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The Journey


April 2000

If I could have possibly known what was waiting for me in Japan I would have started my trip here and never gone too far. To make long story short - life in this country treats me better than in any other to date. Fellow bikers? Why are there just handful of us that have shipped our bikes here to explore the land of the Rising Sun. And in my opinion there should be more of us.

It was on the 1000th day of my trip to be exact that I landed in Narita. The warm, sunny Monday morning smelled of spring and was a great change from the hot humidity of Indonesia. Everything was so different and looking at the weird signs all over me told without a doubt I had landed in a totally different world.

Months before I posted a letter on the IBMWR list, looking for some contacts in Asia. Now my address book is filed up with the contacts in Japan and I feel like I am on my way to visit some friends I hadn't met yet.

Hugo was one I met while chatting online and become "long-distance-biker-friends". By the time I knocked on his door in the W part of Tokyo I knew about his family, his past, even what bike his girlfriend rides. He tracked down my bike in Japan before I even arrived.

The trip to the port of Yokohama to reclaim the bike was a hell. The old, conservative, government employee in charge of Carnet temporary imports sent us back to Tokyo thinking my carnet was fake. Hugo and another friend Yuko could not stop smoking and not being smoker myself and having my hands free, I wanted to choke the customs troublemaker. The presence of my friends definitely simplified my life as I can not possibly imagine going through all that hassle without speaking any Japanese. They did a fantastic job on everything including the dealing with Japanese authorities - they showed me what patience looks like in Asia. I have to admit it's pretty different and quite difficult for my western temperament.

The next day we returned with an authorization letter from JAF office - something we did not know Japanese customs authorities require (So far no one else in the world has required one). If you are coming to Japan with your bike, ask for Chitose Matsuura. He speaks good English and is very understanding! Masonic 39 Mori Bldg. 11 floor, 2-4-5-Azabu-Dai, Minato - Ko, Tokyo, Tel (03) 3578 4910, fax 3578 4911).

Eventually it cost me $140 to secure release of my bike. Not including all the time and troubles for Hugo and Yuko.

I am curiously exited about touring Japan and I am not sure why. It is spring here and still cold. To have a traditional Japanese style bath waiting not to mention every possible amenity imaginable at the end of the great riding day was spectacular. As it's still a little too cold for camping, at least for my old bones, I have no regret whatsoever paying between 40 and 55$ for lodging. This is one of those things you do not want to miss if you are ever in Japan.

Japanese food is one of my favorites so I had no trouble with all the fish row, and eggs, fluorescent pickles combined with dining on ones knees. As a desperate lover of sushi and sashimi I got deeper into the menu here... exploring tempura, soba and to a lesser extent - udon, tasty ramen with roots in China, seafood and tofu served a million ways. In Tokyo I was introduced to a hidden treasure for pleasurable dinning at Mama Fu-Fu's. I would have loved to sit there and feed myself 24 hours a day if time permitted. So that I would remember her and not be hungry in Thailand she gave me a lovely pair of chopsticks. This simple gesture helped me survive Thai food, which is not my cup a tea.

There is no way you want to avoid trying warm sake and recently popular shochu by itself or mixed with something... And I don�t have time to tell you about all the sweets I found (my mouth would water dangerously to the point where I would sink the key board...). One must have the yatsuhashi filled with chocolate.

Finally riding in Japan.It is one of the ultimate experiences. Funny traffic signs. And we are still riding on the left side of the road. One big bowl of spaghetti, that's exactly what the expressways look like to me. Traveling any other way but the expressway out of big cites takes hours, days even. Its impossible if time is an issue in your life. It's easy to see that 126 million Japanese live in a small place for everywhere you look there are crowds. Cities and villages are all attached and its impossible is to know where one stops and another starts. Not to mention expressways cost a fortune. Well, not exactly, but 19 cents per kilometer still makes you think about the distance and expense of driving. And even though there isn�t much to look at along the way it was better than sitting in traffic on the small roads.

Traveling Japan becomes difficult if you need to find a certain address. Having written an address does not help much here. You are going to find yourself asking around and too bad if Japanese language sounds strange to you. The roads here do not have names and it's the crossroads that you really need to find. Then you find out if the place is located somewhere near. I felt so lucky when I needed to go somewhere and Hugo or Yuko were there to help.

