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.

Friday & Saturday, Oct. 6 & 7 - Crazy Pete And Red Tape

Friday there’s a rainstorm, so when they call from the airport to tell the motorcycle is still not here, I’m almost relieved. But it will be there tomorrow, and customs clearance should be no problem, they say. Saturday arrives along with sunshine and high temperatures, so I take the subway and a suspended monorail to Chiba, where Crazy Pete has his Indian motorcycle workshop. Outside there’s a stack of clapped-out old Japanese scooters, and inside there’s real gold: 1920’s and 1930’s Indians and Harleys, plus an enormous collection of old helmets, pictures etc. etc. Which is very typical for people like us, who are blessed/cursed with this special instinct for gathering old stuff. ‘One man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ as a sign somewhere in there says.

In Pete’s old Chevy pickup we head for Narita airport, only to learn 1½ hours later that I STILL can’t get the bike out. An essential stamp, only available in Central Tokyo on Tuesday, is needed. I quietly recite to myself all the nastiest Danish curses I know, but keep a straight face, as one does here. Later the good company of Pete and his American wife compensates for this setback, as does the dinner at a sushi restaurant, where all the dishes move about on an endless conveyor belt. Pick as many as you can eat, and when done the waitresses count the plates and charge 100 yen apiece. Nice, but it may take a little while longer before I really learn to appreciate sushi.

Sunday Oct. 8 - The Japanese, Large, Medium And Small

While being tall is bad when out in thunder and lightning, my height usually makes it easier to navigate. But contrary to my expectations, here I do not feel like a giant in an ocean of smurfs, when I’m in a crowded subway car or on the street. The older generation is actually quite small, the next one about one head shorter, and those my age typically half a head below me. The youngsters are often as tall as I am, even some of the girls. Don’t se many thick people either, much less obese ones. And very few wear traditional clothes, so the place seems very westernized.

Monday Oct. 9 - Mountain Mini-Monkeybike Madness

I leave early for another part of town, where Osca will take me to a motorcycle rally in the mountains 70 kilometers west of Tokyo. Osca is a friend of Yori Kanda, a London-based Japanese bike journalist that I met in Denmark over the summer). He tried to revive the Horex brand name some years ago, utilizing a tweaked Honda Dominator engine and all sorts of expensive bits, but lost big on it, because only 10-12 units were sold.

And now we race up through small towns with ridiculously narrow streets, his friend ‘The Master’ at the wheel. I find it quite entertaining, mainly because I’m in the back seat and thus better will be able to survive a head-on collision. After a couple of hours driving at breakneck speeds, we reach the place where the other motorcycles are waiting. And all I see a dozen or so tiny moped-like contraptions, towards which everyone present apparently harbours strong nostalgic feelings. These are 61 % scale models of the already small Honda Monkey-bike, around which there’s a world-wide cult.

So it isn’t exactly the vintage bike meet I thought I was going to, but still better than nothing, so I get to talk with a few of those around who, like Osca, speak a tolerable English. This is a nature park area, which is great if one is into that sort of stuff. And there are interesting things on the parking lot as well: Like a tough little Suzuki Cappuchino (no kidding) sports car. One of many Japanese car models intended mainly for the home market, with odd names. Thanks to special tax rules over here, cars with engines of less than 660 cc’s are not as expensive to own as larger ones, no matter how much they have in the way of extra valves and turbochargers.

Then off everyone goes, along the narrow two-lane blacktop, through tunnels, across bridges, around hairpin curves. After a few mandatory stops they give me one of the little critters to ride, and I wobble my way onto the main road. Equipped with license plates and turn signals they are actually street legal, except on the freeways, where there’s some sort of not-under-126 cc rule. Ok, this is actually fun; the steering is lightning-quick, my seriously tuned example (2,2 bhp) easily pulls away from the others, so with the 57 centimeters wheelbase bike and my knees in the air, I race downhill through the tight curves doing 45-50 kph. Trust me, this feels very fast.

Some 15 kilometers of hairy-scary riding ends at a farm where the city dwellers can se real cows, let their kids crawl up on a stack of manure, and even take a pet piglet home.

While another 2 ½ hours of bumper-to-bumper driving takes us back to town, Osca tells how he has driven his tiny bikes around Hawaii, from Geneva in Switzerland to Heidelberg in Germany, and to other places in Europe. The guy is cool, and his business with the mini-monkeybikes seems to be doing well: 450 units sold so far, at 3-400,000 yen apiece. That’s about 3,800 Euros / US$ 5,400 and upwards….

Back to town with three different privately owned subway systems. It very simple, really: If you pay too little at the ticket vending machine, there’s a fare adjustment machine at your destination. And there is usually also a guy in a sharp uniform and white gloves, to help you if you still screw it up.

Thursday Oct. 10 - The Nimbus Is Out, At Long Last

Start out by going to JAF (Japanese Automobile Federation) to get that stupid stamp customs can’t live without. I also become a member of the organization, in case I need legal help, and buy myself some road maps better suited for my tank bag. It all takes 1 ½ hours – so much for Japanese efficiency – but they bow a lot, and I politely bow back at them.

I’m back at Crazy Pete’s motorcycle shop at about two o’clock, so we head for Narita again. And hold our collective breath, when the senior customs official points out, that the carnet was incorrectly stamped in Denmark. Obviously the Japanese aren’t the only ones unfamiliar with this type of document. But after another hour, and 3-4 people working on my case, everything is hunky-dory, and the bike can be picked up at the airline warehouse. Then yet another hour partially dismantling the metal frame and making the bike ready to go. Pete offers to keep the frame pieces on his truck while I’m out there, which I gratefully accept.

After filling up with gas at the customs area, I ride out. And immediately stand face-to-face with an enormous green truck. Aah, they all drive on the left side here, remember? Being outnumbered 1 to 126,000,000, I better do it their way. Could have trained a bit at home, of course, but that would probably not have made me all that popular. Especially not on the freeway.

Returning to Chiba in the dark we lose each other, so I get to test the concept of finding my way using only Japanese road maps. This appears to work, and after being shown off to one of Pete’s friends, and after the best Japanese meal so far (Suriaki), I take a regular road home. This means 45-50 kilometers and at least twice that umber of traffic lights before I get to the hotel, but I don’t want to pay the 1,000 yen for the toll road. Had to try out city riding anyway, and 10.30 at night seems to be a good time for this. Riding here seems easy, as all two-wheelers filter safely up through the rows of cars. I’m back at the hotel before midnight.

