Japan is such a varied country. I have just completed one of the most scenic motorcycle tours I have ever ridden. If you have a moment take a look at some of the sights on my 14 day journey exploring autumn in rural Japan.
My plan was to ride to the bottom of the island of Kyushu at a relaxed pace with the tour focused on riding foremost but with some time to stop and smell the roses or in this case see the autumn leaves. To assist me in planning the route I am gradually collecting the series of Touring Mapple road map books. These are produced for riders and attempt to show some of the best riding roads. The suggestions are not always my idea of a nice road but even so using these vastly improved my route choice this year over the previous.
Another new thing for this tour was I obtained a little action camera, the tiny polaroid cube which I picked up highly discounted. I am not a fan of POV video but the cube can also take stills and thanks to a powerful base magnet and waterproof body can just sit on the tank and be picked up to try grab something extra while I am moving. The photo results have not been great but the video it takes is fine so maybe I will start to incorporate some in the future.
The Cube is sitting on my regular camera above to give an idea of size.
Day one was half about getting away from the Tokyo area. Living on a coastal peninsular to the south I have two options to join the main expressway west. I can go about 50 km out of my way north towards Tokyo or I can go west along the scenic beach area and maybe get a view of the elusive Mt Fuji but all on minor urban roads that can be highly congested. Today I took the latter and despite being 6.30am on a Sunday the roads were already slow. I think neither has much of an advantage and miss living in Nagoya where I could access great riding so easy.
All sorts of bikes at the Hamamatsu highway service centre.
In the afternoon I could get off the expressway and enjoy some riding in the Aichi district. Some I had ridden before when living there but I only explored a small fraction of the good roads nearby. Riding Japan for me makes everything always fresh and new. Every ride is full of the joy you experience when travelling on a nice road for the first time. Adding to that pleasure this trip I had finally found a way to make the FJR go around corners easy having replaced the rear dog bone links to raise the rear ride height 30mm which has transformed the handling of the bike. You can read about my ongoing review here. Below the view from the Chausuyama area.
I am not including the .gpx routes this trip but rather some maps showing an overview of each day (which you can click to enlarge) All my routes are on RidewithGPS if interested just leave a message. Day one’s route below is brought to you today’s vending machine coffee beverage, the Tully’s latte.
Day two. I could hear the rain on the window pane during the early morning and indeed when looking out side it was rotten weather. I enjoyed a long breakfast, something dangerous for the waist in the Route Inn hotel chain as their buffet is huge and looked at all the weather data. The radar showed it was wide spread and forecast said no let up until afternoon. Not much point to try ride on narrow mountain roads in these conditions so I stayed longer at the hotel. Eventually I wandered out on to the expressway and it was a very cold 10 degrees. Add the rain and it was miserable on even the FJR with all it’s comfort. I stopped after a short while for a coffee and to check for garment water leaks.
On cold wet days I do sometimes look at things like this 660cc convertible and think besides being warm and dry it probably is cheaper to purchase, register and insure. But I know where I would rather be when it is fine.
Another rider appeared out of the mire to join me which on rainy days boosts the morale to not be the sole biker. Eventually the steamy hot coffee ran out and I had to make tracks so I just sloshed it on the expressway direct to my next hotel destination which only took 3 hours riding as this was in a straight line Vs my intended route which was a big loop of about 6 hours riding. Never thought I’d say this but not having a seat heater is actually something lacking on the FJR. (in comparison to a BMW) Laugh you may but spend a few hours in the rain at 10 degrees with the cold water close to your lower body parts – and you may find yourself in agreement with me.
On this tour I am using my Alpinestars Andes Tourer two piece goretex style ride outfit. This is the entry level touring set from Alpinestars but besides nicer styling I cannot see what the big difference is to the more expensive models from them or indeed from other brands. Both held up ok today but the rain was not bucketing down. You can read my updated reviews of the jacket and pants by following those links, neither items are free of flaws but neither are bad either. Still too early to check in so I hung out at a KFC for a late lunch. First time to eat KFC in Japan and have to say Japan KFC is perhaps the worst I have had the world over. Thai KFC with the super spicy local dishes served with rice is by far the best, Malaysia comes 2nd with the satay and soup sets and then maybe Aussie KFC which is the only one with the chips/fries done in the style that you get in Australia.
