In Which We Ride... A Scot and South African go Long Haul

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by SuperSonicRocketship, Aug 20, 2016.

  1. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

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    Day 378

    Tokyo

    It's seems that every other day my mind is being blown by some corner of the planet. It's happened again here in Tokyo, but for very different reasons.

    Anyone who has ever bothered to follow this report will know that I hate large cities. I do just about everything in my power to avoid them, and when I can't avoid them, I usually have a terrible time. I fall easy victim to the heavy traffic, pollution, over population, and general disharmony that comes with all large cities.

    The Tokyo metropolitan area is the most populated place on Earth. Top of the List. London, Delhi, New York, Shanghai and Paris all just mere rugrats when compared to Tokyo's urban core.

    As the train pulled into our stop in Central Tokyo I was mentally preparing myself for Hell. I feel I am at war with big cities, and I prepare myself as such. As we ascended the stairs to exit the station I could slowly see the street level drop into view. We were to take our first meaningful steps on real Japanese soil. We had booked a Hostel by the Akihabara District, more commonly known as The Electric City.

    I have never seen such an array of colour and sound in my life. Lights, neon, banners, screens, robots, speakers, and anything else that could possibly snag your attention hangs from every available edge of the high rise buildings. It looks as if a kind of survival of the strongest has evolved here in regards to advertising. If your neighbours sign is 20 foot long and flashing blue, then it's imperative for your future survival that you install a neon pink and green rotating holographic one at least twice the size. There is so much incoming visual information that it's near impossible process what you are seeing. Finding something as simple as a street sign is quite difficult amidst the carnival atmosphere and 24 hour light show. As expected there are people in endless streams, including a huge foreign and tourist presence. That day I had read that there are 9 million people in Central Tokyo and 37 million in the whole urban zone. To stand amongst it is enough reason to visit alone.

    But it's not Hell which I had prepared for.

    The people are courteous, aware and considerate of the existence of others. When they walk, they tend drift to the left, faster walkers pass on the right. Bicycles have bells fitted, yet I have never yet heard one used. Instead they wait patiently for an appropriate gap in the crowds. The traffic can only be described as negligible. There are barely any cars on the road. No smoky trucks, no battered delivery vans, what little traffic does exist is neatly organised into lanes. They obey lights and signs. I hear no horns, no revving, I see no swarms at the junctions trying to save a microsecond on the next change of lights. Everything flows extremely neatly.

    Tokyo is enormous. There is urban mass as far as you can see in every direction, and yet it is as organised, as neat, and as pleasant as a country burgh in rural Switzerland. How have they managed this? How is it possible? Where are the homeless? You'd be extremely hard pressed to find a single piece of rubbish on the streets, even stranger is that you'd be equally as stumped to actually find a bin to dispose of it. Among all of this visual chaos, there is an underlying foundation of purpose and order.

    Sheer class.

    Since that first encounter with the Electric city we have had time to explore. We have been in Tokyo for 5 days now and spent every minute of it getting lost in the maze of streets. Tokyo is split into wards, each as large as a city in it's own right and all of them have their own feel and vibe. Some are ultra-high end shopping districts with the most expensive imported European fashion items money can buy. Others are dedicated to specific things like electronics and gaming. Another area attracts anime and comic shops. To the South there is the enormous working fish market and seafood district. To the North lies a museum quarter. A specific street exists, perhaps half a mile long, purely for souvenir shops. There is an area with slot machines and gambling halls, and we even found a motorcycle district. I've never seen a city be so specifically divided into sectors like this before. It's really strange to be inside it. Like a gigantic city-scale department store, where you can spend the morning in the electronics section and then take the metro over to spend the afternoon in the seafood isle.

    There is a beautiful harmony and balance to the whole city too. Tokyo has embraced the modern world like nowhere else has. Everything that can be automated and made electronic has been - except for when the human element is required. Amongst the webs of neon you can still find traditional chefs serving hand prepared food from cosy red-paper lantern shopfronts - and it's not for the tourists either, most of these menus don't come with an English option.

