It finally happened, after all this years riding my Harley Davidson in Europe, and my trips to Japan, I could combine the two aspects of my trips for a weekend ride on the Central Japan roads. An experience that was for long time in my bucket list, and it’s still at the top of my list. Why? Even before returning the Harley Davidson at the Rental 819 store, I was already planning the next road trip. I review with detail many aspects of a first ride in Japan in this article, so if you share the passion for the road and planning to visit Japan, this review might help.
Before the ride
I started planning the ride as any other trip. Asking my best friend, Google. Searching for other fellow travelers advice on the matter, rental services, or tours. Not so much information appeared in english, or up to date. Hands on the work, I had to start from scratch to build the ride trip. First, to get the motorbike. I found the services of Rental 819 after some research, and that was the best option. From the first mail with all my doubts, to the day I returned the motorbike at one of their many shops, the service was great. Most of the information I needed for starters came from their website and FAQ page, which made the planning easier. Best of it, they had some Harley Davidson for rental.
I had the rental covered, second stage was to plan the route. Due to my tight schedule and short vacation I opted for a weekend in June. Google Maps was the tool I used for the route, as I could check on hotels, sightseeing spots, gas stations and more at the same time. I chose the Central Japan as playground for the weekend. A visit to Hakone and Nagano for the first day, and the Izu Skyline Parkway for the second day. At this stage, it was still early for booking accomodation, and I had the feeling my ride schedule was going to change. As I mentioned, I scheduled the trip in June, which is supposed to be the rainy season in Japan. As an experienced rider and traveler, I have to master the weather conditions and leave some space for improvisation and be flexible with the schedule. Later on the article I’ll come back to this part.
Third stage, to make the trip real, was to get the International driving License. Depending on which country you’re from, this point varies. I tell the experience as a spanish nationality point of view. Only requirement needed (in my case) was to pay a small fee of €10, and prove I had more than two year experience of driving a car or motorbike. I’ve been on the roads for more than half of my life, so this procedure of getting the International License was really easy. Make sure when asking for the International Driver’s License for Japan, that is under the 1949 Geneve convention, and they stamp the seal on it. Bring both the International Driver’s License and your normal Driver’s License to Japan, to show it at the rental office. Without it, your road trip ends here.
Budget and costs
First three stages covered. Motorbike, route, and International Driver’s License. With the information of the first stages, is time to take a look at the wallet. Depending on how much willing to spend for a ride, and in which things to spend the money. I’ll take my planning as example, but these are variables that everyone will have to consider. Still on the week before I made changes on the route, as I had to go back to Kawasaki, because I was staying at my girlfriend’s apartment, and we only had one key. The good side of it, I didn’t spend money on accommodation. I estimated a budget of ¥50000 for the whole weekend, but let’s see where the money went.
Rental for two days: ¥32600, included the Harley Davidson of the P-4 class, collision damage waiver, and helmet. Check the Rental819 page to see more about the rates. This again, will vary depending on your choice. At some rental shops they have ETC cards for the expressways and GPS for rental as well. I used my pocket wifi combined with the smartphone, Google Maps, and extra batteries to recharge the gadgets.
Fuel: Filling up the tank of the Harley Davidson 750 Street was around ¥1600 every time, and remember to bring it full to the Rental shop. The litre costs a bit more than ¥112 per litre. Most of the motorbikes use the High Octane fuel. At the gas station is written ハイオク.
Tolls: This was a bit tricky, as I was experimenting with the types of roads, and changing the route on the spot. I spent ¥2500 every day for round day trip, the money I saved for accommodation went for the tolls going back home.
Food & Drinks: Specially, drinks. Stay hydrated was a priority, as riding a motorbike for long consumes lots of body water. Better spend some extra coins in bottled water or sports drinks and have light snacks, as heavy food will make you sleepy. Not good on the road. I spent ¥2000 per day on food and drinks. Probably this is the most low cost part of the road trip.
Parking: Searching a parking spot for motorbikes was a hard part. In most of the car parking lots it’s not allowed to get motorbikes, so again google Maps wasn’t much useful for this. When visiting a tourist spot, head for the first parking and the officer will tell you were you can park your ride. By experience, usually I parked in the same parking as tourist buses, near the main attraction. And price is lower, great detail for riders. For the whole weekend I only spent ¥200 on parking.
Accommodation: As I mentioned, I did round day trips, and stayed at my girlfriend’s apartment, but if you’re planning for the long route, consider spending more than ¥6000 per night. Is not only you that need a place to stay, is your ride as well, so searching for hotels with parking lot has a cost.
Total cost of my weekend: ¥32600 for the Harley Davidson and ¥12000 for the costs of the ride trip. Now moving onto how was the real ride.
