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Rob and Dafne de Jong,

Ride-on in Japan

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Ride-on... Japan

Konichi-wa, We have arrived in Japan and the amount of first impressions is incredible. We are very glad to be here and already regret that we were not able to travel through South East Asia.

Shipping and flying

The shipping of our sidecar from Los Angeles is going easy and smooth, due to the good and free care of one of the big container shippers in the world, P&O Nedlloyd. Unnecessary to say that we are really happy to have earned their support. Due to strict regulations we unfortunately were not able to join the ship ourselves, so we can only imagine what live onboard a big containership is like. Our Yammie was luxuriously nailed and strapped down in a container and of course we looked back one time for a last goodbye when driving off the docks with the Kawasaki Z1000 with Globe sidecar of a friend (thanx again Alex) before returning to our temporary home, a little caravan behind ever so friendly Doug and Liz Bingham's house.

Time to work

The Motorcyclist (June) issue with our article has already come rolling off the press. Great, the money comes just in time to buy our airplane tickets.

We have some time left though before we will fly to Tokyo and we hope to be able to earn 'a buck or two'. "Rob, can you be there and there at 7 AM tomorrow?" Doug Bingham, who has been very busy with his sidecars on several Hollywood movie sets (see the sidecar-pursuit scene in Indiana Jones and (?) the Temple of Doom) covers the phone with his hand. "Yes, with Alex' sidecar; you have to drive an actress up-and-down the set a few times. I asked for 300 bucks and that was okay." Also Alex asked around and while Dafne was working on some more articles, I joined Dan installing some air conditioners.

Time to say goodbye rapidly came closer. We pay a visit here and there and have another party with a braai (South African for barbecue) at Jasper's, a Dutchie whom we call 'the friendly ghost' (in Tokyo we found out that this cartoon character's name is Kasper). Jasper is married to Stacy and father of his newborn son JJ. Jasper has recorded a whole collection of Dutch popular songs that we had not heard for a long time. The effect was amazing. Too bad we could not empty those bottles this time. Work at the movie set tomorrow.

Japan

The first days in Japan we stayed with Chris Lockwood, who by now seems to have dedicated his life to world travelers and indeed is a great source of information and a steady rock in Japan for all of us (thanx Chris). His Japanese style apartment is small but cozy and has tatami floors which are a kind of very finely woven 'grass' mats, a very sensitive natural product, easily harmed when walking on them with your shoes on.

Shoes-on shoes-off is therefore the motto for the coming months and it does not take long to find out (tatami or not) how big the impact of this culture is on us, who are walking on heavy boots with shoelaces. Even in the schools and in many offices shoes are taken off and there are always some extra pairs of slippers available for visitors.

One of the many shrines we passed.

One of the many shrines we passed

 

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de Jong's Home

Travel Stories, English:

January 2002,
Ride on 2002...
October 2001,
Ride on Home
July 2001,
Russia and
Siberia
April 2001,
Japan
Jan 2001,
Arizona
Dec 2000,
California
Oct 2000, L.A
to Fresno via
Inuvik
Sep 2000,
New Zealand
July 2000,
Australia part 2
April 2000 India
and Australia,
part 1
Dec 1999,
Istanbul
to Kathmandu
Nov 1999,
Shoeshine boy
of Gondar

Sept 1999,
Uganda to
Turkey
May 1999,
Zimbabwe to
Uganda
Dec 1998,
South Africa
and Namibia
Sept 1998,
Swaziland &
Lesotho

June 1998,
S. Africa 1
April 1998,
W.Africa 2
March 1998,
W. Africa 1

Travel Stories, In het Nederlands:

July 2001,
Rusland en
Siberie
April 2001,
Japan
Jan 2001,
Arizona

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Blossoms

Spring is in the air in Japan and that Saturday Chris takes us around Tokyo to see the cherry blossoms in the trees. Cherry blossoms do to the Japanese what Christmas presents do to children; for a while already they have been visible, but you cannot smell or touch them yet. The weekend that the blossoms are out the Japanese go crazy and it's time to celebrate the Hanami festival. The parks and gardens are full of people, picnicking under the trees. Tokyo's youth is a bizarre lot. A kind of 'Flower Power' is hanging in the air. Teenagers dress remarkably: Girls in petticoats and strange skirts and headwear, some faces painted white or blue.

First impressions "How about sushi?" Chris opens the door to a sushi-bar. A few times already we had stopped in front of restaurants to look in their windows at a remarkable display of (real) food on stylish dishes, preserved in a plastic coating. Here and there the spaghetti rises up from the bowl, two chopsticks hanging in the air since a hand holding them was not available.

