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Old 12-31-2009, 10:09 PM   #1
Guy Jinbaiquerre OP
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Nara and Shikoku, Japan ride report: December 27-31, 2009

DAY 1

So I got back yesterday from a tour around Nara and Shikoku, Japan. Here's the report:

I was all set to head out the door on Sunday the 27th, when the best wife in the world refused to let me leave without a hot breakfast:



Fully energized with bacon (mmm... bacon...), off I went. Unfortunately, that was the only bacon I had with me since Bacon the ADVrider pig is still on his way to me in the mail. Anyway, here's the Zumo track for Day 1:



I had the KTM 990 SM-T all kitted out with a Givi Maxia topcase and E21 panniers. I am probably the only person in Japan who has the Givi mounts for the SM-T, since they aren't on sale here yet and you basically have to know people overseas who will send them to you. Aren't I special!



Anyway, the SM-T is still not too wide with the E21's on it. I was lane-splitting (legal in Japan!) with no problem:



The weather was beautiful, and I wasn't cold at all. Mt. Fuji was in fine form on my way out west:



By the time I got to Nara and rode a few local roads, the sun was heading down and I decided to stay in the next hotel I saw. Which turned out to be this one:



After I got inside, I found out it was a "love hotel"; a place where Japanese couples go to have sex discreetly if neither partner has his or her own house. But there's nothing to stop you from just renting a room for yourself and crashing for the night. Some of the rooms have "themes" (to spice up the sex, I guess); mine was done in kind of an Austin Powers 60's future style:



Swingin' baby!

They had plenty of costumes available for ladies to rent. Supposedly these are supposed to help her turn on her fella. Nonsense, where's the woman in full race leathers or a Roadcrafter? :



I highly recommend love hotels for lodging on Japanese motorcycle tours. Your room will probably have a gigantic (i.e., 2-person) bathtub, free dinner and breakfast, nice big bed, and covered parking (so no one can see who's parked outside ), all for less money than your average business hotel.

I took a nice hot bath in my giant bathtub and fell right to sleep in the comfy bed. On to Day 2...
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Old 12-31-2009, 10:17 PM   #2
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Nara and Shikoku, Japan ride report - DAY 2

I woke up early (like, 5:30-ish) on Day 2 and the TV news was saying the weather would be rainy and/or cloudy. And in fact, it was raining outside my window. But by 7:00 the rain had stopped completely and I was on my way. Here's the Day 2 Zumo track:



Early on, I hit this scenic route in Nara:



There were groups of 4 and 6 deer at a time bouncing across the road, so I was on full deer alert. Unfortunately, I did not get any photos of them. I need a quicker system for taking out my camera and snapping a photo during a ride.

Now, here's the interesting thing. I'm not sure if I missed a turn-off somewhere, but the scenic road turned into a rindo ("forest road"; really any dirt road or trail) midway through:



A very gentle one no doubt, but it was still dirt. I pressed on, despite having road tires, expensive camera gear in the panniers, and no dirt-riding skills, because I'm stupid like that. But I made it through, no problem! (Although it took a few hours for my sphincter to unclench.) Look, ma, dirt!



More dirt! On my bike! So now this trip qualifies as adventure riding!



A stunning accomplishment like that calls for a dramatic silhouette photo:



Time for some more twisties!



(Not sure why my Zumo thought there were "exits" on that road. Maybe if you fall off the edge at those points...)

Then time for lunch. My SM-T waited patiently for me outside:



It had been cloudy all morning, but the skies really cleared as I headed closer to Osaka:



I made it over the Windy Bridge From Hell to Awaji island, where I was greeted by this giant Ferris wheel:



Here's the killer bridge I crossed to get there:



Way up high over exposed water, extra-long, and with no crosswind protection. I though I was going to get blown off the edge and die. F*** you, bridge designers.

