Hokkaido is the northern most island of Japan and features 20 percent of the country’s land mass with 5 percent of the population. Host to the largest national parks in Japan, this country is riddled with wild rivers, salmon runs, brown bears and a multitude of other wild critters. Untamed forests abound in this not so known corner of the Land of the Rising Sun. Also, Hokkaido is the premier destination for Japanese motorcyclists during the summer. Famed for its lack of stop signs, open roads and prodigious wilderness, Hokkaido holds a special place for all Japanese – especially those who explore on two wheels.
August 1st, 2012
After three planes, 20 hours, and who knows how many time zones, I arrived in Chitose, Hokkaido. It had been 5 years since my last visit to Hokkaido and 17 years since I lived here, working as an English teacher so many years ago. Jet lag spun through my body as I came off the plane.
I met up with my friend Akiko, who would be driving the support car for us. We picked up the sag wagon, and doubled back to the airport to pick up Dave and Ellen from Washington State, and then headed to the bright lights and big city of Sapporo. Dave and Ellen had been on 3 trips with me before: Alaska, Patagonia and Peru, but had never been to Japan. We sat in silence as we entered the city…all of us suffering from jet lag. At least we would have a couple of days to get back on track before getting on the bikes and exploring the island.
August 2nd, 2012
We awoke in the heart of Susukino, Sapporo’s entertainment district. It has been a famous adult recreation spot since Sapporo was on the map and boasts more bars, restaurants, lights and action than any other single place on the island. Sapporo is the 5th largest city in Japan, and is most famous for being the first place beer was brewed in the country. (It is a capital city too, but really, how important is that next to beer?)
Outside the doors of our hotel, legions of taxis lined up, busy boulevards with enormous flashing lighted signs broadcast excitement, and a myriad of people bustling along the sidewalks all compounded to make this area a veritable challenge on the senses. People watching seemed to be the first order of business: every color of hair, dress, sound and smell seems to be pouring into every sense as you tried to contain your excitement for this rich and fantastic culture. Traditional Kimonos went by on wooden clogs as punkerswith octopus hair and shiny chains….the old, the new, the old the new…juxtaposition on steroids, I give you Japan.
The group assembled throughout the day until we were all together for the welcome dinner that evening. We had Ian and Jack, father and son from England, Bob from Eastern Washington, Scott from Virginia, Abdullah from Saudi Arabia, Lee from Alaska, and Kevin and Karilea from North Carolina. Most of them had ridden with me before save for the Alaska boy…funny since I am from there too!
I picked out a Yaki Niku restaurant nearby for us to have our Welcome Dinner. Yaki Niku means “cooked meat” and what happens here is you are given a multitude of raw meats and vegetables and a grill sits in the middle of your table with burning coals underneath. Rice is passed around and you fill a bowl with sauces…and then you start throwing these bits on the grill and there you have it: a hands on interactive meal!
After the meal, jet lag and over excitement got the best of most of the group, and we drifted off to our rooms early.
A Day of Leisure
August 3rd, 2012
This would be our day to relax and explore the city. I gave everyone the option to just do whatever they wanted, and a time to rendezvous in the evening for dinner. Some of them met me at noon to do a mission: get road maps and go to a revolving sushi restaurant.
I met a small group and we took a subway to the main Sapporo station. There, we picked up some road maps for everyone at the tourist information center. From there, we went to a restaurant area where they had “Kuru, kuru zushi” – conveyor belt sushi. We sat down in the busy restaurant as a team of sushi makers yelled out orders and cheers to each other. Around the entire place was a conveyor belt loaded with little plates of goodies. Not all of it was sushi: juice, melon, Udon noodles as well as any kind of sushi imaginable drifted by as we snatched plate after plate. Each plate was colored differently, and had a different price. At the end of the meal, the attendant would count up the plates and give you the bill – easy!
Between the excellent sushi, the action of the conveyor belt and the yelling and goings-on of the chefs in the center of the room, this was just so much more than a meal!
