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Reporting From Japan

by Dr. Junjii Yoshida

To and from Kanazawa

After a weekly journal conference and a round in the wards in the Wednesday morning, I hit the road on my RS at 9:30 with the Aeroflow screen on, its cracks at a mounting hole drilled neatly and cemented with epoxy at their ends. Traffic was rather light on the circular toll express way (aka Gai-kan), and I was on the express way towards north, Kan-etsu Exp., by 10. It was fine, but seemed clouds were approaching from the northwest. No ambush law enforcements, but a secret police car had captured a cage both in my direction and in the opposite one.

I got off the expressway at Shibukawa, a city on the northern edge of the Kanto plains. I had planned to visit a lake in the mountains in the Shibukawa suburbs. But up in the mountains was very foggy, such that I couldn’t see the lake at all. Plus, the fog was starting to soak my clothing. I rode down the opposite side of the mountains.

After some twisty back roads, I rode by a pass where it was again foggy, and down to the spa of Kusatsu. Lunch and fuel. Although I had planned to ride over another pass to Shiga, where most of the next winter Olympic games will be held, I found a sign at the pass entrance that said “take tire-chains along”. This made the planned route impossible, so that I had to think of another route to get to the coast of the Sea of Japan.

Taking things into consideration, I decided to ride to Karuizawa, the oldest Japanese summer resort. Cold rain started suddenly and I had to put on my rainsuit. Lots of clutch-lever pulling, coldness and some odd postures to put the suit on quickly, cramped my left fore-arm. I was sad to see my left middle and ring fingers folded contrary to my will.

Sadder was, that I had to ride another expressway from Karuizawa back to Kan-etsu, hitting Kan-etsu closer to Tokyo than Shibukawa, resulting in a big loop in and around Kusatsu. The rain stopped when I rode down the expressway from Karuizawa to the plains of Kanto and to Kan-etsu Exp. Now it was time to take off the rainsuit, ride the Kan-etsu to the coast of the Sea of Japan and to change to another along the coast to Kanazawa. I was hoping to catch up with a group of my colleagues who were supposed to leave Kashiwa later by cage.

Although I had nothing in my jeans pockets, I felt some blunt pain in the back of my left thigh, close to my butt, which was the same as I had on my way to Kobe last October. Only way to conquer the pain was to increase the speed. More concentration on the road seemed to deprive my brain of the time to feel the pain. So I kept 160+km/h (100+mph) and caught up with the colleagues cage about an hour before arrival at Kanazawa, a city on the Sea of Japan coast famous for its old garden, Kenrokuen, and a major fudal lord in the Edo era, Kaga-han.

I found myself at a hotel in Kanazawa, where there was an annual meeting of the Japanese Association for Chest Surgery, at 19:10 with 793km (circa 500 miles) on the clock. I was tired but satisfied. After a dinner and some drinks with my colleagues who arrived later by cage, I fell into bed around 23:00.

Thursday was stormy, and the evening dinner with my colleagues was kinda *stormy*. A resident got heavily drunk and he insisted on layoffs of some staff doctors who he thought deep in mind that they didn’t qualify as our institute staffs. Fortunately, I was not among them.:) Next morning, he came up to me with his face very pale and told me that he didn’t remember what he had said while drinking.;-)

It cleared up in the Friday evening, and we caged to a local beach to enjoy a beautiful sunset. The beach is a part of a national way and some cars were running very close to the salt water. The resident drank little that evening and fell asleep during the dinner.:) If you want to send him a note, I’ll give you his e-mail address. Let me know.;-)

After a morning session and lunch, I bought some local sweets for my family and hit the expressway along the Sea of Japan coast at 12:30, Saturday. At the first parking area, I checked the road info. Although I had planned to ride over a pass close to Kami-Kochi, the base for climbing in the Japanese Northern Alps, it turned out the pass was open only three 1.5-hour-times a day due to road repairs. The mid-day window was ending, and I would have to wait till the evening to ride over. I gave up the initial plan and went on riding the expressway.

Although the expressway is a toll road, a part of it is a two laner. This is often the case with expressways built in rural areas. The part is 73.7km (46 miles) long and has 26 tunnels. The expressway runs along the coast, but the mountains are so close to the sea that it had to have so many tunnels.

It was a very fine day, and I didn’t feel like riding through these tunnels and suffering from Diesel smoke. So I got off the expressway shortly before that part began, and rode down the national way along the coast, enjoying the beautiful sea-scape. I waved to the riders in the opposite direction, and some of them waved back. Life is good.

Problem was that I felt some blunt pain in the back of my left thigh again. Plus, I had some headache in my Shoei hat. It was impossible to increase my speed among other traffic on the national way with double yellow. I took some short rest stops every hour, and arrived at Jo-etsu city, where the two-lane ends, two hours later.

