Travel Through Japan on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood 

Japan on a Harley (29/3/05 - 14/5/05)
Distance 3670 km (415658 km to 419328 km)

This is part of the eleventh section of my around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from Japan

  21/4/05 Still heading west along the inland seacoast, through Kurashiki, a preserved historical town of old canals and warehouse buildings. Further west to the old and still functioning fishing village of Tomo-no-ura and again camping wild, this time under a road overpass alongside a river near where people were tending small plots of vegetables, like the concept of common lands in England. These small areas of land, usually where no structures can be built, along rivers etc, tended by mostly elderly people are all over where we have been in Japan. Again the generosity of the average person here amazing. We were offered tea in a small pottery shop as we sat eating a snack nearby and later in the day were offered some tempura whilst sitting watching the fishing boats.

22/4/05 Navigating in Japan is surprisingly easy. Most road signs are in English, tourist offices are at the train stations with road signs to them. We followed the usual routine when arriving in a city, straight to the station, they book accommodation, so far our first choice always available, then sightseeing the rest of the day till afternoon check in. Today it's Hiroshima, most famous for being the first atomic bombed city, on the 6th August 1945, an event which ended the second world war.Left as it was on the 6th August 1945 as a reminder to the Hiroshima bomb Today a modern city and strong advocate of disarmament and destruction of all nuclear weapons. The Peace Memorial Park a graphic reminder of events, with memorials to the children, the Korean forced workers and everyone else who lost their lives that day and in the following months and years from the radiation. The Peace Memorial museum more graphic in its depiction of the horrors of being in a nuclear explosion pushed the hope of it never happening again. Left as a reminder, in the immediate post bomb condition, is the Bomb Dome. A building of concrete, mostly left standing because the bomb exploded directly above, now a memorial to that day.

23/4/05 Japan is a retiring society. It has the oldest population of any country and this conservatism is reflected in daily life. Less than 1% of its population was born overseas, the lowest of any western economy. Economic growth has been almost non existent the last ten years and the country has zero interest rates and negative inflation. Of the people we see, our own age seems the average. The dynamism in country areas seems non existent and the slow speed of the aged everywhere. We headed out to Miyajima for a day trip. An island made famous because of the floating torii. The orange gateway to the shrine one of the most photographed things in Japan.Collecting the bivalve seashells at low tide near the floating Torii in Miyajima With a full moon and big tides thousands of well dressed locals in different coloured gum boots and hats carrying garden trowels and buckets scratched away at the sandy mud flats looking for bivalve sea shells. Whole families out on picnics.

24/4/05 Hoping to leave the urban populated areas we have been following along the south coast of Honshu we headed towards the mountainous ski field area north of Hiroshima. The Sandan-kyo, a narrow gorge, walkway alongside, beautiful clear waters, a few locals again picnicking, 6 km return. Tried some local delicacies, a fruit, crushed and pounded and mixed with rice gluten, exceptionally sweet. Over to the northern and quieter coast to the Iwami Seaside Park. An enormous coastal recreational park with free camping, only one other tent this early in the season, another motorcyclist. The park stretches for a couple of km's along the coast with mostly daytime visitors, mown lawns, pathways, shelter buildings, toilets, amazing that there is no charge, and no people.

25/4/05 Campgrounds are often a good place to work on the motorcycle.Kay helping herself to the "all your conscience will allow" winery punch bowl Left alone in the large park we fixed the turn signals, been an ongoing intermittent problem for a while. The brake light, changed fork oils and general maintenance. The clutch has been getting harder and harder to operate, and in the traffic here my left arm is getting more of a workout then I wanted. Silicon sprayed the cable and it's like new. One of those slow to develop things that goes unnoticed. Also managed a couple of strolls along the beach front and headlands, watched fishermen and relaxed.

