7 Day Roadtrip Japan - Autumn 2020
It's autumn in Japan and that's the best time of year for motorcycling. The oppressive heat of summer and the wet that comes with it have passed, and it's before the bitter cold of winter kicks in mid December. The leaves are changing colour which can be quite spectacular in the mountains as you will see by the pictures.
I've changed the format a little bit so instead of having one big video clip at the end, I have a short day by day highlight clips. I've also added stock background music to replace the horrible wind sound. I'm looking at a adding a wind shield extension to try and reduce it. I've also replaced the awful stock muffler can, so hopefully that will be picked up in the next ride. I'll see how it goes and accept any and all feedback. It's interesting, I was having a look at some of my earlier posts and had to resist the temptation to go back and re-do the layouts. I think it is important to be able to look back and see how (I think) it has evolved as time has gone on.
Road trip day 1: Tokyo - Osaka - Kitakyushu. 30 October
Pania travelling down to Osaka for work on the Shinkansen (Bullet train) presented us with an opportunity to take some time away from the city and explore a part of the country that we may not have otherwise been easily able to do on the bike. It's 536km to Osaka and I was on the road by 6:30 to make sure I was there in time to meet her and catch the overnight ferry through to Kitakyushu. I had allowed a fair amount of contingency time but it wasn't required with me getting there with three hours to spare. No matter, I used the time to stock up on drinks and snacks for the ferry and chilled out at the terminal chatting to different folk who were either interested to know where we were from, or fellow motorcyclists.
The catching/loading ferry process was a piece of cake. Extremely efficient loading, and unlike NZ, they have a team of professionals who tie the bikes down for you, so there is no need to carry tiedowns... Bonus! I just observed the other riders actions, followed instructions where to park and left them to it. At the other end, when I got to the bike it was all untied and ready to go. Super easy.
Bike packed up and ready to go - Queuing for the ferry - On the ferry ready to be tied down
The over night ferry trip from Osaka to Kitakyushu was great value and gave us an extra day on our trip to travel and explore. The ferry itself was clean with buffet dinner and breakfast, and although the food wasn't spectacular, it got the job done. The sleeping we opted for was dormitory style with individual bunk cubicles. Quite comfy and adequate room to store anything we needed for the crossing like toiletries etc. We also had our helmets and change of clothes but ended up not needing to use optional coinlocker storage because due to covid precautions, every other bunk was empty leaving a handy place to leave our gear. There is not really a lot to do on the ferry apart from eat, drink, sleep, watch tv etc., but the views from the deck are terrific although it was a little chilly. Passing under lit up bridges, the first night of our journey on a ferry, and being up early for the sunrise made for a magic beginning to our trip.
Road trip day 2: Kitakyushu - Hiroshima. 31 October
Disembarking was just as hassle free as the loading process. Pania went on foot with the other walk-on passengers while I went and retrieved the bike from below decks. I can't stress enough how smoothly it all ran, and in no time I was rolling down the ramp off the ferry and into the carpark where Pania was waiting. Quick change into her gear and we were off toward the motorway bound for Hiroshima. The plan was to get there as early as possible and visit the peace museum.
Hiroshima is a beautiful city, and sort of reminded me of Napier in Hawkes Bay. Lots of restaurants, bars, and cafes, and all period built after WWII. Our hotel was was actually very nice and the beds quite comfortable which is unusual here in Japan. Also, it was only a handy ten minute walk to the Peace Memorial Park and museum. Walking along the river there are memorial plaques and ruins detailing the effects of the Atomic bomb and marking the distance from the hypercenter. The peace museum itself is a must, bringing up emotions not unlike when we visited memorial sights in Cambodia. I don't really want to use this platform to preach, but I will say the sequence of events leading up to the Atomic bombs being dropped were truly tragic and displayed a bloody minded arrogance and idiocy by people on both sides making decisions who really had no business being in positions of authority.
Road trip day 3: Hiroshima - Yawatahama. 01 November
Day 3 and it's another early start. Fabulous weather in the morning, and we managed to cover about 300km across 8 Islands.
Along the way we stumbled across a small town lemon festival. That sounds a little odd but the various areas take pride in their local specialty produce and this area is all about the citrus. We enjoy supporting these little communities and with the government Goto incentives and the Covid cash handouts we received, it's nice to give a little back to some of the hard hit regions. We had lunch here and bought some hand made ceramic coffee cups from a small stall run by an elderly lady, as they often are. She was a chatty old thing, and unknown to us she secretly hid some chopstick rests for the table within the wrapping. We were unaware of this until we got home and it's the kind of thing that will make me smile every time we get them out.
It was also great to be able to film coming over the fantastic bridges connecting the islands, and then turn off and ride up to the vantage points and look back from where we had come.
As we neared our accommodation for the night, the weather started to turn a bit. We did find time to stop and explore Ozu Castle, only about 30 minutes from our destination. We had a walk around the grounds but decided to leave just as it began to rain. Fortunately it was only light rain but it was motivation to get cracking.
