I wasn’t planning any riding when out of the blue a week of sunny weather was being predicted prior to the arrival of Japans rainy season. I set off one day later with part of a ride worked out on a bike that was not running the best but a week of fine weather is as rare as hens teeth in Japan so the moment had to be seized.
I started by going west along the coast past Enoshima to Hakone. I actually live not that far from one of the more popular riding/day trip areas for people in Tokyo but the traffic density even this far out from the metropolis makes it a slow and laborious journey so I tend not to bother doing day rides since moving to Kanagawa. Today I stopped at Lake Ashi in the mistake thinking to see Mt Fuji. I had read this was a good view point on a travel page but obviously that was complete nonsense. Oh well it was a nice spot on glorious morning kicking off six days of touring so no problems.
Could not be a Japan ride report without some tongue in cheek and so lets start with the Deep Espresso ha-ha. Next I went on to ride the very popular Isu Skyline toll road which despite being close I avoid. Lots of riders going very fast, running wide on corners into my lane. Lots of fast and furious wanna be’s in pseudo race cars too thus a high risk road for being hit if you are in wrong place when either run out of talent. But the road itself leads onto other nice routes in the area that I wanted to revisit. I was again hoping to get some nice views of Mt Fuji before making the long highway haul to the west. I took a few videos this tour as a trial with a Polaroid Cube action cam. Apologies in advance it is all crappy behind screen footage which is rather boring. I haven’t masked the noise with music since I first thing I do is mute any video with a dumbass soundtrack. Actually I wasn’t going to add the videos at all but I will for the moment just as a personal reference since this is the first and last time I will be posting on bike video like this. (p.s. the ultra wide angle exaggerates everything)
I descended to the coast via the fabulous route 127 and route 18 stopping at one of the view points to have a rest and a bite to eat. Nothing nicer for me than a fine sunny day in the high 20’s up to 30 degrees. That is the weather I like best and then if riding wearing protective gear finding a shady spot with little bit of a breeze where I can take a rest and have a cold drink puts me into a state of tranquility. Despite some reasonably valid reasons for leaving Australia I’ve been wondering what the hell I am doing in Japan of late but least at this moment with 6 days of riding ahead of me I was feeling at peace.
Mt Fuji was obscured by clouds today so I was not able to get a view from the mountain road above or the coast road below but it was a nice ride all the same and as a consolation I present some of the wonderful forgotten roadside memorabilia that is scattered around Japan in front of many now abandoned tourist attractions. This still recent but already forgotten part of Japan facinates me. Oh what the hell is that Yamaha doing photo bombing Mr. Zebra boxer shorts.
Putting together my route in short time I had not tested it in the GPS and was expecting some issues from the Garmin and indeed getting to the expressway I had to abandon the crazy routing it suggested and ride as the crow flys looking for the green signs indicating the way. The FJR is a terrific highway motorcycle with cruise control easing the wrist and the electric screen reducing the wind and rain which was much appreciated as I ran into some light rain where the alps come down to the ocean in Shizuoka and then very strong cross winds around Nagoya the ‘windy city’ of Japan.
Last up today was a ride over the mountains to Lake Biwa via route 306. I noticed a few signs saying something about 304 detour but was feeling a bit tired and did not stop to translate them. Riding up the 306 range was magic, nice mountain road with no cars and then I started to think hang on this is Japan there is no way a main road like this would be low traffic let alone car free… and indeed a bit further on a tunnel was closed and the road blocked. Oh crap. I was only 22km from my destination of Hikone but was now facing a 99km detour north around the mountain range and it was already 5pm after a long day. Oh well nothing to do but suck it up and ride. Mental note, next time stop and use Google translate on those road signs.
Day one route.
Day two and the sun was still shining – yippee! I have come to realise the weather forecasts in Japan are rather optimistic beyond a 12 hour period. Previously forecasts of fine weather for a week lasted no more than one day then turned to rain and clouds. I fall for this trick every time coming from Australia where if they say fine weather all week then it will be usually be close to that. I never even used to carry any wet weather gear with me in my home state so blaze’ I had become about it being fine. In Japan I ride in Gore-Tex even on a fine day like this as conditions can and often do vary wildly from what was forecast. Everything being so beautiful and green requires a lot of rain!
