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The Great Motorcycle Adventure – Part II (Wrap Up) September 1, 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 “The Great Motorcycle Adventure – Part II (Wrap Up)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-eP

By now, you have finished reading about Shikoku and you know what to expect if you visit Shikoku.  In this post, I’m going to be a little greedy and talk about my adventure, personally.

Preparing for this adventure was a chore in itself.  There are a million things to do, and a million things to plan.  I purposefully left everything till the last few weeks, but kept a basic plan in my head.  I never even had a good idea of how long I’d like to stay in each area until a week before leaving.  In fact, I never even locked my plans on how to get to Shikoku until the last second, literally.  I decided to take the ferry, roughly two nights before I left, and didn’t even reserve a spot until the day I left.  There are two main reasons why I chose to take the ferry.  The first, I didn’t feel like riding for 8 hours on the expressway, getting lost, looking for gas, and generally being bored on my own.  The main reason I took the ferry was that a friend of mine was also heading to Shikoku at the same time.  Instead of driving, or riding a motorcycle, he and a friend of his decided to ride their bicycles from Kochi to Matsuyama.  It was also a great adventure, and I felt honoured to be starting our journey together.  In fact, we almost didn’t even start together.  They barely made it onto the ferry as they were late arriving at the terminal.  On the ferry, I also met a German man who was on a trip to Kyushu.  It takes roughly two days to reach Kyushu, but we had a great time drinking, eating, and talking.  I believe I made the right decision.

My friend, John, has his own podcast.  You can view it here:  http://weblish.net/
Please subscribe to his main Weblish Podcast (Episode 40 a~f) to see his own documentary of his trip in Shikoku.

Upon riding down the ramp at Tokushima, I had to wait roughly 20 minutes for my friend to arrive.  He had to get gas, and he also got lost looking for the terminal.  I was getting antsy to get out as it was a beautiful day and I was hoping to head up to Naruto for the whirlpools.  As we were looking for the hotel, we had a little accident.  My friend dropped his motorcycle.  This was our only bad luck, in terms of riding.  It took us about 30 minutes to find the hotel, but when we did, we were just happy to be in Shikoku.  My friend, however, had no energy and needed to get off the bike for the day.  This would actually be the mood of the entire trip.  Ride a little, and then relax for the afternoon and night.  We toured Tokushima before going to bed.  The hotel was great, and I wish I could have gone back.  The owner had a big Ducati in the garage, free motorcycle parking, and free wifi in our room.  What more could we ask for?  He even gave us a little advice when we left for our trip.  Unfortunately, when we returned to Tokushima, the hotel was fully booked.

Riding down route 55 was excellent.  It was our first full day, and like any other adventure, we got lost.  The first time we got lost was when the road just stopped.  They were still building a bypass.  Thankfully, we needed the break anyways and it was relatively easy to get back on route.  We got to see pretty much everything I wanted to see, in terms of sights.  We saw a dam, the beach, and the cape.  It was a beautiful road and I wish I could go back again, someday.  I’m not finished with Muroto.  I only wish I had an extra 10 hours to enjoy some of the sights that we passed, especially the beaches.

Kochi was our first rest day.  Since we don’t ride much, it was a good opportunity to keep our batteries full.  We had a great time walking around and seeing all of the people.  My only regret is not bringing flip flops to walk around in.  It was only the third day and my feet were already starting to hurt from walking in motorcycle boots.  This was also the day that we decided to not use our motorcycles aside from getting from A to B, as we didn’t want to look for parking, and risk getting lost.  It is way too easy to get lost, especially without a navigation system.  We did have a map, but it was for the entire region, so it wasn’t detailed enough for us, wherever we went.  If I lived in the area, I would definitely want to explore the area a lot more.