    There is a great intensity and atmosphere about it all too. Every part of the city we have been to is so full of life. You are constantly surrounded by noise and activity - the time just flies. Hours pass like minutes as a traveler in Tokyo. I'm actually finding it quite hard to draw a parallel to it. In my mind there is nowhere to compare it to. Where else could even have this kind of intensity? I guess I always talked about how India is an assault on the senses, Mumbai for example is like someone went into the settings and turned up the colour contrast, but Tokyo is different. India is old, the colours are very deeply embedded, the noise is raw, and chaos just crashes through the veins of the land itself. India is oak, leather and brass. Japan however feels new; it is carbon, neon and steel, the noises are the beeping and whirrs of a billion components... at least upon first glance, but the more time you spend here you see that it didn't get like this overnight. I'm fascinated to know how such an ancient and traditional culture ended up with the most futuristic city on Earth.

    I can see us spending quite a while here.

    Love,
    Brucie
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  2. BillUA

    BillUA Las Vegas, NV

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    • Brucie, your description of Tokyo is outstanding. I see that you flew in to NRT and experienced the efficiency of the Japanese directly. I have spent the most time in Japan outside of my home country. I always somewhat struggled to try to explain to my friends back home what Tokyo was like. You have given the explanation a great texture in the Brucie fashion and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You captured the essence of Tokyo. Well done!
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  3. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

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    Hey Bill

    Yeh the efficiency of the Japanese is astounding, it's all emphasised by the fact that we had the complete shambles of continental Asia to compare it to. I took a bit of extra time to write that one out. Usually i scribble an update in 10-15 minutes, but I sat over an extra long lunch to think how to describe Tokyo eefectively.

    It's an amazing place!
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  4. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

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    Day 379

    Enamoured and Distracted

    I have fallen in love with the city. We have spent every day walking without direction among the streets, and every night blowing all our cash in the retro arcades. I found an original Bomber Man and Super Mario arcade game for 70p per play - a bargain too good to pass up. Most days I find myself in a state of shock at the Japanese peoples ability to animate absolutely any object or concept. They will draw a little face and limbs on anything if prompted, and I don't just mean individual people doing this, but massive corporations and even government run campaigns. The emblem for passenger safety on the government operated Tokyo Metro is a cartoon sushi with a face on it. One of the largest buildings we seen in the downtown skyline has a flashing yellow and green dog as a logo. In the Supermarket next to the Hostel is a giant screen with a 24/7-loop video animation of small pieces of food, with faces drawn on them, who sing and dance their way onto a grill and then jump into peoples mouths to the background of strange trippy music. You must keep in mind that this is the primary advertising solution for a major supermarket chain who are seeking to target the local adult population to shop at their store.

    It's mesmorising.

    But all this distraction was blowing us off course. As much as i'd love to spend the entire trip budget on the 1985 edition of Super Mario Bros. We do need to find a set of wheels for the Japan leg of the trip, plus we had a fairly substantial pile of gear to replace. A year and half on the road had pushed some of our camp gear to the limit.

    The plan was simply to drop in and rent a motorcycle for Japan. Easy right? We done that in Vietnam and Sri Lanka when it was impossible to take our own vehicle, and it worked out great... But plainly put Japan is not Vietnam or Sri Lanka. It went down a little something like this;

    "I'm very sorry, but without a credit card matching the name on each rental agreement we cannot issue you a motorcycle." - The Rental Agent for the largest rental company in Japan.

    "But I can pay the entire amount in cash today?" - Me, stuck in my old ways.

    "I'm sorry but it's not possible, no cash or debit card allowed. Only credit card as guarantee." -The final word.

    In short; this is a problem. In order to rent a motorcycle as a foreigner in Japan each rider must produce a credit card per person, per bike, as a security against any damage or theft incurred. We don't have a credit card... never mind one each. I've never needed one in my life, and up until about 11am today I never thought I would. They won't accept the card of a family member nor an outright cash payment. I tried my usual under the counter trickery but in Japan it's worth nothing. It's all by the book here.

    Ah.

    We haven't since come up with a plan B as of yet. To be honest Kylas knee is quite enjoying the rest and frankly I am so heavily distracted by Tokyos ability to dazzle that I haven't thought of an alternative. The fact is, this ain't Russia. I can't just slide a $20 bill over the counter and have my problems evaporate. If we can't rent a bike... then we can't rent a bike. We may have to either rent a car for a couple of weeks, if they will accept a debit card, find someone who is willing to loan us their private bike, requiring bravery from everyone involved, or perhaps just proceed by public transport. Neither cars nor trains excite me as much as a bike does, but as Kyla said last month when her knee exploded; The show must go on.

    We will mull over our options for a few more days before we make a decision. We are in no rush to leave Tokyo just yet and we have barely done half of the things we hope to do here.

