A window of fine weather appeared in early November before winter. It was already very cold to ride North however the southern temperatures remained mild so I decided to seize the chance to try a more ambitious tour here before winter ends the riding for this year.
One of the challenges touring here is securing hotels. They seem to book out a few days in advance and weekends often a couple weeks in advance, so my route was slightly shaped by where I could get rooms. I was going to ride in a anti-clockwise loop but ended up flipping this in reverse to match hotel vacancies.
Day one was not particularly notable, the fine weather forecast was already looking shaky as light rain was falling when I set off so there was no point to try see Mt Fuji on my way west and I ended up just taking the expressway and ‘slabbing it’ as the Americans would say. I stopped at a couple of the highway service centres called parking areas here. They are quite amazing, besides a great selection of food and beverages you get things like laundry, hot showers, massage chairs, a pet park, playgrounds and at one a custom motorcycle display and motorcycle accessory shop of all things.
The highway ride was actually not boring, the scenery still interesting. Unfortunately the rain came down from the mountains when I got west of Nagoya so I cancelled my intended look around Suzuka skyline and hid in a huge electronics shop waiting for it to ease. I had been pondering again getting a action camera to capture some more on the road stuff. Just no longer interested in video, I have tried it a few times and I find on-board touring footage very boring. Even editing from a hour into five minutes I might watch it once and find it still doesn’t capture the feel of an area as much as just one good photo – of course if your don’t get that one good photo then you wish you had the cam... I might try supplement my still shots.
The rain eased so I put the Sony action cam back on the shelf and made for the hotel. I did not put my rain suit on thinking the waterproof Alpinestars two piece would manage ok for light drizzle but this turned heavy again and I arrived dry but everything was heavy with water and estimate I was a few minutes away from getting a leaks so vowed to put on my rain suit early next time. Hmm cold and raining not a great start.
Is there any cure for pre ride insomnia. I don’t think so except excessive alcohol which is not an option when you are getting on a motorcycle in the morning. I should be used to it, I do a lot of touring but I still get excited like a young boy about doing a ride. Guess I am lucky to have found something I enjoy so much. And so I had a hard time getting to sleep again and woke up about 6.00am before any alarm. My plan was to be on the road each day not much later than 7.30-7.45 as the days are rather short heading into winter, the sun dips below the horizon at 4.00pm and it is dark by about 5.00pm so it was essential to be on the road before 8.00am most days. Outside it was still damp and overcast but forecast was clearing in the morning.
I have to laugh at how sometimes the Garmin GPS forgets to tell you there is a turn ahead. And so I was sailing blissfully along and suddenly it says do a U turn which is not possible on a 4 lane divided highway. Seems the bend left was actually take the exit and join a new road which the Garmin slept through. Oh well I got off the highway about 7 km later at next exit and went back, gave me a chance to get fuel at least so no hard done. Today I was retracing some of the excellent ride I did in the Mie prefecture and then riding in the Nara region. Here is a few photos taken along the way south of wonderful rural Japan.
I stopped for lunch at a small rest area sitting above the road which I found by sheer chance when I pulled over to take a photo of something else. A family who were visiting their parents in the village came to say hello to me and explained I just missed the village autumn festival held the day before. I wish I could speak more than a few words of Japanese as people often want to talk to me here but so far a proper grasp of the language continues to elude me.
Next I was heading for the Ryujin skyline, said to be one of the best roads in the region and it did not disappoint however being a long weekend the traffic was rather heavy.
Despite the overcast sky the views were still wonderful. Japan is full of tunnels and bridges. Tunnels are boring but I rather like bridges. Riding along the valleys towards Wakayama I came across another couple of interesting ones. A really enjoyable days riding. Day 2 route.
Day three I would be taking the first of two ferries on my way south. From Wakayama to Tokushima on the island of Skikoku. The smallest of the four main islands of Japan. I had visited there some years ago and recalled it to be very mountainous with the train I rode having tilting rollingstock and seemingly never on straight track. All seemed good at the time for a motorcycle ride.
A nice fine morning leaving Wakayama I allowed tons of time at the port since this was my first ferry crossing but it was very easy, I presented my vehicle paperwork and they filled out the form for me which was my main worry not being able to read it then I found the waiting area and ended up with an hour spare. Once on board you can relax upstairs, there is a chill out area where most people were having a lie down so I did the same and then grabbed a bento lunch box from the cafe which was excellent and arrived both fed and refreshed.
Shikoku is stunning. The ride to Kochi was incredible. My photos simply do no justice to the beauty of the countryside I rode through on this afternoon.
Yeah ok maybe I have this thing for bridges…
Hmm, another bridge, but you gotta admit it is a pretty impressive one. This is not the main road but rather constructed to service the small community on other side of valley.
Another fine morning greeted me on day 4 leaving Kochi bound for Sadamisaki peninsular to get the ferry to Kyushu, the southern most of the four main islands of Japan. First up was a ride along the Yokonami Kuroshio Line, a wonderful ocean road just south of Kochi.
