I just completed a motorcycle ride visiting some of the best view points around what is referred to as the Seto Inland sea of Japan. I then went island hopping across these waters to visit some of the islands in the middle where few people travel. If you have a little time then perhaps you might enjoy to see some photos from the tour.
I had this ride planned for April, in Spring. But I have been going stir crazy here over the long winter with my motorcycle parked for 4 months. So when an unseasonal couple of warm days arrived in March I looked at the forecast and noticed it was predicting a fine albeit cool week of weather to follow. Now a week without rain in Japan is pretty rare because there is no dry season here. April weather is hit and miss so after checking I could get hotel room I made up my mind up late in the afternoon to go the next day.
Possibly too early in the year to motorcycle tour but carpe diem as that bloke Horace said. This was going to mean travelling when much of the countryside in the mountains would still be brown/gray with trees minus any leaves from winter but around the ocean as I travelled south I was hopeful that it would have some greenery and if that was the tradeoff for a ride of fine weather then I was willing to give it a go. Day one started out overcast but not as cold as it looked. Well ok it was cold compared to temperatures back home in Australia, one look at that snow is a give away however from a local point of view it was mild about 11 degrees. Roads on the Isu Peninsular had snow still and I was glad I had decided last minute to alter my route from any roads that would go above 1000m which would be foolish.
Above, Mazda Turnpike and Hakone Skyline. After this fresh morning ride I joined the expressway west to Hamamatsu. Here I rode north on route 151 which is a fabulous bit of road. Sadly some of the curves are soon to be lost to the endless tunneling and road straightening that possesses Japan. I decided to revisit the Chasuyama Skyline which was a favourite of mine when living in Nagoya. Lots of snow at the top and some ice on a section of the road had me riding very very cautiously. I again wondered if I was trying to ride too early. But since I would be riding south from tomorrow and not on high altitude roads I decided snow was unlikely to feature after today.
Just nice riding all afternoon on familiar roads in Aichi prefecture. Rural scenes still catch the eye despite the predominantly brown shades of winter. The weather continued to be overcast and cool all afternoon, no sun but it was not raining and I was warm in my gear with the grip heaters on so all good. I have a bit of a thing for bridges (as you may have noticed in other posts) so I might add a photo of a bridge each day to this tour report.
Todays route below and todays riding stimulant, Machi café coffee from Lawson. If anyone would like to view these or any routes from my blog in detail then you can view then at ridewithgps.com, just look for user account Warren and they are all shared to view or copy the .gpx files should you wish to use them in your GPS.
Day two I wake up and it is rain. What the hell, did the weather guy do a Steve Martin like in LA Story. Or is it just this area as three times I have stayed in the town of Ena starting tours and three times it has rained. I take my time over breakfast which is dangerous for the waist line in Japan where majority of hotels will feature a buffet breakfast. Previous ride I had to abandon my route leaving Ena and take the expressway but the weather forecast seems to suggest the rain will ease. I eventually depart close to 10.00am as finally there is a break in the weather.
Yesterdays nearly dry creeks have become raging torrents. I obviously slept through what must have been a serious downpour overnight. Things improve and I see a break in the clouds above. Nothing like the appearance of some blue sky to cheer up a biker, uplifting in a way no car driver will ever understand. Stopped to adjust my gear and saw this empty house barely standing on just two remaining wooden posts
An old Yamaha shop from another time.
Been trying to get a good photo of this elevated road each time I have ridden past route 158. Just one example of the extraordinary infrastructure you find in Japan and a overly fancy way to go over that mountain in my opinion. Decided to stop right underneath before getting drawn onto the on ramp and break out my lunch while the bit of blue sky was still about as in the distance I could see there was rain.
Bridge of the day. This is taken shortly after having ridden into that same mountain. I was wanting to explore where this bridge took you but it was just starting to spit rain and I already had lost two hours this morning so reluctantly I fastened my gear up firm hopeful that it would be just a passing shower.
