Japan Motorbike Diaries #3: Fall foliage and Mt. Fuji and quick bikes, oh my!

When you have executed even a bit little bit of web analysis on touring in Japan, you might have in all probability seen images of a sea of cherry blossoms and a pink pagoda with a snowcapped Mount Fuji within the background. That famed photograph op spot is Arakurayama Sengen Park within the Yamanashi Prefecture metropolis of Fujiyoshida, roughly 100 kilometers west of central Tokyo, and the mid-April view is a very stunning slice of Japan. However I’ve by no means been to see the sakura, largely as a result of I might heard that the place is so crowded with vacationers at the moment of yr that I might have needed to anticipate hours to see something Instagramable.

Snowcapped Mount Fuji is seen past a cover of cherry blossoms in full bloom and a pagoda at Arakurayama Sengen Park in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, on April 13, 2022. (Toshio Odagiri)

So, not definitely worth the bother of a cease in your motorbike journey via Japan? Not so quick. Initially, the commentary deck was expanded in spring 2022 to assist alleviate the crowding downside. And second, and I can not stress this sufficient, there are different seasons than cherry blossom season.

My suggestion is to swing by within the autumn, as I did in November 2021, when the Yamanashi panorama is aflame with turning Japanese maple leaves, great meals beckons, and a winding route some riders name the “bikers’ sacred highway” awaits you and your machine.

Most individuals simply searching for a fast method from Tokyo to Yamanashi Prefecture’s magnificence spots would take the Metropolitan and Chuo expressways, however there are some issues I ought to notice for guests. One, tandem driving is unlawful on the previous. And two, you could know precisely the place you’re going on the plate of spaghetti that’s the Metropolitan Expressway.

In case you are unfamiliar with Tokyo geography, verify an expressway map (https://www.shutoko.co.jp/en/index/roadways/map/) prematurely to be sure you’ve acquired your route down pat, as a result of there are only a few spots on the way in which the place you’ll be able to cease to verify a map. Although there are English indicators on expressways, the letters are sometimes very small, so riders might miss them. One other factor: The pace restrict on most components of the Metropolitan Expressway is 60 kilometers per hour or decrease, versus the 100 kph that’s commonplace on most different expressways in Japan.

The “no tandem driving,” proper, and “ETC solely” indicators (normally in purple) are seen on the Hitotsubashi interchange on the Metropolitan Expressway on Aug. 29, 2022. (Mainichi/Tatsuma Kasama)

There are a number of routes to get to Yamanashi from Tokyo, however to expertise the “sacred” Doshi-michi highway, I’d advocate taking the Metropolitan and E20 Chuo expressways to the Hachioji junction in western Tokyo, then flip onto the C4 Ken-o Expressway and head south for a brief spell, exiting on the Sagamihara interchange.

One other necessary level: You will want an ETC (Digital Toll Assortment) wi-fi cashless fee system to get off on the Sagamihara exit. The ETC system requires a devoted bank card and a tool, however these can be found at few motorbike rental companies together with Rental819 (https://www.rental819.com/english/), which expenses 200 yen per day, and the two-wheel division of J-net Hire@Automotive (https://www.j-netrentacar.co.jp/bike/#bikeTOP), which affords the choice for 330 yen per rental. There are a lot of interchanges on expressways in Japan that enable solely riders with the ETC system and card to get via the gates. When you stay in Japan and personal a bike with an engine displacement over 125 cc (the minimal for expressway journey), putting in the system is extremely advisable as a result of it makes two-wheel journeys much more handy.

Autumn foliage and Mount Fuji far within the background are seen from Arakurayama Sengen Park in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, on Nov. 20, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuma Kasama)

With many sharp curves and with out many visitors lights, the hilly 60-kilometer stretch of Nationwide Route 413 generally referred to as Doshi-michi is nice for two-wheelers. When you plan to motorbike west from Tokyo, take the freeway that’s the greatest; get your kicks on Route 413! It’s a genuinely thrilling trip, and you have to to be in your toes. You may even see flowers alongside the roadside at spots the place accidents have claimed lives. However concern not; it is enjoyable and protected so long as you do not go too quick. And, whereas helmets are obligatory for motorcyclists on any public highway in Japan, be sure you put on one simply in case.