In the middle of the sushi bar is part of the kitchen around which the bar and a ring, on which little dishes with pieces of raw/cooked/smoked (shell)fish and sweet egg on little pieces of sticky rice are being endlessly paraded past your nose on a kind of driven belt. Some pieces are wrapped in a leaf of seaweed, others are decorated with shiny red fish-eggs or a green hot touch of horseradish. "Take me," is what every dish seems to tell you. The Japanese like green, slimy and jelly things, we notice, as we have seaweed in our misu soup, seaweed and 'grass' balls, green cake and all kinds of slimy things. Also, many things we expected to taste sweet happen to be salty, spicy or bitter.

Especially the Japanese kitchen and eating culture keeps us busy, discovering new smells and tastes and also sounds every day, as you are allowed to slurp when eating spaghetti with chopsticks (it is necessary if you want to win the fight with the spaghetti). Japan being the first Oriental Asian country on our tour (coming from the USA) off course made the contrast even better.

With a group of young children we make paper hats.

With a group of young children we make paper hats

Small, smaller, smallest

In many (of the rich) countries people say that everything in Holland is small. Tokyo reminds us of Holland in several ways, with many narrow streets and people walking and bicycling everywhere. It's a lively city and because the crowd is so thick, everything has to be small. We see tiny cars and tiny trucks (are specially designed for the Japanese market). To be able to own a car here you must own a parking spot first, which is often more expensive than the car.

This explains the amount of mopeds, scooters and motorcycles we see in Tokyo. Many of them are small too, not only in cc, but also in size, like made for children, only here adults are wrapping themselves around them to split the lanes of ever jammed Tokyo. So, to drive around inhabited area's our patience was put to a severe test; to go 25 km in morning traffic takes you 2.5 hours. Outside the rush hour you still need one hour though. The main roads are flooded with off ramps and the amount of traffic lights is unreal. You hardly ever reach 5th gear and sometimes you only realize later that in one acceleration you have passed two sets of traffic lights.

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Let me see what's next? "People wash their rubbish before throwing it away," Rob helps me, grinning. "Oh yes, and people walking dogs always carry a plastic bag for the shit. When they return home the contents of the bag is deposited in the sewer-system. Pretty good, isn't it? The plastic bag needs to be recycled, after being cleaned, of course." We have not seen any dogs living in the houses. They all have their doghouses in the tiny yards. Must have to do with the fact that they cannot take off their shoes.

We met great people in Japan and loved staying with them, sleeping on futons, which are put away in big closets with sliding doors. Japanese traditional toilets I had never seen before. It's a long narrow porcelain pot, which is built in a tiled or cemented floor about 30 cm above the original floor. The front of the pot is v-shaped and sticks out of the raised floor a little.

I have never before had to make the choice which way to face when going to the toilet, to either sit on your heels with your feet on the raised floor or hanging over it with your feet on the lower ground. I could also choose to sit down on the porcelain edge. The modern toilets are also another thing. With heated seats and all kind of switches, activating different types of fountains or bidets to wash your behind.

Ride-on Japan

To get our sidecar (the Japanese say sidocah) out of the port only needed some patience. We were staying with Sumio and Akiko of the Japanese Sidecar Community (JSC) at that moment and could borrow Akiko's Kawasaki 250 to ride to the port. All kind of forms needed to be filled in, including one to import all the stuff that's not on your carnet (everything but our sidecar) and that took a while. But, since the total value of these did not exceed 30 dollars, one hour later the conclusion of all the papers was that we did not have to pay any duties.

In Japan your carnet needs to be authenticated by the Japanese Automobile Federation (JAF) before you can get your bike through customs. We also got an official paper explaining in Japanese that our sidecar has been legally temporarily imported in Japan and that we are allowed to drive the Japanese roads. Every year an average of only 20 foreign vehicles are temporarily imported in Japan and many a police officer has no idea what to think/do when seeing a foreign license plate in his country.

South of Kyoto in Nara province the police stop us. 4 officers sit down on their heels behind our sidecar, staring at our number plate. "No passport," they ask again, after we already have explained three times that we had to leave them behind at the Russian embassy to get our visa. We show the receipt that was given to us. Although they say that they don't speak English, we expect them to understand more than they want to make us believe. "Please wait!" is the reaction.

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More and more police officers arrive and soon 11 officers including the boss are sitting behind our sidecar, pointing at our Dutch number-plate. "I should take a picture," I think, but don't get permission. I feel that this is going to take a long time and decide to take out our presentation book, that by now also features some Japanese newspaper cuttings.

A car stops and the driver jumps out saying: "Hello I am monkey, can I help you?" We are not really in the mood to ask him to climb a tree and get a coconut or bananas. He then explains that he is a passenger in the racing outfit of Watanabe san, whom we have met before in Tokyo. (A passenger is called "monkey" because they always hang themselves onto and over the sidecar). As Watanabe san had told the monkey (Hideyo) all about us a quick explanation is given to the police, who finally (after reading Japanese newspaper articles about us) decides that there is no problem and very nicely expresses to us their apologies. We are lucky. That night we spend at our new friend's house in Wakayama.

