Home again, to December’s cold and rain, and the usual three-month long display of a thousand grey nuances (Danish winters suck). To a chronically understaffed Postal Service. To my family’s many crisis’s. And to non-weblog-reading friends’ many questions about how the trip went. Weblog readers already know things went great.
Before leaving for Tokyo, I tried hard to find some Japanese contacts through the internet. With little success, unfortunately, because very few understood English, and even fewer were able to answer my questions. Www.horizonsunlimited.com has a few contact addresses, which either weren’t updated or the people were away travelling. So in the end my only contacts were those that a London-based Japanese motorcycle journalist gave me, plus one – Crazy Pete in Chiba – that a friend here thought of giving me a few days before departure.
Three Times Lucky (out of dozens):
In Japan it rains a lot, which was why I went there in October and November, supposedly a relative dry period. In those two months the northern part of Japan had unusually bad weather, while the southern part was unusually sunny and dry. I only rode in the rain twice, for four and two hours respectively. Plus for about fifteen minutes in Tokyo, going home from the film session. It’s not that that I have a problem with wet weather riding, but being on a bike is still more fun in the dry.
Meeting the two famous chopper builders of Zero Motorcycles and Chicara Motorcycles, and spending time with them the way I did. The former I only met because he happened to be at the shop the very hour I called. The latter I saw mainly because by coincidence someone at the first old bike rally asked a friend of Chicara Nagata to call him.
The Iwashita motorcycle museum on Kyoto was a planned stop, while the rider house and the good company was an unexpected bonus.
There were, of course, a number of other great coincidences along the way, too numerous to all be mentioned here. I do remember you all.
The Nimbus Bobber:
The old Danish motorcycle turned out to be perfect for this type of touring, in part because of it’s inherent qualities as a motorcycle, but mainly because it opened at lot of doors for me. Vintage bike enthusiasts loved it because it was old and unusual, and the chopper and hotrod crowd really appreciated the bobber style. Had I just bought myself a normal modern motorcycle over there, these people all would probably have treated me nice too, but I’d still just have been a normal tourist.
The cost of transporting the Nimbus back and forth, plus the carnet’s insurance, was about 320,000 yen. Buying and later selling a local motorcycle might have been 40,000 to 100,000 yen cheaper, depending how large and expensive a bike one desires. For one person a 250 cc or 400 cc bike would be sufficient for roads of Southern Japan, because they just don’t drive all that fast here. Should I buy something in Japan, and ride in a more rainy part of the year, one of the large scooters might have been an option.
Two Good Moves (aside from deciding to bring the Nimbus along):
First of all it was buying the laptop. As normal communication with the natives was very difficult, it was a great comfort to sit every evening and type down the day’s impressions on keyboard. Out of my head, onto the screen, and again there was room in the skull for the next day’s bombardment of sights and senses. Normally I sleep 7-7½ hours each night, but throughout the trip I made do with 5 or 6. So the adrenalin production must have been running in top gear. Had I not been able to clear my mind every night, my head would probably have exploded before I reached Hiroshima.
The second good move was to use cheap hotels instead of camping out. I’ve never been much of a camper anyway, but have used it for saving money or because my travelling companions used them. It was good to have at the first old bike meet, because this allowed me to have a lot of fun with the other drunks at the rally site. Besides, having it strapped onto the front probably gave me some street-cred (camp-cred?) as a serious touring rider.
Had I pitched my tent the nights that was at all possible, I might have saved 100-120,000 yen, but then I’d always have needed to find an onsen to wash the diesel out of may hair, and still not have anywhere to plug in the laptop (old battery). In which case this weblog might not even have existed.
As mentioned above, using the Nimbus cost me about 320,000 yen, and add to that about 5,500 kilometers of wear and tear. Then there was the 120,000 for round trip air fare for me, and app. 10,000 yen per day for food, lodging, gas, oil and whatever. I still have the laptop, so it is not part of this equation. I was able to sublet my apartment, which saved me 140,000 yen, so all in all the bill runs up to 860,000 yen (US$ 7,238 / £ 3,668 / 5,451 Euros) for my second longest motorcycle vacation on the Nimbus. The exact figure has not been figured out yet, as I still have to check my next bank statement, and I want to see the bike outside my front door, before I’m sure there are no further shipping costs.
Despite many attempts, I never found out if my one-wheel motorcycle trailer would be legal in Japan. No-one I emailed knew, while everybody said that a) the bike absolutely had to have turn signals, and b) there was no chance of riding without a helmet. In reality the many cops I met said not a word about the missing turn signals, and they all accepted the translated doctor’s permit for me riding without my helmet. So now I’m sure I could have gotten away with the trailer too, which would have made the bobber a bit more elegant to look at.
More research about Japan would have been an advantage too, even if my schedule kept me busy as it was. Many places were only learned about by accident – the kamikaze museum I coincidentally read about in the Lonely Planet guide, one late night when I was unable to sleep.
Other than that, I’d do it all over again much the same way.
Learn Japanese, or live with the little English they speak over there. If you’re a total loner type of person, or if you have a travel companion, the language barrier isn’t much of a problem (despite the many times I mentioned it above). Had my trip lasted three months instead of eight weeks, I’d have taken Japanese classes for a full year before.
Forget about Tokyo, and go to more pleasant and charming cities like Kyoto or Hiroshima instead. Also use a minimum of one month over there, if you’re on a motorcycle. Japan is more expensive than most other countries, but not as horrible as many will make you believe – all depending, of course, what your standards for accommodation and food are. By the way, I did learn to love sushi – even the mediocre stuff on plastic trays, that you buy for 400 yen from any supermarket or convenience store.
Buy the English Lonely Planet guide book, or something similar, and read it thoroughly at least a few weeks before actually going to Japan. The 3,200 yen are well spent.
Please do not hesitate to write, if you want any further information (firstname.lastname@example.org). I do, however, know nothing about buying or renting a motorcycle over there, nor can I tell anything about the northern part of the country. Local motorcyclists often described Hokkaido as the best place to ride in Japan, but also said to bring high-quality rain gear.