    Love,
    Brucie
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  5. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

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    Day 381

    Flashbacks

    Two whole days of inquiries was quite enough to confirm what we were hoping to avoid. Motorcycle rental agencies in Japan will absolutely not rent a motorcycle to a non-Japanese citizen without credit card details as a security deposit.

    "No credit card, no bikes Mr McCandless! We can't take your cash." - My plea goes unanswered for perhaps the sixth time today.

    Strange isn't it. Just the other day I was trying to outline similarities between Mumbai and Tokyo, of which there are essentially none, and yet I find myself in the same situation here as I did in Mumbai; Nobody in the city will give me a bike for love nor money. In India we spent 2 weeks before giving up, although under vastly different circumstances. Here it is just good old fashioned shop policy hindering us, but now, unlike then, I know when to stop trying the impossible. It took 2 minutes of searching online to find an alternative. A car rental shop right here in Tokyo would give us a car from their 'Economy Class' with a debit card downpayment. No credit card required.

    It's not what we had hoped for, but it's a perfectly reasonable solution to a temporary problem. Plus, the clock was now ticking; we had just got word from Yuri, our shipping agent back in Russia, that our bikes were successfully loaded onto the Chinese freight ship and should arrive at Vancouver port around October 7th. That's a month fir us to explore Japan and Korea in the meantime.

    We arrived at the rental shop early not knowing what car we were due. We were ushered into the waiting area and treated like royalty by the staff. It's perhaps the most endearing trait of the Japanese people. The girl at the counter was young and bashful. She did not speak a word of English, and in her attempts to explain to us the limits of the insurance policy she would erupt into fits of giggles and helpless fiddling of papers and pens about the desk. She was impossibly cute. Kyla asked if we can bring her with us.

    Whilst waiting for the car to arrive to the forecourt the reality dawned on me for the first time that we are actually getting a car. It's been quite a while since I last traveled by 4 wheels. I allowed my mind to drift, secretly hoping we would get one of the ultra-colourful Japanese compact city cars, with the bug eyed lights and tiny wheels, preferably one of the rare models that never make it to Europe. Instead we were were greeted with a more austere prize... a pavement grey 1.3L Toyota Vitz. There was no option for a manual car so we got stuck with my greatest pet-peeve on this Earth - an automatic transmission. Most Europeans will agree that such uncultured savagery deserves no place in a vehicle. We loaded our bags into the tiny bootspace, took the keys, and thanked the heavens that Japan drives on the proper side of the road.

    Leaving Tokyo was tough, both literally and metaphorically. Firstly because the sprawling web of highways, expressways and interchanges that penetrate the city are near impossible to navigate for my foreign eyes, and Secondly, because I have had such a special time here. 10 days in the city, and I could easily have spent 10 more. A place of class, elegance and endless entertainment. Something for every Japanese citizen to be proud to call the Capital.

    So... Let's go take this tiny Toyota to places it was certainly never designed for.

    Love Brucie.
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  6. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

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    Day 383

    Banana

    If you have a world map handy, and you always should, a quick scan of it will reveal Japan to pretty much be the shape of a banana, with some islands scattered about. Roughly 100 miles thick and 1,000 miles long with a gentle South Westerly curve from top to bottom. Tokyo is about the middle of the banana.

    We hatched a plan to dash North and then take our time to zigzag our way back South. We thought it would be pointless to return the car to the same shop in Tokyo, so we agreed to leave it at the rental shop in the Western city of Kyoto about 2 weeks later... ish.

    Driving the Japanese roads is a world of difference from anywhere else in Asia. The traffic is calm and the drivers are extremely curteous. Coupled with the steering wheel to the right, and the traffic to my native side of the road, it meant there was no steep learning curve to driving in Japan - after all, it's long time since either of us Iast drove a car. Here, we could relax and enjoy the roads ahead.

    The downside to all of this excessively respectful and polite driving culture is that the traffic moves slowly. Painfully slowly. I calculated my average speed to be 31mph on the first 100 miles out of Tokyo. Since we had opted for this first day to be nothing more than a push to the North, we opted to jump on the Northbound Expressway and see if we could make up some lost time. And that we did - We managed some 150 miles North on the countries ultra-efficient high speed road transit system, only to have the smiles wiped cleanly off our faces when we hit the Highway Exit Toll Gate.

