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Singaporean guy travels 2,300km from Okinawa to Ibaraki (Part 5 – Final)

Singaporean guy travels 2,300km from Okinawa to Ibaraki (Part 5 – Final)

It’s another #WanderfulWednesday, but now we’re at the final stretch. My journey is about to come to its end, but if you’ve just tuned in do jump over to Part 1 to see what you’ve missed!

 

 

After nearly two whole weeks on the road, I was within 400km of my target. Now that I was in the Chubu Region (中部地方 Chūbu-chihō), the northern reaches of the Kanto Region (関東地方 Kantō Chihō) was just a day’s sprint away. I had, of course, the option to conclude things right there and then by beelining straight to the goal, but where’s the fun in that?

 

A holy site pilgrimage, in more ways than one

It was already dark by the time I emerged on the other side of the Kiso Valley (木曽路 Kisoji) and entered the city of Suwa (諏訪市 Suwa-shi). I lodged up for the night, and upon daybreak set off once more in a light morning drizzle. I looked around to find myself in a strangely familiar place, even though I was pretty sure I had never been here before.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

I urged my scooter up a small elevation and came to Tateishi Park (立石公園 Tateishi kōen), an observation spot that is popular among locals thanks to its prime vantage point from which one can see the main feature of Suwa City. Much to my misfortune, the gloomy weather made it hard to sufficiently capture the panoramic view in all its grandeur, so this was the best I could manage.

 

Tateishi Park (立石公園)
Address: 10399 Kamisuwa, Suwa, Nagano 392-0003
Nearest station: Kami-Suwa Station (上諏訪駅)
Opening hours: 24 hours

 

Kind of reminds me of Bedok Reservoir, near where I used to live, except many times bigger. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Lake Suwa (諏訪湖 Suwa-ko), though hardly as grand as Lake Biwa or most other lakes in Japan, is possibly one of the most famous in the country thanks to countless features in movies, video games, and anime. Located above a natural hot spring, the top of the lake freezes over in winter but the warm spring waters continue to circulate below, resulting in dramatic ice pressure ridges forming on the surface. Known as omiwatari (御神渡り God’s crossing), it has become an increasingly rare occurrence in recent years, but there is a local belief that these fissures are caused by kami (神 Shinto God) crossing over the frozen lake, and they have been used in the divination of social events and crop harvests since the 14th century.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Suwa is also home to Suwa Taisha (諏訪大社), one of the oldest Japanese shrines in existence. Its complex comprises two separate sites located on the north and south sides of the lake, each further subdivided into two components, the Former Shrine (前宮 Maemiya) and Main Shrine (本宮 Honmiya) in the Upper Shrine (上諏訪 Kami-Suwa), and the Spring Shrine (春宮 Harumiya) and Autumn Shrine (秋宮 Akimiya) in the Lower Shrine (下諏訪 Shimo-Suwa). All of these complexes sit serenely amidst lush greenery, deeply connected to their surrounding nature. At the time of my visit, the falling rain also seemed to lend an air of reverence and tranquillity to each shrine.

 

Suwa Taisha Upper Shrine Honmiya (諏訪大社上社本宮)
Address: 1 Nakasu Miyayama, Suwa, Nagano 392-0015
Nearest station: Chino Station (茅野駅)
Opening hours: 09:00–16:00
Tel: +81 26-652-1919

 

Suwa Taisha Upper Shrine Maemiya (諏訪大社上社前宮)
Address: 2030 Miyagawa, Chino, Nagano 391-0013
Nearest station: Chino Station (茅野駅)
Opening hours: 09:00–16:00
Tel: +81 26-672-1606

 

Suwa Taisha Lower Shrine Harumiya (諏訪大社下社春宮)
Address: 193 Daimon, Shimosuwa, Suwa, Nagano 393-0092
Nearest station: Shimo-Suwa Station (下諏訪駅)
Opening hours: 09:00–16:00
Tel: +81 26-627-8316

 

Suwa Taisha Lower Shrine Akimiya (諏訪大社下社秋宮)
Address: 5828 Shimosuwa, Suwa, Nagano 393-0052
Nearest station: Shimo-Suwa Station (下諏訪駅)
Opening hours: 09:00–16:00
Tel: +81 26-627-8035

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Atop my trusted mount, visiting all four sites in a single day was a fairly simple affair. My prize for offering prayers at all four of them and obtaining their respective seal stamps (ご朱印 goshuin) was a beautifully made kinchaku (巾着 cloth bag), just the right size for keeping my seal book.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

The rain had subsided a little at this point, so I made the best of this window to take a quick jaunt down to Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県 Yamanashi-ken). I was headed for Hokuto (北杜市), a sparsely-populated city located on the northwest corner of Yamanashi. Being close to Tokyo and easily accessible via the Chuo Main Line (中央本線 Chūō-honsen), Hokuto is a popular getaway destination all year round: Here, one can view cherry blossoms, escape the summer heat, catch autumn colours, and go skiing or snowboarding.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

My main purpose for taking this detour, however, was simply because Hokuto was the setting of the story that inspired me to purchase this particular model of scooter and go on this whole adventure to begin with. Super Cub (スーパーカブ Sūpā Kabu) is a laid-back manga series which follows the day-to-day life of a high school girl who rides a scooter exactly like mine, and many of the scenes that appear in the manga are actually real-life locations in Hokuto City. It was a holy site pilgrimage with my own Super Cub that I was determined not to pass up.

