Wed Apr 26 2017: Last Days of a Half-Decade Motorcycle Ride
Argh! I'm missing two weeks worth of pictures from our Japan trip! I must have forgotten to transfer them from my DSLR camera to my hard drive, before I erased them from the SD card. I'm so pissed at myself!!!
I've only got a few pictures from our point and shoot and cell phone cameras, so I'm stealing some images from the Internet to pad out the next few blog entries. :(
We're at a bit of a crossroads in our Japan trip.
Our pace around the islands has been frantic, because we're renting these motorcycles and we don't want to waste money by taking rest days off the bikes. This has left us completely exhausted - it's been five weeks of constant Eat, Sleep, Ride, Repeat. Also Golden Week is coming up in four days and we haven't secured a place to stay yet.
From eyeballing the map, we can make it to back to Tokyo in a couple of days to return the bikes.
On the other hand, this is the final leg of our grand motorcycle journey. Sure, we've got a couple of motorcycles stashed in Croatia, but flying them back to Canada is just administration, not really part of the trip. A part of me wants to prolong these last few days. I've been pondering over the maps these last few days and noticed that we still haven't covered Hokkaido, the northern-most island in Japan. "Neda, Perhaps we could..."
"Hokkaido is covered in snow!", Neda interrupts my line of thinking. She's done. Her vote is for returning the bikes and enjoying the rest of Japan off two wheels. It seems like in her mind, the trip is already over.
My mind knows this, my tired body agrees, but my heart is sad that this is all ending so soon.
And not just Japan, but everything.
So we are making our way back to Tokyo. Albeit, taking a bit of a long circuitous route...
The AirBnB place we stayed at last night in Yuzawa-Machi, another alpine town
We had such a hard time finding both the building and getting into the apartment last night. The Japanese really don't like dealing with gaijin. It was a self-check-in and the owner hid the keys in a fuse panel out in the hallway... And the instructions for how to find the building and which exact fuse panel were obviously written with Google Translate!
We checked every single panel on the floor: Nope, not this one! Denied! Re-fused!
It was a decent place once we finally got in.
Snow still on the ground as we make our way out of Niigata Prefecture
In the morning, the roads are still a bit wet from all the melting snow, so we take it easy with our tires. Maybe Hokkaido wasn't such a great idea this time of year, after all.
Our route takes us through snowy mountain roads, east towards Nikko. The city is close to where we are staying this evening, so we have lots of time. It's a short ride, and we reach Nikko in time for a late lunch. There's a cool shrine and temple just on the outskirts of town, but this area is known for its delicious soba noodles, so our stomachs win out.
Parking is difficult to find on Nikko's main street. We find a deserted alleyway and leave our bikes there. I joke that this might be the last time we see our bikes so I take a picture of our dodgy parking spot for posterity.
Turns out we did see our bikes again. But we never saw those pictures I took... nor any other photos from my DSLR for the next two weeks... :(
I may not have pictures of Nikko anymore, but Mr. GoogleMaps does.
After lunch, we walk up the street and across the bridge to the Toshogu Shrine. Neda's cameraphone to the rescue
Toshogu has a five level pagoda. Actually most pagodas in Japan are five levels high
Each level represents one of the five elements: Earth (lowest level), Water, Fire, Wind and Space (highest level).
Bet you thought there were only four elements! It's okay, Maurice White only thought there were three...
After Toshogu, we walked back down to our bikes in Nikko. Still there! :) Kinogawa Onsen is about 5 kms north of Nikko, and that's where we are staying for the evening. We booked a really nice hotel overlooking the Kinogawa River.
Not my pictures :(
Very beautiful place. It felt like we were the only ones staying there, probably since it's the week before the national holidays. I'm guessing this place will be packed in a few days. I took lots of pictures of our cool tatami room, the swanky outdoors onsen, the common area with automated massage chairs overlooking the gorge carved out by the Kinogawa River.
And then I deleted all those pictures. So I had to go to the hotel website and steal their photos. *sigh* :(
Maybe I should photoshop ourselves into those pictures above...
This is the only picture that I took with my Point-And-Shoot camera while at the hotel. WTH!
Damn cup of ramen is the only thing that proves we were there...
I was wondering why I even took that picture, then I notice the two plastic toothbrushes from the hotel washroom we were using as chopsticks! Haha! Okay, that goes on the blog...
OMG, what would a Japanese person think if they saw that? So GhettoGaijin.
