Monday, March 26, 2007

The Noto-Hanto Vacation

For some reason I picked the noto-hanto peninsula for a spot to spend a vacation. I planned on a ride to Toyama, spend a couple days there, a couple days on the peninsula, and a couple days in Kanazawa. Randomness and unexpected adventures were unavoidable.

Kawagoe ---> Toyama

Loading the bike worked out fine.

Yes, that's snow... more on that later.

I had a route planned, the road atlases were bookmarked, I got up early in the morning and was off. It was cold as hell, all the signs said 0 or maybe up to 2 degrees celcius. But other than that okie dokie. Riding to the mountains was kind of a pain, the roads are almost always congested and ugly in Saitama prefecture. But once in the mountains, it was just good scenerey and empty, curvy roads. And random things like big dinosaur statues.

Then the troubles started. About 200 of my 450 kilometer ride was on route 299. Almost the whole road was highlighted in my motorcycle road atlas. I had a Japanese friend look for anything that might be a warning sign or anything important, and all she translated was that one road is "fairy tale" or something. Not all fairy tales are pretty...

299 was closed. I had to take major detours. About an extra 100km of detours. North. To the snow.

This lake was an amazing turquoise color. Might be a good spot for camping during the summer.

Later on, I was a little freaked out when people were skiing about 30 feet from me. I'm sure a few people couldn't help but say "Baka gaijin" while driving along in their 4x4 SUVs.

But it was all good. The roads were pretty dry, only a little snow in the center divide on the remote mountain roads. So I was fairly safe. Just cold as hell. I was chasing the clock, however. I didn't want to be stuck riding too much at night. More on that later. And the snow... I'm getting to that.

This was kinda how the whole ride looked. Great curves for riding, but I always went into them slow in case there was some ice on the road. Tick tock tick tock... those clouds look kinda dark up ahead...

Wasted about an hour getting to this mess and having to do a major backtrack.

Then it started getting late. Then it started snowing. It sucked. I didn't take any pictures cause I just wanted to finish the trip. 60km...50km...40km. In retrospect, the last leg was a very cool road. Down this big valley of lakes and dams, along the cliff through sort of half tunnels with the left side of the road open to the view.

That's all. The end. I made it just fine. I didn't see one other motorcycle rider on my entire 12 hour, 500+km trip.

Some observations...

  • Japan isn't big on cafes. Many many times I would have loved to stop at a little roadside coffee spot for a cup. I saw none. Not even a McDonalds for a cup of their surprizingly excellent coffee.
  • Big flashing red signs most likely mean the road up ahead is closed.
  • Riding for 12 hours straight on this bike ain't the best for the back!
  • Snow is cold.


Lacey put me up in Toyama. We did the usual.... some food, some beers, the masu sushi factory!

Not too crowded... Masu is trout, and trout sushi is a regional specialty. It's really damn good, so we checked out the source. Inside was some Willie Wonka shit.

There were all sorts of conveyor belts and tons of people clad head to toe in virginal white suits. That was the highlight. Other than being able to see the assembly line, there was just a massive omiyage shop to buy the product. But no free samples! What the fuck!

Noto-hanto Camping

Me and Aaron decided on Hakui for our first night camping. Hakui is Japan's center of UFO activity, so it's gotta be weird... right? Well, it was just another city. It had a UFO dome, which held a sort of space museum. But the rest of the place was kinda dullsville.

The day started out bad. Aaron went to the wrong station, Fukui, which was hours away. Then the campground I planned on was closed. Then when I was waiting at the train station, it hailed.

But the sky cleared up, I found a huge, empty campground a little north, and we got everything set up.

Just over the hill was the beach! Sweet! Awesome! Beautiful! Oh wait...

It was so fucking polluted it made you sick. As far as you could see, random trash was washed up on the shore. Cans of paint, bottles, and this...

A god damn motorcycle helmet. I actually spent like 3 hours searching for an extra helmet the day before. So ummmmm... yeah. This would have been a great little beach to chill at during warm weather. Just have the kids watch out for syringes. And tell little baby-chan to put the used condom down.