Wednesday Oct. 11 - Buying A Laptop, Japan's Future Nuclear Weapons

Today’s project is to buy the laptop I saw the other day. Mike guides me through, and then installs all kinds of necessary programs on the thing. Considering what internet time costs at cafes and the hotel, the 28,000 yen will be money well spent. Besides, it is kind of cool having all those kanji characters on the keyboard. Also get to see a retrospective exhibition of sci-fi drawing done by a famous Japanese illustrator. Fun to see who originally did many of the Tamiya (plastic model kits) box cover art. Or how it seems that the Japanese win in all his wartime cartoons.

The Japan Times keeps me up to date on international affairs, on Doonesbury, and also gives small glimpses into Japanese politics. There’s a mention of the Japanese MP who uses a mirror to peek up under schoolgirls’ skirts. Or the article about the North Korean nuclear test, with local fortune tellers’ opinions about what will happen next. About how Japan – as a response – may want to acquire nuclear weapons herself. And about a smart little credit card sized gadget from the Sharp electronics company, which translates spoken English into spoken Japanese. Unfortunately it is not for sale yet – I’d be first in line to buy one, despite my otherwise strong principles about being at least ten years behind, when it comes to such devices.

Mike has another thing to worry about: He can’t find condoms the proper ‘western’ size over here, and decides to have an emergency supply shipped from Denmark. Guess we all have our problems….

I decide to stick around Tokyo for a few more days, as some journalist acquaintance of Crazy Pete is supposed to come and do a piece about me and the Nimbus for his motorcycle magazine. CP has been very nice to me, so being nice to him and those he knows seem like the right thing to do. Talking of Japanese magazines, most of those I have seen look like rubbish. They’re more like sales catalogues, with a bit of text in between to justify their place on the magazine racks. The chopper magazine Vibes is slightly better than most, though not by much.

Gotta get moving - this is, after all, supposed to be a motorcycle vacation.

Thursday Oct. 12 - Urban Warfare On Two Wheels, The Manga Babe On The Scooter

I ride out to mini-monkeybike man Osca, two hours and 30,000 traffic lights from the hotel. I want to see that secret new motorcycle project of his, that he talked about the other day. I also want him to translate my official Danish permission to ride without a helmet, which he does using some sort of ‘Babelfish’ translator program. The text goes back and forth a few times, and ends up rather weird, but it’ll do for now. Programs like these may be part of the explanation about why most Japanese speak English like they do.

Osca may also have the world’s smallest storage/office/workshop for his motorcycles. At least 50 are stacked in boxes floor to ceiling in his tiny house, and amidst the chaos there’s a prototype with no less than two small 25 cc ohv engines. Osca reckons it’ll be good for about 80 kph. He also tells that his customers assemble their bikes themselves, despite the earlier mentioned 3-400,000 yen purchase price. 25 of them have been sold to the US and 5-6 to Europe. The last one he brought over went in his Samsonite suitcase.

Riding back for another two hours trough dense city traffic, makes the toll road seem like maybe not such a bad idea. Wear and tear on the brakes and clutch, as well as the higher fuel consumption, will be part of the equation. On the other hand, I would have missed racing the Manga-babe on her large scooter with all the ‘Hello Kitty’ stickers and the Supertrapp exhaust, and a bunch of other interesting sights and do’s. Besides, it is nice to learn that my New York City riding instincts are still all intact. Lane splitting (filtering) is widely used here – I feel it’d be almost impolite not to do it - and only the Nimbus’ wide motocross style handlebar prevents me from keeping up with the locals.

At the hotel I get to talk to a Japanese phd-student from Kyoto. Being shown the no-helmet permission written in kanji, she decides it needs a total makeover, and being the ambitious person she is, the woman does a very thorough job of this. It is probably also much more fun than laboriously studying the ethical dilemmas in connection with kidney transplants, which is what she’d otherwise have to do. This is all done at the local watering hole Tepui Bar. Later that night, on my own way back from the bar, I see one of those guys with his red illuminated Star Wars saber do a dance show, while directing traffic around some road repair. My guess is that he was rejected from the ballet school a few times too many.

Friday Oct. 13 - Europtrash And Bush-Bashing

One favourite topic amongst the Eurotrash at the hotel lobby, is - of course - moaning about George Bush. Unsurprisingly the Americans present seem to be even MORE pissed off about him, which may be typical of the US citizens who recognize that there's a world outside North America. Still, I give them the advice to say just one word, if the Bush-bashing gets out of hand: ‘Berlusconi’ (and for those who don’t readily know that name, Berlusconi is the former Italian premier minister, who is a REAL crook, instead of just a village idiot.)

Saturday Oct. 14 - Japanese Bikers, Music At Tepui Bar

Plan a route west, as I want to attend a vintage bike rally on a small island west of Kyushu. The meeting with the motorcycle journalist gets postponed until I’m at the end of my vacation, so Crazy Pete leads me to some motorcycle workshops his friends run, a bit west of Tokyo center. Fine people out there, who incidentally look just like the same sorry flock of Indian- and pre-1960 Harley riders you can find in the rest of the world, except here they look and speak Japanese. I note that one of them is even taller than I, as he unfurls himself from his extremely worn old Chevy pickup.

Funny as it seems, everyone grins and exclaim a loud “Aah, Smith!” when they see the Nimbus’ ‘Smith Cronometric’ speedometer. Before we leave one of the places I ask what they think of the large custom scooters. “Too noisy”, they say, which is a strange thing to hear from people whose bikes usually have short drag pipes. Then it’s time to head back to town, and again I struggle to keep up with Pete. Yesterday I already drove a bit too fast in order to keep up with the motorcycle couriers – they can better ‘afford’ an accident than I can, so I try to cool it. Wonder what the h*** I was thinking about, when I converted the bike to hand gear change and a ‘suicide’ foot clutch.

