We were up in Shiga Kogen (Nagano Prefecture) again a few weeks ago for yet more snow fun, and decided to go and see the famous snow monkeys in the hot spa pools of Jigokudani Park, since we were in the area and hadn’t been before. There are a million or so amazing photos of these monkeys around the internet so I won’t post any of my own of them, but instead, a couple of the valley running through part of the park to give you an idea of what it looks like when you take a step back.
The park is actually a ~1.6Km walk from the car park area to the monkeys, and requires a fee of ~800yen per person to get in to see them, so be aware. The walk up is through a beautiful valley side though, a long, winding, if somewhat icy track, which is quite relaxing. At the base of the stairs which mark the final few hundred metres, there’s a group of old traditional houses and a steam geyser – and the occasional naked man in an outdoor bath (routenburo) if that’s your thing!
You can see above where most of those amazing photos actually happen. It’s not always this crowded though, if you take a look at the webcams when they’re live, it’s often fairly empty. It is of course well staged – the monkeys are fed by the park staff to encourage them to come down, though guests are understandably discouraged from feeding the monkeys. As someone who has had a close face-to-face encounter with an adult male snow monkey in a carpark on a previous snow trip, I can vouch for not getting too close.
Also of interest to me was a group of old, and somewhat battered looking motorcycles down by the track, some Honda (Super) Cubs and an old CD90, all muddied up and with chains on for the snow, ice and mud. They look like they’ d seen some fun for sure. They seem to be used for running basic deliveries, and I dare say they’re probably road legal, but sadly there were no owners around I could ask. Definitely the types of vehicles you want for this terrain.
A modern motorcycle has a number of safety systems built into it to help the rider stay safe, but we all know you’re also at the mercy of the other person and the universe in general. Insurance helps for sure after the event, but what if you need that little extra protection avoiding an accident?
Here in Japan we can also call upon the gods, and get ourselves an O-mamori [守り]. These are small amulets, commonly looking like small bags, which are purchased from shrines, and intended to bring good fortune or ward off evil and bad luck. The bag usually contains something which has been blessed, for want of a better term – I don’t know what’s in mine since part of the deal is that you don’t open it.
I had an omamori bought for me from a local Shinto shrine, and I now have it safely tied on under my motorcycle seat, to help ward off crazy minivan drivers, Prius drivers, and all the others who seem to forget there are vehicles with less than four wheels. This one then is of the traffic safety or koutsuu anzen variety, and let’s hope it serves its purpose!
There’s a little known requirement that you have to go on a full day out on your motorbike within a week of getting it.
Actually, that’s not true. But it should be true.
To do my part then, I decided to take a day off and ride down the Pacific coastal roads to the southern end of the Izu peninsula, to Shimoda.
I love coastal roads; just riding along, with the vast ocean on one side – hopefully with a sturdy looking metal barrier between you and the cliff down to that ocean – and a rising mountain on the other.
If this sounds good to you, then welcome, and come on down to Routes 134 & 135 on Japan’s Pacific coast.
The day started at around 7am, I’d gotten all my layers on, and warmed the bike up a little too, and then made sure I had a hot flask of tea in my backpack. The sky was a perfect blue, with almost no cloud, bright sunshine, and most importantly at that time – no ice or dampness on the road.
Since I was exploring the new Yamaha as well as the road, I decided to give one of the ‘other’ riding modes a shot – it has A, B and Standard. I’d only been using standard up until now, but decided to give ‘B’ a try as this is intended as the smoother, power-reduced rain mode. I thought that would give a nice gentle start to the day. Indeed it is exactly what that suggests – it’s smooth – it really is a wonderful mode to start the day on. It still pulls, there’s still the torque, but it’s like it’s massaging you into the ride.
The coastal road I take is a toll road, it’s true, but raised up, you get to look down on to the beach and the rivers flowing into the ocean as the sunrise hits the beach and you get to see the sun on the side of Fuji-san, all snow capped, before looking left again at the handful of surfers and fishing enthusiasts casting out from the beach. Part way along this straight section is the Seisho Bypass Service Area (SA). It’s often a big meeting spot for motorcycle groups, but as I approached it I didn’t see a single bike unfortunately, so I passed it by this time. When I’m riding alone, if I see some people in there, I’ll sometimes stop off for a chat and exchange route ideas and good stopping points – but not today!
