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.
I’d never been to a motorcycle show, so when the 43rd annual Tokyo Motorcycle Show rolled around this year, I decided I should take the 20min train journey down to the Big Sight venue from my workplace, and see how it was.
To set expectations, this isn’t a top tier bike show like EICMA, there aren’t usually major new bike announcements made there, but they are generally well attended, and showing the latest announced models from most of the major manufacturers, and many boutique brands which means there are lots of motorbikes! Enough said.
So into the show. Big Sight, the upside down pyramid in Tokyo Bay, with a giant hand saw in front of it. It’s a good venue all told and it was easy to the find the way on to Halls 1 & 2.
Inside, the show filled two of the four main halls, and there was a decent crowd on the Friday afternoon, plenty of atmosphere, and a fairly diverse demographic spread of all ages, and yes mainly men, but with a decent percentage of women riders too. There was a ladies focused area, which had a lot of good advice on bike mods and models which emphasised lighter bikes, and seat height adjustments. I notice it also had a much better cafe area than the one near the entrance too. As you’d expect, there were a lot of smaller vendors, magazine vendors, parts vendors, and of course the bike manufacturers from home and abroad.
There were as many cameras as people, and most of the bike models you were able to sit on, excepting some of the more boutique bikes, such as the Italian Vyrus models, which start at 6,300,000yen (~55,000USD) and keep going to over 13,000,000yen. Ouch. But they are very nice.
I spent a little over three hours looking around, and it was worth the 1,400yen. There were plenty of people to talk to and ask questions, and some free samples and stickers, but at least whilst I was there there weren’t too many awesome give-aways.
One stall was promoting their various LED lighting systems, and had a bike all done up with sparkling glass beads, thousands of them. It looked great under the show lights, so we had a look at the stand, and even had a chat with the hard working lady whose job is was to attach the beads by hand.
So what were the highlights?
It was good to see bikes I don’t usually see really, such as the scooters from Adiva, Sym and Kymco – many of which looked very respectable – from the larger American oriented cruisers, European bikes including Norton, Royal Enfield from India, to the local Japanese bikes. All had a presence of one size or another and most of the staff were able to answer all of the questions I had, even about insurance and spares.
It’s easy to point at the Steve McQueen replica bikes, the Vyrus or high end BMW and Honda Rallye race bikes as the most memorable items, but for some reason, I quite liked the more accessible and fun items like modded Honda Super Cub Cross with a side car. Sure, I couldn’t fit in the side car, and I’m not sure what the performance would be like, but in it’s yellow and black, it looked the part.
A slightly belated greeting into 2016, which we’ll be calling Heisei 28. It’s all about the reign of the Emperors, and is designed to confuse me when I come to sort my taxes out next month.
We did the midnight tick-over at home with the family, but for Hatsuhinode – the first sunrise of the year – I was out on the motorbike to meet up with some friends. Since I was riding into the sunrise, I thought I’d get the old GoPro Hero 2 out and do a timelapse:
We met up at a Konbini, and I was able to get my traditional biking breakfast of onigiri, but this one was unfortunately common – grilled salmon (焼き鮭) but still did the trick.
Then it was time to ride back up the 134 through lighter traffic, to meet up with a few more people at the Seisho SA, which boasts a great view of the bay, clean toilets and allows you to enjoy the quality musical coffee machines. I never get bored of this Pacific Ocean road on the bike, and just have to remember to take my turn inland – it’s easy to just keep following this road down the Izu pensinsula.
From there, it was on up to the Mazda Skylounge to take in the view along the Mazda turnpike (now 520yen one way).
At the Skylounge you can guarantee a good selection of people on any given day, and here on New Year’s Day I was impressed to see a steady stream of older people – alone and in groups – come up in taxis, take in the view and perhaps have a drink, then get back in the taxis to wherever they’d come from. For myself I had a cup of tea and decided to try the chili cheese hot dog. In no way traditional, or even advisable, but it did taste pretty good. No photo sadly.
Finally, thanks to Frank for getting a line-up shot and for putting the day together:
Here’s to hoping 2016 continues as well as it started, and all the best to everyone.
It’d been quite a few weeks since I’d been out on the motorbike for a day trip, so when my old friend ‘CS’ offered up the middle day of a 3 day weekend for a trip out in November, I was up for it, and so spent some time staring at my Touring Mapple book and Google Maps to see where we could put in a few hundred kilometres.