I decided to do some twisties in the mountains and a short-cut to the inland part of Kan-etsu Exp. The twisties were really nice. Although some parts were one-laners, mostly they were recently paved two lane with corners of decent radii. The mountains were beautiful with fresh green. Least traffic. Up through passes, it was pleasantly cool, around 16C (60F), but no fog. I met a police bike in the opposite direction soon after I violated the double yellow, nodded to him, and he nodded back.:)

I took the Kan-etsu expressway a bit past 17:00 and WFO’ed. I found a secret police car that captured a cage in my direction, but on the RS with WFO and a bit of heavy traffic, no police car would catch up with me. Plus, after 17:00, ambush law enforcements were unlikely. After lots of lane splitting through a traffic jam (7 km; 4.3 miles) before the toll gate and some 200km/h stretches, I was home at 19:30 with 510 km (320 miles) on the clock. No tickets.:) Mileage was 16 to 20 km/l (37.9 ~ 47.3 MPG).

Ai and Erika welcomed me with big smiles on their faces. Life is good.

Now, I’m looking forward to another long ride to Sendai this November.

The Kobe Report

The annual meeting of Japan Lung Cancer Society was held in Kobe (yes, that Kobe recovering from the quake disaster almost 2 years ago) between Oct 31st and Nov. 1st. I attended the meeting and presented my paper in a workshop. The paper was on small sized (less than 1cm in diameter) peripheral lung cancers.

I had been thinking of riding over to Kobe, about 600km west of Tokyo. But the weather forecast said that it would rain on 1st, Nov., when I would be returning from Kobe. I was wondering which way to go, Shin-kan-sen, or my RS. Trains would take me from Kashiwa to Kobe in about 5 hours and would allow me to drink, sleep and read ON (Oh, the article by Guy DeLaRupelle was so nice. When I was a boy, I lived in the area close to the place where the Ryokan photo and the Yamabushi one were taken.) on the way without getting wet. A 600km ride would be the second longest ride in a single day for me. I hadn’t ridden a considerable distance in the rain for the past 10 years. But while I was checking my rain suit the night before the departure, I suddenly felt somehow energized to have the guts to ride in the rain.:) DK’s spirit might have flown into me. Erika gladly agreed on my riding to Kobe. Thanks!

Another thing I expected in Kobe was a gathering with the Presidents near Kobe, Norman Solberg and Steve Lewis. We couldn’t make up a definite plan for the gathering before my departure, so I left them an e-mail message including the phone number of the hotel where I would be staying.

The Wednesday dawned very foggy. I had a schedule to assist a colleague’s operation in the morning, but a sudden change of the patient’s electrocardigram right before placing an incision canceled the surgery. OK, this allowed me to do some trivial stuffs in the ward, have lunch with my family and leave a bit early.

As Jon Diaz had pointed out some oil seepage from the left cylinder of my RS while he was in Japan, I put a liter-bottle of oil in the saddlebag and departed on my RS a little before 1PM. It was a fine autumn day, not too cold, not too hot.

It is necessary to get through the heavy traffic of central Tokyo before I get on the motorway heading west. The Metropolitan Expressway, aka Shuto-koh, was jammed even worse than usual. I lane-split vigorously, but it took me almost an hour to make the 50km passage. Oh well, it would have taken 2~3 hours by cage.

The motorway heading west was irunning fast and I could keep around 120km/h. I had a radar detector, but fortunately, there was no law enforcement on the way except for a police car, which I noticed right after a change of pace to about 80km/h. You know, motorcycles are limited to 80km/h on the motorways in Japan.

One thing that bothered me was a sore butt after only an_hour_plus riding. To be precise, it was the back of my left thigh that got pain. I was wondering why I got the pain so early, but the major cause of it was that I had set the seat at its lowest position and had forgotten to change it before departure. I noticed this when I first fueled the bike after riding about 250km and changed it to the highest position. But the pain did not disappear on the way.

Another thing that exhausted me was the sunlight. As I was heading west almost all the way, the sun in the afternoon dazzled my eyes, although I had a light_smoke shield on my helmet. It got worse as it got later. I really relaxed when the sun set just past 5PM.

But there still was another incident that annoyed me. After having an early supper at a parking area a little before 6, I had the second fueling. A guy at the gas station asked me where my number plate was. Feeling funny, I went to the back of the bike and found the number plate was gone together with the rear fender. What a surprise! I must have dropped it somewhere in the past 200km. Cage drivers behind me must have been in a panic!

Feeling disgusted, I left the gas station and was again on the motorway. I was expecting a traffic jam of about 20km ahead around Kyoto.:( The motorway I was on between Kyoto and Osaka is notorious for its chronic traffic jam. I had to lane-split, but soon caught up with a KRS and followed him for the rest of the jam, which was more relaxing than lane-splitting alone.

The last section of the motorway to Kobe was the one that the Kobe quake had destroyed. It had been rebuilt and available early in October, but the traffic was still quite scanty. The total toll from Kashiwa to Kobe was 10,250 Yen, while it would have cost me 14,310 Yen if by train.

I arrived at the hotel at 7:30PM; 623km in 6 hours 40 minutes / one rest stop / two fueling stops / total traffic jam of about 50km. Not bad, not too physically tired. But the fact that I lost the number plate together with the rear fender made me feel sad. The police might pull me over on the way back for not having the number plate. They might even write a ticket. And the weather forecast of rain on the way back!