There was something of a cross-wind on the road, but unlike the old Honda, this was much less tiring (and chilling) thanks to just the small amount of fairing and screen on the Tracer, and the bike held its speed more consistently.
Once you get a little past Hayakawa at the west end of the road, the twisties start kicking in, rising and falling around the cliff edges, switching from cliff cutout roads, to short bridge sections seamlessly. It’s fun. Again, there’s a choice of free roads with a little more traffic, or toll roads, with a little more flow. Be aware some of these toll roads are not ETC/NEXCO ones, you need to stop and pay, a bit like the Izu Skyline.
The road takes you down past coastal towns like Manazuru, Atami and Ito, but as I rode along I saw a couple of small signs for some place called ‘Hosono Highlands’, which sounded interesting, so I turned up an already narrow road, up into the hills, where the road gave way to a narrow, barely paved forest track, past some camping and cabin areas, before popping out into a clearing with what looked like some brand new parking spaces – the Hosono Highlands!
I parked up, and was having a nice cup of two when a couple of cars pulled up coming the other way, and out jumped eight retired people, who made a bee-line for the bike and we spoke for about ten minutes about why we were all here – they had planned to come up, to see the highlands, whereas I was there almost by accident. We also discussed whether Japan still makes good motorbikes (they do), whether English is difficult to learn (it is), and after a swift toilet break, they jumped back in their cars and left. One of the drivers had commented the road extended further up in to the the mountain, past a golf course, to the wind turbines I could see higher up.
It looked like a nice road, so after pondering the view, I decided to go up a bit further. For about a kilometre it a was fun, cracked road surface, steep inclines and corners, with autumnal leaf-fall and branch debris here and there, so it took some concentration.
Anyhow, I came around a corner into a shady wooded area and saw what looked like a run-off stream actively flowing across the road. Not so unusual in the hills around here, but only when I was too close to it did I realise from the reflections that it was actually solid ice.
All I could do was make no change to my speed or direction and hope I was balanced enough to get over. Fortunately it seemed I was, though for a second or two I could feel the ice passing under the tyres, but my momentum carried me over. I decided to get off and take a look at how this thing had duped me, and sure enough the water had frozen in rivulets rather than as a flat sheet, and was well over a centimeter thick even at its thinnest point. I decided then it was better to GPS mark the road, and come back to do it in the Spring, rather than have less luck further up!
Fortunately, those leaves and such at the side of the road had virtually no ice on them, and so it was quite simple to walk the bike back down that way, bypassing the frozen stream. It was disappointing, but that road will make a nice addition to a future day out on warmer days.
Back down to the coast road, and more great views and soon another small road, this time down to a beach, which, given that it was about 5degC., was pretty much deserted. However, given the blue skies and sunshine, if you didn’t know that, you could think from a photograph it was a wonderful Summers day.
It’s called Sotoura Beach, and when the weather gets a little warmer, has quite a good crowd down there. On this day though, it was just me, and some fisherman repairing nets in the small harbour nearby.
(Note that in a few photos my bike looks like it is on sand – it isn’t – I walked out to check the area and found it was actually an old asphalt car park with a very thin layer of sand and gravel on it.)
After another cup of tea just looking at that blue ocean, I pushed on just a few more kilometres to my lunch spot, the appropriately named Cafe Mellow, which is next to a small hotel we’ve often stayed at, called Ernest House.
[As this post is a little long, I won’t fully recount the trip back, which was yet more happy riding, avoiding some bad drivers, and getting to test the headlights out. I’ll also see if I can get a short road video together for it. After 350Km that day, I have to say, I’m really pleased with the Tracer for sure. ]
In July 2006, just after buying a Honda CB400 Super Four, I wrote:
I wont be able to afford a new one any time soon, so I’m hoping it’s as reliable as people say.
That time turned out to be ten and a half years, as today, after a lot of saving and the trade-in, I took ownership of a Yamaha MT-09 Tracer!
Yes, I know it’s quite angular, as is the way with the Yamaha MT series, but it’s an incredibly fun bike to ride, with a growling three cylinder engine, and yes, it has some (unnecessary?) horsepower, but for me it’s all about that sound, and the torque from that engine, which perhaps given my … er … mass, was sometimes lacking at times on the Honda. It’s very easy to ride, and today I just stretched its legs a little on some expressways, before taking it down the narrow and busy roads around our station; and it was superb on both.