Before leaving the hotel I admired the silver finish on a new Lexus SUV parked next to my bike. That is the colour I was talking about in my review of the FJR1300 that is close in tone to Yamaha’s chosen silver yet a whole world away in how it looks and captures the light. Next time hey Yamaha. (But I’d take one in primer if they reduced the weight, ok I am starting to digress)
I went this morning to ride Okubiwako Parkway. I had not been able to ride this last time I was there in March as the road was not yet open due to ice but no problems with that today as it was already steamy warm and heading for a hot day. I did video this but the file truncated itself after a few seconds for reasons unknown but still camera photos capture so much more anyway. Nice to have the electric screen in the low position for a change and enjoy feeling the airflow. Not often I can ride in warm enough air for that. Lovely views over Biwa Lake and my Japanese iced coffee journey of discovery continues unabatedly.
Riding south I enjoyed route 367 in very different conditions to last time when it was starting to lightly snow on this road. Today warm, vents zipped open, the sky so clear and pine trees so green. My FJR in its groove on wide sweeping roads. This is as good as it gets.
Riding route 367 Japan. The YouTube video enhancement has done some weird things on this (edit I now undid that). POV action camera footage does not capture the lovely lush valley I am riding through but everyone tells me I should be doing video as that is what people want these days so I am trying some this tour.
I was riding towards the west coast but taking “the long way home” as Supertramp once put it. At one point early today my final destination was just 30km away yet still 270km on my chosen ride route. That included some back roads via route 477 and route 38 in the mountains north of Kyoto. Below is route 477, a designated main road.
I had been here before so had allowed plenty of time to ride the narrow and ultra tight mountain pass. The reward on the other side was fabulous routes of either the 162 which is fast sweepers or the 38 which is technical but is both wonderfully scenic and historic.
But first lunch break at the top of the range in a small shady clearing adjacent to the road, nice to have my own camping seat with me, makes anywhere that suits me a roadside rest area.
(In my best Sir David Attenborough impersonation) ‘Here in the wilds of the Sakyo Ward forests we find the rare Remote Control tree. Indigenous to the Kyoto region and soon to bear fruit’.
After lunch and a peaceful rest and stretch I made a my offerings to the mountain road gods at the small shrine nearby and set off downhill to the coast.
Interesting route 38. Very peaceful area, almost no traffic. This video shows partly how the roads vary wildly in the countryside. From wide two lane to narrow no room to pass.
A very technical climb on route 38.
Then a beautiful ride down the 162.
Next stop Obama bay and the Angel Scenic driveway which was also closed in March when I tried to ride it but not today.
It is a fantastic ride up to a superb viewpoint and totally free, the toll both has been closed and the road handed back to the public (as all toll roads in Japan were supposed to be once the cost plus agreed return was achieved for investors – but unfortunately the highway system has proved too successful so probably will never honor that promise)
Another wonderful vista the FJR has taken me to. What a great road, I under rated this one previously. Took my time cruising down to soak up the views below.
I still had one more major attraction to ride today, the Rainbow line toll road which I visited twice before but both times in overcast rainy weather. I had high expectations for this in dry weather with good visibility.
It started well going up (above) and it was nice to ride this in fine weather but honestly the Angel scenic driveway was better, not just a nicer ride but also the views it offers are superior to the Rainbow line too, but it took me until now with a fine afternoon at both to discover this. Still I am happy to see this road finally in clear weather. What a day of sights. One of the my best. I celebrated with a soft serve ice cream at the lookout (below) before riding into Tsuruga.
Such a nice town Tsuruga, well I like it. People are friendly and say hello to me in the streets and pavements are wide and they have a town radio station that plays music in speakers on the footpaths in town. I’d love to be living in a place like that rather than the big city.
Day three and the sun was nowhere to be found… the Japanese low grey cloudy skies had returned. Riding north along the ocean on the Shiokaze Line scenic road I was feeling a little down about the grey and gloomy conditions but it was not raining nor cold nor heavy traffic so I tried to remain positive.
Came upon these guys so stopped for some advice on why the FJR was not running so well, stalling at idle, but they were not talking.
So I made a detour into the next major town to find somewhere that sold fuel injector additive for cleaning blocked injectors as I wondered if the problem lay there and as that was about the only thing I could do whilst on the road. Then I returned to my route riding backroads over to the town of Ono.
Looking down at Ono. Really beautiful part of Japan this area. I used to like coming here when I was living in Nagoya. I had lunch below the Ono castle but ended up not climbing the hill to see it as looking at my route for the day I saw I was well behind schedule. Late start, the detour for injector cleaner and then talking to some friendly country people who were at the view point above for awhile had put me behind. Additionally the second half of todays route had some sections that would be slow and require extra time. Below I am at the field you can see in the photo above.
Riding north route 157 is a fantastic mountain range road.
