July 24, 2008 GMT
JAPAN Weeks 6 & 7

8 July – 12 july

Arrival in the land of the Rising Sun.

Japan is a country steeped in tradition and tea in similar amounts.

Many of you will be familiar with the Japanese Emblem, and understand that it has symbolic reference to the dawn. Well perhaps, but I think a more accurate depiction is that of the usual colour of Japanese traffic lights. I wonder if Boris Johnson is going to use it for London? Our own particular dawning of this reality didn't strike until we lobbed ourselves onto the highways.

Japan is quite a contrast to dodgy areas of Vancouver. There is graffiti. Not much, I saw one patch on the two hour train journey into central Tokyo, but none since. Manners and hygiene are very obvious. Humbling really.

Clearing the bike through Customs took most of our first day, but the staff in the Narita Customs Office could not have been more helpful. They drew us maps, explained which trains, which stations to change at, and where to find the JAF (Japanese RAC,even down to the colour of the vans!)
They even phoned the JAF and told them to expect us, faxed a copy of the carnet document to give JAF time to check it before our arrival.
While there we were given a huge number of detailed road maps, and membership of JAF as we are AA members in the UK. Unfortunately they don't have maps in Romagi (Roman script)

On our return to Narita, we were guided through the process with courtesy and care. Passing between Customs and Airport requires showing passport and documents explaining your business, then there is the chitty to be filled in. (no clues here, its all in Japanese) However the guards helped us and explained that we needed to get a stamp from the office we were visiting. All was done with grace, dignity and a bit of bowing.
Then it was pointed out that the Customs needed the Original Airway bill to be stamped by the Air Canada cargo depot. And the customs office was about to close in 10 minutes. The cargo building was a 5 minute walk and two lots of guards and stamping. RUN they said!
We did the best we could The Guards smiled and saluted seeing the look of panic on our faces and the sheaf of papers we were both brandishing, and just waved us through.
Forms signed, stamped and a quick look at the container with the bike and back to await the final bit. One further stamp, a smile and “Welcome to Japan, you may collect your motorbike.” So no grueling inspections, no awkward questions just follow the rules.

The following day, Tasha and I were a bit tuckered out. We had made contact with Akiko, a lovely lady and friend of Joyce in Swindon. She drove to our hotel especially.


She explained that it would be a 2 hour journey. How far? Oh about 50 km.

This should have rang a warning bell. It wasn't until the following day that we steeled ourselves for abandoning the shelter, air-conditioning and fine cuisine of the Marroad International ( £70 pn).
We knew that japan was going to be tricky, as we have no language skills. The GPS seemed to have woken up and was showing map with place names, AND roads between them. Could we get it to do more than that, No. It would manage to accept a town name, start searching, then turn itself off.
So back to the maps.
Our first day took 8 hours to cover just over 120 miles. Our riding gear is blackened with exhaust smoke and we were becoming concerned about our rate of progress. Fortunately we managed to find a hotel within an hour of looking.
We had another bit of luck shortly after. We went for a short walk. well we had made it across the street, when I felt a spot of rain.
Japan is a wonderfully lush green colour where it isn't built on, almost jungle in places.
“Lets get under cover” .” Why?” asked Natasha. “You're just being a whoos.” “I don't think so. look how everybody has started running like the blazes, lets go.!”
And a good thing to. We made in into a covered market. Lightening,thunder and rain. Instant deluge.
The market was in full swing, with food stalls abounding. Many families were out, some with tiny tots wearing traditional Japanese kimonos, and playing games with fans. There were also quite a number of giggly teenage girls in packs, wearing the same delightful costumes. Geisha's they were not. And the rain bucketed down. People walked to avoid the puddles and had a good time. We tested some of the food, and that sorted where to eat for the evening.

We attempted an early start, and failed, but we were on the road by 8.30. Traffic was not as dense as the day before. Unfortunately our map and reality seemed to diverge, and we took a detour into housing area. Golly gosh, the streets are narrow, and two way! You couldn't fit two GS's let alone two cars down them. We found our way onto the route we had been following and Lo! about ¼ of a mile further on was the road sign we needed. Off we headed for the “Expressway” Now we were moving. The speed limit is posted as 80 kph. Yeah right!
So we settled down to fit in with our traveling companions at a more sensible 110-120 kph. Lets face it, you could be doing those numbers in mph and still it would seem slow. They are good roads.
We roasted as the temperatures went up to 36c or so. The expressway went north and into the mountains. Photographically it was a bit disappointing as it was very hazy. Then we started to go through tunnels. Every so often we would glimpse the sea, or an industrial complex squeezed into a valley.


I think we were underground for nearly as long as Michelle from the Resistance.The GPS isn't lot of cop either.
Through the mountains and the temperature dropped to a more comfortable 24c.


We spent a long time trying to find a bed for the night. There are plenty of places where you can get a bed for few hours and are very discrete. They also are terribly tacky. I am too old .
We are in a lovely hotel in Toyama. Tasha wants to stay here until we head for Russia, but I still hope to press down to Hiroshima. We aren't covering Canadian distances, but its much harder work. There was a lovely castle just round the corner from our hotel.


13 July
Toyama to Hiroshima

Now we are moving.

We stayed in a delightful hotel in Toyama that rescued us from the love hotels.