Too many differences to go into here, but just in today’s ~50Km, it assured me that this is another great bike. That said, “I wont be able to afford a new one any time soon, so I’m hoping it’s as reliable as people say.”
(For the record, the Honda was superbly reliable).
Happy New Year 2017. This year, for the first time in 9 years, I was back in the UK for Xmas and New Year, and much of that was on the road, so this post is a little late.
New Year was a more UK style ‘drinks at midnight’ affair with the family, and though I was planning a hatsuhinode morning sunrise viewing, heavy cloud and rain put an end to that unfortunately.
We’re now back in Japan, so there are some New Year traditions to sort out this weekend, then it’s figuring out snowboarding trips and potentially, a change of motorbike.
All the best to everyone for 2017.
A few weeks ago we were down at the beach near Enoshima, where it was the closing hanabi of the Summer festival season – yes, in October. I think it’s one of the last formal fireworks events in Shonan for the year, and it attracted several thousand people, on the beach and the strip of grass and parks between the beach and the main coastal road.
The whole thing went for just under an hour, a little longer than normal, but not as long as some of the big ones around Japan. The atmosphere was great though; there’s just something relaxing about being down by the beach, sitting around and watching fireworks – and quite a few people were finishing off BBQs.
When the fireworks finished, in an impressive finale, there was a generous round of applause. It was also good that had quite a few designs I hadn’t seen before, and there were fewer ‘character’ based ones like Doraemon, which I find a little cheap.
I should say, I’m awful at taking pictures of fireworks, mainly because I’m, you know, busy watching them instead of getting the camera right. Instead of a shakey and blurry picture of fireworks then, I thought I’d put in an equally generic photo of sunset around Fuji from Enoshima I took as we were waiting, and a short video as I was testing out my new GoPro.
To give a rough idea, here’s a 60 second video of the finale, though if you look around the net, there are much better examples!
Since it’s Hallowe’en, I thought I’d break out my DVD of John Carpenter’s original Halloween film, in its Extended Edition which is basically the original film, with some extra bits which were shot for the TV release spliced in. I doubt it has much effect on the film.
Despite being released in 1978, I think it stands up very well today, likely because it’s a sparse film – not many locations or actors, and it doesn’t try to show or explain too much.
I won’t give the story away, since it’s one of the original great slasher films, but it’s easy to say it’s a jump-scare film, though I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate since many of the scare scenes are mostly with protagonist Michael Myers in the background, or shadow, or perhaps not even in that shot. It tends to build up of the “he’s behind you” scare type, and there’s little on screen blood. It’s also nice how John Carpenter lingers in many shots to add to the creepiness level.
I always wonder what the police chief and Myers’ doctor, Dr. Loomis, played by Donald Pleasance are doing for much of the film. It seems they spend most of it just waiting, or in the police chief’s case, just driving around, but somehow it pays off.
You’ll love how the high-school students look a little too old to be high-school kids (star Jamie Lee-Curtis was ~20), but that’s fine, and it’s good to see the female lead fight her way out for the most part, whilst still earning Lee-Curtis the ‘scream queen’ tag. Be ready too for socially acceptable drink driving and smoking, and marvel at how child-sitting really works. Ah, the old days.
This obviously then is not a review, just to pass on that if you have the opportunity, perhaps have a watch of an old horror classic.
If you want to see a quick video review of the film, or one of so many other horror films, wander over to Cinemassacre.com which has a great selection.
Maintenance time. One of the side benefits of motorbike ownership are the odd bits of maintenance which need doing. You can get a garage / shop to do these bits of course, but quite a few checks and changes most people can do themselve. Even I can.
One thing which I’ve been wanting to do for a few weeks was to replace the air filters since they were due and it’s a simple task. What’s been annoying is that since I bought the new filters on Amazon JP, every day has been rained out.
This morning it was finally sunny, so out I went to get those filters swapped! There’s two parts to be done – the first is the main oval / cylindrical filter box, which is a metal mesh frame with the usual folded paper as a filter. The second part is a small sponge-foam piece, which sits in a nearby bracket. (In the Japanese documentation, they’re air cleaner boxes and sub air cleaner elements.)
On my CB400SF, it’s simple, and takes about 15mins, unless like me you were cleaning other parts since I had access, and most importantly, drinking tea.
