Let me tell you – it is pure heaven to ride a motorcycle in Japan! And appropriately my first moto-voyage had to be on a Japanese brand –a Honda CB 400. The fact alone of experiencing Japan was awe-inspiring in itself. This beautiful culture of ancient standing and etiquette's; delectable special cuisines - all that and the addition of riding a motorcycle just moved me beyond anything I could have imagined. I really never thought it would be as fantastic as experienced. The roads are perfect. They twist, they turn, and they disappear through tunnels and climb to heights of spectacular views. They border coastlines of unbelievable tropical scenery. And when the scent of pine or coastal sea dissipates from the air, it's quickly replaced by incense or soya cooked food aromas arousing the senses –as only a motorcyclist can experience in the open air – of Japan!
At the time of my visit, mid/end November the daily average temperatures reach 18 Celsius- perfect riding weather. In fact, in this climate most Japanese ride all year long –only when the snow stays on the roads in Tokyo do they park the bike or scooter. And even then, it’s never for very long. I imagine in summer though, when temperatures soar accented with high humidity, it would be less pleasant.
The days shorten quickly; it’s dark in Japan at 17.00 just like in Toronto this time of year. And once the sun disappears behind the mountain tops, it becomes very chilly.The climate varies a few degrees here and there affected by its mountainous influence or surrounding coastal waters. The island is lovely and lush covered in a thick green blanket of forest; vibrant with reds as autumns colours begin to decorate its landscape.
Before departure to Japan, many friends expressed their concerns about me riding within Japan’s “LHT”– left hand traffic system. Well, it’s not my first time and I had no troubles adjusting to taking up my lane positions etc. on the left side of the road. I’ve driven and ridden in England and when living in St. Maarten, I’d often visit neighbouring Anguilla – a British island using LHT (just a ferry ride from French St. Martin port). Though I admit, once in a while a prompt would come forward in my brain of confusion and question– “hey what are you doing on the left side of the road!?” One of those conditioned muscle memory thingy’s. On a plus note, the LHT system allows for some curb hugging sharp left turns. Much more fun than sharp right turns here in the RHT (right hand traffic) system.
The roads are narrow yet, really, I didn't notice as my years of riding (and living) in Europe, travelling through narrow village streets is common place. Road surface is well kept, clean and really quite perfect. There are no potholes, litter or junk on the road. The speed limit is lower, usually 80 km/h to 100 km/h the expressways. You can imagine this is the part I found most challenging. Those perfect sweeping roads, little traffic or no congestion made it a difficult task to keep under control. Interestingly, the speed signs can be adjusted electronically and apparently there are cameras everywhere, though I never could seem to find one.
Toll booths are common and frequent on Japan’s national expressways. They are expensive to use and are based on distance travelled. You collect a ticket when entering the expressway and then pay further along on a machine. Honestly, I would not have figured this out alone- thank goodness my Japanese good friend took care of this for me. Of course, residents can purchase an electronic toll collection.
To sum it up, I've been touched by Japan! What an incredible experience. Of course adding Japan to my list of motorcycle riding experiences is certainly any moto enthusiasts' dream.
Though the basics of riding remain the same, this Japan experience, the stage set by Nippon’s culture, as you can imagine, compares to none. I really can’t wait to return again, and I hope soon!
Oh yes, I really must tell you about the ride up Mt. Nantai along Lake Chuzenji! This was too incredible! Hideo-san, local friend (former motorcycle racer and Formula I test driver) escorted us up and down Mt. Nantai through chicane after mountain twist-crazy! He knew the mountain well and could not be kept up with on his big Triumph Bonneville.
I think I’ll be sharing quite a lot of Japan here for the next while –but for now ...Sayonara!