But it was not to be. It got heavier and I had to stop and put on my Rev’it full rain suit since as I have already blogged my suppose to be waterproof goretex Alpinestars jacket leaks consistently. No such issues with the Rev’it one piece rain suit and so I abandon the coastal section of my ride and take the expressway to Tsuruga. Such a shame to again not be able to complete my planned route. Fortunately a number of places like this abandoned café to take a rest from the rain and warm up with a hot coffee from the always handy vending machines.
Even raining rural Japan is interesting. Some sort of totem poles made by students probably from a school now closed.
The newly fitted Michelin Pilot Road 4 GT tyres are sensational in the wet. Hardly even notice any reduction in grip they are that good. However they do make the FJR steer slow and the bike also has mild shake of the bars which did not exist prior to fitting theses so perhaps the front wheel might be out of balance now. But it is odd sort of shake like you get when the tyres get scalloped not an out of balance shake. Day two intended route which I ended up axing part of.
What to do after a wet and cold afternoon’s ride? Hot curry and spicy Spanish red wine of course. Same cure as my last soggy arrival to Tsuruga. Consider the consequences!
Walking back to hotel it started to rain again… wondering if I should turn back tomorrow.
Day three. Well it is not raining so I immediately decide to push on hopeful the clouds will clear. First port of call is the Rainbow Line which last year was overcast and well this time it was no better. I hung around a bit as forecast was saying clearing from 9.00 but it was not to be.
I rode on to the Angel Line at Obama bay, another scenic road nearby but it was not open yet even though there was no sign of anything remotely like snow in this region so ok lets get the hell out of dodge and try find some sun.
I jumped on the expressway and rode west and then north to the Kyotango region, a peninsular off the beaten track and the weather immediately improved. I saw a sign for a place called Ine, which said it belonged to the most beautiful villages in Japan group. I have stumbled upon a couple of these in my riding before and they usually are gems of places so I detoured down to the water.
Charming place it is too. All the houses face the ocean and have a slipway for a small boat and date back a long time. I followed some cars and found my way to a small lookout area. I broke out my picnic lunch and walked up to a seating area and was enjoying some sandwiches with the view when a large hawk like bird swooped down and pinched my sandwich! gave me quite a shock haha. I have seen the Ibis birds in my home town learn to steal food from people in the parks so I guess this one had also learned a new way to feed itself. Oh well I was actually still full from yet another big buffet breakfast so I could do without some of my lunch anyway. The weather as you can see was lovely and warm now. It had been 6 degrees this morning but now was touching 16 and warm in my multi layer gear.
The FJR’s silver finish looks positively glamourous in this company of lackluster silver paint jobs which is odd as it normally looks dull. Lots of bikes out and the riding from here on around the coast was excellent.
I stopped in another town lost in time and a guy came out and wanted to talk to me. Small town folk are super friendly. He invited me to his house for coffee and a chat but I could only spare about 30 minutes as I had still had a long way to go to Tottori this night which is a shame as I know so few people here that it is a real pleasure to chat to someone (in English that is as I struggle with Japanese).
Talking about back in time, remember windows 95? I do, midnight launch at the computer shop and huge marketing buzz. Different times to now but the memory lives on in Tottori. Well kind of. Another interesting town but the temperature had plunged and a cold wind was blowing so I just did a small walk unfortunately before retreating to my hotel which had a fantastic deal including a huge dinner in their on site restaurant. Hmm my pants seem to have shrunk, perhaps from the heat inside the bikes panniers. Well that is my excuse…
Todays route and caffeine experience.
Japan like many places loves the notion of something being special so this word premium pops up on just about everything you can buy here and then with beer they take it to a another level with things like an already so called special beer, then a premium version, then a limited edition premium version, then the master brewers choice limited edition premium version. Haha but then the whole world is being conned now that beer can be a premium product by calling it craft brewed. I am not sure you can just order ‘a beer’ now but that is what I did at dinner. I said anything will do. It’s just beer.
Almost forgot the bridge of the day. Something a little different for today to mix it up. A bridge that once was.
Day four was all about the riding. I had planned this day not looking at my previous route from Tottori but inevitably I ended up retracing many of the great riding roads I had travelled over last Autumn. Things looked very different this time of year and without the distractions of the blazing autumn colours I could just sit back and enjoy the ride. A few clouds in the morning that soon cleared away.
