I have read often that October is the best month for riding Japan. So I made sure I was here, even shelving other travel only for there to be a two typhoons! I was beginning to wish I had made other arrangements but eventually the rain eased so I decided to try a shortened Autumn leaf viewing ride.
Heading north I wanted to skirt around Tokyo as I don’t trust the Garmin to navigate me through the complex highway junctions. This made for more miles but less stress which is always my preference. The fine morning soon turned to light drizzle but riding the FJR in its preferred environment of the highway meant the aero dynamics deflected all but a tiny amount of water which was no challenge to my old Alpinestars waterproof semi waterproof two piece ride suit. Actually this Alpinestars winter riding gear has been with me for quite a few tours now, Europe, New Zealand, USA, Canada and Japan. It is really time to update. I spend far too much on bikes and not enough on the gear which makes or breaks the ride.
You see some odd things in Japan.
First port of call on the leaf viewing tour was Nikko and the weather was rather dull then clouded over completely so while the ride was still good the grey skies washed out the colour from everything. Never mind I returned later.
Interesting narrow (road) bridge led to an old road to abandoned house. Good spot for my picnic lunch. Saw the scene below when riding past – remember this as I will return to it later.
Leaving the tourist area of Nikko I rode over the superb multiple mountain ranges to the north where I came across this bridge near the summit almost in the clouds which with some light rain that had returned obscured the views back to the valley below.
Above is the sort of views that I enjoyed all the way back along the valley to the main route north. I even saw a family of monkeys but the photos on the phone are so bad I simply cannot post them. Unfortunately after this the drizzle returned and so I did not stop again. Day one route.
Terrific morning next day, I came into a region where the country side opened up. This is not common in Japan where almost everywhere is mountainous. Much as I like mountains and the roads that cross them it is nice to enjoy some more wide countryside and have the sky pushed back a bit more than usual.
On my way to Mt Bandai I rode along Lake Inawashiro. Very tranquil.
Next on my leaf viewing extravaganza was the Bandai Gold Line, a road noted for having spectacular autumn foliage however while far more pretty than these lousy photos suggest I was a little early here perhaps.
After the Gold Line I was going to try the Lake Line road but I could see ahead already was cloudy so just too the one photo below.
Unfortunately next the rain that had been threatening made a return going up Bandai Azuma Skyline. Such a shame as this was to have been the riding highlight of the tour.
This really is a amazing ride even if I was not able to capture it so well for you. I was lucky to get a semi dry run all the way up the southern side until I hit light rain at the summit and down the northern descent which is about 50 switchback corners. They are of a radius wide enough to be enjoyed on a smaller bike but wet with leaves on corners and riding a super heavy tourer the ride down was no fun at all.
The FJR. So good on the open roads but so much work on the tight and twisty roads – of which there are more in Japan then anything else. I took the 399 route north west out of Fukushima region and as often happens on low traffic roads in Japan the dual lanes became one in the mountain that is the border to Yamagata region where I was next headed. This road was zero traffic once the road narrowed and I could enjoy the beauty and the peace of the forest road.
Another slow descent on a narrow road with a lot of leaves on wet corners. The FJR is a real handful on small roads like this and I was feeling rather fatigued by mid afternoon. So I stopped and decided to abandon the rest of the planned loop in Yamagata and make a slow path across east to my hotel. I was disappointed to miss out on what looked like a spectacular mountain range but slowing it back down I could really enjoy the ride into Tendo and appreciate the sights along the way. Day two original too long route.
Above, apples and highways in the sky.
Day three I woke super early and looked out to a grey sky and wet roads. Well I thought at least it isn’t raining, ha-ha never tempt fate as by the time I had breakfast and loaded up it was. But only very light and I soon rode clear of that but it looked ominous in the mountains ahead. Next on my ‘tour-de-leaf’ was Mt Zao.
The ride up from the valley towards the Zao Echo line summit road is another road to make your say wow out loud, even wet, but the view to the valley below was obscured hard to capture and so I pushed on hopeful that the conditions would continue to hold as even wet on a overcast morning the leaves looked great, I can’t imagine with sun how much brighter the colour might be. Alas it all went pear shaped in short distance and the entire summit road was enshrouded in heavy mist.
Also of course missed out on what seemed like a mighty fine riding road to boot! Going down I stopped at the volcano but it was bitterly cold and obscured like Bandai volcano so I did not stick around long. Some more colour further on the descent made me happy then I came across a superb lookout back to the summit with two waterfalls flowing into the valley below. the scale is hard to grasp in the photo but it was a grand vista.
Started to really make my way south proper now on a series of scenic roads at the base of the nearby ranges. I came across a couple with what looked like the riding gear you saw in the CHIPS TV series about the LAPD, they would have been cold in the low temperature with ice cold wind blast off the lake.
Stopped at an abandoned mountain guest house. What a great spot, always gets me thinking what these places would sell for but I guess living there is not so convenient.
Next up I planned to trundle along some less travelled roads heading back south. When you get off the main roads you find so many interesting towns that are now bypassed or otherwise forgotten.
I was enjoying walking about a few towns and fell way behind so opted to find the nearest expressway and set the controls to warp 9 on a course bound for Nikko to try make it back to the lake area before the light faded. The expressway toll roads in Japan are lightly policed, there are visible front facing speed cameras which everyone except bikes with only rear plates slow for then speed back up. I generally set the cruise control for 100 and sit back but today I hooked myself a blocker as they are called in the USA who ran the gauntlet out front and I sat about 1/2 a km behind. We made quite rapid progress south then by good fortune this lead me to Nikko expressway, another toll road but combined they got me where I wanted quickly.
Remember the photo I took on day one and said I’ll come back to this later. Well with a bit of time up my sleave which I usually lack I went to find a way to take the photo I imagined when riding past above the lake with abandoned boats.
Well after that diversion I really was out of time, and light as darkness arrives about 5.00pm this time of year so I found myself a fair distance from my hotel when the Garmin decided to get irrational as it does every tour so long story short – I wound up riding the long way in heavy peak hour traffic in darkness – but even that could not ruin what was a fabulous day. Here is the original planned route.
Final day, woke and pulled back the hotel curtain and I’m punching the air saying its fine! fine! fine! (a-la LA story) so I got out of town after about 40 sets of lights, grr seriously Japan you don’t need traffic lights on every intersection. Today was Saturday and I was riding to Mt Fuji and that common movie line “it looks like we have company” sprang to mind because there were dozens and dozens of bikes on the same route as me. And what a fine route it was, magnificent roads hugging the lake and mountains. I pulled off the main road to soak it all in.
Recently I find myself taking fewer road photos. The thing is – and I am not exaggerating – here ALL the roads are amazing, so I seem to be forgetting to try capture that. I took a few photos of the roads after the lake but none seem to capture things.
Some really heavy weekend traffic around the Fuji 5 lakes area. I joined the other riders waiting for Fuji to appear from the clouds. (look top of photos, off centre to the right high in cloud. That’s one huge mountain. Click for larger photo)
There was still some great riding to the east of Fuji towards Tokyo but also I was mixed up with heaps of weekend traffic. A total log jam for many sections then a convoy of very slow vehicles so I just didn’t stop when I should have but here is one last photo, the sign hung on the back says touring all Japan, makes my effort look rather tame.
(I consider this my first proper tour of Japan, previous had all been shorter rides. Photos updated 2020)