The staff were very attentive and helpful. We really did manage to be heading down Main Street towards the expressway before 9am. Considering we were both bashing away with emails at 5 am, it wasn't the fastest of getaways. While I was loading the bike, one of the hotel taxi drivers came to have a look. I showed him the “where we've been” map. He was effusive in his amazement, or was explaining we must be mad. He then gave us three cartons of energy drink well I hope thats what it was. He even went and found some mini ice packs to keep them chilled. Later in the morning we were very grateful for his kindness.
By the time we had settled onto the Expressway, having collected the ticket from the correct place,the temperature was already 30c.
With every vent, zip and button undone (that decency permits) We headed south.
The expressways are very well signed. So long as you sort a few place names, the signs are easy to follow, and there are more of them than in Canada.

We came across very few bikers, Some we passed, others whistling past us. None of the camaraderie that we have in Europe, and compared to Canadians, the Japanese bikers seem positively uptight. We have had quite a few friendly waves from people on big scooters. Car drivers seem courteous, but unblinkingly focused on the task of driving.

We found the heat a bit unpleasant as it rose towards the high 30's. While moving it was OK, but fuel and dealing with Major Bumsore stops were not fun.
I discovered a beverage with the appealing title “Pocari Sweat” It is excellent. If you don't need it, it tastes salty. If you do need it, it is pleasant, slightly sweet and seems to help your eyes focus.
We had many tunnels again today, namely around 50 km of them.


After over 400 km we coasted in to Hiroshima. We are probably in one of the fanciest hotels in the City. It was a) open, b) had somewhere obvious to stop, c) had staff that spoke English and d) had a vacancy.
The fact that it is quite stunning, and they found room for the bike in the vegetable store, under lock and key is a bonus.
Tomorrow we will visit the Atom bomb museum and it will be an opportunity for us to Compare and Contrast the different manifestations of nuclear experiments. We already have a bit too much experience with the Chernobyl one.

14 - 16 July
Hiroshima Hot!

We woke feeling very rested. Probably because I had been too tired to add up the mileage, which was close to 400 Miles, not km
The backs of my hand are burnt, and I had buttered them with factor 30.
We also figured that we needed an ATM with a moderate degree of urgency.
So we went sightseeing.
The Atom Bomb museum is on a large site dedicated as the Peace Park. There are within it many poignant memorials to those who lost their lives. The most dramatic building is the crumbling Prefecture Building.


We took many photos,and while wandering around spotted a boat trip to Miyajima Island. It was a place recommended to us by some of the Japanese passengers on our flight from Canada.
A truly lovely place. We stumbled through the rising heat to visit a shrine, pagoda , Temple and the famous “floating gate”. As the tide was out the illusion was somewhat diminished, but it was still better than Weston Super Mare at low tide.
We also found an ATM in the tiny covered market, that took International cards. (Unlike any in the main Hiroshima railway station.)

The A Bomb museum is.. well Charley Borman would definitely said AWSOME again. It is well explained, and does not disguise that there was a war.

The exhibit has many “pick it up, run your hands over,” items. The power of the blast is still shocking. We don't want too many of them.

We returned to the main station, and spend some time trying to find our way through the maze of plazas and shopping venues in the station. Oh come on, its only a station. Well I have not seen one on seven levels. with trains on three.
What we do want is a shiny set of Bullet Trains.
We haven't travelled in one, but hearing them glide into a station, or better seeing one elegantly flying through the countryside is excitement enough.

This morning we had a newspaper delivered to our room. It seems that on the day we did the journey from Toyama to Hiroshima, 270 people were admitted to hospital will heat related illnesses. So its HOT.

Today we have started the move back to Toyama. The plan has been to do some sightseeing around the most spectacular Japanese Castle in Himeji . We found a hotel, and have turned the Air con on Its 38 again. We did have a bit of an explore, but Natasha has threatened me with a replay of the trans Canada Highway incident. People walking around outside have wet towels on their heads. Well the blokes do. The ladies have dinky little parasols and look un-flustered.
Yet again we hope to get away early, but even at 6am it's 29C, at least it was this morning.

17 - 18 July
Himeji and back to Toyama

We managed to be heading from this historic city at 5am. The cunning plan was to try to avoid some of the unbearable temperatures.That is how the Himeji Castle looks at dawn.


It was 29C while loading the bike, and by the time we had found our way back to an Expressway, it was back over 30. The low sun made sign spotting a bit tricky.


The journey was made with a feeling of sadness partly because we were leaving the polite clean country and about to enter something that would contrast rather starkly, but also because we had lost our good camera, with all the Hiroshima pictures. But the silver lining was that amongst the pictures was one with BB wearing a very fetching Kimono.

We were beyond boiling when we arrived in Toyama. At least we knew where we were heading. It seemed cool in the parking area. It was shaded. While we were faffing about deciding where to park, one of the tiny receptionist came running out, flung some huge laundry bags aside and a couple of bicycles to make room for us.
Reception itself seemed like a fridge.
The next project was to source a replacement camera.
We started in a large mall nearby. Asked a young mad who indicated a bit further down and right. We had gone about 100 yards when he came running up to us and gently steered us in the right direction.
After we returned home with a new camera we got an email from Akiko that our good camera had been handed in at the hotel and it is on its way to Akiko & then to our home in England!!! So in the end all our nice pictures of the Castle & beautiful Japanese gardens might be with us!
The evening was spent with Brendon attending to the laundry, while Natasha endured, or enjoyed the delights of the ladies only bath house.
She said that the mineral bath was very hot. As Natasha's idea of a warm bath is something approaching molten lava, I shudder to think just how hot it was.
Overnight it rained. Deep joy, as it was still tipping it down as we breakfasted and packed. Check the weather. Humidity 98% (Isn't that getting close to breathing water?)
We travelled the few K to Fushiki on a slippery road in sauna.

Posted by Brendon Ball at July 24, 2008 08:55 AM GMT

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