Another quick 1 second a day video. More of Tokyo and the suburbs, and a couple of days in Okinawa. I think I got a little more variety, but there’s still some similar shots which means I need to plan a little more! It’s surprising how addictive and helpful these short shot collages are.
It’s fair to say that I like to get outdoors. Although I’m not a frequent or avid camper, now that the kids are sort of old enough, I think it’s important we all get out and get some outdoors and tent time in.
We first went together in 2012, but for a pile of reasons we missed last year, and so this year we’re trying to make up the trip count. June is part of Japan’s rainy season, but undaunted I booked a spot at a place I hadn’t camped at before up in the mountains, near a river,called Yamagoya. It’s only a bit over an hour from the house, so I thought that if it turned into a complete disaster I’d just have to up sticks and it would be a short drive back.
As the date came up, it was clear it would rain at some point. On the day we drove up it was raining, and when we arrived, I expected the kids to complain, but actually they loved it, and I have to say, they didn’t complain once during the whole weekend.
The site is small, running about 100m along a small river bank. Come the real summer they’re mainly set up with family sized BBQ sites, but right now they just had a few tarps up covering about half of them. They actually only have 3 designated tent pitches. This was the first odd point – the pitches were away from the river, and broadly flat, but they’d put several layers of stones there, which may have helped run-off and drainage, but made getting the tent pegs in quite a bit harder, and of course the rain makes everything more slippery. Like the previous camp though, I set up my GoPro on time lapse, and afterwards made a video from it – the kids love watching the tent go up at high speed!
The stones could have been a bigger issue, had I not brought our Thermarests, of which I’ve become a bit of a fan over the last few years, meaning for the kids especially, they could get comfy in their sleeping bags on one of these mattresses, and get some sleep.
Once the tent was up we went in to the adjoining cafe for some lunch. They only have a small menu, very Japanese oriented, which is fine, but not much for the kids. That said, the tofu salad and udon we ordered was excellent, and we could divide it between the three of us. They also do desserts and kakigouri (shaved ice with some fruit cordial), which obviously did go down well with the kids. It wasn’t expensive, given they’re serving a relatively captive audience, but marginally more expensive than a family restaurant.
As the rain came down gently, it was actually quite picturesque, looking down the river, and off a slight cliff down the valley. The kids were happy with my decision that since they were wet anyway, paddling into the river a little wasn’t going to do any more damage, so we passed quite a bit of time just exploring the riverbank and the site.
One of the best things about camping is cooking outside though, and it’s something my kids like too. For normal meals at home they can sometimes be picky, but when it comes off a BBQ or the camping stoves, there are no arguments. The drizzle had let up a little, so I broke out our two stoves – one is my normal lightweight backpacker stove, the other is a domestic ‘cassette gas’ burner. I found one of the set out tarps which was anchored quite high up, and set up just below and to one side of it – you don’t want to be melting or setting fire to tarps – so we got some rain shelter and played safe. I do like cooking outdoors, and with two stoves, got some spaghetti bolognese going.
One thing I was glad I brought is my Gerber multi-tool – I somehow bent one of the guide lips on my camping stove, and had to gently bend it back into shape with my pliers.
There wasn’t any showers that I noticed, but the toilets were clean enough for a camp site, and part of a concrete building, so the kids weren’t too fussed about it. It’s still odd to me that the same kids who complain about a small mosquito at home, don’t seem bothered by much bigger insects when they’re camping.
Let’s talk about insects. I don’t really have a problem with insects when I’m outdoors, with the possible exception of the midges in Scotland. Insects live outside, it’s what they do. However, twice over the weekend, I must have looked like a tempting and tasty target to Yamaburi, which are Japanese mountain leeches, and I had to remove them both forcefully, but safely (well, safe for me, not so much for them). They’re hardy things I can tell you.
I should probably discuss something about the staff at the site too. They’re very nice and polite, but a little slow, and aren’t entirely intuitive. I noticed this when I booked the site as I booked over a week ahead, confirming everything down to kids ages, arrival and departure times. When my wife called a few days before to check on things (if they rented towels etc.) she got into a weird conversation that the booking was somehow not complete. Finally she got confirmation that actually it was all booked. We still don’t know what the story was there. If it wasn’t complete, why hadn’t they called the mobile number I’d provided. I wonder if they’re the off-peak part timers?
