Daybreak found me on the second
floor of an okonomiyaki shop in Akashi, near Kobe. It was Hiro's
mother's place. Hiro was a really nice guy that I had met during the
Hokkaido portion of my trip. Considering that I hadn't given him any
I had been lucky to be able to catch up with him again when I arrived in his
town the day before. He was a good sport and got up early with me --
and even ran out to a convenience store to buy me breakfast -- so that
I could get an early start. I had promised to be home in Tokyo on this day, in
time to keep a dinner date, and I was intending to keep my promise.
(Or there'd be hell to pay.)
And, truth be told, I was ready to go home.
Riding a bike all day -- day after day -- is harder work than it
sounds. And I wasn't kidding about getting a sore butt. Not
only was it sore, I had developed seat rash less than halfway
through! Fortunately it kind of stabilized but it wasn't exactly
comfortable. The problem with a motorcycle is that there are far fewer
riding positions available than you have in a car. That being said,
I would not have dreamed of attempting the same trip in a car. There
is just too much traffic in Japan where even heavily trafficked roads are
usually only two lanes. Plus the curvy mountain roads are much more fun to cruise
on a bike.
The ride back was a 660km, 12 hour grind on the
I traveled through eight prefectures on the way back, it was all
expressway driving and no sightseeing so it is hardly worth
mentioning. At one point I passed the caravan of the kind of rightist
organization that one often sees (or hears, rather) around Tokyo.
They caught up to me at a service area and I was able to snap a picture of
their English slogan, Go to Hell. I'm not sure what they are trying to say but
it does have impact! Since there is not much else to say about the trip back
to Tokyo, I will wrap this up by mentioning some observations I had during those twenty four
This was the longest vacation I had ever taken and my
first solo one at that. I learned that I could get along with myself
quite fine and enjoyed the time to myself. I had plenty on which to reflect
on that trip including the recent loss of my father and my decision that
year to quit my job, leave Japan and get married. I also enjoyed the opportunity
to meet strangers and make new friends along the way. This was also
the loosest trip I had taken in terms of schedule. Choosing my route
from day to day based on my whims and the weather was a luxury that I
enjoyed. Being prepared to camp and mobile enough to find a
campground or youth hostel meant I didn't have to worry too much about the
night's lodgings. Though I did find myself getting nervous at times
when I hadn't located a suitable place to stop by nightfall.
Motorcycle touring is certainly not the safest thing to
do in the world. I felt safe for the most part, probably due to
naivety more than anything else. I had a few idle thoughts here and
there like, hey if I screw up and drove off the side of this mountain it could be a long time before anybody finds me. And on
my expressway ride back, a full size tire with rim sitting in the middle
of the roadway caused me to reflect just what might happen if I were to
hit such an object at a speed of over 110 km/hr. Thank God that
that, or any other tragedy, didn't happen.
Regarding Japan, it became clear to me early on that
the country consists of a lot more than just Tokyo. When you live and work
in a place such as Tokyo, it's easy to feel like Tokyo equals Japan.
But in reality there are many, many people outside of Tokyo and many of
them have never even been to Tokyo. One thing that was clear is that
the entire country is pretty darn mountainous. Even Hokkaido, while
less so, had its share. Mountains, along with well kept roads, make
for excellent motorcycling.
The differences in coastal waters was interesting to
note. Of course these things could be seasonal or even vary from day
to day but I found some intriguing differences. The Sea of Okhotsk
in Hokkaido was an almost tropical clear green. The Sea of Japan
near Izumo in Shimane Prefecture was a deep cobalt blue as if somebody had
dumped copious amounts of that blue toilet cleaner in the ocean (not the
most romantic imagery, I know). And the ocean off of Shikoku was a
deep green. All were beautiful.
There were some differences in house styles across the
country. The main difference to be found were in the colors of roof
tiles. Northern Japan and Niigata were very traditional, black-tiled
roofs on dark, wooden houses. Towards the center of the country
(near Kyoto, etc.) there were more thatched roofs to be seen. Then,
in the west (Tottori, Shimane, Yamaguchi) I found a large proportion of
the roof tiles were a burnt orange in color and homes built of lighter
colored woods or painted white were in greater abundance.
Although I didn't make it to every prefecture, I
had traveled through all four main islands -- Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and
Shikoku. That was really the only real goal I had. And, by the time I arrived back in Tokyo, I had at set foot
(or tire, rather) in 36 of the 47 prefectures. (The word
"prefecture" is used loosely here to include the 43 actual
prefectures, the "district" that consists of Hokkaido,
the "urban prefectures" of Kyoto-fu and Osaka-fu
and the "metropolis" that is Tokyo-to.) Some of
them I deliberately skipped because they were places I had been to before
or because they are easy to get to by train. Some of the things I
had envisioned such as taking time out to go white water rafting or hiking
had to be skipped in the interests of time. Such are the sacrifices
of a whirlwind tour.
When all was said and done, I had gone 7385 kilometers
(4589 miles) though, truth be told, those numbers may be overstated by
3%. On the expressway I sometimes amused myself by measuring my
odometer against the kilometer markers and found the odometer was
generally off by 300m for every 10km. If that's true, then I rode only
7163km (4451 miles). Whatever. It's not like you
care. Nor do I.
You might ask, what would you do
differently? Of course, a much slower-paced trip would have been
nicer. I had to balance road time with leisure time. And when
I had to make a choice, leisure time got cut. I don't regret it
because my goal on this trip was to navigate the entire country, even if I
had to cut some corners. Definitely I recommend the more time the
better. One of the Japanese bikers I had talked to said that he
circumnavigated Japan once as well. In his case, it took 43 days to
cover 9000 km. Sounds like a much more comfortable pace.
As far as gear goes, much of the trip I was wishing I
had brought my bicycling pants with me. They are made to wick water
away and protect the skin. My cotton briefs and cotton pants didn't
help much in that regard. Also, it would have been nice to have a
real tent but my strategy of going to youth hostels on rainy days worked
It's hard for me to give advice for people who can't
read or speak Japanese even though it wasn't long ago that I was in the
same boat. Major road signs are generally marked in romaji (English
letters) and one gradually gets adept at recognizing the kanji (Japanese
characters) of the place they are heading towards. The key point is
to bring a good map. There's only one English road atlas
covering all of Japan as far as I know. I'd bring that one but I'd
also consider bringing a good Japanese one since it will be more likely to
list the all-important onsen and camping symbols.
Any other questions or requests for advice? I'll
be happy to help if I can. Information about factual or
typographical errors are welcome as well. And, if you actually read
all 24 pages of this saga, then definitely drop me a note or sign the
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