Riding route 157 video. I had to mute this, the wind noise was too much.
The sights you see riding along in Japan.
I got tangled up in heavy traffic on the fringe of Kanazawa. If you ride Japan pay close attention to route yourself away from urbanised areas or you will find forward progress is very slow. I could not find a better option in the short planning time I had but I would never ride this sort of route again, 20 km took forever. Eventually I found my way onto this fantastic road route 27 going east in the middle of nowhere with no cars. I was having so much fun cooling down after baking at traffic lights that I forgot to photograph it but tracking sideways on route 291 I stopped when this rural scene caught my eye.
Turning south on easy riding roads I found a 7/11 to stop and recharge. The roads now would be rural and light traffic as I zig zag my way to Toyama.
Continuing south I rode over (and mostly underneath via a tunnel) Mt Takashozu to arrive in a deep valley between two high mountains where I turned north again.
Next riding route 156 north.
Todays interesting roadside feature a hydro electric water turbine displayed on route 156.
After riding the wonderful 156 I make almost a 180 degree turn back south as can be seen on todays route to climb from the valley up into the mountainous Toma region.
(Above) Looking down at route 156 shrouded in snow sheds beside the Shokawa river from route 471 (below)
471 is a tight and technical climb not really suited to a bike as big as the FJR. I was feeling rather fatigued by the summit as while the FJR makes highway travel so comfortable it takes considerable effort to steer the motorcycle around tight corners and you get physically tired. Fortunately the descent opened up in sections to be more enjoyable.
Video riding other side on 471. See those groves cut in the road on corners to prevent ice – the bike moves about on those but I doubt you really lose that much grip, just squirms about which is not the feel I like on a 300kg tourer.
Arriving in Toyama I wanted to explore the town a little, it has trams which I love and wanted to ride but I was so tired I was literally feeling light headed and had an early dinner then felt myself falling asleep in the restaurant. I tried to muster the energy but I was personally at the stage where the battery on the phone is showing red and will not even power the screen on so I walked back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep.
Day four, I woke feeling recharged but from the 10th floor of the hotel strained to even make out the mountains I would be riding towards today hidden in the heavy low clouds. Shame as below is what the views are like from Toyama on a clear day (photo from internet). I made a mental note to return here in the future perhaps Spring to see what must be jaw dropping views.
I got an easy exit from downtown being the size town I prefer, big enough to have everything but small enough not to have all the big city traffic. For the 100th time I asked myself what was I doing living in the greater metropolis of Tokyo but of course employment opportunities are what draws people to big cities. Next I was going to the Arimine Prefectural Natural Park but first I stopped for a cold beverage in a small one street town. No reason, it was still early but I just like small town Japan and had the the time today to poke about a little.
Riding on I notice some train buffs waiting to take a photo of the local regional train that had been travelling next to me a few km back so I pulled up to join them on a bridge.
Then crossing over to the other side of the bridge I was struck by this incredible view.
You might just make out there is a pedestrian suspension bridge across the lower falls. (you can click to enlarge any photo) I went to this spot but the bridge was unfortunately closed. Adjacent to this the road to enter the natural park begins. It is a toll road and I thought being such a large area it was going to be expensive but turned out to be just $3.
That would turn out to be the best value toll in Japan. The roads and riding here are really wonderful. Not open but still flowing well thanks to better surveying and less reducing radius corners that Japanese road makers seem to favour in many places. Also being well out of the way I only saw a few hikers and couple other bikes the whole time I was there.
As always not easy to capture forest roads but above is entering the park. Below riding across a dam high in the mountains.
I had the whole park to myself for the majority of the ride. Just the birds singing. The above photo does not show I am high up looking down a deep valley behind me. (the photos I took are not good enough to publish so maybe next time)
Leaving the park riding south I was wondering what the road conditions might be like. On Google maps you have to zoom in to even tell there is a road to the south so I half expecting route 484 to be a mix of narrow forest trails but in fact it was the most perfectly surveyed wide two lane mountain road. A road so nice I was saying no way! what is this perfect road doing here in the middle of nowhere. As you know impossible to photograph something that is endless turns unless there is a clearing or viewpoint overlooking the road so you will just have to take my word that this area is a undiscovered heaven for riding as below is best I could achieve.
Joining on to route 471 (a different 471, in Japan same route numbers are used by different regions) the road swoops down the valley following the river in more wonderful car free scenic riding.
And then the sun came out. So happy.
Nice to be able to stop and smell the roses when touring and today I certainly did that stopping by the river wishing I had my usual picnic lunch with me but I had not come across a convenience store for a long time. People in countryside Japan plant flowers often along the road for everyone to enjoy. Below is on the very nice riding route 26.