Coming home at Yamaha-motor Japan

Of course we have to visit the birthplace of our Yamaha and thanx to the introduction of Yamaha Nederland our visit is announced and a program made. We are warmly welcomed and received as special guests. It is an unexpected emotional event for us. Yamaha's interest is overwhelming and we cannot help being emotional. Three days we spent at Yamaha and their new Communication Plaza. We visit the factory where engines and bikes are assembled. XT600's, V-maxes XJR400. It is amazing to see how fast a cylinder head can be mounted on a four-cylinder engine (about 2 minutes).

On Saturday we are invited to ride our bike into the communication Plaza and set up a little exhibition about our trip. There's also room for a good selection of children's drawings. Again we meet interesting people and have a really nice conversation with Yoshida-san the Manager of the Communication Plaza, who is a world traveler himself, as in 1965 he had left Japan on his 250cc Yamaha not to be back in 1000 days. We feel like leaving home really when we drive off from Yamaha. Our Yammie looks even more beautiful then ever before, as first we had been very surprised that the few brake-pads, bearings and oil filters we had asked for happened to be packed in a real big box, out of which came a brand new petrol tank and seat. Japan treated us very well, we must say and special thanks must go to Arai Helmet, who gave us new helmets and will put our old ones in a museum. Fuji Film gave us plenty of film and developed all our film as well. The rep of K&N air filters in Japan (PLOT) gave us a new battery and Corofi, the rep of EZS side-cars in Japan gave us enough tires to make it back to Europe. Next to that Michio of Omi-san's Combination garage helped us with the preparation of the sidecar for Russia.

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Sidecar Rally

The JSC (Japanese sidecar Community) had their annual rally on 4-5-6 May and we were invited as special guests. It was held during a Japanese holiday; the so called Golden Week.

We were surprised by the amount of sidecars (saidocah in Japanese) and most of them were the more expensive ones too. We counted at least 6 Krauser Domani sidecars and these babies don't come cheap. But expensive or not most of them joined in the sidecar games. In one of the games were you have to shovel a plastic bottle with a broom along a circuit while riding we even finished first.

Great sidecars in Japan.

Great sidecars in Japan

We did a little slide-show and also Simon Milward came to visit on his hand made motorcycle. Simon's goal in this trip are 1) to raise funds for 'Doctors without Borders' and 'Riders for Health' and 2) to unite motorcyclists world wide to fight unreasonable lawmaking concerning motorcyclists by politicians who have no link to motorcycling.

Simon spoke to the sidecar riders about these issues. We have seen so many car-drivers in Japan who are looking at little TV-screens or GPS systems, making phone calls, having heavy discussions with passengers, reading books and newspapers and doing all sorts of things except paying attention to the road. If they knock over a bike while doing all these things then suddenly the motorcyclists are hard to spot, resulting in some really weird laws for motorcyclists. We have been away from al of this for a long time and found out that these politics even will interfere with motorcycle world travelling: How would it be to travel around the world if you cannot maintain your dear motorcycle yourself? Look for more on Simon's web-site www.millennium-ride.com.

There was a big party that night and after all the serious stuff we had time to drink, dance and take a Japanese steaming bath.

The World on a Children's drawing

We visited no less then 8 schools in Japan and everybody was very excited about it. The University of Yamagata which is busy with an International Understandings Program invited us too. Very official and we did the project with the children in front of 2 television crews. The reactions we received were very positive and we are very happy that the university will do some recommendations to take our project further.

We do our project at a Japanese school.

We do our project at a Japanese school

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The route

For those who are interested here quickly is our route. We unfortunately could not visit the northern island Hokkaido and also did not make it to Hiroshima. There has to be something left for next time, isn't it?

We drove from Tokyo (SW) to Izu peninsula, (NW) to Mt.Fuji, (SW) Shizuoka, (NE) Tokyo, (N) Iwaki, (N) Fukushima, (N) Sendai, (W) Mt.Zao, (W) Yamagata, (S) Nikko, (S) Utsonomiya, (S) Tokyo, (W) Kyoto, (S) Nara, (SW) Wakayama, (S) Shirahama, (NE) Tsu and Nagoya, (W) Hamamatsu, Shizuoka and Tokyo.

We rally liked the small country roads and especially Mt. Zao was fantastic, also because the weather that day was perfect.

At this moment we are on the ferry to Vladivostok with a couple of Austrian bikers. Patrick and Lorenz are doing a Trans Asia ride and are (like us) promoting SOS Children's villages. We think about riding the first part through Siberia together. Simon arrived in Vladivostok 2 weeks ago. Maybe we will see him down the road again.

Koinobories for boys day on the 5th of May.

Koinobories for boys day on the 5th of May

Thank you Japan So many people helped us in Japan that it would make too long a list to mention everyone. So without taking the risk of forgetting somebody we like to thank everybody at once. Arigato gozaimas! Greetings and a smile,

Ride on... Rob en Dafne de Jong

Story and photos copyright © Rob and Dafne de Jong 1998-2002.
All Rights Reserved.

Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.

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