2012 MotoQuest Japan Three Island Tour
Low Ceilings and Hot Water
If anything, Japan has plenty of the above!
The riders started trickling in days ago. First the Australians, and then the rest. By last night, we had nearly the entire group assembled. Oregon, California, Florida, Texas, Alaska, South Africa, Australia, Canada and England were all represented.
The run down:
Terry and Bev from California
George and Valerie from Oregon
Miles from England
Colin and Shirley from England
Henry and Lynette from South Africa
Boyd and Kim from California
Phillip from Australia
Val from Australia
Larry and Penny from Florida
Joe from Texas
Henry from California
Paul and Marlene from England
Jim and Brenda from Canada
Phil from Alaska
Akiko from Japan
Hirata from Japan
In all, there will be 24 participants on 16 motorcycles to tour the southern three main islands of Japan.
Cherry blossom time is near, and they all came to experience the terrific sensation of riding through billowing cherry blossom petals, eating exotic foods and soaking in natural hot springs – what ONLY Japan can offer!
Almost all of them had never been to Japan before, so it would be a deep introduction to a fascinating culture rich in history and tradition. I wanted them to get a taste of it all: urban Japan, rural Japan, modern Japan and historic Japan. So, I took them yesterday to “Kuru, Kuru Sushi” – conveyor belt sushi, so they could get a taste.
So there we sat in booths next to a conveyor belt of an assortment of sushi on individual dishes going by. The colors and textures of each item filled a wide range of tastes and delights. The riders laughed and ate and were all impressed by how delicious and fun it was.
The next order of business was to capture the rest of the group at the airport that evening. Most of them came in on a single flight, and they would be upside down with the time change, so the plan was to whisk them away to the hotel as soon as possible so they could get needed rest. All went according to plan except two sets of missing luggage and one set of missing riders!
So, it looks like Plan “B” will be in operation sooner than expected!…
Meet the Bikes
We got word that Terry and Bev we re-routed through Osaka due to the Tokyo airport closing, and they finally caught up with us at lunch. Before then, we strolled over to the Black Castle Garden, one of three treasured gardens in Japan which feature beauty and antiquity bordering on divine. Carp cruised the ponds, lawns were immaculately manicured, trees were meticulously trimmed. Though the cherry blossoms were not quite out, “hanami” was in in full swing. Hana means flower, and “mi” means watch, and the entire country comes out to celebrate. They bring coolers full of meat to barbeque, spacious tarps to sit on and loads of beer. I suppose you could say it was a civilized party everywhere we went. Hundreds of people sat out in the sun on the lawns and enjoyed the day.
We walked over to the black castle, constructed 600 years ago (reconstructed in 1966) and admired the rock work base and golden highlights on the rooftop. The weather was warm and inviting. It was a classic Sunday in the park in Japan.
Then, we went to a “yaki niku” restaurant – one of my favorites – to enjoy a fun lunch. “Yaki” means cook and “niku” means meat. You sit down to a table with a grill in the center, they serve you trays of raw meat and vegetables… and then you cook your own. Different dips for the meat are there for you to try and each person was served a bowl of rice. The rhythm goes like this: cook, dip, rice chaser. Everyone loved this style of food. In Japan, half the fun is the activity of cooking at your own table!
Then, it was off to the bikes, but we had to travel an hour to the small town of Tsuyama to pick them up. We loaded into a fleet of taxis and were wisked off to the main train station of Okayama. We boarded a local train and spent the hour watching the beautiful countryside slide by. Mountains framed clear water rivers, farm houses and fields. Bamboo flowed throughout the forrest. People worked the fields. The leaves had not come out yet, and you feel the intensity of blooms about to pop. We were just on the cusp of the cherry blossom season.
We arrived in Tsuyama and taxied our way to the motorcycle dealership where we would pick up our bikes. The warmth of the sun in the train, full stomach and jet lag had subdued the group, but when they saw the bikes, they lit up like lightbulbs!
We assigned bikes, signed paperwork, went over the the bikes in preparation for a fast start the following day. The bikes ranged from things we never heard of to the standards – BMW R1100, BMW R1200, Triumph Tiger 800 and then the littles: Honda CB 400, Kawasaki Zephyr 400 etc.