26/4/05 Izumo Taisha is Japan's oldest shrine. Changed many times, and rebuilt, one has existed here since the 5th century. For the uninitiated many shrines in Japan look similar with their Torii gates, wooden walls and bark roofs. A place to wash the hands, a place to pay money for prayers to be answered, a bell to ring and a place to tie a prayer with hope. We watched the now familiar routine of bus groups, ushered around the temple, ushered back onto the bus after a visit to the souvenir shops. We watched a small wedding, just eleven participants, traditionally dressed, carrying out their ritual at the shrine. Japan is not known for its wines and after a visit to the Shimane Winery probably won't be in the near future. But this doesn't stop, again bus loads, of local tourists tasting wines from punch bowls, help yourself, as much as your conscience allows.Manniken Samurai playing their part in the original Samurai house in Matsue Not what we would call wine, more a wine cooler drink, exceptionally sweet, yet at a price of "real wine" back home. They also sell dozens of the processed delicacies, the ones we have seen souvenir shops full of. A free tasting of most of these products, again help yourself, allowed us to sample, mostly sweet, some fishy, others pickled, an enormous variety of local delicacies and provided lunch. Later in the afternoon we indulged in an onsen, hot public bath, to take away the effects of the wine and over tasted eats. In a four story building overlooking the lake, swimming pool on one floor, bath on the other, busy with mostly elderly having their wash and relax. Matsue is famous for its onsens and also its local lake fish so dinner in a restaurant that couldn't seat more than ten people comfortably, all along a bar, behind which two elegantly dressed ladies prepared food and drinks. Unordered extras normal with a meal, small tofu salad, tea and eel bones deep fried to crisp. Our meals, one of eel, a lake bass and small bi-valve shell fish served with rice and pickled side vegetables washed down with local beer a great end to the day. 

27/4/05 Matsue has a castle, like many Japanese cities, surrounded by a succession of three moats as was the design of the times.A view of the magnificent small fishing village lined coast of Northern Honshu Just outside the first moat is where the Samurai lived, in great comfort compared to the masses. We visited an 18th century samurai house, original and restored, with many period artefacts. The tradition of tatami mat flooring popular now as then. Sliding wood and rice paper room dividers in many houses we have stayed in and today's gardens in many homes look the same with the heavily pruned and shaped plants around a rock garden. Traditional Japan has changed little over time, accepting the modern whilst retaining the past culture. Still heading east along the coast past a succession of headlands and sandy beaches and small fishing villages. A surprising amount of rubbish in these villages with old nets, floats and polystyrene bits littering the shoreline. Rural Japan not as tidy as its cities, poorer, buildings not maintained with urban planning seemingly non existent, interspersed with this are the large car dealerships and Pachinko Parlours. Mini Las Vegas's with all the bright flashing lights and gleaming buildings. Ball machine gambling most popular, followed by slot machines and an array of fairground type games, always the place with cars in the parking lot and open 24 hours a day. Tottori has large, enormous by Japanese standards, sand dunes nearby,Drying seaweed, a specialty of this coast, famous for its flavour another popular by tour destination. Again with the group photo seats and cameraman waiting the next busload. The experience, a walk on the dunes, even a ride on a camel, and again the many souvenir gift shops where presents for the less fortunate who stayed behind can be bought. Camped in a free public campground, four other tents. A local group of about 50 teenagers had a gathering over dinner in the park but without alcohol or music they had dispersed by 10pm.

28/4/05 The road hugs the rugged coast where mountains plunge into the sea. In each bay is a small fishing village protected by concrete barriers, each beach a couple of concrete artificial reefs to stop waves and help retain the sand. At one we were given a piece of drying seaweed, a delicacy, collected in small boats with long poles to cut the weed underwater. Summer, the main seaside season comes late, June to August, few tourists now along the road even though it is the beginning of Golden Week. Three official holidays, linked with another one, a couple of weekends and an extra couple of days from annual holidays and the ten days holiday means many places are closed.Kay getting the correct view, upside down, of the sand spit at Amanohashidate   Our hotel tonight is 20% dearer tomorrow, the official holiday start. A basic business hotel attached to an upmarket one means we can use their facilities, in fact have to as there are no bathing or showers in the whole building of more than 30 rooms, people use outside onsens, public bath houses. The upmarket hotel's bath overlooks the lake, large glass wall view, sit in a hot tub admiring the view. Under floor heating in the change room, body creams, soaps, shampoo, dryers, sauna, two tubs with fountains a true luxury for budget travellers. 

