That’s Japanese for welcome.
Many thanks to Akira Mimura for correcting my very poor Japanese spelling.
When we were looking around for things to do in 2017, this one jumped straight out at us. JAPAN – who wouldn’t want to rally there?
OK. We’re entered on the “Samurai Challenge”. A 22 day regularity road rally from Fukuoka in the south of Japan to Lake Toya in the north. Regularity means keeping to a very strict time schedule on public roads which sounds easy but isn’t always, especially when you take a wrong turning. That’s easy when road signs aren’t in English! Ask Penny; I once navigated (not really the right word) her from the Great Wall at Badaling, outisde Beijing and got completely lost – on a motorway. That involved a 40+ km detour top get back on track. There will also be a variety of other speed only or navigation tests thrown at us as the rally progresses.
The organizers are hoping to make this event as entertaining as possible so we will be visiting some pretty spectacular sites. On the first day for instance we will be driving around Mt. Aso, one of the biggest active volcanoes in the world. As we progress we will also be visiting, in no particular order, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Miyazu Bay, Mt. Koya, Nara, Mt. Fuji, Tokyo, Sado, Tsuruoka, Amori and many other places.
There are about 45 other entries and a few old friends we’ve rallied with in various parts of the world.
(At the very bottom of this page are a few video clips I’ve mangaed to pick up from around the web.)
July 20th 2016
I’ve had a PM asking what we do on rallies. It is quite difficult to explain the whole process to a non rally enthusiast. There are three basic disciplines. First, there are the mind bending navigation tests for Penny and these are far too complicated to put into words of one syllable. They can consist of map reading, cryptic clues, special diagrams or anything the route setter can think of. When it goes wrong (and it does sometimes) there are usually a few words shared between us. Then there are things called regularities where we have to drive a very precisely defined route on open roads and are measured to the second at various points along the way. The speeds are never very high and it is just as difficult to drive down to a speed as it is flat out. When they go wrong and they sometimes do, then I have to drive like bug***ry to make up time. That’s a fun bit for me. Then there are speed tests on (not always) private land. As it says on the tin these are simple – fastest wins.
Here’s a clip from a forest somewhere in Yorkshire (I think).
And one from Harewood Hill Climb.
July 21st 2016
Here’s an interesting bit of video. All the clips that were taken in 2007 and never used. BTW, the colours are a bit strange. It starts with us in China, then jumps to Mongolia, Siberia, Poland then the finish in Paris.
December 30th 2016
Not even the New Year and we’ve got our rally bag, plates and stuff. Worse, the car isn’t here yet, it is still being prepped in Suffolk and the engine isn’t due to be re-installed until next week. I’ve been promised that it’ll be ready on time. At least this year, unlike the Sierra Nevada, we don’t need tyres. We did nothing in 2016 and because the 2015 rally was curtailed there should be enough tread to see us through. Just as well because the replacement tyres are still four months away from delivery!
Hooray! That very nice gentleman from Suffolk, Gareth Burnett delivered the Talbot back to us this morning. He drove up England yesterday because the main roads would be quieter than during the week and took the ferry from Birkenhead. He arrived at our front door at about seven o’clock; just in time for breakfast. After that, he re-checked the new wheel bearings, valve and points gaps and I took the car out for a short test run. It really does pick up a lot better in the middle of the rev range and will embarrass a few modern cars now.
After he was collected by a chum, we cleaned the filthy road muck off the car and all the gunk from the interior too. The next bit was the most important rally prep of all – to apply all the stickers!
Does anybody remember the problem we had with tyres before the Sierra Nevada rally in 2015? Well, originally the Samurai was scheduled to be about 2,000 miles and the tyres on the car should have been good enough (just) to last. We received more paperwork last week and the mileage has crept up to nearer 3,000. There are no tyres to be had in UK at the moment so I’m putting two spare wheels on and taking another pair of half-worn tyres with us so that we will still have have some tread left at the finish.
We’ll finish packing clothes, tools and spares then take it away for shipping this week.
Is there an unwritten law of the universe that says something like:
“If anything can go wrong to a rally car at the last minute, it will”?