My 2nd night destination was Tsuruga. A west coast Japanese regional town in a state of decay/reform. Three out of four shops are closed up but the city is renovating and with wide streets and covered walkways it was a nice place to stroll around. Since I have no ride photos today here is the towns beautiful new solar powered train station with the sun peeking out at the end of day.
A famous Japanese animator seems to have come from here or set his stories here and the streets have a lot of his art work from the series. Shame I am not into anime or I could tell you more. Instead with time on my hands I did a selfie with the phone self timer camera, the results of which I was quite pleased with. Then had a terrific curry at CoCo’s curry chain so hot it made me break out into a sweat which I washed down with a few glasses of Spanish red. Nice end to a soggy day.
Day two (intended route) below is brought to you by todays coffee, Lawson’s Machi Latte.
Day three. The sun is trying to come out even if there are rain clouds still clinging to the mountains. I started with a ride along the coast and was a little surprised to find such nice beach areas within 15 minutes of the town yet with no houses, shops or hotels. I have seen this before too and it has been noted by others who have been here much longer than me that with the exception of a few places near mega cities Japan has not developed much of a beach culture.
Next up was a ride on the Rainbow Line. A scenic toll road that showcases the area in Obama of the 5 lakes. Now the weather here did not play fair being fine either side of the mountain but giving me grey clouds and skies to wash out my photos. It still was an amazing view point and a place I will make a return trip to in the future.
The skies then cleared as I left but no time to return today so that is just how it goes some times. But I never had any rain on me which was the main thing so I was not unhappy.
After here I enjoyed a fine but at times overcast day of riding on excellent roads in some of the Kyoto district. I took a few photos with the Cube but they didn’t come out well. There is a long delay from when the button is pressed to take a photo and when it actually does, like 3 or 4 seconds ha-ha! which is comical I guess and no idea how they could think that was going to be useful. I had my usual picnic light lunch having hit the buffet breakfast again. I found a nice park next to one of the many dams that dot the valleys in Japan to stretch the legs. The autumn foliage was starting appear in earnest from here as I rode on.
Some terrific roads as I climbed from the ocean to the mountains via rural valleys. It got rather cool again, 10 degrees in many of the mountain passes. Grip heaters were on. A nice feature of the FJR is the actual amount of heat on each of the three settings for the grips is customisable from level one barely warm to level ten too hot to hold.
Tonight’s destination was another coastal town this time Tottori which is famous for it’s sand dunes so I went to take a look in the afternoon. The sun like yesterday had decided to appear for the last hour and I was able to use the light. Parking next to someone on a more leisurely tour then mine it would seem.
And the dunes.
Todays route is brought to you by Prime One iced coffee.
Day four. Today was fine and I started by retracing my route a little to look at something I spotted browsing the Google maps. A train station called Hayabusa.
Lots of Suzuki stuff and a wall where Hayabusa riders were adding their photos and more in the old Station Masters office, The station like all rural ones now is unmanned but the line still operates. As always in Japan so nice to see everything is left untouched in public spaces like this. In Australia it all would vandalised and the posters stolen.
As a former railway guy I know this sort of operation is not really sustainable but I hope it might be subsidised a little longer as it is a special slice of older Japan still on display. I always say people will take a train ride just for the journey but they will never do the same with a bus so the future of these lines depends on people working with that.
After this nice interlude the day unfolded as one of the most enjoyable I have had in some time. I was riding in a region between Tottori and Okayama. Most of the morning was spent rising low traffic rural roads tracing valleys and enjoying the wonderful rural Japan which is often frozen in another time. The leaves were now all showing signs of colour.
The Cube photos are low res and of the 100’s I took unfortunately only a few are kind of useable but I will try downsize them and make a collage or two.
From the rural valleys I next climbed up high crossing a series of mountains with constant views back towards the west coast and the ‘Fuji of the west’ Mt Daisen.
The above does not capture the grandeur nor the tranquillity of this part of Japan. I seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and never saw another car for very long periods of time. Magical journey. As I descended towards Matsue, my destination for the night I came to one of the jaw dropping circle roads one finds occasionally in Japan. In the city this sort of infrastructure is not surprising but in the rural areas it always takes me by surprise. Very hard to photo so below is borrowed from the web (hence photo is another season).
The above photo would have been taken from the bridge in my photo below which I snapped in the car park of the rest area. A lovely old lady there was selling home made sweet bread so I purchased some and she gave me a glass of warm milk produced from her own cows. Both were really good.
