Bike ride: 比奈知ダム or Hinachi Dam

My journey to Hinachi Dam, Nabari

Hinachi lake at Hinachi Dam

Quite a while ago, I posted a bike ride on my journey to Shorenji-dam in Nabari and I called it “Nabari Dam” despite there being more than one…never mind. The argument for Shorenji-dam being called Nabari dam is a weak one for one simple reason- it doesn’t feed Nabari river- unlike Hinachi-dam (no more names now I swear)!

The journey to the second dam started bright and early on a cloudy day- which was great for lighting but no so great for capturing colours- but that doesn’t matter as much since it is winter.

The location is a brilliant one- at least on google Maps. If you are interested in going to the dam on foot, arrive at Kikyogaoka station and walk towards the Mega Don Quijote and continue walking- eventually you’ll find your way to the dam. Additionally, there is a bus- but busses in Nabari are a bit inconvenient.

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The journey to the dam

Do you love cycling? Do you love cycling on a bike that has seen better days? How about one that is not designed for life in Nabari going up a hill for several kilometres? Sound fun? No- but strangely it was.

The journey to the dam is entirely uphill – which makes perfect sense (it’s a dam) and most of the way there are dedicated footpaths (or cycle paths in my case) which were extremely helpful as Japanese drivers in rural areas love to speed.

As the ascent continued, houses became infrequent and forests started emerging- most signs of urban life faded away into vast open countryside- an escape that was completely needed.

Near Shimohinachi, Nabari

The journey at this point seemed a world away from Nabari- even with my slow ascent. The views were fantastic- but more importantly, it was brilliant exercise.

Upon arrival at the dam, you are greeted with the most fantastic views of the lake and of the surrounding countryside- with nay a person in sight.

The view from on top of the dam

The dam is slightly different from Shorenji-dam in construction but not use. The dam operates as a hydroelectric generation station in addition to providing water for household, industrial, and agricultural use. But the main selling point, similar to the other dam, is flood protection in times of heavy rainfall of typhoons. This is still a concern to many in Nabari which is one of the reasons for its constriction and for recent construction works happening along all rivers in Nabari- additionally a third dam is being built in the area set for completion by Reiwa.

The dam is 355 m long and 70.5 m high (or 14.2 Shinkansens long and 4.5 great Buddhas high according to the signs) and has a potential holding capacity for 20,800,000 m^3 of water but normally contains just 18,400,000 m^3 of water (or 1.84×10^7 m^3 of water- which looks so much better).

Similar to the other dam, the river it feeds goes through Iga, Nara, and eventually releases its’ load into Osaka bay- so it does help a lot of people by working.

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It has the most fantastic road surrounding the lake and bridges along the way, with a car park and a small park- AKA a brilliant track for running and cycling (there were quite a few of us). The roads are brilliant and it is a fantastic journey- with few cars (except when I went through a tunnel and 5 appeared behind me) and a flat riding surface (the start notwithstanding!).

The journey back was a lovely way to cool down- it was mostly downhill again through the countryside. The signs of urbanization slowly seeped back into my journey until Nabari was unveiled- even with going a more scenic way along the river.

Final stats were a total journey length of 22.42 km, and an elevation increase of 280 m.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

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The bike ride, a journey to the 三県境

The journey to 三県境, Mie, Nara, and Kyoto

Today’s journey was a short one- covering 3 prefectures, about 47 Km, and just over 4 hours (including breaks). Let’s look into my journey in a bit more detail.

As always my journey started in Nabari city- which is on the outskirts of Mie prefecture and located just 25 km from Kyoto Prefecture (or 京都府 in Japanese) and I decided it would be good idea to cycle there.

Just so you get the full picture, the bike I have was woefully terrible for such a journey. The bike is called a ママチャリ or mother’s bike. It has 6 gears, a basket on the front and is designed for inner city rides- not hills (which is everything in the Nabari and Iga areas) so the distance I covered was, in my opinion, miraculous.

Similar to my previous cycling post- the journey from Nabari to Mihata, I traveled to Komo following Nabari river- which as I found out is no-where near the most dangerous road in this area. Upon arrival in Komo, I turned left at the t-junction and cycled onward for quite a while.

