Sunday, July 22, 2007

On the Road: Japan's Romantic Road

Total distance traveled so far: 1561km

Germany has what is known as the Romantische Strafe. Japan for some reason has one too.

I rode the entire thing over the course of 2 days. Was it really romantic? Read on.

The first couple hours were on a congested street in Ueda. There were a couple spots that had some random shit, like a castle, but all in all this section was about as romantic as getting your balls slammed in a dresser drawer. But then again, some people pay good money for that sort of thing.

I took a wrong turn somewhere...

At one point the route said sayonara to the crowded city and got a little more scenic. I'm starting to swoon a little...

Karuizawa is a really rich uppity type resort area. All the houses had names like "Le Chateau des Japonais Elegance", or "Stately Takahashi Manor". I saw a lot of elderley Japanese people dressed like cowboys. I dunno. Maybe rich Japanese people think John Wayne is sexy. Which I could totally see. I got lost trying to get out of there. As you can see, visibility wasn't too good. Romance level? She's playin me like a captain, gettin all my yen...

Just past Karuizawa was this waterfall. It was gorgeous. The romance level just jumped, even though I had to pay to ride on this road. Just call me captain save-a-hoe...

Erm.... I guess I'll go this way...

Some random onsen resort. Sitting naked in hot mineral water with your girl is hot. It started getting a little rainy. Romance level? Good from afar, but far from good...

Kusatsu onsen. This onsen city has the highest output of hot water in Japan. Did it stink?

You bet! The romance level was high at this point. Is there a mirror in your pocket, cause I can see myself in your pants...

Had a walk around. Ahhh, stinky onsens. Some onsen are much more famous than others. Yet, what is in a name? A pool of bubbling hot sulphuric mineral water by any other name would smell as sweet.

Suddenly, I heard chanting children.

OMG, super cute! At many festivals, people carry around these giant floats. But here there were mini sized ones and little kids pulling them. They were all chanting and heading to the main square. I headed the fuck out cause it was starting to get late.

Halfway! I swear I've been to like 8 Takayamas in Japan.

Fukiware falls. I road by this place, but was glad I came back. It had a really unique U-shape. Romance level? I've got a thirst, baby, and you smell like Gatorade.

I raced a Honda NSX just after this shot. He won. No love for the CB400, though I smoked him off the line.

My "camp" site. I couldn't find the campground on my map, so I snuck into a memorial garden on the edge of Lake Chuzenji. I checked, it wasn't a memorial for anyone who died, but for some rich foreigner's house that burned down in the 50s. So I felt fine free camping there. No loss of karma. It rained at night, but I was under this gazebo. A romantic gazebo! It was great. And I woke up the next morning to this.

Romance was peaking here. Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?...

Sweet romantic bliss. Except it was kinda cold and raining. And there was no food open in Nikko. The ride from Nikko to Utsunomiya was pretty damn romantic. It was one of those long tree lined roads. But like I said, I was really hungry! Hunger pangs getting worse, the trees gave way to the golden arches. Praise cupid! If only they could cut my McGriddle into a heart shape.

This was the end of the romantic road. Like all romances, it started breathing exhaust from semi trucks in traffic, and ended with me alone, eating syrup flavored sandwiches. But if all life's adventures ended with eating syrup flavored sandwiches, I think this world would be a much better place, don't you agree?


I've been to Nagano a few times already. During the winter Nagano is the shit, cause there is a free shuttle to go ski. Keith was kind enough to let me crash for a few days. Of course, the day after I got there, it gets sunny for 2 days... then rains when I set out on my bike again. Shogunai!

Nagano was just general relaxing. Hung out with Maru, our local tattoo artist friend out there. Saw the new Harry Potter movie. Taught Keith how to ride a motorcycle. Ate frog legs. Normal stuff. Here's some photos:

Maru's dog Mon. Mon is looking a little gangsta here.

Some masks on the wall in Maru's shop.

Keith's first time on the bike. He picked it up really quickly, and was shifting into higher gears and all that good shit. In the background of this shot is a van with some dude passed out in it. This guy was passed out in his van for the next 6 or 7 hours. He eventually moved his foot a little, so I knew he wasn't dead. Good for him.

We were at the supermarket, and some random old Japanese lady came up to us and started talking something about tomatoes. We deciphered that she was trying to sell us tomatoes outside from her car. We asked how much and she said no. So she was trying to give us some tomatoes. Thanks random old Japanese lady! She totally hooked us up with a big bag of fresh vegetables from her garden.

Frog leg at a local restaurant. The spot was cool. The walls were covered with 1940's Japanese pop culture stuff, the staff was fun, and there were some slutty 20 year old girls in the booth next to us. Nagano... you kick ass!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

On the Road: Osaka to Nagano

Distance traveled so far: 1103km

The typhoon hit southern Kyushu around noon on Saturday. I was in Osaka. I wasn't about to hang around and wait for 100 mile an hour winds blowing rain at me sideways, so I got the fuck out of there.