Gareth had a very wee problem with a capilliary feed to the oil pressure gauge on the way up to the ferry so he cut it off and sealed the connector on the block. When he got home he organised a free replacement and that duly arrived today (excellent service) and is a much higher quality item that the original. So, went down this morning to do an oil change after a short “running in” with a couple of new bearings and then tried to fit the new pipe. Despite what it says on the label, it has the wrong fitting on one end. I’ve managed to get it to work without leaking but I’m not confident so I’m keeping the old bung in the car in case I have to disconnect everything again. The suppliers don’t have any more in stock so they will speak to the manufacturer to make sure a proper one is on it’s way to us. It’ll have to go into our luggage and I’ll change it in the car park at Fukuoka.
OK, that aside, the car is ready, packed with clothes, tools and spares and we’re off to the ferry tomorrow.
Do you remember when Joanna Lumley heard that we were going to Japan so she decided to do a series of programmes to tell us what to expect? Well, somebody else loves us too. A few weeks ago, Rick Stein did a programme about Palermo and tonight there’s something on BBC2 about Sicily to educate us further before our trip there in October.
That’s all for now folks.
From the high seas on board Stena Superfast VII. Isn’t technology wonderful. We have better access to the wonderweb from here than we did in the whole of Argentina / Patagonia (see Cape Horn group) two years ago.
Anyway, dear old Ulidia (the Talbot) is on her lonely way to the land of the rising sun. The CARS driver said he wasn’t allowed into the ferry terminal car park but we think he was trying to drive down the ferry boarding lanes, so we drove down the main road for 10 minutes and met him in a layby. Car checked, paperwork (tablet) signed and she’s off. Lovely brisk half hour march and we’re on our way home again. Now to get another car ready for the Spring Trial / Rally and the NT weekend.
From our dear friends , Jose and Maria de Sousa who are on this rally too:
Hopefully the last bit of paperwork for Japan, the Carnet de Passages; really a passport for the car, listing everything onboard, tools, spares & etc. A bit of confusion though. I am the nominated principal driver so We have had to lodge a letter of authority from Penny, whose name is on the V5, to give me permission to drive the car in Japan. Therefore, my name is on the importation papers and I have now to give Penny written permission to drive her car.
Well, what do I know? Please don’t bother answering that, I know – nothing!
Today we received more documents, one about importing prescription drugs, including cosmetics, into Japan and it’s not that easy. Also we’ll be recieving our road-books and more goodies next week. The other was from a firm of insurance brokers about levels of insurance available for the event, both for us and the car. Some of the numbers are scary.
Just over two weeks to go and the last delivery of kit has arrived from Rally Office. They have made the decision to send us our road and map books to save them having to ship 54 of each to Japan. Together these two are about the same size and weight as the combined telephone directory and Yellow Pages we have here at home. We have also received our lovely new rally shirts, hats and waterproof jackets. If we loose either of the books we are in deep you-know-what because they can’t be replaced so I am going to scan everything onto some memory sticks and if needs must we can have them printed off almost anywhere. I’ve always done this before a big rally and thankfully never had to use them.
The road book gives simple graphic representations of every turning, significant road-side landmark and junction and the distances betwen them for the whole 3,000 mile route. The map book, believe it or not, isn’t quite as detailed but will hopefully help for those very rare (!) occasions when we, to use a Trumpism, use an “Alternative Route” and we have to find our way back to the correct track.
Rally Office have just sent out this little gem to aid our driving in the Land of the Rising Sun. I hope I can use it in my defence in Tokyo which, incidentally, the rally is taking right into the centre of. HELP!
For the last couple of days we’ve been scanning the road and map books so that if the worst comes to the worst and we loose something, then there is a copy on the hard drive that can be printed off just about anywhere. Penny has also started marking up the direction diagrams in her own particular style. These are called Tulips (after the Dutch Tulip Rally years ago) or more descriptively ball and arrow. Nearly every navigator will do something similar, using different coloured highlighters to mark left and right turns, important instructions and whatever. In the sheet below, the details are as follows:
Day 2 is self explanatory and this section is between MC2.1 and MC 2.2. These are the Master Controls for day two. MC 2.1 is the first one out and from which our whole day is timed and in this case MC2.2 is the final one. There can be four during the day if a control is used at a lunch halt so you are timed in and out. If you miss a Master Time Control then that’s it, you are out of the rally. Then we have the details for this section. We will be visiting (via) Reg 2.1 (regularity) then Test 2.1 (speed test) and finally Reg 2.2. because this is effectively the first competitive day of the rally and the organisers are still being nice to us, that’s all there is. We have had lots more regularities and tests in a day on other events so that by the time we finish for the day, our brains are fried. The regularities are the very tightly controlled road sections, timed to the second and there are penalties for being early or late. Speed tests are simpler, fastest wins!