    "3,260 Yen please." - The smiling toll attendant exclaims, pointing to a screen displaying the same harrowing figure.

    "WHAT?!" - I knew there was a toll but I was expecting perhaps £5 - 10 tops.

    It worked out to be £24, over $30, to use the Expressway for just under 2 hours. 15 pence per mile... 20p a minute... It was more expensive than a premium rate phonecall. The flipside of Japans high levels of development and prime infrastructure means that prices are high, and the realistic chances of me weaseling out of things are largely diminished. We paid the toll with gritted teeth.

    Japans West Coast is heavily urbanised and we had to put a lot of distance between us and Tokyo before we saw the structures begin to break up. The towns and cities here blend seamlessly into one another and it's hard to know where one stops and the next starts. After 250 miles North we finally saw the beginnings of countryside, and finally had the coast to ourselves. It was late in the day before we found a suitable spot to camp; by a tiny beach on the Pacific Coast just North of a town called Ishinomaki. We had it all to ourselves.

    In the morning we were awoken early by the rustling of a man digging about his car boot. A local fisherman had appeared in a 30 year old Volvo Estate car with a kayak on the roof. He was to paddle out to his boat that was anchored offshore in the deeper waters. We had set camp the previous night in darkness and so it was only in the new days light that we could see our surroundings. A small inlet of the Pacific, dotted with rocky islands, most of which no larger than a tennis court, traps calmer waters which served as a kind of natural harbour. The tide was low enough that we could see the oysters and mussels cling to the ropes and tyres that held the boats to harbour. There was nothing to be heard but the tiny waves, barely ripples, wash onto the bay, not powerful enough to even disturb the sand.

    Astounding contrast. Just yesterday we were amongst the pulsing life and lights of Downtown Tokyo, and now were a here a million miles away, another planet even. This is what I love about overland travel. Today was off to the perfect start. After a swift pack up we were set to leave, but not before I hear a call from behind me.

    "I got you this." - Kyla says, approaching with hads behind her back.

    "You got me something?"

    "Uuuhm, Yeh... It's your birthday."

    Had she not told me I would have never even known. This is the second year I have spent my birthday on the road. Last year somewhere on the Turkish South Coast. I guess it's sad to spend special days away from family, but if you really have to be away from home, then this little slice of Japan was surely the next best thing.

    Love,
    Brucie
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  7. ScotsFire

    ScotsFire Just this guy...

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    392
    Location:
    Spokane WA
    Bruce,

    A) Happy Birthday! You must have a different opinion of those than I do as I would be ecstatic to not be celebrating my own. My thought is that the company is more important than the place, and spending time with Kyla, IN JAPAN, surely makes a great day, no matter the date.

    B) Thank you for putting the time into writing this report. As others have noted, your description of Tokyo was an amazing essay. I've never been, and had many of the preconceptions you did. Now I'd definitely go if I make it to Japan. Your writing paints a portrait way better than photography does. Don't get me wrong, I have loved the photos you post. But I follow this for how you describe your experiences. Even the stressful and not so great, such as Kyla's injury, was "put to ink" in a manner that I felt close and knew the emotion of the time. It is truly a pleasure to read your work.

    C) I retire next week and will be kicking around the west coast of the US for a couple of months with my (Scots) girlfriend. Would love to buy you two a pint or several if travel routes allow.

    Safe travels!
  8. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

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    Hi Scotsfire,

    Thanks for Birthday wishes! It was actually a really good way to spend my birthday. One i'll surely always remember.

    Ah i'm glad you like the report. It's a real shame I can't upload any accompanying photos with the RR just now, I just don't have the kit for it. No proper camera, no working laptop, no modern smartphone! The ADVRider site will just not cooperate with my 7 year old Samsung and it's ancient browser :(. But to be honest I prefer writing over taking photos anyway. Photos always lack a certain depth, and I find myself bored very quickly when reading others Ride Reports that are all photo based.

    Ah yes! Well we are still waiting for the email to confirm exactly when our bikes will reach land again. Weather dependant we will likely head directly South from Vancouver, Keep me up to date to where you will be!

    Where is your girlfriend from?
  9. ScotsFire

    ScotsFire Just this guy...

