I was set to ride southern Japan in May however this year there had been travel restrictions in place. By late May things were being lifted so I decided to ride north since the June monsoon arrives from the south.
I got a really easy ride out of the metropolis that is greater Yokohama-Tokyo. Rather than the long highway haul west I found myself on enjoyable roads immersed in lush green hills by just mid morning.
Stopped at a roadside family mart for early lunch I enjoyed how vivid the new leaves are in Japan in Spring sun. The greens are not boosted by software whatsoever in any of the following photos. You can’t imagine how amazing this looks in real life (or maybe I am just a weird tree lover ha-ha).
The best thing in the world is setting off to explore on a motorcycle.Warren
I have 18 days of back roads in Japan ahead of me. Big lift to my spirits after a couple of months of shutdown and watching all my travel plans (and money spent) for 2020 lost to Covid-19.
I have not previously explored much this close to Tokyo, always too many cars but enjoyed two nice mountain passes this afternoon thanks to limited people travelling.
Lastly I made my way to Mt Haruna where rain suddenly appeared and chased me down the mountain, literally. You can see the cloud coming over top right of the photo and it started raining before I left but I was staying in Shibukawa, the town directly below so I made it to my hotel dry.
Day two is brisk morning and I need to install my jacket liner to ride Mt Akagi which is lovely without the usual crowds but no viewpoints unless you hike so I ride on to Nikko.
It’s another area usually busy but again with travel restrictions just lifted I have the place to myself. A theme I hope continues.
I checked my routes on the Toyota route passable map but got caught today on a damaged back road giving me a big detour. Oh well no point worrying, instead I have lunch and Enjoy the Silence since I carry my own chair also.
My detour takes me down the mini Stelvio pass of Nikko which is a 80 plus u-turns and always a log jam of cars and then into the clutches of some rain.
But after Nikko I outpace the rain and find myself by chance on a sensation road (route 169). Something hard to comprehend for people who have never ridden here is a country of all mountains covered in thousands of roads. In Australia roads are spaced far apart and you are limited to ride the same few over and over. I have been touring here for six years and I am a long way yet from riding every good motorcycle road once.
Next I visit the Nichien toll road which is a famous riding route but it’s very twisty constant change of direction and closed in. I have come to like the open sweeping roads with views more. Not just because I am on a big bike but because the reason why I ride now has changed.
The sun returns and temperatures rise so out comes the liner and change of gloves at another wonderful vista.
Even the last few km into town is superb. This is Fukushima. A name that most people misunderstand and are not bothered to learn otherwise. That is their loss.
I’m staying at a hotel chain I use regularly called Route Inn. Not the cheapest but I want no problems on this ride. Japan ‘tolerates’ foreigners in normal times but these are not normal times. Covid-19 is of course blamed on foreigners and despite restrictions lifted I felt I might encounter some opposition such as in Vietnam where people have been refused accommodation so I am playing it safe. Booking a big hotel chain via JAF membership (like RAC breakdown service) for most of my nights.
Besides I also just like this chain. Undercover bike parking – that is worth the extra for me by itself plus you get a mountainous breakfast buffet, free espresso machine, free cold drinks as a member, and collect the points and every 10th night is basically free.
In a country where it rains so much it’s a great feeling to pull curtain back in morning and see a fine day. Of course I then can’t get back to sleep thinking about the ride. But breakfast begins a 6.45am, another reason I like this chain.
I have three routes for day three. Just because snow might still affect. Next up the Bandai Asahi national park which I have never ridden and I am floored with how good it is. This is a no number unnamed road. I wondered if it was even open but I find a perfectly surveyed new hotmix route up to the sky.
I don’t have a drone so you will just have to take my word but you follow the stream from the valley all the way to this bridge at the rivers source on perfectly surveyed road.
After this I stopped for lunch at a rural road side park. I’m not looking at camera in this shot as every other one taken was out of focus. Why is it a relatively high end camera still has such rudimentary software, no wonder camera’s are dying out.
By the way, while most photos here are from my phone the blog is not designed to be viewed on a phone. It is a photo centric site thus the layout and content will always be designed for large screen. That may not please everyone but I’m not trying to.
The second part of today’s route was still showing as closed with snow so I switched to plan B, a series of back roads not expecting much but this route was a delight.
I don’t visit many temples but detoured to Mt Haguro to see this five storey Pagoda. Well worth the small hike in motorcycle boots.
Then afternoon rural riding.
A wonderful day of riding in a beautiful part of Japan I have not seen near enough of.
Morning of day four I am heading to the highest peak in the Tohoku region, Mt Chokai and riding the incredible Chokai Blue Line, one of my favourite roads.
You know how hard it is to photograph roads without a drone but I think this gives some of an idea how incredible a ride the Chokai Blue Line might be.
Next I am riding the Panorama Line around the base of the mountain, a road I have only seen a fraction of before now.
These are low traffic farm roads but since Japan l-o-v-e-s building roads the level of infrastructure is crazy like this bridge that doesn’t serve anywhere. Good news for people like me!
I was riding south on the excellent route 108 with a small side road to connect me to rest of todays riding but that turned out to be closed giving me a large detour. However I came across this lovely spot for lunch on the detour and stayed awhile listening to the frogs in the pond having decided what does it matter the time I arrive.
Next I have the fabulous route 398. A contender for one of the best rides in Japan and it’s a perfect afternoon.
Not every viewpoint detour I try works out. This became very steep and slippery soon after and at one point I was saying oh shit out loud as I struggled with the 300kg touring bike on wet mulch but I got over it – then had to ride back again as dead end. OK! That’s enough ADV for today.
A mild morning day five. I join route 397 east until stopped by road block at the first mountain pass. No signage on the way, I wonder why. Ok well this is going to require a huge detour so I better crack the whip.
About half way through the detour I stop for a drink and my eye picks up the front tyre is wearing very poorly. The Dunlop Roadsmart 2 tyres fitted have about 4200km on them. The rear looks good for another 4200 but the front is never going to last the tour and getting tyres mid tour is not a simple affair here.
About 80km later I rejoin my route, the detour gave me chance to enjoy this lake ride but my mind is occupied with the thought of can I get tyres or does the tour have to end.
Ok I stop at a roadside stall to google stuff then decide to call someone to help. They call a dealer in the largest town I will be in. Yes shop can order in tyres and fit them on my rest day. Price is really high but I have no choice and am happy just to be able to get help when needed. I enjoyed my usual picnic lunch right here at the stall while I was sorting things out much to surprised looks of the locals. A foreigner in rural Japan is like a bear. People literally stop cars middle of road and stare.
I am riding mostly rural farm roads and forestry roads today. It keeps clouding in threatening to rain but I manage to stay ahead of that and am enjoying the farm scenery.
The road above is part of a route I think is called Big Mountain road. I found it when exploring a few years ago by chance. Its superb and serves just the forestry as far as I can tell.
This is a point off the road I found in one of my ‘wonder if I can see more up there detours’ that looks down on some of the route which runs though all the mountains you can see. There are no towns and no cars. It is all well surveyed two lane hotmix. Just a dream place to ride.
After here I took totally unknown route west which slowly deteriorated. This became a bit of a worry as I realised if it suddenly ended with some sort of road block I would not have enough fuel to go all the way back around. As things became really narrow overgrown I cursed myself for being such an idiot, but eventually I saw power lines and emerged from the forest to farms and knew I was going to make it. Phew, two crisis’s averted in one day.
End of another amazing day riding in Japan and of the first part of the ride report.