Northern Honshu is Hokkaido’s bigger brother, the mountains are higher with a myriad of rivers carving deep valleys and gorges down to the sea. The roads are steeper and as long as you avoid the main ones very quiet. They take you through neat villages where all sorts of fruits are grown. From persimmons to huge apples and pears to vines and peaches. Rice fields are tucked into the smallest of spaces with vegetable gardens next to every house. Bamboo and cedar groves cover the mountains with their lush green foliage.
The leaves were just starting to turn autumnal as we started heading south. We caught a ferry from Tomakomai, Hokkaido to Akita on the north west coast of Honshu. This was quite an achievement considering nobody at the ferry terminal spoke english and everything was written in japanese. We slept on the floor in one of the dormotories. Fortunately we had time to get our mattresses, not being quite as stoical as the japanese.
Akita is a modern city with a compact centre with some older housing, home to most of the restaurants just off the main drag. There is a great range of eateries in Japan but it can be difficult to tell what they are from outside. The ones in malls are generally easy to decipher as they have an array of plastic food on show in the window. Some have photographs on their menus but most just have japanese script. We ventured into one of these one evening forgetting our japanese phrasebook. They were very helpful and we managed to get something to eat!
From Akita we headed down the coast a bit before cutting inland along the beautiful Mogami river picking up route 9, a small road that wound around cliff edges giving fantastic views of the countryside. The farms were all small scale and the farmers were busy either with their mini combine harvesters or even manually harvesting the rice.
We again were lucky with the weather climbing the Shirabu pass and then the Funaka pass over into lake Onagawa in clear weather. We still are managing to stay in campsites. Some have been closed, but all have been very quiet and set in beautiful landscapes. Most seemed to be set on the side of a mountain which usually meant climbing a few more kilometres after a long day in the saddle.
We have found the Japanese to be very friendly and although they don’t speak much english very generous. Offering us food from their barbecues and an old lady selling fruit by the side of the road kept on giving us peaches. The roads got a bit busier with more high end cars and motorbikes as we made our way through the ski areas of Nasu on to Nikko. For some reason the Japanese bikers are into Harleys and some pretty weird choppers despite having a huge motorcycle industry of their own.