The sun was setting on a beautiful day of touring, so I headed off to a ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn) for an onsen (natural hot spring bath) and bed:

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Guy Jinbaiquerre screwed with this post 12-31-2009 at 10:41 PM
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Old 12-31-2009, 10:22 PM   #3
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Nara and Shikoku, Japan ride report - DAY 3

Day 3's weather looked pretty good from my window:



And it only got better as the sun came up and burned off the early morning mist:



Here's the Zumo track for Day 3:



I wasted about 90 minutes trying to book a ferry home for Thursday, since I heard it would be windy and even snowy across much of Japan's main island of Honshu. But no dice; there is only one company running ferries between Shikoku and Tokyo, and they were on year-end vacation. (If you're a TRAVEL company, why would you shut down when your customers are on vacation TRAVELING? )

Anyway, after riding along the coast for a while, I turned inland:



The plan was to head south over the mountains toward the southeast coastal roads. And the first mountain roads turned out to be a lot of fun, with some good turns...



...and beautiful scenery:



Now, see those rays of sunshine and sun-kissed cabbages? Keep that image in mind, because here is what the VERY NEXT mountain road looked like halfway to the top:



Um... no. I turned around, backtracked to a main road between the two mountains, and headed east to the coast in a change of plans. That delay meant it was already getting dark as I headed down the east coast, and it was totally dark out for the last 100km or so of my ride. I missed some nice photo opportunities on coastal Rt. 147 because I wanted to finish that twisty cliff road before it turned pitch black out. There was a beautiful, deep-red sunset over the cliffs that I wish I had a photo of. Ah, well. I used my Zumo to find a hotel in the seaside town of Nahari and called it a night.
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Old 12-31-2009, 10:28 PM   #4
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Nara and Shikoku, Japan ride report - DAY 4

By Day 4, I knew I had to make big changes to my planned route. It would take another 3 days or so to do at my current pace, and I needed to be back in Tokyo by the end of the following day for New Year's Eve. Even worse, the weather forecast said the clear skies were coming to an end later in the day. So my new plan was to cut diagonally northwest across Shikoku, using Rt. 194, a very scenic road with a reputation for being good for riding. That would get me near the Matsuyama ferry terminal, where I could either keep riding across a string of bridges across little islands all the way back to Japan's main island of Honshu, or hop onboard a ferry to Osaka if the weather turned foul. So here is the Zumo track from Day 4:



Route 194 was fantastic. Very scenic sweepers through the valleys and mountains, but never too tight and twisty the way some mountain roads can be (IMHO). This is a major road that just happens to be a great motorcycle road:



Of course, nothing completes a beautiful scenic view like huge ugly billboards. Bonus points for the ugly sign on the left telling us to keep the area beautiful:



But not even tacky signs could ruin the beauty of the surroundings:



The ability to take a good extended-arm self portrait is a valuable photographic skill:



More scenery along Rt. 194. You can see some snow at the top of the mountain, but I wasn't cold at all while riding. In fact, sometimes I felt like I was wearing too many layers.



The roads (well, the mountain roads, anyway) were essentially deserted. It was often just me for many kilometers at a stretch:



By the way, here's how I carried my DSLR:



I stuffed a few T-shirts around it in there and it was fine. For quicker snaps, I also had a pocket camera in my, er, pocket.

After Rt. 194, I was getting close to Matsuyama. But what was this?



Toon City! I was tempted to go see Roger Rabbit and his friends, but I pressed on. (Actually, it's pronounced "Toe-Own" in Japanese, but hey, it still looks funny.)

As I got close to Matsuyama, the sky, which had been sunny only an hour or so ago, clouded over, a fierce wind started to hammer the coast, and rain began to fall. So I called it a day and holed up at the Matsuyama ferry terminal. The heavy stuff didn't come down for some time yet; by then I was safely off the road.



My bike and I were Osaka-bound:



One thing I really like about Japanese ferries is that they have ofuro (hot baths) on the boat. So I had a nice soak and a good night's sleep as the ferry carried me to Osaka for Day 5: The Journey Home.
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Old 12-31-2009, 10:36 PM   #5
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Nara and Shikoku, Japan ride report - DAY 5

The ride home from Osaka to Tokyo today was without question the WORST single stretch of motorcycling I have ever done in the 7 years since I started riding. I have ridden in rain, cold, fog, etc. but this was the worst of all: heavy WIND all the way home. The whole ride home was like going over those windy bridges to Shikoku. There were electronic signs lit up along all the expressways saying 横風-注意 (crosswinds-caution), with a cute little picture of a car being blown off the road. A CAR!