This road was part of route 314 and the whole afternoon was wonderful riding. The sort you could just do forever.
A terrific days riding and I topped it off by taking a walk to the seaside to thank Mr Sun for such a nice day, Later I managed to find a nice place for dinner (instead of my usual simple meal in my hotel room) and a few glasses of an excellent red from Chile.
Todays route brought to you by vending machine beverage Georgia, The Premium.
Day five. Today I was revisiting the area that I found so interesting when I rode south last year. That time it was raining and I only got to see a small part before making for my hotel room to dry out but this time I could slow it down and soak up the rural vibe. My route took me south again between the districts of Shimane and Hiroshima. Another farming area with small towns that I find so enjoyable to visit. Here I am stopped in the region where I took a photo last year, the figures are for the festival of the scarecrow and seeking good luck for the community.
Hanging out with all my friends. Below an old temple I saw tucked away off the road was a nice side trip.
There are abandoned houses everywhere in Japan, about 8 million of them according to recent reports. Then there are all the abandoned hotels and resorts as well. Wonder what this place is going for. Later on today riding south I hit ‘peak leaf’. I arrived in an area where the mountains as far as the eye could see had turned yellow. If only the skies had not been all grey and gloomy. I have done the best I can with light available to try capture some of it.
I came upon another park rest area at a hydro electric dam complex and stopped for a light lunch having hit the buffet hard at breakfast. Then riding away I saw in the corner of my eye the lower sections of the dam had water that was very still and this gave me an idea to try get a photo. Below is the result.
It remained cloudy with damp roads and rain all around except not on me so I was happy. I was riding along high in the valleys on some spectacular roads. Later as I got closer to the coast I found myself tracing the path of one of the stony riverbeds common in Japan through a lush conifer lined valley when I came across an impressive foot bridge across to an old rail station where another of those single carriage trains runs from the coast along the valley to the mountains. It was good this trip to have time to stop and look at things like this that interested me. I often am too focussed on getting to somewhere when the journey there is what really matters.
Just when I thought the day was done and the rain was almost on top of me I came to this park about 30 km out from todays destination the city of Hofu on the inland sea of Japan. What an incredible day of colour and sights. Todays route below brought to you by Starbucks iced cafe latte.
Day six. Today was to be a shorter day so I could catch up with washing but it was still a beautiful ride. From Hofu I actually crossed over to the north side of Yamaguchi region to travel over a bridge. Yes I kind of have a thing for bridges, I should have been a bridge engineer perhaps rather than a (former) railway guy but then lots of people like bridges. (err don’t they?)
So many aspects to Japan. What a change from cold and gloomy grey yesterday in the mountains to today on the west coast. Just out of the town of Nagota are these wonderful deserted beaches with no waves and shallow clear water that reminded me of water in Philippines (although I bet the water is not as warm). Not a soul around? I would have beach shack right there. And then Tsunoshima. So worth it And because my video and POV video in general sucks here is a professional version from Yamaha. *best viewed on the YouTube site in larger window not through this blog.
I had lunch at the light house on Tsunoshima. Everywhere in Japan someone has set up paid parking at any attraction but on a bike I just laugh at them and find a place to park on the shoulder or footpath. The weather today was really warm, actually I had to take the jacket liner out. Turning around and continuing my journey south next was another bridge, the one that took me to the southern main island of Kyushu. It is huge, just a shame so much haze and smog about from the city that is just out of frame to the right. On Kyushu before my hotel I first went to an area called Hiraodai where there is an interesting rocky landscape and being on top of a mountain some nice roads.
I got some poor navigation after this into todays destination of Nakatsu on congested secondary roads instead of the main expressway. My own fault as I know too well how poorly the Garmin navigates some aspects of Japan and did not examine the route in the device closely enough. That said I would not wish to ride here without a GPS and user defined routing. I did that on my first ride here in 2008 and it was a lot of work. Todays route is brought to you by the Daily Yamazaki’s Maple Latte Day seven.
Today I would be revisiting some of the roads I had ridden last time on Kyushu since they were so good. These were a few I had collected from a former Kyushu resident and member of the Gaijin rider forum. You cannot beat local knowledge when it comes to finding the best roads. Rain was all around me yet again but somehow I managed to stay clear of it. Some of the sights this morning.