All in all then, a good, simple one night camp. I think we’ll go back later in the year, and take advantage of one of the BBQ spots, as well as the tent pitches, as that would be fun. All that remains is for me to find out how to dissuade the local leeches, or a better way to remove them (if you have any ideas, please add to the comments).
A few of us who live in this area of Japan (Shonan) are putting together a small blog about the place, and write some bits about locations, shops, foods, festivals and all of that and we’re calling it Shonan Press. I put my first piece up on there regarding Enoshima – it’s a great place to visit, and I’ve included a decent variety of photos from the place. I’m looking forward to getting more content up there! Feedback appreciated.
Whenever I get a half day to take a run out on the bike, there’s always the decision to be made about whether I should go somewhere new, take some random turns, get off the beaten track, or go somewhere I know, tried and tested. Not always, if ever, an easy decision.
Earlier this week then, when I got that time, I went conservative and decided to do a run I know I can get through in about 6 hours, even with some vital stops for tea: down the Pacific coastal route 134, then up to the Dammtrax Cafe near Hakone in the mountains, then down the toll based Izu Skyline. Then back pretty much the same way.
I’ve written about this route before simply because I really like it – I even did a video for it over a year ago:
For me it kicks off with some nice straight and fast roads down towards the beach with great head-on views of Mt. Fuji in the morning mist, then out along route 134.
At 7am, there’s not usually much traffic, but since they’re widening the whole thing right now, there were some road works, but those of us on two wheels can usually get down the sides without too many problems – it’s worth noting that the vast majority of Japanese car drivers are quite happy to stay away from that left hand curb and give riders some space. Unless you’re being really obnoxious anyway.
It’s a mix of toll roads – none of them too expensive – until this point, but I usually take them over the free local routes to get that nice elevation above the beach and ocean. You can ride along, see the early morning fishermen on the piers and the beach, the waves coming up the beach – it’s very relaxing. Along this section there’s a service area often used as a meeting point for bikers, so if you’re looking for a quick drink and a chat with like minded individuals, it’s great. I remember stopping in early one February, the kind of morning where ice was forming on the front of bikes – chilly. Unlike on those spring and summer days when the place is packed, there were just three of us, all out on our own, clutching hot drinks next to the bikes, generally not understanding those who don’t ride year round, and also realising it was likely us that were a bit nuts
That beach section, like most roads here, is in good condition, but as it’s been assembled in concrete sections, you get that rhythmic bounce at each join, like a train on it’s tracks.
There are a few routes into the mountains, but the two I usually choose between are the Toyo Tires Turnpike, and the Hakone Pass. The latter is free, but the Turnpike takes you straight to the cafe, and I think is a more entertaining ride up.
Either way, from here on out, it’s twisties, twisties and more twisties.
The Dammtrax cafe is a part of a general service area – it would like to be the smaller sibling of the famous Ace Cafe near London – and has a lot of photos and memorabilia from that place, but it’s not, it’s a corner of a food hall which also offers ice cream and ramen. That’s not to say it doesn’t have the idea – the staff are great, you can buy random biker items, and on most days, you’ll be sat with a bunch of bikers. The car park is huge though, and in the spring and summer months, owners clubs, manufacturers and other motor vehicle related vendors set stands up to sell their products and often have giveaways. In peak season you could probably spend a couple of hours just looking around at all the cars, bikes and talking to the people.
From here though, it’s a short run down route 20 to the upper entrance to the Skyline, and from there, it’s just over 40Km of fun. There are places to stop along the way, and at the halfway mark there’s a service area which sell the usual Japanese selection of gift foods and vegetables and food.
One odd thing along the route, a few kilometres from the beginning is an abandoned building, claiming to be an Energy and Environment Building, if you’re into abandoned building (‘haikyo‘) then this one might want to go on your list. I didn’t go inside, just walked the perimeter; I like the design, and that there’s a drive in ramp (though not I suspect for vehicles really). I’ve ridden past it so many times, but never stopped. Next time I’m up there I might take a closer look at the ramp.
The Skyline is a great road though, good surface, plenty of slopes, turns and enough straights that you can escape slow cars and buses if you get unlucky enough to be behind one. Don’
There’s also a lot of places to pull over for photos, since the road gets you great views of Fuji on one side, and the ocean coast on the other. If you keep your eyes open (so to speak) you’ll also see the odd farm track leading off the road – I’ve followed a couple of these, and they are a lot of fun. This time I rode up one for a few kilometres, and it was great to see a camp site I didn’t know existed, and a really nice stream and some waterfalls- a good place for a cup of tea from the flask.
