09 August 2009

My Buddy's Impressions

I have just returned from my motorcycle tour of Japan and I’m sorry for the lack of correspondence while on the road. Even though many of the computers we use today are made in Japan, Internet access was limited and hard to find. I may not have been looking in the right places but I never found an “Internet CafĂ©” and the hotel computers generally had a line form so usage was suggested at fifteen minutes. Anyway, here I am to tell you the trip was a major success, well beyond any expectation I may have had. We traveled 6000 miles in six weeks from Tokyo to the northern tip of Hokkaido, down through Shikoku to the southern tip of Kyushu and back to Tokyo. We tried to stay off the beaten path and we did, motorcycling at its best, amazing country, fantastic food, great roads and the friendliest people anywhere on earth.

Several months ago when my riding-friend, also a motorcycle enthusiast, mentioned he knew Japanese so I said lets tour the country, the whole country. We met in Tokyo on September 12th and spent that first night wandering the streets of downtown Tokyo eating raw octopus, drinking fresh Japanese beer and nicely decorated porcelain jars of Sake which we become experts of later on in the trip. The next day we picked up the bikes, (two brand new Honda ST 1300s) loaded our gear and headed right into the thick, hot, congested Tokyo traffic. No problem, we were on motorcycles and lane splitting is legal. After weaving and bobbing our way through the stalled traffic for what seemed like hours we made our way to the beautifully cool, refreshing, Pacific Ocean. It was a long weekend so rooms were scarce and after being rejected from several really nice Ryokans (Japanese hotel where you sleep on Tatami mats) we found a great little spot right on the ocean, no Westerners in sight and no English spoken, just what we were looking for. Dinner, which was included in our room fee, was the main event for the evening. We sat on the floor (Tatami mats) at a low table covered with dozens of small, brightly painted Japanese dishes filled all kinds of unidentifiable food products. There was so much on the table I kind of expected more people to sit down with us which didn’t happen…. all for us! Of course we accepted the offer of “Nama Biru” (fresh beer from a keg) and with chopsticks in hand, we dug in!!! There was Sashimi style (raw, thin sliced) tuna, mackerel, scallop, and octopus along with whole squid, urchins, sea snails, and slugs. Another beer, please!!!! The large sea bass staring at me from across the table was delicious and the variety of Japanese vegetables with big hunks of tofu, swimming in squid ink, seasoned with Wasabi and Soy sauce, was fantastic. Food is a huge part of the Japanese lifestyle and it became a huge part of our trip. In most cases whether it was a large hotel, a small Minshuku (four or five room Japanese Inn) or someone’s home, the quality, the presentation and the atmosphere was always outstanding even if it was only a bowl of rice with a piece of fish.

The next day we headed north along the coast. We took our time enjoying the landscape on our left, the beautiful, smooth road straight ahead, and the ocean on our right. As Robert Pirsig explains in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “….on a motorcycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with all. You are in the scene, not just watching it any more….” and that’s why I ride a motorcycle, to be apart of the landscape, to be apart of the road and the ocean and everything else I am in at that moment. Anyway, enough of that nonsense, at the end of a great day of riding, we found another beautiful Inn on the coast with another fantastic dinner and breakfast……and so it went, through the amazing fish market of Kesenuma where a hundred Tuna the size of my motorcycle lay on the gleaming floor as buyers poked and inspected, over mountain roads with the Pacific Ocean in view most of the time and all the way to the ferry in Oma which took us to the big, northern island of Hokkaido. This was some of the best motorcycle riding I have ever experienced on perfect roads, beautiful weather in a beautiful country with a great riding partner and it was only the first few days, WOW.

I could ramble on forever but I know this is more than most people will read so I will stop here. I will pick it up again, when we stay in a tiny Minshuku where we are the first foreigners in nine years, visit a wonderful Sake factory, experience an Onsen (Japanese bath) and travel through the mountains of Hokkaido to the most northern tip of Japan. Until then, Kampai!

Daily Routes - Motorcycling Japan

  1. 12 September 2008: Tokyo
  2. 13 September 2008: Tokyo - Awa-Katsuyama (Tatayama)
  3. 14 September 2008: Awa-Katsuyama (Tatayama) - Kashima
  4. 15 Septemer 2008: Kashima – Aizu-Wakamatsu
  5. 16 September 2008: Aizu-Wakamatsu – Matsushima, Miyagi, Tohoku
  6. 17 September 2008: Matsushima – Kesenuma, Miyagi, Tohoku
  7. 18 September 2008: Kesenuma – Hachinohe
  8. 19 September 2008: Hachinohe - Kaminokuni, Hiyama, Hokkaido
  9. 20 September 2008: Kaminokuni – Otaru
  10. 21 September 2008: Otaru – Asahikawa
  11. 22 September 2008: Asahikawa – Wakkanai
  12. 23 September 2008: Wakkanai – Abashiri
  13. 24 September 2008: Abashiri - Monbetsu
  14. 25 September 2008: Monbetsu – Aomori
  15. 26 September 2008: Sukayu – Akita
  16. 27 September 2008: Musashi Sushi, Sakata, Yamagata, Tohoku
  17. 28 September 2008: Sakata – Yunishigawa Onsen
  18. 29 September 2008: Yunishigawa – Nikko
  19. 30 September 2008: Nikko – Isesaki
  20. 1 October 2008: Isasaki – Takayama
  21. 2 October 2008: Takayama – Tsuruga
  22. 3 October 2008: Tsuruga – Osaka – Nara
  23. 4 October 2008: Nara – Ise
  24. 5 October 2008: Ise – Kobe
  25. 6 October 2008: Kobe – Himeji – Tokushima
  26. 7 October 2008: Tokushima – Yuki
  27. 8 October 2008: Yuki – Tosa
  28. 9 October 2008: Tosa – Matsuyama
  29. 10 October 2008: Matsuyama – Miyazaki
  30. 11 October 2008: Miyazaki – Kagoshima
  31. 12 October 2008: Kagoshima – Hiroshima
  32. 13 October 2008: Hiroshima – Tottori
  33. 14 October 2008: Tottori – Kyoto
  34. 15 October 2008: Kyoto – Takayama
  35. 15 October 2008: Takayama - Lake Kawaguchi
  36. 16 October 2008: Lake Kawaguchi – Tokyo
  37. 17 October 2008: Tokyo

Perfect Sushi - Motorcycling Japan

  • Ika - Squid
  • Tako - Octopus
  • Sazae - Seasnail
  • Awabi - Abalone
  • Umi no Kusa - Algae, Seaweed
  • Hokki - pinkish clams (“Quahog”)
  • Uni - Sea Urchin
  • Kanitsume - Crab
  • Hotate - Scallop
  • Tsubu - Seasnail
  • Maguro - Tuna
  • Samma - long blue seasonal fish, red meat, delicious with intense garlic
  • Hirame - Flunder
  • Hirame no Enkawa - Fillet tips of Flunder
  • Unagi (Anago) - Eel (Sea Eel)
  • Kajitori - Fin of Blue Marlin
  • Ikura - Salmon roe
  • Hakaku - (nasty looking fish)
  • Saba - Mackerel
  • Soi - Perch
  • Kurame - (very red fish)