So, the first instrution on this page is 98.47 Km from the start of the day, or in this case from the last time we had to zero the trip at the start of Reg 2.1 It is also 9.05 Km from the last instruction and tells us to turn right at a cross roads, controlled by traffic lights and with a building on the left. There is no SP (sign Post) but we are turning onto road number 325. The next instrution is only 0.96 Km further on and it is SO (straight on) at another junction, heading towards ASO (the largest volcanic crater in the world) and SMR (Stay on Main Road). This carries on like this until number 9 when we turn into the Honda motorcycle facility and at number 10 start the speed test At the end, we zero our trip againhead back out onto the road.
There – easy isn’t it. We have about 200 pages of this!
Only a few days to go so here’s the route outline.
Hopefully we’ll be able to make reasonably frequent posts to keep this page up-to-date. I expect that we should be within range of the wonderweb most days although I suspect that on 21st April, when we are staying in Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture (whatever that is), our access will be a bit limited. That’s when our billet for the night will be in one of the Shinto temples.
Here’s a bit of video of what the organisers have been up to for the last few years
9th April 2017
HELLO. After three flights, more than 15 hours in the air plus airport lounges here, there and everywhere, we’ve arrived in Fukuoka. I’ve said it before to some of you, no sniggering in the back please.
Despite how many times we got lost in Tokyo or Fukuoka airports, there’s always a very smiley little girl who rushes over and points us in the right direction. Polite is a way of life, bowing, nodding and just generall courtesy taken to the extreme. How will the Japanese cope with a bunch of often tired, and frequently quite boozed rallyists in the bar of an evcening, I just don’t know.
We haven’t had time to look around but it seems to be just a large, industrial town like any other except it’s a container port that has our Talbot in a warehouse somewhere, oh and it is the ancestral home of Ramen Noodles. We’ve come a few days early to get used to the time change but five minutes ago met up with Mel from the shipping company and there is every chance we can pick the car up tomorrow. The rest of the rally will have to wait until Wednesday.
It’s all been a bit of fun so far what with my terrible attempts at Japanese and after being picked up by a F1 wannabe taxi driver to get to the hotel, things will get better (150kph in a 60kph zone).
I’m not going to give you a Trip Advisor review of this or any other hotel, just any stand-out points. This one is a family orientated resort place on a peninsula covered with all sorts of attractions. So far pretty good. From our room we can see a marina that might be worth exploring and the container port on the other side of the bay. Our room also has one of those peculiar Japanese inventions that I’m not sure the world really needs. I know I don’t – the heated toilet seat that also washes your nether parts.
That’ll do for now. Something to eat and a glass or two and early to bed. Let’s see how driving goes tomorrow!
10th April 2017
Two days before the start. We took the free shuttle bus into Fukouka city to have a look around. The weather is very wet and miserable. Nothing seems to happen on the street but in the countless malls inside the tower blocks. The station has hundreds of shops selling thousands of goodness knows what. We really are in an alien environment. We did manage to pick up a couple of lemons for our evening G&T in the room but have only found ½ bottles of Gin but no tonic yet. We will not be beaten in this quest!
Yesterday we met up with Mel, from the car shipping firm. He was hopeful we could collect the Talbot today but as it turns out, the Customs officials have other ideas. Wednesday afternoon seems to be the earliest which is still better than we thought from rally office bulletins.