The roads were just as great as the scenery but I did not take any decent photos of them this time (well a tried with the cube but the results are not good enough yet to use) The weather cleared and I took some time to poke around a few small villages in rural Kumamoto. As always whenever I stopped in the countryside people wanted to talk with me but I still am unable to form a sentence in Japanese despite ongoing study. As the weather cleared the day really warmed up fast and I came across some more displays for the scarecrow festival.
Then it was on to Mt Aso where I rode along the ridge of the caldera and stopped to have my lunch. What a view! What a spot! – as Ewan McGregor put it in LWR. After lunch I ascended Mt Aso but only got some of the way when I was stopped at a road block. Seems the volcano was too active to let people go any further. This added a big detour so I did not stop to take any photos from Mt Aso but also I wanted to get in front of the rain that had almost caught up with me. However here is a video from Yamaha shot in the area. *best viewed on the YouTube site in larger window not through this blog.
Once back on my route I came upon what turned out to be the afternoons unexpected highlight. Former MotoGP world champion Kenny Roberts apparently likes the area around Aso volcano and so a popular riding road (that presumably he enjoyed riding) has been given the title Kenny Road. It is a terrific bit of tar with generous surveying and grand views. I can see why he liked it.
As you can see the rain closed back in again yet still not actually on me. Still you can only push luck so far. I decided to make tracks to my hotel after this at Yatsushiro so I did not wear out my good fortune with the rain gods. Todays route is brought to you by Lawson’s Uchi Cafe, Cafe Au Lait.
Day eight. I got on the road extra early today as it had the potential to be the longest since I wanted to visit a museum on my way to the lower part of Kyushu. So at just 8.30am I found myself on top of a mountain at an impressive circle loop bridge road. Check the view distance on the photo below in the cool morning air, in real life it was jaw dropping, no way I can convey how amazing it was.
This was a surprise as it was in a really remote location. The morning would be spent traversing scenic mountain roads and then another loop road on the other side.
I rode next up Mt Kirishima, another large volcano. It had rained just before I arrived which was better than on me but still the roads were covered in autumn fallen leaves and were very slippery making it a slow ride to the top. I had intended to ride route 223, a skyline rated one of the best drives in Japan however it was Sunday and there was heavy day tripper traffic reducing things to a log jam at corners so I abandoned the idea. Below part of the skyline looking towards Kagoshima.
I hopped onto the expressway next to bypass Kagoshima and try cover some distance. My Garmin as noted before can provide some illogical navigation at times and so it tried it’s best to take me the wrong way but I picked it up pretty quick. The blue skies did not last very long and by the time I was on the Ibusuki skyline it was again grey with a bit of light misty rain. This road would appear to be the local bikers road. A lot of sports bikes out despite the damp conditions. I just enjoyed the scenery and took it easy.
I exited the skyline before the end and made my way to the Chiran peace museum for Kamikaze pilots. I had no idea what to expect here and had only allowed for a short visit which turned out was not enough as it is a large museum with fine collection of rare planes from the era and other material but the special thing for me were the final letters home sent by the pilots. Some may have been volunteers for the greater glory as the government promoted but even the most casual observation and it becomes clear that many were young guys that found themselves manipulated into a situation. Like the letters I have read from WW1 soldiers in the trenches waiting for the whistle to climb the ladders to certain death they lament on their fate and life being cut short in guarded tones to clear the censor and whilst the stories might come from different wars and different sides they both haunt you a long time. I took a break having seen only a small amount but noticed the rain had closed in from the north but there was a chance to ride south before it became wet so I elected to leave and hope I can revisit another time. No photos allowed inside.
As I reached the south coast I left the rain behind in the mountains and could enjoy a beautiful coastal ride on almost zero traffic roads. There is a series of viewpoints all along the coast which offer grand views back to the coves and small fishing villages which I had all to myself.
Riding along I just barely caught a glimpse of a small monument set off the road and found a place to turnaround and went back for a closer look. Seems this area Akime is the village featured in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice. I have not seen any modern Bond movies not being a fan but I grew up with replays of the 60’s movies and vaguely recalled this movie so decided to watch it when I got home. I can see why they chose here, it really is a lovely part of Japan.
And then I came to the point on this journey where I had no choice but to turn my wheels back north. It has been an amazing ride so far, overwhelming at times the beauty.
Todays route brought to you by vending machine Georgia milk coffee.
I will sign off for now but you can pick up the rest of my journey in part two. (HERE)