    Joined:
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    Spokane WA
    She grew up Girvan, but was born in Coatbrige near Glasgow. She has worked in Singapore and was in Texas for most of the last twenty years.
  10. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

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    Aha! You know I didn't meet any Scottish folks since I saw Seamus in Mongolia. Then just last night in the hostel I met a guy from Coatbridge! Then I open my laptop and read this :D
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  11. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

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    Day 386

    Coast to Coast

    Japan is an anomaly. A strange blend of tradition and technology. Here in the rural North there is a sense of schizophrenia as to how the population, and infact the whole setting, exists. We have mostly been making our way through cultivated farmland, of which 90% of the crop has been rice. Out in the fields you will see crouched workers amongst the crop, exposed to the heat of the sun with only a broad lampshade-shaped straw hats to protect then - it's a sight almost emblematic of East Asia. The only difference is that here the work is done by automatic rice bailer machines. The rice fields are placed in the most unlikely of places, really anywhere that it will grow. By rivers, next to junctions, in front of a small supermarket car park. A small 50x50ft rice field and a Panasonic Electronics store can exist as neighbours quite normally. I guess space is at a premium in Japan.

    Wooden farmhouses with decorative tile roofs that look like they were plucked from the 16th century punctuate the farmland, but on closer inspection you can see the all the comforts of modern life installed. Aircon, double glazing, we even seen some with automatic security gates. You can't help but laugh when walking down a country trail and have your phone alert you as it tries to harness the WiFi eminating from a nearby traditional country home.

    So far we had not discovered any true wilderness and were keen to see just how wild Japan can get. We moved East to try and leave the modern world behind. So simple a task in Continental Asia, but proving difficult in Japan.

    We moved East toward the opposite coast, stopping around 10 miles shy of the waterfront to get to a mountainous region where we would look to make camp close to the Mount Chokai - one of hundreds of the islands volcanoes. We found a camp spot where the road ended about a third of the way up the North face of the 7,500ft peak,at a hikers lodge, a kind of a mini basecamp for the string of surrounding peaks. We opted to skip the lodge and camp out in the grounds. The plan was to rise early and climb the volcano the following day. From looking over the map it was clear that there should be an excellent view of the Sea of Japan. We were treated to an incredible glowing pink sunset so we were confident for the following morning.

    But it wasn't to be. By morning a heavy cloud cover had descended over the peaks, and swamped the whole landscape in a cold, dreary drizzle and grey fog. For me, there is little point in climbing such a peak without the reward of the view at the top. A dozen other hikers shuffled about the lodge looking as let down and frustrated as we were.

    We made the short trip from Mount Chokai down to the coastline in just 30 minutes by way of a very entertaining stretch of winding mountain roads. The Toyota Vitz, with it's laughably skinny wheels and extremely high centre of gravity, makes it perhaps the worst machine to ever tackle such a road on. We giggled to ourselves as we took it in turns to thrash this city car around the hairpins. It actually handles quite well. Luckily there is not nearly enough power to get yourself in any trouble. Stamping on the accelerator causes seemingly no noticeable change in speed, it just makes the engine marginally louder.

    The fog cleared once we had descended and the tempreture once again began to rise. Once down at the coast we could see the comical sight of the cloud that had stumped us. From here we could see the Mountain and it's surroundings. What had appeared to us to have been a massive blanket of cloud now looked to be a single thick grey cloud that had seemingly snagged itself on the high peak of Chokai. The rest of the sky was mostly clear - quite surreal (see photo)

    What's truly impressive is the geography of this part of Japan. From the beach, where we would camp that night, up to the mountains, where we had been the previous night, was just 10 miles apart as the crow flies, but the difference in elevation is 7,500ft.

    It's all seriously impressive - and just think... this Northern section is apparently the least impressive part of the Japanese Highlands.

    Love,
    Brucie
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  12. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

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    Day 391

    Central Mountain Regions

    Our search for wilderness was so far fruitless. No matter how far you stray from the main roads and routes you are never far from the evidence of civilisation. You can be on the smallest marked track in the deepest valley and still find perfectly paved asphalt, guard rails and signs reminding you not to make campfires for risk of starting a forest blaze. It seems no matter how far you go from anywhere, you are always close to modern amenities. Sure we found some trails, most of which we couldn't do in the city car, but from looking over the maps the trails are extremely short and always lead back to a larger road within 10 miles or so.