After about two hours, the paperwork was finished and we went to our hotel for an hour rest before our welcome dinner. We met up with our last participants of the trip, Paul and Marlene who were from England, but lived here in Japan for work. They had ridden over to the hotel on their own bike to join our group for the week. It was a lovely chinese-style dinner as we sat spread across three tables and conversation was hopping!
It had been a very busy day, and some of the riders were suffering from jet lag, so we all drifted to bed quite early. The next day would be the exciting one: we were going to ride Japan. And better yet, the weather called for sunny skies!
Up at 7, breakfast at 8, map lesson at 9, on the bikes by 10. We pulled out of our motorcycle rental shop and were immediately in the mountains. Clear streams flowed past, snow-capped peaks loomed in the distance. Small farm plots slid by, little tractors with old women with cute brightly-colored bonnets were the highlight. The ornate Japanese-style roofs on all the buildings just would not stop! We climbed to 2,000 feet and snow lined each side. Forest was all around us. Was this Japan?
And then we descended to the ocean – The Sea of Japan – past snow-capped volcanoes and belching smoke stacks. We stopped briefly for soba – a noodle dish – and a look at a temple. The temperature hung around 75 and the cherry blossoms were threatening to pop. The riders were loving the food, the scenery, the company… all was well here in Japan.
We pressed on along the coast of the Sea of Japan. Small fishing boats bobbed here and there. Coastal towns drifted by. The ocean was nice: fresh air and rocks jutting into the sky from the sea. The waves licked the shore. The sun was right in front of us going down, and the colors blazed yellow, white and light blue. Every now and again we dipped into the interior, and farms and rivers went past. The line of bikes was impressive: 16 in all with 21 souls aboard. My biggest tour ever with the most diverse group I had seen. We were a force.
We pulled into the sleepy Arifuku Hotsprings resort town and parked the bikes. The hotel staff waited as always for us to arrive, and much bowing and smiles ensued. How did they know we were about to arrive?? I always wondered….
We packed our luggage upstairs through the labyrinth of stairs to the top where the hotel sat perched against a hillside. This hotel had been in existence for hundreds of years, with the hot springs area having been used for relaxation since the year 600.
The hotel layout is complex and confusing, with stairs leading here, hallways leading there… and all of our guests managed to get lost right away. It was the easiest and most complex check-in procedure I had ever seen. The rooms were all done up in traditional Japanese fare: tatame floors, ornate little garden thingys in the corner, small nooks for visiting and drinking tea, Japanese dolls and bowls of sand sat here and there as the decore.
Most rooms did not come with a bathroom, and many wondered where the beds were. Indeed, this was the real travel lodge, and shared bathrooms are common. When we were to go to dinner, the staff would lay out futons on the floor for us to sleep on, covered with thick comforters.
Dinner was elaborately laid in a large tatame room with mini trays lofted about two feet in the air, where you stuck your feet underneath. You sat on the floor on a flat pillow and there was a backrest for support. The dishes were many and the items were questionable, but one thing was for sure: it was delicious! Sashimi, thinly sliced meat boiled with mushrooms and onions, and a small slab of meat cooking on a rock being heated by a small fire! Then fried fish, then tempura and then finally an icecream thing that was sweet to tip us off that the conveyor belt of food was soon to end. The staff made rounds pouring beer, saki and other drinks. They were all dressed in traditional Japanese gowns. Most of the riders had changed into the kimonos that were waiting for us in our rooms.
Downstairs, there were two hot spring baths: one for women, one for men. A single natural hot spring bath, each with two small shower stalls – you had to sit down on a rickety stool and then use the shower head to rinse first. Then you washed your hair and your body after the plunge.
It was all pretty exciting and confusing and everyone loved it!
We woke to the battering of windows as wind pummeled the side of our travel lodge. I opened the window to see the trees and bamboo swaying violently to the gusts. The weather forecast called for 100% rain that day. There was a typhoon approaching, and we were going to go right into it. Fortunately, the extended forecast called for clear skies for the rest of the week. Best to get this over early!