The view from the 361 down to Chino, a nice but busy road today. Tall mountains in the distance are where I am going next, the Venus Line but first I had to find a late lunch in Chino.
You may be familiar with the Venus line – it is the twisty road photo in my blogs header and the Facebook page cover photo. I started down the bottom on route 40 which is the lower part of the Venus line then made my way to the very top via routes 460, 178 and 464 that combine to form the Venus line. It is not so easy to follow them in Google maps so by all means take a closer look at my route by accessing it on RidewithGPS under user warren where you can zoom and pan etc. The weather was lousy down the bottom, grey and cloudy, I have thrown away those photos but will add a couple up higher where the sun tried to break through and some video too.
On the way up to 2000m.
Slightly different view of the upper portion below, it is an amazing ride all the way, truly one of the best. And then the view on the other side. What a place to be on a motorcycle.
Day 4 route overview.
Day five I was doing a big loop exploring the many great roads in Nagano.
Like the Venus line, route 292 in Nagano was one of the roads I set out to see when I did my first ride here in 2008. That time I had no GPS or Google map or offline map, just a bunch of print outs of road maps and notes. It was a big adventure in many ways compared to having a GPS which makes riding a foreign country easy but disconnects you a bit from the navigating which I used to enjoy in paper map days.
First order of the day was cover some urban roads which were the usual slow going so my morning ice coffee sampling was brought forward when I took a rest. The blue version of this is better than the red version I had at Lake Biwa.
I have twice ridden to the summit of route 292 from the East but today I rode up from the west and enjoyed that even more. Wonderful bit of road, less technical in the corners and some incredible views of the alps from the top which my photo does not do justice to but try full screen of this to see it a bit better.
Riding route 292 Nagano video. I applied a high pass filter but this still has a lot of noise. When I compare to the photos the video shows nothing of the fantastic landscapes I am riding through. I will post a few more on board videos this ride report in what is my second trial of trying to use the format in my blog but I remain unimpressed.
Instead of riding down the 292 I took the toll road called the Nihon Romantic Road. Very spectacular looking start to this road from above on the 292.
This road and the 292 are on top of a active volcano by the way. Mt Shirane. Some places you can see steam and smell the sulfur.
A fantastic ride down this road, well worth the toll in my opinion as not many cars and very nice surveying with excellent sweeping corners. A small bit of video near the bottom, I had to mute the sound as too much wind.
Came across one of the many old forgotten shops in the rural towns, this one being a Yamaha motorcycle shop I decided to circle back and do a bit of a an art photo and let the FJR stick itself in the frame as well. The fuel additive had not helped the rough idle and my mate suggested it probably was the throttle bodies out of sync which makes sense as never had them looked at and now near 30,000km touring Japan on the odometer. Time to put it in for a dealer check when I get back instead of just my home servicing. I started do my own servicing some years back in Australia due to the exorbitant prices being asked there for what is really just a oil change on a minor service. Last time I paid for dealer service it was $450 in 2006, I cannot imagine now what they charge there now $600? $800?. (Update - I put the FJR in here and asked for full service with throttle body sync which came in at just $170 which is very reasonable)
I was making my way next to Mount Haruna, another great riding road. The weather that had been warm and sunny not long before turned to overcast then heavy low clouds and mist. I enjoyed the road, route 28. Many sports bikes screaming along this road, so many older classic sports bikes are on the road in Japan. Other countries people are focused on power and sports bike riders are on late model 200hp things but in Japan so many choose classic models with half that power which of course is still ample but curious as to how the older machinery is so popular here. I had lunch beside the small lake formed in the top or an old volcanic mountain regardless that I could hardly see the other side. Another place on my list to revisit.
Worse still I picked this terrible coffee. I thought cold brewed what is that but should have looked at the graphic that shows it being a drip filter coffee, yuk I hate American style coffee, in the bin it went. Interesting play on words with the craft roasted label yet Georgia Coffee is the brand Coca Cola uses for coffee products in Japan. So boutique
The weather stayed grey and misty but the riding was great. A terrific road route 54 over Mt Asamakakushiyama but in clouds at the top.
A small video shot with my LX100 at the top. Now this is more thoughtful use of video and I will try to think how to do more of this but not more on the bike video.