Our next leg of the trip took us from Kochi to Ozu.  We had a tough time finding a hotel as we were in the middle of Golden Week.  We were lucky to find a room in a town we wanted to stay in.  We thought about taking route 56 all the way to the second cape, but thought we had better skip it as we took too much time taking route 55.  We also started our adventure on the expressway for the first time.  I can’t tell you how much time you can save if you take the expressway.  People go much faster, and there are very few cars.  It’s expensive overall, but well worth it, even for short distances.  We cut through the middle of the cape to reach Uwajima.  We had several plans for the day as we didn’t know how long it would take us to reach Ozu.  We decided that taking a junction to Uwajima, first, and then heading north to Ozu would be better as we had a lot of time.  We got lost in Uwajima, but that was to be expected.  We were more lost when we were in Ozu.  We saw a beautiful European style castle or palace on the side of the mountain, but we didn’t have time to go looking for it.  We both thoroughly enjoyed Ozu.  It was the kind of small town Japan that you can only dream of.  It wasn’t very small, but small enough that you can walk everywhere.  The town had a train running through every hour or so, the shops closed very early, and there really wasn’t a lot to do except enjoy the scenery.  It was extremely peaceful.

Our final touring leg was to head out to Misaki and then head to Matsuyama.  This was probably the biggest disappointment of the trip for me.  Misaki turned out to be nothing special.  It was a nice challenge, but the area wasn’t that beautiful.  It could have been all the clouds, but I’m not too sure.  I enjoyed the coast from Ozu to Matsuyama, and loved the beach at Futami.  I hope to return someday and just spend a few hours relaxing.  We spent a little too much time there, and we were very anxious about Matsuyama.  Being the height of Golden Week, we had no place to stay, and we might have to find an internet café or something.  Thankfully, we found the Matsuyama Guest House, with an excellent host.  We met many great people and had the time of our lives.  I can’t say how greatful I was for staying there.  My only problem was the two men we shared a room with.  They were Americans who were hiking along the 88 temple route.  Matsuyama was their last stop before returning to Tokyo for work.  I can’t describe the stench that they and their clothes produced, but needless to say, I didn’t sleep well.  I got up early the next morning and went for a walk on my own to collect my thoughts.  It was about the time that my friend and I were starting to feel a strain on our relationship.  There is only so much two people can do together before they start to get upset at each other.  They can be the best friends in the world, but unless you live with them for a long time, it can be difficult.  Matsuyama itself was a great place, but not a place that I would want to visit again.  I came, I saw, I left.  I wish I went to the Dogo Onsen, and I would love to visit the Dogo Brewery again, but in reality, there isn’t much for me to see or do anymore.

After Matsuyama, we had to decide whether to risk heading to Takamatsu, with a chance of showers, or stay another day in Matsuyama.  We decided to risk it as the chances were low.  We weren’t so lucky this day.  We had a small shower on the expressway, and another one when we got in to Takamatsu city itself.  It took us a little while to find our way to the hotel, but overall, everything was fine.  We had a free computer in the hotel, and they even covered our bikes so it wouldn’t get too dirty from the rain.  The hotel was run by an older couple, like a family business, but it was part of a small franchise.  We were thinking of heading to Kotohira before getting to Takamatsu, but we changed our plans when we saw the weather forecast for the day, and also when we thought about parking.  We also made our first big mistake of the day.  We tried to take a train, but misread the timetable.  Instead of having an extra train on holidays, it said there was NO train on the holidays.  We had to wait at the station for over one hour.  We could have walked back, but in our motorcycle boots, probably not.  We also didn’t know about bicycle rentals, which would have helped us a lot, but that’s for our next trip.

We used Takamatsu as our base for three nights.  We spent a day in Kotohira and a day in Naoshima.  There isn’t much to say or add as my previous posts describe it much better.  My only regret was that it was raining so much in Naoshima that I didn’t get a chance to ride a bicycle on the island.  I will definitely have to return for that adventure.  At the time, I didn’t know about an island called Shodoshima.  It is another famous island that is close to Naoshima.  It is famous for being the olive capital of Japan, and known for a replica 88 temple pilgrimage.  Thankfully, I can also reach this island from Okayama, which is a place I’m considering to visit.  Okayama is famous for its black castle.  It was built to rival Himeji castle.  It would make a nice long weekend trip, if I get a chance.  If I do return to Takamatsu I will definitely have to enjoy the delicious Udon, but for now, I’ll be content with the udon in Tokyo.  Takamatsu is no longer on my list of places to visit.