29/4/05 Amanohashidate, a 3.5 km long sand spit with just two short bridges preventing it from cutting off a large lake from the sea, is supposed to be one of the three best views in Japan. Covered in cyprus trees and dotted with toilets and rest areas many people walk or cycle its length. We started early, strolling, walked up a nearby hill for an aerial view and caught the boat back to the hotel before the sea and mountain fog closed in with strong afternoon winds and heavy mist. The price of accommodation in Japan seemingly out of proportion to other costs, again most tourists day visitors, the town to ourselves for the night, after another long, long, visit to next door's onsen bath house.Small rice plots in suburbia

30/4/05 Golden week allows time for the part time farmers and their families to get out and sow the rice crop. With "Lilliputian" sized farm implements, especially as seen from an Australian's eye, tractors, ploughs and seeders in miniature work the equally small fields dotted between houses even in major urban centres. Like enormous muddy ponds, squared off and terraced in concrete into which small green rice shoots are machine sown. Followed the coast road, again lovely scenery, to Fukui then up into the mountains to Hakusan National Park to camp alongside the river in Shiromine. Campgrounds don't officially open till June however ours has a few other campers, basically squatting, the toilet block is open, water is turned on, and as there are no showers anyway, people use the public onsen, what more facilities could we want for free.

1/5/05 It's already daylight at 4.30 am and we were packed and breakfasted and riding by 5.30 am and at the Kenroku-en (Gardens) in Kanazawa soon after opening at 7 am. It's quiet then for an hour before the megaphone blaring tour groups arrive.Magnificent gardens of Kenroku-en Not at its best, after cherry blossom and before azalea's, still a marvellously landscaped and designed piece of land. Built to resemble nature in miniature with streams, waterfalls and manicured moss gardens and shaped trees. The necessary tree props, to hold up and shape branches, a distraction to the eye. Raining early afternoon after our visits to the local craft centre, geisha district and, centre for International Exchange, free internet there, we found a cheap hotel to keep dry in.

2/5/05 Spring rain here seems to be brief, clearing to a crisp day. At Ainokura the locals have continued the tradition of straw roofed, steep A-framed houses, where 20 are preserved, still lived in, the town open as a tourist attraction. We have seen a few similar towns where the community has decided to keep its culture by allowing tourism to help pay for the high maintenance, and the locals can live the old traditional life. The influx of tourists from the more populated areas to the south and east starting to cram roads. This mountain area a favourite holiday destination. Chubu-Sangaku National Park mountain region is still under a blanket of snow, the whole area gets dumped on each year, roads are still closed at higher elevations. Our campground, just outside the park has snow patches dotted about,Traditional thatched roofed houses of Ainokura yet has over 100 tents dotting the woods. The first time we have had to pay to camp, showing this areas popularity. The evenings cold had us, and many others, at the public onsen (hot natural spring bath). With over a dozen outside small to larger pools of various temperatures we relaxed for an hour, superheating, before the cold tent night.

3/5/05 Everywhere in Japan where there are tourists there are locally produced goods, usually sweets or pickled vegetables, always immaculately boxed, the packaging and presentation probably costing more than the ingredients. Again free samples to allow us to try a dozen or more of the 100 items for sale. People come to the mountains for a variety of reasons, some to sample the many outdoor onsens, a relaxing pastime, where people can be seen walking through villages between onsens in their bathrobes. Some to get away from the crowds, others for the walks, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, a cheap family outing, like anywhere else really. We rode to the top of the road at Shin-Hotaka and walked slowly uphill, past the concrete walls across the rivers, alongsideWandering between onsens (thermal springs) in their yukata (casual use kimono) the concreted riverside, all in the national park, through the snow to a cabin, popular as a getaway, where meals and accommodation are available. A group were just leaving, lively, having mingled for the last four days over sake and snow. We joined in the final merriment, accepted as if we had been there the entire time. Photos and last songs before we departed.

4/5/05 The numbers of campers increased last night to overflowing. The onsen full of naked bodies relaxing from a days activities and needing some warmth. We headed down to Norikura for a days outing, again choosing to walk uphill, away from the town, to oversee the locals at play. Most had come to view the lily like flower emerging from swampy ground in a nearby meadow. Paths ferried the onlookers, many with children and dogs, to the best viewing spots where amateur photographers set up their cameras on tripods for the best of the blooms. Another night at our campground at Hirayu.

5/5/05 I had been to Matsumoto before meeting up with Kay, and as it is on our path we visited it again, getting a second viewing of the castle and takingWelcomed back like old friends to this sushi bar in Matsumoto Kay to the small sushi restaurant I had previously visited. Welcomed back, we had the same enjoyable experience of watching the "chef" prepare the individual pieces of raw and cooked seafoods on beds of rice in front of us over a glass of sake.

