Quit our jobs, sold our home and everything in it, gone riding... | Page 163 | GTAMotorcycle.com

Quit our jobs, sold our home and everything in it, gone riding...

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The main road takes us past a very pretty park, and it's full of cherry blossom trees. We have to stop here!


More hanami scenes

When Neda first told me about this "Cherry Blossom Festival" held in Japan, we thought that it was held at a specific time and place. It was only when we arrived here we found out this "festival" was held all over the country as the blooming season moved from south to north. The festival is wherever you can find a cherry blossom tree!

Cherry blossoms are called "Sakura" in Japanese, and sakura season is a huge deal here, despite being so short. It takes one week for the flowers to reach full bloom, and a week later, the petals are already falling off. Our plan is to catch the beginning of the sakura in the south and basically travel with the blooming season as it moves upwards, so we're surrounded by cherry blossoms for much longer than a couple of weeks!

There are ads and signs everywhere celebrating sakura. In every grocery and convenience store, it looks like someone popped a gigantic bubble gum balloon inside and got pink colouring on all the shelves and merchandise. Almost every product in the stores during sakura season is clad in pale pink packaging!


Pink Sakura Pocky sticks! Even the non-Japanese brands get into Sakura season! You go, Makudonarudo!
 

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The origins of the Cherry Blossom tree are quite contentious. Most people agree that they originally came from South Korea. But lately, China has also laid claim to the birth place of cherry blossoms. But the reality is that it was the Japanese that cultivated this historically unloved tree which bore a sour fruit eaten only by birds. This tree which flowered for only two weeks out of the year was ignored by every other country but Japan, which celebrated its ephemeral nature and made its appreciation part of the fabric of Japanese life.


A family enjoying a picnic under a sakura tree. This is Japan in a nutshell.

While cherry blossoms have gained popularity around the world in the latter 20th century, particularly after WWII, the Japanese have been planting sakura trees all over the country since the 7th century.


The recent rains have left a little present upon the sakura petals


Neda is having a hanami moment
 

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I am day-dreaming of all the gyozas I am going to eat tonight


Leaving Kikuchi Park. This motorcyclist approaching us was getting his lean on! Nice!

You know the weather is getting warmer when you see so many bikes out. We ride to the town of Nagasu at the edge of Ariake Bay. We can catch a ferry here that will bypass the urban centres on the northern shores and take us across the bay towards Nagasaki Prefecture.


We line up for the ferry with more bikes! Here's a hotted up Honda CRF, just like the 250s we had in Thailand.
Dual exhaust, Showa forks... maybe not *exactly* like our 250s in Thailand...
 

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These ferries are a real godsend. We'd be stuck in so much traffic if we weren't able to cross the waters. Just a scant 45 minutes later, we're in the port town of Taira in Nagasaki prefecture.


All of the bikers deep in the hold of the ferry, checking out each others ride and waiting for the ramp to come down to let us off

We haven't had lunch yet and we're starving. On all the Japan Facebook groups I'm on, I've read some good things about Mos Burger, which is Japan's largest burger chain. Of course there's one waiting for us in Taira.


Neda is not a burger fan, but I manage to convince her to try it out. Verdict: Thumbs down. You don't go to Japan for burgers.

Give me neba neba anyday over Japanese burgers.

Shimabara is less than 10 kms away and we stop once again to check out some Samurai Houses!


There's a pedestrian street in Shimabara lined with traditional Samurai dwellings from the Edo Period (1600s-1800s)
 

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Some of the houses are open to the public as museums. Here are some pictures of Neda photobombing the nice Samurai families who live there:


The warrior class was considered the elite of Japanese society, so their houses were better quality than the rest of the population

These houses are decorated not very differently from the tatami rooms where we've been staying: rice paper sliding doors, tatami mats on the floors, and dark exposed wood beams overhead.


These houses focused less on the military aspects of the Samurai and more on how they lived at home.
So no bushido masks, lacquered armor or multiple-folded steel swords here! More tea cups and urns...