We loaded our bikes and the van and headed out to the waves of the hotel staff. The roads were littered with leaves and twigs and branches. We edged our way south along the coast of the Sea of Japan and the waves crashed spectacularly against the break, sending sea mist flying across the road. We kept our heads down and just kept going. For a spell, the rain turned on and a full downpoor greeted us.
By lunch, we were cold, wet and hungry, so we stopped at a temple and found a family run noodle shop. Wood smoke filled the room and the menu was completely in Japanese. We ordered Udon noodles served hot with curry, tempura shrimp or sliced beef. Hot tea was spread around. As we warmed up, cheerfulness started to spread. We only had just over an hour to go.
After lunch, we strolled around the temple grounds. It was a temple of the Shinto religion – Japanese home grown. It was explained that when you approached the temple, you washed your hands from bamboo cups, then approached the temple. You then offer some money and make a prayer (I am sure most were hoping for better weather!).
Our last segment of riding went inland past limestone rock formations. The road spread out before us, but the wind would not let up. By the time we pulled into our hotel, all faces painted a picture of exhaustion. We were glad it was over.
We got in early, so we had plenty of time to check out the hotsprings in the hotel before dinner. In Japan, the best thing not to do is ask why. For example, in the hotel, the baths were separate – men and women. At 8:30 PM, they switched the genders of the baths. I guess they do this to give everyone a chance to enjoy both baths. To our group, this seemed a little confusing, but hey, the word “why” is overrated!
I sat with some of the members in the hot pools of the hotspring…and the warmth of the water was a welcome friend. We recanted the day to the sound of natural thermal water pouring from bamboo stock into an outdoor pool. The pool was all made of rock, and we were surrounded by a thick collection of plants and trees. Soothing to say the least!
Our dinner was set in a broad tatame room much like the night before, with over a dozen dishes of all shapes and sizes with items ranging from steak to snail to sashimi. Two kimono-clad attendents served us beer and saki as we all ate a delicious if not adventurous meal.
At the end of the meal, Hirata, our main guide, stood up and went to the stage where there was a karaoke machine on wheels. He started in with “Love Me Tender” in his Elvis-esque voice and we all swooned. The servers disappeared and returned on stage with wigs and masks… and adorned Mr. Hirata with a bow tie and wig. Before you knew it, many of the group had taken to the stage and laughs and clapping resounded. Karaoke is like a virus, and the minute it spreads, there is no escape!
It was a great end to a challenging day.
The Fallible Infallible
Usually when we work together on the buddy system something goes wrong. The buddy system is the way the motorcyclists travel as a group… so if we get cut off by a light and then make a turn, the one that is last in line waits for the next person. The default is to go straight through intercections. For some unknown reason, this group, as big as it was, was nailing it.
The weather could not have been better with severe clear skies and warm temperatures. We wound our way to the north coast to a bridge where waves were coming in from both sides to collide at the bridge. A strong current ripped through it all. Very beautiful and dramatic to say the least. Then we headed along the coast and you could see boats bobbing, rock jutting, sea weed drying and old women bent over walking… Japan.
Our lunch spot was right at the point where we cross a massive suspension bridge over to southern island of Kyushu. The narrow passageway had a tremendous current rushing through it, with ocean liners charging to and fro. It was an epic site. Any bit of coast line that had space had an industial building on it. There is no waste of space in this country.
On Kyushu, we dipped into a valley and had to put up with traffic for a while before we hit some splendid riding in the mountains. One point we were riding past industrial smokestacks, next we were high in the forested mountains taking turn after turn. We ended a great up-and-over with long sweepers of immaculate pavement. Small shrines and farm houses flew by as we were escorted by an incredibly blue river. Japan!!??
The day was over fast, though it was our longest. Everyone was at a high. Boyd said to me at a stop light: “This IS the first day of riding!!”
We checked into our hotel and went to the top floor where the hotsprings overlooked a placid river, cherry blossom trees and a quiet neighborhood – all lined by forested mountains. It was just a great day! The sunset drew of reds and oranges and careened off the soft pinks of the cherry blossoms. Not bad for a day in Japan.