6/5/05 More people in Japan have ridden motorcycles around the world than any other nationality. I was informed that probably 200 had completed the trip on all sizes of motorcycles from 50 cc and upwards. Some travel the popular route of across Russia, Europe and North America, being perfectly situated geographically in Japan. Others take the longer routes below the equator. Hiroyuki has ridden 200,000 km over five continents, four years, and invited us to stay with him and his wife Midori, who had joined him travelling for two years on her own motorcycle. He had generously offered to arrange for my ticket on the boat to Russia and two new tyres plus being a mailing depot for spare parts we had posted from Australia. So it was like Christmas when we arrived, lots of presents. Our first visit to a Japanese family home, a semi rural setting, one bedroom, tatami mat floor and rice paper sliding wooden doors to the main entertaining room, Midori, Hiroyuki and Kay, Dinner Japanese style also our bedroom, with fold up futon mattresses for the night. Midori cooked a lovely evening meal, many delicious flavours, which we ate sitting on the floor, at a low table, with great conversation of each others trips. Hiroyuki and Midori two years ago crossed the same route in Russia that I will be taking, so there were many questions on roads, food, police, customs etc.

7/5/05 This is Kay's last stop before heading back to Australia in three days time so we repacked the bike with the extra spare parts shipped in and will send home unnecessary items with Kay. Hiroyuki's mechanic allowed me to change the front tyre at his workshop, with him removing it from the wheel and replacing it with the new tyre, and me doing the work on the motorcycle. Greased the wheel bearings at the same time. I had been in contact with Mr Kawai by email, a freelance journalist, he also has been around the world on a motorcycle, a 250 cc Honda, covering 200,000 km over five years. He had been contracted to write an article of our trip by the local Harley-Davidson magazine, and teamed up with us at Hiroyuki's, along with Chris, who helped me in Tokyo with customs. An excellent group of free thinking individuals,Japanese Antelope along the camping track I was following all long distance travellers, brought together by the motorcycling world. Beer, sake and wine were enjoyed with Midori's brilliant cooking, more Japanese tastes that we had not yet experienced. a long slow banquet meal where one dish would arrive as another was finished, taking a couple of hours relaxing.

8/5/05 A touch of sightseeing, short ride to Kaikoen, a castle ruins in a lovely garden with a couple of museums attached, soba, (buckwheat noodles) served cold, a local traditional dish, for lunch and a photo shoot of us and the bike in the afternoon by Kawai rounded off another great day. Kay's and my enthusiasm dampened a little as it was to be out last day together in Japan. More glorious food and company in the evening.

9/5/05 Despite Japans high population, over 70% of the land area is under trees, primarily because it is too steep for agriculture or building. Kay's train to Kanzai Airport left this morning. It will have her there this evening and a plane home by tomorrow morning. I said goodbye to her, and everyone else, headed into the mountains to the east of Nagano looking for a pieceMacaque monkey enjoying the hot springs at Jigokudani Yaen-koen of quiet solitude which by late afternoon I had found in a birch grove where I pitched the tent for the night and listened to the bush noises of dusk. A woolly Japanese Antelope was on my track for a while, or was I on his, not frightened he posed for a photo before barking a few times and scurrying into the short bamboo grasses. Earlier I had ridden over a 2200m pass, snow down to the road, the ski lifts still operating even at this late season. Patches had been melted in the snow by volcanic heat, steam or hot springs, a sharp contrast against the cold. Some had been tapped for hot water for onsens in near towns, the pipes running long distances, others were left natural with their yellow sulphurous crusts. 

