Sports

May 2016
Interview 02

When It’s so Close By, It’d Be a Waste Not to Enjoy It.

“I found the mountains right behind me and felt the urge to cycle again”

Kou Tomita, owner of the cafe & bicycle shop “SPARK Scone&Bicycle”; Haruyoshi Asano, owner of the outdoor gear shop “Hakubado Rokko”; and Akio Uchida, owner of the bicycle shop “Galleria2001”

For the people of Kobe, the mountains are not a place that requires much effort to go to, but rather a casual climb when one just wants to have a cup of morning coffee high up the mountains. The Rokko Mountain range is a designated national park, so it is also well-maintained. It is a public space, open to everyone. Mountain walking, mountain biking, rock climbing, camping… So what would you like to head to the Rokko Mountains to do?

Solo Cycling Before the Family Wakes Up

— Mr. Tomita, you run “SPARK Scone & Bicycle”, a combined scone and bicycle shop. You also organize mountain bike tours to the Rokko Mountains on weekends. Has this been your passion for many years?

Tomita

I was hooked on mountain biking once during my 20s. When I moved to the area where I live now, shortly before opening this shop, I found the mountains right behind me and felt the urge to cycle again. When I hiked in the mountains with my son on my days off, I saw the tracks of bike tires and thought, “Mountain bikers passed through here.” I couldn’t stop staring. (laugh)

Even while my wife was working hard taking care of our son when he was little, I could not give up mountain biking. So I used to slip out of bed early in the morning while my family was still asleep and cycle up to a scenic spot. I would boil water there and have a cup of freshly brewed coffee while watching the sunrise. Then I would buy freshly baked bread on the way back, wake up my family, have breakfast, and then take my son to his day-care before going off to work.

— You and your family are all cyclers. I heard that the three of you journeyed on mountain bikes from Canada to the US last year.

Tomita

That was when my wife got hooked on “bikepacking”*1. We thought it would be interesting to take a trip with a tent, sleeping bag, and everything squeezed onto our bicycles.  Since our son would start entrance examinations in a couple of years, we thought it was our last chance. We cycled from Vancouver, Canada, to Seattle, USA. From Seattle, we took a train with our bikes to Portland. We enjoyed cycling around Portland, and then flew back to Japan. About 300 km in total, I think. *1 “Bikepacking is a style of bicycle touring where one packs everything needed onto a bike to travel around.

— Your son is a first year at junior high school, right?  Do you often go cycling to the mountains together?

Tomita

Our shop holds a weekly Sunday event called “Urayama-kai” (“Backyard Mountain Club”) where we go cycling up into the mountains with customers. My son comes along with us. Most of the members have families, so we start early in the morning, and come back before noon. That way, everyone can “fulfill their obligation” to spend the afternoon with their families. (laugh) An easy bike ride with light chatting, followed by coasting down the mountain, is a lot of fun.

— What inspired you to start your cafe “SPARK Scone & Bicycle”?

Tomita

Before this shop, I was running a cafe, restaurant & bar in Sannomiya. But I gradually became tired of the lifestyle of working at night. So we decided to move to this place so we could work at our own pace. My wife had always been fond of British things and loved to bake delicious scones for many years, so we decided to open a scone specialty shop. Then my wife said, “Why don’t we carry bicycles too?” and so the shop became a scone and bicycle shop.

The Man Who Walks Through the Mountains Making Maps

— Mr. Asano is the owner of an outdoor gear shop called “Hakubado Rokko” near Hankyu Rokko Station. He is also a mountain guide. I heard that you took over the business from your grandfather.

Asano

Yes, that’s right.

— I also heard that you do “survey” work of the Rokko Mountains besides running your shop. Could you tell us more about that job?

Asano

My job is to physically hike through the mountains and draw the hiking routes onto a map. The survey data will then be updated in a map series called “Mountain and Highland Map” that is printed every year by Shobunsha Publications, Inc. The map series covers mountains across the country, and I am in charge of the Rokko Mountain range.

My teacher and I used to work together in the past. Since he retired, I now do the survey alone.

— You must know every hiking trail in the Rokko Mountains like the back of your hand.

Asano

No, no, there are trails that even I don’t know yet. The latest map shows many routes already, but there are 3 times more trails that haven’t been printed, I think. The Rokko Mountains are a national park, but often the number of the trails increase as people make their own trails without permission… They actually should not be doing that, though.

— It is a very meaningful job, isn’t it?

Asano

When my daughter is asked by her friends, “What does your dad do?” she answers, “He’s a map maker.” (laugh)

This map making process itself is a communication tool that connects with people who love the mountains. I hope I can continue to do it as my life’s work. Although, I think of this as a joint project since many people have shared information with me. I will also need to train people who can take over for me and continue the work.

Kobe Actually Has a Lot of Fun Things for Bicyclists

— Mr. Uchida is the owner of a bicycle shop called “Galleria2001”. What kind of bikes do you sell mainly?

Uchida

Our customers are mainly road bicycle riders. There are many cyclo-cross (*2) competitions in the winter season, so we also focus on bicycles for cyclo-cross riders. (*2) Cyclo-cross: Off-road bicycle racing popular in Europe. Special bicycle models are made for cyclo-cross. More cyclo-cross bikes than actual mountain bikes are seen in the mountains these days.

— Kobe has both the mountains and the sea, and the flat areas also feel great to cycle on. So there are fun ways to cycle by the seaside too, aren’t there?

Uchida

Well, you can ride along the coast and around the artificial islands, or load your bike on a boat to go to an island and cycle there. Takamatsu, Shodo-shima Island and Awaji Island all have easy access from Sannomiya. By going out on a boat, you will be able to cycle in places with much less traffic. It is also nice to go over the Rokko Mountains as there is less traffic.

— Kobe has an image of having many hills, and some people seem to avoid riding bikes. But there is actually a repertoire of ways to enjoy cycling here, right?

Uchida

For road bikes, there are a good number of people who want to cycle fast or train stoically alone. On the other hand, a ride through the mountains on a mountain bike is more fun for a couple.

Well-Maintained Mountains

— What do you think are good points and distinctive ways to enjoy the Rokko Mountains compared to other mountains?

Uchida

It is that they are so close by. I think the most attractive point above everything else is that they are accessible from downtown in almost no time at all.

Asano

I think it is the sea. Looking at the sea from almost anywhere when you climb the mountains is priceless.

Tomita

The Rokko Mountain range is quite long, stretching east to west, and the terrain is rich in variation. That provides a variety of ways to enjoy them. Actually, there are not as many mountains elsewhere that are as easy to mountain bike through as here.

For example, there are privately owned mountains that require permission to pass through, and even if that is not the case, trails are often unmaintained or disappearing. What I think is great about the Rokko Mountain range is that it is a national park, and so it is well-maintained and always in great condition for cycling.