There are 12 members of our group, 5 couples and two single riders, who have been married over 40 years.
We woke to sunshine and cherry blossoms. We gathered outside the hotel and walked several blocks to Mr. Nakano’s BMW shop. Mr. Nakano is part of the Flat Twin Club (A BMW-oriented motorcycle touring club that Mr. Hirata, our guide, is a part of) and also restores and fixes old BMW motorcycles. Clients from all over Japan send him their classic BMWs, and he makes them look like new. We sipped tea and ate cookies and gawked at his handsome collection of BMWs ranging from the 50’s through the 70’s. His shop was small, but meticulously clean. The outside of his shop read:
“If you want to be happy for a day, drink.
If you want to be happy for a year, marry.
If you want to be happy for a lifetime, ride a BMW.”
After awhile, it was time to get on the road and we bid farewell to Mr. Nakano. It was a real treat to visit with him and see his shop. Not to mention, it was refreshing to walk the streets of the town.
We took the toll road through forests past small towns and steaming volcanoes. We stopped for lunch at a rest stop overlooking the coastal city of Beppu. After eating, we stepped off the toll road and onto a mountainous twisty road that lasted the rest of the day. Sweeper after sweeper led us on a climb between two volcanoes. We then descended into the little town of Yufuin and to a funky little museum.
The Iwashita collection is a non-descript eclectic collection of anything – especially motorcycles, You would not guess what was inside the building if you breezed by it. Inside, it was like turning time and space upside down. The first floor was devoted to anything you could imagine, from old movie posters to old juke boxes to the fuselage of a Sabre Jet! Dolls, coke cans, model planes… it just did not make any sense, but was a delight.
On the second floor, it turned into motorcycle world. Anything and everything was represented in 100’s of bikes. Everything from the first production run of Honda to an original Steve McQueen side car. Not all the bikes were in pristine condition, but there was EVERYTHING.
The group walked out of there dazed. They all loved it, and it was not what you would expect.
The ride to the hotel was gorgeous. A winding road through the forest framed in by steaming volcanic vents. We topped out at 4,200 feet and had been riding uninterrupted for over 40 minutes. Open countryside without any traffic signals was something we really had not experienced yet, and the group was loving it. Many of them commented after this run that they never imagined Japan to be like this.
We stopped at the rim of the Aso Caldera, one of the largest calderas in the world. The rim was distinct and plunged to the bottom – at least 1000 feet. We would be staying at the bottom of it, and so we followed a serpentine road down, down to the valley floor below. Each curve was banked, well marked and clean. We arrived at our hotel around 5 pm and most of the group opted to relax and head for the baths.
5 of us decided to do a little extra riding. Mr. Hirata got wind of a fun ride, and wanted to explore. It was known as the Road of the Sky, and it was just a single-track, paved farmer’s road that climbed up the rim of the caldera. It wound its way up, doubling back on itself and reminded me of what we would see in Peru. At the top rim of the caldera, I looked back and was shocked at the epic nature of the road. Japan holds secrets that most would never guess.
We pulled into the hotel around 6PM and headed for the hot springs. We sat outside in a hot sulfur pool and discussed the day. All of the riders were still in shock by the beauty of this country. It is sad that the only images we have of Japan are cities and industry. Japan as a whole is incredibly mountainous and many parts of it are remote. Forests, lakes, rivers and volcanoes – all strung together by a network of incredible roads… Now, that is the Japan to remember!
About to Blow
We awoke at the bottom of one of the largest calderas is the world. The night before, rain and hail stormed for a couple of hours. We were greeted in the morning with clear skies and sunshine. Across the valley we could see a series of volcanoes that were slowly inching themselves skyward in place of what used to be there. Steam rose from one of the peaks. At first it looked liked a lingering cloud but upon closer inspection, you could see it dissapating into the air.
We ate breakfast, packed the van, got on our bikes and headed towards the fire. The road leading up to the volcano wound through a thick pine forest which suddenly broke out to grassy slopes. We topped out on the volcano and paused to look over the caldera.