More rallyists are showing up. We’ve had a chat with David and Julia Harrison who we met in S America with their wee Porsche 356 and this afternoon, there was Gerry Crown – a serious competitor and serial P2P winner – this time in a very rare Leyland P42 from the 1970s and Philip & Laurette Macwhirter with their Morgan +8. They’ve shipped in separately from Australia so are the first ones in the car park. They also have the honour of officially being the first car with the bonnet (hood) up.
The other odd picture is of lunch. You have to select what you want from a “plastinated” version in the window or on a card. Limited menu but it comes with Miso soup (much better than we had at home, a bowl of rice and some pudding in the form of a slice of pineapple. For about nine quid for both of us – pretty good value and all the kitchen staff said thankyou and goodbye which is nice.
11th April 2017
We had an extraordinary meal in the hotel last night. Apart from the main restaurant which has an Italian a-la-carte (almost but not quite entirely unlike anything Italian) and a Japanese buffet, there are two other specialised restaurants. They both seat just 12 people and are long and narrow. One is Japanese while the one we tried is for Teppanyaki Beef. We had one Chef, two apprentices and two waiters, all for our small number. The quality of the Kagoshima beef was incredible and it, along with all the other courses were prepared and cooked on a long hot plate just on the other side of our dining area. Penny wasn’t quite sure about the very small taster of horse meat, understandably, but that apart – WOW. One of the diners had an Abalone course that was very entertaining. The shellfish was brought from the fridge to the room to warm up whereupon it quite quickly took fright and crept back into it’s shell and shut up shop. When the time came it was opened, scooped out and grilled, then fried in oil and butter and reduced down to very little (about a desert spoonful) and put on top of something else.
The rally office crew have arrived and set up shop in the lobby. Nothing is happening today but we have a list of signing on and briefings for tomorrow before Fukuoka tourism presentations and our first group dinner.
12th April 2017
This morning we had bright sunshine! The dining room up to now has been very subdued as is the style in Japan. This morning, it’s like a Butlin’s holiday camp – very noisy with all the westerners arriving. Lots of old faces around now too. Penny had a big hug from Gerry Crown last night but that might have been beer fuelled! The Da Sousas from Portugal and the Steinhäusers from Luxembourg have livened things up a bit and Penny met up with Laurel Smith from USA – another old Cape Horn chum. We had a very entertaining meal last night with Lloyd and Treacy Reddington (British but living in Canada); I followed their blog on one of the P2Ps or something.
Cleb. name-dropping time. In Heathrow we were sitting beside John Bishop, the scouse comic and on the flight to Tokyo, Gabby Roslin, the sports commentator was two rows behind with her family. Beside me at the coffee machine this morning was Hugh Dennis (Out-numbered and lots of other ad-lib comedy shows). I think he’s on the rally under another name. So, what with George Clooney in September (??) on the Venice to Monaco, the list is growing.
Now we’re hanging around waiting to do the legal stuff. Official signing on, waivers, Rally Briefing, GPS training and, fingers crossed, we might get the cars today but it’s looking more like tomorrow which is a bit frustrating.
13th April 2017
Day one proper. We were all bussed into the docks/freight/container area of Fukuoka and finally found our Talbot in a timber warehouse with about two dozen other cars. After more than 60 days in a tin box, crossing the equator twice and left hanging around, she naturally decided to throw a wee bit of a huff. 40 + deg heat and near constant humidity aren’t all that great for car electrics after all. After a quick prod under her skirts with some jump-leads, she finally gave in and decided to start although it took a bit longer to run cleanly. We filled up with 5* on the way back to the hotel and took in a 9km calibration run around the peninsula to really check that our very special odometer works as it should. 100 m in 9,300 is not enough variance to bother about so back to re-pack and get ready for the off.
It was a beautiful run around the steeply rocky shores in bright sunshine and the fresh breeze put us in a very good mood for the day.
Primed and ready, we waited for the exact second when we could go. The first section was through the intricate maze of expressways of Fukuoka but Penny got into the groove quickly and we managed to get onto the top deck of the expressway.
Once out of the city, we climbed into the mountains to our first regularity. As is usual, the folk we pass stop and stare, open mouthed at the variety of vehicles passing by, the like of which they’ve never seen before. The air temperature was climbing and our water temp matched it but was easily kept under control. We stopped to help some friends with an electrical problem on the motorway and later had to really push the speed up to get back onto “Rally Time”. Thankfully the speed cops weren’t watching.
This took us to the Honda motorcycle test facility and one of the guys there found out that we were from the home of real road racing and the Dunlop clan and welcomed us like royalty. That’ll be Joey Dunlop, not the tyres. Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Four and a half laps of flat-out lunacy then back to the mountains for another regularity. This was very tight and twisty and very hard to keep our time on but we’ll see. Sadly we passed another car of close friends, the Steinhausers in a ditch. It looked as though they had been forced off the road. Nobody was hurt and they waved us through so that we wouldn’t ruin our time.
Finally, a delightful drive down into the volcanic caldera of Aso and our hotel for the night. G&T and bed. The marshalls are working late as are the back-up crew, but we’re in good form so far. Penny says tired because we’re not rally fit yet!
Oh! forgot to say that we had a group Shinto blessing and then a final “Good Luck” as we started
14th April 2017
A proper day on the road. Our hotel last night (Thursday) reminded Penny & I plus a few of the old school Peking to Paris folk of the Russian concrete barracks we had ten years ago. Soulless and really quite inefficient. The whole rally was accommodated on one corridor on the sixth floor and we think there was perhaps only a handful of guests elsewhere. The bar was the size of your average bathroom at home; imagne the crush; and no cash was exchanged either here or in the dining room for wine; no bottles, by the glass only. Who didn’t they trust – the staff with cash? Strange.
A lateish start allowed me to pay some attention to the radiator cap seal (which didn’t) then we set off across the volcanic caldera of Aso – 25km across. First stop was at an infant’s school where we were the honoured guests for a ceremonial Cherry tree planting. The children were delightful and later I found out that starting age is from birth (or six months) in both the private and state sector. From there we had a pleasant drive up to the crater rim and coffee at the top at about 4,500ft. Lots of school outing buses, touring and sports bikes and parents or grandparents being taken out for the day. Busy.
Our first “out” time control was here so we had a shortish drive to the famous Autopolis International Speedway motor racing circuit. It is a very impressive facility but sadly we weren’t allowed to play on the full circuit for safety reasons. We still had to sign an indemnity (or get out of jail) certificate in case something unfortunate happened. We had a blast on a tight training circuit and managed about 10 minutes against a target of six for four laps and on the driving test we scored 1min 12 sec against a target of 40 seconds. Sounds bad but the targets were impossible. The track surfaces were very abrasive and I’m a bit worried about how long the tyres will last.
From there we went straight into a loony regularity. Everyone in our class agrees that the speed set was daft. Downhill on a very narrow and twisty road at an average between 50 and 45 kph was dangerously impossible for cars of our age. In 7.7 Km, we caught two cars in front and were still late for our target. The smell of overheated brakes and clutches filled the air.
Anyway, after that we enjoyed a gentle pootle for about 60 odd km to our base for the night here in Kokura, on the north shore of Kyushu and tomorrow we head onto the main Island of Honshu.
The pics, in order show some of the children. Penny on the crater rim then the car parked nearby; some curious fashion at the cafe then some wee monkey or minimoto motorcycles parked up with their big cousins. The final one is of Heidi Winterborne (Rally Round Crew) having a fag break in the “Smoking Bus”. The designated area for addicts. She appreciated that she knew what this looked like but business wasn’t great anyway.
15th April 2017
Saturday I think. We left Kukura on Kyushu this morning and had a pretty tedious drive up the motorway towards Hiroshima on the main island of Honshu.
After about 150km we turned off and only a very short while later were up in the mountains on very narrow roads to start the only regularity of the day. We checked in with the marshalls and set off to find the timing start point but after a couple of kilometers decided that there was something wrong so turned around and headed back to check with them. They assured us that it was OK, keep driving and it would become obvious. Eventually, after nearly 8 Km in we found Nickiy Bannister to give us our time out. The first section was at 42 kph and we really had to hoof it along an increasingly damper and narrower track with continuous blind bends. We lost time at first but made it up when the average speed required dropped to 36kph. Then we rounded a corner and found a Ford Mustang blocking the road. As we pulled up we could see that something was amiss with about seven or eight cars all stopped. It turned out that one of the rally, in a hire car, had gone off – not seriously, but enough into a drainage ditch to render the car immoveable. There were lots gathered around trying to get it out but Penny, who realised that the section was nearly over, took a dander around two more bends and asked the marshalls, with their 4X4 wagon to come and pull out the stricken car. Unfortunately we all had to take a maximum penalty for being over the allowed time.