Ugh... since Osaka is a metropolis area, I had to take the expressway out. Its pretty much poo riding all around there, so I spent the yen and stayed on it for a few hours. I could have gone straight to Nagano, but intead of staying on the Chuo expressway, I jumped on the Tokai-Horuriko expresway to Takayama. From there I took route 158, a mountain road, to Matsumoto. The plan was to camp somewhere along the way, but the rain was just too shitty to really want to stop for long. This was too bad, cause Takayama and Matsumoto seem like they might have some random shit to see. I got some lunch at Royal Host, a Japanese chain diner. I got some funny stares when I walked in. Well the usual stares for being 192cm tall, but also I was dripping wet. Every step in the restaurant left a puddle behind on the floor.

I took the expressway again to Nagano. I only took a couple pictures on this ride, but it basically all looked like this:

Yeah, this shot is kinda nice, at least I could see the mountains in the distance.

This couple was riding all the way from Kyushu, the southern island in Japan, to Hokkaido, the northern island. Their bike had blue siren lights and C.H.P. stickers. I told them I was from California, but they didn't seem to make the connection. They were blasting what sounded like Japanese instrumental country music.


I had about two and a half day in Osaka to see what I could. I was plannig on spending one day with Andy and Corrie, but their visa applications got messed up for China, blah blah blah, they didn't make it out. So I had a lot of time to myself.

Random hotels are all over the place. Osaka defineatly has the most outrageous looking love hotels I've seen. What is a love hotel? Ask the internet, it will tell.

The Nanba area is crazy and loud and full of people. Outside of that, Osaka has a much more down to earth feel than Tokyo. And I made a baby on the train cry for the first time. Usually I play peek-a-boo with any kid who looks at me. This time the little girl just lost it as soon as she looked at me. Of course, I had just bit my tounge and had blood pouring out of my mouth, so maybe thats why.

On my 2nd full day there, I didn't have shit to do, so I went on a ramen hunt. I found the bomb ramen! I actually saw this palce on TV the night before, and thought, "I'm bored, might as well go on a ramen adventure."

You know its gonna be good if there is a massive bone on a chain in front.

This one had a broth flavored with shrimp. It was awesome. Inside the shop they were playing old Japanese baseball games on the TV. They had lots of signed photos on the walls, so maybe I found something famous.

I also walked around the castle:

And I went to the aquarium. This particular aquarium is devoted to the ring of fire, which is the areas along the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The highlight was a tank with a whale shark, 15m long. I've been told this is the best aquarium in Japan. Japan has hundreds of aquariums. Tokyo alone has at least 5 that I can think of off hand. I concur, though, this was a good spot.

And I got to meet up with my tattoo artist, Matt. 3 Tides Tattoo is a pretty well known spot in Osaka. They have a great reputation, and some artisitic looking skateboards on the wall. Check em' out!

On the Road: Tokyo to Osaka

Total distance travelled so far = 603km

Woke up tuesday the 10th, officially homeless, and set out towards Osaka. The plan was to ride down to Mt. Fuji, camp, and ride to Osaka the next day.

It was a little wet. This was to be the theme for the next few days. Replace "a little" with different adjectives. Maybe torrentially, or painfully, or typhoonilly would be good words to use. But for now lets just stick with a little wet.

The mountain roads from Saitama to Mt. Fuji are great. Very fast and fun on the bike. I was hoping to catch some great views of Mt. Fuji. Here's the best one I could capture with the camera.

So you can see the weather prevented a lot. This brings up something. I chose to do my motorcycle tour of Japan during rainy season. Why did I make this odd decision? During the fall, the county is ablaze with oarnge, red, and yellow leaves. During spring, flowers and mild weather are everywhere. During winter it's cold, but the skies are clear and blue. But it just worked out that my 3 week vacation is right now. But it has its ups as well, this time of year. It is very warm. This feels wonderful on the bike, and makes camping and nightime very pleasant.

Back to my trip.


Whats this lovely little bench? Thats where I "camped". I chose not to camp near Fuji because the weather north looked worse, and I thought I saw clear-ish skies to the south. So I rode to the coast and followed the roads. Once the sun set, the rain got really bad. I mean awful. I was on this little coastal road, and anytime a truck would come the other way, I got sheeted by water. Like hit with a water hose. I should have camped before the sun went down. The little road along the coast would have been nice in the day I think. There were greenhouses all along the way, and the air smelled like melons. When I reached the end of this road, there was supposed to be a campground somewhere near the ferry terminal. I was gonna take a short ferry the next day. Anyways, I couldn't find the campground (this is to become a theme on my trip), so I found a nice bench next to the water.

In Japan, you can do shit like this no problem. Police don't patrol, so no one is going to come up and ask you to leave. Criminals don't exist, so you don't have to worry about being murdered. And people in general won't bother you, so you can sleep in if you want.

Caught the 8:10 ferry the next morning.

Once back on land, I needed to get to Osaka, which was about 200km away still. It was raining pretty bad now, and the roads were slippery. I managed to take the cozy mountain roads.

I could have made a day of riding and gone through Nara or even up through Kyoto, but it wasn't gonna happen. It actually cleared up for a bit and I was able to find my lovely hotel. A quaint little dwelling called the Hotel Raizan. Rooms with nothing but a bed and a TV. Also, down near the front desk are a few hundred porn movies to borrow. Good times.