This was the day. The start of my solo motorcycle tour of Japan.
Like many people before me who had lived and worked in Japan, I was trying to fit
in a "big trip" before leaving. After living and working in
Tokyo for five years, I had quit my job and was
preparing to return to the U.S. It was pretty much now or never. I had been
considering this trip for only a few years. In fact, I had been
riding a motorcycle for only three years. I had only become interested in
two-wheeled transportation in order to become more mobile and to avoid commuting
on the packed trains. After taking a number of day trips with my
motorcycle-riding friends and talking with people like Katrina,
a former coworker who had herself taken a motorcycle trip around Japan before
leaving the country, I was ready to go.
My peppy 250cc Honda Spada was loaded up with Katrina's old saddle bags
and my tank bag. The saddle bags
were packed with gear -- clothes, tent, stove, rain gear, some food and water -- and
the tank bag contained my maps and guidebooks. With a kiss and a wave I set off.
The time was 10:30, later than I had hoped. I made my way through Tokyo
heading north, filling up with gas at Oji and then having lunch at McDonalds in
Kawaguchi before hopping on the Tohoku expressway. Since I had already
been to most of the prefectures around Tokyo (Chiba, Saitama, Gunma and
Tochigi), I figured I would try to put Tokyo behind me and made a beeline for
Feeling drowsy and ready for a break, I stopped at the
Kanazawa-inai service area around 2PM. I topped up my gas tank and
then laid down on a bench for a short rest before continuing on. The day
had started out hot and sunny but the skies looked overcast and somewhat ominous
at the Kunimi service area where I had stopped for a fill up around 4 PM.
As luck would have it, my mechanic had given me a youth hostel guide for my trip
so I called ahead and reserved a spot at a youth hostel in Sendai.
Although I was somewhat prepared for camping, I didn't want to start out my trip
camping in the rain.
Sure enough, shortly after leaving Kunimi, the sky opened up and I
had to stop on the side of the expressway and put on my rain gear (I should have
donned the gear back at the service area). I could see lightning strikes
very close in front of me. I felt highly exposed but I pushed on.
The lightning gave way to heavy rain which then turned into light rain fall by
the time I reached Sendai.
Sendai, located in Miyagi Prefecture, is the largest city in
the northern Tohoku region of Japan. It is a good-sized city with a
population of about one million. Before heading to the youth hostel, I
headed downtown to take a look around. The city had a nice feel to it --
clean, not too big, not too small. I found a stationery store and picked
up some diary books in the style that I liked -- something I had meant to do
before embarking on my trip but just didn't get around to doing -- before
backtracking and looking for the youth hostel. It was not easy to find,
Japanese addresses can be impossible to find without detailed maps of the
area, but I finally managed to figure it out. I unloaded my wet
gear, registered and located my room.
Ready for some vittles, I headed to a
nearby shopping center I had seen on the way. The place was called, aptly
enough, The Mall and was a big American-style shopping center. I
was fortunate to find a big camping/outdoor goods store and got a cheap
nylon sleeping bag for only ¥980 ($9). All I had brought with me
was an old blanket because my only sleeping bag was too big and warm for
the summer weather. I had some okonomiyaki (sort of a cross between
a quiche, an omelet and a pizza) and a beer before I made my way back to
The Dochuan Youth Hostel turned out to be a real find.
In fact, I noticed later that it was mentioned favorably in the Japan
Lonely Planet guide. It was an old farm house, two floors with a wooden beam
construction. Very well kept. The rooms were standard
rooms where one sleeps on the floor on a futon. It was exactly like a
minshuku (bed & breakfast), the only difference being that you had to
share a room with strangers. I shared my room with two high school
kids from Ibaraki Prefecture. We exchanged a few pleasantries but
didn't really converse as I had important matters in mind, a bath!
The bath was far better than average -- clean, new and made of beautiful hinoki
(Japanese cypress). After washing up and rinsing off in
traditional fashion, I settled into the tub for a soak which was
divine. I thought if all youth hostels in Japan are like this then wow! I was joined by a young guy who engaged me in conversation long
enough for me to gather that he lived in Saitama but was from
Aomori. And that he had a friend -- his former English teacher -- in
Ohio. I don't recall what he was doing in Sendai.
After the bath, I laid out my futon and wrote in my
diary before closing my eyes around midnight. Breakfast was at 7:30
and I needed to get some Z's.