Today the riding featured Mt Daisen often looming up in the background. My route went through some pretty rural farming valleys and crossed a few small mountains as I worked my way west in a zig zag fashion riding the best roads all of which were very low traffic in this off season, just the odd farmer.
Another place (like mentioned previously) where you can ring the bell and make your declaration to the mountain, be it love for someone or something you want or will attempt to achieve. Below I took a detour through a small town by passed and encountered this nice scene.
The road below I had just been on with small rural villages and “the Fuji of the west” in view for much of the day. You can also see how some parts of the countryside are totally gray after winter which perhaps lessened the enjoyment while riding but then served to shift my focus to other things along the way in the small forgotten communities which I may not have noticed otherwise. Next I revisited the circle loop road where I had stopped last year. The same old lady was there selling home made breads and cakes so I again stopped for a rest and to sample her wares. Doubling down on the photo themes today (as the Chairman in Kitchen Stadium might say) with a bridge and caffeine combo.
A fantastic day of riding. Temperatures were a little cold when on higher roads of in the shadows, but then eased to about 12/13 degrees which was comfortable on the FJR with the screen, fairing and electric grips. Some of the best roads I have ridden in Japan are in the Tottori and Shimane regions. Great scenery and no traffic. By sheer chance today I was riding along and decided to take a detour up a nice looking road on my right and it turned out to be this most perfect riding road in the middle of nowhere, I mean like a racetrack in the mountains of perfectly surveyed corners. I took a photo of the junction to try work it out (still trying) and will add it to a map I am building to display the best riding roads in Japan. Not sure how I am going to publish it yet but will get there at some point. Todays route.
Southbound and down on day five. Well actually just southbound but I always wanted to say that. The first portion of my route today was not very good with too much urban riding and traffic but when I did make the big left turn and got away from Masuda things immediately got better as I returned to more rural areas. These guys ae wishing you a safe journey on the road ahead. Never hurts to have the gods riding with you so I made a stop.
Check out todays feature bridge. Looks like a walkway right?
Nope it is just wide enough for the tiny 600cc farm pick ups that you encounter in rural areas.
Some more time travel was done when I dropped off the main road into a couple of by passed towns.
Highway signs not in dual language. Clearly I am on roads less travelled now. When I first visited Japan nothing much was dual language. One of the former PM’s made it a policy to change everything. Catching a train there was no dual language announcements or signage or computer screens in the carriages so it was quite interesting to go anywhere. I used to look at train station names and match them by the symbols on the schematic rail map having no idea what they otherwise said. Even my first ride here much later the signage was not all dual language and I had no GPS so it was really challenging to navigate with paper maps and dozens of print outs. Now it quite easy to travel here.
Today I found it hard to find any road side rest areas for lunch. Some routes have many picnic tables, toilets and seats at a river or view point etc but this route 315 that crosses the country must be not popular for it had none that I noticed (maybe I should have detoured into the towns more). That was good for riding anyway as few cars so I just stopped in a shady layby and having spent much of the day seated I did not mind to stretch the legs rather than sit straight back down.
I do have a small camp chair that I pack in my panniers, the only camping item I have since I never took to camping. Winnebago yes but tents no. If it did not rain I would try camping more but any ride in Japan will have wet days and having a warm dry place at days end to relax and dry out gear makes a big difference.
The road really opened up then as I made my way towards the coast. Then I crossed over to Yashiro island on my way to a view point that very few people would know about. I like to use Google maps and turn on the photos option on the bottom while scrolling around the routes I am looking at and see what shows up. Often something interesting that I had no idea existed will be displayed. This is how I found Mt Shiraki viewpoint and decided I had to go there on this trip. After the gray and brown winter foliage of the mountains the blue of the ocean was rather striking as I made my way along the ocean side road on Yashiro island.
The road up was really just a track. Who needs a GS.
But I was rewarded with some incredible views.
But the best was yet to come as I rode back down and returned to the mainland to a more well known view point at Zenitsuboyama where I was fortunate to have nice clean air to get one of the best views over the handlebars.