The end of the Skyline is always a bit of a let down – there’s nothing there after the toll booth – just a long closed down restaurant place. A weird anticlimax, it’s also not very photogenic, though like the Energy Museum, I should probably look into it’s history.
It’s a new year, so in a fit of preparation, I decided to go and make sure my tax links were all correct before next month when I sit down, watch Black Books Series 1, Episode 1, then figure out how much money I owe the Japanese government.
My first stop for this is always The National Tax Agency website. The English page may look a little 1998-esque, but importantly:
1) There is an English page;
2) It provides a link to the English language summary guide for filling in your tax forms (2013 .pdf here, if you’re interested).
I might write this up next month when I do the taxes, but I have to say that doing your own taxes isn’t so bad. It’s easier than some other things here for sure, and the people involved are actually usually very helpful.
Back to my original point. I was looking around the page and much of it is quite dry, with very dull sounding links like, “Commissioner’s Directive on the Mutual Agreement Procedures (Administrative Guidelines)“, and “Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States issue internal guidance to improve the Mutual Agreement Procedure and Bilateral Advance Pricing Arrangement processes“. Thrilling stuff.
Then, you find links like, “The results of Sake Awards”. I have no idea where that fits on any governments tax pages, but there is a very decent page outlining the winners out of various sake (rice wine) breweries in their pursuit of excellence.
However, the winner of the “Links I Don’t Expect to Find on a Government Tax Page” award goes to:
For the purpose of providing consumers with safe and good quality alcoholic beverages, the NTA conducts radioactive examination for alcoholic beverages including those for exports.
So basically, the tax men and women of Japan have managed to get a gig where they have to spend lots of time with alcohol in order to … er … test for radiation safety. And to ensure good quality! The health and foods ministries must be upset they missed out on that job, especially since they seem to have issued the testing guidelines.
Now and then, I like I take a day to go over the bay to Chiba and just run some of the twisties on that peninsula on the motorbike. It was a nice day, and after a 7am start, took a relaxing ride down the coastal road to Kurihama to meet a friend, and take the ferry over – just a nice relaxing 40 minute boat ride, and time for a chat and a cup of tea on the way over. There’s usually a few bikers on this ferry, and a decent percentage on dirt bikes, as Boso apparently has quite a few kilometres of off-road for those so inclined.
My friend was looking to give his new Triumph Tiger Explorer a good run on some twisties, and I was looking to simply have a more successful run than last time. When we came over in March, we had stopped for a traffic light when some genius in an SUV rammed my bike, forcing me almost 10 metres forward and effectively stopping the run before lunch. That day, dealing with the police and the hospital meant we’d lost most of the day, but with bits taped up on my bike, the police at least let me ride it home.
For some reason, I get a really simple pleasure from riding my bike on and off ferries, and we found some great little twisties along the way, very little traffic, some nice views, and generally had a good time.
We stopped for lunch, originally intending to eat at an Italian restaurant we saw, but it turned out – after we’d walked in – that it was closed; generally unless there’s a sign outside saying “Closed”, I work on the theory a place is open. Anyway, it wasn’t, but the upside was that the neighbouring ramen place was, so we settled for that, and in a great piece of serendipity, the place turned out to be fantastic and quite cheap. Getting good food on a run is always good, with the bonus that you can balance your expanded stomach on the tank when you set off again. The only downside – I lost the receipt and forgot to mark the place on my map.
The Boso area is very different to the crowded urban Chiba bordering Tokyo; where we were it was very rural, lots of fields and hills, though I got this sense that it’s faintly run down – we passed a lot of abadoned or disused buildings, and it seemed like a lot of the petrol stations had closed. I wonder how the local economy is faring nowadays since so much seemed to hark back to the bubble of almost two decades ago.
As the afternoon moved on though, the weather began to close in a little, and we opted for coming back via the Aqualine, a part bridge, part tunnel connector between Yokohama and the Boso peninsula.
I have to admit, I don’t especially like the 4Km bridge section – it’s across Tokyo Bay, it can be windy, there’s a lot of fast, big traffic, and even in good weather, it’s not so fun on a smaller (400cc) naked bike. The weather was getting worse too.
As the road goes from the bridge section on the Chiba side, to the tunnel section on the Yokohama side, there’s a very large service area called Umihotaru, which is on a man-made island. It’s basically a multistorey car park and shopping centre, well known as a bit of a date spot. We weren’t on a date, but we did stop off, if only to have a last warm drink before the last 50Km run home.
