Japan by Motorcycle

Day 3

July 31, 1999

Scenic Coastline, Caves and More

Iwate Prefecture, Aomori Prefecture and Ferry to Hokkaido

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Mt. Taneyama Camp    Sounds of flying insects buzzing to and fro gradually entered my sleeping state.  That, along with the warming sun, pulled me into consciousness and after a moment I recalled where I was -- a campground near the southern part of Iwate Prefecture.  I don't believe the temperature ever went below 20C (68F) and I had had a good sleep.  I couldn't sit up as my "tent" was a bivy tent, just big enough to encompass a sleeping bag and provide protection from bugs and, maybe, from rain.  I unzipped the opening and was able to sit up and take a look around.  It was about 7:00.  Some of the campers had already taken off however the other biker was still there.  I changed into my clothes and had a roll or something I had picked up at a convenience store for breakfast.  I made eye contact with the other biker and we talked briefly.  He was on a short bike/camping trip within the Tohoku region and had come from Fukushima Prefecture.  I got the bike packed up and ready for the road by 8:30 -- much better time than the previous day.
    It was a beautiful day and I headed toward the coast along Routes 397, 340 and 283.  From the camp area I was descending in altitude on a winding valley road with no traffic to speak of and beautiful green vistas of farm plots which lay against a hilly backdrop.  The crops there looked like tobacco but I could be mistaken.  I felt like I was flying.  Just me leaning left and then right and then back again cruising against the backdrop of this beautiful terrain.  It was really a wondrous wow this is awesome kind of feeling.
    I was heading towards the "scenic coast" of Jodogahama, an area just north of Miyako in Iwate Prefecture.  I arrived there around 11:30-ish.  It was a really hot Saturday -- 37C (98F) according to my thermometer -- with bright sunshine.  The parking area was crowded as one might expect on a weekend day such as this.  The attendant pointed me towards a grassy area nearby and I dismounted to check out the place.  In front of the parking area was a snack/souvenir building overlooking the ocean.  The actual beach looked to be a good long hike down a rocky path.  Though it was so hot and the water so inviting, I didn't have time for swimming or dallying on the beach because I needed to be in Sapporo the next day to meet a friend.  I promptly downed a cold Coke from a vending machine and got another.  I followed a short trail along the tree covered cliff line where I could have a view while I had my lunch -- a convenience store package of pizza bread (really not as good as it might sound).  The shade and ocean breezes kept the heat at bay and the view made it more than worthwhile.  I was glad I had picked up a polarizing filter for my camera before my trip.  Without it, the sky would have been washed out and would not have appeared true to life.

Jodogahama Scenic Coastline

Click for Large Image

Click for Large Image

Click for Large Image

    I had with me a monthly publication published by Japan Rail that contained all the train and ferry schedules throughout the entire country.  It was about the size of a 5x7 photograph and 2 inches thick.  I determined that I needed to catch an overnight ferry which departed at 10PM.  Therefore, I had time to check out nearby Ryusendo, a massive network of caves and underground lakes.  I said goodbye to the view and took one last look towards the tiny human figures dotting the beach before heading back to the bike.
    Before reaching the cave but shortly after leaving Jodogahama, I went through a couple of tunnels and within just a few kilometers the temperature changed greatly.  My thermometer was now registering 26C (78F).  That was a big change from the 37C just a few kilometers ago.  It felt like I had gone through something physical; technically, I suppose, I had.  It may have been the edge of the low pressure system that was dumping rain in Hokkaido the last few days, the same place I was going the next day.
    Ryusendo Cave, according to Lonely Planet, is one of the three largest stalactite caves in Japan and Ryusendo CavesOutside Ryusendo Caves contains a huge underground lake 120 meters deep.  It is supposedly the clearest in the world with visibilities of up to 45 meters.  I took the walk-through tour and, indeed, the water was crystal clear and emerald green.  The searingly hot temperatures of Jodogahama were just a memory now as I was completely enveloped in the damp chill of the cave.
    I headed up local Route 7 towards Kuji City and the coastal road, Route 45.  I made it to Kuji around 4PM and stopped for gas.  Kuji Culture Center - Amber HallWhile riding around looking for a gas station, I saw an eye-catching building that for some reason I mis-remembered later as Kuji's funky city hall building but now see, after hours of web searching in Japanese, it's their funky cultural center called Amber Hall.  Here's a link to the place (it took me so long to find it I want to have something to show for the hard work).
    I had a ferry to catch in Hachinohe so I headed up Route 45, a road that generally followed the rocky strewn coastline of Iwate Prefecture and continued into Aomori Prefecture.  I was getting fairly adept at sightseeing while riding on a motorcycle.  I stole peeks at the natural beauty to the right of me as much as I could.  Just a half-hour later I stopped for a snack at a Circle K convenience store off Route 45 in Taneichi.  While I was sitting on the curb, a strange contraption came into view coming up Route 20.  As it came closer I could see that it was a three-wheeled bicycle powered only by the guy peddling it.  For some reason I believe he was disabled but now I can't say for sure.  The sign on the back indicated he was also headed for Hokkaido, the same place I was headed.  It certainly put my feat -- if you can call it that -- into perspective.  I was tired just from riding a motorcycle.  Hats off to those who ride long distances like this on their own power!
    I continued on and, determining I had plenty of time, I opted to continue following the coast along local Route 1 -- a more circuitous way into Hachinohe.Iwate CoastlineIwate Coastline  More nice views were to be seen and I stopped at one point to take a closer look.  There was was a long, sandy beach with only a handful of people to enjoy it.  Nearby were rocky outcroppings in various shapes and sizes.  The one depicted here was labeled "Turtle," if I'm not mistaken.