To miss Japan in the spring is like going to the USA and not riding a Harley (oops, just kidding! Bad joke I know. Just testing you...). Honestly, it is great riding under the pinkish clouds of cherry blossoms. One of first Sundays here I had the honor to participate in an International Hanami that was organized by BMW Internet riders of Tokyo. Great fun and thanks for the party guys! After too short a ride to Nikko, Matsumoto, Takajama, Kyoto and Hakone I am back in Tokyo for some real fun! Including getting the visas for Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, bike permission for Korea, endless hassles with Chinese authorities, bike maintenance and more work; press conference and meetings with an untold number of journalists on duty.

Sounds terrible and would be if there were no ifs... meaning: if I did not have a home sweet home at Hugs, if I did not have absolutely great Slovene Ambassador and his 3 secretaries who do things, even impossible things for me. If I did not find Mr. Ichikawa the BMW dealer at Flat who hooked me up with BMW Corporation Japan and if I did not have their great support and endless understanding. If I did not have my kanji teacher Yuko, drawing those Japanese characters to cool me down while organizing the transport of my bike out of Japan when time is right.

A talk to BMW Japan got me a place where I could take care of a few things that after 110.000 km needed attention. BMW Japan was extremely flexible and able to provide all the parts on time and the most important of all, Japanese precision that sometimes goes too far, in a good way. After changing all the liquids and filters, fixing the clutch assembly, replacing the water pump, all the hoses on the gas and cooling systems, break discs and pads they then installed new springs in the forks, changed the fork sliding sleeves and dust seals. They even replaced the sprocket carrier on the rear wheel (see all those chains lost in Australia...) Then if you can believe it they really got into the details. I saw the that the oil strainer and tachometer cable (broken for more than 2 years now) were replaced. Thank You! Sounds think a lot right? None of it was that bad except the water pump that allowed oil and coolant to mix, but no matter. My bike had never had so much attention. (if anybody finds themselves desperate for parts or work while in Japan, here is the email of Mr. Ichikawa: o-ichi@kt.rim.or.jp).

Oh, let me back up for a minute, I forgot to explain what went wrong with the transport from Sydney to Tokyo. They obviously did not listen my instructions to park the bike on the center stand in a container. When the bike arrived I couldn't park it on the side stand. No wonder, the frame was broken. BMW decided to replace it as the crack was so close to the engine that welding would not be the best solution. So engine support/lower frame was all shiny and new when they installed the new parts. Though not for a long I suppose.

All this is going too fast to comprehend and absorb the beauty and feelings passing through my mind these days. Besides the fact that I am very busy secretary (Hugo would gladly confirm that as I am always somewhere between telephone, fax and internet) my time in Japan is being one of the most memorable in last three years of my life.

As my life is happening more quickly, I am barely able to post all that happens on web while I am still here in Japan. I just returned from Hokkaido. This is the best of riding in Japan! So cool and endlessly unique. Having a pleasure to see the Mount Usu volcano blowing like hell in front of my nose was great fun. Way better than the earthquake I experienced in Tokyo a few weeks ago. Damn thing scared me to death.

Returning from Hokkaido was much more my style. Last minute. The next morning I needed to drop my bike back in Yokohama. Ahh the shipping demon is knocking on my door again. Had intended to go to Korea but there was no way for me to get permission so my next destination is Bangkok.

Shipping with Ecu Line Japan (kazu@japanstar.co.jp) brought me good service but no way to ship without a crate. This damn pile of wood cost me more than the shipping itself (actually the transportation from BMW Yokohama to the port was the expensive part as the crate was free given and arranged for me by BMW Japan (how can I possibly thank them for all they did...).

So far I know my sweet bike is somewhere on the open sea, slowly approaching Bangkok. I will hop on the plane tomorrow (May 5th) after a marathon theatre performance at kabuki tonight (not more than 5 hours though...).

While being without the bike again for a couple of days I finally, finally got into the museum mood and saw The Thinker and many other Japanese treasures hidden inside a few Tokyo museums! For a happy ending, I am staying at Keiko's apartment (as Hugo got the travel bug and hit the road toward Hokkaido). It's a shame in a way that I can share more time with this lovely girl as she may rub off and I might become a little nicer, more polite and patient, gentlewomen kind of human being. That would be much too much I am afraid therefore I am on the move again.

Tomorrow I will land in Thailand. For a while anyway things wont be too nasty or difficult... Chris and Erie are waiting for me and arranging a Friday party with some bikers in Bkk. Steve Johnson from the Chain Gang (www.f650.com) surprised me again with his fatherly generosity and sent me some money for a birthday cake. I promised him to get myself cake in a couple a days when this life wants me to get older again...

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