After lunch, we drifted to a shopping area, where we perused for nothing in particular. Again, our senses were pushed to their limits with the wide variety of hair colors, styles, bright signs, mechanical noises…the whole place seemed to erupt with stimulus…the general decor of just about everything was from the genre “Disneyland” – bright, friendly colors with rounded objects seemed to be everywhere. Even a presentation in a store window had children’s toys all around it…it seems that the minute you step into Japan, that’s the minute you step into another softer, child-friendly world. The picture of a ferocious bear actually looks like a bear that wants to tickle fight.
That night, we met up with the rest of the group and headed to an Izakaya restaurant. Izakaya literally means “A place to drink”. What it really is, besides that, is a restaurant that specializes in appetizers. Small portions of all sorts of fish, potatoes, and meats were thrown in front of us. The restaurant was just a hole in the wall, with woodsy cabin-like style. Everyone enjoyed the meal.
As we stepped outside into the night, all you could do was marvel at the spectacle of humanity and technology. Lighted electric signs flashed bright waves of lights onto the broad boulevards. The people watching were just spectacular. The night air hung at a perfect temperature…not hot nor cold as we walked around in t-shirts. We stepped into a side street and there was an enormous dance competition unfolding: teams of brightly uniformed dancers teamed in the streets, displaying their practiced skills. Hundreds of onlookers gawked. It was one of those surreal moments…do I watch the dancers or the street behind me with all its people?
The Ride to the Center
August 4th, 2012
We rounded up everyone’s luggage and got some taxis and headed across town to pick up the bikes. Excitement was in the air.
Mr. Kawasaki was there to greet us and all the bikes were in order. It took us about an hour and a half to sort out paperwork and prepare the bikes. Before 10AM, we were pulling into traffic and headed out of the big city for the heart of the island. The small city of Furano hosted some the events of the 1972 Olympics, and is widely known as the rugged north country as depicted in a long time Japanese TV drama “Kita no Kuni Kara”. It is surrounded by mountains, rivers and great riding.
It took us about an hour to get out of the street lights and onto some great back road riding. From the farms wafted the smells of onions, corn, and cows. The temperature was just on the muggy side, but was perfect when you were moving. We stopped briefly to catch a snack before heading right into nature. As we headed through the mountains I was struck by how lush this countryside is. All the slopes were blanketed by an impenetrable canopy of greenery. Pines and deciduous trees abounded, with occasional bamboo thrown in. Wherever possible, the grass and weeds were making their way back through the concrete and reclaiming some abandoned buildings.
After lunch, we found ourselves on a lonesome, perfectly paved section of road with absolutely no traffic. After about a hundred great curves it dawned on me: This is fantastic riding! If I was to awake into this reality, where would I think I was? Japan generally does not hold the ideal that there is fantastic country riding….and then you have Hokkaido. The image of most foreigners is that Japan is just one continuous city, with smokestacks into the horizon. The truth is, once you get out of the industrial corridor, you find yourself in solitude and natural beauty.
We pulled into our hotel early and decided to head up into the mountains to Tokachidake, the edge of the largest National Park in the country: Daizetsu National Park. The road was lined with thick trees and climbed and curved its way to a parking lot high above the valley basin. Not a long climb, but fun!
We pulled into our hotel and got checked in. It sat on the outskirts of town and was surrounded by the thick canopy of forest which rules this island. Most of us hit the hot springs before dinner. A great way to relax and unwind after a terrific day of riding.
That night, we enjoyed a meal of Shabu Shabu. We each had a small pot of boiling water to which we added raw vegetables and slices of pork. After it cooked, you would dip it into a special sauce and eat it. Don’t forget the rice chaser! Other delights on this menu which was included in the room package were, shrimp and salmon sashimi, eggplant and potato tempura and some other stuff I just couldn’t recognize….
During dinner, our last rider, Karl from California and Cameron, our second guide, from Canada showed up. They were in the midst of an epic custom motorcycle tour, having traveled for two weeks from the south part of Japan. They would be joining us for the rest of this adventure.
A great ending to a very fun day!
August 5th, 2012
The weather turned south through the night and as we awoke, we were glad we spent the extra time climbing up to Takachidake the day before. The clouds had moved in, and we could not see the mountain. “Seize the day” was the right thing to do! We watched the misty drizzle calm down and donned our gear and headed into it. I decided to lead us on a loop which took us through open farmland on back roads. Tractors, rows of soba, rice and corn flew by as we darted straight across the valley. Above and to the south, you could see the clear cut section of the velvety forested mountain sides where a ski lift stood still: Furano, host to the 1972 Winter Olympics.
