A three-day biking adventure around Japan’s largest lake renewed 22-year-old Japanese major Tina Czarniecki’s love for the country and culture.
While studying abroad last spring at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan, Czarniecki, her roommate Andrea Powell and local friend Katsuya Kanemori cycled Lake Biwa during Golden Week, a week filled with seven national holidays.
Czarniecki and Powell set out early by train the first day to meet Kanemori and his family in Orihachiman. After dropping off their overnight supplies, the three picked up their rented bicycles and took off. A cool breeze put the gang in good spirits as they biked, took pictures and sipped sugary energy drinks.
They had planned to visit Hikone castle when they arrived in Hikone, but a small town parade and festival distracted them. Elderly locals welcomed the three and gave them food and “water.”
“They said it was water, but it was actually alcohol,” Czarniecki said, laughing.
After a group picture, the group headed to the castle. They made their way up the castle’s huge steps, taking pictures and making jokes along the way. Czarniecki was able to witness a few sun rays peak out from the clouds onto Lake Biwa. The view was gorgeous, she said.
They headed back to Kanemori’s house to bathe, eat and recharge for the next day’s ride.
Czarniecki woke up with a tomato-red sunburn.
“Anything that touched my skin made me wince,” she said. “I had a terribly difficult time putting on clothes for that day.”
The weather that day was just as unforgiving. As the three rode along the northern edge of the lake sheets of wind and rain slammed against them as the temperature continued to drop. Disorienting paths and tunnels caused the three to backtrack.
“We wanted to give up, but we wouldn't let ourselves,” Czarniecki said.
Eventually the rain let up and Japan’s natural beauty shone. Pink cherry blossom petals were scattered along the bike trails.
The three took a train from Omi-imazu train station back to Omihachiman for a small festival that night. Czarniecki played traditional Japanese festival games like the elusive goldfish scoop. She was unable to keep a goldfish, but the young man at the booth gave her a prize regardless.
The last day was graced with sunshine, and everyone bathed in sunscreen. Carp kites dotted the sky in honor of Children’s Day. The gang biked past families fishing and farmers tending to their rice paddies.
“I felt pretty skilled with being able to hold my camera in one hand and bike with my other, so I took a brief video of me racing down a bridge almost with the same speed as traffic,” Czarniecki said. “That was the most exhilarating part of the trip for me.”
After a brief delay from Kanemori’s flat tire, they stopped at a lake shrine and took photos. The three biked through a few small towns and came back to their starting point in Omihachiman.
The bike shop owner was impressed by their journey, Czarniecki said. Exhausted from the ride, the three ate specially prepared dinner by Kanemori’s grandmother and then took a train back to their home at Kansai Gaidai.
“We were pretty exhausted from the day to day riding, but we brought back a lot of good memories and experiences from it,” Czarniecki said.