We've passed through so many scenic regions in the last couple of days: cruising through the mountain prefectures of Nagano, Niigata and Gunma. This morning, we are traversing Tochigi Prefecture and the mountains let out onto flatlands. This will lead us to our next stop on our meandering return to Tokyo: Motegi.
Specifically: The Twin Ring Circuit at Motegi! So Exciting!!!
Home of countless epic MotoGP battles that we've watched on TV! This is the site of modern motorcycle gladiator drama. Fighters don protective suits of leather and hard plastic armor, ride out of the pits to the applause of 60,000 spectators and then do wheel-to-wheel battle with each other on Twin Ring's back-to-back 180° hairpins. Unfortunately, we are about six months too late for the race. Or six months too early.
Still, it's very cool visiting a place that you've only seen on a screen. I'm totally okay with there being 60,000 less people around today. :)
Pic obviously *not* taken by me
We rode around the ring road surrounding the circuit, looking for a place to snap some pictures of the course. We found a good vantage point on the bottom-left corner of the pic above, and we were excited when we heard the sound of a motorcycle circulating around the raceway. Not just any motorcycle sound. It was the sound of a MotoGP engine. The thundering boom is unmistakable!
The bike was clad in Suzuki blue. It was the new GSX-RR! The Suzuki headquarters is 400 kms away, on the other side of Tokyo. They normally test their motorcycles at the Ryuyo track, just outside of their factory in Hamamatsu. But this bike is a long way from home, testing in enemy territory - Motegi is Honda's home turf.
Suzuki is running an all-new team this year, but the numberplate is still unfamiliar. Not any of the factory riders.
A modern-day warrior, mean, mean ride... And a pic that I only *wish* I could have taken
The rider is Takuya Tsuda, a local Japanese test rider for Suzuki. We stayed and watched him do a few laps of the Twin Ring. He was smokin' fast! I took lots of pictures every time he passed by our corner, pictures which I would inevitably end up accidentally deleting. DAMMIT!!!
There's a museum on the Twin Rings premises called the Honda Collection Hall. They're supposed to have a bunch of cars and motorcycles from throughout Honda's illustrious racing history.
So we went there and I took lots of pictures. Then I deleted them.
Honda actually offers a Google Map tour of their facility
I don't feel so bad about losing all these pictures, since you can tour the museum yourself. Just click here: http://goo.gl/maps/QgVUR
We were expecting to see lots of old cars and bikes. What we weren't expecting to see were Robots! Specifically, ones from Honda's ASIMO project. Oh yeah, I remember watching a TV program about ASIMO a few years back. We were just in time for a half-hour demonstration.
ASIMO introduces himself. This is the only picture of our own that we have of it. dammit.
And of course, my video of the ASIMO robot was on the SLR camera, so that's lost as well. But thankfully, the Honda Collection Hall is so widely visited, there are tons of videos on YouTube. It wasn't hard to find one of them:
ASIMO demo starts at 6:23 if the video doesn't jump there immediately. The ASIMO segment is only 7 minutes long
The technical details of how they engineered ASIMO were pretty interesting. When the tiny robot sprinted across the room, my jaw literally dropped. But what I find more fascinating is the psychology around the robot's physical design. One of the rooms in the Hall is dedicated to documenting the history of ASIMO's development.
The whole project was an exercise in producing a bipedal machine, re-creating what comes so easily to human beings - standing, walking, running. We saw pictures and video of how ASIMO started off as a giant pair of six-foot-tall walking legs with wires hanging all around it, and slowly morphed into what we see today.
Honda could have made ASIMO look like a lot of things, but they settled on a 4'3" "cute little thing". Although the shape is human, it doesn't have any facial features to avoid the uncanny valley effect, but most importantly, the height and size are scaled down to non-threatening dimensions.
ASIMO is purposely built to the size and proportions of a 10-year-old child.
Whatever they're paying that Japanese kid inside the spacesuit, it's not enough to have to run and jump around in that costume for 8 hours a day...
From the historical archives:
A Honda engineer introduces one of the earliest ASIMO models to the public.
It also shot death rays from it's cyclopean eye.
It was less than well-received by the public.
Honda eventually sold the ASIMO Mark I prototype to Hollywood where it went on to feature in some B-Grade sci-fi movies.
The next ASIMO robot was created to play tennis. It was nicknamed Ivan Lendl and won lots of Grand Slam Events...
Next, Honda created a robot that could race cars
Edit: This blog entry is what the entire RideDOT.com website would look like if I didn't take any of my own pictures.
