Agano – Sado Island
The skies were clear first thing and the day was already well on its way to becoming hot. Instead of heading directly to Niigata, I took a bit of a detour further into the depths of the prefecture’s lush agricultural heartland. For a prefecture that prides itself on having the best rice in the country, it might as well brag about producing the best sake in the country… or even the world – this is Japan, after all!
During the winter months, the mountains on average will produce some 30ft of snow, earning Niigata the nickname of ‘Snow Country.’ And as the prefecture borders the Japanese Alps, it plays host to vast swathes of snow boarders and skiers alike, as they all commit themselves to the powdery white slopes. The snow however is not for the abuse of adrenaline junkies alone, for it is also cherished by the piss-heads of the nation. Considered somewhat of an air purifier, the snow contains very little pollutants or nasty microbes and this fact allows for some pretty pure water for the process of sake brewing. The snow-melt from the mountains flows through the endless contingent of pristine paddies, allowing one to soak up just how much of an important part rice plays for the Niigatans. Surrounded by the preliminary makings of the perfect piss-up, I was beginning to feel a little thirsty. Casting an eye to the west would reveal the big smoke, Niigata City. I pedalled on over.
With a population of some 810,000, Niigata City is the biggest Japanese city facing the Sea of Japan. A city with strong trading links with Russia, China and the Koreas, yes, even the dodgy Northern one. During World War II it was on the shortlist to become the second Japanese city to be nuked, and through fear of an imminent bombing, the governor of Niigata had the whole city evacuated. Yet, in the city’s favour lay its relatively inconvenient distance to any nearby US airbases; eventually seeing it dropped from ‘The List.’
The city today is thriving with commerce; saturated with an ocean of apartment stores, designer shops and glitzy restaurants. Being a Saturday, the happy shoppers were out in force; girls dressed lackingly as they pranced along the high street in sparkly high heels and skirts disguised as belts whilst the boys followed behind carrying bags full of sparkly high heels and skirts that would soon been disguised as belts. The midday sun beat down upon the lightly coloured sidewalks; its rays bouncing off the bitumen with a heated intensity. A number of shoppers defused the extremes by donning umbrellas. The beastly rays saw me take to the city’s coast, which was also being taken full advantage of by the weekend crowd; the beach dwellers were out in their droves. I grabbed a beer, got my tits out and decided to give my bike the once over.
My bike had been performing well of late and naturally I encouraged it to stay that way. Scrubbing it down and oiling my chain a lingering thought surfaced; I imagined myself being up in the remote mountains amongst the wind, the rain and the grizzly bears and then… my chain snapping. For if that fear was to become a reality, then I would be truly fucked. I risked not carrying a spare chain for two main reasons though, one was weight, there are only so many spares and tools one can carry before becoming hampered down with possessions and feeling like an immovable object. The other, was largely because I just plain didn’t have the knowhow. I’d always meant to teach myself before I left England, but it was just one of those things that I kept putting off until it was too late, like an STI test. I comforted the presumably inevitable by taking a big sip of beer and cast my eyes out into the Earth’s great abyss. Somewhere out there was a place of exile, a place called Sado Island, an apt name perhaps. I should go there, I thought. Right Now!
‘Tokyo to Tokyo – A Cycling Adventure around Japan.’
Enjoy the ride.