Aomori prefecture’s newly established 270-kilometer-long (168 miles) looping Mutsu Bay Cycling Route unites heart-pumping adventure and nature tourism. It opens windows into scenes of life found only in the northernmost section of Honshu, Japan. Bicyclists pedaling through the countryside discover the wooden fishing shacks of scallop farmers, seaweed gatherers drying kombu on fishing ports, seaside hot springs, quaint villages, farming communities, and the open road and sea. They may even spot wild dolphins spinning and flipping around the ferry transporting riders over the mouth of Mutsu Bay.
Choose your pace: speedy or slow exploration
This looping surprising, fun-packed trail can satisfy everyone. Ultra-athletic bicyclists will revel in the challenge of racing along the scenic coastline. But conversely, mellow travelers and traveling families, taking it easy, engaging with the people, and savoring the land’s soul, will treasure the rewards of slow travel.
Streetlights, stop signs, and traffic jams are almost nonexistent in the relatively unknown Aomori countryside. Nonetheless, not stopping is difficult. The sun and starlit beaches, exotic shrines speaking of local history and myths, glowing rapeseed fields, and intriguing paths of rural Aomori are like sirens, compelling visitors to pause, take photographs, listen, smell, and deeply and slowly breathe fresh air.
The scallop road
Bicyclists quickly learn that Mutsu’s relatively shallow plankton-rich water are fertile ground for raising Japan’s plumpest and sweetest scallops. One section of the path on the Tsugaru side of the bay has riders spinning through the narrow back streets of Japan’s scallop farming center. Bicyclist glide along Mutsu Bay and sea-weather-stained wooden storage sheds with fishing boats, heaps of hand-sized white scallop shells, loud seagulls, and friendly cats and the scallop fishermen who feed them. Old barnacle-covered ocean-green glass floats and multicolored plastic floatation balls, ropes, nets, and other scallop-farming tools are on display.
In this land of scallop farmers, the food dish most symbolizing Mutsu Bay is miso kayaki, initially fishermen’s fare. Large concave scallop shells, usually around 15 centimeters in diameter, serve as frying pans. Families reuse these as they are said to become tastier with use. Wheel into Mutsu’s Nakagawa, the restaurant that transformed this local dish into an attraction, to grill scallops, an egg, seasonal ingredients, and Aomori miso on a large scallop shell. Plenty of restaurants along the route offer tasty scallop ramen, deep-fried scallops, and scallop sashimi.
Culinary adventurous bicyclists with a sweet tooth should sample Mutsu Bay’s unusual scallop ice cream or even stranger ice cream with sprinkles of sliced sea cucumber. The chewy sea cucumber imparts a salty sea taste.
Mutsu Bay vegetarian fuel stops
Vegetarians also discover delicious eats. Every May, fields near the bicycling route passing through Yokohama Town shine golden-yellow as millions of brilliant rapeseed flowers explode with color. Locals transform flowers, stems, and seeds into donuts, tempura, canola oil, and other delicacies.
Yusui-tei, one of Aomori’s most delicious tofu specialty shops, uses soybeans from neighboring Hokkaido and water from a cold spring bubbling out of a shrine to produce heavenly tofu. So, fill your water bottle and gather all sorts of tofu products for a picnic. Their dense tofu donuts are satisfying energy-rich snacks. Look for Yusui-tei next to the shrine with a spring in the south of Yokohama Town.
Alluring accommodations for all budgets
Olympic athletes who can ride 270 kilometers in one day won’t need accommodation en route, but they would miss out on wondrous experiences. Choices include glamping on hilltops, luxuriating within exquisite traditional Japanese ryokans, or staying at comfortable Western-style local hotels.
Asamushi Onsen, sixteen kilometers from Aomori, a relatively unknown onsen town with an almost transparent blue sea in front and mountains behind, welcomes bicyclists, hikers, and ocean sports enthusiasts. Slow travelers should get off their bikes here and experience stand-up paddling around a tiny island with a shrine just offshore.
The lovely mother-and-daughter team who run the internationally infused, traditional Japanese four-room-only Ryokan Ogawa are skillful chefs and sake experts. They offer immaculate rooms, personal service, and gourmet meals of their creation (i.e., scallop gratin stuffed and baked in Aomori apples) at reasonable rates.
Park Daikanyama is an innovative bicyclist-friendly facility with something for everyone and every budget: spaces for guests’ camping cars or tents; bell and dome tents with fireplaces, luxurious mobile trailers with private baths open to the sky, a community space for sharing meals, and cozy and creative restaurants. One is a converted American yellow school bus. All of this crowns a woodsy hill park in Mutsu City. Located about 100 kilometers from Aomori City, Mutsu is a good place to rest, dine, and explore.
Travel by bike and train
Most bicyclists start and finish their journeys in seaside Aomori City. Trains travel up and down much of Mutsu Bay, so riders can hop on, hop off, ride and explore as they please, and catch another train if they with. Japanese trains allow passengers to bring properly packed bicycles onboard. Follow your cycling muse. The Mutsu Bay Cycling Route is about freedom.
Support for your ride
Making it easier are friendly bicycle guides (providing support vans, drivers, and various rental bikes), such as Mr. Kazuo Hanada of BBB Aomori Tour Guides, who expertly support visitors’ needs. Aomoricycling.com is the most comprehensive information source for planning tours of the Mutsu Bay bicycle route and other routes in Aomori.