The mountains section, though misty, was not uncomfortable and the road was pleasant. We climbed and then dipped back into the valley after riding some miles through unbroken forest. We stopped at a fruit stand to regroup, and the humidity and temperature went up immediately on the valley floor.
We then took the local highway north towards the city of Asahikawa and stopped for lunch at the eclectic “Time Tunnel” Rider House and Restaurant. Rider Houses are located all over Hokkaido, and cater to Motorcyclist. Usually they are cheap places where there is a common sleeping arrangement mixed with a meal. It is a great way to meet traveling Japanese riders from all over the country and also get information on routes and destinations. These Rider Houses range from $2 to $20 per night, and are literally everywhere on the island!
The restaurant at Time Tunnel was like walking onto the holodeck at Star Trek: wooden, lofted ceilings, log beams, and old motorcycles were stuffed together with old western memorabilia…everything from saxophones to pianos to steer horns adorned this tiny place. We ate while trying to take it in. It was a journey in and of itself. Afterwords, the owner let us into a side room where we could check out his original Indian motorcycle. Great stuff!
After lunch, we skirted the city of Asahikawa and headed due north via a not-so-used farm road. The weather turned sour, but the riding was pleasant. Farms drifted by on this narrow valley road. Along the edges of the farms was the ominous presence of the thick, impenetrable forest. For the rest of the day, we pushed north until we reach the small town of Bifuka.
We checked into our hotel, hung our stuff to dry, soaked in a hot bath, and went to dinner. Almost all of the dinners at our hotels are included in the price. Usually, the dinner set is a conglomeration of a mini sterno cook pot with some sort of animal flesh and vegetable, a sashimi collection, a bowl of rice, another type of cooked shrimp or other, a vegetable jello (I am not doing it justice as it is quite good) and a main piece of fish. Another small dish is for soy sauce, and a bowl of steaming miso soup is usually served as you are seated.
We drifted off to bed tired this evening. The wetness had taken it out of us, and adjusting to the jet lag was still a factor.
I Can See Russia From Here!
We awoke to rain again. However, when we looked at the weather report, it would be over in a few minutes. So, we ate breakfast and waited an hour until the rain let up.
We met in the parking lot with smiles and headed immediately north. Without the rain, we were able to take in the surrounding farmland more clearly. Cows, soba fields and farm houses drifted by. Traffic was nearly non- existent. In a country so heavily populated not having traffic was like silence to a city boy. On Honshu (the main island), you can bank on only going 40 kilometers an hour throughout any given day…but on the northern tip of Hokkaido…we had the roads to ourselves!!
We t-boned the Sea of Okhotsk and headed west to Soya Point. The ocean was pleasant to see, rolling waves, fishing boats and the fresh air that only the ocean can provide. The temperature dipped. The road hung along the water for much of the time and that whimsical, peaceful feeling of freedom that only a motorcycle could bring started to seep into the soul…
We pulled in to Cape Soya to the tune of large bus loads of tourists, restaurants and a camera crew interviewing people. This was the northernmost point of all of Japan, and it was, and always will be, a big draw. People took turns in front of the pointed monument taking pictures as cranes stood still in shin deep in water, waiting patiently to pounce on lunch. The Russian island of Sakhalin faded in the distance.
We gathered the cats and took a picture, commemorating the event. Then, we drifted over to a Ramen restaurant for lunch. Miso, scallop and crab Ramen were on the menu.
After lunch, we headed over to the coast of the Sea of Japan to head back south again. The islands of Rishiri and Rebunto were off in the shimmering distance. The air was clean, the road was clear of traffic and there was this feeling of unlimited space – an oddity in a country like Japan. We stopped for a minute on a cut bank overlooking the ocean and the islands…not a car passed us and there was a sense of solitude. I asked Lee where he thought he was. “Alaska” was his response.
After gassing up further on, the group split up: one headed straight to the hotel, and the other pressed on down the coast to catch a nice twisty road and a longer ride.
