I am continuing my 17 day motorcycle ride around Japan. In part one (click here) you can read about my riding in Fukushima, Gunma, Toyama, Nara and Wakayama prefectures. Now I am continuing south towards Nagasaki and Gunkajima (battleship island) which I hope to visit. (photo wiki commons) But a lot of other things to see before I get to there. Grand Motorcycle Tour of Japan – part two first appeared on Motorcycle Paradise November 2016
Day eight and I am presented an enormous breakfast. Between the buffet breakfasts at Route Inn hotels and the x-large home style breakfasts and the all you can eat soup,salad,rice with curry bar at the family restaurants I am already finding my ‘jeans have shrunk’ after just a week on the road… I am boarding the 8.30am ferry to Shikoku. I arrive and cannot find the ticket office which I discover asking another riders is located away from the docks but fortunately I can ride there and buy a ticket and get back before boarding as I allowed some spare time just in case. On Japanese ferries there is a carpeted area with small head rest type block things instead of seating and you can lie down and take a nap. It’s great, just remember to remove your shoes. The ferry mascot is a girl in various short skirt outfits all around the boat – because Japan. Today I took another less travelled route 193 across the very mountainous inners of Tokushima region. Some of this road was perhaps at the edge of what I would want to ride on a heavy tourer like the FJR. The Cube camera let me down here as all the photos I took of the real rough bits of the mountain road came out blurry. I think I just made up my mind to update this part of my kit. But some parts were easy riding and with nice views like this. Got moss? The descent was down this long valley with a crystal clear stream to my left that tumbles along over huge boulders. It was incredible beautiful despite the day turning overcast with grey light. I took a bit of video riding this road, take a quick look via this link – the Cube camera has washed out the colour but still it adds a bit of scale and depth I cannot capture in the still photos today. I decided to stop for lunch and savior the tranquility. Besides the one car in the video I was alone on this road for a couple of hours. And then it just keeps on going like this, incredible. I could use all the superlatives but I don’t need to – below is what I am riding along next to. This is not a special route listed as a scenic byway it is just some remote road in the mountains of Shikoku. I could have stopped a dozen more times to take photos but at some point I had to get rolling. Reluctantly left this little slice of paradise. The 195 is a great route south to Kochi with sweeping corners along the valley (below). (sorry about the power lines but I wanted to show the view from the saddle instead of the closer shots I also took) I have led an incredibly lucky life when I think of it. Done so many dumb things yet unwittingly avoided what could have been tragedy at many turns in my life. I won’t go into that but with riding a motorcycle I wonder sometimes if I have an angel sitting on my shoulder that looks out for me. I have spoken about this before where I get a premonition to slow down before a bad situation. I saw a car in a side street up ahead and knew something was wrong. I washed off a bit of speed and covered my brakes and sure enough the car pulled out in front of me. I was braking full power with a slight kick of the ABS as soon as they moved and ended up able to avoid.
Ok some of that is experience and staying alert and not riding too fast to begin with and having ABS helps too but still that car was like any other 100 such cars in side streets you face riding every time. Not sure how I felt that this one was different. It makes me wonder. About riding. About if my angel riding with me might have a days off or take a vacation.
You may have noticed some high vis stripes now on my bike. It may not achieve much but I just had this desire to increase my visibility at standstill parked on edge of road while I take photos. A blogger I admire had an accident when a vehicle struck his parked bike while taking a photo. I stop the bike everywhere to capture the shots I post here and it got me thinking the grey FJR blends right in to the tarmac when parked if I forget to leave the lights on. I won’t win any biker fashion contests but I care zip about image these days.