Katahira 大字片平

The road between Nabari and Nara Prefecture (called the Nara-Nabari way/ line 奈良名張線), is a beautiful road. It snakes along Nabari river and up some steep hills (there were professional cyclists there who did pass me). I did have to walk up this rather large hill but it opened up to reveal a tiny village/ hamlet Takahira, Nara.

Imagine a place where nothing seems to happen and most people just know it by “the place you pass through”- this is Takahira. There are a few houses, many chickens, a shrine and not much else. But the views of Nabari river were spectacular.

I continued and I discovered, what I am calling “the road of death”. It is a tiny carriage way, with a massive drop into the river on one side, a steep cliff on the other (with signs warning you about the possibility of falling rocks) and many, many blind corners.

I worried for naught, no car came but it was awesome- speeding around tight bends on a bike, while enjoying nature all around me. After this section I came across a camp grounds with the best name you can imagine form Japan “hell ground skate-park” no name analysis needed here- but i did look pretty awesome and seemed to be extremely cheap!

Following the skate park from hell (no more puns I swear), I had a decision to make, up the mountain or down by the river? I chose the river and I descended the hill for 3-5 minutes (I may have burnt my breaks a bit descending safely). I arrived at Hirose (大字広瀬) which was bigger than the last village but not by much. The highlight for me was the bridge which allowed me to get this shot of the river:

Hirose (大字広瀬)

In the top right of the picture is half of the hill I descended. This village is a boarder town between Nara and Mie Prefecture with the river (sort-of) acting like to boarder.

Moving on from Hirose, the roads (actual roads) seemed to be a repeating theme of my bike being the only vehicle on the road and it is here that I ran over a snake (I’m unsure if it was a snake or a branch or if it was alive before I ran it over).

It was at this point, that I stopped taking photos and focused on my destination to get to 三県境 or the 3 prefecture boarder. The problem with this, I seemed to forget how much Mie and Nara Prefectures love hills. I rode through hamlets, villages, back roads, main roads in isolation- completely enjoying myself and my journey.

The only problem I faced was near the end of part 1 on the outskirts of Shirakashi, Iga, on the Shimagahara way (島ヶ原線). This road was entirely uphill, up a very steep hill- too steep to ascend while cycling.

The ironic thing about this picture is that it was at the start of the descent back down but it opened up to what I will call the city of hawks.

Hawks are solitary by nature but there were so many here- along with either ravens or crows (the difference between is a matter of a pinion- sorry clever pun).

The problem with my destination was simple, there were no signs, no clear path- nothing to mark out where it lay. I cycled up and down a not inconsiderable hill for a while. Eventually I found where it was. Just opposite from the sign below is a small lay-by. From this point it is a hike to the 3 prefecture boarder. However, I has turned 1500 and as all roads taken were country roads, I had to leave to get back before nightfall- which was a disappointment.

Proof of my journey

The way back was slightly more enjoyable as I found my portable battery pack so my phone (and google maps) allowed me to find a good was back.

There were a few gems on my way back and now I had a charge, I could once again take photos- so I was extremely happy. But more importantly, I was able to see more of Nabari (Mihata, Kikyougaoka, and Nabari city)- which is exactly what I wanted to do.

When I got back into Nabari, it was quickly going dark, and getting cold. Even though I am sad that I didn’t quite see what I set out to, I got to experience an awful lot and I got back safely.

The ironic thing about the length of time it took is that by car it is just a 50 minute return trip- cycling and walking did slow down this time- as well as getting repeatedly lost or doing in the wrong direction.

The victims of this cycle were the (possible) snake, my hands (i forgot my gloves) and my bike (which now skips while cycling). Perhaps the cheap bike designed for city living couldn’t handle a mountainous journey.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

The long walk

My journey from Iga-Kambe station to Ueno shi station.

The long winding journey that I cannot recommend enough

Saturday the start of the weekend and the start of my free time. As discussed, November’s theme is exploration and trying something new- and what about checking out my door step a bit further.

The journey started as a laid back one- a train journey from Nabari to Iga-kanbe station which was just a short 10-minute journey.