The latter group got in just before sundown at 7 o’clock. Tired but invigorated, the group ate dinner and quickly crashed in bed. It had been a long day, especially with the rain delay, and the miles had taken their toll. A good night of sleep should clear that!
Cross Country, Hokkaido
After riding Hokkaido for a while you come to realize that there are elements of this place that belong on the planet of motorcycling. Take for example our cross country ride this day. Instead of getting caught in the traffic light infested whirlpool of the city of Asahikawa, I picked a route that crisscrossed the island, taking in some great roads. For the first part, we headed right into the hills and were welcomed by lonely farms, clear water streams and heavy forest. At one point, our road came to an end, and at the “T” junction, looking left or right, there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. This, in Japan, is simply unique. A junction of two roads with no buildings, no traffic…just uninhabited forest.
We held on for one more road that took us into a small timber town. As we were coasting in, we crossed yet another clear stream….and, as a fly fisherman, all I could think of was coming back to spend some time!
Then a break, a snack in the parking lot standing up, and we were off to yet another type of road…which climbed into the mountains. The most fascinating part of this road were the tunnels. They enclosed you with skylights above and gave you the perception of some sort of futuristic ride….you could have opened your eyes and been on any other planet. Where was I?
Why they built the tunnels, I can only guess: snow? pitch? But whatever the case, this lonely road, in the middle of the high season of Hokkaido, was completely quiet. After 45 minutes of riding, we only passed one logging truck going one way, and a bicyclist going the other! Was this Japan? Still, the dense forest shadowed our every move.
We popped out onto another main road. This time it was a series of long straight-aways accented by smooth sweepers. Back and forth again over a clear flowing river and the sun broke out. A myriad of flying objects from insects to birds drifted across the road in front us. The forest continued its lush vibrance. You could feel its energy – the humidity it gave off as you sailed by.
We turned onto another road that headed right into Sounkyo Canyon. Tall volcanic towers greeted us on both sides and we entered this unfamiliar and specular realm. We stopped to take in two cascading waterfalls and to listen to the rushing river….peacefulness. Beauty was being thrown at us.
The road climbed to 3,500 feet and into the clouds and descended into a what could only be described as Iowa: Corn plots came and went, cows came and went…where were we again?!?
It was a long day, and it began to pass into darkness as we crested our last pass entering Akan National Park, as the dusk slipped in for the evening we had a spectacular look at a crater lake shimmering in the last breaths of sunlight. Down we spiraled into the valley, surrounded by old growth trees….this is what it must have looked like before the age of industrialization. These tall trees engulfed us and the light soon faded.
Our last push to our hotel and our headlights spied deer along the road. We pulled into our hotel just after dark, tired but happy.
That night, we reconvened at dinner in a private tatami room. All of us were wearing the kimonos that were laid out for us, and most of us had already sampled the delicious natural hot spring baths. The meal was extravagant: steak was cooking on mini sterno hot plates while we looked over at least a dozen choices of small portions of edible delights to eat. We laughed and carried on until the meal was over and the exhaustion of the long day took its toll. We fell silent and went to our rooms for some needed rest.
We jumped on the bikes and headed down the road only a couple of kilometers before seeing our first spectacle: Mt Io is a steaming, venting volcanic bulge just about to blow. We parked our bikes and walked right up to the thing. Yellow sulfuric residue painted the ground and vents, gushing steam whined and it generally smelled foul. Such force, this bubbly hot spot!
After, we climbed up to the crater lake of Mashu ko and though the clouds were thick, we had a chance to spy the water.
Then, it was back to farm level and straight-aways till the sea. We hit the coast as the weather hit us…blasts of mist. You really could not call it rain but you could not call it not rain…And we put up with it along the coast for a bit until we pulled into a lunch spot to warm up and dry out a little. We enjoyed curry, fish and ramen as we sat indoors and relished the heat. You could see a clear band of weather just off the coast. If we only had a boat…
After lunch, we hugged the coast until the small fishing town of Rausu and then turned towards the mountains and climbed up and over the Shiretoko Peninsula. This area is regarded as one of the wildest places in all of Japan and is also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Too bad for the clouds, we could not see a thing, but you get the idea of how beautiful it could be by what is lining the roads.
