Kibitsu Shrine is dedicated to Prince Kibitsuhiko, the model for the legendary Momotaro (Peach Boy). According to historical accounts, the Imperial Court of Yamato dispatched Kibitsuhiko to conquer Kibi Province. Shrine lore states that his expedition was commissioned to eliminate a troublesome ogre named Ura. Kibitsuhiko camped where Kibitsu Shrine now stands. The Prince shot menacing arrows, which Ura struck down with mountains of rocks. Then, Kibitsuhiko cleverly shot two arrows at once and hit Ura in the eye. Ura transfigured into a carp and swam away in a gushing river of blood. Today, in Koikui Shrine, speckled yellow, orange, white and red carp swim lazy circles in the beautiful pond surrounded by manicured gardens.

We pedalled another 10 minutes to Kibitsuhiko Shrine, a large Shinto Shrine, circled its beautiful pond surrounded with large red lanterns and headed back along the route we came.

We easily completed the round trip trail within a few hours and passed a dozen or two other cyclists on the trail. There are a handful of vending machines along the path and occasionally the route passes close enough to a main road to sidetrack for food. The trail is paved and well-marked with big blue signs. Accessing fifteen ancient sites, the extensive Kibi Plain Bicycle Trail network represents just one of many cycling possibilities in Japan.

If you still find yourself with some time and energy after completing the trail, then the Kibiji Local Museum, with its collection of excavated goods and occasional archaeological lecture or the Soja Town Museum are interesting visits.

Getting there

From Kurashiki, take the JR Hakubi Line two stops to Soja Station. From Okayama, take the JR Kibi Line three stops to Bizen-Ichinomiya Station. The bike trail can be accessed from either station. Bicycle rentals are available at both stations (9am – 6pm daily, ¥400/2 hours or ¥1,000/day). Bikes can be returned at either station as some people choose to ride the trail one-way and others complete the round trip.

Text & photos: Laura Markslag

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A spin through ancient Japan
Cycling through history in Okayama Prefecture

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:: Kansai Listings

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:: FOOD

Asian Dining Rara, Shinsaibashi

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OEFF + Best films & cinema listings

:: LANGUAGE

The bicycle law

:: PROFILE

Tatsu Sakamoto, world cyclist
55,000 kms, 51 month, 6 continents, and 1 man

:: UPDATE

Purchasing property
Advice from IFG-Asia

:: GETAWAY

Autumn Hiking in Kyoto
Guide to Atago-san, Daimonji-yama, & Daigoji-yama

:: TRAVEL

A pretzel in paradise
Yoga in Koh Samui, Thailand


A Historical Spin

Kansai boasts museums for clocks, ninja, soy sauce, samurai and everything else under the sun; it’s no surprise that the area also has a very wicked, very thorough bike museum.

Sakai City’s nouveau, curvy, very cool-looking Bicycle Museum Cycle Center boasts a display of 50 bikes through various stages of history and development. There is a display for the oldest bicycle in the world, plus an exhibition detail-ing a state-of-the-art bike from the 1996 Olympic Games.

Scattered throughout the museum are video displays, handson demonstrations for the kids, as well as the requisite gift shop, where bike parts and accessories are available for purchase. Best of all, there is an area in nearby Daisen Park where patrons are invited to try out replicas of the museum’s historical two-wheelers. It’s a particularly pleasant way to enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The Bicycle Museum Cycle Center
165-6, Daisen-Nakamachi, Sakai, 590-0801
Getting there: 10-min walk from Mozu stn on JR Hanwa Line
Open: Daily, 10am—4:30pm
Close: Mon, & following days to national holidays
Admission: ¥300 adults, ¥200 students
0722-43-3196
www.city.sakai.osaka.jp/foreigner_en/spot/
spot5.html

Park and Ride

It’s been estimated that a full 73 percent of Japan is mountain, which makes the difficulty in actually being able to go biking in the mountains — or anywhere else in the Great Outdoors — all the more ironic. There’s the trickiness in finding a wellmaintained trail; actually getting your bike to the trail (remember, no bikes on public transportation!); and the surety that anywhere one goes is likely to be pretty crowded.

Thank goodness, then, for the Kansai Cycle Sports Center — a celebration of all things two-wheeled, and a great place to coast on trails free of traffic and pedestrians. In addition to the nature-ensconced biking trails (rent a bike there; or, if you can, bring your own), the center also boasts a cyclethemed Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, roller coasters and a “Cycle Luge” course. There is also a campground, swimming pool and barbecue pits, making the Sports Center a lowercost – and much healthier – alternative to USJ.

The Kansai Cycle Sports Center
1304 Amano-cho Kawachinagano-shi
Getting there: Kawachinagano stn on Nankai Koya line; the Center is a 20-minute bus ride from the stn.
Open: Sat & Sun: 9:30am—5pm, weekdays: 10am—4:30pm
Close: Tue
Admission: Basic charge ¥800 adults, ¥500 kids.
0721-54-3101
www.octb.jp/english/search/detail.cgi?id=01199

Text: Jeff Lo