• Nick

Nikko road trip Oct 2020

The anniversary of our arrival in Japan coincides with my birthday, which although meaningless in itself as a coincidence, resulted in an inconvenient hangover on the first day of our weekend away on the bike. More about that in a moment.

So much has happened in the last 12 months, much of it beyond our control. So many wonderful experiences, and many many challenges to deal with.

Without question the biggest difficulty has been the inability to return and catch up with friends and family. I should say that the returning home isn't so much the issue, as much as the ability to return to Japan due to restrictions for those on working visas. Unless you are a Japanese citizen, up until now re-entry into the country was far from guaranteed. And with no jobs to return to and bills to pay, our only option has been to tough it out.

The upside of all that has been plenty of opportunity to explore far more of the Japan countryside than we otherwise would have. That, combined with the massive drop off in International Tourism here, has meant great deals on domestic travel and accommodation.

Three things I love. Watching my wife eating eggs with tomato sauce on them,

Alcohol Vending Machines, and the GoTo program offering incentives for domestic travel.

We celebrated the anniversary of our first year here by taking a long weekend trip up to Nikko on the bike. As I alluded to earlier in the piece, we were a bit late getting away Saturday morning due to some heavy drinking the previous night with a bunch of expats at a bar in Akasaka. It's a pretty flash part of Tokyo but my employer (who is yet to formerly pay me) was on a mission, opening his wallet and springing for everything. I think my only expense was the taxi back to his place and a bit of a hangover the next day. I crawled into the spare bed at around 4:30am and by mid day, thanks to some old school remedy from my lovely wife (junk food), we were on the road to Nikko by mid day.

An evening walk to loosen the legs after arriving at our hotel in the mountains.
An evening walk to loosen the legs after arriving at our hotel in the mountains.

Like so much of Japan once you get out of the city, Nikko is beautiful. Temples, mountains, rivers and waterfalls. Not to mention miles of twisty windy roads. Sunday morning we jumped on the bike and decided to cruise into downtown Nikko and check out the shops, cafes, and explore the local temple area. This meant a hike along the river, then enjoying a spot of morning tea courtesy of the Government GoTo plan.

Once sugared and caffeinated, we headed up into the forest trails and explored the temple area on the side of the mountain. My photos don't do justice to how fabulous this region is. We were very lucky to catch a quieter weekend because in another week, and as the Autumn leaves turn to gold and red, tourists flock the area.

After getting back from our Hike and enjoying a GoTo free lunch, we went back to the Hotel, changed and rode the bike up to the Akechidaira Observation deck carpark. No views as it was misty and overcast but the ride up was superb on the bike with hairpin after hairpin. You could smell hot rubber all the way up from some of the boy racers who had gone before us. From there we went and checked out Kegon falls. A 100m elevator ride down through the earth and then a tunnel out to an observation deck to enjoy the waterfall from below. A few snaps and then back up to the top for bbq chicken skewers and corn on cob before heading back to the hotel for dinner and Onsen.

100m Kegon falls: No views from Akechidaira carpark: Honda Fusion Enthusiasts in Nikko.

Monday's ride was a chance to explore a little more of the region and maybe check out some of the regions scenic areas. We were away early and although we got some light rain, conditions were pretty good and we were able to break the ride up Route 169 Kuriyama-Nikko Line, with a hike up to the Kirifuri Plateau viewing platform. No less than 1450 stairs to the top. Two days later we both still had sore calves. From there it was a Motorcyclists wet dream through the mountains to our final nights accomodation on Lake Chuzenji. Truly a region that will be revisited in the future.

1450 stairs to reach the Kirifuri Plateau viewing platform.

Tuesday morning was bitter sweet as it was time to head back to Tokyo, but at least the sun was out and we had a dry run back to the city. We did end up taking a few detours so it took longer than expected with me missing a turn off on the motorway, and my still getting to grips with the settings of some new navigation software I'm trialing.

Motorcycling in Japan, at least for us, is different to New Zealand. The majority of roads, once off the main motorways, are slower and tighter. The speed limit is often posted as 40kph although nobody seems to adhere to that rule. Traffic on the road does seem to move slower though. I will say that drivers here have generally poor skills and are lazy with their driving lines. It is not uncommon to see random breaking and frequent crossing of centerlines, even on blind corners. The rule here seems to be 'might is right' so they will often leave little or no room for motorcycles when coming the other way on narrow roads.

While the main highways are feats of engineering to behold, many of the mountain roads and small connecting village roads are in poor repair with cracks and holes which can be a challenge. You can really see why a lot of the guys here choose semi adventure touring bikes with long suspension travel. The CB1300 is great but it's heavy and really, an 800cc touring bike would be fine two up with all the luggage and accessories they come with these days. There are plenty of options to choose from and you don't need to be wealthy to get a low km late model quality bike. The CB is cool though, and she stacks up nicely against bikes twice her money value.

In other news, the Japanese lessons are progressing. After 12 months it's not getting easier but my vocabulary is ever so slowly expanding. My teacher has the patients of a saint and pretends to look interested as she sits through me reading my weekly essay about the things we did over the previous weekend. It takes me about 4 hours to write something a four year old could do in less than 15 minutes. My listening comprehension is improving now though, so it is difficult for people in the room to talk about me without my knowledge.

Temperatures are dropping as well thankfully. A month of temps in the high 30s, often exceeding 40 degrees on the highways made motorcycling challenging. I also haven't been surfing in months. My surf buddy is also my hairdresser so I may make and effort to catch up with him next week and tee something up before it starts getting too cold again. I surfed through the coldest months earlier in the year and I'm thinking I don't really want to do that again. My best bet is to maybe try and get one or two sessions in the next few weeks then put it away until next year when things warm up again.

We have also been a bit slack this last month with our weight loss program. We have both done well but maybe just recently lost some of the drive to reach our goals. I've got close (within 500g), but then put 2kg back on so we are going to have another push at that for the next six weeks. We'll see how it goes.

I'll leave you with a little highlight reel of some the weekends riding. Hope it's not too painful.

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