The local drunks have started to greet me in the morning, when I go to the bakery, so it is definitely time to get out of town now. Early if possible, but an Okinawan folk music at Tepui Bar gets in the way. Great Japanese audience doing waves, clapping and singing along, a band sounding just as great in the sober part of the evening, and a great way of ending my acquaintanceship with Tepui, which most nights here has been my last stop before hitting the sack.

Sunday Oct. 15 - Westward Ho!, Up Mount Fuji

Bike is packed and ready at f****** 11 o’clock, which is f****** four hours later than planned and f****** 2½ hours later than realistic. This is the first time I ride the Nimbus fully loaded up, but it seems to work. Really should have brought the little one-wheel trailer instead. Then I’m up on the toll road through town, get lost immediately, do a one hour detour by way of Yokohama, and when today’s toll road allowance is spent, I get back on a regular four-laner. Which is packed with traffic, so rarely do I get to use fourth (top) gear. Seems like the other half of Japan is out Sunday driving too.

Today’s target is Mt. Fuji, west of town. When green mountainsides start climbing on both sides of the road, and tunnels and bridges appear, I feel the clutches of Tokyo letting go of me, finally being on my way. I reach the bottom of the mountain at three o’clock, start climbing initially in third, then second and occasionally in first. The guys at my workshop back in Denmark – ‘Urdu Racing’ – would have loved to tear this road to pieces, because despite the 40 and 50 kph limits posted everywhere, most motorcyclists ride the way this road should be ridden.

For every hairpin turn, and for every tree with first red and soon yellow leaves, and for every degree the temperature drops, my bladder shrinks another three percentage points, so it’s a cold and happy Nimbus rider who eventually parks his bike at 2,400 meters above sea level. This is how high I’ll get without actually having to walk up the ashen side of Fuji-san. Turns out people only can climb up it a few months over the summer, and those who make it to the top – about 3,000 a day (!) do the 5-7 hour trek – are usually so cold and miserable that they just want to get down as soon as possible. Frankly, they can keep it.

Climbing that mountain must be as exciting (yawn) as riding all the way up to Nordkapp in Norway, except the view here is beautiful. Even today, when the lowland lies in haze, I can see the mountain ranges I may have to ride across the next few days. Less of a pleasing sight is the thin mist of oil on my engine. Back home I did all I could to make it leakproof, apparently with limited success.

The sun has set when I’m all the way down again, and despite my best effort, I cannot find any of the campsites marked with triangles on the map. Maybe the map just indicates where there are small red triangles out here. So instead I check into a business hotel, at 6,000 yen, and thus get a chance to finally write a bit of this story. Writing wasn’t too easy in town, with all the distractions there. Dinner will be of cheap Japanese fastfood; a 400 yen plastic tray with what may be pork (disputable) and rice (indisputable).

Monday Oct. 16 - Zero Engineering Redefining Custom Bikes

Today I start by riding along a winding road through a deep gorge, which leads me to The Pacific. The map says it’s a major road, though the 30 and 40 kph speed limit, posted on signs and painted on the road, do make sense most places. The locals seem rather relaxed about these limits, though, and soon I adapt to that too. When occasionally a truck appears on this ‘major road’, and there’s hardly room just for him, I’m glad to be on a solo bike rather than riding one with a sidecar. The latter would also have been a true disaster later, when I ride on Highway 1 going west.

Hwy. 1 leading through the urban area is The Road From Hell. Ugly, narrow, sometimes on stilts over built-up areas, occasionally with walls, and crammed to the max. with diesel fumes spewing trucks, the latter turning my white hair grey and greasy within hours. I hardly dare think what my lungs take in, especially when I ride through long tunnels. I see no ventilation inside these, though this may be because I wear sunglasses and can’t see much of anything in there anyway. Only a ten kilometer long stretch along The Pacific breaks the constant ugliness – this is the second time of my life I see this ocean from the saddle of a Nimbus, though this time it is on my left hand side. ‘Magnificent’ is the right word here, I guess. I also note the first palm trees and bamboo forests, and try to figure out in what kind of place I can pitch my tent. Like on the beach.

After some 250 k’s of often filtering through dense traffic, mainly doing 40-50 kph, I reach Okazaki, where the Zero Engineering firm is situated. ZE builds some of the best looking Japanese choppers, usually in a short and low style, not much chrome, but with a lot of innovative details and technical solutions. The founder of ZE, Shinya Kimura, has since moved to Los Angeles, where most of his customers live anyway, and has sold ZE to someone with a more traditional building style. Luck has it that today he is visiting his old place – good thing I did not postpone the ZE visit until my return trip, because by then he would be back in Lala Land.

Shinya Kimura meets me outside the workshop, and exclaims “Oh, a Nimbus!” Ok, sooner or later I was bound to run into someone who knew about this brand. Turns out he even has worked on Nimbuses, albeit ages ago. But for everyone else at ZE my Nimbus is new and exciting. I buy the book about his choppers, have it autographed, run the Nimbus engine to show the exposed moving rocker arms a few more times, and check out the workshop. Along with the sound of a sidevalve Triumph twin, which a girl keeps starting, I hear a distant bell, and soon after a monotonous voice drone on for a while. Being curious, I ask if this is the sound from some kind of religious ceremony. No, they say, it’s just someone selling potatoes.

After chatting about chopper design and my further plans, the man invites me to stay at a small place he has up in the mountains. I can stay there for a week or two, he says. The place is actually the office part of two large barns made of corrugated steel, filled up with Japanese junk bikes and parts thereof. Tons of it, and lots of cats too. Around the barns a further hundred bikes or so can be found – other places there’s a further 2,000 or more, waiting to be broken up for spares. In Denmark much of this, like the large Suzuki Katanas, would be considered pure gold. This is not the case here, as he elaborates later, when we drive away searching for dinner. By now it is dark, and since traffic has eased up some, the open Porsche Carrera gets a workout (remember; southern latitudes darkness, very narrow roads, 30 or 40 kph speed limits).

Tuesday Oct. 17 - North To The Sea Of Japan

I leave the coast again, ride over mountain passes and along rivers until seven in the evening. It a truly wonderful landscape here, in particular the gorges, and any attempt to take pictures of it will do the actual sight very little justice. Attempting a shortcut I find a fantastic mountain road, some of it so winding and step that it has to be taken in second and first gear. Engine braking downhill in first gear is new for me, but still fun. At places the road is about two meters wide, so here in the twilight I’m happy about my halogen bulb up front.