It may have been cold at times but I sure got great weather and visibility today. A short HD video can be viewed here. And just in case you think it was all look outs here is a photo of the road up which was quite nice too.
Day six was in some ways the focus of the whole trip as I would be island hopping across the inland sea, something few people seem to have tried. I took a long detour around Hiroshima opting to take the expressways to avoid traffic however once past I still encountered congestion at Kure a rather unattractive heavy industry area. I got to my first target the Sazanami Skyline and what a great road this is. At the first view point the haze really obscured the view of the islands I was heading to but I have tweaked this photo in post editing to make out the islands more clearly. Basically I will ride over the four islands that extend out on the right hand side of the photo.
About now I realised that I might have not enough time to go to the top of the skyline as it had taken so long to clear Hiroshima and Kure traffic. I had to get to the ferry at Osaki-Shimozima before 11.30. If I missed that ferry the show was over and I would have to ride all the way around. So a quick photo of the Sazanami Skyline road which was fabulous then I high tailed down to the first bridge which is just out of sight to the right in the above photo.
The islands were wonderful. I wish I had more time to explore them rather than simply ride through each. The towns near the major bridges were all a step back in time and the area is worth a full day let alone the brief visit I gave it but anyway this is a riding tour so be it. I took a few snaps with the Polaroid Cube action cam today.
I made the first small inter island ferry with just 5 minutes to spare!
It was a perfect warm winter day on the water and I was feeling rather good about life, the universe and everything. I had managed to reach an area in Japan that I had looked at on a map over winter and thought it probably would be something quite special to visit those islands but I wonder if I can cross there with a motorcycle and what they would be like. And now here I was and the area was beautiful. I had two hours on Osaki-Kamishima and explored a bit then found a nice place to rest up and have my picnic lunch. A small closed temple overlooking the water.
Then rested I waited for the next small inter island ferry to turn up.
It was going to be a big day so I grabbed another caffeine shot on the ferry in route to Omishima island.
More great riding on Omishima island. The road along the coast was beautiful both in its surveying and views.
But wait there is more – as was once said on tv. I had one more look out point to ride to and the road up was amazing.
Todays bridge photo might take some beating I think. Amazing views from Kirosan on Oshima island.
I took a slow ride over the bridge to Shikoku. An amazing engineering feat. Incredible to think that huge structure is supported by such small cables. Great end to what was a truly great day. Route.
Day seven I was riding across Shikoku to the south eastern cape. The temperatures in the mountains were going to be quite cold but I have a fairly good cold weather riding setup. First of all a bike like the FJR shields you from most of the wind blast but of course turbulence still will make the wind whip around at times especially when following vans or larger vehicles.
I am using my older Alpinestar goretex type pants this ride having given up on the new Andes tourer model which are only suitable to use in mild weather given the way they ride up my legs to expose the upper region of my boots. My jacket at present remains the Andes tourer despite it having a flaw that allows it to leak water at front of collar as I reported here. Other than this issue I like everything about the jacket. Boots remain the TCX Explorer Evo GT’s which are neither especially comfortable nor uncomfortable. They are very slowly breaking in. Their sole could be better, I find them not as grippy as my shoes on wet cement like you find in gas stations. But they do the job and are 100% waterproof as well they worked well in the cold weather.
The key components are the base layers. Crucial is a base layer shirt on cold days not made from cotton. Regular t-shirts are useless when riding. I have experimented back to back and with cotton t-shirt and thermal mid layer then jacket and I feel cold soon as things get down to about 10 degrees but with the thermal base layer shirt I am fine down to about 2 degrees and can skip the mid layer completely if milder which is not possible with cotton.
It makes a huge difference also on days when it has heated up. I remain comfortable but with cotton start to heat inside the jacket. I got mine from Ground Effect in New Zealand but not sure these days what they sell, any good outdoor shop should be able to help. Other key items are technical winter boot socks which I consider essential now as with normal socks my feet will perspire then soon get cold yet with these remain warm and dry. Mine are from Alpinestars. The final thing is a recent acquisition the thermal and wind proof neck gaiter. This made a huge difference on this trip totally sealing off my upper body to my nose and keeping all toasty warm. Very impressive bit of gear from Halvarssons Sweden.
The only weak link is my gloves are not up to the task of very cold riding. If I had decided to go with even just one day free I would have gone to a motorbike accessories shop here and got some handlebar winter bar mitt covers. There are heaps of these sold here and I should have got a set before now.
The FJR has very good grip heaters which made a big difference and my Held gloves are about as good as your can buy but need something to shield the outsides from the wind which if your riding in low single digit temps then the wind chill factor on your exposed hands must be at freezing temperatures. Crossing the middle of Shikoku the weather in the high mountains was not inviting for riding but fortunately there is a massive tunnel under the mountain so I avoided what looked like a very cold place. Of course every new tunnel you ride through in Japan is another twisty road that has been by passed and you ride through so many. On some days 50 tunnels. I am not exaggerating.
Todays route at times took me via areas that were too urbanised. I really did not get the best ride until I was down to the eastern cape area. I found a nice spot for lunch and took a long break feeling quite tired this being the 7th consecutive day on the road. I opted for the triple expresso today and listened to the waves for awhile.
I stopped at a couple of small towns bypassed to look back in time.
But then the afternoon turned out to offer me some of the best riding of the tour. First up was the wonderful Muroto Skyline road leading me down to the lookout at the end of the cape. This was followed by a beautiful ride all the way up the eastern coast, both of which can been seen in the photo below.
This was followed by a real treat of a road called the Sun Line.
An amazing ride on perfect road in this less visited part of Shikoku.
In some ways this day felt like the tour was shifting towards its conclusion as from here it would be about getting back and less about exploring. The FJR once again has taken me to some wonderful places. Not completely trouble free this trip. The front developed a shake, possibly the wheel lost its balance weights and needs rebalancing or it might be something else but I hope just balance. The engine also started to have a issue where it will not idle upon hot startup. I need to hold the revs and get moving then once I have travelled a km or so the engine will return to normal idle when stopped, most peculiar.
I can ride fine with both of these issues so I am considering just leaving as is while I decide if I keep this motorcycle beyond the current riding season. Again my dilemma is all these wonderful riding destinations are a couple of long days ride away from me, something that is easy on the FJR but once I am on these roads I want a lighter motorcycle like the MT-09 but I would not even attempt to ride in weather like this on that sort of bike. The R1200RT is sitting quietly off to one side as the most obvious solution for me being about 40kg lighter and lower COG but since I only ride about 3 tours a year in Japan then it is a little hard to justify the price tag of $30,000 just to get gain a touch easier turning, even more so here in Japan where cars are cheap and I can get a Lexus for that same money. Everything else the FJR already provides.
Actually I could probably just rent if I wanted. By my calculations it would cost less for me to rent then own a R1200RT, even long term. Perhaps I just need to keep fiddling to get this one turning a little nicer, each tyre I try changes the feel and the current Michelin Pilot Road 4 are not a good match but at least 3 other major brands I am yet to try. Todays route.
I escaped the heavy traffic of Tokushima city and got onto the expressway system where I was going to spend half of the day to make tracks north. The highways are all toll roads in Japan. Usually the fees are not too expensive but despite supposedly being one network called NEXCO often separate parts of the highways belong to other companies and you will pay multiple tolls which can really add up. In return you get superb roads which seem to be very low police presence.
I have been sitting on the speed limit but everyone seems to drive 20-40kph faster all the time. There is no risk of sneaky speed camera fines and indeed the government just announced they will raise the highway speeds by 20kph something that Australia can only dream of.
The highway service areas are amazing, I have mentioned before but besides the usual food and beverages you also will find driver rest rooms with massage chairs to take a nap, laundry to wash clothes, hot showers and dog walking areas. Interactive displays about traffic on the network and in some a range of shopping including even motorcycle specific shops. I stopped in a couple this morning as it was very cold 4 degrees. A hot coffee was really needed.
Some readers may have noticed I skipped the bridge of the day on day seven. I snuck one in above to make up but here is the biggie of the trip. The Akashi Kaikyo bridge. This is the longest span suspension bridge in the world.