ASIMO doesn't really stand (pun intended) for anything. It's named after Isaac Asimov, one of my favorite writers, and the author of many Robot novels and stories and the creator of the "Three Laws of Robotics".
The Three Laws of Robotics are a bit different in Japan. They are:
1. A robot must not harm a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm. Unless that human does not recycle, wears their outside shoes indoors, taps the tips of their chopsticks on the table to straighten them, or does not scrub their ass completely clean before entering an onsen. Then those humans will be subject to termination by robot death ray. Or public shaming/loss of face. Which is basically the same thing.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by a human being. But only if those orders are given in Japanese. On-screen menus must not contain any English words. Kanji characters must be undecipherable to Google Translate's Camera App. Tough tataki, gaijin!
3. A robot must be shaped either like a 10-year-old child, or a 122-foot tall Robotech Macross Warrior that transforms into a full-size VF-1 Valkyrie fighter jet. No in-betweens.
Blog post going off on such a tangent. Not gonna fight it.
Here's another robot picture. Not ASIMO. Not our picture.
This blog is so far behind, some readers ask me how I remember where we were and what we did when it happened so long ago. Some bloggers take detailed notes that they can refer to later. I take lots of pictures that I know will never get published on the blog. They're not particularly well-composed, often they're just pictures of signs or visually-uninteresting objects, which then jogs my memory when I finally write the blog entry much later.
Most of pictures that I post on the blog are taken with my DSLR camera. Of which there are none right now.
Because I'm a dumbass.
So this is one of my reminder photos. Me on the bike taking a quick shot,
which I know will never make it onto the blog... Hitachi Seaside Park
After spending more time than we thought we would at Motegi, we hightailed it to the coast. We want to visit Hitachi Seaside Park. At this time of year the grounds should be covered with a carpet of beautiful pale blue flowers - Nemophila. Unfortunately, we arrived just before closing and by the time we found parking, it was too late to enter.
So, we never got to see the park. But since I'm on a roll, stealing pictures from the Internet, this is what we were hoping to see:
Nemophila (nicknamed Baby Blue Eyes) are blooming on the other side of the gate right now. This is what they look like. Obviously, not our picture
Neda loves blue flowers. She's a nemophiliac.
In the fall, the park looks completely different. The green Kokia bushes turn red in September.
Are they called hemophila then?
You know what else is on our point-and-shoot camera?
More reminder photos of where we stayed last night. Reminder pic of what we ate this morning.
Normally I wouldn't publish stuff like this. But I got nothing else. So embarrassing.
We stayed overnight in Mito, a few kms away from the Hitachi Seaside Park. We've already called ahead and arranged to return the bikes today, so no time to revisit the gardens. While getting ready to leave, I spy this:
Scraping the bottom of the barrel of our barren photo/video collection
I thought this was interesting. Although we've traveled through a lot of rural Japan where there is sooo much wide-open space, the common misconception still persists that Japan is a crowded country. But this is only true in the big cities where the majority of the population have migrated to, because that's where all the jobs and infrastructure are.
Here in the city of Mito, space *is* at a premium. Our hotel has a parking garage, but not enough room to maneuver cars in and out. The solution is simple: there are millions of vending machines in Japan dispensing food and drinks, here's one that dispenses cars.
A guest tells the valet his parking spot number. The valet keys it into the machine, and a huge Robotech Macross Warrior that works inside the garage finds the car. It then lifts it up with its massive 10-foot long fingers and deposits it onto a rotating carousel, which brings the vehicle down to its waiting owner.
Preparing to enter Tokyo's city limits. Thank god, we're allowed to filter here!
(l) Got passed by a Robotech Macross Warrior disguised as a sweet Lambo. ASIMOOOOOO! (r) Big stretch while stopped at a traffic light
OMG! I totally forgot how there are stoplights every 50 meters in downtown Tokyo! Sutoppuraito!
We finally reach the rental place in the early afternoon. As we pull up to the storefront, we see another couple getting familiarized with their rental bikes. Two Yamaha Tracers. They're from the US and they're just starting their Japan adventure today.
We talk to them briefly, but they seem really busy with packing and getting ready to set off, so we leave them to it. It reminds me not only of when we started *our* Japan motorcycle trip, but also of that very first day way back in 2012, when we left Toronto. How excited we were, how we were just itching to get going. Ah, beginnings...
Got a bit nostalgic, while handing over the keys to the rental company. *sniff*
Aaaaand... that's it. Our Big Ole Motorcycle Trip is over.