Alongside the route is a michi-no-eki (roadside relaxation station) the place you’ll encounter a smaller Japanese model of the Sturgis Motorbike Rally on sunny weekends. It is a completely different kind of thrill to see so many bikes and chat with the house owners of some unbelievable customized iron horses.

Autumn leaves are seen at Arakurayama Sengen Park in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, on Nov. 20, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuma Kasama)

And on the finish of the Doshi-michi highway are the incredible vistas of Lake Yamanakako, one of many Fuji 5 Lakes which dot Yamanashi Prefecture north of Japan’s highest mountain. If driving the highway in mid-November, you’re prone to see some autumn foliage alongside the way in which, but it surely’s additionally only a brief jaunt from there to Arakurayama Sengen Park. The northeastern shore of the lake can be a hotspot for early-rising shutterbugs in early winter, eager to catch Mount Fuji clad in pink at dawn. However as you might know, mountain climate is changeable, so excellent views will not be assured.

Completely different hues of autumn leaves are seen at Arakurayama Sengen Park in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, on Nov. 20, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuma Kasama)

Once I visited the world in mid-November, I may simply discover a house to park my bike at Arakurayama Sengen Park, however even in the event you can not discover a spot, there are lots of different parking tons close by.

And as you go to Lake Yamanakako, I’d counsel heading to the opposite 4 of the Fuji 5 Lakes. Not like the 5 Nice Lakes of North America, you will get round all 5 lakes in Yamanashi Prefecture in a single day. Nonetheless, keep an evening both coming or going to keep away from dashing. The areas I’d advocate for an in a single day cease are Fujiyoshida, as a result of it is all vibrant lights, large metropolis, or the neighboring city of Fujikawaguchiko, as a result of it sits on Lake Kawaguchiko, the biggest of the 5 lakes, and the city has comparatively extra accommodations and eateries than others. Additionally, and this isn’t a small factor, the autumn leaves alongside the lake are very good.

The writer’s FLFBS Fats Boy 114 is seen with a cloud-wreathed Mount Fuji on the iconic mountain’s fifth station on Might 23, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuma Kasama)

Relying on if you go to, driving the Fuji Subaru Line (http://subaruline.jp/e/) is one other good thought. The 28-km-long winding hill highway connects the foot and the fifth station — about 2,300 meters above sea degree — of Mount Fuji. Although the route is meant to be open all year long, entry is definitely restricted to tour buses between mid-July and the tip of August, and it will also be closed by unhealthy climate or highway situations together with snow on the mountain. Meaning it’s normally closed in winter. So the one good instances are early summer time and autumn.

Hoto noodles in miso fermented soybean paste-based soup are seen within the city of Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture, on Nov. 20, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuma Kasama)

As soon as you have had your fill of the views, although, it is time to get your fill of the great meals. Yamanashi Prefecture is known for juicy fruit, particularly peaches and grapes, however in fact they’re seasonal. Native “hoto” noodles, nevertheless, are round all yr. The dish is principally flat wheat noodles stewed in miso fermented soybean paste soup with loads of veggies. It’s wholesome, tastes nice and chases away the autumn chill. It is also the form of second when it hits you that Japan, although smaller than the U.S. state of California, has a mind-boggling patchwork of regional cuisines, ready to be tasted by anybody with the need, and the wheels, to get to all of them.

Mount Fuji is seen from Asagiri Highland within the metropolis of Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, on the border with Yamanashi Prefecture, on Nov. 21, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuma Kasama)

Again on the highway, the three remaining lakes — from east to west, Lake Saiko, Lake Shojiko, and Lake Motosuko — are comparatively small, however nonetheless eye-popping, embraced by seas of pink and orange leaves with the majestic presence of Mount Fuji within the background. And if the highest of Mount Fuji is hidden by clouds, take it as an indication it’s a must to go to once more.

(By Tatsuma Kasama, The Mainichi Workers Author)


Tatsuma Kasama is a Japan-born motorbikaholic. A highschool encounter with the 1969 American highway film “Straightforward Rider” modified his life, as he fell head over heels in love with the bikes ridden by the hippie protagonists performed by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. His personal previous rides had been a Yamaha Jog-Z, Yamaha DragStar Traditional 400, Kawasaki Zephyr 400, and Harley-Davidson Avenue Bob. He’s now the proud single dad to a Harley-Davidson Fats Boy 114.

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