Category Archives: Touring reports


Two weekends in a row I had touring plans rained out, so this weekend I wanted to do it right, and planned to run Nagano’s glorious Venus Line start to finish with extra twisties tacked onto either end. But sometimes it doesn’t go as planned.

The clouds covering the mountains I was heading towards were the first hint, although the early fall colors were nice.

There were still patches of sunlight at Shirakabako, but it was insanely cold.

At Kirigamine (“Misty Peak”) the rains started coming down, and I wasn’t carrying my raingear.

With a wall of dark clouds ahead covering the rest of the Venus Line, I had to change direction and escape toward the light.

But there was always sunshine ahead in at least one direction, so I just tried a bunch of random roads in Nagano and Yamanashi, picking direction based on where the sun still seemed to be shining.

I ended up in a bunch of cool places I’d never been before, including this mountain with its magic light that drew me in.

These crossroads were both a great location and an appropriate metaphor—sometimes you have to change your plans and just roll down whatever road seems right at the time, and sometimes it ends up taking you somewhere new and wonderful.

The day didn’t go exactly as I had planned, but I’m satisfied.

Half-day Golden Week Touring

I generally try to avoid the roads during Japan’s Golden Week holiday, because the road congestion tends to be insane, but the cats woke me up at 4:30, so I thought maybe I could beat the traffic by getting an early start. Even at 5am, though, the expressway was pretty crowded, but once I got into the mountains I had the roads to myself.

I had no real plan for the ride, but Fuji was calling me, so I randomly picked roads that took me closer and closer.

I had always meant to visit Shiraito no Taki (literally “White Thread Falls”, but had never had the time to stop, so I took this opportunity to play with long exposures and other photo geekery.

The hike up to the observation platform was definitely worth it.

It was still only 9am when I finished with the waterfalls, so I decided to ride all the way around Fuji, picking roads as the whim took me, and stopping here and there to admire the mountain.  (I didn’t see any other Harleys with tripods strapped to their saddle bags, though.)

I decided to swing around Lake Kawaguchi, and was rewarded by running into a group of Mario Karts racing around the lake.

I finished my loop around Fuji, enjoying all sides of the mountain, and still made it home by lunchtime, managing to avoid the worst of the ridiculous traffic. In all, not a bad morning.

Mountain Sakura in Izu

Even after the cherry blossoms have all blown away in Tokyo,  we can always find more if we gain enough altitude. I love the polka dots of pink from wild mountain sakura that dot the mountains of Izu.

Motoring through fluttering petals with friends is  good for the soul.

The local biker gang sizes us up.

These kids waved at us in Matsuzaki and then followed us all the way to the supermarket in Nishi Izu.

Above the clouds

I had always meant to join the lads from the Gaijin Riders forum on one of their jaunts (and I should stress again that anyone visiting this site looking for actually useful information about riding in Japan should look these guys up).  But somehow timing never seems to work out. On this day particular day, however, my calendar was surprisingly open, so I joined one of their pilgrimages to  the legendary South Cafe in Shimoda for lunch.

The fog on the Oda-Atsu expressway was thick and annoying, but once I got to the top of Hakone Pass it became clear that this fog was part of a gorgeous blanket of clouds over the Pacific.


I met up with the boys at the Mazda Turnpike Lounge, and found that Ashinoko Lake also had a cloud carpet (and the mountain looked amazing too).

South Cafe, bikers’ Mecca

As this was the manly month of Movember, I also had to get a mustache-themed shot.

Nozawa Onsen Shitamichi Touring

Up where we belong

To escape the sweltering summer heat of Tokyo, Noji-kun suggested we retreat to higher altitudes and make our way to Nozawa Onsen in Nagano along his optimized route. But for Noji-kun, “optimized” means avoiding expressways, large towns, or any road that goes in a straight line, and keeping as high above the heat as possible on the twisty mountain roads that make these islands so delightful. It also means that a trip that could take three hours requires waking up very early and arriving just before dark, but I can’t think of many better ways to spend that time.


We started with a bit of a hiccup: my rear brakes got weaker and weaker as we crossed the first pass, and stopped working entirely on the way down the mountain. Downhill twisties just aren’t as much fun using only engine braking and the front wheel.

But we were in luck, and there was a bike shop in Chichibu that was open early and was able to top off the brake fluid and restore functionality.

One last break to take in the view

Many long, meandering, wonderful hours later, we stopped at the overlook above the town of Nozawa Onsen, our destination, just beginning to fall into shadow as the low afternoon sun neared the mountains.

Long shadow

Our shadows grew ever longer as the roads and trees soaked up that magical mountain light.

Light painting attempt

Then a dip in a ridiculously hot historic hot spring bath to wash off the road dust and sunscreen and relax our tired muscles, followed by outdoor BBQ and beer at the inn.

Being a camera geek, I had to experiment with long exposures, light-painting the resting bikes with a flashlight.

