The morning in Toyama Prefecture
greeted me with a steady rain. I was glad I had opted to stay at the
Tenkoji Youth Hostel. Besides the novelty of staying in Buddhist
temple, I had once again managed to avoid camping in the rain. I had
feared the priest would wake us up with chanting similar to the chanting
he had performed in the evening but I did not see (or hear) him at all.
Despite the rain, I had to continue. I bid
goodbye to the travelers I had met the night before, donned my rain gear,
packed up my motorcycle and got on the road sometime around 8:30. I
rode on Route 8 for a while but since I couldn't really sightsee in the
rain and I wanted to get to Kanazawa, I jumped on the nearby freeway and
arrived in Kanazawa around 10:30.
Kanazawa's main point of interest is Kenrokuen
Garden, which is ranked as one of the three top Japanese
is implicit in the name itself, Kenrokuen is said to contain all six
attributes of a "perfect" garden -- seclusion, spaciousness,
artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. The
two-legged stone lantern -- depicted here -- is famous throughout Japan as
a symbol of this garden. Most postcard and calendar depictions,
however, feature this lantern in the winter topped with fresh fallen snow.
The garden was very pretty even though the weather
didn't lend itself to fabulous photo taking opportunities. Probably
the weather did keep out some of the crowds as the garden was not crowded
when I was there. (Not crowded by Japanese standards, that
is.) The garden contained Japan's earliest known man-made fountain
as well as various small ponds and paths. Each turn in a path
affords the stroller a different view and it wasn't hard to imagine that the
place was little changed from a century ago.
At my Lonely Planet guide's recommendation, I paid the
fee to view the Seison-kaku Villa -- a retirement villa built in
1863. I found it worth the fee (~$5) and an interesting example of
Japanese living conditions (of the wealthy) from years past.
After Kanazawa, to try to get some more
distance behind me, I took the expressway from Kanazawa to Tsuruga.
Along the way, I left Ishikawa Prefecture and entered Fukui Prefecture. From the
Tsuruga exit, I continued through Fukui Prefecture on Route 27.
After getting off the freeway, a vibration that I had at first thought I
was imagining, gradually got worse. It was most noticeable when
braking and it soon became apparent that I needed to seek out a motorcycle
mechanic. I set my sights on Maizuru, the largest city ahead of me,
while hoping that, somehow, the problem would go away.
As I entered Maizuru in the afternoon I kept my eyes
out for a motorcycle shop and, after stopping a couple of times to ask
some locals, found one right on Route 27. The shop -- about the
size of a one car garage -- was even smaller than the shop I patronized in
Tokyo. Fortunately the owner wasn't particularly busy and was able
to take a look at my motorcycle right away. He was able to determine
that the problem was bad rear bearings and told me that the brake
cylinder, chain and sprocket needed replacing too. But then he hit
me with the bad news. Due to the fact that we had just entered Obon
-- the summer holiday season -- he would be unable to get Honda parts for at
least five days, possibly even a week!
I was shocked. Was my trip over? I didn't
have the time to wait around several days as I was needed back in Tokyo to
get ready for my move back to the U.S. The shop owner suggested I
could try finding a shop in Kyoto which may have parts on-hand or allow me
to rent a bike. He seemed to think the bike was safe enough to ride
and I decided to try for Kyoto. If I had to abandon the trip, I
could at least grab a shinkansen for a quick train ride back to
Tokyo. Before leaving, I tried to pay the mechanic for his time in
looking at and diagnosing my problem but I was refused.
It was already late afternoon but I continued on
feeling unhappy about the condition of my bike and the possibility of
having to abandon my trip. Around 6PM, I stopped at a McDonalds for
something to eat and happened to see a group of four or five bikers inside
eating as well. I purposely sat near them and then, before they
finished and left, I asked them if any of them were from Kyoto and knew of
a shop I could go to. One of them mentioned a large chain called
Red Baron was probably the best place to try especially since some
of them are open year round and they may offer loaner bikes. The guy
went to his bike and returned with a nationwide list of Red Baron
shops. He kindly pointed out the Kyoto shops and even gave me the
booklet. Now I had a destination so I felt a
Back on the road, it became apparent that I wouldn't be
able to make it to Kyoto by nightfall. According to my road atlas,
there were no campgrounds nearby so I checked my youth hostel guide and
located a hostel in Miyama, about 10-15 miles away. I called from a
phone booth -- my cell phone once again not getting a signal out there --
and confirmed that they could take me in. Fifteen miles doesn't
sound like much but fifteen miles on a remote mountainous road on a
motorcycle that felt like it would break down at any minute was a long
fifteen miles. I was on local Route 12 cutting across from Route 27
towards Route 162. By the time I got out to the area of the youth
hostel, it was very dark with no street lights. In fact I was riding
next to a river gorge with no other vehicles in sight. Fortunately, Japanese
roads, even in the boonies, are generally excellent so I didn't have to
worry about road conditions or falling down into the gorge. Finally, when I knew I was close but
still couldn't find the place, I called from a phone booth.
Luckily I was at the phone booth closest to their place and the woman who
ran the YH along with her husband came out to flag me in.
I lucked out in that the YH was in an old thatch-roof
farm house of which there are less and less these days. It was dark
so I couldn't see anything except the outline outside so I had to wait
until the morning for a better view. The
owner, however took myself and my fellow lodgers into the attic space
itself so we could see it up close. He told us, as he must have to
many other travelers many times before, that in the old days the attic
space was used to raise silk worms for making silk.
I shared a room with two other guys, one of them also
on a solo motorcycle trip. There were also three girls staying that
night. I don't recall if all of them were traveling together or
not. After our evening baths we had a beer or two apiece out front in
the mild night air. I talked with the owner of the YH as well as my
fellow travelers a bit, exchanging stories as travelers often do.
Soon, however, the beer hit my
bloodstream; I was ready to crash -- and so I did with the others not far