Japan by Motorcycle

Day 12

August 9, 1999


Country Living

Yamagata and Fukushima Prefectures

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    Despite going to bed by 9:30PM, I didn't leave my beach camp until 8:00.  I continued south along the coastal highway but it quickly became hot and slow-going.  It's just a two-lane road most of the way and quite congested because it's the only route down to Niigata.  Since I had no vested interest in going to Niigata, I decided to try my luck in the mountains and took Route 112 towards the center of Yamagata Prefecture.
    I tried to take a shortcut heading straight through the mountains.  It was a nice road but pretty much deserted with nothing except wilderness on either side.  I was wondering why there was no oncoming traffic and eventually I found out; the road turned to gravel after about 35 kilometers.  With no way to tell if I could go through or not, I turned around.  Traversing a gravel road on a motorcycle for an indefinite distance was not something I wanted to do, especially since there was no other traffic to reassure me.  So I turned around and ended up going over 70 km out of my way before getting back to Route 112.
    My earlier gamble, however, had paid off, the mountain road was much better than the coastal route.  There was much less traffic and I could maintain decent speeds.  I had lunch at the Nishikawa michi no eki (rest area) which served as a viewing area for the Sagai Dam end of Gassan Lake located in the gorge below.  Before entering Yamagata City, I changed directions, heading west once again, this time on Route 287.  Basically, I was heading straight through the center of the country.  I was getting too tired to enjoy the curvy road and, in fact, was starting to have trouble keeping my eyes open even though it was only one o'clock in the afternoon.
    In need of a rest, and always ready for a hot spring bath, I stopped at a place called Ringo Onsen (Apple Hot Springs).  I didn't see any apples in the bath but the water was cloudy as if they had added something to it.  I paid an extra 300 to use the rest room (literally) where I could lay down on the tatami mat floor and take a nap.  Although there were a few others making use of the room (to relax, not to sleep),  I managed to take a highly refreshing forty minute nap.
    Back on the road, I headed towards Yonezawa and eventually found my way onto the Nishi-Azuma Sky Valley toll road.  There was a toll-free way to go but most of these types of local toll roads offer great views and were built for sightseeing, so I opted for the Sky Valley drive.  Bandai-Asahi National ParkThe road did offer nice views of Mt. Bandai and of Bandai-Asahi National Park as it headed across a ridge and then down into the park.  In fact, that road is the site of my only picture from that day, a picture of myself in front of Mt. Bandai.  It's not that there weren't other interesting things to photograph but it's not like I can just take pictures out of the window, like you can in a car.  Taking a photograph on the road involved stopping and pulling out in the camera and, more often than not, I felt that the scene in question didn't warrant the stop.
    Mt. Bandai is a volcano that erupted very recently, geologically speaking.  It had a massive eruption in 1888 which resulted in loss of life and major changes in the landscape.  Mountains were sculpted and new lakes were formed.  The Sky Valley Road led to one of them, Lake Hinohara.
    By the time I made it down to the lake, it was getting on six o'clock and nightfall was clearly less than an hour away.  This being a tourist area, the map indicated that there were campgrounds all around the lake.  Since I had a little time, I circumnavigated halfway around the lake because that was the direction I ultimately wanted to go.  There were a few small, private campgrounds and I picked one.  Unlike most places in America which have specific, marked camp sites, all of the places I camped in Japan were just open fields where you just drive in, pick a spot and pitch a tent.  Usually the only facilities available are cold, fresh water and toilets.
    This place was quite small and the campground looked more like the yard next to the owner's house than an actual campground.  At 500 (about $4), the cost was the most I had paid to camp so far but more than reasonable compared to the cost of other items in the country.  The ground there was somewhat rocky and it was a challenge to find a smooth spot.  I could see that it wouldn't be quite as comfortable as my camp site on the beach the night before.
    After I was all set up, I took a short trail down to the lakefront to take a look around.  I returned and had my dinner; I don't remember if I pulled out my camp stove or if I just ate ready-made food.  By the time I was done, it was still early.  There had been a sign indicating that they were selling beer at the house so I thought they were running a little bar there.  It was still early yet so I thought I would go over and maybe socialize for a bit.  At the door, I asked if I could come in before I realized that this was just their house and they weren't running any kind of establishment.  But it was too late, an elderly lady called to a younger guy inside saying something like "he wants to come in."  I tried to backpedal and explained that I thought they were running a bar or something but the proprietor insisted and asked me in to join him.  Conveniently, he was already partaking of his beverage of choice and he seemed happy to have some additional company.
    The proprietor, it turned out, was a young 35-year-old guy.  He had moved out from the Yokohama/Yokosuka area and bought the land and built the house three years prior.  Apparently, he was normally there alone but that weekend, his parents, sister and nieces were visiting.  I joined him for a beer and some edamame.  Everybody was suitably impressed of my command (hah) of the Japanese language and the quest that I was on.  I couldn't imagine that he could make a living out there; he probably didn't bring in more than an average of $20 per day.  I thought perhaps he worked a more traditional job in the winter but I didn't pry.  In any case, it looked like he was happy and doing what he wanted to do so he was a lot better off than most people as far as I was concerned.
    I stayed as long as I could but eventually I finished my beer and I refused his offer of another.  When I am already tired, alcohol only makes me more so.  As I feared, he tried to treat me to the beer but I insisted on paying for it.  I still got the better part of the deal since I got to meet some real nice people (not to mention the edamame).

 

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Just The Stats

Day 12

Odometer

Time

Place Weather
Start: 47600 8:00 Beach Campground near Chokai Nat'l Park, Yamagata Pref. Sunny/Hot
Finish: 47930 18:30 Camp off Lake Hinohara in Bandai-Asahi Nat'l Park, Fukushima Pref. Clear/Cool
 
Totals: 330 km 10.5 hrs

Expenses

Gas: 1,300 Food: 3,000
Highway Fees: 630 Campground: 500
Onsen: 600  

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Oct 1, 2001

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