Nice roads south to Karuizawa, a favourite holiday spot of the Japanese Royal family I am told. But far too many cars going so very slow I got frustrated and blasted past some but just could not get around them all. I was happy to get off the main road onto a minor one that looked interesting. Route 18 also called the Nakasendo highway seems to be an old route built perhaps to service the railroad line that ran adjacent. The rail line has been abandoned and the road bypassed by the expressway network yet the road has been maintained and has 181 corners in 11 km. It is quite a fun road, even on my oversized bike. It would be a hoot on something much smaller.
Japanese number the corners on many mountain passes. And so it begins above. And a small video here of it. But it was much nicer in real life that that suggests.
A old railway bridge along the way and a better indication of how pretty the road was.
Another less travelled road after this is minor route 196 that goes over yet another mountain pass (well in Nagano almost every road is crossing a mountain pass) I don’t have any photo of it but this route (update - actually called Jomo Sanzan Panorama highway) which ran south past Mt Myogi a mountain that has that limestone look like in Thailand or Malaysia. However it is a another nice road of many tight corners but well surveyed.
This put me on to the final feature road of todays amazing ride, the sweeping mountain pass route 254 back to the west to Saku. I hopped off the main road to explore the old town that had been bypassed and noted that bypass had then been further bypassed by Japan’s endless tunnel building even if it meant one containing a decreasing radius corner inside, such a joy for the biker. (I’m being sarcastic of course) But a nice road, rather steep grade that had the trucks back to low gear for once which helped me be able to get past them easy.
I stayed the night in a Route Inn hotel that was oddly positioned out of town in the corner of a farm with nothing nearby. There had been rain all around me today and the forecast was for it to start raining in Saku so I decided to ride into town and get some things from the supermarket. Nice to have panniers to transport things easy. Supermarkets in Japan always have lots of quality premade meals that you need only heat up and all but the fanciest hotels have a microwave for that purpose so I grabbed a obento meal of nice looking pasta and browsed the wine and was surprised to find a red blend from an excellent Californian winery sitting alone amongst a collection of sad cheap wines so in the basket it went and back at the hotel I settled down to watch the moto gp from the day before while the rain came down outside.
Last day I had no firm plan except go home. The forecast had been revised to showers scattered across a wide area and it had been raining in Tokyo last two days already. Things started out cloudy but dry in Saku so I decided to explore route 299 which is a very twisty road that runs a good portion of the way back to where I would think about joining the expressway home. I knew from previous some portions of this road were very narrow and slow going but thought I would just potter along and when I got tired of it branch off. The weather was already changing to some light mist rain and any mountain roads would be in clouds so seemed as good a time as any for something different.
Probably too close to off road for the guys on adventure bikes so I did not see anyone else riding here
Eventually this turned back into a lovely two lane sweeping road. Riding along on very nice road near the town of Narahara I spy high above me a suspension bridge. A little later a sign says Sky Bridge a few km away so I turn off and climb up a small mountain to the bridge I had seen from below.
Looking down to the 299 road below in the valley. Another wonderful thing just sitting in the Japanese countryside that I had all to myself.
Last coffee feature of the tour. Kind of had to cheat this morning as no shops around but being Japan always a vending machine. The 299 was nice for while then it branches off and I could see it returned to a narrow track and about that time I decided I had done enough adventure riding and took the 462 north which is a nice two lane sweeping road that would connect me with a expressway. Very nice road following a gorge (below) and had a musical section too – let me explain. In a few places in Japan they cut groves across the road precisely so that vehicles driving over at the speed limit play a musical tune with the vibrations of the tyres across the grooves. No I am not making this up haha there was one on the Venus line lower section I forgot to mention and 462 had one as well which I took a photo of (2nd photo below) I will try record one in the future.
The rain was closing in on me by now but it was a nice ride even in misty conditions and overcast days are sometimes good for photographing water so I went looking for a nice reflection but this is best I could manage today.
And then it was highway time. It got almost like night at one stage the sky so dark and low but I never got wet besides a little mist on 299 and couple of times it briefly was spitting a little rain on the highway that the FJR kept me more or less shielded from. The ride home was mostly uneventful. Near to Tokyo the GPS had a Garmin moment when at a major highway junction I was not familiar with and oddly only Japanese signage it decided to provide no junction or lane info. I took what looked like the main two lanes but these then branched off and I could not get across to the solitary lane that I then realised was the way towards Yokohama thus I had a 20 km round trip detour to a exit ramp and back to the junction. The Garmin then decided Oh you wanted me to give lane and junction guidance haha sorry I fell asleep last time. Haha yeah that was hilarious thanks.
Another great ride in Japan completed.
This article was originally posted to Motorcycle Paradise Blog in June 2016.