mandag den 23. juli 2007


I wrote this story as a regular weblog – in Danish - while touring the western part of Japan in October and November of 2006. Unlike the Danish weblog, the version you see below is set up so you read it like a regular homepage, starting from above. Please ignore the date at the very top of each section, about when the pictures and bits of text were posted. It is the weekdays and dates from September, October and November that count.

English is not my first language, so there’s bound to be a lot of misspellings, grammatical errors and occasionally downright incomprehensible sentences. Inevitably there will also be a number of factual errors, because I had great difficulty communicating with most of the Japanese I met, even if all of them were most helpful when I tried to tell them something, or have them tell me something. So please bear with me, I’m really doing my best..

It was a long and eventful trip, so not all details, or even all the people I met and had fun with, are mentioned here. My sincere apologies for this, but I do remember you all, and I will remain grateful for your help and for having enjoyed your company.

If you have comments and/or corrections, do not hesitate to point out where I went wrong. You can use the ‘comments’ function under this first part of the weblog – at the risk that I’ll never notice – or write me directly (, if you want to be absolutely sure I get the message.

Preparing The Big Trip

The trip to Japan is a 50-year birthday present to myself. Japan is chosen because it is civilized, and because I am fascinated by the mix of old traditions and lightning-fast changes into a modern society. Air fare round trip is only about 120,000 yen (1,000 yen is app. 8,5 US $, 4,3 £ or 6,4 Euro), and in any case riding all the way across Siberia, is for people with more a lot more wanderlust, time, money and alcohol tolerance than me (also see

After three years of rebuilding, with the haste and frantic urgency of a glacier, my standard Nimbus into a bobber-style hotrod, I test ride it on a 2,300 kilometer trip to Belgium: The engine leaks oil, it has no power and the ignition system is all but dead, but otherwise everything works fine. The top box and the highway pegs ruin the style a bit, but hey, I’m not 25 anymore, and I want a minimum level of comfort. The engine is torn apart, the cylinder head gets new valves and guides, and all bearings are checked for wear. Then everything goes together, and now I can ride uphill again, even with the wind blowing the wrong direction.

Sending the Nimbus to Japan by air is 140,000 yen, which is only marginally more expensive than if it went by ship. It’s the paperwork over there that costs. The shipping crate is made of 28 metal v-shaped profiles bolted together. It can be dismantled and taken along on the Nimbus when leaving the airport in Tokyo. This will save me the costs and logistics of having to build a new crate for the return trip.

Saturday Oct. 1 - Security Fanatics At Heathrow

After two hours of sleep I wake up and a friend drives me to the airport. Warnings about a two hour wait to clear security (actual time four minutes) are exaggerated, but later security at Heathrow retaliates by being a right pain in the arse, demanding I check in half my carry-on stuff. Long walks and two security checks result. I think even my tooth fillings can make the alarms go berserk, so sensitive they are. And then there’s Heathrow itself; years ago, before his untimely death, the British author Douglas Adams wrote that there is no language in the world that has an expression like ‘beautiful as an airport’. No doubt he thought up that one right here. The last few times I was in Heathrow I really hated it – guess today’s strong dislike is a small improvement.

Monday Oct. 2 - Tokyo First Impressions, Pacinko Parlours

Twelve hours of flying by way of Siberia brings me to Tokyo, where the airport personnel is extremely embarrassed to tell that most of my luggage – sadly the part with wheels on it - is still in London. So I drag the remaining 30 kilograms through the subway, a bus, and finally on foot towards my hotel. An elderly gentleman bicycles past, then feels sorry for me and turns around, offering to take the luggage to the hotel. He is from 1926, he says, and his English is worse than my French, so here I walk along in the darkness, jetlagged out of my mind, speaking French with an 80-year old Master Yoda clone on a bicycle. Good start.

Hotel New Koyo is situated in Tokyo’s poorest neighborhood, but for 2,700 yen a night I can cope with a room measuring 2,3 by 1,3 meters. The bathrooms have – thank God – both Japanese and Western style toilets.

It’s too early to sleep, so I’m walking around in a slight drizzle for a couple of hours, taking in all the impressions. The noise from a Pachinko Parlor – an absurd cross between a game hall and boom cars – assault my ears, fastfood places are omnipresent, some roadways between houses are so small that two bicyclist barely can pass each other. Not many motorcycles about tonight, but lots of scooters. Especially the large Burgman-type ones seem popular, usually with a large sports-can for an exhaust, which makes them sound like proper motorcycles. On the other hand many of the small vans sound like sport bikes, 660 cc engines whirring their way up the rev range.

Tuesday Oct. 3 - Shinjoku

Walk around an area behind Ueno Station, where 100-plus motorcycle shops are located. Along with me is a young Scotsman from the hotel, Mike. Now newly introduced to the semi-mad world of motorcycles, he then drags me through the electronic equivalent a few subway stops from there. I consider buying a laptop, but – still a bit careful with my money - leave it for later. Same thing with a lung-shaped ashtray that coughs when a cigarette is placed in it. Tokyo seems not as expensive as feared, but Eastern Europe it isn’t either.

In some places the town reminds me a bit of New York City, in others even about the movie ‘The Fifth Element’, because it is humid and hot, and there are people and traffic everywhere. It also has all the charm of Hamburg (i.e. none), which was bombed to bits in WW2. There are mostly concrete buildings here.

Our evening is spent in Shinjoku, a part of town crammed with the type of bars and hookers and misfits and junkies you always find behind the train or bus terminal of any major city. At least there’s light and life like in an amusement park. I’m getting to know the quirks of the subway system – like that it turns into a pumpkin at midnight. By then it’ll be cheaper to find a local hotel than to take a cab home.

Wednesday Oct. 4 - I'm Here, The Bike Isn't

My luggage may arrive today, but the motorcycle is still stuck in Frankfurt, a woman from the airline says. Bugger all. That means I probably won’t get to ride this weekend, as customs and insurance paperwork needs to be taken care of first. And Monday is a national holiday. Good thing I dropped my original plan of going straight from the airport to a motorcycle rally on the northern island of Hokkaido.

Thursday Oct 5 - The Famous Japanese Insurance Ceremony

After today I understand why all Japanese movies contain at least one sequence with rainy weather. The local bikers don’t seem too bothered, not even those without windshields or much in the way of fenders. They just sit there in light rain gear, back seat passengers chatting away on their mobile phones. The good news is that I may get the Nimbus through customs tomorrow. A local contact – Crazy Pete a.k.a. Schuichi – has helped me locate an insurance company, and with explaining to the airport people how important it is that this bike be no further delayed.

Third party coverage for two months is a modest 6,000 yen, probably less than it cost the insurance company to have 4-5 of their people taking are of my business. Fine service, though, deep bows all around. Even less expensive is a 1:200,000 road map that I finally track down. It is completely devoid of those ugly Latin characters, which no doubt will make it interesting to use when out there.