While riding along, I would feel big blasts of wind trying to push me off the road. The wind came from both sides, and on my tall and light SM-T, I was like a big top-heavy sailboat. Moreover, the flickability of the SM-T made it respond to those wind blasts as if they were steering inputs; I was constantly trying just to hold the bike on course. My good ol' unturnable, low-to-the-ground, overweight X4 would have been the better choice for this ride, but really the best choice would have been not to ride at all. But I told my wife I'd be home for New Year's Eve, so I pressed on. (Several times I thought I would be blown into a crash and die, which would have ruined New Year's Eve for her anyway...)

The wind seemed to lighten up for a stretch at about the halfway point, but soon afterward it came back even stronger. It was so bad, I got off the expressway around 60 miles from home, planning to ride the rest of the way back on local roads. I figured what the hell, it will take a long time but at least I'll survive. But the local roads route was almost as bad in most places! I never rode it that far out from Tokyo, so I imagined it would be like it is in Tokyo; streets lined with shops and with traffic lights every few blocks. But out there it's basically the same as an expressway, just with fewer lanes and a lower speed limit. So I was still getting hit by winds while going across open fields and around mountains and I just had to fight my way through. Leaves and crap were getting blown all over the road and right at my helmet, too. And the wind seemed to get stronger the closer I got to Tokyo. The overpass about 10 miles from my house was almost as windy as the expressways.

All told, what should have been a 5-6 hour ride home took 9 hours and was the most terrifying thing I can remember doing. I never want to be in that position again. I won't ride a tall light bike in windy conditions, and I plan to avoid riding in strong wind all together.

Here's the Zumo track for Day 5:



You can see I tried an "inland" route through Nagoya (the middle area with lots of roads) instead of the coastal route, but it didn't help much with the wind. The way the blue track diverges from the orange line toward the right-hand side shows how I tried taking the local roads route instead of the expressway after a certain point to minimize winds. Again, not much of a help. It was really just a terrible day to be riding. And here's what made it even worse for me:



Just look how much taller my SM-T is compared to this Yamaha FJR parked at a rest stop! I was basically inviting the wind to blow me over.

Aside from the ride home, though, it was a great trip, and proof that there is good touring to be had in Japan in the winter.
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Old 12-31-2009, 11:09 PM   #6
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great stuff!

i love Japan threads!

and i love your SM-T!



Shane
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Old 01-01-2010, 12:12 AM   #7
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Lovely report, great pictures. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 01-01-2010, 05:28 AM   #8
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Great Bike (I love it since I ride it), great Pics, great Ride-Report!!!! :)

But please change your navigation system or took a sticker on the brand name on it! ;)

Happy New Year

Mike
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Old 01-01-2010, 06:21 AM   #9
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Don't blame ya for not going up the mountain! lol

Great report, pictures and bike. :-)

David

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Old 01-01-2010, 06:29 AM   #10
GB
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Thanks for taking us along.. I really enjoyed your report and pics... Please keep showing us bits of Japan through your lens!
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Old 01-01-2010, 06:31 AM   #11
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Very cool report! Thanks, I really want to ride there someday.
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Old 01-01-2010, 07:11 AM   #12
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Loved the photos of japan. I noticed Ultraman on one of the signs, i remember that show from the late 60's/ early 70's when i lived in the states. What did the sign say? Maybe Bacon and Ultraman will meet up for a saki when he arrives in Japan. Afterwards they can fight off some monsters intent on destroying Toyko, lol.
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Old 01-01-2010, 07:25 AM   #13
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Great read and pictures. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 01-01-2010, 08:08 AM   #14
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Awesome

Great ride and insight.

Thanks!
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Old 01-01-2010, 08:33 AM   #15
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First SMT RR I've seen - nice
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