It was also raining by then, which is no real problem – the rain gear is always under the seat – but the wind was also picking up, so we got the rain gear on, and headed down in to the tunnel, then broke off from each other as I headed to the west.
My route takes me over a lot of bridges, skirting the coastal industrial areas which means a lot of wind and large lorries, but not usually anything dangerous. The wind was really cranking up though, and I was having to lean the bike into it, hunkering down low over the tank, and trying not to let the bike veer too much from my line as some cars were passing just off to my right, not really judging it well (I could easily touch a lot of wing mirrors), and then the rain started coming down.
In these conditions, on this 80Km/h road, I usually drop it down a gear, keep the revs up, and go down to about 60 Km/h, meaning that usually there are people still blasting past me and probably cursing this biker who is making them actually maneouver their nice wind shielded, dry cars.
Over one bridge and the innevitable swirling of wind around the large bridge towers, and I noticed that no one is passing me any more, but I’m still the same distance behind a tanker in front of me, so I have a look around, and it seems like this weather isn’t just affecting me – everyone is going 55 – 60 Km/h. Nice to know I’m not the only one having to be careful. After about 30 minutes the road took me a little further inland, giving some protection from the wind, to sit up a little more, increase some speed, and not have to lean in so much. I ride year round, and try to be wary of ice and such, but one thing I think I handle better now than previous years is riding in the wind – revs up, tank gripped with the old legs, arms relaxed, and hunker down over the tank.
It was nice to quietly roll up the hill to the house, a little tired from holding the bike through what seemed like the edge of a decent sized storm, but I think it was another good day out if only because it was good to feel like my biking ability had improved a bit through the twisties and that weather, which is always a good thing.
[Run length only ~260Km + ferry]
There’s something just very relaxing about coastlines and sunrises or sunsets, even as Winter moves in. After almost 5 years of living near the Japan’s Pacific coast, I just don’t seem to get bored of cycling down here, and just walking and taking some pictures (yes, almost the same picture) again and again. I’m not alone either, year round people are cycling the beach track, surfing a little, even playing beach volleyball, and I just don’t think it gets any more relaxed than this.
I’ve discovered that one of the few downsides to owning a very reliable motorbike is that even though you do the regular checks on it, there are times where you think, “When was the last time I checked that?”. For me recently that was the tyres, as I knew they’d been on quite a few years, so I did a close inspection, and whilst they had wear left, there was a small amount of crazing in some of the tread, and since I actually have a lot of riding to do over the winter, I decided it was time to swap them out.
I asked around, checked in on GaijinRiders and I was actually surprised that for the two things I needed to know, I was getting quite a few people saying the same thing – for my bike and riding style, the Michelin Pilot Road 2 tyres would fit the bill, and the best place to get them fitted was a small shop in Setagaya in Tokyo called Speed Stars.
I called them a couple of days before to confirm the tyre and the dimensions, and they’d said they’d need to order the tyres in, which I thought might mean a week or so wait – actually it would be the next evening. That’s just good service and market knowledge.
The shop is about an hour from me, but it’s a decent run on a good road, so no problems there. The day I went the weather was miserable and raining, but I’m an all weather rider, so I got on the rain gear and the trusty 2006 Honda CB400 SF to make the run.
The SpeedStar people come across as really friendly, and had the job done in less than an hour. I’d actually arrived a few minutes after they opened and there was already a couple of people in – I get the feeling this place is really popular. I waited in the adjoining cafe they own, where the staff were friendly, even showing me around her own bike (a nice Harley) and chatted until the new tyres were on. They’ve got a very nice atmosphere there, and it’s the kind of place which is worth stopping in if you happen to be passing in Setagaya. The pricing was good too – cheaper than NAPS, and there’s a small discount for paying cash, but even if NAPS were a little cheaper, I’d still go to SpeedStar just for the people and service.
I’ve now done a few hundred kilometers on the Road Pilot 2s, and they really area a good tyre – very stable with good cornering and you can really feel the improved rolling characteristics over the old Battlax. That cornering is going to be important – I love riding the twisties.
I’m looking forward to getting a few thousand more kilos under these.
In what is becoming something of a tradition here now, I’m posting something I did almost 3 months ago – simply filming a second or so or video a day, and putting it together in chronological order, which is something that I’ve seen a lot of people do, and I actually kind of enjoyed doing it myself. Maybe I’ll do it again for August since I’ll be on holiday during it.