Anyway on with the ride, I did not allow this to stop me enjoying the 195 on into Kochi city. Kochi is a good size for me with many interesting shops and old trams running around. The sort of place I would prefer to live. I had CoCo curry house dinner tonight, another chain of restaurants here that as the name suggests specialise in curries. It is really good and my tip is it includes unlimited pickles if you ever go there. Managed to get an almost decent night time photo from my iPhone using railing to hold steady. Such a wonderful day this has been. Day nine I am riding down to the southern corner of Shikoku along the coast for the first time. But first… Along the way I revisit the Susaki coast. Bit hazy this morning before the sun got busy. I was riding the Ashizuri Sunny Road today along what was a beautiful coastline as the sun eventually got going mid morning (below). Can you spot the place I had my picnic lunch in the photo below? It really has some stunning coastal scenery along this road. I was doing a bit of clock watching after lunch. I had to make the afternoon ferry leaving Sukumo bound for Kyushu, my hotel was at Saiki where the ferry lands. I did not have far to ride but how long that might take can be hard to predict as I have never been to this town before and some like port cities are highly congested.
I need not have worried. Sukumo is small and in decay with the town around the port mostly shuttered and abandoned. Oh well it gave me time to take a look around that then the boarding for the ferry (motorcycles load first) started 30 minutes before departure so handy to be ahead of time with boat travel. Rather old ferry this trip. I took a nap and set my alarm for about sunset as being on the water for that I thought would be great photo opportunity. Alas the sun was totally obscured by the low cloud that often seems to blanket Japan. Never mind it had been another nice day.
My hotel tonight was only 1 minute ride off the boat and extra nice. Great dinner tonight at Joyful, big chain of family restaurants based in southern Japan. I chose what I thought would be smaller meal and asked for small rice as I was eating far too much. Still a decent serve and all for around $5. People constantly tell me Japan is so expensive. How exactly? Day ten the sun had vanished. Light rain at times and this was a shame as I had a lot of low traffic roads I was going to explore today. I opted for a western breakfast set this morning. A short distance out of Sakai I came across a old tourist park of some sort. It had a large water wheel which seems to have been a popular tourist gimmick all over Japan some years back. Also there was this interesting river walk. I’m guessing all those trees are going to turn yellow in a few weeks. Up in the mountains soon and it was between 10 and 15 degrees depending on the elevation. I put a lot of work into todays route to find all back roads I could link together to get to Aso, but they were rather slippery from fallen leaves not swept clean by cars. A couple of short narrow sections with a lot of moss (video) but mostly all two lane sweeping roads that would have been great on a dry day.
The first portion of my route (which you can see in detail in ridewithgps.com user account Warren) seems random but in fact it is a very old through route and has a series of orange arrows at intersections but has fallen into a state of disrepair in some parts. I was glad to get off these forest roads back to the comparatively good grip of regular damp tarmac. My Bridgestone BT-023 GT tyres are already getting low on tread which does not help in the wet. They felt amazing in Hokkaido in the rain but now not as good but then that could be road surface too.
Up there (Hokkaido) the tar glitters and is high grip. I doubt I will get the 10,000km distance I was hopeful for from them but see how I go. They have to get me home regardless. I came across a old lookout that had been left to overgrow. I could hear a loud water fall nearby but no longer visible. (above) My route next took me around clear of Mt Aso which I knew had been erupting recently however I still ran into a road closure. I was on the Kumamoto side so this must be from the big earthquake earlier this year. I decided to take a break at the edge of the caldera, the view not so good on a day like this but it was not raining anymore so I could enjoy a rest. The detour consumed about 45 minutes but took me past the entry point to the famous Laputa road. It has been totally barricaded even to pedestrians now and looks unlikely to reopen. I walked in a little way regardless of no entry signs but it was wet and very slippery so I decided against pushing my luck. Travelling a little ahead of the autumn harvest I was not seeing as many scarecrow festival figures this year but then came to a small village with a huge display set up. I revisited the grass lands area of Kumamoto with it’s pretty covered bridges. Damp but not raining. I lost a lot of time on the slow slippery roads then the detour so I went then straight on to my 4th ferry of the tour to cross the Ariake sea. As I got closer to the port the rain returned and started to come down ‘right proper’ as the British say.
