Kaz Fushimi

PHOTOS: Lee Basford

LOCATION: Asuke, Japan

As monsoon season began to express itself in its simplest form, cyclists gathered in the remote village of Toyota to indulge in food and tough hills. For the first time, the Gourmet Century was held in Japan with Circles’ help.

Eager attendees arrived at the crack of dawn, not wanting to be late to this much anticipated event, which had sold out in a record thirty minutes. Shinya Tanaka was the prominent figure behind the scenes, having formed a formidable relationship with the Chris King crew through his internationally renowned cycling community in Nagoya.

At 7:30 am, the smell of croissants and pressed coffee wafted through the dewy air to groans of empty stomachs. As riders finished their early morning buffet, the atmosphere began to bubble as they geared up for the road ahead.

The group set off on the first, and what would be the toughest stretch of the course: a constant climb of 3000 feet. Whether participating alone or with a group, the Century is not a competitive event, though participants did compete over how early they had had to wake up to arrive on time. In the case of the Gourmet Century, the event simply brings together people with common interests of food and bicycles, enabling people to foster new relationships or strengthen pre-existing ones. At the end of the day, cycling is the only winner.

By noon, what seemed to be a day of sporadic drizzle and minimal sunlight transformed into a spectacular blue sky. Whenever you step outside the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, you can’t help but feel neutralized, as though the pH levels inside you literally stabilize to 7. The scenery is traditional, evoking landscapes from Totoro and reminiscent of the overlooked face of Japan.What more could one ask for? Well, a delicious lunch of onigiri (rice balls), fresh vegetables, quiche, sautéed snapper and chicken with mustard sauce on the bank of a river avec a gentle breeze, not to mention the Narusawa Waterfall rushing in the background. Would-be Centurions piled their plates high to charge their stinging thighs, and they dipped their sweaty feet into the pond as they munched their provisions.

The latter half of the route was gentler and more picturesque with gravelly roads giving way to hand-planted rice fields and cedar trees. Like the meandering roads, thoughts began to do the same, pondering the dinner ahead and onsen dip to come. Events like these are more important than ever in Japan. We all know the problems brought by urbanism and an ageing population, which are each contributing to the steady extinction of localism and depopulation in Japan. The Gourmet Century has the potential to be more than just a bike-food event by bringing in a social dimension as well. It could be the key to regional revitalization by attracting youth and promoting local craft beer and saké. It may be small scale, but it’s a big start.

By dinnertime, people have changed out of their Lycra and are mingling and listening to live music with a beer in hand. Their minds and souls are as refreshed as ever and there is not a single frown in sight.