Upon arrival at Iga-Kambe, I exited the journey and headed straight out of the station and kept walking. Iga-kanbe is a small sleepy community with winding roads, with traditional Japanese houses scattered across the landscape. Cutting through this is the Kizu river and once I crossed it, my real journey began.

Kizu river near Iga-Kanbe station

Crossing the bridge gives a fantastic view of the river and the vast farming expanse ahead. The water was perfectly clear, fish can be seen swimming- even in November and you feel like you are in the middle of no-where even with the road behind. Just seen in the picture is a vast bamboo forest- teaming with life (it was a bit noisy). I followed the pylons into the distance.

A short bridge, and a different world

Looking back gives you an idea of how few people seem to use the bridge and be in the area- a perfect start for a hike from the edge of Iga to its’ heart. Once I continued walking, whilst being deafened by toe roar of the river to my right, and enjoying the mirror effect of the water, I took a right and found a small path with a rice paddy sandwiched between 2 railways.

An island of peace, between the Igatetsudo line and the Kintetsu line


 This path, even with trains coming and going, felt almost like being on an isolated island without another soul for miles. There was a delicious smell of rice being released while the thud, thud of my footsteps- along with nature- was my only music for the day.

Memorials to the deceased

The path came to an abrupt ending and a Buddhist temple greeted me.  来迎寺 (or raikou-ji) temple is a popular place of worship for locals and services still get a high turnout. The temple has a extremely large grave yard and more impressively, a mountain of memorial stones (pictured above).

Walking through the stone tori gate, and following the Japanese tradition of bowing, the previous carefree atmosphere was replaced by a reverent one- even the wind seemed silent. Stones crunched below my feet while I looked around. A statue of a Buddhist monk seemed to watch my movements while I walked around the court-yard, enjoying the peace and quite of the temple.

After leaving, I turned right and walked through the small community surrounding Hido station.

Hido is very much in the countryside and fields surround each settlement built in the traditional Japanese style, and in the modern-traditional Japanese design (see house in picture), with housewives rushing around while men stand and chat.

Children ran around weaving in and out of buildings and in the middle of this was a sacred stone hidden behind a small stone tori gate. The kanji was a bit too faded to see but the pond was a welcomed sight. I was something a bit different to see and to discover. Additionally, large paper dotted around- giving it an almost festive atmosphere.

An island of stone

I decided to explore the local area and while following route 422, I look a left and walked in isolation while ensuring I remained alive dodging Japanese drivers until I came across 城之越遺跡- or the Shironokoshi castle ruins. I have seen the ruins advertised on many occasions (a sign advertising it cam be seen while riding on the Iga-tetsudo line) and I finally went- initial thoughts not too bad.

The entrance to the ruins

There is nothing remaining of the building that once was located here, but it has been turned into a park- showing you what once stood there and why it was important for the local area. Additionally, there is a small museum located on the site in the car park as well. However, I cannot review the museum as it is closed on weekends. If you are interested, adult entry is 200 JPY.

The archaeologists who excavated the site have marked the load-bearing pillars of the castle with marble cylinders to give observers an idea of the scale of the castle- which is a small Japanese castle. The castle would have been similar to the one in Nisshin-shi, Aichi-ken. The rest of the site is now gardens, with each species of tree labelled- not a bad place for a picnic or drawing but not much else.

All that is in place of what once lay here

I continued on wards, climbing a small hill while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. Along the way I was not just dodging cars, but dragon flies and praying mantises as well.

A little friend


The small winding road from the castle ruins to Uebayashi station was a long walk up a hill with the road being boarded by bamboo on both sides. On this small mountainous road, large construction vehicles seemed to enjoy speeding along.

Dragon flies fly in the rich blue sky

The shade gave a blessed relief from the hot sum overhead- it was only 20 degrees, but when walking for hours, even warm weather can feel overbearing.

The long, winding road

Just beyond this section, was a small lake and a muddy road disappearing into the distance. I had a choice- continue along the nice road or take a change to discover something new. I took a change and it paid off.

