Land of the “Rising Sun” – Week One Back to News List
I knew we were in for a treat when we landed at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo watching as a smartly dressed baggage handler caught each bag, as it came off the baggage carousel chute, then either spun them around or flipped them over to make removing your bag from the carousel easy, it’s the first time I had ever seen this and was the start of a long list of firsts while in Japan.
On what will most likely be my last research trip, extraordinary Japan seemed to be a fitting end to researching new itineraries and this all new 15-day motorbike tour of Japan threatens to be the best one yet.
Departing Yokohama, within 20 minutes we were in the mountains on backroads that progressively became narrower and narrower until all that was left was a solitary 6ft wide single lane road that ascended and descended cedar clad mountains and valleys. The roads were empty as the low cloud lent an eerie light amongst the forests. With the sun breaking through a landscape of boutique rice fields interspersed with tiny Japanese villages, shone a brilliant green while we negotiated narrow lanes with wood carvers and stone mason workshops that stood a mere 2ft off the roadside – it was beautiful and seemed like a window into an ancient Japan.
Our first night was at the magnificent Takaragawa Onsen a traditional Ryokan where one is presented with bathers and a Yakuta (dressing gown) and Obi (belt) for use in the onsen (hot springs). Takaragawa is famous for having outside hot springs where Veronica & I ventured down at 10pm to have the dimly illuminated pools to ourselves in the otherwise complete darkness, for someone who hates the very idea of getting into a sauna / spa bath etc this was a special authentic Japanese experience.
We spent the next day – all day! – winding and twisting our way through the endless valleys and mountain passes as we crossed the mountains of the Gumna Prefecture. The scenery was nothing short of astounding and any attempt here to aptly describe it would do it an injustice! Our destination was the legendary Japanese ski resort town of Hakuba.
Turning south we visited the magnificent Matsumoto Castle where Samurai warriors once fiercely fought to protect the castle, as did a sect of the Ninjas. This 400-year-old structure is one of Japan’s finest castles and offers a beautiful sight of a five-story black castle with a large moat crossed by a wonderful red footbridge. Our overnight stop was at the magnificent Hiyakan Onsen spectacularly located within the Chubu – Sangaku National Park, the route was again utterly breathtaking; Japan thus far was proving to be a revelation.
We crossed the Japan Alps via a series of incredible, utterly empty, backroads that wound their way, over, along and around the stunning lofty peaks. The Alps offered us some of the finest mountain scenery imaginable with narrow backroads littered with waterfalls, towering views of mountains all around and farmers tending their tiny rice plots in traditional villages hemmed in by the almost vertical walls of the forest covered peaks, it was magical stuff.
Descending onto the shores of the Sea of Japan we wound our way along the wonderful coastal road that was sandwiched between mountain and sea. The narrow road visited tiny fishing villages and amazing rock formations climaxing at the stupendous Mitaka Gogo Lookout.
It has been over 30 years since I have been dazzled by an unexpected scenic wonder borne out of not knowing what I was going to see – the last time was Petra, Jordan, having never seen any photos of Petra I didn’t know what to expect and what I discovered left me awestruck. As we alighted from the chairlift at Mitaka Gogo we viewed a mighty vista of forest clad mountains, lakes and tiny hamlets surrounded by rice fields, I was once again left awestruck simply as I hadn’t known what to expect and it was immense, a rare thrill of somewhere that has not been Instagram-ed to death by obnoxious “influencers”, for some reason this stunning scene is known mostly only to locals.
Check out the full itinerary for our Rising Sun Japan tour here.
…Week Two Blog coming soon! Check back next month as we continue to Kyoto, Mt Fuji and beyond.