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Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I] September 21, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Driving in Japan (2010) [Part I]” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tq

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while now, you know that I have had many trips in and around Japan, along with many road trips.  I have been taking road trips almost every year now on either a motorcycle or in a car.  In 2007, I took a trip to Hokkaido by motorcycle.  It was my first road trip, and a terrible one at that.  I was alone, cold and wet.  For my second trip, I rented a car for just a day and drove up to Nikko.  The route brought back a few memories of my trip to Sapporo, but with all the comforts of a car.  It was a pretty easy trip, but it taught me the pain of driving in the city, and trying to return to the city on a Sunday night.  One word can sum up that experience, traffic.  Last year, I had my epic adventure, and the last one on my bike.  I took a trip by ferry and rode my bike around Shikoku for two weeks.  It was a wonderful holiday that restored my faith in driving and riding in Japan.  It helped a lot that I went with a friend from Osaka.  Recently, June 2010, I embarked on my big road adventure of the year.  I headed to the San’in region, along with Hiroshima.  What follows is a recounting of what happened as we conquered the roads that lay ahead of us.

As many of you know by now, I have written about my adventures in San’in already.  I have talked about Tottori and Shimane.  My journey started with a flight from Tokyo to Tottori.  I left in the early morning and had time to spend an entire day in Tottori city.  I visited the Tottori Sand Dunes and that was pretty much it.  The actual adventure didn’t start until the next day.  We got up early again as we had a long day of driving ahead of us.  Thankfully, we had two drivers, one being myself, and the other being my friend from Osaka.  We rented a Mazda Axela, which is a Mazda 3 in North America.  It was a little big for what we needed, but we were expecting a total of 4 people in the car, but one person bailed as she booked the wrong tickets for the trip.  The car itself was big for what we needed.  We could have gotten a compact car instead of this one, but the added size made the trip very comfortable.  When we got the car we spent a few minutes fiddling with the GPS navigation system before we took off.  The GPS was easy for us to understand, but it would take at least 2 more days before it was easy to use.  If you ever rent a car in Japan, be sure to learn a little Japanese, or have a good understanding on how to guess the menu system.  It was difficult to use, but we all had various degrees of Japanese knowledge which helped us a lot.

Our first leg of day 1 was a trip along the coast.  We started with a short drive on the mainland to avoid the traffic and made good time.  We reached our junction, ignoring our GPS all the time.  We had our own route planned and the GPS was guiding us to the “best” route but not the most scenic.  Thankfully, we had enough knowledge of the road to navigate smoothly and soon enough we were pros at navigating.  When we hit the coast, we took our sweet time and stopped at a couple beaches. We got our feet wet and took many pictures.  It was a perfect start to the day.  Driving up and down the coast on the Sea of  Japan is amazing. I have heard from many motorcycle riders that the coast is amazing, and I would have to agree.  I would love to just rent a car, or even bring a bicycle to the area and just enjoy the trip.  I was told by a friend that taking the train is also spectacular, but I tend to get a little antsy on trains after a few hours.  At least with a train, I could drink alcohol and not worry about getting into too much trouble.

My friend from Osaka did the first leg of driving.  He handled the coast very well, which was pretty easy.  There weren’t too many turns and the signs were easy for us to read.  We had one tough section through a small town called Hawai.  The pronunciation is the same as Hawaii, and the town played with that name a lot.  Everywhere you went, you saw Hawaii signs and tourist attractions that were a little tongue in cheek with references to the beautiful island resort.  After the town, we switched drivers as my friend had bad experiences driving on small country side roads.  It was my first time to drive in a few months and over a year since I had last driven on the left side of the road.  It was a little shaky at first, but I got my road legs back very quickly.  Aside from getting used to the car, which happens with almost any new car I drive, things were easy.  We were quickly headed down the road that we chose, but we soon reached what looked like nothing more than an access road.  Being in the countryside of Tottori, some of the main highways between cities are more akin to an access road rather than a true road.  Unlike North American streets where designated highways must meet a certain criteria, in Japan, it just indicates the road.  Our first “moment” came as this access road was about 1.5 lanes wide and we came across a truck.  It was a big truck and a challenge.  I was facing the challenge of passing this oncoming truck with only a few centimetres on both sides of the car.  The truck driver was kind enough to stop on the side and let me do all the work, but considering his side had a wall, and mine a drop into a field, it wasn’t that bad.  Creeping slowly, I passed my first hurdle.  Little did I know, this would only be the beginning of our journey of the day.

The route we took to Daisen, our first real destination, was simple enough and only a few points of caution.  My map had a few warnings that the road we were about to embark upon was closed during the winter months due to the weather.  This didn’t worry me too much.  We had a nice car, supplies to keep us fed and hydrated, and lots of time.  By the time we reached the road, things changed very quickly.  The first challenge of a small countryside road was past, but we had another road that was also only 1.5 lanes wide.  Being the countryside, and having seen the last stretch of road, I thought that this would be a short stretch of narrow roads.  I was wrong.  We also had to contend with a few construction signs with which we had no idea what they meant.  After our trip, we reviewed photos of the signs, and the sign said that cars were not allowed in, but when we went, it had a sticker on top saying it was “cancelled”.  Essentially, we got lucky.  We ended up doing most of the trip up and around Daisen on the narrow style road.  I have had experience on these types of roads before in Canada.  In Victoria, there are a few nice places like this.  The road is narrow and the vegetation is abundant.  On this road, it was the same.  The overgrowth from the bushes and trees made it a challenge to drive.  Being a kinder driver, I took a little more time to get around, along with the fact that I was worried about oncoming traffic, whatever it may be.  We spent roughly an hour or so going up, down, and around the north side of the mountain in what was one of my toughest drives ever.  The road was immaculate, and the beauty of the forest was unrivalled.  If I had the chance to skip that area, I would probably say no.  It’s something that has to be seen and experienced.  Before long, we were at Daisen-ji and taking a long deserved break from the car.