10/5/05 It was about zero degrees on my thermometer when I arose at 6 am. The timber quiet except for a few bird calls. I was only a short distance from Jigokudani Yaen-koen, where the "wild" Macaque monkeys bathe in the hot springs. There is a ryokan (small family hotel) at the end of the 1.6 km walk to the park and I was bathing in their onsen by 8 am, with monkeys as close as 2 metres away foraging or licking the mineral salts from the springs. This outdoor bath is mixed, men and women, but I had it to myself for the hour soaking up its warmth.Sewing rice Japanese style, small implements in small concrete ponds Inside the monkey park, they have their own hot spring where a couple were sitting soaking, younger ones playing, swimming as much under the water as on its surface. Having sold their soles to the slavery of tourism, the monkeys are fed, grain on the surrounding rocks, even inside the pool, to ensure some are bathing, detracted somewhat from the mystique of these bathing macaques. Headed back into the mountains via route 406 then 148 to the coast. Surrounded by high snowy slopes the afternoon was cold, and not improved by the almost continuous tunnel the last 30 km which only emerged for bridges. Found another nice campsite riverside near the coast. Finding electricity to use the computer, recharge camera batteries etc is difficult when camping. The inverter I purchased in Australia to give me 240 volts from the motorcycles battery is no longer working. I spent a couple of hours in McDonalds today, going through photos on the computer, buying a coffee, a burger at intervals. I was there so long the staff brought me a free coffee refill, not usual in Japan.

11/5/05 The snowy capped mountains along this northern coast come almost to the ocean and create aCamped at the end of an agricultural laneway cold morning wind down the river where I camped. I am heading to the Noto-hanto peninsula and pass by Fushiki where the boat leaves for Russia, so stopped in to check the procedure for two days time. Enthusiastic, efficient customs completed the carnet on the spot, basically saying the bike has left Japan, and allowing me to ride away. The Russian ship was in port having arrived at 9 am this morning and there was a prevalence of Caucasian looking people wandering town. I was advised to be at the ship by 2 pm Friday with the bike and the shipping office allowed me to use their internet in their office. Still overcast and cold I pressed on towards the peninsula. Many small rice farms run up narrow creeks with wooded hills either side. They require a service track for the small farm implements and offer a reasonable camp site at the turn around at the end of the track. I asked a farmer, working his field, if it would be OK to camp, a yes, with a wry smile of only a motorcyclist, particularly a foreigner, would camp here.

12/5/05 By 7 am the sky looked like rain and I was riding the magnificent coast road to Wajima. The road hugs the ocean through small villages and low populated areas.The Japanese white glove, seen worn everywhere, and almost as many discarded like this one Wajima, the largest town on the peninsula, has information at the train station and no sooner had I arrived than is started to rain. I found a power outlet in a covered breezeway and spent the next few hours on the computer getting records, photos, web page up to date as it rained around me. Cold and wet isn't pleasant and I took the cheapest room in town, again no check in till 3 pm. Not wanting to have wet gear on the boat and then in Russian customs for a few days I hope it will clear by tomorrow morning for the 3-4 hours ride back to the boat. 

13/5/05 The rain did clear and the scenic rode back to Fushiki uneventful, arriving in time for lunch and to exchange my last yen to dollars at the bank. I was at the wharf by 1 pm and cars were being loaded by crane all over the deck. I later noticed that a couple of hundred motorcycles had already been loaded into all the smaller areas, tied to the guard-rails. Cars were manoeuvred into every available larger space, the empty swimming pool taking three. As the boat has been off the run for the last month, usually runs weekly, the number of passengers, and consequently their Japanese purchased vehicles much larger than usual.Cars everywhere on the boat to Russia, even three in the swimming pool Along with them comes the spare parts, tyres, wheels and other consumer goods right down to the toilet paper. Some come on the boat regularly to buy mainly cars or tyres, others combine a holiday with a vehicle purchase. Most are small operators. The actual vehicle deck was not loaded till last, and fortunately my motorcycle could fill a gap to small for a car and was out of the weather, but not loaded till 5.30 pm. I never saw customs again and no-one asked to see any motorcycle paperwork or the carnet. My booked cabin was already full but they managed to find a bunk in a double cabin with ensuite, an upgrade from the booked 4 berth. I am one of eight non Russians on the boat, the only motorcyclist. The Russians had come across on the boat two days earlier, kept their accommodation on the boat and were now returning. I had paid 22,800 Yen or $US 215.00 for me and 10,000 Yen or $US 94.00 for the motorcycle, no loading fees. Hiroyuki booked this for me directly to United Orient Shipping and Agency Co Ltd. We left at 6.30 pm, thirty minutes late, while most passengers were enjoying dinner, all meals included in the price. A filling stodgy meal, like I expect in Russia, vastly different from the delicate cuisine of Japan.

Move with me to Russia

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