As I’m all about style and culture, I had decided we should meet up on the infamous 246 road before moving up into the mountains of central and western Kanagawa Prefecture. The meeting place: The Eastern Gods Truck Station. Well technically it’s the Toushin Truck Station, but the literal translation of the kanji sounds a lot better in my opinion. Yes, it’s a truck stop – a fair sized one too – with a restaurant, showers, some rooms, and of course ample parking for large trucks, and a smaller area for vans. We parked up in the latter car and van park, CS’s Triumph Tiger 1200 dwarfing some of the vans, whilst everything dwarfed my CB400.
A cup of tea and a catch-up later we were on the 246 for a little while before heading north on the 412 and then moving onto the 413 and pushing west. The 413 is a decent road – well surfaced, the odd narrow portion, with plenty of twisties to play on. For the most part you’re going along valleys, but at elevation, so expect some dampness and mist, especially on an overcast day like we were on. It was at this point I discovered the mist loved settling on my visor and stubbornly refused to roll off, so I need to sort that out.
About half way along, we came across a rest area near the town of Doshi, and sailing past all those people in cars who like to queue for parking spaces, we parked up in the bike area which was packed with bikes and bikers – men, women and children of all ages, with all manner of bikes, trikes and quads. It was a good place to take a break, with people queuing for various hot snacks or grilled chicken, pork, vegetables , some tasty looking grilled fish, as well as a shop selling powdered radish roots, fresh veg and other things there was no way I could fit on my bike. In the end I had a bottle of hot lemon juice from the the vending machine. A missed opportunity in retrospect – I should have queued for the grilled fish.
Back on the road, more twisties, but then a slower section in traffic around lake Yamanaka. I always like the lakes around Mt. Fuji, especially for the novelty ferries. I didn’t take a picture, but Yamanaka had the giant swan ferry on the water as we rode past.
Another missed food opportunity here: we went past several nice local places and pulled away from the commercialized lake area,and only when we were stopping for some fuel did we decide we were hungry, by which point our only real option was the nearby Royal Host. It’s perfectly acceptable as a place to eat, but as a franchise, we’d usually avoid it.
As CS has a GPS system, he oddly likes to make use of it, and due to this, it likes to run him a merry jaunt on occasion. This time, instead of taking us to a small tea house on a mountain road I had spied on Google Maps, it decided we really wanted to sit in more traffic around the outskirts of the larger Kawaguchi lake in a market stalls area where it continued to confidently claim the tea shop was always 3 minutes away,.
After fifteen minutes, we called it out, told it we weren’t happy, did U-turns and followed my direction following my paper map. That was better. Or at least it was better for a while, since on the 137, we were to look for road 708, a svelte mountain road where this legendary tea shop would be waiting for us. Unfortunately CS was a couple of cars in front of me, and he missed the turn. This left me bombing up the road thinking I was way behind, arriving at the beautiful tea-shop and realising it was just me. Long story short, CS did finally locate the place, and it was worth it.
It’s called Tenkachaya (天下茶屋), as in, ‘whole world under heaven’ tea shop. They also make and sell senbei rice crackers. There’s no parking as such, and the collection of cars and bikes basically hug the sides of the road. Inside it’s all wood, modestly lit, and very relaxing. The staff were really friendly, and explained what was available in the shop and on the menu. That’s when we noticed we’d misunderstood something. They do sell tea – indeed they give you a complimentary cup when you sit down – but their speciality is a blend coffee. I had to have one, and yes, it was very good. Also, the senbei were sweet, sort of lemon flavoured, and the staff advised us to break them in their plastic wrappers before eating because they could probably stop a bullet. They do taste rather good though, so we bought some as omiyage to take away too. It’s by itself really on that 708 road, which the tunnel making it far quicker to get to and from the lake, but it is worth the ride/drive up for a rest stop and to take in the view.
After that good rest we started winding our way towards the Chuo expressway, joining at it’s southern starting point, and following it east. There was plenty of traffic – perhaps people returning Sunday night to avoid the read traffic insanity of the Monday return, so we ended up filtering for a couple of kilometres before stopping before the Hachioji junction where we parted ways. My route would take me onto the newer Ken-O extension south. I like the road as it’s not so busy, there’s plenty of distance between junctions, and even though there aren’t yet service areas, it’s a relaxing ride though I should note, there’s no street lights along some sections, so with just me on my bike, even with the headlight on, it felt oddly isolated.