We descended to the ocean on the other side and stopped briefly at a waterfall. It was nice, that even in such weather, the roads were full of motorcycle riders. Most of them had plastic boxes strapped to the backs of their bikes and almost all of them waved as you went by. It was a scene that lifted the spirit.
We ended the day cutting through farm land all the way back to Akan. Not a long ride, and the weather could have been better, but the group was happy. It is always better to get out – always.
We awoke to clear skies and warm temps, so with smiles on our faces we retraced our ride south past Mashu Lake and were in awe of the scene. Just the day before, the soupy clouds gave us no indication as to the beauty that lie below. Now, in full clearness we could see steaming Mt. Io, the full crater lake of Lake Mashu, and even out to the Okhotsk Sea…what a beautiful sight! The curves up to the lookout and down the other side were smooth and dry. It is funny what weather does to a scene!
We started cross country due west toward Akan Lake. No buildings, just great winding curves lined with the ever present forest. The humidity rose with the temperature. The sun shined down…wafts of forest filtered through my helmet…these are the times that you feel that there is no substitute for traveling by motorcycle.
Our next stop was the aqua blue lake of Onetto, with its twin volcano backdrop. We stopped for a spell and just took it all in. Quiet, serene…the scene was naturally framed in by trees and the blue of the lake looked photo-shopped.
Back on the bikes and we were now headed into farm country and on the far side of a broad valley, we climbed to the top of a knoll which overlooked the broad expanse of farms in the Obihiro area. Cows sauntered around, and the quilt-like look of the farms down below seemed surreal. We took in the scene as we ate ” megadogs” and ice cream…the hot sun gave us a taste of what it was capable of! This was truly a Hokkaido day…the weather was perfect, the roads fantastic, and the scenery was precious. This is why you come to Hokkaido.
We descended from the knoll to enter a narrow canyon and along a lake. Then, we took a side road into the forest which climbed and climbed. Switchback after switchback went by under a canopy of leaves. Every once in a while, there would be an opening, and you could see the lake far below. I thought to myself, “This is the Tail of the Dragon, only no traffic!!” The road changed character as we topped the pass and at the bottom of the other side, it meandered along a still lake. The two lanes changed to just one, and curve after curve had a convex mirror, showing you the traffic headed the other way. We slowed down and took it all in. At a rest spot, we all were just like children…laughter and smiles…what a day it had been!
We descended the last part of this amazing road to the farmlands and cut across, only to climb again to the tops of the mountains to the other side. Rain moved in, but then, as we made our last miles, the clouds parted and rays of sunshine greeted us. It was in this little town that I had taught English 17 years ago. Nothing had changed…it was just a small farm town in the midst of mountains. Forest covered every inch of the landscape that was not flat. The clear flowing Sorachi River tricked its way to Lake Kanayama…I became nostalgic…so many years ago living here, being a part of the community and the surroundings. The sun popping out seemed to me a hearty welcome home.
We made our way along the lake to a the secluded Larch Hotel – a log construction, and cabins hidden in the forest. Quiet, elegant, the atmosphere here was nothing but relaxing. We dined that night to petite portions of shrimp and steak. White table clothes, high vaulted log constructed ceilings…did we deserve this elegance? Not really. Would we take it? Certainly!
The next day there was the option of a long ride out to Cape Erimo, which featured the Golden Road (a road which pitted the forces of technology and man verses that of nature and the ocean) or a leisurely day around the town of Minami Furano. A couple of riders opted to go for the long day, and headed out early with Cameron. The rest of the group was ready at the leisure hour of 10am, and we headed first to the place I lived: a small town of only 500 people surrounded by forest. We climbed up to a small Shinto Shrine behind my past residence and made a prayer.
We then headed on a loop around the town: it was a collection of small town that made up Minami Furano, all connected by great riding roads.
We stopped to see some old friends of mine who ran an Outdoor School where they took people river rafting, hiking, cross country skiing and dog sledding. After a brief and delightful visit, I took the group to visit another friend who had a curry shop, hidden in the forest. It was great to reconnect with such good old friends.
The curry shop was located at place where two wild rivers joined…not another building but his restaurant was there…so peaceful and quiet, you would not believe it to be Japan. Only the rushing sound of unobstructed water broke the silence.