Yawatahama, our destination for the night, is a nice little seaside city. There's a fishing port and the surrounding hills are beautifully terraced growing citrus, stone fruits, and tea. Everything was well manicured and clean, and it seemed to us a lot of effort had been going into developing the town and surrounding areas. Again, our hotel was very comfortable and provided undercover parking for the bike. We would have liked to stay an extra day to explore but there is so much to see, and you just can't do everything.
Road trip day 4: Yawatahama - Kochi. 02 November
Rain all day. I can't really complain as it was the only rainy day the whole trip, apart from 30 minutes the day before. And it wasn't cold, or particularly heavy, but it was all day. That did not dampen our spirits though, because the back roads off the highway were amazing. Through gorges, following winding rivers, passing through little towns and villages, it's nothing short of magic. Today was only about 190km but it was fairly slow and we stopped frequently.
Even the non toll roads can have amazing rest stops, or road stations. You can get a great meal, buy gifts, local produce, toilets, sometimes showers, or even do your laundry. We stopped a couple of times to rest, eat, and reflect, and without fail every time we were engaged by at least one local, usually elderly, wanting to chat. They love to explain the area's history and local specialty produce. Occasionally it can even become a little much, when all you want to do is share a quiet moment and enjoy a bite to eat.
Road trip day 5: Kochi - Nishiiyayamamura. 03 November
Up bright and early to blue sky and sunshine. Only 92km today so we decided to go and check out Kochi Castle before hitting the road. The work that goes into maintaining the structures and grounds must be massive. This was another example of how meticulous the workers are here. And everything seems to be done using traditional techniques. You don't see gardeners with power weed snippers or leaf blowers. The leaves are all swept up using old school straw switches, trees are pruned and manicured with non powered hand tools and all the workers are elderly. This was at least my observation.
Once we'd had a good look around and stretched the legs it was time to load the bike up and head off to the next destination. Although only a relatively short distance we opted for an extra windy, narrow mountain pass. We saw virtually no traffic once off the main road. We felt so lucky to be in such an amazing wilderness, so close to civilization, yet seemingly so remote. The road although sealed was a little rough and I did find myself wishing the CB was perhaps a little more adventure orientated, and perhaps lighter, as at slow speeds on real twisty rough road two up, she was a little heavy.
We stopped frequently as there were many amazing photo opportunities. Rivers, dams, waterfalls, and mountains bathed in autumn colour. It seemed like forever as we wound higher and higher through twisty narrow mountain roads. And as we got higher the temperature dropped so that although sunny, it felt more like winter than autumn. What goes up must come down, and so it goes coming back down the other side. Just as slow with pot holes and cracked seal making it a little tricky on the big 1300.
We spent the last hour hoping around the next corner we would find an open café or restaurant for lunch but it wasn't until about 5 minutes from our next nights accommodation did we find something suitable. It was however, absolutely worth the wait.
We sat outside and on the deck in the sun and on the menu was the holy grail of food for Pania. 100% Soba noodles. She was a very happy girl, and such a picturesque spot, we were happy to linger knowing we were staying just a few kms up the road.
When we did get there it was still early so we changed from MC gear into hiking gear and made our way down to the famous Iya Vine Bridge. It's a swing bridge over fast moving rapids and boulders and looking down through widely spaced gaps can be a little dizzying. It was nice to have plenty of time to walk along the river, and to be away from the city and crowds. We went back after dark to check it out all lit up and appreciate it with no one else about.
Back at the Inn, it was a traditional Japanese style dinner and we snuck a few alcoholic beverages into the private onsen spa to cap off a great day. Even though we were sleeping on traditional Japanese futon which I find awful, I think we both slept well.
Road trip day 6: Nishiiyayamamura - Akashi. 04 November
236km today, and more Island hopping back to the mainland. This day was a combination of everything, from picturesque mountain passes, 6 lane highways, and massive bridges connecting the Islands.
One of the little towns we passed through was the tiny village of Nagoro. Only about 20 living residents, but the buildings, fields and roadsides have life size Straw People posed as though they were alive. It is a very eerie place and you can't help like feeling you really are being watched. I would have liked to take a closer look but we had to keep moving as we wanted to make sure we had time to check out the viewing points where you can see the bridges we would be crossing from above.
The day was a little bitter sweet with this being last night before the journey home. By the time we reached the Hotel I think we were both ready for our own bed and the comforts of home. Our accommodation was again very nice and with easy access to the highway.
We spent our last night enjoying a local curry and then a few drinks back in our room before an early night.
Road trip day 7: Akashi - Tokyo. 05 November
551km of mostly highway cruising. We were up early for Pania to catch the early train back to Tokyo, and by 6:30am I was on the highway making my own way home. There is a lot of time on a ride like this to reflect on what was a fantastic week. Getting out of the city here is where it's at if you want to experience Japan. But also getting away from the usual tourist spots and into the forgotten towns, riding forgotten roads. So many empty buildings and abandoned business because their kids don't want this lifestyle.
Back in Tokyo for a total of approximately 2400km. I have to say the bike ran superbly without any issue whatsoever. We are now looking forward to our next adventure. Maybe something a little different. Watch this space.