May 26 – June 2, 2019
Peaks: Kaimon (map #60), Kirishima (map #60), Aso*(map# 58), Sobo (map# 59), and Kuju (map# 59)
The plan was that Joe and I would ride down to Osaka and take the ferry down to Shibushi, which is a small port town on the southeastern side of Kyushu. Then make our way back toward Tokyo either up to Kitakyushu, which is the border city between Honshu and Kyushu, where we would take ferry back to Osaka or Tokyo, or ride straight through hitting a few cities along the way. Joe’s friend Kirby came along with us. He rented a 900 cc Honda from a local motorcycle shop (Motofoot) for about $1200 for the week.
The ferry departure time from Osaka was around 5pm and would arrive in Shibushi at about 8am the next day. The ferry has different rate options, basic rate is a tatami mat. You would share a room with other travelers. We got the standard room with motorcycle fare, which ran about ¥17,000 ($160). The rooms were small, but private. I was feeling a bit motion sick on the ferry so it was nice to lay down with some privacy. The ferry also has an onsen and showers. Nobody seemed to mind my tattoos either (usually the case as long as you don’t make a big deal out of it or linger for too long).
The ferry arrived in Shibushi and we disembarked a little after 9 am. We rode from Shibushi through Kagoshima down to Kaimon, which took around 2 hours. There is plenty of free auto parking at the Kaimondake trailhead, and a campground with restrooms and a few small noodle shops nearby. We started the hike at around noon. The trail circles around the volcanic cone all the way to the top. We were at the top by 2:30pm. Decent partial views of the ocean and surrounding farmland due to the scattered showers, and a little chilly due to the light rain and wind. We were back down at the bikes by 4pm and rode another 1.5 hrs back to Kagoshima, where our hotel was located. We stayed at the Sun Hotel in the Tenmonkan area, which is a popular night life part of town with many bars and restaurants.
It was raining fairly steadily the next morning. We were planning on hiking Kirishima early, but decided to wait out the rain at a Starbucks along the way. After the rain died down a bit, we stopped in at a Harley Davidson shop in the Aira area to pick up some souvenir T-shirts. About 30 minutes after we left the Harley shop, my transmission foot linkage bolt fell off, which disconnected the linkage to the transmission. I pulled over and zip-tied the linkage back together, and limped my bike back to the Harley shop. The mechanics were very helpful and understanding. They replaced the missing bolt for free and even gave us a couple souvenir key chains. Much thanks to the guys at Harley Davidson Kagoshima.
We made it to the Kirishima trailhead by about 1 pm. The entire hike only took about 3 hrs. Again, decent views at the top, partially obstructed by scattered showers. It was very windy so we didn’t linger too long. Back at the bikes by 4pm with the evening sun shining, we headed down the volcano towards Kumamoto.
We arrived in Kumamoto around 6pm. The hotel (Ark Hotel Kumamoto) was near the Kumamoto castle, but it was undergoing repairs due to a recent swath of earthquakes in the area. Took the hotels recommendation for a local izakaya and tried local delicacies like fried wasabi renkon (lotus root) and horse sashimi (basashi).
The next day we headed towards Aso. I didn’t have high expectations for reaching the peak because it was in volcanic alert level 2, which restricts entry around a 1km radius from the crater. We could get as far as the bottom ropeway station (ropeway closed), which still had respectable views of the surrounding area. They continuously update the volcanic alert level, so check the website if you have plans to summit Aso.
We were planning a double hike that day so we didn’t hang around for too long. We headed down toward Sobo, which was about 1.5 hrs ride away. We stopped for lunch at Umaya along the way.
The last 2 miles or so to the Sobo trailhead is gravel surface. Harley’s don’t do gravel all that great, so we took it really slow. From the trailhead, the trail is mostly easy to follow. We got side tracked because of our terrible Japanese reading abilities (even with the well intended illustrations), but figured out the way without loosing too much time. We started the hike around 1pm and were back at the bikes by 4pm.
From Sobo, we headed toward the town of Kuju, which is near the Kuju trailhead. We stayed at the Guernsey Hotel. There are very limited hotel choices, but the one we found through hotels.com was reasonably priced and had big rooms. Unfortunately we got there after the hotel restaurant closed (only 6pm!), and there was no other food choices in the area, not even seven-11, so we had to eat the snacks we had on-hand for dinner – trail mix and beer (actually the beer was in the vending machines). Breakfast the next morning was superb (maybe we were just really hungry). I was leaps and bounds above Hotel Route-Inn buffet style breakfast (although I’m not complaining about that either).
The next day was the last hike we were planning on this trip. The trail to Kuju was very crowded, many tour buses, and school trips (although it was cool how the kids were surprised to see a few smelly gaijin bikers headed up the trail). While the crowds took away from the beauty this area had to offer, you could imagine how peaceful it would be here during the off-seasons. The whole hike took about 4 hrs, and we finished by about 1pm.
After resting for a bit, we headed towards Fukuoka. The rest of the trip was site-seeing, so we put the hiking gear and planning away and tried to relax a bit. We visited another Harley shop in Fukuoka for a T-shirt, stopped at the Reclining Buddha Statue, and ate at the famous Yatai stalls. I will note that while it is cool to visit the yatai stalls once as a tourist, they are tourist traps, and I would probably try a different option if I visit Fukuoka again.
It was raining in the morning the next day. We all had rain gear which seemed to be working reasonably well, but I got cold anyway. We had to take several breaks on our way to Hiroshima. We arrived in Hiroshima by 12pm and visited the A-bomb dome. I’ve seen it before because I’ve been in the area for work, but Joe and Kirby haven’t seen it. It is certainly worth a second visit so I didn’t mind. After Hiroshima Okonomiyaki for lunch, we headed out, crossing the Shimanami Kaidō expressway, which is a scenic route that connects the greater Honshu with Shikoku. We stayed in Ibaraki that night, the Ibaraki Castle is worth a look if you are in the area.
We headed out toward Osaka the next morning. Although the expressway had little traffic, it didn’t have much too see either so we toughed it out for the next 4 hours or so running our tanks practically dry from gas station to gas station. Heading into Osaka was more interesting because you cross the bridge from Shikoku back to Honshu and enter an urban setting.
We detoured to the Osaka Castle prior to heading to the dotonbori area, where our hotel was located. After tough negotiations with the hotel manager for a motorcycle parking spot (I let Joe handle that one), we headed out for some takoyaki.
Kirby wanted to see Kyoto, so for the last day of our trip, we headed to the Inari Fukushima shrine. It was about an hour to the shrine. Joe and I had been there before separately. We I went with my wife and son, there was hardly anyone there at all and it was a very relaxing and scenic walk. This time was very different. People walked shoulder to shoulder through the Torii’s. Because of the crowds, we just took the short loop around, and came back for some fried bacon on a stick.
It was a 4 hr ride to get back to Tokyo. We were all tired, and after a week on the bikes, combined with the hiking, it’s no wonder. We kept the speedometer dialed to the right most of the way, stopping only for lunch and as necessary for gas. Back to normal again.