    Shortly thereafter I found my way into Hachinohe and went in search of the ferry pier and ticket office.  I had to fill out a form with items such as the size of vehicle, license plate number and name and address.  When I paid the fee, I was given a ticket and told to line up by 9PM.  This was going to be an overnight ride so at least I didn't have to worry about finding accommodations.
    I had time to kill and was ready for dinner so I cruised around the streets of Hachinohe and settled on a Mos Burger.  Despite the less-than-appetizing name, Mos Burger is a nationwide fast food chain with burgers, hot dogs and the like.  They also have a some sandwiches in which they've replaced the bun with rice patties but I've never really cared for those.  I usually get -- what else -- a Mos Burger meal.  So I hung out there for a while eating and writing in my diary.  I topped off my gas tank at 8PM and headed back to the ferry pier.
    The ferry was a rather large beast and besides the dozens of cars and trucks, I found many like-mindedFerry from Hachinohe to Hokkaido bikers were lined up to take the trip across to Hokkaido and cruise its wide open roads.  There were at least forty total.  I asked a fellow biker to take my picture with the ferry in the background.  The angle was such that my motorcycle didn't enter the picture but his was a lot nicer anyway.  Soon, it was time.  People started their bikes and we rode across the ramp one by one, parking the bikes along the sides of the hull.  An attendant came and chocked the tires and attached tie downs to the bikes.  I left my saddle bags strapped on but grabbed my tank bag which contained my guide books and toiletries.  Luckily, pilfering is not much of a worry in this country.
    I had paid for the lowest price I could which was about $70 for cattle-class accommodations.  Ferry Accommodations in SteerageAnd it was truly cattle-like.  People were ushered into pens -- square, carpeted areas -- with barely enough room for everybody to grab a spot to lie down.  This being Japan, shoes are removed and placed on shelves before entering the carpeted area.  There was a television hanging from the ceiling.  Most people looked to be families making the trip across for some reason or other.  This was the obon season so many people were probably enroute to visit family. Obon is a common time to travel back to one's hometown.  After settling in and asking a passenger across our "pen" to take my picture, I explored the ship.  Besides the vehicle deck there was a main passenger deck filled with steerage class accommodations along with a row of private cabins.  There were vending machines as well as a small manned counter where attendants were selling snacks and souvenirs.
    I made my way out outside on the dark deck and settled on a spot aft.  The ocean breezes were cool but not uncomfortably so.  There was a clear sky with a large, almost-full moon.  The moon was sending a shimmering trail across the dark, silky water.  It was one of those moments when one wishes they could take a picture and capture the scene but knows that any attempt would be futile.  So I stood there and tried to soak it all in.  The scene gave rise to a philosophical moment and I gave some thought to matters of past and future, life and death.  I had no great revelations but felt lucky just the same to be there, in that time and that place.


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Just The Stats

Day 3



Place Weather
Start: 45040 8:30 Iwate Pref. Campground Mostly Sunny/Hot
Finish: 45340 20:00 Car Ferry from Hachinohe (Iwate Pref.) to Hokkaido Partly Cloudy/Warm
Totals: 300km 11 hrs


Gas: 1,700 Food: 2,300
Car Ferry: 77,50 Lodging:
Attractions: 1,000  

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Mar 22, 2001

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