Noto congo scenic coastline

The next day we were to meet in Wajima, up north. I road along noto congo, which is a rocky coastline. This 16km stretch reminded me of a few hundred miles of California coastline. You seriously can't beat the Pacific Coast Highway for scenery. Sorry Japan.


This was where Aaron and I would stay our second night. At a nice ryokan, which is a Japanese bed and breakfast (and dinner). While waiting for Aaron's bus to get there, I ate my lunch in a park. Oh look, a pretty hawk!

The hawk saw me eating and started circling like I was a dying deer or something. Then it dove. At my face. Then it hit me. In the face. Let me emphasize this. I got hit in the fucking FACE by a god damn HAWK. I ran. I didn't run from the one hawk that just hit me in my face. No, I ran from the 40 other hawks that just showed up. 40 fucking hawks circling me and diving down at my face. I'm not exagerating. 40 hawks were trying to murder me.

Besides hawks, Wajima is known for Laqurewear bowls. Hooray. They also had a public foot onsen where I hung out with the locals. Aaron drank some of the foot water.

So did I, it was hot salt water. Yums.

The night was spent at a cozy little place on the water. We had a huge room, comfy futons, access to the onsen, and the best dinner I've had in Japan. It was good.

A baked fish, a deep fried fish, sashimi, about half a crab, shrimp soup, seaweed salad, rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables, tofu. It was massive, but I guess this is standard ryokan fare.

The owner of the place. Once her 2 little girls discovered we were just goofy gaijin, they started spying on us and sticking pokemon cards under the door. It was precious.

2 days later Wajima was hit pretty hard by the 6.7 earthquake. I've checked the news every night, and the town didn't get damaged too bad.


I took the long way, Aaron took the direct bus, to Kanazawa. I finished up my coastal tour of Noto-hanto. Great roads! Fast riding, easy passing, nice clean air. I really liked the east side along the big bay they have.

If you ever go there, skip the southern areas and stay at a couple ryokans up north. And rent a car, cause public transport there is kinda whack.

Anyways, Kanazawa is famous for a big garden. It should also be famous for having hella white people. Not sure why, but they were everywhere! Not tourist types either, but the kind like me, living there. This at least leads to some damn good drinking spots! Me and Aaron hit up Bar Caprice, where we sipped perfect cocktails for a few hours before meeting Cely, who lives there. We drank at Apre, a bar run by gaijin with a damn lot of them in it. We also went to some random place with an adorable pug running around and dreamcatchers hanging from the ceiling. I love it! Here's some pictures from the garden, one of Japan's "famous 3".

It was a little drizzly and overcast, but gorgeous none the less. While the cherry blossoms in Tokyo are in full bloom, they still had a few weeks left here.

Thanks Cely for letting us crash! Sorry for peeing all over your bathroom when the earthquake hit (I was peeing at the time).

Kanazawa -----> Kawagoe

I took the expressway home as soon as it cleared up on Sunday. Fast, safe, and expensive. Just over 400km to get home. About 4 hours. Just over $70 for the ride. Ouch.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

Chris, my new cowoker here in Kawagoe, has a cousin who plays basoon and contra basoon in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. They were in Tokyo for a couple shows. Turns out Chris's cousin is one of the nicest people I've met. She invited us down to Roppongi* to come hear them play! You know I'm down for this, it was a trip!

*Yes, I have a boycott on Roppongi, but just the club/bar/prostitution part of town.

Ok, so it was at Suntory Hall. It's a gorgeous place inside.

We got backstage passes and got to meet a lot of the musicians. A very random lot they were. Beautiful, young violinists sitting next to grisley, old oboe players sitting next to hasidic jewish cymbal crashers. I also got to meet conductor Zubin Metha, who is apparently really famous in the conductor world. I got to learn all about the world of an orchestra member. You think that they are just super talented people who play a couple hours a day while travelling the world, but it's a crazy profession!

The next day we had breakfast at the hotel and I took them to Don Quixote. Don Quixote is this wierd department store in Japan, they are all over the major areas. You go in wanting some new shoes and come out with a maid outfit, $3000 Gucci handbag, Japanese version of monopoly, and a sex toy or two. And of course you can get shoes there too. It's very random. If you ever have the chance, go to the one in Kabukicho in Shinjuku, it's open 24/7 (and full of Yakuza and hostess girls). Right next door to that one is a 24 hour pet store too. Cause girls need new puppies at 3am apparently.