I intended to find a campsite along this stretch, but having missed it, I check into an ugly ‘ryokan’ – business hotel – along the freeway. Have to change my sleeping pattern, or get better at spotting those elusive campsites. A ‘Lawson Station’ – a store like a 7-11 – provides cheap dinner, and I see ‘Haägens-Dasz’ ice cream in two new varieties: Green Tea and Black Sesame. I’m worn out, but happy with today’s distance.

Wednesday Oct. 18 - Threewheelers And Hiroshima

The roads on this sunny say are a mix of the best in the gorges, a few normal ones, and some over the mountains. I absolutely love it, even the ones where the engine grinds along in second gear. Going uphill there’s the expectation of the soon-to-come semi-scary downhill race. Bumpy and a few meters wide, or three lanes with perfect asphalt, it is changing back and forth. There are trucks here too, of course, so I really lean to appreciate the mirrors found at the more hopeless turns.

And the place is just so green and beautiful, clear up close, but with a haze further on so one sees the mountains in 6-7 steps onwards (if you know what I mean). My only worry is that one may have a finite life-ration of mountain roads, and that I now may use up my allowance a bit early.

At some point I stumble over a collection of old three-wheeled trucks. I saw one in Greece ages ago, in another life, and have been looking for such a Mazda ever since. These trucks are further developments of the large Harleys and Indians, which were brought to Japan in the 1930’s and fitted with truck-like rear ends. The Mazda version even has a H-D front end, albeit in 1½ times the motorcycle size.

The vegetation changes again, I see more and new types of bamboo and palm trees, and there are herons in the air. Not as many falcons today, but junk cars appear, and I see more farmland, with old ‘bent over’ people out there harvesting. Then Hiroshima appears, and thus a hotel, and a much needed internet café, both located with the aid of the Lonely Planet guide book. Old tramways clank along the concrete slab city roads, but I already like the place.

Thursday Oct. 19 - The Peace Memorial

I spend a few hours around the Peace Memorial Park, where the famous ‘A-bomb Dome’ stands along with a series of more or less ugly minor memorials, for Korean forced labourers etc. Unlike the equally famous cathedral in Dresden, the dome building will not be rebuilt, but shall stand as a reminder of the folly of mankind. It even is one the Unesco list of world heritage sites – an honour Mt. Fuji missed some years ago, because the mountain was all messed up with the litter people had thrown there, while hiking up and down it.

Today’s distance is 200 kilometers on a mix of roads. Unlike what some bike tour reports from over here occasionally claim, the Japanese roads are far from perfect, in part because heavy truck traffic have worn down a lot of the surface. Some mean tunnels (cough!) are included, as is the sight of some petro-chemical plants with their special, almost science fiction-like aesthetics. The lack of space requires these plants to be built taller than they would elsewhere. My rule of thumb says 50 kilometers per hour of riding on European regular roads, based on a few decades of experience. Here it’ll be about 35 per hour, which today includes a quick roadside lunch, an equally quick oil change and two happy cops. I sleep in the very fine, relaxed youth hostel in Shimonoseki.

Friday Oct. 20 - On To Kyushu

I cross the Kyushu Strait on a tall toll bridge, and do the next 150 clicks on a toll road riding on stilts half the way, over urban areas. Then a bit of marvelous mountain riding, and a long stretch on the first not-built-up flatland I’ve seen so far. The mountains are about 3-4 kilometers away on each side, so it is not particular interesting, save for a few custom car shops along the way. A compass guides me the few times I loose my way, now that the sun is hidden behind grey skies. It is not until today I fully realize how big this country actually is, and how little of it I’ll get to see.

On less densely trafficked roads I philosophize over the fact that Japan in reality is bilingual. Sort of. Most shops, companies, all cars, gambling halls, hotels etc. have a name in Latin characters, just like most road signs are written in kanji characters as well as in English. ‘Hotel lady Love’, ‘Nuclear Emergency Response Center’ (!), ‘Batu Insect Village’ etc. Still very, very few people actually speak any usable English, or understand what I say, but they can to some extent cope with written English. By now I’ve learned to express myself in the simplest of terms.

This night I stay in a ryokan in Hikado, a town that was amongst the first to have any contact with the outside world. Trade flourished, even if the Europeans got kicked out at regular intervals, and the local Christian converts crucified, but all in all the town did well. Now it is a small cozy tourist place, with lots of restaurants that may or may not look authentic and old style, whatever that is around here. I can’t tell. The place I eat at has a large basin with live fish as a division between me and the kitchen. A narrow bridge leads across the basin, as an incentive for the cook and waiters to stay reasonably sober.

Saturday Oct. 21 - The Very Small Vintage Bike Rally

No way I’ll ride to the rally with my bike all messed up, so 1½ hours are spent cleaning away the oil and the road dirt accumulated over the two weeks, while from across the street a bunch of girls in school uniform watch the gajin work. School uniforms and even kindergarten uniforms are the rule here. As is politeness: When some small kids crossed the road a few days ago in a pedestrian crossing, they stopped and bowed in all three directions at us who had stopped to let them pass.

25 kilometers and two toll bridges further out, I arrive at the island where this vintage bike rally is to be held. The roads look like those on Greek islands, except of course everything is beautifully green here, instead of burnt brown. At the harbour I spot some BMW riders put up stalls. I ride in and park, and wait to see when the other old bikes arrive. Some hours pass. The email said about 50 bikes would likely show up, though now all but 15 appear, and that’s even counting a Katana, an XS650 and a nicely tweaked 1970’s style Z900. The remaining 30-40 bikes are modern ones, mainly BMW’s. Well, [beep] that, I was going to Kyushu anyway, to see the chopper builder Chicara Nagata, and then to see a good motorcycle museum.

And the people here are really nice (two speak English), the man with the guitar and the ‘On Any Sunday’ t-shirt isn’t half bad either, and when the classic bikes have been checked out for the fifth time, I can go look at the old sports cars. A Shelby Cobra and a 1950’s Mercedes top this collection. The most interesting vehicle is a Rikuo, which basically is a copy of the Harley-Davidson WLA, but with a more modern front fork. Same vintage as me, and also a bit worse for wear. Like many others present, the owner is dressed in US Army fatigues.