We advanced to a parking lot meters from the steaming pot of geological stew. The smell of sulfur mixed with a hissing sound reinforced the fact that we are constantly drawn to the most dangerous places. We walked up to a viewpoint and took it all in.
From the volcano we traveled a wonderful road to the coast. We passed steep gorges, small towns, and as we descended, cherry blossoms started to appear in full bloom. Before long, we were at sea level and the blossoms were already starting to turn to leaves. We had gone from winter to spring in a matter of hours.
We rode the coast north and pulled into our destination early. Tonight would be a little different as we were staying in cabins in a secluded area surrounded by forest and ocean. All of the riders would be sharing cabins this night. The grounds were well manicured and boasted well trimmed lawns and scattered pine trees. The ocean could be seen through the trees.
Since we arrived early, some chose to ride more, up and down the coast, some relaxed, and some strolled the beach. It was a good respite from the constant day-to-day travel that we had been doing.
I grabbed a beer and a water and went down to the beach. I took off my shoes and dug my bare feet into the sand. I watched a fishing boat chug by. I watched Val, Shirley and Colin walk to the edge of the water to skip rocks. Off in the distance, I could see Penny bent down, picking up a shell. The sheltered bay was soothing. The soft lap of the waves against the shore sent a wave of peacefulness.
That night we walked to the only restaurant around for kilometers. Lynette and Henry had brought a couple of bottles of wine from South Africa so we shared drinks and laughs. After the meal, we walked back to our cabins and congregated outside Larry and Penny’s cabin and started a fire. Saki, liquor, fire, and laughter… The fire brought this international group closer. I looked around the group and admired how so many travelers from such distant places had come to this point. The variance of accents and experiences that each of these riders had was astounding. At one point there was a pause and sigh, and the riders drifted off into the darkness towards their cabins.
Sunset in the Land of the Rising Sun
We awoke to the quiet harmony of bird calls and waves lapping the shore. The drum of diesel engines from fishing boats working fishing farms out in the bay could be heard. There would be no organized breakfast at this place, so we packed up our belongings and headed north along the eastern coast.
It was a buffet of sights. Small fishing villages with dozens of small fishing boats, small shrines, palm trees, cherry blossoms… the road hugged the coast and wound around its points and potrusions. Jagged rocks stuck out of the water here and there and every now and again you could spy a small temple on one of the islands.
The cherry blossoms were just starting to fall, so at times you would wisk through a flurry of them shimmering as they fell in the sunlight. The group kept together well, and buddy system was working like never before. Each turn was watched over by one of our group, to point us on the right path. We leap-frogged through turn after turn this way, each rider taking care of the other. In a way, it was a fun game and it kept us in high spirits.
We arrived at the ferry terminal and were told we would have to wait up to two hours to cross over to the island of Shikoku. We had brought boxed lunches with us, so we plopped on the ground and ate and talked and the time sped by.
The wind during the crossing was ferocious. The crossing took only an hour. Large ships heading to Japan and back to sea passed in front and behind the ferry. Before long, the ferry docked in a small coastal town, and we disgorged from it onto a narrow winding road which led west to the very tip of the Sadamisaki Peninsula. We were as far west as you could go on the island. The little town of Sadamisaki must only have about 200 souls and serves as a fishing port. It is not a tourist town. There are no foreigners here.
We checked into our hotel and decided to rendezvous for a sunset ride. Out on the point, there was a place I knew where you could watch the sun set over the island of Kyushu. We took a road that switchbacked straight down to the ocean from high above and we stood out on the pier as we watched the sun turn a deep orange and disappear on the horizon.
Back at dinner, we sat around the tables which were laid with bowls full of different shellfish, sashimi, fried fish, and grills. The grills were fired up and the shell fish were placed onto them. There was a large pot filled with miso in the middle of each table and that was brought to a boil as we put tofu, mushrooms, lettuce and small lobsters into it.
This would be the most exotic of all the meals of the trip! Beers and sake were served and the feast began!
The riding had been great, but the real adventure had started when our engines had stopped.
Ride of a 1000 Tunnels
We started from the most western tip of Shikoku Island. I challenged Terry and George to count the tunnels today. The sun rose over the small boat harbor. Small boats chugged in and out of the calm sea. The massive wind turbines along the spine of the peninsula sat dormant.
After a hot bath overlooking the sunrise, I wandered down to the harbor. Perhaps 200 people live in this little, out-of-the-way town. Some older women were busy spreading out sea weed on the boat ramp. They bid me good morning: “Ohaio gozaimasu!”
We got on the bikes at 9 am and traveled at a fair clip to the main part of the island. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom and at times we were lined on both sides by their brilliance. Once off the peninsula, we cut north to the coast of the Setto Sea – Japan’s inland body of water. The road ran right along the waters’ edge and looking down, you could see clearly to the bottom. Of all the images you have of Japan, clear ocean water is not one of them. Fishermen perched from rocks casting bait into the calm ocean. Boats with compressors and hoses supported sea weed gatherers down below. The sky was blue and the sun was warm.
After a while we turned south up a river valley. The steep mountains engulfed us. Cherry blossoms not only lined the road but dotted the slopes above us, mixing harmoniously with bamboo and pines. The water of the river was crystal clear.
For the rest of the day, the mountains would not stop. Steep slopes reached the road. Arched bridges adorned with cherry blossoms on each end slipped by between tunnels. River after river traveled with us. Ornate mini-shrines flew by. Indeed, so much was there to see that you could have stopped a hundred times to take it all in, and still there was more. Clipping by seemed to be the right thing to do since there was so much to take in. The traffic tapered off and we cracked the throttle open a little more… left, right, left, right… The surface of the road was spotless. The markings on the road were clear and defined.
At times you would be going along and then suddenly the two laned road would come to an abrupt end and bottleneck down to the size of a bicycle path. The roads were under constant reconstuction with many bridges and tunnels in the works.
We met up with more riders from the Flat Twin Club. Every year they meet us at the same junction and judging the weather, they decide a route for the rest of the day. Today was clear, so we climbed into the mountains right away. At 2,800 feet, we sped along the spine of the mountains. The road was bumpy and unkept – a testament to its lack of use.
After breaking out of the forest to alpine pasture lands, we stopped at a place perched at the top of the world. Parked there, everyone got off their bikes and smiled. What a ride it was!
The rest of the day was more of the same, with mile after mile of cherry blossoms, rivers, mountains, forests and curves. We ended the day after sunset and were glad to put the bikes to rest.
That evening we soaked in the hotsprings of the hotel and ate dinner in a large hall dedicated to our group. The meal was excellent: rice cooked at each person’s station while we dined on fresh trout, cooked pork, and a variety of vegetables from the mountains. No one complained about not eating fish!
The tour was coming to an end, and you could feel the camaraderie building in the group. Such a diverse set of people from a wide variety of places coming together for a once in a life time adventure. Never would the same group reunite again, and so this was a special occasion. We would enjoy one last ride in the land of the rising sun tomorrow!
We woke to the sounds of a rushing river. We were in the heart of the Oboke Canyon, host to one of the last remaining un-damned rivers in Japan. The steep canyon walls were thick with bamboo, pine trees and cherry blossoms. I opened my bedroom window and watched a local train cross a bridge. A cherry tree in full bloom shimmered quietly near the parking lot. This was our last day of touring, and you could feel that the end of the journey was near.
We jumped on our bikes and sped along the canyon. The road was an impossible network of concrete bridges and road ways…the road was perched high above the river floodplane and the amount of concrete it took to constuct this road must have been enormous. Taking into account all the tunnels, ports, lofted roadways and bridges, its hard to imagine how much conrete and money had been poured into Japan’s transportation and shipping network.
We rode for about an hour before pulling into a rest area that was a picture out of a magazine. Cherry trees lined a placid lagoon and reflected their incandescent pinkish sparkle. We strolled along the banks of the pond underneath the cherry blossoms. What a wonderful exuberance it produced!
The next stage of riding took us to a futuristic toll road that skimmed the tops of the buildings and we flew by heavily populated cities and into the giant arms of a fantastic suspension bridge. We crossed our way from Shikoku Island to Honshu Island, and midway stopped for lunch on an island. The spans of the bridge, the two-tiered traffiic corridor, servicing both cars and trains and the heavy ship traffic splashed the reality of Japan on the group. There is no place in the world like this place!
Our last stint of riding and we disembarked from the tollway and onto a country road. We curved our way through another steep valley along another clear river. It just did not stop! The road was clean, lifted and empty. We sped past small farm houses, little tractors and deep clear pools.
We pulled into Tsuyama, filled up on gas, and turned in the bikes at the dealership. A bus showed up to take the group back to the city of Okayama. The whole procedure, though 16 bikes, took less then 45 minutes! Japanese efficiency at its best!
The last night, we had shabo shabu – a simmering pot of milky water where you dipped shinly sliced pieces of meat until cooked, splashed them in a sauce and chased them down with rice. We made announcements and thanked Akiko and Hirata for their efforts and I thanked the group for making it all the way to Japan to try something that would take them out of their comfort zones.
It had been a great trip, and the places we stayed and the experiences we had were exotic and world-class. Some of us would be leaving the next day, and this group that came from the four corners of the earth would most likely never be in the same room again. As always, the trip seemed like it started a month ago, but also seemed to fly by.
The next day, most of the group opted to join me to go by high speed train to Hiroshima and see the atomic bomb memorial museum. We loaded into the van and went down to the main train station in Okayama.
The train sped at around 160 kilometers per hour smoothly past the Japanese countryside and whisked us effortlessly to Hiroshima in less than an hour. The then took a trolly to the A Bomb Dome: a famous structure that remains after the blast and is seen an many war photos. It had been preserved through the years and stood as a testament to the original bomb blast. All around the building there was bustling activity: traffic, people walking and talking… business as usual even though so many years ago this catastrophe had leveled the entire city. Looking around today, you would not know that the city was completely destroyed.
We walked a block over from the dome to a non-descript plaque on a sidewalk. This was the marker of the epicenter of the bomb blast. It was at this very spot, 600 meters above, where the bomb was detonated for maximum destructive effect.
We walked along the river on a path lined with cherry trees in full bloom. “Mankai” means full bloom, and the blossoms are in such a state only a few days a year. Dozens of locals were sitting in small groups eating and drinking. It was a magical scene. We walked to the museum.
The museum does not point a finger, it just is. Its statement is the truth of the horror of war and technology. It is a very moving experience that I believe all people should experience. The group hired English automated guides with earpieces and made their way through the museum slowly. There are many aspects of the museum that are incredibly sad but when you come out of it and see the Peace Park and the uplifting activity of the the bustling city you only have an appreciation for the will and perseverance of the human spirit. Nature and love have the ability to grow beyond tragedy.
We grabbed box lunches and walked down the river and ate underneath the cherry blossoms. It seemed fitting to gain some tranquility and enjoy the moment.
The group on the whole was moved by the experience. We made our way back to Okayama, ate dinner and bathed. This was our last night together.
The next day we got in taxis and headed for the airport.
Why ask Why?
Japan is enigmatic, original and elusive. It is also efficient, clean and modern. It is old and new and a living, breathing dichotomy. Many things don’t make sense to the western eye. Some things seem well thought out. The group as a whole was very impressed by the experience in Japan. They were surprised by the great riding, some said it was the best they ever had. The roads are amazing, twisty, scenic and clean. The food was adventurous. The baths were addictive. They said as a whole they did not expect such beauty and nature here. They would not forget it.
I warned the group not to use the word “why” here. Some things just don’t make sense: the two tickets for one train pass, not having an airport shuttle for an airport hotel, the bunny on the outside of a shop, but a poster of clint eastwood shooting a gun at the entrance. The trick is just to accept it and if the pressure gets to be too much, just laugh.
Japan is a fascinating country filled with gorgeous scenery, great riding and inviting people. It is a difficult country to travel in, but has its rewards. Riding with the members of the Flat Twin Club was fun and a treat that none of the riders would soon forget.
Of all the coutries to ride, Japan offers the motorcycle rider a chance to get away from any tourist destinations and to experience a truly unique culture. If you are ready to get outside of your comfort zone, then Japan is for you.
Here are some of my favorite images: