The original idea was to fly to Japan, hire bikes, go to the Japanese MotoGP and see as much of Japan as we could. But after discussing our plans with Japan Bike Rentals they advised us that the MotoGP weekend was hectic and accommodation was hard to book anywhere near the circuit. We would most probably end up 50kms away and have to ride through heavy traffic there and back each day.
This didn’t sound like too much fun so after a phone conference Huw, Elina, Chris and I decided to give the MotoGP a miss and instead see as much of Japan as we could.
The people at Japan Bike Rentals thought this was a better idea as we could go a bit earlier when the weather was better and they would figure out a route to suit our needs.
We said as many back roads or country roads as possible, not major
cities and no freeways - no worries.
So come mid-September last year the four of us flew out of Perth airport carrying our gear and suitcases. We had booked a hotel a couple of days before we were to pick up the bikes so as we could have a look around Tokyo and Mt Fuji.
The hotel, which Huw and Elina had found, was only just around the
corner from Japan Bike Rentals - great.
We did a day trip which bused us to Mt Fuji, the Five Lakes and incorporated a cable car up to a volcanic area, this turned out to be a good idea, as it was relaxing and informative. We were also lucky to see Fuji on a clear day, although it doesn’t quite look like the pictures without snow on top!
We decided to return via the ultra fast Japanese “Bullet Train”. I thought there was only a few of them, but there are many shooting around the country. They reach speeds of 300km/h, but it feels like you’re hardly moving - till you look out the window.
We then tried out some of the Tokyo night life and its stand-up bars, bit different to Albany. When it was time to pick up the bikes we only had to walk around the corner. The guys there (all either Australian, English or American) were ready to meet us, sort out the paperwork and show us the bikes.
The bikes we both had were BMW R1200R. We’d brought our inner bags off our older BM’s and were surprised when we discovered they were a tight fit. So we had to rearrange the bags, and hire tank bags as well to be able to carry all our gear.
When we were packing the bikes there was a bit of light drizzle. We were able to store our cases at Japan Bike Rentals. At Japan Bike Rentals you can hire various types of motorcycles together with panniers and top box. If you want and head off into the unknown or they will organise a ride for you.
This is what we did, so a three week ride seeing as much of Japan as possible on the best motorcycle roads. They did this by putting the daily routes into the GPS’s, which we both hired. It went from Day 1 until the last day, each morning hit the button and follow the road - easy. They also organised our accommodation which was superb. As its impossible for us to read Japanese and as very few people speak English, it was the perfect way of doing it.
By the time we hopped on the bikes the rain was quite heavy, so our first introduction to riding in Japan was Tokyo mid-afternoon heading for the docks, but it was no problem, traffic is fairly slow, no road rage, horn tooting and very courteous drivers.
We were to take an overnight 18 hour ferry so as to start our ride on the island of Shikoku. The ferry was brilliant, very smooth, we both had cabins booked for us with large windows looking out to sea, it was very comfortable.
There was a number of self-serve vending machines on board where you could buy drinks, beer, coffee and soft drinks. There were a variety of meals to choose from which popped out from the machine ready for you to microwave, and even a money changer, which was great as we changed all our large notes to smaller denominations.
After a great night, breakfast was the same deal, getting a meal and drinks from a vending machine. As we were sailing down the coastline it was very interesting watching the world go by and at 1.30 pm we were ready to disembark and ride to our first night’s destination.
It was a 160km ride through lovely local roads over the mountains of Tokushima, bend after bend. We thought it was brilliant, not realising for the rest of our time in Japan it would be bend after bend, day in day out - couldn’t ask for better.
After spending the night in Kochi we had all day to ride 237kms, starting off with a beautiful coastal ride, including a look at a temple on the pilgrimage route. We met a South American guy there who was walking the full pilgrimage. He had been doing pilgrimages for many years in different countries around the world. He would be the last non-Japanese we would see for the next two and a half weeks.
We then followed a river inland in one of Japan’s less travelled regions before heading back to the coast.
The backroads were fabulous and quiet, we could ride for ages before coming across another vehicle, and still bend after bend on smooth roads.
Finally we arrived at a sleepy town on the west coast of the island - it had taken us all day to do 237kms! This turned out to be the norm. Even though we had decent bikes and the roads were as smooth the bends were very sharp keeping the speed down, but great fun.
Next day we were to take another ferry to the island of Kyushu. This was a shorter distance and we would ride on and off on the 2.5 hour ferry ride. There were other Japanese bikers to keep us company, they were out for a Sunday blast.
We rode though old towns, weaving our way through spectacular scenery to the Aso Volcanic Park. Mount Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan, and is among the largest in the world. What an amazing area this was, to ride through it was a real privilege.
The next day we headed north through magnificent scenery and country roads to Fukuoka (love the name - easy to pronounce ha ha).
After spending another night or two on Kyushu, we rode over a long bridge back to the main island of Honshu, then a fabulous coastal road to the historic town of Hagi.
I was amazed at the size of the tsunami walls on the east coast of Japan, but didn’t expect them to be as big on the west side of the island too. I was forever looking to make sure the sea wasn’t unexpectedly retreating!