After this amazing start to the day I did not take too many photos but the ride was still wonderful. Route 197 lead me basically all the way to the ferry. A sweeping open road more suiting to the big FJR motorcycle but what was the real joy was the low volume traffic. There is not the population on Shikoku to have the density of traffic that can get tiresome in some other areas. It was bliss to glide along at my own pace, which is not particularly rapid, but not always encountering traffic. The last section to the ferry is a rather spectacular ride along the top of the ridge that is the peninsular jutting out with the ocean on either side of you. It proved elusive to try capture in a photo. I stopped a few times at lookout points which all turned out to be limited to a view of one side only.
I did not have a timetable for the ferry but had read it ran every hour so figured worse case I would not wait too long. Well I arrived and could see the ferry sailing out of the harbour then found out middle of the day is two hour gap. Ha-ha all I could do was laugh, that's the way things go sometimes. The crossing went smooth same as the previous one and I still managed to get into Beppu before dark by using the expressway.
Click to enlarge the sight of Beppu welcoming me.
Day 4 route here. (not including Kyushu expressway)
I started day five with a trip to hell. Beppu Hell that is, the hot steam pools that are a big tourist attraction. I avoid things like this mostly but I was passing by just as they were opening the gates and before the hordes of tour buses had arrived so I decided to pop in.
Today I would be going past, but not over Mt Aso volcano. I had two days of exploring planned for the region with the option to ride the Volcano on either depending on the weather and today was an overcast and gloomy morning so I went to plan B. The roads I would be riding were mostly all strung together from suggestions I had read online from the Gaijin riders motorcycle forum. The riding was incredible, the sights like another world as I circled around the volcanic region with the haze of steam in the air. Just a shame it was overcast washing the colour from my photos.
The first time I rode in Japan I stayed at a rider lodge near Nagano and the owner had a photo of a bridge in Kyushu with water coming out the sides. I had forgotten about it then today riding along I saw a sign with a pictogram of this bridge so I immediately decided to try find it. A couple of wrong turns sent me all over the countryside before I eventually found it. I am not sure if it is a bridge or an ancient aqueduct but anyway it seems now they only release some water on weekends so alas I was not able to view it in action as per below on right.
I cut back across to my intended route via a minor road that was one lane sealed however as is the case in Japan roads often get narrow and this one became a real track in some parts before emerging from a tunnel remote in the mountains. I stopped near the tunnel to take a photo and without thinking just eased off the tar but then the weight of this bike made it sink and I very nearly dropped it, only a super human effort knowing I would be stranded saved it from going over. Such a heavy bike.
After this the suggested roads from the forum were all in these mountains and whilst nice they were too tight for such a big bike as the Yamaha.
A nice surprise was the suggested route unknowingly took me past a special view point for autumn foliage, the Umenoki Todoro park suspension bridge which unusually for a pedestrian bridge uses concrete slabs.
Some of this route (445) was superb road, some was a narrow goat track, it kept switching between new sweeping two lane road to super narrow barely one lane blind corner road. Eventually it opens out into a grand valley or they build it all on structures like the photo below which is amazing when you consider it serves only a few remote villages.
From here the riding suited the big bike again, route 25 was mostly well surveyed road and held some more amazing infrastructure in the middle of nowhere stuff that always makes me happy but also shake my head.
All in all another great day despite some really fatiguing sections for me on the FJR that would have been fun on a smaller bike. Approaching Kumamoto there was some lovely rural scenes, below is just one. Day 5 route here.
Actually you could not see the reflection from the road but I had a hunch
Day 6 clear skies, Mt Aso. The approach again was using some roads suggested on the forum and wow the forest was just magnificent in the morning light and still air.
Dead silence,the trees and I…
The Mt Aso climb is an excellent road and since I was coming from the south early there were no cars or tour buses. The area around Aso volcano is dramatically different, lunar like in places but with grand views of the caldera which has a circumference of about 120km.
Can’t help but think what is going on below you…
I was not able to go to the very top as it there was volcanic activity and so it was off limits to visitors but I enjoyed all the same, a superb place to visit and great ride.
Every day I just have a picnic lunch. The Japanese convenience stores are well know for having a great selection of pre made lunches and dinners for busy workers. On a bike it is hard to transport a hot meal and not familiar with my surrounds it could be cold before I found a rest area by the road but I have a cooler bag and freezer block thing I place in the hotel fridge each night so I pick up some fresh sandwiches or small bento lunch and drink and place in the bag and keep fresh until I find a nice spot. Todays was a lookout and small park on the road that by passes the town it over looks.
The afternoon was more excellent riding roads on my way back north to Nakastu. I had free time as today was an early finish to do laundry so I went into a couple of other small bypassed towns. The one below was once famous for making wooden toys and has a small and large one as town mascot. Then sadly the tunnel that bypasses the town has their mascot on it.
I am going to try explore more of the small town Japan on future travels. Lastly today I came across some beautiful foliage, first a tree so nice the road parts way for it and then a fiery display of colour of which I would be seeing much more in coming days. Day 6 route.
