Land of the Rising Sun: Part 1

Land of the Rising Sun: Part 1

After 20,000 miles and eight months of riding, we finally arrived in Japan. We found an intrinsic, beautiful balance of unique culture, stunning scenery and fascinating history. But that’s not all, Japan has a weird side… and it’s addictive

Samurai at Edo Wonderland Japan Nikko Edomura Guide

The Russian ferry door slams down onto the concrete and our tyres touch Japanese soil for the first time. We’ve been excited about Japan for years. It’s a place we’ve always wanted to visit. Although, we never imagined it’d be so hard fought to get here. But here we are, after nine months and 20,000 miles of riding from the UK, we finally made it.

We checked our map and booked a hotel for our first night, which turned out to be a ‘Love Hotel’. We had no idea until we turned up and saw giant pink curtains covering a line of garages and no reception area. You put your vehicle into the garage and close the curtains for privacy. You then access the room from your garage, there’s a payment machine in the room, you never see any staff and everything is extremely private.

It was our first sign that we were now in a different world, far removed from the UK and anything we’ve seen before. The people are completely different here, it’s all about respect, being calm and ultra polite to one another. Bowing and saying thank you a million times is the norm. The streets are immaculate, vehicles are spotless, and most importantly – this love hotel is incredible! Ignore the dildo machine in the corner and it’s probably one of the lushest, swankiest hotel rooms we’ve ever stayed in.

Beautiful town at Edo Wonderland Japan
A long time ago, Japan passed a law that says everything must look beautiful…

Our luck was finally starting to turn. We received an email from a friend at BMW Japan who heard about our ordeal through Russia and said we could borrow a couple of Beemers for our time in Japan! So, we raced to Tokyo to drop off our tired, battered and bruised Yamaha, picked up the keys to a BMW R1200GS and G310GS and blasted out of the city as fast as possible! We’ll be returning to Tokyo at the end of our trip and didn’t want to spend too much time in the city.

BMW R1200GSA and G310GS Japan touring guide
Perfect spot for a campsite
Epic shot of BMW G310GS adventure bike in Japan
Chasing mountain roads
BMW R1200GSA touring in Japan guide
Spot Andy on the BMW R1200GS

We had six months ahead of us and the whole of Japan to uncover. Armed with two adventure bikes (that work and we can rely on not to break down) we set off into the mountains of Hakuba and to Edo Wonderland, as that’s where I wanted to spend my birthday – watching samurai shows and ninjas jumping around in a perfect Edo restoration village. And who wouldn’t!

Edo Wonderland Japan 's beautiful town
Japan is even pretty on rainy days
Geisha at Edo Wonderland Japan
And so are the Geishas
Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura Guide
Definitely need one of those umbrellas

We had one more job to do up north before we could swing around and dart for the warm south coast. And that was to see the famous snow monkeys swinging around in their onsens (outdoor thermal baths).

Mother and baby Japanese Snow monkeys
Busy watching Monkey TV
How to visit the Japanese Snow Monkeys
The snow monkeys spend their time bathing in the onsens during winter

The weather in the north was changing, rain storms were coming in fast and snow was starting coat the mountains. We made our goodbyes to the monkeys and plotted a route to the far south of Japan, chasing the Pacific coast shoreline the whole way. We stuck to twisty back-roads that laced their way round cliff edges, up and over mountain passes and flowed beside the Pacific’s sparkling blue water. We stayed away from cities as much as possible, get anywhere near them and you’re stuck on the horrifically slow national roads. There is an expressway option with toll booths, but you’d need to remortgage your house to use it.

BMW R1200GSA touring in Japan
The roads twist around the coast like this for hundreds of miles
View from Rabbit Island in Japan
The only hard thing about riding the coast is all the stopping you have to do for pretty pictures
Japan's Easter Island
Sometimes it feels more like Polynesia

We hugged the coast tightly, riding through little fishing villages and stopping only to eat copious amounts of delicious ramen noodles and fresh sushi. As soon as the sun started to dip into the ocean, we just headed towards the beach and tucked ourselves away for the night. We were always met by locals in the morning who either offered oranges or hurried us inside their homes for breakfast.

Their kindness took us by surprise, mainly because we thought the Japanese were so reserved. But children would randomly bring us bags of sweets on the ferries, people would give us food, buy us drinks and even offer free meals in cafes.

People were kind and sweet to us everywhere we went, waving and smiling as we rode through quintessential Japanese villages. There was only one time where nobody waved back – a first in our time here. Turns out the village is populated by over 200 meticulously placed and well-looked-after scarecrows and only 29 humans, so we let them off.