My modest contribution the general entertainment is – surprise – to fire up the Nimbus a dozen times or so. Several times during the last week I have parked right next to other motorcyclists, who often ignored me completely for the first 10 or 15 minutes, before suddenly turning around to take pictures or even talk. This shyness, or whatever it is, is of course totally absent here – people fiddle around with the gearshift, brakes and electric controls, whether I stand next to the bike or not.

At some point an old motorcycle and car racer (in both cases Honda) shows up, and starts signing t-shirts, books, pictures, motorcycles and cars, and even my book about Zero Engineering’s choppers. Kunimitsu Tagahashi is his name, apparently famous beyond belief around here. He then gives a speech and gets interviewed the same evening, which of course I can’t understand a word of, but everybody else seems nicely entertained.

Later, after I’ve pitched my tent, the BMW club boys invite me for dinner at the hotel they’ve invaded some kilometers from the rally site: Sashimi – essentially a lot of different sliced raw fish, including politically incorrect whale. Finally I get to practice some of the many rules, that I’ve learned about how to behave at a Japanese dinner. I think it works out ok, maybe in part because we can’t really understand each other. Unfortunately I did not bring any business cards, which would have been a good idea here, now that everyone gives me theirs.

Back at the harbour things have evolved some, in the less sober direction. (‘Wall-eyed drunk’-san; “My…….father……kamikaze…….pilot…”. Me; “Oh rearry? How many missions did he fry?”). It is quite funny here, even with some extremely tough looking biker types now taking part in the festivities.

Sunday Oct. 22 - BSA Copies, 'Chicara Art'

A new day of sunshine and no wind greets me in the morning, more stalls are being set up, and a lot more old bikes roll in. Amongst those there’s a group of 10-12 Kawasaki W650 twins, the BSA copies, where here I can see the whole development throughout the years: From an early one with a solo saddle and its speedometer in the headlight shell, to the final version with double front brake discs and Z1-like clocks. It begins to look a bit more like a classic bike rally. Though on the parade around the small island I end up riding with a bunch of young yahoos on scooters and tuned Honda Cubs, as practically everybody else rides modern machinery. Half the distance somebody videotapes the whole thing, so everybody is forced to do 25 kph, now that 12-13 cars are leading us.

One of yesterdays hangovers lead me to a rider – Keji Turuta – with a new Triumph 900 Sprint, knowing that he is heading for Saga, where the chopper builder Chicara Nagata also lives. I show him the CN phone number, as I want him to check for me, if the man is home sometime during the week. When the long telephone conversation with CN is over, a translator tells me that he’ll lead me all the way to CN, and that he has arranged that I can sleep at a friend of his. Actually my plan was to drive south to Nagasaki, but this sounds a lot better. I also know my theoretical chances for finding CN’s workshop on my own.

Before we leave I tell him that riding on the shoulder or between cars is fine with me, and that up to 70 kph is fine with the Nimbus. He signals an ‘ok’, and than proceeds to ride all the way at about 50 kph. The weather looks like there is thunder on the way, so how he and his friend on yet another large sports bike can ride at this speed, fully dressed up in Gore-Tex clothing, remains a mystery to me. Maybe they know something about speeding fines, that I do not want to know about. After an hour along the coast we reach a large flat area, which turns uglier and uglier as we get closer to Saga. The industrial areas stink, and here farmers still believe in burning their fields, a practice long abandoned in Denmark.

Just as unpleasant the landscape and the city looks, just as good the rest of the evening turns out. After a brief visit to Keji’s motorcycle workshop, we find ‘Chicara Motorcycles’ a bit outside of Saga, where a smallish man with spiky hair greets us. Unlike Shinya Kimura from Zero Engineering, he speaks no English, but has arranged for a woman friend to show up for translating. It isn’t easy, but I do manage to make CN understand that amongst the major targets on this trip of mine, Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and he are amongst the most important ones.

The custom motorcycle ‘Chicara Art’ is his latest creation, and it has earned him the official title as the world’s premier chopper builder. He rolls the thing out of his van, so I can take pictures, when I am not just standing the spell-bound by this two-wheeled sculpture. Over the years I have seen many outstandingly beautiful bikes, but this one tops them all. It took him an astonishing 7,500 hours to build, but you can see every minute of them. There’s a myriad of details, almost beyond belief, a wealth of curious small technical solutions, and the final touch is an ultra-thin layer of chrome, so you can see the a hint of the golden glow of the brazing, where all frame tubes enter the innumerable fittings.

The sculpture is not for sale, CN says, and since I can see several of his other well known Harleys stand in the room, I assume he must make his income from his architect or graphic design business, instead of from selling custom bikes. Asked about it, I tell him how much I paid to have my bobber flown over to Japan. Turns out he paid five times that price for shipping his creation to the USA, which may explain why his hair is still standing straight up.

After 3-4 hours, where he signs the Zero book and gives me so many t-shirts and other small gifts, that I get downright embarrassed. I hardly dare mention that I think his shirt looks really cool, fearing that he may give me that one as well.

As an end to the gift giving – after me handing over a package of special Danish chocolate – I invite everyone out for dinner. Outside the rain has started, so suddenly I have the # 1 chopper builder on this planet wiping water off the Nimbus, and then manhandling it into his van. Fine with me, I have not yet had to ride in the rain over here, and think that should I encounter 2-3 days of the wet stuff, I’ll do indoor activities in the nearest large city. It is already a bit tricky finding my way on the Japanese maps when I have to a) put on my reading glasses every time and 2) use an English language map for reference and c) not have to do this through a clear plastic cover on the tank bag.

Of course it is a very good restaurant the locals have chosen, and we stay there for three hours, where Karo The Translator handles both her two dictionaries, and takes care that all we men get servings when the food arrives. She always gets food last, so no wonder she is so small and slim. And now guess if they allow me to pay for us all when the check arrives….

As it probably never read on the tombstone of the famous old actor Erroll Flynn: “He was lucky, and he knew it”.

