Cycling Japan – days 41 and 42 – Sendai to Minami-sanriku

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  • Day 41 – Sendai to Minami-sanriku
  • Distance: 96.8km
  • Ascent / descent: 649m / 608m
  • Weather: Blowing a gale
  • Accommodation: Minshuku Shitamichisou, ¥4,104

Truth be told, I didn’t want to cycle the coastline that was hit by the 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I originally thought I would be heading up the opposite coast, the Japan Sea coast towards Akita, but that was until I decided to go to the festival in Sendai. I drove through this area at the beginning of 2014, three years after the tsunami and it was hard to stomach. At that time, the Japanese navigation device in the car showed cities with schools, supermarkets, police stations etc but there was nothing left except a few foundations. The whole area had been completely flattened. It was eye opening and shocking. I was grappling with knowing the area needs tourism; it’s a stunning coastline dotted with hotels and local guesthouses, but also worried about reports I’d read from other cyclists about the roads being busy with trucks that were working on the recovery effort.

I woke up early and made a large fruit salad with yoghurt and granola for Tama-san and myself. (It was a nice change from the convenience store food I’m eating daily.) We said our goodbyes and I set off from Sendai with a strong tailwind. Would I be lucky enough to have a tailwind all day? I was in contact with Sander, the Belgian guy I’d met near Aizu Wakamatsu. He was on the other coast but was experiencing the same crazy winds that I was today. It was wild. The wind was howling, and for the first time I actually appreciated carrying so much stuff in my panniers for fear of lifting off the ground if I didn’t.

I passed through Matsushima, a small town known for its pine-covered islands and temples. I came here once for a weekend way back in 2003 but it was unusually foggy and I didn’t see the islands. Today there was a blue sky, but dozens of tour busses and too many people. I didn’t stop.

Each time I entered an area that had been affected by the 2011 tsunami, I passed signs at the beginning and end.

Cycling through the 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami inundation area

Cycling through the 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami inundation area

Cycling through the 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami inundation area

Cycling through the 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami inundation area

The wind just kept getting stronger all day and I was being blown all over the road which was really quite scary on the highways because I didn’t have much control and I just kept hoping the cars would give me a wide berth. At one point I was trying to cycle in a shitty shoulder (for safety) when I was blown sideways into a rusty shed. No injuries, just a sore shoulder from the impact but my patience with the wind was growing thin.

At the first opportunity I had to connect to wifi, I checked the weather and saw that the wind was only going to get stronger and it was now expected to rain from about 5pm. There was no way I could put my tent up in this wind. I kept going, hoping I would get somewhere more populated with accommodation. After a few more hours, I passed a 7-Eleven and checked google. There was a minshuku just a few kilometres away. The thing with 7-Eleven wifi is that if the page you want to look at is insecure it won’t connect, and the minshuku website wasn’t secure which meant I couldn’t get the phone number to call and see if they had availability. I asked a staff member if they could help and they pulled out their own phone and a few seconds later they had written down the number. I called using skype, explained I didn’t need meals (it was now 5:30pm so I would just get something from the 7-Eleven), and thankfully they said there was a room available. I arrived just as the heavens opened and the rain started.

The minshuku is on a hill and looks brand new. There’s also a wonderful onsen with a seaview.

Jb41 - map from Google Earth

Jb41 – map from Google Earth

Jb41 - elevation profile from Basecamp

Jb41 – elevation profile from Basecamp

  • Day 42 – Rest day in Minami-sanriku
  • Weather: Stormy day
  • Accommodation: Minshuku Shitamichisou, ¥7,344 including dinner and breakfast

The storm that had been anticipated was now in full swing so it was an easy decision to not cycle today. Thank goodness the room was available for another day! My body is so tired anyway that sleeping for a whole day is very appealing.

I didn’t notice these photos on the wall in the corridor until this morning. The owner’s mother explained to me that their original minshuku which was down the hill was destroyed in the tsunami, so they rebuilt it in this current location. She also told me they were home when it hit and how they had to evacuate when they heard the warning sirens. I think she was a little surprised when I hugged her, but I couldn’t keep my emotions in.

Pictures of the 2011 tsunami that hit this area on the wall in the minshuku

Pictures of the 2011 tsunami that hit this area on the wall in the minshuku

The storm had me grounded all day and my food stocks are running low so I ordered dinner for tonight and breakfast for tomorrow. This was dinner:

Dinner at Minshuku Shitamichisou

Dinner at Minshuku Shitamichisou

I’ve only seen a tiny portion of the tsunami affected areas in getting here from Sendai. I have no idea what tomorrow is going to be like. Will I recognise it from when I drove through in 2014, or will it all be rebuilt? It’s been 8 years now since the tsunami hit.

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