The name of the curry restaurant was “Talkeetna” meaning the joining of two rivers…which was inspired to the owner, as the town of Talkeetna, Alaska is the namesake. The town we were in was called “Ochiai” which also means “joining of rivers” and so….
I took a minute to walk down to where the two streams came together. A faint mist hung along the waterways and a 360 degree panorama features two untamed streams framed in by heavy forest. Quiet and peaceful. The rivers were untouched at this point. Further down stream, they would be dammed and shoved into irrigation. One one of the streams, I could see a solitary crane working the water for food. What beauty.
After lunch, we headed back to the lodge. What a leisurely day after riding all day for several days in a row!
The other group came in after dark, and said they enjoyed the ride.
Our goal for the day was the ski town of Niseko. In the winter, Niseko is known for its powder snow and extensive ski area. In the summer, it is a golfing, rafting mecca and features many other outdoor activities.
Our first hours of riding were pleasant: forested curves up and over mild passes and through little towns. Then, we ran along route 38, which is a main trucking route between Sapporo and Obihiro. As we wait patiently to pass big truck after big truck, it dawned on me how spoiled we had been not having to wait for a single car for so many days…not a typical Japanese traffic experience…and now this, waiting, waiting…
Fortunately, we were only on this main road for under an hour. We cut across farm land for a while, trying to get by the city of Chitose without too much stop and go. Really, the name of the game in Japan is to avoid the cities at all costs. Once you’re sucked in, it can be stop-and-go traffic-light yuckiness for miles and miles. I picked a path, er, the GPS picked a great path to the heart of the city that ran along the ridge of a hill through farm country. Both sides of the slope reached out to hay, corn and cows for miles around. There were no traffic lights and no cars…and the sun was out…what a pleasant way to go.
We hit the heart of the city of Chitose, but passing through it was only a couple of lights and boom! We were again in the forest and heading for the mountains. We climbed to the coast of a massive crater lake and went up and over a pass. At the rest stop, we grazed on ice cream and were charmed by piano playing itself by the bathrooms. The sun struck hard and the humidity rose….it was the first time during the entire trip that it was just a little uncomfortable. For the most part, even on the cloudy days, the temperature and humidity hung around an unmentionable level…meaning, that it was just right.
Our last push for the day took us to more corn fields staccato’d by conical volcanoes. We weaved in and out of these mini giants and the fact that there were so many volcanoes everywhere we went was testament to this countries exposure to geothermic power.
We finally arrived at the town of Niseko, and on a back road we turned off to our hotel, tucked away from the road and next to a small sulfuric stream. Our hotel had direct access to natural hot springs welling up from the ground, and as I bathed in their modest outdoor pool and looked up into the forested slopes, the feeling of extreme peacefulness overwhelmed me. Japan offers the rider many things: safety, great riding and a profound culture and history, unique in the world. But mostly, it offers natural hot springs, and the soothing feeling after a long days’ ride of slipping into one of these pools is the real currency of traveling in Japan by motorcycle.
Dinner that night was a conglomeration of colors, textures and unknowns. Our little sterno friend in the corner of our trays was cooking noodles, mushrooms and thin slices of beef in a soy based broth. The more adventurous of the group ate the traditional way by opening a raw egg in a bowl, and after the meat was cooked, bathing the meat in the egg, and then down the hatch! Other delights included assorted sashimi, vegetable tempura, rice, and more unknown spongy things.
Laughter from the group chased up and down the table. We were now at the time where the group was becoming familiar with each other, and the main topic was making fun of each other. So what if we said that Abdullah was the love child of Jim Belushi and Marlon Brando?
Sun shown through the window of our room. It was going to be a great day weather wise, and the group was excited. After breakfast, we jumped on the bikes and headed south. The plan was to make a loop down one coast and up the other, ending back in Niseko mid-afternoon.