Monday Oct. 23 - The Iwashita Collection & The 'Rider House'

Todays weather is nicely dry, so I do not have to take up Keji’s or Chicara Nagata’s offers of hanging around at their workshops until the rains clear. After breakfast with Keji, and several Nimbus posings with his customers, he leads me out of Saga. I’m going east, my aim being to visit The Iwashita Collection, which reputedly is one of Japan’s larger motorcycle museums. The initial 1½ hours go through the same unpleasant landscape as we rode through yesterday, but suddenly it snaps into the type of mountain roads that I already have become spoiled rotten with. The trucks are few and far between, so the resultant diesel smoke have only managed to turn my hair a slightly lighter shade of grey (“He was ugly, and he knew it”), when I reach my destination another 1½ hours further east.

Having seen so many car- motorcycle- and airplane museums that I have, I’ve become a bit jaded. Most of it is the same as already seen in other museums or collections, so it takes something special to really catch my attention. Fortunately The Iwashita Collection has it: On the second floor I find a lot of motorcycles I have never seen before, much less knew about. Small wonder, because tiny Denmark has had about 60 brands, and few people in Denmark – even motorcyclists – would be hard pressed to remember more than Elleham and Nimbus, which were the two major ones. I take lots and lots of pictures of various design details, of special technical solutions and in particular of the two three-wheelers, that configuration long having had my extra attention. There’s also a rather pitiful looking Nimbus present, hidden away under a staircase.

On top of it (though technically speaking below it) museum owner Iwashita-san has filled up the whole ground floor with an eclectic collection of just about everything: Japanese film posters, old toys, Beatles single covers with Japanese kanji characters, old telephones, the body of an American F-86 Sabre fighter jet (!), a small shrine-like area with Steve McQueen stuff, jukeboxes, Princess Diana dolls and the local gods may know what else. Local cab drivers use the museum’s classy café as their hangout, and seem to really appreciate the ‘Seeberg’ jukebox with all the 1950-1970 rock’n’roll songs.

As far as the two-wheelers upstairs are concerned, a large V4 Ducati prototype from the 1960’s is by far the most interesting. The bike was the brain-child of the American Ducati importer, and the prototype development partially financed by him. At the time most American police forces specified that only motorcycles with V-type engines and 5x16” tyres were to be acquired, giving Harley-Davidson a virtual monopoly, as The Indian Motocycle Company no longer produced that kind of bikes.

The relatively simple engine on this behemoth was built by using four separate cylinders, each with their own carburetor and ignition system, all connected to a common crankshaft and case. The first version had a 100 bhp, which of course tore the tyres available at the time to shreds, so it was lowered to 80 bhp – still way too much – and eventually to a mere 60 bhp. Sadly only this one example was built, along with another engine, and for mysterious reasons it happened to end up here on the other side of the world.

I want some information about the museum’s Nimbus, but the owner only is here on the weekends, the girl at the entrance tells. She thinks it is kind of cool that I show up here on a Nimbus bobber, and shows me pictures of it on a website belonging to someone, who also attended the rally a few days earlier. Then she proceeds to take her own pictures of it, and poses on the bike while I do the trick. Unfortunately she knows of no museums specifically for three-wheelers, but mentions that there is a small car museum further down the road, that probably has a few. Sold to the gent with the light grey diesel-hair!

The town of Yufuin is an old health resort, and part of it so 800% tourist-trapped that this by itself is almost amusing. The car museum in this Tourist Hell is small, though ok for the entrance fee, and has the promised dozen or so three-wheelers standing about, in various shapes and conditions. Like The Iwashita Collection many of the vehicles here are not top-notch restorations. Then I buy my postcards and ride back up to the first museum again. The girl here told that the old train wagon next to the museum entrance is a ‘rider house’, where traveling motorcyclists can stay for free. There are two beds, blankets, sleeping bags, a microwave oven, radio, air conditioning and a sink. It is almost too good to be true. The rider house concept is widely used on the northern island of Hokkaido, and is slowly finding its way down here too.

The other museum employee shows up, makes sure I’m comfortable in the train wagon, and draws a detailed map of where in the tourist town I can locate a cheap ‘onsen’ – this being is a hot bath with water from the volcanic interior of Japan. A few taps on the laptop, and I head downtown, where for a very modest 100 yen I get my introduction to this extremely Japanese thing. At an onsen you shower and wash thoroughly, before climbing into the large common bath with 42 centigrade hot water. No doubt I will want to track down more onsens, as I ride along.

Back in the wagon I eat my tray of sushi with two ball-point pens, as I forgot to ask for chopsticks at the store. It’s only a question of being motivated enough. Before going to sleep I want to follow local customs and have a small present ready for my hosts. So I sit there until two in the morning cutting and folding some arche-typical Danish Christmas tree decorations. There was a physical limit to how much special Danish chocolate I could schlep around, so I had to figure out other Danish alternatives.

Tuesday Oct. 24 - Beppu

It was a two-dog night in the wagon (i.e. so cold an Eskimo would take two dogs with him to sleep), and there’s a slight drizzle as I go out for breakfast. My breakfast contains 526 calories, the menu says, but this is still better than the two balls of rice and two small smoked fish, which the Rikuo guy at gave me at the old bike rally. Also note the first military vehicles here, from The Japanese Self-defense Forces, at least 50 of them, in new Hummers and Mitsubishi-built jeeps. “Fall maneuvers”, one of the locals say. (“Remember Pearl Harbor!” I think).

You only stay in a rider house for one night, so even if I’d have liked to hang around for a few days in the area, I have to move on. Some of my excess baggage goes to Chiba by mail, because all the gifts and souvenirs I’ve acquired are taking up too much space. The girls get their gifts, and following the wishes of the Museum owner, the Nimbus upstairs gets dragged out of its hole, so pictures can be taken with me in its saddle. I leave town at three, by which time the rain has gone elsewhere.

Cross a mountain pass, the landscape turns to grasslands, a bit like seen on pictures from Scotland – though without kangaroos – and everything is just as nice as I want Japan countryside to be. An amusement park along the way has an enormous rollercoaster built in wood. Save for a few incidents it has been without problems to ride on the left side of the road – if I’m still sleepy in the morning (10 a.m.), and accidentally take of on the right hand side, the horrified facial expression on whoever is driving towards me is usually enough to make me remember where I am. At some point I also have to figure who has the right-of-way in four-road intersections.