Upon returning to Tokushima, I finally got to see one of the main things I wanted to see since I started planning my trip.  The Naruto Whirlpools are famous in Japan and I had to see them.  I was a little sad that we didn’t see them when we arrived, but I was still very happy to see them at the end of the trip.  By this time, my friend and I had nothing to really talk about, and we were basically trying to plan the end.  He ended up leaving a day early so he could be with his girlfriend and also go to a food festival in Osaka that was held once every four years, or something like that.  I couldn’t blame him at all.  I would have done the same.  My only problem was that the ferry I wanted to take was fully booked and I didn’t know if I could go home the next day or not.  The day that he left Shikoku, I had a full day to myself and my thoughts in Tokushima.  The city itself is very boring unless you get out.  I didn’t want to do that as I was tired from the travelling and really wanted to go home.  I ended up just walking back and forth in town until my feet gave up.  I had to change hotels as well because the one I stayed in was fully booked that night.  Needless to say, I had a restless night.

The morning of my potential departure from Shikoku was an early one.  I arrived at the ferry terminal very early, about 1 hour before they even opened.  I was the only idiot there that early.  I got my ticket to wait and didn’t even know if I could get on or not.  About one hour before we could board, one of the staff said I had a place, but I couldn’t understand him well enough.  Thankfully, I met a very nice old man, who reminded me of Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid (“Best Kid” in Japan).  He was kind enough to help me, just a little.  We did have a nice conversation before boarding the ferry.  The ferry ride home was the same as when I went to Shikoku.  The only difference was that I had my own bunk, and there wasn’t a “restaurant”.  Instead, they only had vending machine food.  It was still good enough.  I ate and drank all day and night until it was time to sleep.  I can’t tell you how different it was to sleep in a bunk versus the floor of a tatami room.  The only problem was that the curtains of the bunk kept all the air in, and I woke up suffocating in my own carbon dioxide.  Arriving in Tokyo, I was greeted by the fresh morning air; it was about 6 am.  I had a nice short ride home where I put my things away and could finally say “tadaima” (I’m home).

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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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。

Tokushima June 9, 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 “Tokushima” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-bZ

Tokushima is situated in the north-eastern region of Shikoku.  It is the major gateway to the island from Kansai.  It is connected via Awaji Island to Kobe.   Unfortunately, this city is very small and easily visited within a day or two.  You can easily get out of Tokushima city and head to Naruto in the north; Iya Valley in the west; and towards Muroto in the south.

Tokushima is primarily known for one thing, and only one thing, the Awa Odori.  It is a summer festival held in August.  It is one of the most distinct and unique festivals in Japan.  The Awa Odori is literally a traditional dance of the region.  People dress up in the regions unique festival clothing and the dance can be heard for blocks.  It is very difficult to describe the dance and it is something that must be seen in video to truly understand how complex, active, and interesting it really is.  All over Tokushima city, you’ll be able to see statues, banners, art, and videos of the Awa Odori.  You can even take a dance class at the base of Mt. Bizan.  While the Awa Odori is the most famous thing about Tokushima, sudachi is the most famous gift from Tokushima.  It is a small green citrus fruit that is similar to limes and lemons.  It has a slightly stronger taste, but very refreshing.  Beware that buying any sudachi sweets can be dangerous.  They last a long time, but once opened, they “could” expire within a day or two.  I would recommend buying sudachi alcohol and drinks, which are very popular.

There are only a few things to do in Tokushima itself.  The most famous thing to do is to head up Mt. Bizan.  There is a gondola that will take you from the base to the peak, but it runs every 15 minutes.  You can also get a discount if you go in the evening.  The top of the mountain is very beautiful and gives you a great view of the city.  Heading up in the evening is worth the price, however heading up at full price may not be worth it for those on a budget.  You can also hike up the mountain, and the peak offers various hiking paths.  If you are an avid hiker, this is a great place to get started for a short day hike.  Routes tend to be well marked and wind their way around the mountain.  In May, you will also be greeted with beautiful flowers blooming around the peak station.  If you are lucky, Mt. Bizan has over 1000 cherry trees, so the cherry blossom season is supposed to be extremely beautiful.

