Japan by Motorcycle

Day 24

August 21, 1999

Final Thoughts

Meishin and Tomei Expressways

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    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 advance notice, 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 expressway.  CommunistsAlthough 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 days.

    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 out nicely.
    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 guest book..  Both email and guest book contact can be made here.


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Just The Stats

Day 24



Place Weather
Start: 51160 6:30 Akashi, Hyogo Pref. Mostly Sunny/Hot
Finish: 51820 18:30 Tokyo
Totals: 660km 12 hrs


Gas: ¥2,650 Food: ¥2,000
Highway Fees: ¥9,950  

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Oct 3, 2001

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