The only notable thing on that final stretch was that all the auto-payment arches (ETC) were broken on my exit ramp, so I had to stop and get off my bike, get my bike seat off to give the chap on the gate my ETC card so he could manually check it through, then put it all back together. I’ve never had to do that before. Odd really.
All in all a good day out.
(An aside here: the lake is called Kawaguchiko. That ‘ko’ denotes lake [湖], and though most signs in English say Lake Kawaguchiko, it’s technically Lake Kawaguchi I think).
We were out in the agricultural hills of central Kanagawa prefecture a couple of weeks ago, and stopped off at the 90 year old home of the Hekkoro / Gonbachi restaurant. It’s an old style wooden Japanese farm house, old wooden floors, a casual table layout, and the back is adorned with artwork from local art classes, mainly from children.
Aside from serving some very decent food using local vegetables and making dishes from noodles to curry, it also allows you to read some of the books they have, and even do some shodou (書道 /calligraphy), which a couple of junior high school kids did actually do whilst we were there. On the day we went it was raining, and as you can see, the condensation on the doors to the garden was a relaxing backdrop to the calligraphy table.
I’ve covered Kiva a few times over the years I’ve been ‘lending’ through it, so I thought I’d put up a post about where I am as we copme to the end of 2015.
At the end of 2014, I’d lent 125USD total in 3 years, and lamented I was far behind the average 330USD lend rate, and having just 50USD to rotate through loans.
Now I’ve got 105USD on deposit with Kiva, and have made 300USD in loans. I’ve also donated some money to Kiva itself. I think that counts as a good year for my Kiva involvement, and I hope in 2016 I can put a little more in there. I also collected all 7 of the ‘Social Performance’ badges, which is one of the ways Kiva tries to gamify the experience a little.
One thing I will say though is that I see quite a lot of small US businesses on there now, which you wouldn’t see before, such as a Manhattan fresh food start up. It’s certainly no bad thing, just something I hadn’t noted before. For my part, I think I’ll keep my small loan rotation focused on other parts of the world.
Imagine if there was a place called ‘such is life’ . Well, potentially in Japan, there is, and it’s a huge dam.
I say potentially, as it’s a bit of a kanji joke – the name – Ogouchi – is written in kanji as 小河内, which with a liberal interpretation, could phonetically be read as ‘shouganai’, which is the Japanese equivalent of ‘such is life’. Yes, puns in Japanese can be many layered.
Anyway, getting past all that, when I found the Shouganai Dam on the map, I knew I had to go and take a look – partly for the name, partly because dams are usually impressive, but mainly because the twisty roads through the mountains to it were just so enticing to a biker such as myself.
I planned my route similar to my previous Tanzawa / Yabitsu Touge route, because it’s accessible but fun, coming in from the south on route 246, keeping on the back roads and those mountain routes pretty much all the way up, but then planned to come out to the east through the rural roads, and then get on the Ken O expressway to come back [map at the end of the post].
On the Road
I was out of my house by seven am sharp, and the weather was fantastic – dry, sunshine, mid 20s degC., not too humid, and made my way up to the Route 246 in fairly light traffic. Some people may have seen Route 246 as a course on Gran Tourismo. In real life, on a bad day, it’s far worse, especially in mid Kanagawa, where is it one of the main free roads west. Fortunately for me, Saturday morning wasn’t too busy and I could make good time, and not have to stop at every single traffic light, every 100metres, which is sometimes the case.
A few Km down and it was time for the interesting right turn onto Route 70. Interesting for a couple of reasons, mainly the convenience store after the right, which I usually stop off at for a breakfast snack, and partly for the petrol station on the opposite corner – a great place to fuel up, but between the crossroads and the various entrances/exits for these two businesses, you have to be a little careful on two wheels.
Whenever I have to use franchised outlets for things, I prefer to at least try something new, and this time, at that 7-11 on the corner, they had a new onigiri (rice ball) – dry curry – which they even heated up for me. It was nice. It was very nice. I would recommend it. You can also chat to the many cyclists and bikers who often use the place as a meet up spot, as it effectively marks the beginning for people starting a run on the Yabitsu pass.