After Mt. Bizan, Tokushima Central Park is the next best place to visit.  It is located on a hill behind the station.  It can be a little difficult to reach as the station has only one entrance, to the south.  The park is located north of the station.  Once you find the park, it is a very nice place to visit.  The entire park is the site of the ruins of Tokushima Castle.  There are two routes to the top of the hill.  While both routes are equally difficult, be aware that the main route may have some school kids running up as part of their training exercises.  In all honesty, this park is better served to the locals.  There isn’t too much to see.  The view from the top of the hill, while nice, isn’t that great.  It’s difficult to see much of the city as there are large trees surrounding the old courtyard.  However, it is a good way to enjoy an afternoon in Tokushima.

Finally, walking along the Shinmachi River, south of the station, is a lot of fun.  The parks along the river are very beautiful, and there is a lot of outdoor art to enjoy.  You can even take a boat cruise around the city for only 100 yen.  It takes about one hour to go around the city.  You can also take a 4 hour cruise up to Naruto.  The river is also conveniently located near the main shopping area.  Shopping in Tokushima is sparse, to say the least.  It is probably the smallest major city in Shikoku, so finding any major name brands would be very difficult.  If you are looking for something to eat, I would recommend ramen.  It is a local specialty and the local food maps, available in most hotels, show the locations of famous ramen shops.  While it isn’t very different from other ramen shops in Japan, they tend to add slices of meat, and the soup base tends to be a little thinner and saltier, in my opinion.

Overall, I couldn’t say there is a lot to do in Tokushima city itself.  However, there is enough to make it a good weekend trip.  If you are just backpacking around Japan, timing a visit to coincide with the Awa Odori is the best way to go; otherwise it’s best to skip this city.  I would definitely like to return someday.

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 Great Motorcycle Adventure (Take II) June 5, 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 “The Great Motorcycle Adventure (Take II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-bW

On April 28, 2009 I embarked on my second great motorcycle adventure.  I went for two weeks to Shikoku.  Shikoku is an island located south of the main island.  It’s the fourth largest island and a dream destination of mine.  I had two destinations for riding adventures, Hokkaido and Shikoku.  As I have written before, I had already visited Hokkaido, with a bad result.  This time, things were completely different.

From Tokyo, there are two simple ways to reach Shikoku.  The fastest and possibly cheapest is to take the highway from Tokyo to Tokushima.  This is roughly 700km in total.  You will start off in Tokyo, head past Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe before going over the Akashi Bridge to Awaji Island and then over the Naruto Bridge into Shikoku.  In Japan, the ETC system can provide significant savings to your trip.  On weekends and holidays, there is a flat rate of 1000 yen for cars and motorcycles with an ETC system.  If you travel overnight, enter or exit between 10pm and 6am, you can receive up to 50% off your total travel costs.  Many people make use of this system, however be very aware that during the weekends and holidays, traffic will be backed up for kilometres.  During the first Golden Week rush, there were traffic jams along every expressway on Japan’s main island and they could stretch for over 100 kilometres in some cases.  ETC has also become so popular, that it’s sometimes faster to go through a regular pay toll gate than the automatic ETC gates.

The second route, and something I recommend if you don’t have ETC, is to take a ferry.  From Odaiba, you can board a ferry and reach Tokushima in 18 hours.  It’s an overnight ferry, but the gas and sanity that you save is a lot.  Plus, you can meet a lot of people if you want to.  It’s definitely better if you can enjoy the trip with a friend.  The ferry arrives around 1pm in Tokushima and it’s just enough time to go around the city.  Going outside the city to other regions can be difficult unless you plan everything correctly.

When travelling in Japan, most Japanese people will use their car navigation to find out how to go from A to B.  This is the most efficient way to do things, but it isn’t always the best.  For motorcyclists, we have a touring bible.  It’s called “Touring Mapple”.  It’s written completely in Japanese, but there are references within each book, road recommendations, and information about camp grounds, hostels, and almost anything you need to know when travelling.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.  Whether you travel by bicycle, car, or by it’s intended audience, by motorcycle.  Without it, I would have been lost in my travels.

Please note that this is just an introduction to my actual adventure.  I will be writing about things in much greater detail in the coming weeks.

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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