Firstly, unclip the fuel hose just under one side of the tank, and then unclip a cable on the other side. You then have to remove the seat, and a couple of plastic panels, which are both held on by single screws – these cover the coolant tank on one side and some electrical cabling on the other on my bike. Then, remove the main bolt under the seat, and lift that whole fuel tank off. I always think the bike looks really odd without the tank.
As you can gather, this isn’t a how to – there are plenty of good examples of those on YouTube and other places, and I doubt I could add anything beyond pauses to drink tea and to answer questions from passing kids about why the bike looks odd.
On the photo below, I’ve clumsily labelled the main air filter and the smaller filter. After you’ve replaced those you can give it all a quick clean and reverse the process – just remember to get the tank sat correctly around the 2 nubs on the main frame, and not on top, though it’ll be obvious when you’ve gotten it wrong.
The second photo shows the old and new. I don’t have a picture of the sub-element as it somewhat fell to pieces when I I removed it, which shows it was definitely time to be done.
So that’s another job done, and this post is to remind me and anyone else to not forget the unsung air filters, and that it’s so simple even I can do it myself.
It’s that sinking feeling you get when you haven’t been on the motorbike for a week or two, and you pull the cover off, turn the key, watch the rev needle pulse across, then hit the ignition button to hear a whelp and that empty clicking which tells me that this battery is not holding charge how it used to.
Actually, I’ve known for a while this day was coming, partly because when I put it on the Optimate at the end of December it didn’t give it a great rating, and partly because it’s now four and a half years old.
What to do? Well, what to do is to push the bike a hundred metres on the flat to the top of the hill near where we live, sit on it, trying to appear like just a normal, average biker, then start rolling the bike down that hill, let it get some momentum up and then drop that thing into second gear and hear it roar!
Perhaps not roar, but turn over for sure. At the very least.
This never fails – except for that one time when it did fail, when I’d had the previous battery, when I’d left it for far too long before replacing it, that roar moment never arrived, and I had to push the bike back up the hill to our house, where I then sat grumpily drinking tea for an hour wishing I was out on the road. Good exercise for sure, but not actually fun, per se.
The other times when it does work, you can then ride off and enjoy yourself and blissfully forget about that battery issue until after the next non-ignition, and another rolling start.
Not this time! No pushing motorbikes uphill again, I would actually do something about in a matter of days, not weeks this time.
I went off to NAPS to see what a new battery was going to set me back. NAPS is a motorbike superstore of sorts, selling clothing to tyres to mods and doing general maintenance works.
I’d done my homework of course – Amazon Japan had the battery model I needed for 10,500yen, but would take a week to ten days to be delivered, but I like buying local, and according to the NAPS website, I should come into their shop to check out the deals on batteries!
Indeed, deals there were. As long as you wanted Furukawa batteries. There were great deals on many Furukawa batteries. The only problem was that I didn’t want a Furukawa battery – they do make great batteries, they really do, but they’re expensive, and even with a 30% discount they were 20,000yen for my bike, when what I wanted was more of what I had – a basic GS Yuasa unit. Alas, GS Yuasa were not included in the great battery sale really, meaning my battery would cost me a little over 15,000yen. I don’t believe in using shops as a showroom and then buying online, but – it’s a battery, there’s an identical one in my bike already, and sadly 30% is a bit more than I’d usually pay for buying local.
Given the notes on Amazon, I expected to have to wait for a week at least. The battery actually arrived two days later. That’s pretty good service to be fair.
All that remained to do was pull the old one out, and put this new one in. On my model of bike it’s really simple – take the seat off, remove one screw, pull a flap down, then remove the battery and put the new one in. It’s as easy as that – literally a five minute job, depending on tea requirements and neighbours asking what you’re doing.
The moral of this story then is to perform regular battery maintenance (the Optimate has always been good it seems), and to buy a new battery when you need to. And yes, my bike is over a decade old and has this thing called a ‘carburetor’, having a flat battery with more modern injection systems can be more complicated.
I actually felt a little let down by NAPS. Their website, by not giving me a price on the GS Yuasa item, and recommending to go to the shop was a little false as there was no sale on that item. That said, this is business, and it’s always nice to browse in NAPS, and I did remember to pick up some chain cleaner I needed anyway. You got me.