Persied no-show

And since this was supposedly the peak night of the Perseid meteor shower, I lugged my tripod up to the shrine at the top of the hill, but all I got were pretty fixed stars (not that disappointed, actually).



After a full breakfast and another visit to the old bath house, we were ready for another full day of riding.

Top of the world

It was pleasantly cool as we rode along the spectacular ridge at Shiga Kogen.

Popular spot

And, of course, it turns out we were far from the only ones seeking altitude to get away from the heat on this gorgeous day.

Into the mist

Both coming and going we had some stretches of road where we were enveloped in mist, sometimes to the point where we could only see one bike length in front of us and had to slow to a crawl, but that just made it more breathtaking once we broke back out into the blue.


This is living.

The old Nakasendo road


Another in my series of posting things several months late.

I recently upgraded jobs from one grind in the bustling center of Tokyo to another, slightly better grind also in the bustling center of Tokyo.  But I had a bit of free time before my new job started, and a recharging session in the old mountains of Japan seemed to be in order.

Bike and Ontake

The first day was all about the bike. I took the long, slow, twisty,  roundabout way through the mountains of Nagano and Gifu, and stopped by Ontake to pay my respects to the mountain.


But my main goal on this trip was to reconnect with the older, simpler Japan that first drew me here.

I had booked a room at the Shirokiya inn in the old postal town of Magome, which was the 43rd of the 69 stations on the old Nakasendo road that linked the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Edo hundreds of years ago, and has been preserved largely as it was back then.

Shadows on the goheimochi sign

The old lady running the place suggested I park my bike out front, and the last rays of the setting sun spotlighting this old machine confirmed that this was the right choice.

Last light on the Harley

The cobbled road leading up the mountain showed my path for the next morning.

Night at the Shirokiya Inn in Magome

It’s not just me that thinks an old Harley matches this scenery pretty damn well, is it?



The next morning, I woke up early to hike the old Nakasendo itself, which winds through the mountains for roughly 8km to Tsumago, the next station on the postal road.

The old Nakasendo road between Magome and Tsumago

For the first few hours of the hike, I didn’t see another human being, although I did run into a family of Japanese macaques and plenty of signs warning of bears.

It's clear from things along the way that this path has been in

It’s clear from all this Mononoke stuff that this path has been in use for a very long time.

Cobblestone path over Magome pass

I think maybe I just really like winding roads, whether on two feet or two wheels.

After returning to Magome and changing back into my leathers, I then motored over the same pass on the normal paved road in a tiny fraction of the time.

I don’t usually prefer to ride alone, but this solo touring allowed me to do things like hiking and picking roads I’d never tried on a whim.  And every road I tried turned out to be gorgeous, with wild mountain wisteria blooming here and there and pure blue skies urging me to try yet another detour, to stay away from the expressways just a little bit longer, and to drink my fill of these exquisite mountains before heading back to the urban sprawl.

This turned out to be exactly what I needed to refresh me for the next step in my career.

I kept passing under wild wisteria on these roads--lovely!

The Motorcycle as Time Machine

No, the title doesn’t reference the embarrassing fact that I’m just now getting around to writing about a touring trip we made in early April. This is more about one of the things I love about riding motorcycles in such a dramatically mountainous country: being able to experience multiple seasons all in the same day.

When we left the Tokyo area, the few remaining cherry petals were fluttering down from the trees, marking the end of the most eye-catching part of spring. But after heading down rows of towering cedars toward Nikko, we headed up over the mountains toward the Aizu region of Fukushima, and gradually moved back in time through the seasons as we gained altitude, toward fully-blooming cherry trees, then partially blooming, then bare, followed even by the earlier-blooming ume (plum blossoms), before dropping our altitude again into the town of Kitakata, where it was nearly hot enough to feel like summer.


Noji had noticed that his clutch wire was partially frayed (<– foreshadowing), so we picked up a spare wire at this bike shop, which has been thoroughly occupied and taken over by cats.


We then picked up enough altitude for it to feel like spring again. (I love what the late afternoon spring sun does with shadows.)


The next morning, it felt nearly autumnal outside our cabin.


And then, despite warnings, we simply had to explore the Bandai-Azuma Skyline, which often tops polls as one of Japan’s most spectacular roads.

White birch, snow, and beautiful winding roads

We kept gaining altitude, and soon headed into a wintry world of snow and white birch.

Noji-kun on the Bandai Azuma Skyline

We weren’t really wearing the right gear for mid-winter, but it was beautiful enough to make it worth some shivering.

Cold bracing morning


There was never a question that we made the right choice.

Not a bad location to fix a clutch wire

Finally down from Fukushima’s highlands and off through the gently winding roads of Ibaraki back toward home, Noji’s clutch wire did in fact break, but by then we had returned to mid-spring, so we had some nice scenery to enjoy while we made the repairs.