Note:  This is part one of a two part series.  Please continue reading in Part II.
For further reading about the San’in region, please follow the links below:

Driving Information:

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – English): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chugoku_Expressway

Chugoku Expressway (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/中国自動車道

Izumo Orochi Loop (Wikipedia – Japanese): http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/奥出雲おろちループ

Drive Plaza (Information on Expressways in Japan including travel times – JAPANESE): http://www.driveplaza.com/

About Touring in Japan (English): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto/map_e.html

How to Cycle Around Japan (This is for cycling, but it’s very useful for driving as well): http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto_e.html

Touring Mapple (Official – Japanese): http://touring.mapple.net/

Rental Car How To (Japan Guide) [Note: There are links to major car rental companies towards the bottom of the page]:http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2024.html

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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Ferries of Japan May 4, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Ferries of Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-fk

Taking a ferry in Japan can be a completely new experience for anyone.  Taking a ferry in any country can be new.  Previously, my main experience on a ferry was in Vancouver.  Sailing between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay (Vancouver to Victoria) was a common experience.  It is only an hour and a half on a large sized ferry.  Usually there is a cafeteria and lots of seats to relax.  It plied the waters of the Georgia Strait and went between Mayne and Galiano Islands.  The trip was just over an hour and a half and it was a beautiful trip.  You can see the beauty of the natural forested islands.  The trip itself was generally calm, but at times, it could be rough.  As a motorcyclist, it was also great because you could easily get a spot on the ferry at anytime.  First off, you are usually the first to board the ferry.  You were boarded at the front of the ferry (first to exit) where no other cars could park.  From there, you had a wooden block placed under your bike for safety.  The car deck was also very flat as there were no places for tie downs.

My other experience on ferries was between Dover and Calais in the 90s.  My first crossing was in a hover craft.  Unfortunately, I heard the sailing has stopped.  The hover craft was a nice experience, but nothing to call home about.  It was noisy, bumpy, but fast.  It was akin to being on a small prop plane.  The second trip was on a standard ferry.  I was on a tour, so we walked on.  There was a nice large shop and by the time you finished exploring the ship, it was pretty much time to disembark.  I can’t remember the time it took to cross, but it should be about an hour and a half as well.  Finally, I had a chance to take a ferry between Hong Kong and Macau.  It was so long ago that I can’t remember it very clearly.  It was, for the most part, a short and forgettable experience.  Out of all of my experiences, I’d say the Dover Calais trip on a regular ferry was the best.

Japan is a whole new breed of ferry services.  It is distinctly Japanese.  I have only taken ferries because I was travelling on my motorcycle.  The first trip was a short hour and forty minute ferry ride.  It was between the fishing village of Oma and Hakodate, Hokkaido.  This short ferry ride is a typical ferry in Japan.  It is not too big and not too large.  The car deck was somewhat dangerous on a motorcycle, but I had a nice small area to park.  They would put a towel over my bike to protect it, and tie it down on both sides.  This is a very common thing to do in Japan.  Usually, motorcycles are the first to board, but it doesn’t mean they are the first to disembark.  Generally, they are the last, as the door can be in a difficult position.  It really depends on the ferry, as always.  The trip itself is not special.  There is nothing to really see until you reach Hakodate.  I’d say it was somewhat boring as well.  My second trip on a ferry in Japan was from Tokyo to Tokushima, as chronicled in my Shikoku adventure.  This is a very different breed of ferry.  It is much bigger.  There are two car decks, but only one is for passenger cars.  These ferries are mainly for transporting cargo, rather than passenger traffic.  However, they double as passenger ferries to service long haul routes.  During the busy times, there are dozens of motorcycles strapped to each other with barely any room to walk between each bike.  Thankfully, they still tie them down regardless.  This ferry has all the amenities to survive for weeks, if you have to.  The ferry from Oma to Hakodate had very few amenities.  Mainly drinks, some snacks, and maybe a little alcohol, generally nothing special.  It also smelt bad.  The ferry from Tokyo to Tokushima was a luxury liner compared to the other ferry.  Depending on the ferry, you might get your own restaurant, but both offered vending machine food, desert snacks, alcohol, and alcohol snacks.  You could also buy ice cream, play slots, and take a bath.  While the toilets weren’t great, you had pretty much everything you could need.

In general, ferries all over the world differ slightly from each other.  When travelling long distances, it’s always important to know what to bring and to always be prepared for rough seas.  I was lucky that I rarely travelled in rough seas.  Most of my trips were nice and smooth, with only a couple on rough seas.  I would highly recommend a nice leisurely trip on a ferry if you can afford it and have the time.  It’s a great way to relax and just think.  However, as most people who visit Japan come for only a week or two, it’s not the most viable option.  For those living in Japan, it’s a great way to have a new experience in life, and I highly recommend it.

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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