Tomorrow morning, VERY early, I'm off. Can I fit it all on my bike?

Check back in a week to find out!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Lake Okutomakakomakamoka

I might have the spelling wrong on that one.

It was a 4 hour ride out from my place and back. Lots of curvy mountain roads to be enjoyed. The thing is, I don't know how to ride curves very well. The cruiser back home had low foot pegs, so I'd usually scrape them on sharp turns. But a "sport" style sitting means I can take curves faster and get my lean on. Regardless, it was nice.

The Reggae Dancers

Went to club Ageha again on Saturday night. As usual, there are 3 dance floors. Hip-hop, techno, and reggae. I'll address them in that order.

The hip-hop floor was weak this time. Pretty vanilla crowd. No J-thugs or J-b boys showed up for my entertainment. Some MC started rapping at one point. It was dassai. Not cool. Hmmm, what else. Some random guy tried to pants me. He was doing some drunk weirdo dance (very common to see exteremely weird dances at Japanese clubs), and then just grabbed my jeans and gave a tug. So... yeah... the hip-hop floor was weak.

The techno area is where I spent most of my time. They have a great sound system at this club. There was some "famous" DJ from England. I bet if I mentioned these names to some of my friends back home they'd be impressed, but I don't know any of this shit. Congratulations, you are famous for spinning techno records, let me become a fan. Do you have a myspace? Holly shit! Accept me accept me! Oh wait, there was one funny moment. About 10 minutes after the "famous" DJ came out, this huge scafolding thing with lights and shit all over it started decending. Everyone was clearly excited. Then, just when you expect lasers and smoke machines and confetti, it just rose back up to the ceiling. You got me...

The reggae area. So I've heard tales of the "reggae" dance. This mysterious, erotic, mesmorizing dance performed by beautiful young Japanese women. Well... I done seen it! Yes, it's just 2 girls shaking their asses for 20 minutes. Japanese girls... with no asses. Every so often they would do a handstand and spread their legs and just kinda "pose" like that. I'm surprised an improptu otaku group didn't come out and start taking pictures. The 2 girls tried to do some para-para shit a couple times, but that didn't work. Then they did some sort of "fan my cooch cause it's hot" dance for a while. All throughout this the DJ/MC is screaming in his fake Jamaican accent while playing as many Sean Paul tracks as he has. I dunno...

Hip-hop without the j-thugs. Techno without tweaked out candy kids. Reggae without... sanity. Oh wait! I forgot. There was this 80 year old guy there. Like, dancing and shit. So it was a good... no... superb evening.

Check this out. A rice vending machine by my apartment that I found the other day. Score!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Wierd things

This was in my mailbox. I have no clue. Well I guess its some kind of soap. But it wasn't actually mailed to me. This means there is some guy whose job it is to go door to door and put this flyer into everyone's mailbox.

A letter from Aaron Sensei in Nagano. Dude, you went to Keroro Sour Sour Land without me? You knew how much I wanted to go there!

Special spring beer. Tasted no different than most other Japanese beer. Gotta love the cherry blossom cans.

I went to the doctor today to get a refill of allergy medicine. It took about 5 minutes to explain that I didn't have bowel problems and just wanted a prescription refilled. In the waiting room I read my first Japanese manga in Japanese!!!! Well... I read about 3 pages in 45 minutes. And I didn't understand the meaning of any of the hiragana. But I got the katakana. So the pictures just showed 3 girls talking in one of their bedrooms. But from the scattered katakana, I got "capsule hotel", "period", and about 5 instances of "shocka". Then I had to go see the doctor. After that at the next waiting room I read the Japanese version of Cat Fancy magazine.

Did I mention I finished learning katakana! Now I can read Japanese... slowly. Katakana is reserved for foreign words. Those dirty dirty foreign words. I don't really understand the point of 2 alphabets. Apparently, katakana, with it's sharp angles and rough edges, used to be used by men, and hiragana, with its cursive-like lines and form was for women. Whatever, the point is I can now order ma-tan ka-re and sa-fu-ran ra-se for lunch now without having to rely on a menu with pictures.