 

Hokuto City (北杜市)
Address: Nagasakacho Hino, Hokuto, Yamanashi 408-0026
Nearest station: Hinoharu Station (日野春駅)
Tel: +81 55-142-1111

 

Majestic Matsumoto

My excursion complete, I ventured back northwards into Nagano Prefecture (長野県 Nagano-ken), past Lake Suwa once more, and finally arrived in Matsumoto City (松本市 Matsumoto-shi) well into the evening. I shacked up at a backpacker’s hostel that night, eager to explore the city the next day.

 

When I woke up the next morning, I was delighted to find it miraculously bright and sunny. I went on my way as quickly as I could to check out the sights.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Nakamachi (中町通り Nakamachi-dōri) is a delicately preserved shopping street featuring rows of traditional buildings characterised by their criss-cross patterned walls, an Edo-period design meant to deter fires. These former storehouses (蔵 kura) now house restaurants, cafes, and shops selling souvenirs and craft goods. In the middle of the street stands Classic-kan, a sake brewery-turned-museum that hosts events and exhibitions.

 

Nakamachi Shopping Street (中町商店街)
Address: 3-2-14 Chuo, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0811
Nearest station: Matsumoto Station (松本駅)
Tel: +81 26-336-1421

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Just a short hop away from Nakamachi is the city’s crown jewel, Matsumoto Castle (松本城  Matsumoto-jō). Easily recognisable from its black wainscoting, it is one of the most complete and beautiful castles in the whole country. Matsumoto Castle is one of five in the country designated as national treasures, and among the few original castles from the warring states period not demolished nor lost to natural disasters. It boasts spectacular views of the surrounding cityscape from the top of its main keep, and in spring offers fantastic cherry blossom viewing thanks to the numerous sakura trees dotting the grounds and lining the moat.

 

Matsumoto Castle (松本城)
Address: 4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0873
Nearest station: Kita-Matsumoto Station (北松本駅)
Opening hours: 08:30–16:30
Tel: +81 26-332-2902

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

It was time to go, but I made it a point to stop by Matsumoto City Alps Park (松本市アルプス公園 Matsumoto-shi Arupusu kōen) on the north side of the city before departing. The park was charming and seemed to be popular among picnickers and Gateball players, with plenty of sakura trees promising delightful cherry blossom viewings in springtime, but most importantly, it offered a prime panoramic view of the Japanese Alps to the west.

 

I bid a reluctant farewell to Matsumoto and sped off just as the sun began to set behind me. I was bound for my next planned rest stop, an acquaintance’s house in Kumagaya (熊谷), Saitama (埼玉県 Saitama-ken). It was to be an arduous 4-hour endurance run eastwards.

 

Matsumoto City Alps Park (松本市アルプス公園)
Address: 2455-11 Arigasaki, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0861
Nearest station: Kita-Matsumoto Station (北松本駅)
Opening hours: 24 hours
Tel: +81 26-334-5640

 

Kupkias unite! (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Three hours and 120km into the jaunt, I was in the midst of navigating a series of downhill switchbacks in the pitch darkness of night when I spotted a singular headlamp creeping through the shadows in my rearview mirror. I did my usual thing and allowed the motorcycle behind me to pass, but when I was overtaken I was delighted to find that the vehicle was a Super Cub just like mine. Its rider had apparently seen my sign, and when we were halted side-by-side at a traffic light a few moments later he asked if I would like to stop by for a quick break at the next convenience store with him. So impressed was he at my epic adventure that he treated me to some canned coffee as we made casual conversation and shared in our admiration for the Honda Super Cub scooter series. It felt truly incredible and serendipitous to be able to connect with like-minded people on the road like that.

 

All-you-can-eat for only ¥500!

After exchanging LINE and Twitter contacts, I parted ways with my newfound friend and finally arrived at my destination way late into the night, exhausted but gratified. I got some much-needed restful sleep that evening and woke up feeling invigorated, ready to take on the final day of my protracted journey. Ibaraki (茨城県 Ibaraki-ken) was but a short hop away. It was time to finish this...

 

… but not before going on one final side trip, though!

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

There was a place in Kiryu (桐生市 Kiryū-shi), Gunma Prefecture (群馬県 Gunma-ken), that I had wanted to check out for the longest time. A nondescript building located in a nondescript road nestled within a nondescript town, it may look like a run-down, ramshackle establishment serving mediocre fare, but it has nonetheless gained the attention of an entire country after having been featured countless times on Japanese TV.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Hacchan Shop (はっちゃんショップ) is run by Hacchan, a spritely granny in her 80s who still has a kick in her step. At the youthful age of 57, after watching all her children grow up and start their own families, she embarked on a trip around the whole of Japan by scooter (just like me, but grander), then started this restaurant five years later. Over the past 17 years she has been running the business on a ¥70,000 monthly deficit by charging patrons only ¥500 for buffet-style meals, all in the name of continuing to spread happiness to others. Thanks to its popularity the shop often sees long lines during lunchtime hours, with customers arriving from all over the country. It isn’t any surprise, given that for such a small amount of money, one can enjoy delicious homemade grub to their heart’s content.