A mere 25 kilometers of turns bring me to Beppu, a large costal town where I want to find an internet café. Have to check out my bank balance, and send four days of travel reports. Tourist Information at the train station locates a 2,000 yen hotel for me, and while the place offers wireless internet connection – which I can’t use - they direct me to an expensive hotel nearby, that has pc’s for public use. Very neat. I also crave some time of speaking proper English, hoping to find that at a bar called – well - ‘Speak-Easy’. After walking in the world’s narrowest streets in the red light district I locate the bar, all boarded up, so my English-fix will have to wait. At some time over the summer I talked with a Polish friend about meeting here – never thought I was going to miss him for his ability to speak English.

Wednesday Oct 25 - Southwards Along Kyushu's East Coast

Bebbu is known for its many baths and for its ‘Hells’, the latter being where places where steam bubbles up through sand or mud. All over town you can see steam pipes, so my lunch is of course of the naturally steamed variety as well (but didn’t taste particularly well). Anyway, first a warm batch in a wonderful old onsen, and then quick visits to The Bamboo Museum and to Hihokan Sex Museum, up the hill somewhere.

At the first one it is the incredible craftsmanship that really impress me, as well as what artists – especially contemporary ones - have managed to create with bamboo, so the superlatives usually reserved for mountain roads and such, also apply here. The next one was described in The Lonely Planet guide as one of Japan’s most surreal museums, but methinks it’ll take a lot more to make your average Scandinavian get visibly upset over an exhibition like this. Most of it is fairly serious stuff, with a lot of beautiful old erotica, mainly from Eastern and Far Eastern cultures. The more entertaining bits include stuffed version of various animals’ genitalia, amongst which both a male and a female whale are to be found. Best, worst and funniest is a very liberal interpretation of the old fairytale ‘Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs’, in a three-dimensional 1:1 scale version.

Going out of town I start with 60 kilometers of expressway, to avoid the cityscapes, then 70 k’s of lightly trafficked main road, another 50 k’s of two- to four lane city-hell road, and finally 15 k’s of toll road into the town of Myiazaki. There’s still a bit of light left, against which I can see the tall palm trees along this perfect stretch of asphalt. The warmth, the sight and even the smells reminds me of similar roads in California, ridden an eternity ago. Cheap business hotel, good food, English-language newspaper, ½ an hour of writing this, and I’m off to Dreamland.

Thurssday Oct. 26 - Motorcycle Cops, Surfers, Falcons And Monkeys

Monkeys, Surfers, Kamikaze Pilots and An Annoyed Tourist.

On my way down for breakfast I meet Graeme, a British motorcyclist who has chosen to see Japan by train. The English-fix is home, and a man whose internet address starts with ‘Z13’ can’t be half bad to talk to. He’s had them since he was nineteen, he says. (For non-motorcyclists: The 1300 cc Kawasaki Z1300 is for motorcycles what psychopath boxer Mike Tyson is for The Noble Art of Self Defense). I tell him about the Iwashita Collection and a kamikaze museum further down on Kyushu, as it seems he’ll follow my tracks with some days’ delay. He for his part recommends I go see the part of Osaka, which apparently inspired Ridley Scott to make the movie Blade Runner the way he did.

And then on south, along the coast, five hours of stunningly beautiful road, snaking and curving its way up and down, with green hills to the right and The Pacific on its left. It just goes on. More and more types of palm trees, eventually cacti as well. I’ve run out of superlatives, so just take my word for that it is the most beautiful road I’ve ever ridden, save for a few select ones in the USA. Here and there I see surfer dudes and dudettes, easy to spot when yet another surfboard flies high in the air, while a wave knocks its owner under the surface.

Two motorcycle cops going the opposite direction impress me a great deal, first by how fast they turn and catch up with me. And then by one of them insisting he use my camera to take a picture of me and his colleague, for my vacation album. Actually I got all my documents out – doctor’s statement, copy of same, translation of same, passport, regular driver’s license, international driver’s license, insurance papers – so they had as many things as possibly to deal with. But as usual there are no problems, so I could have saved myself all the paranoia about this back home.

Dozens of falcons can be seen flying in the updraft from the ocean, and suddenly some monkeys run across the road. I stop to take pictures, but too late, as they are even more shy than Japan’s other primates. Then I take my lunch break at an old Shinto shrine, and walk hundreds of uneven stone steps down to the temple, complete with monks (or priests, f*** should I know) and a bunch of good luck charms etc. for sale. From the jungle next to the walkway there are all kinds of birds screaming, just like in a jungle movie.

Actually I don’t care all that much for temples and shrines, except maybe that I can appreciate their architectural qualities (and in this respect Kyushu does otherwise not impress much), but fortunately this place has a bit extra to offer: I follow the locals’ example by putting money in wooden boxes here and there, bow in front of the shrine and clap my hands twice, and eventually throw some rocks down into a hole in a large rock down by the ocean. The former helps fulfilling one’s wishes, and the latter puts the turbo on that first wish, and hey – you just try to prove that it does NOT work. On the other hand I was so intent on doing the ritual properly and hit the hole in the rock, that I clean forgot to actually make a wish, so in any case the money is wasted.

Five hours later, at the very bottom tip of the island, the road turns really narrow, winding it’s way up and up until – aaargh! – the outermost part has slid down into the ocean a couple of hundred meters below. I could easily tip-toe me and the Nimbus along on the remaining bit, but the roadblock is so effective, that anyone short of a mountain climber would have a hard time getting past. I hate backtracking, but since I now have enjoyed the sight over the ocean on the way up, the ride down is done to the pleasant sound of the forward foot pegs scraping in every turn. Along the way a falcon flies right over me, 5-6 meters up, with a dead rodent in its claws, and a bit later another bunch of monkeys cross the road ahead of me.

A couple of hours getting pleasantly lost on some very minor mountain roads, a regular road takes me to a ferry to Kagoshima, where I drive around for ¾ of an hour trying to locate a small hotel from the Lonely Planet guide. The hotel foyer smells like if a tomcat comes by regularly, its shoes of and on every time you enter or leave, but it is cheap, very Japanese interior with tamami mats and neon light, and thus has a bit more personality than many of the other ryokans – business hotels – I’ve stayed in so far. And like John Travolta says in ‘Pulp Fiction’; “Personality goes a long way”.

