Yes, I can positively say, it is pure heaven riding a motorcycle in Japan! And added to that is enjoying it on a Japanese motorcycle brand, which on this occasion for me was a Honda CB400SF and Honda NC700R. And I can’t say it’s the fun of the roads but that they were accented with a cultural experience that’s unique to the world. Experiencing Japan was eye-opening and awe-inspiring in itself for me. This beautiful culture of ancient standing, etiquette’s, delectable cuisines; enjoying it all by way of motorcycle thrilled me beyond anything I imagined. I really never thought it would be as fantastic an experience as I enjoyed. The roads are perfect and so well maintained. They twist, they turn, and they disappear through tunnels and climb to heights of spectacular views. They border coastlines of unbelievable tropical scenery. the scent of pine trees mixed with coastal sea air floats through your nostrils but then later is replaced by scents of incense or soy cooked food aromas it’s really arousing! And these sensations only a motorcyclist can experience –riding a motorcycle in Japan!
You Can Ride All Year Long in Japan
It was mid to end November when I visited Japan. During this time of year the temperatures average around 18 Celsius – which is perfect riding weather. In fact, most Japanese ride all year-long – only when the snow stays on the roads in Tokyo do they park the motorcycle or scooter. And I’m told that even then, it’s never for very long. I imagine in summer though, when temperatures soar, accented with high humidity, it would be a different experience!
The days shorten quickly; it’s dark in Japan by 17.00 hr, similar to Toronto for the same time of year. And once the sun disappears behind the mountain tops, it becomes quite chilly. The climate varies a few degrees here and there which is an effect of Japan’s mountainous influence or surrounding coastal waters. The island is lovely and lush covered in a thick green blanket of forest. The colours are vibrant with reds as autumns begins to decorate its landscape.
Left Hand Traffic System
Before departure to Japan, many friends expressed their concerns about me riding within Japan’s “LHT” – left hand traffic system. Well, it’s not my first time, in fact I’ve a lot of experience with this system in England and many British Caribbean Islands. I had no troubles adjusting to taking up my lane positions etc. on the left side of the road. Though, every once in a while I’d see something and think, “hey what are you doing on the left side of the road!” – then realizing where I was. On a plus note, the LHT system allows for some curb hugging sharp left turns. Equally as fun as sharp right turns here in the RHT (right hand traffic) system.
The roads are narrow yet, really, quite unnoticed by me likely from my years of living and in Europe. I recall riding through narrow Austrian or even Dutch villages where homes and shops were the edges of village roads. Japan’s road surface was notably well-kept. Perfectly paved, clean and perfect for motorcycles. There are no potholes, litter or junk on the road. Japan’s strict culture is the result of that. Littering is frowned upon. The speed limit is lower, usually 80 km/h to 100 km/h the express-ways. Admittedly this is the one characteristic of Japan’s roads I found most challenging. Riding along on perfectly sweeping roads, with little traffic or no congestion made it a difficult task to keep to the slow legal posted speed limits. Interestingly, the speed signs can be adjusted electronically and apparently there are cameras everywhere; though I could never seem to spot one! Exceeding speed limits is a HUGE no-no and comes with severe penalties.
Toll booths are common and frequent on Japan’s national expressways. Based on the distance you travel or have travelled and I found rather expensive to use. Hence the reason the roads are in such good shape. You collect a ticket when entering the expressway and then pay further up ahead via a machine. Honestly, I would not have figured this out alone – thank goodness my good friend, who is Japanese and born in Japan – took care of this for me. Of course, residents can purchase an electronic toll collection programs.
The entire experience was nothing less of perfection and I can sincerely say I’ve been touched by this beautiful place and riding culture – Japan! Of course adding Japan to my list of motorcycle riding experiences is certainly one I’ll not forget. Though the basics of riding remain the same, riding in Japan the stage set by Nippon’s culture – compares to none. I really can’t wait to return again and recommend it as a must-do.
Oh yes, I really must tell you about the ride up Mt. Nantai along Lake Chuzenji! This was breathlessly incredible. Hideo-san, local friend (former motorcycle racer and Formula I test driver) escorted us up and down Mt. Nantai through chicane after twisty chicane – such a blast! He knew the mountain well, giving me much incentive to keep up with his fast, harmoniously turning – Triumph Bonneville.
I think I’ll be sharing a lot of Japan here for the next while! But for now … Sayonara!