Arriving in Japan for "Birthday month" gave me an opportunity to do a longer ride than normal. My daughter Kathy moved from Sasebo in southern Japan to near Tokyo some 1,200 km from my son Phil's place. I had a small window for the ride. Decision made I would do a quick highway ride from Kathy's to Phils and return. The added bonus was that I had convinced my son Phil to join me on the north to south ride, his first time on a bike.
Visited the bike hire places and had a choice of many different rides. Decided on the Honda CB 1300 and was not disappointed. I had come prepared with all my riding gear and had spare here in Japan for Phil. We set out on Thursday following Kathy's birthday on Wednesday. The first leg was making it to the bike shop, Taxi to the Train Station, 2 changes and a Taxi to the bike shop, some one hour 20 minutes.
The formalities done we set off planning to cover close to 600 km before stopping overnight. Phil was very nervous to start with and took a while to get relaxed. I was totally lost in the bike, what a performer, so smooth, so much power. While highway riding is not my preference I have to say it was a great experience. The mountainous scenery was exceptional and the experience of a million tunnels was fascinating. Road conditions were perfect and not a pot hole in sight. Was told to be careful with the Police and speeding, of course I stuck to the speed limit.
The road side stops were a amazing, every 15 to 20 km there was a chai stop where you had a choice of anything and everything you could possible want. The AC was most welcome as the day just got hotter and hotter.
The toll system was also quite different, basically you can travel the length of Japan and only pay when you actually want to get off the highways. they actually all link so you can go South then east and even though you change expressways you don't pay till you are totally off. But thats when you get the shock in the wallet. The first time we got off the Toll road the bill was $85:00, the total return trip cost about 26,500rs. We stayed close to the coast on the way down and took advantage of the ocean sights between the greenery, mountains and tunnels. We decided on a beachside stop in Akashi. A small town with a mixture of the old traditional Japan and the new modern. After searching for a place I suggested Phil go into a barber shop and ask, barbers should know. He informed us that there were only three hotels in the area and gave directions to one very close. It was a traditional Japanese inn, remarkable place. Only issue was the low ceilings, both Phil and I banged heads passing through the door more than once. Food and drink was most enjoyable and we had a fun evening.
Next morning we set off about seven am and after about one hour got back on the expressway. The day proved to be another very hot day and with the heat we were stopping every 100km to rest, drink and eat.
Phil had settled into the ride and was enjoying the experience. I told him he could stand and stretch, but that seemed like too difficult a task in the beginning. So best I show him and the first time when we were going through a tunnel and I stood on the pegs he said it was too scary. But after a few more km he indicated he wanted to try, so we slowed down and he stood for a while. Now he was a expert and using sign language to warn me, he became a regular at standing to give relieve to a somewhat sore backside.We made good time and arrived in Fukuoka about 5:00pm.Celebrations and a great meal finished up the day.
Next day was a rest day for me and a working day for Phil. Enjoyed a couple of great Japanese meals with some cold beers. After a good nights sleep and bag packed it was time for a early morning start on my solo ride back to Kathy's place.
The Honda was so much fun to ride, the power was exceptional and was smooth to zip around traffic. I had planned the early start to get some distance before it got too hot, but unfortunately I was riding straight into the sun and trying to read signs was very difficult. I was relying on google maps to make my way and still managed to make a couple of wrong turns. At one place where there was a Y intersection with both having an 8 lane road and i wasn't sure if I should take the left or the right, I chose the right and it was wrong. Ended up on a single road with a speed limit of 70km a hour. However, I noticed it had not extended my destination time by much so kept going. The road took me right by the waters edge and while I was still quite high up I could see many small towns in the valleys one side and the ocean on the other.
After about one and half hours I found my way back to the Expressway and to what should have been a 110 speed limit. BUT even though it was a 6 and sometimes a 8 lane highway the speed limit was 80 km per hour. What to do....... I waited till I got a couple of fast moving cars come up and then sat in behind them at a nice comfortable 130. That worked for a few times as the length of this 80 speed limi
was actually over 300km. At one stage I was cruising at 130 ish and three bikes went flying past at heaven only knows what speed. Sure i was tempted, but no just kept on cruising and then after a couple of minutes I saw them up ahead going at a slower pace. Sure enough there was a highway Police car ahead and we sat behind him for another 15 km. Time for a Chai stop. The bikers in Japan are much the same as anywhere else in the world, friendly and always up for a chat. Only difference is that almost every bike is a 1,000cc plus. Really enjoyed the chats at the stops and even rode with at least three groups for quite a few km. Yes the language was a issue, but we always managed to communicate and share our love for riding.
At one of my stops I checked out google for a hotel for the evening, found one with good reviews near Osaka at a place called Takatsuki. Looked to be close to the Expressway so set it in the google maps and headed there. Was reasonably close, but the traffic in the last 12 km was hectic, thought i was back in Mumbai for a while. Hotel found, but how to get in was a problem. The entry was in a pedestrian mall and no car park. After circling for a couple of times I just rode, slowly down the mall till I reached the Hotel entry. Got a few strange looks, apparently I was supposed to push the bike in the Mall, not ride it. The Hotel called the Work Hotel was great, location perfect and once I checked in and had a shower I went exploring. Not a big shopper so got a couple of beers and some snacks and went back to hotel, it was still early. About 8:00 I headed out for some dinner, moved back a couple streets and found a small Japanese place and had a great time ordering food, the beer was easy. Had a ball with the husband and wife owners and the other customers. Had to leave after a couple hours, had another long ride in the morning.
When I go back to the hotel I checked to see how close the nearest Onsen. They had one in their second Hotel only 100 ft away. So an hour at the Japanese Bath had me in a super relaxed mode and ready for a good sleep.
Next morning I was showered and on the road by 7:00. If I thought the last few days were hot, they were nothing like the heat today. Actually Japan had the highest ever recorded temperature on that very day. How I wished I had packed my Cooling Vest. But despite the heat it was still a fantastic ride. Again I met many bikers and even better the Expressway was now set at 110km per hour. So Yes I rode at 110, well maybe a little more. Again every 100 km I stopped for water and whatever took my fancy. Its hard to explain these Raodside Food and Petrol places, they are enormous and are as big as a one level shopping centre. The larger ones seated about 200 people and gave a choice of about 10 to 15 different food outlets. The AC is a welcome relief and in two that I stopped at even the bathrooms were AC.
Another thing I found fascinating was the massive Expressway structures. At times we were up to 300 mars above the towns and the bridges were amazing. In one place when I was down close to the waterways there were at least 8 cable bridges one after the other, all of them bigger that the Bandra Worli Sea Link.
But all good things come to a end and before I knew it I was back at the bike shop and returning the bike. Kathy, Wendy and the Grandkids were there to welcome me back and save me the Taxi and train trip to her place.
While not my regular ride as I normally like to minimize Highway riding for the rougher stuff, I have to say I throughly enjoyed the experience. Sure it was a fantastic bonus to have my Son Phill ride with me for the first two days. His knowledge of Japan and his fluent Japanese made for a smooth ride and his company a load of fun. The return Solo ride while being super hot was still a great experience. No matter where we ride in the world our fellow riders always make us feel welcome, are quick to offer the hand of friendship and are ready for a chat no matter what the language we speak.
Hope you enjoyed the blog. Cheers and safe riding. I am looking forward for my next ride to Himalayan Base camp this September !