Monday: I left Matsumoto with a clear stop in mind: the Hakushu Distillery on the way to Tokyo. Of course I had done my on-line reservation for the guided tour and I was there in time after hour of riding. When I was at was at the ticket counter, it was concluded that I was a driver and could not participate actively in the whisky tasting at the end of the end. Well, we’ll see, I was thinking. I had to download an app to follow the tour in English. It was a classical whisky distillery tour: ingredients, mashing, fermentation, casks, ageing. Some things were particular: the situation of the distillery in the woods, the large distilling room and the large warehouse. I estimated space for 20.000 casks in there. My estimate was confirmed, but the distillery has 15 warehouses with room for 200.000 casks.
That’s an incredibly high number. When we entered the tasting room, there were no glasses for the “drivers”. So they did take this seriously! What a bummer! But it got worse: in the adjacent bar, one could order all the old whiskies (18 and 25 years), but no purchase for “drivers”. Aaargh! Und adding insult to injury, all whiskies were sold out in the shop! How is this possible?? So many casks and nothing left for a little shop? This was disappointing!
I returned to the parking. The lady from the ticket counter came to talk to me. Her English was excellent as she had worked in New Zealand. We had a good talk. She understood the problem, but the distillery was bound by law that no alcohol would touch my lips. Well, case closed, let’s get out of here.
I went back to the highway and rode towards Tokyo. I stopped at a large service area and had some good noodle soup there. My initial plan did not work – I had planned to visit the National Museum in the afternoon, but I realised that it was closed on Mondays. Hmmmm. What could I do instead? Well, I could visit the Hamarikyu Gardens instead, this was planned for the next day initially. I was surprised that the highway to Tokyo’s centre was so fluid. Maybe the early hour helped a bit. It was a bit tricky as the sat nav always wanted to send me on the shortest route. Finally I arrived close to the gardens, but there was no place to park. Finally I found a spot in a corner and walked to the entrance of the gardens. Humidity was around 90 % and streams of sweat were flowing. I strolled through the beautiful garden that contrasted with the surrounding skyscrapers.
I returned to the XBR and rode to the hotel. I followed the sat nav’s instructions and at a junction, I turned right. At the same moment I heard a loud voice shouting via a loudspeaker. When I had finished the turn, I heard massively loud sirens in the back. Hm? What’s going on there? I rode on, calmly. Only two more turns to the hotel. The sirens came closer. The sirens were behind me. The loudspeaker talked again. I turned around.
The cop was talking to me! I stopped around the corner. The police car behind me with flashing lights. The two cops tried to explain me (with the help of an app on their phone) that I shouldn’t have turned right at that crossing. Oh, really? Hm, I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware. Yes, it was forbidden between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. And then started what I hoped never would happen. I had to present all my papers. Driving licence, international driving licence, its Japanese translation, my passport, the carnet de passage, its Japanese translation, my Belgian registration, its Japanese translation, my Japanese insurance…The officers looked at everything, trying to understand all the documents. It was clear that they never had such a case and were overwhelmed by the situation. The younger officer was very polite and excused himself. They needed to call HQ and check if I was allowed to ride Japan. Oh vey! Well, of course, but they were apparently confused by the German/Belgian mixture. I was content that I had changed the bike’s registration to a Belgian one. Assuming someone manages to enter Japan with a German bike, this would be a total disaster. But I was confident that everything was in order and tried not to smirk too much. The officer was very courteous and asked for my patience. I tried to explain the situation a bit. Slowly, very slowly the cops understood the Japanese papers. In the end, they were satisfied with the information. I explained that I had not seen any sign. They told me that I was very important to respect road sign. Yes, of course, officer. Very much. In the end they gave me a warning, I said sorry for having wasted their time. We bowed several times and I was free to go. My hotel was only 50 m away. There was no place to place to stop, so I stopped on the pavement. I entered the hotel and hoped that the passing cops wouldn’t mind that I had stopped there. But there were no sirens again.
Punch line: I checked the next days twice, there was no sign! Only for the direction where the police car came from. The cops were wrong, haha. They would have lost their face!
I checked in and brought my luggage to the small room. It was a small, but new hotel with very friendly staff. I wanted to park the bike. Er, motorbikes cannot enter. What? But I had booked the hotel because it had a parking. Motorbikes cannot enter, we had informed you. What? Well, yeah, AFTER I had booked the non-refundable room. Great. They had suggested a parking, but could not reach anybody. OK, I take care of it myself. All parkings I found in the area were not suited for motorbikes. Finally I left the XBR next a small parking, but still on the parking’s premises. When I returned to the hotel, I had developed a bad conscience and asked the staff again. They (finally!) explained me that their suggested parking was a parking for motorbikes. Aaaaah! I went there (500 m) and it was a complicated system with a long lock and a payment terminal. I didn’t understand the machine (only Japanese) and left the bike there. In the hotel, they explained me how it worked. I walked back and put the lock around my lock. I walked back and FINALLY could have a shower! It was late and as the hotel had no restaurant, I strolled around in the hip quarter of Ginza. In the end I chose a foodbar with the kitchen in the centre. I had some good meat in soy sauce, but that was not enough. I noticed that the famous Kabuki-za theatre was just next door. But I was too little time in the city to watch one of its long plays.
I had a beer in an Irish pub (only Japanese, that’s strange). In the whole quarter, there were many European food places. But not for me! In the end I went to a famous ramen chain restaurant from Fukuoka. When I was there, I tried teppanyaki and not its famous ramen. Well, then I needed to try them here in Tokyo! And they were delicious, with roasted pork. So the day had found a good end, after quite some hiccups.
