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Izu no Kuni
WORDS: Daisuke Yano | PHOTOS: Brian Vernor, Shu Takenouchi, Kei Tsuji
"After a slow gradual climb by a quiet river adorned with all the autumn colours you could imagine, we come out onto the Izu Skyline road. A place for fine European cars and 1000cc motorbikes to be put to the test. A real tarmac roller coaster. It’s barren and brutal, stunted shrubs and tall bamboo grass waving in the wind. We pedal into a howling gale, which adds spice to our roaring descents and slug-paced climbs. I see a sign, 900m, multiply that by 3 or 4 and we’ll have today’s elevation gain."
- Vincent Flanagan
400 years ago, after the Tokugawa family took over the reign of the country, they needed high quality large rocks to build the stone wall for the Edo castle in what is now Tokyo. Dense volcanic Komatsu rocks were considered best and were abundant in the northern Izu peninsula. Lords and their workers gathered here and for 30 years rocks were hewn out of the steep mountainside and carried to Edo. Masons would get paid with rice for the exact amount they chiseled. The chiseled grooves at the quarry were then filled with rice. Rocks that fell during transportation were considered bad omen for the castle, so were left untouched. They can still be found scattered all over the peninsula and along the roads.
Today, only surfers go to the Izu peninsula in winter months. Good surfers go to Shimoda at the southern tip where the tubes are perfectly round. In the summertime, with white sand beaches in the south, it's a hot spot, being less than 100km from Tokyo. There are exactly two highways which lead to those beaches, one along the coast and another through the mountains. Families in people carriers, couples on driving dates and professional men in their sardine cans will take the coastal route for obvious reasons.
Flat roads are found only along the beach front. The beaches are separated by rugged mini-peninsula, which creates interval-like repetition of hills. Head inland and it's all mountains. Forest roads and access roads for wasabi farmers and wild boar hunters sanke through and over these mountains.
The Izu Skyline floats along the ridges of the spinal mountain range. Pick any road from the 1000m Izu Skyline and you have one amazing downhill that dives right down to the ocean.