    I guess it's the product of highly developed society, residing on a small island, with a large population. Japan is perhaps the most developed nation I have ever encountered, not counting microstates like Monaco or Singapore. The Japanese road network has been largely refined and almost every track and trail has either been fully converted into a sealed road, or is in the process of doing so. We took the brave decision to take the little Toyota up some gravel logging trails and even a dirt trail that connected a gap between 2 high passes. Although the roads were technically offroad routes, you never really get the feeling that you are far from the watchful eyes of the Japanese Transport Ministry. There are always roadworkers, or signposts, traffic notices, cones, upcoming construction notices... always something to remind you that you are certainly not in the middle of nowhere.

    A good example would be to compare it to Sri Lanka. Another very small island nation, with a large relative population. The only difference being that as soon as you stray off the beaten path there, you might aswell be in the deepest nook of the Amazon Rainforest. No phone signal, no emergency services, no signposts, no evidence of civilisation... no nothing in fact. You feel like disaster can strike at any moment. Instead, here in the Japanese Highlands you are cradled by the presence of the safety net of a fully developed nation.

    So it it adventurous? Is it worth exploring?

    Absolutely, unequivicably; Yes.

    A thousand immaculate sheets of asphalt quite literally weave their way through the most green and lush mountain forest setting I have ever seen. The roads knit together hundreds of tiny villages and towns. Hairpins, switchbacks, tunnels, bridges... no road or community is too small or unimportant to warrant a massive engineering project. You can turn down any one of these routes, in any vehicle, with confidence you will get there. No broken suspension units, no shattered rims, no cavernous potholes; Just day after day of good old fashioned road tripping.

    And even though it's not wilderness, it's still a little wild. The climate here is partly tropical - not quite full on jungle, but just enough to keep it interesting. Kyla nearly ran over a 5 foot long black and yellow snake as it cut it's path across the road. You have to stay on constant lookout for the glint of the huge webs of the Golden Orb spiders as they catch the sun during and evening walk. We encountered a gang of monkeys wrestling over fruit pieces on the road to Mount Bandai, deep in the central mountains.

    10,000ft peaks, deep craggy valleys, crystal blue lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, good weather and the constant threat of volcanoes and earthquakes. There's plenty of adventure to be had, regardless of the fact that you are never more than 20 miles from a 7/11 convenience store.

    Japan is the perfect retreat after our harsh 12 month crossing of South and Central Asia. For any budding adventurer that wants to retain the comforts of Europe, but with the setting of Tropical Asia; Japan is your answer.

    Love,
    Brucie
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  13. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

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    Day 396

    Youth.

    Japans mountain towns and rural villages tell as quaint a story as could ever be told. Tiny elderly women shuffle about storefronts and shopkeepers usher you in with a respectful bow and traditional greeting. The Japanese people are obsessively respectful and polite, and this is magnified out here in the countries rural areas. The mere thought of encountering a rude local is an impossibility for me. Where is the crime? Where are the Police? Where are the riotous teenagers? I

    Actually, wait a second... Where are the teenagers?

    Kyla noticed it before I did. We had covered almost 1,000 miles of winding roads all over the island, from big cities to the tiniest of hamlets, yet there is something amiss. As soon as you leave the cities, there is a distinct lack of youth. Genuinely, it seems there is whole demographic missing from the picture. All the other campers, hikers, fishermen, and even just people out for a country stroll, were all much older than we were.

    As we trickled our way South again we gradually came back into Japans more urbanised central region and found a few English speaking locals who could confirm that our observations were indeed accurate. Japan is experiencing a bit of a population crisis as of late. People are growing older, living longer, people are having fewer children, and the ones who do are having them later in life.

    "Most people of young people are moving to the larger cities to find work." - We are repeatedly told.

    Interesting, if not a touch worrying.

    "Maybe if the all the men stopped hiding in the arcades and Manga shops for hours on end on they could get a girlfriend and actually repopulate." - Kyla deems an adequate solution.

    As with most things Kyla says, they take a minute for me to process, before realising that it's actually quite a poignant observation. We had descended from the Central Highlands and landed in our first large city for over a week; Toyama. Sure enough, here were all the young people; Eyes glued to smartphones, gaming halls crowded, City WiFi Hotspots heartily occupied by the 18-30. It is a sharp contrast the mountains that we had just left behind.

    There really are two sides to Japan for me, that together form the two faces of a very interesting coin. I have never been somewhere where you can so easily dip in and out of the modern world so effortlessly. On our 11 day long trip in our rental wheels we had passed through alternating settings of pristine mountains, lakes and forests, only to have it punctuated by sudden and often unexpected ultra-modern urban environments - even the smallest of towns have fully automated traffic systems and full data coverage. My initial view was that this was a bad thing, emphasising the fact that no natural setting in Japan was ever really that far from civilisation - As true as that may be, it should be viewed inversely; No matter how urban the setting may be, you are never that far from the beautiful escape that Japanese nature provides.