Neda sharing a meal with a Samurai family
 

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Merry Christmas you two! Love the stories!
 

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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/404.html



From Shimabara, we head towards our rest place for the evening, located on the west side of the peninsula. To get there, we have to drive over an active volcano: Mount Unzen!


Heading towards Mount Unzen, and then onwards to Obama

Yes, there's a town named Obama. It means, "little beach" in Japanese. Although it's not named after US President Barack Obama, he is *very* popular in Japan. When he was inaugurated in 2008, there was a huge celebration here in Obama, Nagasaki.


Twisty roads up Mount Unzen

We love mountain roads, we always find enjoyable twists and turns that we can attack with our sportybikes. However, I'm a bit worried about roads around active volcanos though. Mount Unzen's last major eruption was in 1972, when landslides and tsunamis kiled 15,000 people. We tip toe on these curvy volcano roads, careful not to set off another eruption...
 

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Heading towards the peaks ahead in the distance


As we get higher, fog obscures the way. Near the summit, 1500m above sea level, we stop to look at the clouds below us


Road is one-way around the summit of Mount Unzen
 

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Near the top we find a resort: Unzen Hot Springs Onsen Resort

This isn't fog anymore. We are enveloped in steam emanating from the ground. Hot, smelly sulfuric gases seep up from all around us and makes us gag as we walk around the boardwalk that the resort has put up around this hellish rocky landscape. In fact, the Japanese name for this place is "Unzen Hell". Although these gases aren't poisonous, you have to hold your breath the entire time that you walk around otherwise you'll throw up from the smell. *blech*

Finally we had enough and we scramble back onto our bikes to escape Unzen Hell. Back down the volcano we ride until we reach Obama.

Looking at the map, this is the western-most point of our travels in Japan. From hereonin, we start heading back east.


This is our hotel in Obama-cho - we have a tatami room. Yay! A pretty tea set awaits us on the short-legged table (chadubai)

This part of Kyushu island is very geologically active, and there are many onsens in the area. Pretty much every hotel and ryokan in the area has an onsen. Including ours!
 

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Donning the yukata provided to us in preparation to take a dip in the hot pools

Neda is not allowed into the onsen.

Back when we first started our trip, she got a huge tattoo on the side of her ribcage to celebrate riding across Canada. But now we've discovered that tattoos are frowned upon in Japan because only gangsters get inked. Tattoos are linked to members of the underground criminal organization known as Yakuza. They're like the Japanese version of the Mafia. In almost every onsen, there is a sign that reads "No tattoos allowed".

There is hope for tatted-up individuals though. There are a few onsens that will allow you in if you cover up your tattoo. We've been trying to find a stick-on bandage that covers Neda's bodyart, but there is nothing that large. So everytime we go to an onsen, she takes her chances hoping nobody will catch her.

Cause she's gangsta like that. OY (Original Yakuza).


All set to head down to the onsen!

Since onsens are separated by sex, we go our separate ways. I wish Neda good luck and hope she doesn't get picked up by the police.
 

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Most onsens in hotels are just swimming pools, fed by hot springs water piped up from the ground. However, the nicer establishments make their onsens look as natural as possible.


Oooh, so fancy! Yes, I brought a camera into a public bath house... What could possibly go wrong?

I figure if Neda will be kicked out for her tattoos, I might as well get into the gangster action as well. Thankfully, the onsen is empty when I go in, so I'm able to snap some shots.

Just like most things in Japan, there is a strict etiquette in how to onsen. The pools are not chlorinated at all, so everyone who enters has to wash and scrub their bodies vigorously before they go in so there are no stray hairs or body oils floating around in the onsen. There are many wash stations situated around the onsen, equipped with soap, shampoo, wash clothes, buckets and a little shower head.

When you enter the onsen, you're supposed to put your towel on your head so it doesn't get wet.


Performing the pre-onsen cleansing ritual. And then... aaaaaaahhhhhhh!

Onsen etiquette is a very good example of the Japanese culture of conformity.