Feeling pessimistic, I phoned my dealer and asked about shipping back my RS to Kashiwa. My dealer, Red Baron Kashiwa, is a branch of a nation-wide chain of M/C stores. They have their own logistics and have a branch in Kobe. But the quoted price was 45,000 Yen. He told me that the police would pull me over, but that they wouldn’t write me a ticket for running without the number plate.

The talk with my dealer and some warm dishes made me confident that I wold be able to ride back home without considerable problems. Norman gave me a call and we settled on meeting the next noon for lunch. I slept like a log.

I woke up refreshed in the morning. No muscle pain. OK, I’m still young enough to make a 600km ride.:)

After some discussions in the scientific meeting in the morning, I walked back to the hotel lobby and found Norman in his leathers and with a waist bag. I had an IBMWR badge on, and it brought a big grin on his face.

I took him to my RS and showed him its strange appearance without the rear fender. He was impressed and we took our photos from its back.:) Then we visited his RT and he showed me the neat installment of his SONY audios with a joy_stick_like controller. He told me how helpful IBMWR Presidents had been in installing them. We asked a passerby to take a photo of us and he was willing to take some with both of our cameras.

Having lunch in a hotel restaurant, we talked a lot; jobs, family, cancer… He kindly brought me a set of 20 flies for fishing. One of them was in the shape and colour scheme of a bee. When I returned home and showed it to Ai, she said “Hachi!” (bee in Japanese).:) Two hours flew by, and it was time for him to go back to his office. He took out his very small cell phone, which he told me could be in stand-by mode for 500 hours without charging, and phoned his young girlfriend that he would be riding back. After shaking hands, he left in a mild drizzle without a rain suit.

It rained all the afternoon. I joined some of my colleagues in that evening and visited China town, which is one of the famous places in Kobe. The dishes were lightly salted in comparison to those in Kanto, the area in and around Tokyo. This is commonly expected in Kansai, the area in and around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. The waiter told us that their interior had been severely destroyed by the quake, but there was no signs of damage we could find. After a few drinks at the hotel bar, we parted and I had a good night sleep.

The 1st, Nov. dawned cloudy but with some blue sky visible. I was making my presentation in the last session in the afternoon, but was more nervous about the weather. My presentation evoked some interest among the audience, but there was little time for a serious discussion.

The meeting finished past 5PM, I had some warm food and picked up my luggage including my riding gear at the hotel cloak room. As there was no particular room for changing clothes, I went to a lavatory for handicapped people. Although it did’t rain that day, the sky looked rather stormy by that time. I went to my RS in the parking lot and put my one-piece, orange-colored rain suit on. As my SIDI boots were not waterproof, I put a thin vinyl litter bag on my foot and then my boot. I found the oil level was right below the red dot in the site glass (above the dot when I departed), so I added some oil. As it was still not raining, I put on my leather gloves on and departed at 6:20 PM.

When I came into the Osaka area about 50km from Kobe, it started to drizzle close to an interchange. I stopped on the roadside and changed my gloves to Neoprene ones. The traffic got jammed there and lasted for the next 5 km. Setting the Aeroflow at the highest position, I lane-split around 100km/h and then around 120km/h after the jam was over.

After running for about 2 hours, I stopped at a parking area for fueling, and found myself really relaxed and filled with energy. Only mildly sore butt. It was a downpour for the first 30 minutes after the fueling, but I could keep around 140km/h where the traffic was scanty. Then the sky got clear, so I paced up to around 150km/h, watching out for secret police cars. In Japan, you won’t get pulled over for catching up with a police car. It is only when you are speeding and followed by one that you get a ticket. Fortunately, there was no law enforcement till a little before I made almost 300km / 2 hours to the next stop for fueling. The police car was coming out of a parking area when I was about to pass by its junction. I applied the brakes hard to let the ABS kick in and saved a ticket.:)

The road was wet and it was windy when I had the second fueling. I still felt relaxed, filled with energy, and the left thigh pain was still mild. I called home, had a warm canned milk tea and was again on the road. The motorway gets winding before entering Kanto area. It crosses the pass of Hakone. Although it started to drizzle again, I could keep 140km/h pace there. The tires showed instant sideway slips at the metal junctions that accommodate thermal expansion of the bridges, but I felt somehow confident.

After the pass, the speed went up to around 160km/h. Then the Shuto-koh without the jam, some 200km/h stretches, and I was back home. 635km / 5 hours 50 minutes / two fuel stops / jam of about 5km. NO TICKET! Very well done.:) The gas mileage was around 20 km/l, 47mpg. Rain gear worked nicely, including the litter bags, although my feet got somewhat stuffy. The oil level was almost the same as it had been before I added some oil in Kobe.

On my way to Kobe, I felt somewhat miserable. On my way home, I felt somehow confident. I even came back with a healthy back, like I had done when I had been to Sendai last May. I’m glad to find myself still young enough.:)