I was somewhat aware of the crystal-clear lakes near Uebayashi station- they are exceptionally hard to miss on the train, and I have always wanted to explore this area- and I got my chance.

The ninja train at Uebayashi

The lake appeared while walking along a tiny road, framed with rice fields and, strangely, electrified fences- which are quite an uncommon sight in Japan; especially for a rice field. By chance the pink ninja train was coming along, and the results of which you can see. The mirror effect of the water was an exceptionally nice thing to see.

The middle of no-where, or so it seem

Continuing along the path, the framed path suddenly opened up and gave way to some beautiful scenery. Iga is located within a valley and it is a fact that is often forgotten by note just myself- but residents of Iga as well. But as you can see by the sun’s position, I was starting to run out of time and at this point I had barely started my journey.

I started wondering again, at a slightly faster pace- my goal was to get to 四十九駅 (literally Station 19) before nightfall as this station marks the beginning of urban Iga city. I spent some time just wondering by acres upon acres of farmland, enjoying the sound of cicadas, the buzzing of dragon flies, and the thud of my footsteps. There were many people that I came across on my journey- all of whom greeted me with an almost customary nod of the head and a こんにちは!- which I responded enthusiastically to.

Once I had crossed 比自岐川 (Hijiki river), and entered a small village surrounding 丸山城跡 (The Maruyama castle ruins). The village is isolated, exceptionally quite and almost idyllic in its setting. The ruins are located on top of a hill behind the village and was quite a climb.

The path up to the ruins was quite a challenging climb- in trainers (I’ve not yet got hiking boots…),  but the smell of mud, was prevalent as was the sounds of leaves ruffling. It was a very nice climb, and it is one I recommend anyone who is physically able to do so. There is parking in the vicinity (for about 5 cars)and the climb is up a steep muddy hill.

After scaling, and descending I was really running out of time. I therefore decided to walk along route 422 to see more of the Kizu river (木津川)- which I have seen hints of on the train and that was all. This was another decision that I am very happy to say was a good one.

Kizu river, further down-stream

 Ignoring the fact time was running out fast (look at the sun), the river was beautiful. There were several storks along the banks (in November I have to add), massive sandy ‘beaches’ along the way. The entire area is a wildlife protection area and the area has certainly benefited from it. I made several stops along the way, at another Buddhist temple and at a shrine as well- but I’ll save those for another day. That was Inako (依那古) and I followed route 422 until crossing over to see the highlight of Iga- the nature.

Rural Japan

When people ask: “What is Japan like?”, this is the picture that comes to mind. I have lived in 2 places in Japan- both of which are semi-rural so this is my image of Japan. Not Tokyo (shinjyuku/ Akihabara), nor any other major city.

What I especially like is the field of flowers in the foreground which sets the perfect tone.

It was starting to get dark and after visiting another shrine near Idamichi station (猪田道駅), my goal of getting to 四十九駅 before dark was looking bleak. The road from Idamichi to Shijukyu was perilous and there was no footpath. After trying to follow the main road to Shijuku station, I gave up after fearing for my life. I crossed the train tracks and want the rural way to urban Iga- which gave way to my last photo of the day: a beautiful photo of dusk.

A close up of clouds in the sky

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Dusk, the final frontier

This area is just rice fields as long as the eye can see, and it is beautiful.

After this, my only goal was to get to 上野市駅 (Ueno-shi station), which was a 40-minute walk away at this point. The walk at this point was through housing estates (a more western style), which quickly followed to an extremely Japanese housing estate of yester-year. Finally, after visiting Iga for quite a length of time, Iga gave the impression of being a city. The walk to the station was through typical inter-city housing, department stores and shops and restaurants galore. Iga may be rural but inner-city Iga gives the impression of a much larger city than it actually is.

The final stats for this walk are: 3 hours 40 walking, 16.9 km covered. Included in this is 2 breaks, multiple photos taken and random dancing while walking (I was definitely enjoying myself). For those of you that are wondering- yes there were many, many, many more photos that I took.

I hope you enjoyed my journey of exploration today- and I hope that you will also consider taking a similar walk either in Iga or wherever you may live.

As always, thank you for reading and happy exploring.