After this we were heading to Hiroshima, this was only 179kms but again took all day, riding over magnificent mountain ranges.
We had a couple of nights in Hiroshima booked which would give us time to look around. By this time my Rossi motorcycle boots had fallen apart, so as Hiroshima is a large city I thought it easy to get another pair as the forecast was rain from a typhoon. We got a taxi to the local BMW bike shop.
And its no good giving the taxi driver a card with any English on it as he hasn’t a clue, I’d downloaded the address on the net, waste of time. But he got the idea in the end.
The BMW shop was excellent with marvellous people, the manager could speak reasonable English which was a help. But even though I only take a size 10, there were no boots big enough to fit me. I’d found a place on the net also that looked like a huge supermarket of bikers gear.
The manager organised a taxi and away we went - there were a variety of shops from Dianese to Harley Davidson, plus among others, the massive bikers gear supermarket. None of them had anything big enough. We then found a secondhand shop, just as I was about to give up Huw found an excellent pair that fitted like a glove - great.
We then headed off to the Hiroshima shrine and museum. This was fascinating, it was extremely well done and we learnt a lot. The theme was more about peace than anything else, but the images were confronting. I was a bit reluctant to go at first, but was glad that we did.
The debate that evening was to decide what to do with the looming typhoon. The forecast was 400-600mm of rain in the central band, then 200-400 in the next and finally up to 200mm in the outer band. Hiroshima, where we were, was in the central band of rain.
After a fantastic night drinking, singing and dancing in a rock bar till the early hours we decided the best course of action was to outrun the typhoon and head for the coast, which was the direction we were going anyway.
So early morning we rode out of Hiroshima in the rain. We rode over more mountains, although a bit more carefully. During the morning the rain did stop for a while before it came down heavier.
It continued to rain heavily all afternoon. We eventually arrived at our Japanese-style hotel soaking wet. We parked the bikes undercover by the front door and took our wet riding gear off with the help of the youthful female staff - wasn’t such a bad day after all.
The hospitality everywhere we went was impressive and genuine, they couldn’t do enough for us. The following day the rain continued so we decided to stay and extra day in Matsue, taking a bus that did a circuit of the small town, but hopping off (with umbrellas) to have a look at the fabulous castle.
Had a meal in a conveyor-belt restaurant the first night - that was different, before a more traditional Japanese meal the next.
The next day the rain had stopped and the sun was out. So we were back on the bikes heading basically along the western Japanese coast for two days. I’d been looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint. As we were heading over a forested mountain range one morning trees were down across the road and we couldn’t find a path through. The branches wouldn’t snap off, they would just bend. So this provided a challenge to get back to where we wanted to go, but it was no problem and good fun.
Another time there was a landslide along the coastal road this was completely blocked, so we had to find another way around. For these couple of days there was a fair bit of debris on the road from the rain so we had to be careful.
After a few more nights and riding through some of Japan’s most scenic spots we arrived at Kyoto. We had been booked for a couple of nights here, to give us a chance to look around, but being as we’d lost time we decided to only stay one night and that would put us back on track with the other accommodation that was booked.
After Kyoto, we rode over mountains again before riding alongside Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, this brought us back to the coast riding through the many small fishing villages.
It was now time to start crossing central Honshu, riding for days through fabulous historic towns and of course on windy roads over stunning mountains.
We eventually came to Matsumoto. We were booked, once again, in the central part of this beautiful town, with plenty to see and do from riverside markets to the castle, and as it turned out for us the nightlife. We had a great couple of nights here, ending up in all sorts of places.
Then it was days of mountainous riding stopping at various places of interest including Jigokudani where the snow monkeys are, they love the warm water in winter.
Nikko was another stop on our travels - its a world heritage site and
was fascinating with its hot springs. Ryuzu waterfalls were spectacular
as was Lake Chuzenji. At one stage we were up quite high and the leaves
were changing to their autumn colours. Absolutely beautiful.
Before too long it was time to head back to Tokyo, this time coming in from the north. This was quite an experience with the various flyovers, but the way the GPS was programmed it was easy.
Having two bikes with GPS was great as if we were in doubt which way to go it was easy to confer.
It was a fantastic holiday/ride/adventure made all the better having Huw and Elina with us, it was non-stop laughter. I don’t think the four of us stopped talking all the time we were away.
The accommodation that was booked was fabulous. It's not cheap, but it was brilliant. We had a variety of places from the traditional Japanese accommodation, with no private bathroom, so you had to use the Onsen - the hot public baths. Men go in one and women the other (spoilt it a bit ha ha).
I don’t think sitting in a bath with a mob of blokes is really my thing, but its all part of the experience and its good for the aches and pains. Most of these places were upmarket and the food was marvellous.
And at the other end of the spectrum are the cheaper hotels and more upmarket hotels, but there were no complaints about any of them, and they all made sure we had somewhere safe to store the bikes.
Japan Bike Rentals have a
website. It was one of the best trips that Chris and I have done
with some of the best biker roads in the world with very friendly
Where next I wonder?