Pole to Pole tour part 1.
With global travel still some way off I decided to see how far I could travel within the borders of Japan. Quite some distance it turns out.
Cape Sata in Kagoshima prefecture is often referred to as a southerly point of Japan but Okinawa is a long way south of that however Isigaki scoffs ‘you call that southerly?
February 2020 was last time I gazed out from an aircraft. The domestic terminal was quite busy and flying still sucks but I never complained, not once. No meal so I came prepared with an airplane obento! Very easy to get to my hotel by bus then it’s relax time with a beer that combines two powerful English marketing words in Japan, Craft and Premium.
Next day it’s fine and warm and for first time ever I am riding an electric motorcycle. These are available from the port, petrol bikes of various sizes also but I specially wanted to try an electric engine.
There are two sizes, one rated like a small 50cc and one rated 125+cc so I got the later. I’m immediately impressed with the features, keyless remote start, touch screen, electric reverse. Most of all I like how it has sensor to self cancel indicators – why can’t every modern motorcycle have this?
The riding is good right away, the scenery superb.
Some people are train spotters, I’m a viewpoint chaser, so I find myself based in the right country since Japanese also love viewpoints.
At a particularly good one looking down over sugar cane farms and steam from a small sugar mill I felt transported back to the Northern Rivers region of Australia I once rode a lot.
Very scenic along the west coast. Not outrigger pump boats here but this scene on a hot day reminds me of the Philippines. Basco is only 400km away and the vending machine here has Shikuwasha citrus flavoured drinks, better known to me as Calamansi which I love whenever in the Philippines.
Riding north to the cape I am slightly distracted by the battery meter. Just like a camera, it’s slow to fall from full to half way but then drops rapidly to the last bar. I was glad to reach one of the battery stations around the island.
The system is you simply swap the two batteries for fresh ones, no recharge time. You swipe your bikes key fob then insert them and in a moment two new ones pop up and you place same in bike.
The batteries are charged by the solar panels on roof of station, very green. The big four bike manufactures in Japan have signed an agreement to use similar unified system across their upcoming electric bikes.
The batteries weigh about 10kg but otherwise the bike is featherweight, electric motors can be so small compared to combustion engines and need not have radiators, starter motors, gearboxes or CVT’s in the case of a scooter.
“Yeah but how does it go?” – much better than I expected. It has two modes Smart and a Power mode. I did some acceleration and top speed runs above on a open road.
The feel of an electric engine is 100% torque from the second you turn throttle. Acceleration is this linear relentless drive forward. I kept expecting it to taper off as revs build like with a combustion engine scooter but it keeps revving forever higher with the same torque until it hits a electronic limiter.
Power wise I might compare it to the N-Max 155 I rode in Sumatra, ample for riding this island and fun as it surges forward with a turbine smooth whine.
The bike has dynamic braking (regenerative) and in Smart mode the braking level varied. A lack of engine braking is what I dislike with CVT drive bikes so this effect was welcome but needs a little fine tuning.
Range was rated 80km but I was on last bar at 50km… I guess batteries have already improved and by time this comes to market range will be sufficient for city. It’s important to understand the politics and how offering hybrid or electric vehicles permits manufacturers to say their part of the solution and fight lobby groups, but this escapes the simple minded riders who can only see a threat to their perceived machismo.
I ride long distance so probably will see out my riding days on a combustion engine but who knows. I recall early mobile phones I used at work were the size of shoe boxes with only few hours standby if not plugged in so in the future electric range might be thousands of km.
Returning now to my ride with fresh batteries I reached what has to be the best view on Ishigaki at a high point crossing the northern range.
Then I dropped down for a closer view of the ocean before making my way back towards the city to end the day. Very pretty place.
After WW2 Ishigaki like all of Okinawa was under USA control until handed back in 1972. I did not realise before this trip that traffic used to drive on right hand side in this region until it was switched to left on July 30th 1978. This stone commemorates that change.
Ishigaki is famous for beef, something I don’t eat a huge amount of but wait, a message is coming in, ‘Broadsword calling Danny Boy are you receiving – fish and chips food truck sighted in your vicinity, over’ – ok now I’m excited. A reasonable attempt if not what I’d call ‘proper fish and chips’, still I enjoyed.
There is yet another place further south from here, the absolute most southern point of Japan on a very small island. I decide I should visit.
Alas 45 minutes before departure the ferry is cancelled due to high seas. But the closer islands are protected by reefs so I go to Kohama island.
There is bike rental at the port and despite tourist guides saying pack your own food Bob’s Cafe above the bike rental shop has the best burgers I have seen in awhile.
I’m riding a brand new Suzuki 125cc here and compared to the electric bike this has much less acceleration and less braking, I thought it had a drum brake so wooden was the front brake lever.
But it got me to this fabulous view point in middle of island. Very tranquil place. I lingered pondering how fortunate I can still access ‘somewhere exotic overseas’ in current times when global travel seems a distant proposition.
Adjacent lies Iriomote island which looks interesting but has limited access so I decide to call this the most southerly point I will go to in Japan, and am satisfied even if it’s some kilometres short of the official spot.
But Kohama island is just the first part of my latest Japan journey.
Once the weather settles I will set off from home and take a ferry Osaka to Kagoshima then make my way slowly north to Wakkanai aiming to visit Rebun island about a month later. Long way up is passe’ so I will need to think of another name for this tour. As they say on tv, stay tuned for more when we return after this break.