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Route 55 (Tokushima to Kochi, via Muroto) June 16, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Route 55 (Tokushima to Kochi, via Muroto)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-c1

For the first full day of my motorcycle adventure, I travelled down from Tokushima to Kochi.  It was over 200kms for my first day of riding.  The first part was very boring.  When you drive in Japan, the cities are places you want to skip.  There isn’t anything to really see.  You just go from light to light seeing nothing new.  It took about an hour to get outside of Tokushima and its surrounding suburbs.  Once out of the city, things got smaller, yet more scenic.  Things didn’t become interesting until I reached the small town of Hiwasa.  This is a very small town located about two hours along route 55.  It is so small that you will be in and out of this town in less than 10 minutes.  There are only a few things to do in this town.  The main point of interest is to visit Yakuouji Temple.  This is built right next to the highway, and up a mountain.  There are many steep steps to reach the temple.  I found it to be an interesting temple for its location and how it was built, but the art and basic design wasn’t any different than any other temple in Japan.  There is also a small castle in this town and a few beaches where you can relax and enjoy yourself.  It is a good place to stretch your legs a bit if you are travelling this way.

From Hiwasa, I would recommend leaving route 55 and heading down route 147.  This is a very small road, and the entrance is very easy to miss.  It is just past the temple, which can’t be missed.  This road follows the coastline more than route 55.  There are several mountains along this part of the coast making road construction difficult.  Route 55 heads to the north side of these mountains making it easier to drive.  However, the views from route 147 are wonderful and you’ll be graced with various types of corners.  This is more for drivers to enjoy.  There are also several different lookouts, but after one or two, they tend to look the same.  Heading further along route 55, there isn’t much to see.  However, there are many beaches, dams, and other things to see.  If you are travelling along anywhere in Japan, there is one easy way to know if there is something interesting to see.  The government tries to help local communities attract more tourists by promoting local attractions.  On the road, you will see a large white sign with blue lettering.  This is almost always something of interest.  Unfortunately, it isn’t always really interesting, so if you are driving around in Japan, beware that some sites may be worth a pass.

The main tourist attraction along route 55 is Muroto.  It is the southern most point of the highway.  Shikoku has two capes in the south.  Muroto is the western one.  It is very easy to drive in and out of Muroto.  There isn’t much to this cape.  However, it is a great place to stop and spend at least an hour.  There are a few places to take pictures, and the seawater is extremely clear.  The first thing you will see, coming from Tokushima, is a giant statue of a Buddhist monk.  Once you pass this large Buddhist monk, you will soon reach the tip of the cape.  There are a few places to park, but once you park, it’s a short two minute hike to the waterfront.  The waterfront if full of rocks that can make it difficult to walk around.  However, because of the remoteness of the cape, it is extremely peaceful.  There are only a handful of people around at any time.  I would highly recommend a dip in the water, but beware that you’ll need your bathing suit at the cape.  There are too many people around to go skinny dipping.  If you have time, you can also head up the mountain at the cape and take a look at the lighthouse.  It is the largest lighthouse in Japan and it can be seen from over 50kms away.  The views from the lighthouse must also be very nice.

After passing the cape, there isn’t too much to see.  The road follows the entire coastline up to Kochi.  The coast is very beautiful and worth the drive, however, there isn’t too much to do along this part of the road.  If you have a chance to rent a car and travel down this way, I highly recommend that you should do it.  You will have a wonderful day trip.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

The Tohoku Expressway – Driving in Japan June 9, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “The Tohoku Expressway – Driving in Japan” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-bi

In February 2009, I had my second experience on the Tohoku Expressway, and my first driving experience in Japan.  It was a vastly different experience compared to the first time I was on this expressway.  This time, I was in a temperature controlled car with navigation and ETC.  Words cannot describe the differences in my experience.

For this trip, I went from Shinjuku, in Tokyo, to Nikko.  It’s about a 160km drive.  I decided to rent a car from a rental company near my apartment.  In front of the rental company, I tried to set the navigation system to take me to Nikko.  Unfortunately, they showed me five different routes and none of them were quick, or the best route.  I ended up heading to the Shuto Expressway, Tokyo’s Expressway system, on my own as I knew how to get there.  The nearest Shuto entrance was for the Yamate Tunnel, which is the fastest way to get to the Tohoku Expressway.  It is a brand new section of the Shuto, so the tunnel itself is still very clean, and very bright.  Once the tunnel ended, I had to face my first challenge in navigating the Shuto’s confusing system, a small junction to head a little east.  To give you a better idea, the Shuto is a series of “C” roads that run around Tokyo.  There are various connecting highways to go from the inner circle to the outer circles.  This was also my first experience to test the car’s navigation system.  Thankfully, the system knew the roads in this area and helped me find my way to reach the Tohoku Expressway.  The rest of my journey to Nikko was very simple and easy.  I made a side trip to Utsunomiya as well, and the navigation system worked flawlessly to get me to my destination.  However, navigating the streets can be nerve wrecking as you have to consider your actions as others on the road may or may not be patient with you.