    It's always nearby, should you choose to take advantage of it.

    I guess the local young folk are as happy to crowd in the city centres as we are to escape them. We moved SouthEast from Toyama toward Lake Biwa, Japans largest lake, to explore the mountains and temples of the region. When out trekking in the hills one late afternoon, somewhere North of a tiny town called Nishi Azai, something amidst the forest floor caught my eye. A small piece of bronze metal, barely a few millimeters, was protruding from underneath an exposed tree root. I got to my hands and knees to dig it out. It took a bit of work to scratch away at the dry compacted earth without damaging the metal, but after a minute or so it eventually broke free; it was an old coin, with a symbol of a rampant dragon and traditional Japanese characters.

    I cleaned the coin off and packed it safely in my bag before running back down the hillside to find Kyla to show her my treasure. Impressed at my find, she offers to keep it safe until we can get back to town and have someone identify it for us.

    Turns out it's a 141 year old 1 Sen coin from the Japanese Meiji Era.

    Wow.

    Next Stop; Kyoto

    Love,
    Brucie
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  14. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2015
    Oddometer:
    672
    Location:
    Dundee, Scotland
    Day 399

    City Life.

    We had finally recieved the email we had been waiting for. It was from Yuri, our Russian shipping agent, telling us that our bikes had finally left Shanghai port and were now on route to Vancouver. The dates were no longer estimations but now confirmed delivery dates. Assuming the ship didn't hit an iceberg or be struck by a stray North Korean nuke, then on Sunday the 8th October our rusty Chinese freight ship will arrive and we should be prepared to release our bikes on Monday the 9th.

    A rush of excitement flowed through me when I read the email. A whole new Continent. Canada, USA, Mexico, Central America... it's the stuff of dreams. We have been without bikes for about 20 days now, and both starting to miss them more than we had ever thought we would.

    As agreed we drove South and returned our rental car to the medium sized city of Kyoto. There are not many places where a city of 1.5 million heads can still only be classed as medium. We had taken our beloved Toyota Vitz through 1,563 miles of immaculate Japanese back-country and jungle, and had enjoyed every second of it. The little compact car had taken roads it never should have and lived to tell the tale. Luckily the return inspection at the recieving end was swift enough that the Toyota man had missed the half dozen new scratches to the front bumper, passenger door and wheel arches that we had accrued. We handed him the keys, scuttled down the street, and disappeared into the crowds like a pair of naughty children.

    Kyoto was heavily reccomended to us by quite a few people as well as just about every Japanese guide book we had happened accross. Truthfully I was not impressed. The city had little to offer us, and aside from a few interesting antique stores we found ourselves wondering why people were standing in queues to buy tickets for temples and shrines that were many times less impressive than ones that litter the forests just on the outskirts of the city. The restaurants were overpriced and it felt by far the least 'Japanese' of all the corners of the country we had so far explored.

    From Kyoto the obvious destination was the neighbouring ciy of Osaka - some twice the size. Osaka had a large international airport where we could hop over to Korea before making that final trip over to Canada to collect our bikes in about a weeks time.

    The thought of travelling to Osaka was iniatally nothing more than a plan to kill a few days until a cheap flight to Seoul appeared online. After our dissapointment with Kyoto I wasn't particulalrly excited for another large city. We made the 22 minute train journey with little expectation.

    But alas, Japan surprises us yet again.

    Osaka is like the evil twin brother to Tokyo. It's big, it's bright, it's modern, it's cloaked in a canopy of neon - but it has a completely different feel to that of it's bigger brother. Tokyo was sanitised, pristine, and meticulously maintained, where as Osaka is rough, it's dirty, it has a real common labour feel to it. The market stalls spill messily into the streets and the hustle and bustle is not conducted in the neat Tokyo-like fashion. Tokyo may be ten times the size, but Osaka actually feels larger to me. There is less space for penetrating sunlight between the high-rise buildings and the city centre swallows you up in a cobweb of alleyways, crowds and traffic.

    Surprisingly, we quite like it here. It's a the polar opposite of time in the Mountains and the perfect way to finish our Japanese leg of the trip.