Route70 is a pleasure to ride – starting off with gentle curves, a steady incline, not many traffic lights, and lightly used roads. As you get up to the pass roper (as delineated by a larger bus stop, a gate, and a small bridge), the road narrows and widens, the bends are sharper, compensated for by fantastic views off one side – just beware cyclists coming the other way at speed down! I think I did a whole post on the Yabitsu Pass, or Yabitsu Touge as it’s known.
At the end of the pass there are a few ways to go, but this time, as I was heading further north, I took a left I’d not taken before, and since I was getting a little thirsty, I was looking for somewhere to stop. Then, just a few hundred metres from the junction, there was this nice Sunkus with some patio tables outside, so I bought a lettuce sandwich and an ice coffee, and watched all the various two wheeled vehicles come and go for a while, before setting off again, and regretting I hadn’t brought my CamelBak water-bottle on what was turning into a nice hot day.
Off again, from Route 64 to 518, twisting higher up into the next group of mountains, then a few junctions and up to Route 76, and over into Fujino. I wasn’t planning to, but I actually got off to take a few photos there – it’s a small almost-town where two rivers meet. It’d be very picturesque if it weren’t for the factory perched up on one mountainside. I’m going to say it’s a concrete factory, but I can’t back that up.
More uphill turns which were plenty of fun, and just great cornering out of and above Fujino, and keeping an eye out for a petrol station, since I’d hit the half tank point and I like full tanks. I missed one, a nice, small, local one which I kind of regret as there was a small group chatting on the forecourt, and so I ended up a few kilometres later on at a Cosmo – nice people though. Then I was through Uenohara, which seemed like a tranquil town save for its very congested main road, then up again into the countryside up to the dam. I came in from the south, weaving along the narrow road, but always with fantastic views, until I came to a small car park on one corner, overlooking the lake.
Actually, that lay-by had a camera club or something there, all with nice looking cameras with large zoom lenses all adorned with camouflage for some reason – I mean, they’re sat next to silver cars in a stopping area, chatting, so they’re not exactly blending in to the wilderness but I’d guess there is some bird watching to be done. One chap was also flying his drone out over the valley – I should have asked him where he uploaded to. I should have asked what birds they were hoping to spot too.
More twisties and we’re down to the level of the rivers and the lake behind the dam, and some nice small bridges. The lake is called Okutama, after the local area, and the small nearby town. I stopped to have a drink at one of a couple of restaurants nearby – both looked a little worn, but the staff were friendly, and the drinks were cold, and on a hot day like it had become, that was enough in itself.
Then it was on to the dam itself, which is a huge wall of concrete as one might expect. There’s a visitors centre, and a generous carpark too, which is free. On this day, it was pretty much empty, but given the coach spaces and the visitors centre having a lot of child friendly areas, I suspect it gets a lot of school visits.
I decided to take a walk across the top of the dam, despite the heat, and even though it is what it is, it’s still impressive to see a 100m plus drop on one side, and water on the other. I also went up one of the viewing towers, which have some basic models in them and don’t add much beyond some welcome air conditioning.
There’s not much on the other side of the dam – a shrine for the areas drowned, and presumably those who died in its construction, and a hiking route, which I followed for a couple of kilometres, but biker gear is not the best wear to go mountain hiking in this kind of heat! I’d be interested in coming back and doing it though, as it looks like a nice route.
It’s a very tranquil place all told, and I spent a couple of hours sitting and walking around it, talking a little with the staff in the towers and visitors centre, so it was a good destination, even though I was more interested in the way of getting up there.
Leaving the dam was simple enough though there are a couple of road signage oddities which clearly sent some people the wrong way, but I headed out from the east, through tunnels which varied in age from bubble era 1980s concrete ones, to ones which dripped water from their ceilings, and which I imagined had been blasted out in the early 1900s. The road out isn’t as twisty to the east and you soon get on roads which are more frequently punctuated by villages, but it’s still a nice run.
I’d taken a little longer than I planned up to the dam and at it, so I was thinking of ending the day with some expressway riding, and make use of the extension to the Ken O to Ebina and Chigasaki. It was a nice fast run, but there aren’t any services on it, so make sure you take a toilet break or have a drink before you get on! As a new road of course – and not busy when I got to it – the asphalt was beautifully smooth, and it was nice to watch houses and rice fields fly past (at the legal speed limit of course).
All in all, another great day out, and I’d go back to Ogouchi to be honest – great runs, friendly people to chat with on the way, and plenty of small places to stop and check out.
Here’s a few more pictures, which include the obligatory bike shot: