Last time we visited in Tokyo in 2013 we had cycled the bottom of the Tama River that flows out between Tokyo and Yokohama. The cycle path starts near the river mouth at Otori and can be cycled upriver (or down) for about 70km. On the last visit we had managed about the first 30km up to Keio-Tamagawa. Our ambition has always been to complete the entire course, so this time we planned to cycle down river starting in the mountains of the Yamanashi Perfecture, where the Tama river originates, all the way back to Chofu, where we would meet friends for dinner.
From our little house, we took our bikes, a backpack with some basic food and drinks, and our Rinku bags for the train journey. We cycled to Shibuya station, where we took the Keio-Inokashira line to Kichijoji station and there we changed to the JR Chuo line. We had to get off at Ome station for a change between trains.
Ome station itself was mainly left as it used to look about a hundred years ago in the Showa era. There were nostalgic posters of famous Japanese films in the underpass and quaint old wooden waiting rooms on the platform. Here we waited for our train that would take us to Kawai station. The last part of the train journey took us high up on the mountainside, with views of the river in the valley and little villages along its bed and the towering mountain range above.
When we got off at Kawai station we noticed the difference in temperature to Tokyo. We had left Tokyo two hours before and the city was almost unbearably hot, but up here in the mountains it was much cooler and the air fresher and cleaner. We could not wait to get onto our bikes and start cycling. The first few kilometers were downhill, along the main road. Luckily this far out in the country there was not enough traffic to spoil our ride.
Shortly, we spotted a restaurantきり山 on the riverside and decided to stop for lunch. The mama-san seated us, typical Japanese style on the floor, at a table right next to the windows overlooking the Tama river. We enjoyed a hot bowl of soup with udon and a cold tea while watching men with their fishing rods in the shallow river water trying to catch some fish.
At the next bridge we turned right and cycled along back streets parallel to the river. The main road was getting busier so the detour was welcome and more interesting. We passed a lot of residential areas, mixed with fields and pine forests. As we descended the Tama River started to widen with the river bed expanding and becoming more and more of a river rather than a mountain stream.
Past Ome we passed other fisherman and we saw families with their children and friends had put up tents on the dry parts of the riverbed to have a picnic and barbeque. Children played in the water, some even swam in the calmer parts of the river.
We would have loved to join them, the heat was getting more oppressive as the day moved on, but we also were conscious of the time. We were supposed to meet friends at 18:00 in Chofu and were still many kilometers away from getting there.
After Ome the path became better marked and we kept on cycling on along the special river side cycling path and only briefly stopped to get an ice cream from one of the convenience stores or drinks from the vending machines.
The further we got towards Chofu district, the bigger the villages and towns seemed to get, we pedalled past big apartment blocks but also small residential areas, under train bridges, and over small canals.
There were playgrounds, football and baseball fields and plenty of other places to stop and have a break from cycling. We saw groups of teenage boys play baseball on the fields and many other cyclists and joggers. The sun started to get lower, the water of the river glittering between the trees and weeds.
At some point we realised that we were not going to be able to make it all the way into Chofu in time, not to mention our tiring legs. We decided to cut our ride short and stopped at Nakagawara station which was enough to nearly complete the river end to end, and saved a few kilometers riding through the city suburbs. We quickly packed up our bikes into their Rinku bags and took the Keio train for two stops to Chofu where we met our friends for dinner. It was great to reconnect and taste the food in a local izakaya (pub) 四十八漁場 調布駅前店 . With plenty of delicious food and sake shared and travel stories told, we made our way by train back to Shibuya tired but very happy to have completed the Tama.
The last days ride was a fantastic and appropriate end to a holiday spent exploring and biking in Japan. We were sad to leave for home, but we also know we will be back soon. Sayonara Japan!