Using the navigation system in Japan is both a blessing and a curse.  If you can’t read, write, or understand Japanese to some extent, you will be in a lot of trouble.  Obviously, in Japan, they don’t need English navigation systems as most foreigners take the train.  However, driving is sometimes fun and very enjoyable.  It is very important to at least have a Japanese native, who is capable of using the navigation system to help you.  Along the way, the system would give audible warnings of where to go, what lane to be in, and about toll booths that were coming up.  It made driving very simple and the audio prompts weren’t too intrusive.  With the navigation screen being in the dashboard, it wasn’t blocking my view as other portable systems do.  The only problem that occurred was passing through city limits, as the system would update me to tell me when I reached a new area.  This was okay, but sometimes the highway would cross in and out of an area and I’d get a few prompts.  Definitely not something I would care to hear often, but it was a nice addition.

The other important thing to have in Japan is an ETC card.  It is essential when driving on the expressways.  The first reason to get it is for convenience.  When driving up to a toll booth, all you have to do is enter the ETC lane.  When you enter the ETC lane, you just slow down to about 20kph and wait for the system to tell you, via a chime, that it recognizes your car and you can go.  The second reason is for the discounts.  As of this posting, weekends and national holidays are now 1000 Yen per trip, regardless of the distance.  Do note that some expressways are cheaper and each expressway is owned by a different company.  Travelling would probably end up being more than 1000 Yen.  If you are travelling late at night, you can also save a little money.  If you enter or exit the expressway after midnight, you will receive a discount.  If you use the roads via the regular method, you must pay the full cost.  Almost all car rental shops have ETC systems installed within their cars.  The only problem is getting a card on your own.  If you are a resident, this should be as difficult as getting a credit card.  However, if you are only visiting, you will be out of luck as an ETC card is used like a visa card.  If you are living in Japan, do your best to get one if you plan to do any driving.  If you are given the option to get one with your credit card, I’d apply at the same time as you never know if you’ll be driving in the future.  In the end, good luck and safe driving.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Mutsu and Oma January 20, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Tohoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Mutsu and Oma” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-6A

This is Part II of a multi-part series chronicling my motorcycle adventure from Tokyo to Sapporo and back again.

Background:  In 2007, I had finally gotten my Japanese driver’s license and a motorcycle.  I had been an avid motorcycle rider in Canada before I came to Japan, so after 2 years of no riding, I finally bought a motorcycle and decided to go on a big adventure.  I went from Tokyo to Sapporo by motorcycle and ferry.  It was an adventure to say the least.

Leg 2 (Mutsu to Hakodate)

On day two, I woke up early and left for Hokkaido.  Mutsu was everything I expected, a simple pit stop.  There are several routes I could have taken to reach a small fishing village called Oma.  I decided to take the main road to be safe as I had to catch my ferry.  I stopped at many places along the way and enjoyed this part of my trip a lot.  It is the best memories I had.  I found a small shrine just outside the city centre.  It was built on the side of a hill and very close to the sea.  I then took brief stops at various villages along the way for pictures.  There was so many things to see and so many interesting and natural things that I took a long time to reach my destination.  The villages were technically part of the “city” but they looked independent of each other.  There was a nice park and lookout along the way as well.  The park looked well maintained, but I was curious as to why it was even there.  The lookout allowed me to see some interesting mini islands.  They look like rocks sticking out of the sea.  If you travel to Matsushima, it’s very similar.  The only difference is that there were no holes under the island, but there were lots of tetrapods around.

Once I got into Oma, I got lost looking for the peninsula.  Trying to understand road signs in Japan is a nightmare.  If you ever drive in Japan, you’ll hate them; even Japanese people hate the signs.  The peninsula was nice, but very out of the way.  It is the northern most point on Japan’s main island, and a mini tourist attraction.  The people seemed friendly, but the wind made it cold.  There is a very interesting statue of fists fighting tuna.  It’s a symbol of the town, which makes it’s living by catching bluefin tuna.  There were a few shops there, but I decided that after taking a few pictures I wanted to head straight to the ferry wharf. Only one question… where was it?  The story of this adventure has to be me being lost almost every day that I rode my motorcycle.  Once I found it, I relaxed for about an hour and talked to another rider.  At the time, I got to practice my really bad Japanese.  He was an older guy from the Kansai (Osaka) area and riding an old BMW.  Even his bike was older than me.  I had a few pictures taken at the wharf and then boarded the ferry.

The ferry was a strange design for me.  In Vancouver, the ferry is relatively simple to understand.  Follow the lanes to your parking space.  This ferry was different.  It was a medium sized ferry with a special area for motorcycles.  Unlike Vancouver, they actually had tie downs for my bike.  Once secured, I rushed up to the passenger area.  If you have ever taken a ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, I’d consider that luxurious.  This ferry wasn’t good at all.  There were vending machines selling old looking things and a small kiosk selling your average ferry souvenirs.  There is only one place to rest, and that’s the tatami room.  It’s a large open room where you can put your things and lie down.  While it sounds nice, it’s far from it.  The room isn’t that warm and you are given a terrible pillow.  It’s basically a black foam block.  You do have the ability to watch TV, but unfortunately, reception is horrible.  All you can really do is relax and hope the seas are calm.  The ferry ride was short, but I got a little sick on the way.  My destination for this ferry ride was Hakodate.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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