These wash stations are always situated around the onsen in plain view of everyone in the pool. They're not hidden away. This is so everybody can scrutinize you scrubbing your body clean before you enter the onsen - a sort of policing by peer pressure: "Hey Gai-Gene.. you missed a spot!"

Everyone's behaviour in Japan is always for the benefit of society, whether it's wearing a facemask in public so you don't spread your own germs, using an umbrella condom so you don't drip water everywhere when you carry your brolly indoors, or scrubbing your butt clean so you don't pollute the onsen. Disregard for others is seen as deviant behaviour and there is huge pressure to conform to this code. And extreme shame and ostracism if you don't.


Japanese Proverb

This is in stark contrast to the western way of thinking, where personal liberty is placed ahead of the common good. There, the prevailing attitude is: "Everybody's got rights - and my rights are more important than yours!"

I hate that kind of mentality.

In Japan, there's a pendulum swing to the other extreme, where there's a narrow set of behaviour that's tolerated in this society. Maybe it stifles individualism, creative thinking, experimenting with different ways of doing things. But personally, I prefer that over the rampant selfishness, callousness and disregard for others that I see in the west.

Rant over.
 

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In this Japanese version of Turn Down Service, the maids come in and actually make the futons for you! So cool!!!
 

Riceburner

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Japanese Proverb

This is in stark contrast to the western way of thinking, where personal liberty is placed ahead of the common good. There, the prevailing attitude is: "Everybody's got rights - and my rights are more important than yours!"

I hate that kind of mentality.

In Japan, there's a pendulum swing to the other extreme, where there's a narrow set of behaviour that's tolerated in this society. Maybe it stifles individualism, creative thinking, experimenting with different ways of doing things. But personally, I prefer that over the rampant selfishness, callousness and disregard for others that I see in the west.

Rant over.
The alternate saying...the squeaky wheel gets the grease. ?
 

pfbmgd

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Most onsens in hotels are just swimming pools, fed by hot springs water piped up from the ground. However, the nicer establishments make their onsens look as natural as possible.


Oooh, so fancy! Yes, I brought a camera into a public bath house... What could possibly go wrong?

I figure if Neda will be kicked out for her tattoos, I might as well get into the gangster action as well. Thankfully, the onsen is empty when I go in, so I'm able to snap some shots.

Just like most things in Japan, there is a strict etiquette in how to onsen. The pools are not chlorinated at all, so everyone who enters has to wash and scrub their bodies vigorously before they go in so there are no stray hairs or body oils floating around in the onsen. There are many wash stations situated around the onsen, equipped with soap, shampoo, wash clothes, buckets and a little shower head.

When you enter the onsen, you're supposed to put your towel on your head so it doesn't get wet.


Performing the pre-onsen cleansing ritual. And then... aaaaaaahhhhhhh!

Onsen etiquette is a very good example of the Japanese culture of conformity.

These wash stations are always situated around the onsen in plain view of everyone in the pool. They're not hidden away. This is so everybody can scrutinize you scrubbing your body clean before you enter the onsen - a sort of policing by peer pressure: "Hey Gai-Gene.. you missed a spot!"

Everyone's behaviour in Japan is always for the benefit of society, whether it's wearing a facemask in public so you don't spread your own germs, using an umbrella condom so you don't drip water everywhere when you carry your brolly indoors, or scrubbing your butt clean so you don't pollute the onsen. Disregard for others is seen as deviant behaviour and there is huge pressure to conform to this code. And extreme shame and ostracism if you don't.


Japanese Proverb

This is in stark contrast to the western way of thinking, where personal liberty is placed ahead of the common good. There, the prevailing attitude is: "Everybody's got rights - and my rights are more important than yours!"

I hate that kind of mentality.

In Japan, there's a pendulum swing to the other extreme, where there's a narrow set of behaviour that's tolerated in this society. Maybe it stifles individualism, creative thinking, experimenting with different ways of doing things. But personally, I prefer that over the rampant selfishness, callousness and disregard for others that I see in the west.

Rant over.

I looks like a fantastic experience . Hoping to hit Japan in the next year or so .
 

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