Japan by Motorcycle

Day 15

August 12, 1999

A Famous Garden and a Thatch Roof

Ishikawa and Fukui Prefectures and Kyoto Region

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    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 gardens.  Kenrokuen Park - Famous Stone LanternAs 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.

Kenroku-en Garden

Kenrokuen Garden

Kenrokuen Garden

Kenrokuen Garden - Japan's First Fountain

Famous Stone Lantern

Tea House

Japan's Oldest Fountain

    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 little better.
    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.  Miyama YH - Thatch RoofThe 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 behind.

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Just The Stats

Day 15



Place Weather
Start: 48480 8:30 Asahi-Machi, Toyama Pref. Sunny/Hot
Finish: 48880 20:00 Miyama, Kyoto Pref. Rainy
Totals: 320 km 11.5 hrs


Gas: 1,500 Food: 2,500
Highway Fees: 4,700 Youth Hostel: 3,200
Attractions: 900  

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Oct 2, 2002

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