    We will stay in Osaka for a few more days until we can hop on a cheap flight to Seoul. Unless a stray North Korean nuke hits that too.

    Love,
    Brucie

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  15. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2015
    Oddometer:
    672
    Location:
    Dundee, Scotland
    Day 400

    Milestone.

    400 Days on the road. 400 days without killing each other, or indeed being being killed by other means - quite impressive really given the mostly irresponsible nature in which we conduct ourselves on a near daily basis.

    These neat milestones always serve as a good point to reflect upon what we have accomplaished. Something to be proud of certainly. Although it hasn't gone unnoticed that these 100 day intervals always seem to be preceded by some kind of highly inadvisble activity.

    Day 100 - Sat atop a terraced rooftop in Antalia, Turkey. We arrived in Antalia via the East having got a bit closer to the Syrian border than we had anticipated. We hade taken a backroad route towards Far Eastern Turkey without really paying attention to where we were headed. The signposts for the border city of Gaziantep, coupled with the advice of a few locals, was enough to send us Westward to more stable regions.

    Day 200 - Lost in the Eastern Corridor, India. In spite of advice given to us, we decided to take the Easternmost exit from Nepal, and take a lesser travelled horseshoe shaped route towards Darjeeling to see the tea plantations. Unfortunately, due to our lack of prior reading on the area, our route took us to the highly milirarised Bangladeshi/Bengali border area. Worse still was that we arrived on the opening day of the OIC's Annual Islamic Conference, who had quite boldly chose to host the event in Bangladesh for 2017. There was extremely high tension in the area and there had been a bloody, and indiscrimiate shooting just 2 days previous. Unknown to me, the following day I was to watch a man die in front of my very eyes in West Bengal.

    Day 300 - Entering the Steppe, Far Western Khazakstan. Against all advice we had chosen a route towards the Khazak border that took us via the 2 most notorious regions in Russia. The Islamic seperatist region of Chechnya, and it's even more troubled neighbour; Dagestsan. The route was marred with Checkpoints, corruption, wanted posters and an imposing military presence. On two occasions Kyla and I were seperated and I was subjected to unnerving interviews by local security personel.

    Day 400 - Making our way to Osaka Airport bound for Seoul, Korean Republic. With just a week left before we can release our bikes from the port in Canada, we decide to use the spare time wisely and fly into Korea for a short 5 day layover. Using the time to not-so-wisely to visit the Korean Demilitirised Zone and Joint Security Area during perhaps the highest times of North Korean tension in the last 30 years.

    Truthfully, regardless of how inadvisable some of these actions may be, they have led to the kinds of encounters that I have come to strive, and they always make for the best memories. There is no better feeling than riding your motorcycle into zones of hostility and tension and to witness the lives of the local people who have no option but to live there. No giftshops, no museums, no prime selfie opportunities. Nothing. Just an experience that will stay with you for all of time, and allow you to realise just how lucky you are to live in the developed West. The world is still largely a very, very wild place.

    These are the days that will make the highlight reel.

    So here's to another 400 days... Hopefully.

    Love,
    Brucie

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  16. joenuclear

    joenuclear Long timer

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2007
    Oddometer:
    8,179
    The rest of the sky was mostly clear - quite surreal (see photo)

    Sorry Brucie. No photo. [or photos]
  17. SuperSonicRocketship

    SuperSonicRocketship 50 Nations and Counting

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2015
    Oddometer:
    672
    Location:
    Dundee, Scotland
    Ah yes! Sorry joe, this was copied in from the FaceBook blog where there are photos.

    I still can't get photos to upload to ADV as the browser wont load the image upload tool. I plan to a buy a nice shiny new smartphone in Vancouver, so I should be able to add some photos finally!
    joenuclear likes this.
  18. juno

    juno Long timer

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2014
    Oddometer:
    1,924
    Location:
    Jupiter
    Hey Brucie!

    Thanks for the updates and congrats on the 400 days. I am glad you are still updating us on here.
  19. Cameleer

    Cameleer Europe, three days at a time.

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2012
    Oddometer:
    325
    Location:
    Dubai, UAE and for now, London
    +1


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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  20. Jman

    Jman a.k.a. FUglyK

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2003
    Oddometer:
    932
    Location:
    Land of Flat and Straight EH !
    FYI, Monday October 9th is a holiday in Canada (Thanksgiving) and most things will be closed until Tuesday.

    Your trip has been very interesting to follow!
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