I was glad I was nearly there and could soon park under some cover. It had been a really amazing ride to here but I was needing a rest. Sitting on the rear deck of the ferry with a vending machine hot chocolate listening to the rain coming down and the throb of the big engine I promptly fell asleep. The ferry rode through the rain storm so I departed onto just damp roads for the fairly short ride on to Isahaya. Nearby to Nagasaki my destination but with hotels 1/2 the price. I stopped at a enclosure dyke which is something I had not seen before in Japan. Many years ago I drove across the incredible Zuiderzee enclosure dyke in Netherlands. In my mind I was picturing arriving here close to sunset which I think would have been rather pretty but the weather today ruled that out. Looking forward to taking the next day off riding. No sleeping in however as I was off to visit battleship island. After another waist busting buffet breakfast I took the express train into Nagasaki. Much cheaper to do this that stay there and avoids any need to ride in city traffic. The weather however was not good. It started overcast and changed gear to steady rain. There are two options for visiting Hashima/Gunkanjima, one is cruising around and the other landing there. Unfortunately there is no walking around the buildings anymore since they are starting to fall apart.
Shame I did not think to do this when I first went to Nagasaki about 1999. The landing now is small walk around the dock end and not being a Haikyo enthusiast I wondered if that was worth it but I need not make the call as the weather meant all landings were cancelled and only a cruise available. The island was for a long time a undersea coal mine. At one stage it was the most densely populated place on earth with 5259 people living there working the mine and providing the services of a complete town with schools and shops all compacted. The island has been in a few movies, perhaps you may have seen it in the James Bond movie Skyfall. I did not become aware of it from that since I only like the old movies with that Scottish bloke … but I saw it mentioned on the net recently. (photo wiki commons) Weather made my photos total rubbish nothing worth posting (but did lend atmosphere to the viewing that a sunny day would have lacked) You can use Google street view to take a virtual tour if interested and there are a few Haikyo sites that made illegal landings there to photograph it. It really does look like a battleship from the sea, that I can confirm.
Back in Nagasaki for a coffee there was no sign of the rain letting up so I decided against visiting peace park and the atomic bomb museum. I have been to both before and I highly recommend a visit. I took the train back, not this fancy one that serves special food, but a nice express train to do my washing and relax with a nice bottle of Italian red later. Morning of day 12 it is still rain, showers until midday then clearing. Check the radar and the rain is moving to the east. My route today was first east to the mountains and to a couple of high viewpoints then back in a loop before going along the coast north to Sasebo.
I think if I can wait it out then I might avoid most by just going west then north. I have to check out by 10am which is standard time in Japan hotels (and rather early compared to SE Asia hotels) it is still raining but I find a self serve petrol station with a drivers rest room and hang out there. It is well equipped with vending machines and computers, free wifi, phone chargers, tv and spotless toilets. My original route for today below. Right on queue the rain eases about noon. Nice ride north along the coast. Dark clouds were clearing and a strong wind had picked up. Late lunch at nice view point I could see the blue sky just breaking through up ahead and a mysterious looking island with houses perched up high, reminiscent of something you might see in the Mediterranean seas. There is a small ferry that runs out to this place called Matsushima island. I’ve added this island to my future ride list. Then the sun burst onto the scene for the afternoon riding on Oshima island. And a amazing view from Mitiko island that this photo cannot convey. Fantastic weather the next morning, sun sun sun as Steve Martin said in LA Story. Bit of a slow ride north from Sasebo on busy roads but I was in no hurry. I was making my way to Ikitsuki island via Hirado island. This was another place I had seen a few photos on google maps and thought that looks like it might be quite nice. Quite nice might be the understatement of the year. The road there below. Below the stunning west coast of Ikitsuki island and the Shiodawara cliffs. The views (and roads) here were wonderful and the Shiodawara cliffs also have interesting hexagonal rock formations (think Giants Causeway). I wish more people would look beyond the big 3 cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto when visiting Japan. I would like to show people how great it is here for riding and sightseeing.