Rider on the road
Finally in Japan, excited for my first ride in the land of the rising sun. At the Rental819 shop I was attended, the staff was really kind and patience. I had many questions and doubts, and not much time to get on the road. After filling all the papers and reviewing the terms of the contract I could shake off my fears for my first ride in Japan.
The top speed on secondary roads and city is 50km/h and 70km/h on most of the roads. At some point speeding on the passing line up to 100km/h is ok. That part was a bit frustrating, but had to accept it. Riding on the main roads became frustrating and really boring, but the mountain pass and secondary roads are delightful for a ride.
Driving on the left side. I didn’t have much problem with it, as the way of riding doesn’t change, compared to a car. Just stay focused on the road signs and while cornering to the right on the intersections. Same when passing through tolls, the booths are on the right, and better have a pocket with plenty of ¥100 coins for tolls.
Traffic lights and road signs are almost the same as in Europe. Take special attention to the 止まれ sign, it means STOP. Might be on a road sign or painted on the ground.
At gas station. I almost cried when I didn’t even have to get off the bike. Japan service is top class, always.The staff fills your tank, and puts a towel over the deposit to prevent from any fuel drops, even clean it a bit after they finish.
Experience from a fellow traveller: Phenomenal Globe
Lotte, from Phenomenal Globe made a road trip to Hokkaido just a few weeks before I went to Japan. I saw her post and asked if she could contribute to Hype in Tokyo. Here’s a short text she wrote about her experiences on the road with a rental car in Japan. She has some advice about using GPS and ETC card, you can read all about it in her post about Hokkaido.
In April and May this year I made a 10 day road trip around Hokkaido. It was wonderful. Cold, but wonderful. The snowcapped mountains made the untamed island seem even wilder and more desolate, but in a hauntingly beautiful way…
Driving on Hokkaido is great and really easy but there are a couple of things to take into account. First and foremost: do NOT forget to bring an international driver’s license. And not just any international driver’s license, the 1949 Geneva Convention version. Otherwise no rental car…
The road signs in Japan are easy to interpret and I was happy the names of the cities and villages were written in ‘normal’ (well normal for me) letters so I had a vague understanding of where I was going. But I was happy to have a GPS where I could insert a phone number as a destination and reply on Geo the GPS. I do recommend checking your progress on a map as well, to make sure you are going to your intended destination.
The only frustrating thing about driving on Hokkaido is the speed limit which happens to be extremely low… The roads are virtually empty and in great condition, but the limit is 100 km/h at most and usually capped at 70 km/h, even at the express way (Japan’s name for a high way). On the expressway you have to pay toll by the way.
My weekend ride: Hakone
Back to my trip. Asked for directions to the staff at the Rental819 to take the easiest way to arrive to Hakone. I got two options, get on the Route 206, or the Tomei Expressway and get ready for tolls every 10 minutes. I chose the route 206, and wasn’t ready for what I found. The traffic was really dense and traffic lights almost in every corner. The route 206 passes through cities all the way, and I didn’t know until I got in. After an hour of heat and tired of not going anywhere, I took the Expressway. It was a more pleasant ride to Hakone. There, I took the Hakone mountain roads and enjoyed, almost alone on the road all the way to the lake Ashi. At this point, I started to see more fellow riders around the road. After some sightseeing around the lake and the shrine, I went for lunch to a small local restaurant next to the lake. In front of my table, there was a map of the whole Hakone area and roads, which led me to my improvised afternoon trip to Odawara castle, only half an hour from the lake and the chance to enjoy more mountain road before going home. At Odawara castle I had a bit of confusion while searching for a parking spot, as I had in Hakone. There aren’t any signs near tourist spots for motorbikes, and couldn’t even get into a normal car parking lot. Only way to know, I tried to get into one, then a kind old man in charge of the parking lot told me that the space for motorbikes was in the tourist bus parking lot. I had some extra time to spare and took some time talking with the staff at the parking lot. They offered me a lot of advice for the road, gave me a map of the area with lots of notes on how to go back to Kawasaki, and even stopped the traffic when I was leaving the place. All because I spend some time with them talking. Its because of details like this that I think, its much better to take time talking with locals, wandering and getting lost, than follow a tight schedule. It pays in experience and knowledge.
My weekend ride: Izu
Second day, I planned to get even further. The ocean skyline was awaiting on a really bright day. Passed again through Hakone on the Expressway and got on the road to take the Izu skyline parkway. A scenic road that goes all the way North to South of the Izu peninsula. The views were splendid, and even that the whole ride took one hour non-stop, I wasn’t tired at all. I was way too motivated for it to be tired. My last stop was at Mt. Omuro, an old volcano, used as a scenic tourist spot. My mistake was that I didn’t notice about my skin until it was too late. I got sunburnt on my wrists, and got stiff from riding non-stop for almost seven hours. Still, I had to go back to Kawasaki, so I called it a day, and headed to the roads near the ocean all the way to Kawasaki to see the sunset on the way home.