Day seven was again overcast but not unpleasant. Today I was following a collection of back roads, a few again from the forum and some just to connect to make my way north. Mostly good riding one mountain range was too tight for the big tourer but would have been superb on a mid size bike. I love the highway capability of this bike to get me places but I wish I was on something like a Kawasaki Versys on the smaller roads.
Shame the sky was so grey. Today my route seemed to not bypass so many small towns and I came across some very interesting streets with old buildings but the photos I took with the humble iPhone were mostly rubbish. Rural towns are full of abandoned shops like this.
I better not stop at Kawasaki town on my Yamaha. I can see it now - “we don’t like your kind around here” “You best keep moving if you don’t want no trouble mister” Ha-ha, maybe I just watch too many westerns.
I jumped on the expressway to leave Kyushu and avoid the congested city areas. I wanted to cover some distance in the afternoon so I could see the rocky landscape at Akiyoshidai. It was a bit of a disappointment as the area is not so big and the rocky display not so special, certainly it’s different for Japan, reminds me a bit of some places I have seen in Australia but not as good a display as say around the New England Tablelands.
I am sure the area has more to offer than what I saw however the rain that had been threatening now started lightly so I made straight for the hotel in Hofu. Day 7 route.
Woke up on day 8 to steady rain. The radar showed it was widespread but forecast said easing in the afternoon. I delayed as much as possible but eventually had to get suited up and ride on. The Revit rain suit I have is excellent. Then the combo of my Alpinestars waterproof gear means I was not going to be getting wet but riding in the rain is no fun. I guess it depends a bit on the road and amount of rain as to if it is miserable. The FJR affords considerable protection from rain if moving at a steady pace so I altered my planned route to take the expressway closest to me all the way to Togouchi then with the rain just light I resumed my original route.
Thank you Captain Obvious electronic highway sign.
The road from Togouchi climbed even higher into the mountains and the views I imagine would be superb on a clear day. Also the leaves were all all shades of yellow and red but were obscured by the mist. Actually even the highway prior had some large sections of excellent colour but no way I could capture it. The road next followed the valley and I tried to capture the colour in a photo but the phone was not able to filter out the grey and rain as well as my eyes could.
The riding in the Shimane prefecture proved to be nice despite the light rain as it is so scenic. My route was just chosen from Google using street view yet proved to be quiet back roads through rustic small villages and rural Japan. Shimane seemed a bit different, there was lots of older stone buildings not common in Japan and many parts were open farm land which is rare and gave it a different feel. After Shikoku, Shimane is number 2 on my most wanted to revisit area list.
Better get some more guys if you want to tow the FJR it weighs about 2 tonnes. Sign says festival of the scarecrows.
How about todays lunch spot. I seem to have guided myself via a small no longer used road between two main roads rather which went over a small hill where I found a abandoned rest area and the rain paused for a 20 minutes while I enjoyed the tranquillity before restarting to remind me I better get going again.
I was unable to see much of lake Shinji when I arrived at Matsue as the rain returned and became a steady downpour but at least I was still dry and had enjoyed some of the day in spite of poor weather. Day 8 route.
Leaving Matsue it was again overcast, but at least not raining. I was heading to Mt Daisen, said to be the Fuji of the west. But it was covered in clouds. However take a look at the road to it, like something in a North American national park not Japan. The views and ride around the mountain were pretty good too.
After this I was riding the rainbow route 179 and while it began simply as a scenic road sweeping along next to the small river when I reached the area around the Tatsumi pass the hills exploded with colour and thus I concurred with the name given to the road.
I turned off 179 and onto route 482 and enjoyed a series of beautiful scenes of rural Japan in full Autumn splendour.
I stopped for my last picnic lunch at the best rest area of the tour, off the main road next to waterfall with view of the small one carriage rural trains that still survive in Japan.
After lunch I found myself wandering along quiet roads servicing small villages in the valleys. Again like in Shimane prefecture Tottori prefecture was low traffic and very enjoyable rural riding which I will return to again.
When I reached the on ramp for the expressway for the ride to bypass Osaka and Kyoto I was quite sad to think the tour proper was over. I still had another day but that was mostly expressway but I did not want to leave the beautiful peaceful valleys here and return to the hustle and bustle. Reluctantly I turned on to the expressway and just clicked the cruise control on at low speed to savour the last bit of this area before merging to the main highway to Osaka.
The beers of the tour, all limited winter editions. If you like beer then you will enjoy Japan which people think of as enjoying Saki but really it is a nation of beer drinkers.
I revisited Suzuka on my last day before slabbing it back towards Tokyo in the rain that closed in after Nagoya but it was still one of the best rides I have ever done. The FJR is too heavy and big for Japan and the weather tried at times to spoil things but as far as roads and sights go I think it was the best. I’d like to introduce people to the delights of riding here more in the future. The bike is parked now for the winter, my next ride will be in the new year in much warmer SE Asia.