Maybe that is the path I have been looking for here. No idea how to make that happen for now. Well time to turn the wheels around and start putting the sun behind me in the afternoon. Todays lunch view point (another google maps random discovery) a observatory on a hill in farms with nobody around. What a spot! I could easy spend a month exploring here but I had time for just one more island today. Fukushima island. Another beautiful place with wonderful views at every turn. But I have a long ride ahead of me on the expressway as I had decided to ride straight past the huge city of Fukuoka to set me up for the next few days riding mountain roads.
Once you cross the ocean and leave Kyushu the expressway becomes mildly curvy and reasonable fun if you don’t mind to tickle the throttle. I would never dream normally of getting on bike and doing the best part of 300km of highway from 2 pm after spending 6 hours already riding but this is where the supersonic armchair FJR is in it’s element. Day 14. I was set to explore more less travelled roads in Yamaguchi prefecture. Dark and gloomy to begin with. Wondering if it will rain as I cover the first 50km back on the Chugoku expressway. But the skies brightened a little and I enjoyed riding on route 315 with lots of sweeping corners, same gear, left right and repeat and so on.
After this some isolated roads, low traffic narrow for a while then more sweepers. Below is first circle loop road for the day located at the end of the valley. Every tunnel is another more interesting road that has been bypassed. I ride in so many tunnels here but today I decided to get off the main road and visit the old road alignment here. New road up top and old road below. There was a nice river section so I stopped here for todays lunch. No other cars, another peaceful place.
I reached an area between Hiroshima and Shimane prefectures where there are a number of autumn routes – scenic leaf viewing byways marked by the red maple leaf sign. But I arrived about a week too soon this year with the late burst of summer perhaps delaying the change of season. Well not to worry I had mostly dry roads and nearly car free run all day. In another week the roads will no doubt be much busier. In lieu of yellow leaves I present yellow road markings. I revisited at a secret view point I discovered previously that sits just above the main road. It was unfortunately cloudy like last time but still a peaceful place to sit a moment. And seeing the weather was overcast and I was unable to find much leaf colour I thought I would offer a encore presentation of this interesting body of water. It started to rain a bit in the late afternoon so I just pressed on towards the hotel before it increased. This would have been fun if dry. I stayed at Alpha One hotel last night. This is a major chain but not listed on English hotel sites. Great value and heaps of parking, big buffet breakfast as usual. I also tried Sukiya budget meal restaurant chain and it was great, I had curry rice set which was large serving and cost about $4. That will do me fine.
Day 15 was drizzle, gloomy and cold. The clouds which often sit low in Japan were down to the ground. I was riding in mist all day with the odd light shower. I prefer this to proper rain but still it was unfortunate because today I was riding some of my favourite roads in Shimane prefecture. My rear tyre was now at zero tread stage but I rode on the route as planned despite the roads sometimes being slippery. I was optimistic I would ride out of the low lying clouds or some breeze would arrive however it was not to be. I took a closer look at the villages and areas I was riding through that I usually forget to photo. I love all the shades of green riding along the country roads, even in rain it is very pretty. I took another random detour at a big tunnel. People still living in grass roof houses away from the cities. Old forgotten road serving a couple of farms. I could explore stuff like this endlessly.
I also revisited the circle road on route 314 today. Despite the rain I was hopeful of it being clear being on the other side of the range. Alas it was not. All I can offer is the plaque. Least the lookout point was dry for me to have some lunch. I could have done with some ramen for lunch today. I might invest in a good hot water flask. I saw these push bike riders with a small gas burner heating up water for noodles which sparked my interest but since I stay in hotels where there is always going to be hot water kettle then not sure I need go that way but nifty setup.