Tuesday: I had no breakfast in my hotel, but went to the famous Tsukiji market. The famous fish auctions have recently been relocated to another quarter, but the wholesale market stays here in Ginza. It is quite a lively, funny place, lots of shops trying to attract tourists with delicious snacks or proper restaurant food. I tried some fish yakitori and some Toro sashimi. I walked criss-cross around the market and found the halls with the fish mongers. In the end, I chose a restaurant and had breakfast/lunch: some bluefin tuna and sea urchin. It’s definitely not something for everyday, also seen the endangered status of the fish, but once it’s ok to try it here. I walked around again and slowly the market filled with tourists, time to get of there.
I walked through the shine and glitz of Ginza and its shops. I crossed several shopping malls to cool down a bit. It was not the temperature, but the high humidity that made me sweat like a….well, you know. All luxury brands were present, several times. Some malls had nice ideas like a book shops with fine food or nice Japanese pottery. But I resisted to buy anything, as a matter of principle. My luggage is too big anyway and I’ll have to reduce it before I fly home.
The quarter is bustling with activity, work and shopping, shopping, shopping. Consumerism to the max. Interesting.
I walked to the adjacent Imperial park where the Emperor’s palace is located. It cannot be visited, only the public part of the park. I wandered around and took some pictures. Slowly I walked back to the hotel, with a break in a coffee bar (air condition!). It was a long and interesting walk today. You feel a bit like a classic naturalist, studying the exotic behaviour of distant tribes. The staff at the hotel was very nice and printed some papers I will need for the drop-off of the bike in Nagoya.
I went to the little onsen in the hotel and dressed up, I had reserved at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Finally my clothes bought in Vladivostok would come into play. It was still casual, like the place itself. Two tables and one counter where the chef prepared the dishes. Many little dishes were served. It was all very good, of superior quality. Well, the source for this freshness was only one kilometre away. First-class ingredients next door. But to be honest, today’s dinner would not merit a star. It seems that Tokyo is flooded by Michelin stars. 149 of them I counted. That’s…. a lot. But no regrets, I was a good meal.
I was thinking about having a whisky before hitting the sack. There was no bar in my hotel. I checked Google. There was a bar very close called ‘Desperado’ (cozy whisky bar). Sounded good. I entered the small bar where there was only the bartender and one couple. They left soon. Well, I sat at the counter and started a conversation. I tried his suggestion from Hokkaido. Good! We chatted a lot, also about my trip and then I needed to try the Hibiki 21 years. Excellent. The bartender laid the Japanese Tarot cards for me and concluded that my future looked rosy, I only needed to have an eye on good communication. OK, this can be arranged. Aki had worked at a big luxury hotel, but has now started his own business, this bar.
And then the late evening took a funny turn. A new guest arrived. It was Aki’s (the bartender’s) friend Toru. We discovered that we had many common interests (motorbikes, wine, music taste) and had really a good laugh. I tried another secret tip from Aki. Some other friends came and went and the conversation became more and more hilarious. Toru knew the German singer Nena and her armpit hair. Why was this hilarious? Well, not because Nena was very ‘natural’ (and why not?), it was the very detail a Japanese guy remembered after almost 40 years. They invited me for a glass of wine and we discussed the wine subject. Then a new guest showed up. According to his accent, I correctly asked him whether he was Austrian (no, not Australian!). Touché! And then Aki and Toru were very generous inviting for some more rounds of whisky. It was great fun together, but at a certain point I called it a day, I knew it was already very late and I had things to do the next day. I said farewell to he guys, it was really good company laughing together with two great Japanese fellas!
Wednesday: I woke up at eight with a heavy head. Not a bad handover, but I lacked some freshness until the evening. I packed my stuff und fetched the bike. I could have left without paying, but so what, I had parked there and why not pay your dues. It was again hot and humid. I quickly mounted my luggage in front of the hotel and rode to the Ueno quarter. I rode along a road that choice had suggested to me. Many motorbike shops should be there. But as Aki and Toru had already told me, things had changed. There were only few shops left and no parking space. So no stop there. I went to the National Museum and visited the highlights of Japanese Arts section.
You could spend a whole day and more there, but I still needed to go to Mount Fuji today. So I decided to enjoy only the great section of the highlights. But it was worth it. I was striking that delicate artefacts were produced in Japan when Europe and its artists were still in the grip of the dark Middle Ages. Some drawings from the 14th century were so realistic and comic-esque that they seem to be from the 21st century. Great paintings, calligraphy, sculptures and other things.
When I returned to the bike, I found a paper, probably a parking ticket. Well, no parking spaces, but if nobody is bothered….I left Tokyo (after some detours, my sat nav is really stupid here) and headed Westwards again. I stopped at the Mount Fuji Museum and visited the exposition, a good documentation of the history of the iconic mountain and its role for the Japanese people.
I had planned to ride half-way up, but as it was cloudy, I decided against it. Well, I only had to get to the ryokan for today. I tried to get a view on Mount Fuji, but when I finally found a good spot, Fuji-san was in the clouds. A pity.
I had the usual programme, arrival at the ryokan, friendly welcome, check-in, Yukata and a long bathing session in the onsen. After that, buffet dinner. No Kaiseki today, but I had to find out for myself which kind of species I ingested today. The place is less chic than the last ones, but everything is there that you need. And the price is ok.
I received a message from the Japanese contact person of DHL who seem to have some problems to get my shipment on track. Now they told me that the customs inspection can only happen three days after I will have left the country. But they need the passport for the inspection. Well, no. The German HQ confirmed that there will be a solution, but the Japanese section is struggling. But hey, that’s their problem not mine. I will visit their office tomorrow in Nagoya, let’s see what they tell me, haha.