Japan is a great place to ride motorcycles. It is at the same time compact and wonderfully remote, so you don't have to get far out of a city to find winding mountain roads, and you don't have to prepare for much because there will be signs of civilization another half-tank later. During the time I was there from January to June of 2016 I spent two weeks touring on bikes, first with my friend Will (pictured) and the second time by myself. It was a perfect way to see a part of the country not accessible by trains, in the mountains and along the coast.
The shot above was taken on the covered bridge between the two main halls of Jōshōkō-ji (常照皇寺). The first time I visited this temple on a Tuesday in late February, with snow melting on the ground, I saw no one, not even a monk. There was just a plate set out for the ¥300 admittance fee. When Will and I came back a month later we did meet one of the monks (who enlisted Will's help closing various ancient sliding doors before he slipped away), but that was it. It was a privilege to indulge in this quiet, intimate zen fantasy, especially to show it to someone else, when the typical experience involves literal throngs of visitors moving along prescribed paths when visiting, say Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) or Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺) in central Kyoto.
There were so many beautiful places it was hard to know when it was worth stopping to remove glasses, helmet, gloves, jacket and get out the camera equipment. I was amply rewarded, however, by the rolls I shot at these glassy rice-fields somewhere outside Toyama around 9am. The sky was hazy and it was threatening to get hot; I shot this on HP5 which is what I use to try to reduce contrast. These towns on the sea of Japan side have a different feel than those on the south. They are isolated by those mountains you see, and it was only in the last 30 years that extensive tunnels were bored to connect this part of the country by express toll-road and bullet train to the urban core of Japan (Tokyo - Nagoya - Osaka) on the southern coast of the main island.
On the next trip I knew a little more about the kind of roads I wanted to ride and how to find them based on what they looked like on the map. Basically, the more tortuous the better. Because people have been living in Japan for so long, it is pretty much guaranteed that the straight roads in flatter areas are more developed, and conversely, in the hills (which are very steep), there is almost nothing and almost nobody. The same can be said of the coast, to some extent, which can be quite precipitous. It was not uncommon to find roads that were less then two meters wide (there were signs) that disappeared into tunnels or were cut into the side of the mountains without guardrails. The wide angle mirrors on orange-painted metal poles posted at every corner were a motorcyclist's dream, as they allow you to determine the apex, surface debris and oncoming traffic, all in advance.
I rented this 20 year old Kawasaki ZRX-400 in Osaka for not much more than $300 for the week, pictured here on the "Venus Line," a privately owned mountain-top road east of Matsumoto which accesses a sculpture garden built atop a 2000 meter high plateau. I watched the sun set here, afire among this stand of wild birches, and dropped into Matsumoto well after dark.