Hard to capture the scale (and a cold gray day for photography) but those bridge towers are 60 stories high so it is huge and one of the worlds engineering wonders.
I hung out at the bridge viewing area for awhile to soak it up and read about the construction. Then I rode across and thought I had recorded it on the cube but it shut off prior to the bridge itself the battery going flat just at that exact moment. Oh well it was gloomy weather so the footage probably would have been average at best. Not cheap to cross, the toll for the bridge alone was 2300Y plus the toll roads either side but then it did cost 500 billion yen to construct.
Next up was more expressway but soon as I hit Kobe the traffic ground to a halt. I had a 34 km traffic jam on the expressway until I cleared Osaka. It was tough going with the large FJR not the easiest machine to lane filter on. And some old expressways found in parts of Tokyo and Osaka are narrow compared to the newer built ones. Anyway I got there eventually but so much for an easy ride and to think you have to pay for the experience too. After Kyoto I left the expressway to ride another scenic road called the Heizan Driveway. This would have been lovely in a couple of weeks as it was lined with many seasonal flowering trees. I still enjoyed the views.
From here things went from cold to freezing. Literally. I was riding along and the temperature was dropping and I could see some rain ahead but then it started to lightly snow, just small flurries I think is the term then some fine rain that was frozen into ice that bounced off me and the motorcycle. Not much I could do except ride on.
I might have been riding a little early in the year but the reward was sights like these freshly dusted mountains which my photo fails to capture how grand the vista was in real life. Eventually I got to the region at the top of Biwa lake where I was going to revisit another scenic road called Okubiwako Parkway. Riding around the edge of the lake this road is line with 100’s of cherry blossom trees and would be magnificent in a few weeks time. And so would the mountain section of the road which was unfortunately still closed from winter.
Oh well the riding along the lake was wonderful bit of road. I met some other riders there who also had been expecting the road to be open and riding in leather I wondered how cold they must have been. I used to ride in leather many years ago but it really only works in a narrow temperature band compared to textile gear, be summer or winter, and it certainly looked out of place for riding in 5 degrees. They were surprised the distance I had ridden in this season but on the full fairing bike with my gear I rarely felt cold. Todays route.
Final day and it was a cold start with ice on my seat but it warmed up later to 15 and was quite pleasant.
I really just spent most of the day on the expressways to get home. I decided to try life in the fast lane where all the big Lexus limousines are flying along. I settled on about 140kph as this was the speed the FJR aerodynamics work perfect at. Still plenty of cars coming up to pass so they must be doing 150+ and I let them go ahead as blockers. Can cover ground mighty good at this pace so the final day I could easy do over 500km akin to what I might ride in places like Australia and USA but you will have noticed the rest of the tour the daily distance is around 300km per day which I find is my absolute maximum if I want to have any time to take photos and look at things. This is on the road no later than 8.00am and riding until 4.00pm every day with short lunch break and not actually spending any great length of time at any one place.
Something lacking from this ride report is my usual misadventure caused by the Garmin GPS doing something odd. Nothing happened this time. I have changed the way I create the .gpx route files. I remove all the cuesheet entries now and then insert my own at key points. This allows the GPS to work far better and you still get all the usual turn by turn instructions with the cuesheet items removed but now they are generated by the GPS rather then being provided by the cuesheet and this works much better and also no more problems with expressway/tollroads anymore either.
I revisited the 151 route mid way as a interlude and got a superb run nearly all the way the traffic was oncoming but nothing to break my rhythm (which was a gentle pace on this road anyway) Below a rural scene on the 151.
Amazing automated expresso machine in one of the expressway parking areas. Best coffee of the whole journey. Great ride back in warm sun unlike my last two tours that ended in rain. I stopped off one more time at Hamamatsu and celebrated having completed the tour with a ice cream in the warm sun and then blasted back home in record time having joined the fast crew that hang in the overtake lane. Seems like ages ago looking at the photos in the rain on day two. I don’t know a whole lot in this world but I have discovered motorcycle touring slows down time and that is something magical.
This article originally appeared on Motorcycle Paradise Blog March 2016.