The penultimate day and I was feeling upbeat as the weather looked fine. I set off to ride around the base of Mt Daisen, the Fuji of the west. Big mountains create their own micro climates and I could see Daisen was drawing in clouds and visibility ended up poor. It was a shame and my heart sunk a little. I was not alone in expecting a nice view today. Few sun rays poke through. The Autumn colour show has started here. It was blowing strong gusts of cold air and felt a few degrees lower than this. I felt it was time to move on. As I moved away from Daisen I rode out of its sphere of influence weather wise and the roads dried out. I enjoyed some good riding next. Not many photos because it was just nice flowing roads for me to enjoy. Around midday I recognised I was passing not far from Hayabusa railway station so I detoured a little to revisit it. Couple of different photos to my last time there. Fine weather all afternoon and some lovely views riding up the long valley on route 29 towards Tokura pass. I took a lot of photos with the Cube but not a single one came out. You are riding along the valley floor with conifers soaring up all around you and wisps of smoke from wood stoves or heaters here and there and a clear stream on your left cascading while every turn opens up a new part of the valley ahead to your eyes.
It is a truly lovely ride and I will revisit again next year. I took a couple of photos on the pass. The play of sunlight on the pine trees seems to captivate me. Not easy to show you what this looks like in a photo. Today was another long day in the saddle I needed to take a break late in the afternoon before riding the last few km’s. Japan’s vending machines are always at the ready. The red one this end is microwave hot pop corn vending machine. A few other machines from the trip. That is a dog snack vending machine in the main frame, at a dog walking spot in a highway service area. Another great day riding. Good to be back on dry roads with my rear tyre now bald it was nicer feel for me today. Tonight I had dinner at the hotel restaurant and was given a free beer as a hotel guest which was good timing to celebrate the tour reaching the last night without incident. Last day, number seventeen since I set off. Seems along time ago I was waiting to board the ferry across Tokyo bay (below) Wish I could start it all over again. Today is all highway riding. I could have split this into a smaller ride but figure I am on the right sort of bike for it so why not. Some showers along the way, nothing much so far. An example below of how the road signage used to be here that I spotted on the way. (and how the Polaroid Cube cannot handle low light) Now it is nearly all dual language signage which helps a lot. But then I now have things like a GPS too. My first ride here was with dozens of paper print outs, I was much more adventurous then. I got over to Nagoya this morning no problems then ran into heavy rain so stopped at the next service area and could see it was going to be very wet from there. I decided might as well eat something warm while here and before I ‘double bag’ with the rain suit over the Gore-Tex.
Spicy noodles will do the trick. Then it was time to brave the elements. Or was it. I elected to ride into what was obviously heavy widespread rain but the smarter thing would have been to ride north clear of the rain and find a hotel then ride home the next day which was forecast fine, could even add some extra roads in the morning to the tour. With all the experience I have touring I still make silly mistakes sometimes as I am not flexible enough in my thinking.
It was not a nice ride from here, about 2 1/2 hours in heavy rain then lighter rain but heavy traffic. The gear seemed ok except the Nolan N44 helmet fogs up terribly and the top vents do not seal tight. After I stopped to reapply the visor anti-fog and rain-off coatings I needed to swap my gloves. Gore-tex gloves seem to be fine long as it is warmer inside than out. Turn on grip heaters and the palms might get clammy and take the gloves off when the outer layer is soaking wet and then the warm air inside turns to cold and put the previously dry gloves back on they will be damp inside. Anyway knowing I had a hot shower waiting for me soon as I got off the bike I just got on with it despite the temperatures falling to 9 degrees.
Being on a bike like the FJR eased the affect of the rain and the cold air to a certain extent but it still was miserable conditions. This is the last ride for me in Japan this year. The bike will be parked now for 5 months of winter. I have to make a call if I renew the safety certification for another two years, i.e. make a commitment to keeping the FJR or make the call to sell it. I previously had made my mind up to move to something lighter but along the way I have adjusted and the bikes comfort has won me over. So I am now leaning towards hanging on to it another two years. It is now less about what I ride and just about getting out and riding more so the money needed to trade would pay for a lot of touring on what I already have.
Hope you enjoyed seeing some of the real Japan with me until next time thanks for riding along. Part one is here