How to visit Japan's Nagoro scarecrow village
She has missed the last 4,822 buses
The Nagoro Scarecrow guide
Can’t get a word in edgeways with these cheeky chaps
Scarecrows in Japan
Seen anything good on the telly lately, Mildred?

But it wasn’t all easy riding… on a tiny island we found our most technical and challenging ride yet – Rabbit Island. Thousands of fluffy bunnies hop around making it impossible to move. So we left the bikes and our stuff and ran around the island like kids stroking all the fwuffy wabbits and feeding them. But it’s not all adorable bags of cuteness… the island has a dark past and exploring it feels like being on the TV series ‘Lost’.

Abandoned chemical factories, bunkers, hatches, turrets, secret towers and offices… all left to decay. The island was once a top secret and illegal chemical weapons manufacturing plant during WWII and the rabbits’ ancestors were lab rabbits. When Japan surrendered, the workers fled but not before they released the lab rabbits into the wild. With no predators they spread and over populated… like rabbits.

adorable rabbits on Rabbit Island in Japan
The island is literally full of these guys, they run up to you, stand on their back legs and just look freakin adorable
Rabbits in love on Rabbit Island in Japan
Shnuggles. Enough said.
Guide how to visit Japan's cute rabbit island
Andy and all his mates
Rabbit Island chemical weapons factory derelict
This is an abandoned poison gas factory on the island. They produced six kilotons of mustard gas and all in secret.

We’re no longer surprised by this sort of thing, a few days later and we’re riding on another island, this time overpopulated by friendly deer.

BMW G310GS in Japan autumn with a deer
They’re not scared of the bike… or the leopard prints
Japanese Deer on Nara Park
Just chilling with my ‘deer’ friend
BMW G310GS motorcycling and feeding deer in Japan
Give us a go on yer bike mate!

Japan is bursting with the weird and wonderful. It’s an intrinsic, beautiful balance of unique culture, stunning scenery and fascinating history. And the more we delve into it, the more we become addicted…. We spend the next two months chasing ancient Shinto temples, grand gorges, magnificent castles, gorgeous gardens and places we never imagined. Check it out in next month’s blog.

With thanks to…

Miles and Christine Makoto

Miles and Christine in Japan
Cycling with Miles and Christine in Shirahama

I turned 31 in Tokyo on 6 October 2018. Exactly seven years ago to the day, I was riding home from Iraq when I stopped off in Cappadocia, Turkey to find some people to celebrate turning 24 with. One of those people was the awesome Miles Makoto, we got on so well that he ended up buying a flimsy motorcycle helmet and jumping on the back of my Yamaha XT (the same one Alissa and I are on today). We had a mad ride through Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia to Croatia where we stayed for a few weeks. It was seriously epic and one of my best memories! Now, here we are seven years later – in a bar in Tokyo – celebrating my 31st with Alissa, Miles and his beautiful wife, Christine. It’s all about the people you meet when travelling!

Andy and Miles motorcycle adventure into Balkans and Croatia
Andy and Miles somewhere in the Balkans in 2011

We all hung out in Tokyo for a few days and then met up again at Shirahama beach for cycling, onsens and exploring. As Miles is of Japanese descent, and his grandfather originally came from Gobo, Japan. We all went in search of his family roots. Check out the video below!

Jin Kinoshita

Japanese adventurer Jin on his Africa Twin
Jin is the ultimate adventure rider! Super friendly, a big heart, incredibly helpful and awesome to be around!

This is Jin Kinoshita, our favourite Japanese adventure rider! We met him in Kazakhstan as he was riding from Japan to Portugal. He gave us some much needed octane booster for Uzbekistan and we gave him a Lonely Planet for the Caucasus. Now he’s introducing us to proper Japanese cuisine. The raw octopus was a challenge but the sushi is amazing! Jin has been helping us with our trip around Japan since before we even got here. Thanks Jin, you’re the best!

Lucky Pete​

Lucky Pete's Cafe and Bar in Hakuba Japan
Lucky Pete on his Harley

Pete randomly messaged us on Facebook and said: “If you’re passing Hakuba, give me a shout”. So, we arrived at his bar late at night, in the pouring rain and soaked to the skin.

He fed us, gave us the keys to one of his insanely cool apartments and his wonderful wife cooked us breakfast in the morning. If that wasn’t enough, he took around town and to the Bike Bar Hakuba, sorted us out a set of tyres (thanks Ross) and we went for a cruise, chasing him on his Harley as he showed us round the ski resorts!

Pete is a legend. We love Pete and his crazy stories. It’s people like him that remind you how generous and kind-hearted people can be.

Also, Pete is the owner of DownTown Hakuba apartments. If you’re interested in skiing in Japan, then we’d recommend staying there – the apartments are swish!

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