By Sev Pearman
Travel books have to pass one simple test for me: when I am finished, has the author made me want to travel to that place? With that question in mind, I tackled de la Rupelle’s book on motorcycle travel in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Vagabonding reads much like a Lonely Planet or Let’s Go! Guide. It is weighted toward places of historical interest and natural beauty, versus tourist things like amusement parks or the best Gap location in Tokyo. In addition, it was written from a budget perspective. The author assumes if you’ve the means, you could easily find hotels, easily spending $500 per night in larger cities, all over Japan, by yourself.
Instead, he camps; both in organized campgrounds and off the beaten track, and by staying in “rider houses.” These are to be found throughout Japan and cater to both bicyclists and motorcyclists. A cross between hostels and our bed & breakfasts, you get an evening meal and breakfast, or you can save more and simply get a tatami (futon) for the evening. What a concept! They also offer the advantage of being able to share road information with other riders, and usually offer some sheltered storage for your ride.
De la Rupelle organizes the text into chapters representing one to three day trips. Its an effective system, and most of the routes are accompanied with black + white photos and/or clever maps. Coupled with a Shobunsha bilingual road atlas, they are all you need to navigate the country. The location of Japan’s numerous onsen, or natural hot springs, are shown. Most communities have at least one, and de la Rupelle claims that they are a great way to unwind after a long ride, for little money.
If you’ve ever thought of traveling or riding in Japan, this book is a must. With descriptions of deserted mountain twisties and beautiful sea coast roads, Vagabonding is an enticing description of “roads yet traveled.” Back that up with the author’s practical information about customs, traffic etiquette and plain ol’ common sense, and you’ll be saying, “Sumimasen, chikaku ni shirobai ga arimasuka?” (Excuse me, is there a motorcycle cop near here?) before you know it.