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This ride report is very old and the information is out of date – it was my very first overseas ride. Please go to my Japan info pages for more recent information.

Riding a motorcycle in Japan was something I had wanted to try for some years and now am very happy to have succeeded in doing.

The roads were as I had thought – fantastic for riding and actually beyond my expectations. Despite a lot of rain I have to rate it as some of the best riding I have ever experienced.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

I decided on a selection of roads in the Nagano Japanese Alps as my main target and around Mt Fuji as a secondary target if the weather was good. I sourced where to ride from a best 100 roads magazine shown below that I had picked up in Japanese bookshop.

I made a booking for motorcycle rental despite the weather forecast being rain and just hoped for the best. I rented a BMW 1150R from Kokubo in Hachioji-shi a suburb of Tokyo which lies a fair way out to the west. I chose them so as to avoid riding in the more busier areas closer to Tokyo’s centre.

Besides BMW’s they also rent Buells however they don’t speak much English. The paper work you need to fill out is in Japanese only and you might need someone to assist despite it being a one page simple name, contact details, international license details, vehicle being rented and sign here procedure. You naturally need to present passport and international license. Cost was about $150 a day with full insurance, smaller motorcycles those 400cc and below are cheaper as is weekly rental.

I was given a document that I was told to present to police upon request and gather it to be some sort of statement about the vehicles registration/safety certificate. It was teeming down with rain but with a forecast of improvement so I travelled back to where I was staying with the hope of a break in the weather. Riding a new to me motorcycle in very heavy rain with poor visibility in another country and feeling cold water leaking in my jacket at upper chest area I did for a moment wonder what the hell I was doing.

It rained heavy on and on, well so much for my original plans. Eventually I left Tokyo and my moto is better to try than sit and wonder. I chose to ride straight out of Tokyo on the Chuo Tollway skipping Isu which I had wanted to ride and aim for the alps. All the major highways in Japan are toll roads. Here are some photos of the Chuo expressway.

Just prior to entering the highway network you will need to stop at a toll both at the entry ramp to obtain a toll card and present the same at the toll booth on the off ramp when exiting. Expect to pay around $15 per hour of travel or thereabouts as a rough guide – note actually distance based charge however I don’t have the exact details. The ETC marked lanes at toll gates are for vehicles with automatic toll payment systems so do not use them. Leaving Tokyo you will first pay a fee of 600Yen ($6.00) when entering the network which is the flat fee for any where out as far as Hachioji-shi where you will encounter large toll gate on the expressway itself and obtain a toll card at a automatic machine to continue.

I ran into rain within an hour and stopped outside one of the many huge highway tunnels in the mountains west of Tokyo to put on my wet weather gear. Exiting the mountains the weather improved and I stopped at one of the many highway service centres you will find on the Japanese highway network to get out of my wet gear and grabbed a coffee.

I found there are a lot of full service petrol stations still in Japan where the attendants come to fill your tank and you will need to be able to say two things “man-tank’ meaning full tank and ‘hi-oct’ meaning premium. There are also full auto petrol stations and these are a bit tricky. You need to insert money into machine, then select correct pump however they are not always clearly marked as to which one is premium, and then after filling select a button to get your change which comes from another machine centrally located in the middle of all the pumps.

From Suwa I rode north and climbed my first mountain road destination, The Venus Line:

As you can see the weather was ominous.

Really very little English if any on the road signs. I had no navigation other than paper map. I stopped at intersections frequently to look for the route number and long as I could find that I was able to navigate.

Above the clouds on the Venus line.

This is the scene I had found in an unrelated article about Japan and decided I had to find that road and ride it. Today here I am and despite it being a little damp that just made it look even more amazing.

I ran into rain at the top of the incredible Venus Line road and it really was very heavy as I rode down the other side with rivers of water gushing across the road with visibility down to a few metres however this eased soon as I got below the cloud line and I had a reasonable ride down route 62 where I stopped and looked at the heavy rain in the mountains ahead and decided to turn back south on route 152 towards Suwa.

I sat out more rain in a Royal Host family restaurant and aired and then made the decision to go to my accommodation for tonight which was a Rider Inn. These are hotels for motorcycle riders which are often old ski hotels or other hotels that have a new life as the residence of the owner and offering basic accommodation for riders.

After a day in saddle which I rode through two storms I was ready for a hot shower, now of course Japanese love baths and hot springs in particular so I was able to relax in a huge hot tub outside the lodge listening to the water rushing past a nearby stream – superb.

I had to dig deep to try and communicate with the lodge owner as my Japanese is rather poor but two people with a love of riding and motorcycles we got by despite the language difficulties and I enjoyed a hearty dinner and relaxing in the inn’s dining room which had a huge collection of Japanese motorcycle magazines. This place fills up on weekends with many riders from Tokyo coming up to ride the alpine regions.

It rained heavy again that night however the next day it was clearing with the sun shining – woohoo! I bid the Motive Lodge farewell with an nice early start and riding along the start of the Venus Line from the Lodge I had one of those rare moments when you feel a real joy inside and think how wonderful it is to be alive and stopped to take in the fresh clean air and think which way to tackle the days riding.

I had by now lost too much time with rain so I decided to simply ride to Shiga Kusatsu and return via some more of route 40 which forms another part of the Venus line and if time permitted try take in another road I had thought to ride in the area called the Panorama line.

This is another great road. Very cold with snow still on the roadside in places but least it was not raining.

Picnic lunch from a 7-11 store was perfect.

Some of the lower Venus line route 40 then it was time to get back on the expressway to Tokyo.

So I might say I was a bit unlucky with the weather although in hindsight Japan has no dry season and I was not even in the best season for riding so that I got a couple of decent days actually was good.

Navigating by paper map in a land with no English and where I don’t speak the language was challenging. I will definitely ride this country again some day but will want to have 3 things sorted – a GPS, better rain gear and choose a less rainy season.


  1. Thanks for the great write up ^

    I live in Kyushu and it’s great to read up on some1 else’s experience of another part of Japan..

  2. Your welcome! – I might try to ride Kyushu in the future.

    I have two of the Outrider special edition magazines and hope to get their ‘best 10’ rides magazine for Kyushu in the future.

  3. That was a wonderful blog! Great pictures too!

    I am an American living in far northern Japan, in Aomori prefecture. I learned to ride in July so that I could more effectively explore more of Japan. My wife is working here, and since I do not speak Japanese I do not work. Conveniently, it allows me to spend about 5 days a week riding around Aomori, hehehehe.

    I avoid the toll roads at all costs, and usually make a 5-7 hour day of it.

    If you are going to be in the area anyway, I suggest dropping by http://www.misawariders.com, it is the local American motorcycling community board. Just stop by and say ‘hello’ before you head in, let us know you are coming, and we can direct you to some great roads. There are tons of wonderful mountain roads, coastal roads, and farm roads where you can really get out and have a blast.

    I’m glad you enjoyed Japan. I love this place, and in the next two years I’ll be working on a plan to keep the family here, lol.

    Take care and have fun!

  4. Thanks John, I would not mind living there myself – just earning an income that concerns me.

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