The road out of the hotel was fun: heavy forest on both sides and perfectly dry and clean tarmac. We headed on south on the main Highway 5 for the better part of two hours. Small farm town, rice and corn were in the fields. We hit the coast and followed a fairly boring road along the ocean for a while. We then turned right and headed straight for the mountains. The traffic dropped off and the smooth pavement started to dip and roll. Curve after curve flew by and a clear water stream escorted us up the side of a mountain. We climbed to 1,500 feet and then dropped down the other side. There were constant curves and when it ended, it ended at the ocean. The coast of the Sea of Japan in this part of Hokkaido was spectacular. The road went right along the clear blue ocean and was accentuated by tide pools, funky rock outcrops and tunnels. Only very small fishing villages with their man-made harbors and fleets of small boats were there. Absolutely no stop lights!! We stopped along the ocean to take in the scene: Japanese weekenders with nets in shorts searching around the tide pools, children with snorkels and fins with inflatable inner tubes bobbed around, tents with massive barbecues were all along the coast. The sun was out and the temperatures were approaching the mid 80’s. So pleasant to see this quotidian activity….fun to watch people have fun!
The coast went on for some forty miles and was just a delight – definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We stopped at a convenience store and grabbed picnic fixings and found a great spot along the ocean to eat. We perched ourselves amongst the rocks by the clear tide pools and took in windmills, harbor, and volcanic rock formations. A great alternative to sitting inside some small restaurant!
We pulled into our hotel around 5 PM and it ended up being a good time: everyone was tired but happy to have had such a pleasant day, exploring Hokkaido.
The Last Hurrah
We woke to an unfortunate display of nature: The entire country was going to get pummeled by rain today. Looking outside, it was obvious that we would have to put our heads down today and just get back to Sapporo.
We dawned our rain gear and took off into the fog and the rain. We climbed into the soup and went up and over a mountain pass to the ocean. Once we descended, fortunately, the clouds let up a little, and the rain stopped. We stopped to regroup, and there were smiles around the group. Of course, it is always better to get out!
We were stopped at a convenience store and there were a few bikes parked out front. The Japanese motorcycle tourists were everywhere rain or shine. And, they RIDE ANYTHING. From Mopeds to Harleys, the Japanese from the southern islands flood Hokkaido to experience open roads and unimpeded nature that simply does not exist anywhere else in the country. Any make, model, and strapping technique seems to be appropriate. Large plastic boxes seem to be the norm. Panniers are not so popular. Heaps of stuff bungeed on, even above head level pass us on the highways, and greet us at parking lots. You find that in Japan, its not what you ride…its just that you are out there. No where else have I seen Harleys and mopeds riding together!
We hugged the coast and I picked a short cut across the peninsula. The road was twisty with no traffic. Long, overbuilt tunnels covered the roadway for long stretches of time. There were virtually no buildings on this 30 minute stretch and I wondered why they even built the road. It seems in Japan that there is no expense spared when a plan of a road is agreed on. No mountain too wide to bore a tunnel through, nor gap to wide to build a bridge….
The lovely road to no where popped us out on coast again, and we started to hit the traffic of Sapporo.
After a brief lunch, we took one last mountain road that connected us into Sapporo. Steep mountains, heavy forest, and still lakes went by and the clouds loomed above us. It was a great ending to a fantastic trip. We cruised into town and were stopped in traffic immediately. The trip was over, and all we needed to do was get through the myriad of traffic lights and cars to the rental place.
We finally pulled in and turned off the engines. Smiles, hugs and handshakes abounded as the feeling of great journey swirled around.
Hokkaido is a riders paradise for those who live in Japan and want to enjoy open roads, no traffic and plenty of nature. Mountains and forest dominate this landscape. In 12 days of riding, we traveled to the far reaches of the island, and experienced some exceptional roads. Everywhere you go on Hokkaido, there is constant presence of riders from all over Japan, scouring the countryside, looking for two wheeled adventure. Every campground is inundated with them. When you tour Hokkaido with all its motorcycle tourist, you feel you are part of something bigger than you. Waving to these riders all day long lifts the spirit – especially on the rainy days. It is refreshing to know that there are still wild places left on earth, even in a heavily populated country like Japan.
As we walked back from the farewell dinner down the circus of lights on the main boulevard, I cracked a smile: We had seen so many different kinds Japan, from the crowded entertainment districts to the silent wilderness. Japan is a dichotomy, but Hokkaido is ruled by the wild. If you are interested in experiencing open country, empty roads, and forests for miles, then this part of Japan is for you.
We offer one trip a year in Hokkaido. Please join us if you want to see wild Japan!
Heres some pics that take in the ride for you: