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Riding the Japanese Alps

  1. #1
    Lifer oVTo's Avatar
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    Riding the Japanese Alps


    It's mid-January, dark much too early, and 16 degrees outside. Seems like a good time for a tl;dr trip report.

    Either that or I'll start a 'what's your favorite gas station?' thread. We can rank gas prices, whether they carry Rotella, and if you have ever been refused the key to the restroom because of your dong vest. Or you can read this.

    Last spring my son spent a semester in Japan and my wife and I decided to visit him. The trip included a few days in Tokyo, visiting Kyoto, Hiroshima, and few other places by train. Best of all was a week riding an R1200GS in the Japanese Alps. Our trip was at the end of June, which is when their weather turns from rainy to hot. We had some rain and some heat, but not enough of either to whine about.

    I've been to Japan for work a handful of times so I knew what to expect. It was already one of my favorite places, but I never had a chance to really explore. This was my wife's first trip. I'm lucky that she loves riding pillion and exploring via motorcycle. Most of our vacations include at least some time on 2 wheels.

    We picked up the rental bike in Tokyo at Rushcorp. The night before we left, we met with Rodger, the company president, to finish paperwork, review the itinerary, and load the bike. I can't say enough about how great it was working with Rodger. A NZ ex-pat, he's lived in Japan for many years and is an avid motorcyclist. He knows all the best roads and is willing to share them. Plus he's an all-around great guy.

    Rodger had programmed the GPS for the whole trip, including options for shorter/longer routes on a few days. The routes he selected were great. He also made the reservations for each night. The hotels included dinner and breakfast.

    The trip started by following Rodger through Tokyo. It was raining a bit and traffic slowed as we reached the tunnels. We split lanes at a healthy clip, which was a bit nerve-wracking on new-to-me fully loaded bike. But I figured the bars were wider than the side cases so as long as the bars fit between the cars we'd be OK. About 30 min later, we left the tunnels and Rodger turned back to Tokyo. We were on our own. The rain stopped and we slabbed it for an hour or so, then exited the highway and pointed the beemer towards the mountains.









    In the valleys, there are lots of small villages and the roads are mostly straight with long sweepers when running alongside a river. In the mountains, there are miles of switchbacks in some areas and many narrow, almost single-track, hairpins in the remote mountain areas. There are mirrors in most of the hairpins to check for oncoming traffic. Ignore them and it could get ugly very quickly. On the bright side, sometimes we'd ride for hours without seeing anyone.



    Traffic is on the left side of the road, but I got used to it quickly. The idea of riding on the wrong side of the road is more intimidating than the reality of doing it. It's no big deal.

    But these are mountain roads - rock walls on one side and steep dropoffs on the other, with occasional rock slides and gravel. You would not want to make a mistake here because you wouldn't be found for a long time. Overall, the roads are as good as any I've ridden, and better than most.

    In this picture, my bike is in a small wider area to allow vehicles to pass. The road just ahead is more typical. It can get really interesting passing oncoming trucks on these roads.





    The length of each day's ride varied. Sometimes we rode from breakfast to dinner with just a couple brief stops. Other days we spent a few hours doing touristy stuff like Matsumoto Castle, the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, and the Zenkō-ji Temple in Nagano. Then we'd ride.

    The first night we stayed in a ryoken, which is a traditional Japanese-style hotel. It was like stepping hundreds of years back in time. The ryoken had onsen baths, which are pools filled with water from volcanic hot springs. Nearly all onsen baths are separated by gender, and there is a tradition for preparing oneself for a bath. It can be a bit intimidating the first time. But after a long day on the road there is nothing more relaxing than an onsen.

    This is me after a long day riding in the mountains -




    And me after an onsen bath



    The Beemer outside the ryoken. Looks may be deceiving, this place was awesome.





    We spent the next night in a monastery. That was cool, but it was so quiet that it almost felt like we were trespassing. After that, we stayed in more western(ish) style hotels. There are a couple of good hotel stories, but I shouldn't make this any tl'drer.

    One of the best parts was the food. I love Japanese food. Before leaving for Japan, it was my wife's biggest fear. But she was always able to find something to eat and became more adventurous as the days passed. She drew the line at fish heads and raw horse, but if all else failed there was always a 7-11 nearby loaded with great pastries. Seriously.

    A typical dinner -



    When we were flying out, my wife mentioned that we should focus on doing as much as we possibly could fit in because this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. By the end of the week on the bike she was already talking about our next Japanese vacation.

    If Japan isn't on your bucket list, it should be. And if you go, rent your bike through Rushcorp, you won't regret it. The plug is legit, there's nothing in it for me. I'm just a very satisfied customer.

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    Last edited by oVTo; 01-13-19 at 04:36 PM. Reason: Nth attempt to fix pics
    DanG
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  2. #2
    Lifer
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Pics arent working for me but it sounds like an awesome time. I was just in hong kong and tried to get to japan to do a little exploring but it never happened. Next time for sure.

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  3. #3
    Satans Donkey Uncle Snake's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Great read! All pic's worked for me except the last one.

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  4. #4
    Backwoods lobster boy number9's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    "This is me after a long day riding in the mountains" doesn't load for me, and neither does the next image.

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  5. #5
    Your Father csmutty's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    That looks amazing Dan. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. #6
    Lifer oVTo's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Quote Originally Posted by number9 View Post
    "This is me after a long day riding in the mountains" doesn't load for me, and neither does the next image.
    I'm not sure why - for Booster Lebaron, it was I forgot to share the folder the pics were in, and for Uncle Snake I forgot the last pic. But they should have been all fixed by the time you looked at them. I logged out of both NESR and Google and could see them all. Can you check again?

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    DanG
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  7. #7
    Lifer FirstDuc-1098's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    When I try to download the images that don't show, it says the name is too long.

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    Shit Corey says:
    Quote Originally Posted by hondarider102 View Post
    I think that a smooth motor would help me be a bit smoother

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    Satans Donkey Uncle Snake's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Now all pic's accept $4 & 5. When I looked a couple hours ago they all were there. Win10 & Firefox here.

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  9. #9
    Lifer oVTo's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    This may be the first time I've included pics from Google Photos. I'm not sure what the problem is, but the length of the file name may be the problem. I was using the Insert Image function and that didn't work with creating a link in Photo, so I was just copying the pics' urls and pasting them in the Insert Image window. In Chrome, that worked for me, even logged out of both Chrome and NESR. I have no idea why those 2 pics were different than the others.

    Anyway, this time I just copy/pasted the images into the post and that seemed to work. I tried both Chrome and Firefox, using Win10 and logged out of both NESR and Google.

    Let me know if this worked.

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    DanG
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  10. #10
    Day late, dollar short carsick's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    All images now there for me, and thank you for sharing! Very inspiring.

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  11. #11
    Lifer FirstDuc-1098's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Yep, looks good now.

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    Shit Corey says:
    Quote Originally Posted by hondarider102 View Post
    I think that a smooth motor would help me be a bit smoother

  12. #12
    Satans Donkey Uncle Snake's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Good here.

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  13. #13
    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Epic. Sounds like one helluva trip.

    But all I really want to know is.. was the bike full of Rotella or what?

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    Lifer Tekime's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Awesome.

    Never been, but a few Japanese friends over the years, my dad took a trip there, and always been fascinated by the culture. I would love to explore some of their museums and historical sites to drool over the architecture & art. The food scares me a bit but they probably have enough yummy dishes that I could survive. My wife would be in food heaven.

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    I've been here before. Mustang's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Dan, I feel this race report is severely lacking a count of the number of times you were stared at and/or asked to take a photo... But other than that, your experience makes me feel much more comfortable to try to get to Japan someday. Glad you all had fun!!

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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    wow, awesome!

    japan is definitely on my list...and international riding is always a plus

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    Member jimmycapp's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Looks awesome!

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    Soul Rider Paul_E_D's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Quote Originally Posted by csmutty View Post
    That looks amazing Dan. Thanks for sharing!
    Ditto!

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    Lifer loudbeard's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Wow, what an awesome trip. Japan is pretty high on my overseas wish list. Those roads looked really awesome, food looked amazing. Great report!

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    Lifer nt650hawk's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    never though of riding japan or eve Asia. seems so far away.

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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    This looks amazing. I've been to Japan once and had a great time, amazing food and great scenery. A motorcycle trip like this is now on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing!

    BTW - you aren't kidding about the 7-11 pastries. All the "konbini" had amazingly delicious pastries, it makes me sad that the pastries (really all the food) in a 7-11 here are so terrible.

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  22. #22

    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Any other Japan tips? We are finalizing our "group tour" trip to Japan. God i hope its not a bus full of old folks snapping pictures with walkers and fanny packs. Good news is that we will alternate free day from historical/landmark tours of the 9 day trip.

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  23. #23
    Lifer oVTo's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Quote Originally Posted by Sidavong View Post
    Any other Japan tips? We are finalizing our "group tour" trip to Japan. God i hope its not a bus full of old folks snapping pictures with walkers and fanny packs. Good news is that we will alternate free day from historical/landmark tours of the 9 day trip.

    Stay at a ryokan. Dress for dinner and breakfast in your yukata. Take a long onsen bath. Sleep on a rice mat. This isn't a suggestion, you must do these things.

    Mt Fuji sunrise. Our biggest regret was getting rained out. Twice. This is a bucket list hike for us, so we plan to return. If you try this, make sure you're dressed properly (it's ~12,400 feet at the summit). Lack of oxygen can make the summit a challenge. It gets really crowded in the summer, so the best time is at the very beginning or end of the season.

    Eat strange food, with chopsticks. By the end of 9 days you should be pretty good with them. Many restaurant menus have pictures, and some restaurants will have English menus. There are lots of interesting types of food to try. Do not try horse ear. Trust me on that one.

    Learn a few words in Japanese - good morning, hello, thank you, etc. It's true everywhere, but people like it when visitors try to speak the native language. On the other hand, quite a few Japanese speak little or no English. Usually there's someone around to help, but one night we almost stayed in the wrong hotel because of the language barrier.

    It's fun trying to be almost as polite as the Japanese. I'm not sure it's possible to be anything more than that. Japan is also extraordinarily safe. And clean.

    It won't apply to a group tour, but Japan Rail passes are a great deal. We got 7 day passes and you get unlimited access to local trains in most cities and inter-city trains, including most, but not all, high-speed rail.

    We enjoyed a day in Kamakura. Big Buddha, beautiful gardens, temples and a shrine, and a decent beach. If we had known about the beach, we would have brought swimsuits.



    Japan has quite a few castles. Matsumoto was our favorite. A lot of them seemed to be built around 1,400 A.D. and almost all of them are re-creations because over the course of hundreds of years, most of them burned down at least once.


    We spent hours walking, reading, talking, absorbing, Hiroshima. It was interesting, depressing, almost overwhelming.
    Less than an hour away by train is Miyajima, an island with a famous shrine and about a billion wild deer. Enjoy the deer, have a beer, shed some Hiroshima angst.




    Kyoto has lots to do. It should, it was the capital for about 1,000 years. The Imperial Palace, lots of shrines and temples (see a theme there?), museums, etc. We ducked into the Manga museum to get out of the rain and stayed for a couple hours. It was a lot more interesting than I expected. How many days does it take to experience 1,000 years of history? A lot more than we had. There was a variety of restaurants near the train station. You can get American, English, Irish and other cuisine within just a short walk. There are also quite a few beer gardens. But go to Europe if you want any of those things because they all suck in Japan. Eat Japanese food and find an underground rock bar instead.

    In Toyko, the Shinjuku district is a tourist must-see and great people watching. It also has some interesting businesses.




    Everyone's experience is different, but it was fun watching my wife go from more than a little nervous about such a foreign environment to enjoying it as much as I always have. I hope your trip is just as good and would like to know what you think of Japan when you get back.

    And rent a motorcycle. Trust me on that one.

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    DanG
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  24. #24
    Lifer oVTo's Avatar
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    Re: Riding the Japanese Alps

    Quote Originally Posted by nt650hawk View Post
    never though of riding japan or eve Asia. seems so far away.
    Hey Gino, now that you've thought of it, you'll have to join us next time. Asia's only a day and $1,500 r/t away.

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    DanG
    People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.
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