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Motorcycle Paradise

Islands of Japan Motorcycle Tour

Kanagawa to Wakayama

People tend to think of Japan being all crowded cities and bullet trains but it consists of over 7000 islands, a similar figure to that which is celebrated by the people of the Philippines. Many of these islands are populated by small communities and a network of ferries connects them. I decided to take a look at some more of this side of Japan and try make my way eventually to the less visited Goto Islands that lie off the coast of southern Japan.

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The winter in Japan is rather long and I dreamt up this ride on the many cold days way back in January. It all looked so easy on the map of course but now that it was time to go I wondered about all the ocean ferries I needed to take on this journey. Over ten at last count. It was going to be my most ambitious ride here to date.

I waited for winter to end, then for mountain roads to open and trees to regrow leaves and finally also waited for the Japan golden week to pass. I looked at going then for the always perfect weather but it made no sense to join the madness of the national holiday week where everything is booked out so I finally set off mid May. I was heading to the bottom of the country and the rainy season starts there as early as late May but I felt I had a window of opportunity for a hopefully dry ride. Still this is Japan where four seasons often happen in one day riding so I packed my rain gear and winter liners as well as summer pants but not summer jacket. I have never used my summer jackets here as in the mountains even mid year it can still be too cool for mesh due to the altitude.

Islands of Japan Motorcycle Tour first appeared on Motorcycle Paradise in May 2017 

Day One.

Woke up on departure day and it was a miserable 13 degrees down from mid twenties on golden week so in went the jacket liner. Still it felt good to be riding my own bike in Japan again. It had been nearly 7 months since last riding here. I set off to ride along the coast to Hakone as I hate the expressway system via Yokohama but soon ran into traffic gridlock. It is only 50km from my home to the mountains of Hakone but I never ride there and today leaving 7.30am it was 9.00am by the time I got clear of the long traffic jam after some stressful lane splitting.

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Above, start of Mazda turnpike (previously called Toyo Tyres turnpike) a popular toll road for bikes and performance cars.

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The grey clouds parted briefly and Fuji made an appearance for me. The pine trees are still in recovery mode their foliage darker than normal whilst other trees had new leaves making a lovely variety of greens in the landscape, I was looking forward to this unfolding as I moved south. A few minutes later and the clouds came back in and the views were totally obscured. Still nice riding around the lakes here, you can see the road in the lower right corner from this second view point and the clouds that now cover where I was.

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Lots of ‘Jackasses on motorcycles’ as Fuzzy calls them out today being Sunday morning, many riding with zero margin for error on a tourist road with people turning into and out of view points frequently … but most of us have probably been at that stage when we were younger. I moved on to the expressway via some nice back roads then settled in for the ride west. I have to get to my first ferry before 3.00pm but have plenty of time so I set the cruise control and let the FJR do it’s amazing highway ride thing sitting in a little bubble of calm air and turbine smoothness.

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I stopped at one of the highway service areas to take my liner out and have a meal but unfortunately chose one without the usual great spicy ramen you can find near Nagoya. Japanese car GPS’s tell you what each service area has in the way of food but the Garmin GPS is just rudimentary guidance. Anyway I settled for a deep fried curry bun and tried some grape drink.

I only just realised today that in all my posts on here about using a GPS I never took into account some people want to listen to the voice instructions when riding. I just look at the screen occasionally, it’s pretty simple to see the turns. For me to have a voice constantly talking while riding would destroy all the enjoyment and zen of the ride. But you can get Bluetooth speakers for this if that’s the way you want to go. But don’t forget to still look at the map to confirm what it is suggesting is right. Always trust your tyres - never trust your GPS.

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The ride down to the cape was mostly slow going, Japan went through a stage of being in love with traffic lights. Some regions you will encounter this and see every small side road has a set of lights on the main road when a simple give way sign would suffix. I just wanted to see what this route was like rather than riding via Nagoya.

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The cape itself is nice enough.

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I came across some of the oldest still in service arcade games I have ever seen at the ferry port office.

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The ferry was 4100 Yen which is expensive for a short crossing. There were few vehicles on board and not surprised as the road toll would work out cheaper but then this was far more relaxing and something different. The islands in route with small villages must live a simple life.

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The other nice aspect of taking the ferry is it lands you 2km from the start of the Ise Shima Skyline, a very nice road and late afternoon was perfect time to enjoy it.

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Mighty fine way to end the first day of the tour.

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Tonight I stayed in a business hotel as they are called here, these are hotels designed to serve people working and are nearly all single rooms and cost from 3000-5000 yen mostly with a full breakfast. I had a simple meal from the local mall and an early night.

Day Two.

A little cloudy again this morning. Some light showers scattered about. I was fairly confident I would ride away from it so put my summer ride pants on. Today I was revisiting favourite roads in Mie, Nara and Wakayama prefectures.

I like the way the light plays over the various shades of green in Japan. I have mentioned this before. It is beautiful when seen with one’s own eyes but elusive to capture by camera.

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Trying to take more road photos. I’m sure I am starting to reveal to people Japan has lovely countryside but people ask me are the roads any good? Away from the urbanized areas they are fabulous and unlike Australia they link one to the next. Chillertek noted on his blog recently Australia has some fine riding roads but they can often be far apart. Here more than anywhere I have ridden great roads are just a few kilometres apart or overlap each other. It’s just hard to photograph them as riders already know. I took a detour to this vantage point on an old alignment of the road something I want to do more off rather than simply riding on.

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I mostly stop now to photograph other things instead of the roads.

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Some of the scenery this morning riding.

Another shaft drive big four out touring today.

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Signage here always features a cartoon character. I have gotten use to it and do not notice it much like I did when first visiting here.

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Many towns in the Nara region (and all of rural Japan) are paused in time, mostly shuttered with just a few of Japans aged population still in residence. I have tried a few times to capture this but it is something perhaps you need to be on the ground here to sense. Many small villages will turn into ghost towns in Japan over the next twenty years.

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More good roads after a simple packed lunch at a road side rest area enjoying the fresh air and great views down the valley.

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There are many suspension bridges in Japan, mostly to serve houses on the other side of a river where there is no road but this one is purely a tourist attraction and huge.

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You can always sense when there is a change in weather riding a motorcycle. It’s not just the look of the clouds although they probably are a tell tale sign, but the feel of the air. It was a warm humid afternoon, 28 degrees and I suddenly sensed that cool change indicating a storm was brewing so I pushed on a bit to get out of the area.

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My route today took me on mostly wide two lane easy riding roads but I did mix it up to visit the last section of route 425 in this region. A road I had previously partly explored. This turned out to be quite narrow and slow going. I like visiting things like this but my current bike is hardly designed for it. 

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Back to the main roads and I had saved the best for last, the Ryujin Skyline, where the camera icon is in the map below.

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This is one of the top rides in the country and I got a dream run from the southern approach with a zero car ascent. The road is well surveyed meaning all the corners are predictable with no decreasing radius and no off camber and generally open enough to suit even bigger bike like mine. Sorry to tell you I enjoyed it so much I did not stop for any photos. However it was cloudy with views all obscured anyway so nothing lost. It was quite cold up the top even in May so I warmed up with a hot coffee.

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I wanted to say something below (read the jacket, all of it) … but oh well what does it matter. Cool bikes, you see so many classic models on the road in Japan. Over 1/2 the bikes I come across are older models. Riders here seem to not feel the need (pressure?) to have latest nor fall into the ‘more powerful engine is important’ train of thought that seems to dominates riders in the west. 

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I rode over to the north side of the range to enjoy more of this wonderful riding road and to see if the viewpoint I had visited before was going to offer any more clear outlook. Better but still cold and grey today.

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But a great day of riding indeed, so much wonderful scenery in just one day. This region has a lot to offer, almost any of the roads that run north-south are fantastic.

Tonight I stayed in a business hotel in a outer suburb of Wakayama city. I had simple dinner at Yoshinoya, one of the Japanese fast food chains which focus on bowl meals with rice and something on top (mostly meat) called Don. I was drawn in buy the flyer for a limited time curry on offer being a fan of spicy food. It was good and under $5.00 for large serve. Japan is only as expensive as you want to make it.

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Tomorrow I make my way to Shodoshima island. Join me for more of my journey through Japan soon.

Part two now online here

10 comments

  1. Warren
    Is the can of coffee heated up in a vending machine, if not how did you heat it?

    Loving the pics and sites of Japan and I would love to go there one day. Cant wait for part two.

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    1. Yes Steve all drink vending machines have a hot and cold drinks selection and the choices vary with each season. It's never going to be a cafe 'flat white' something I miss very much but I try to make the most of the changes Japan presents to me.

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  2. Great stuff Warren. What camera are you shooting with? great resolutions. Remind me on one of the next rides we are on together to pick you brain about bike hire places in Japan. I feel its time for the BDAC to head over for 10 days or so for a look around

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    1. Hey mate I am using a Lumix LX100 but am selling it and will return to the Olympus Pen series I previously had. Just inconsistent results with this camera.

      I'd be happy to help in any way for riding here. I detail heaps of advice in this post about riding Japan. http://www.motorcycleparadise.net/2016/05/see-japan-on-two-wheels.html but the short version is the most impostant things are the right time and right route.

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  3. Some great photos both things and roads. I noted your observation about gear and weather ... I was rather hoping to get away with my summer textile jacket and liner but am now thinking about taking different jacket... Hokkaido is going to be colder and by the look of it, there are a lot of mountains.

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    Replies
    1. Summer jacket should be ok long as also have windbreaker liner and bring a thin mid layer just in case. I could have done with my summer jacket some days on my Hokkaido ride, after the oddball rainy week I had it went from cool to stinking hot for the second half.

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  4. Wow, 7000 islands. See I told you I always learn something from your blog. Playing catch up with my reading, off to read part two.

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  5. As an occasional Japan(and Goto Islands) traveller, I was scooting down this page looking for the Goto photos, and my eye caught this paragraph:-
    "Many towns in the Nara region (and all of rural Japan) are paused in time, mostly shuttered with just a few of Japans aged population still in residence. I have tried a few times to capture this but it is something perhaps you need to be on the ground here to sense. Many small villages will turn into ghost towns in Japan over the next twenty years."

    Well ain't that the truth! We spend lot of time in the boonies, and can concur about the imminent death of rural Japan.

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    1. Hi John, yes some towns are open air museums already. I spent last night in Kitakata and it is lovely for a visitor, two main streets locked in a blend of 50's - 70's but I don't see how it will survive at the current depopulation rate. NHK says 150 jobs for every 100 job seekers yet as a non Japanese my employment prospects are almost zero. Meanwhile companies in SE Asia are throwing serious money to recruit foreigners. I hate to say it but I think Japan with all it's stubborn clinging to the old ways is in for one hell of a hard landing.

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