 

I had my fill of Hacchan’s cooking, spoke with her briefly about cross-country scooter travelling, and saddled up for the last rodeo. This was itall that lay between me and my goal was 150km of highway cutting through Tochigi (栃木県 Tochigi-ken). The epic trail was coming to its grand conclusion.

 

Streaking across the plains of Kanto, I found the evenness of the road a welcome change of pace in comparison to the hilly roads of Kyushu (九州) and Chubu. Vast expanses of farmland greeted me from every direction, dotted with the occasional mountain range in the distance. As I rested briefly at a 7-Eleven somewhere along the way, I received a message from a motorist who must have been behind me at some point and decided to get in contact via the Instagram hashtag I put up on my sign. It was a very simple gesture of encouragement, a mere, “you’re almost there, do your best!”, but it lifted my spirits greatly, and I rode that momentum as I crossed the border and finally entered the boundaries of Ibaraki Prefecture.

 

Hacchan Shop (はっちゃんショップ)
Address: 2-1024-3 Aioicho, Kiryu, Gunma 376-0011
Nearest station: Kiryu-Kyujo-Mae Station (桐生球場前駅)
Opening hours: 11:30–17:00 (Closed Sundays)
Tel: +81 27-752-8346

 

The fat lady sings

I had hoped to be able to end the epic journey on a high note, but nature had other plans. Storm clouds began to gather and the sky started to open up once more, causing me to hurriedly don my rain gear.

 

Trees and rice paddies gradually gave way to cement and concrete. The last hour of my journey was spent negotiating evening rush hour traffic in the surging rain.

 

Then, it was all over.

 

I had made it.

 

A rain-soaked reception. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Most people would be familiar with the word ‘Hitachi’ as it is the name of a globally-renowned electronics company, proud designer of products cherished by people all over the globe like generators and magic wands. The name is indeed toponymic, as it was founded and formerly headquartered in the city that gave it its name.

 

Hitachi City (日立市 Hitachi-shi) is indeed going to be my new home from here on out. My move was finally complete. I parked my scooter briefly in front of Hitachi Station (日立駅 Hitachi-eki), lovingly praised it for carrying me all the way here without any mechanical issues, and updated the sign at the back.

 

“引っ越し完了 hokkoshi-kanryou”—Move complete! (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Reflections

I pose for a photo with the proprietor of the backpacker’s hostel I stayed in at Matsumoto. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Here are the statistics:
Distance travelled: 2,318km
Combined travel expenses: ¥27,610 (~S$355) (largely on the Okinawa-Kagoshima ferry)
Money spent on fuel: ¥4,880 (~S$65)
Hotel: Trivago

 

This trip has not been without its lows: I lost my favourite keychain attached to my scooter key when it fell off as I was riding in Kyushu, a few camping items that were strapped to the rear when the straps failed on me while I was on the road, a portable charger which had served me faithfully for three years, and an SD card which contained precious memories of my time in Okinawa.

 

Despite the rain-proofing measures I took, water still managed to seep into my backpack and rear box, soaking several items like my shrine seal book and laptop computer, and inflicting irreparable damage. I had also developed a heat rash on my back from carrying my heavy backpack around with me for so long. Navigating tight traffic and having to hug the left shoulder dangerously close so as to yield to passing cars and trucks, especially on busy highways, was a harrowing affair. Google Maps navigation was not copacetic to the fact that my 50cc scooter could not go on tolled expressways and kept giving me directions I could not follow, forcing me to replan my routing on the fly countless times. Many portions of the ride, especially those undertaken at night, were nothing but long fatiguing hours of monotonous riding that would render my back and butt sorethere were many moments where I cursed myself for having seemingly bitten off more than I could chew by taking on this unnecessary, onerous venture.

 

And yet, in spite of all the negatives, I could very confidently state that I did not regret going on that trip one bit. The sights I managed to see along the way, the places I would have never been able to check out for myself otherwise, was all worth the trouble. I embarked on the trip with barely two weeks’ riding know-how, and emerged from the tail end a seasoned scooter veteran confident in taking on any roadway no matter how challenging. I saved a ton of money choosing to move the scooter myself instead of having it be taken care of by a moving company, and in the process gained a priceless travel experience very few other people in the world can boast of having. Would I embark on a trip like this again in the future? A hundred times yes, but maybe on something with a little more horsepower.

 

Me and my Cub in Oarai, Ibaraki. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

With that, we’ve come to the end of my crazy expedition across Japan via scooter. As of the time I penned these series of articles, I have been happily settled in Hitachi for a few months now, and my Super Cub has been continuing to serve me faithfully as I roam around exploring all the fascinating but unrenowned places of Ibaraki Prefecture. I will be introducing them in future articles, so if you’ve been enjoying my content so far do stick around!

 

Thank you for reading, I’ll see you on the next one!

 

Header image credit: Ananda Kang

 

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