Friday Oct. 27 - Buddhist Temple, Peace Museum For "Kamikaze" Pilots

The LP guide describes Kagoshima as ‘the Naples of Japan’. Without ever having been to Naples, I bet the Italians would take exception to that comparison. Too much concrete, and a large red ferris wheel over the central train station. Ok, in some ways the town is nicer than many other large cities I’ve seen here, because there are a lot of arcades, good restaurants, designer boutiques, covered sidewalks and old tramway cars. Of the latter there’s at least one really amusing example, with all sorts of lights, looking like a parade float, or like stall that has run away from a traveling circus.

On my way to ‘The Peace Museum For Kamikaze Pilots’ (go figure….) south of town, I see an impressive modern Buddhist temple. It is not just the building itself, or the 7-8 meters tall Buddha statue inside, that impresses. On my way out the old lady at the entrance insists I go down to the basement first, to see also their downstairs collection of vases, statues and woven pictures. Yesterday I wrote something about not being particularly interested in temples, but here I surrender unconditionally. This exhibition takes my breath away. Mainly traditional pictures, of course, but here and there I also can enjoy seeing something, that can only be describes at photo-realism in woven silk.

Further inland I locate the combined peace- and kamikaze museum. Exactly how one can make wishes for peace and harmony for all peoples of the world – as the messages is carved into stone outside the museum – go together with a tribute to more than a thousand young suicide pilots, remains a mystery to me, as the written material at the museum is in Japanese only. The hundreds of portraits of these doomed young pilots – about half of which weren’t volunteers at all – is disheartening, but this is outweighed somewhat by the sight of five more or less original single-engine military aircraft placed in there. Taking pictures inside is, annoyingly, very much prohibited, so the one I got of a wildly corroded Mitsubishi Zero, picked out of the sea some years ago, is taken from the outside, through the large windows.

A quick walk through an old samurai village not far from the museum, ends today’s sightseeing. Save for a few roof-mounted solar heating panels, the place looks fairly authentic, and people actually live in the houses. It also shows how little Japanese interior decoration style has changed throughout the centuries, with simplicity and harmony being the major guidelines. After this somewhat boring experience, there’s only the sight across the strait I passed yesterday to enjoy, where smoke from the Sakurajima volcano is seen, and once again I will stop at a lumber store to take in the fresh, and for me unfamiliar, smells of newly cut lumber. They have different sorts of wood over here.

I have been here for more than a month now, and have gotten myself into a good routine when it comes to riding about, and how my interaction with the locals is. Nevertheless, this morning I got really irritated about my inability to ‘read’ people, and their difficulty in understanding what I try to communicate, despite my attempts to express myself as simply as possible, either by writing short easy sentences, making drawings or even just pointing at something I want to buy, and take out money for it. In this case it was a woman, who simply could not grasp that her printer had swallowed 800 of my yen, and that I didn’t get any photo copies for them (later I figured it probably wasn’t a language problem, but simply that she was an idiot…). Good thing it took so long before it happened, and good thing that I’m very conscious of the fact, that it is me who is invading their universe, and not the other way around.

Unlike when I rode my Nimbus across the USA back in 1982, and logically had an easy time explaining things or having things explained, and thus was a participant, I really am only an observer here. If I want to know something about – say – their windmills or solar heaters or motorcycles or architecture, my chances of finding someone who can understand my questions, much less know anything about the subject, are probably 0,5 percent. I doubt it would have helped much if I had learned some basic Japanese before going here, because it would have been as primitive and awkward, as is their English. My pocket guide easily takes care of most normal things, like food, hotel room availability and common polite everyday phrases like ‘hello’ and ‘thanks’.

Saturday Oct. 28 - Another Paradise Road, Another Great Hotel

After more unsuccessful attempts to locate a copy shop competent enough to print a few documents from my memory stick, I ride north on the expressway for about 100 kilometers, to make up for the two lost hours. Then there’s 44 k’s of absolutely wonderful paradise road, so high up the mountainside that I occasionally have to go below the speed limit, to be able to fully enjoy the sights. Being not young but still stupid, I follow a sign pointing towards a waterfall (small, insignificant, and with so many steps leading down to it that I get postal flashbacks (I’m a mailman, and in Denmark mailmen do climb the stairs in apartment buildings)) somewhere to my left, and end up doing 32 k’s of knot-like road. As other many roads like it, it has stretches where not even a car and a motorcycle can pass each other. Again there are large mirrors at each turn, of which there are many, there being no straight stretches longer than 50 meters.

As the twilight sets, I ride along some more paradise road, and end up at an expensive looking hotel. They have no rooms available, nor do the other hotels they call. In the end the guy with the phone figures out, that they will not rent out the last large handicap-friendly room unless I get it, so – being the professional – he offers it to me for what I secretly have decided is my maximum price. 8,000 yen pays here for more space than the combined previous 8-10 smallest rooms I’ve stayed in. The TV has neither a coin box on the side, nor brochures for soft-porn channels, and even a safe stands there in one of the many closets. Origami figures everywhere, a breakfast buffet and the onsen is included, so tonight I will probably think a bit about whether to stuff my relative frugal way of traveling completely.

A bunch of old guys already sit in the outdoor onsen bath, and I hear a comment about ‘gajins’ – foreigners – as I enter, much to the others’ amusement. I laugh along with them, unable, of course, to understand them, with their coarse voices and a dialect much different from whatever Japanese I’ve heard so far. It sound like a cross between the grunting, when four or five guys have their heads down in the engine compartment of a large American car, and Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of reciting his favourite poem. I could care less, as I lie here looking up at The Milky Way, listening to gentle jazz music from the outdoors loudspeakers. I laugh aloud about how enjoyable this is. Good thing I took the detour past that lame waterfall.

Today’s English-fix is unexpectedly saved by an architect, who sees the hotel staff go all cross-eyed when I ask for internet access. We end up in the hotel office, me sitting in my kimono, downloading various directions to some vintage bike rallies and swap meets in Osaka and Kyoto, that I may want to attend in the near future. The architect translates everything to English, and later, over a couple of beers, he tells, regrettably, that my favourite beer over here – the red Asahi – isn’t a real beer at all, but some artificial mixed product only made to avoid a government-imposed tax.