Once clear we really had to push on quite hard again to prevent getting road penalties for being late.
Lunch was arranged to be a Bento Box, a sort of traditional Japanese packed lunch, on the banks of the river where we enjoyed the view of Kintayako Bridge; a UNESCO World Heritage site and pretty spectacular. It would have been nice to have a bit longer but yet again we were under pressure to get to the hotel for the night because the organisers had promised a boat trip and dinner cruise to the Enchanted Island.
We feel pretty priveleged to have experienced one of the Shinto ceremonies and this wonderful shrine and to see the (watery) sun setting behind the famous Tori Gate.
Yet another early night, exhausted but safe with another long day tomorrow.
Happy Easter everybody.
16th April 2017
Easter Sunday; which of course doesn’t happen in Japan. Never mind. We both hope you all had a good family day.
This morning we were taken into the centre of Hiroshima to visit the Peace Park. This is situated in the middle of the city and is at the epicentre of the first ever atomic bomb dropped in anger. Moving isn’t really the right word. The whole experience stirred our very souls and quite a few of the party too. As an example, the tragic tale of the little girl who tried to make a thousand paper cranes to make her illness go away is heartbreaking. She had been lifted and thrown 2 ½ kilometres in the blast, survived but suffered from radiation sickness her whole life.
The general consensus in our party was that the hour allowed by the rally just wasn’t enough.
The drive north was boring in the extreme. Motorway then main road but overtaking was impossible. Sunshine all day and the temperature in the mid 20s deg C so the Talbot was overheating a bit. I think the Japanese petrol is perhaps a bit more volatile than we are used to. Also, the battery problem is becoming a bit worse. It is charging satisfactorily but it won’t hold enough to start the car every time. I’ll buy a new one on our day off/service day.
Talking of motorways. The tolls are starting to mount up. The steepest so far was 2,810¥ or about £20! Moving on, we arrived at the fishing port of Hamada for lunch. As we (the rally) are becoming a bit famous, the local populace and motor clubs all turned out to greet us. More goody bags. Looking forward to a special fish lunch, unfortunately the café was over-whelmed and we had to press on after only a quick bite. What we had was delicious though. The next part of the trip saw us visiting another UNESCO site; this time a silver mine that dates back centuries. Coffee and ice cream this time then back on the road to the only regularity today. Short but very steep and tight up a mountain on a highish target speed. The sneaky bit was slowly down the other side on a good road that caught us out. Sorry – that should be me. Penny was yelling at me to slow down and I did try, honestly but we were still too early at the control. With the competition over we headed for the Izumotaisha Shinto Shrine. Very unusually, we, as not only not Shinto believers but westerners too were invited into the inner temple for a short description by one of the monks.
We were scheduled for a visit to one of the few surviving Shogun fortresses but were too late so we headed for the hotel. Over dinner we enjoyed a fabulous display of a traditional folk tale with no less than four dragons. The music was fabulous.
No pics tonight because the wonderweb is a bit tenuous so hopefully some more tomorrow, wherever that is.
17th April 2017
Woke up grumpy and because of that when I went to pay my bar bill the poor guy behind the desk didn’t know what hit him when I complained about a ¥ 830 cover charge. Apparently it was for table service and entertainment. There was no table service or entertainment and the bar ran out quite early. That sort of rip off we have seen before and there really isn’t much point in arguing but I did, and I felt better for it.
The weather forecast promised rain and it was true to it’s word. Before we left the city, we stopped once to fill the starboard petrol tank then a second time to wrestle with our hood. It has only been erected once before (in Iceland) and because it blew away in a gale, we haven’t bothered since. It stayed up and firmly attached all day although it still isn’t terribly nice to drive an open car with canvas over one’s head.
Today’s run was from Matsue, along the north facing coast to Miyazu. Don’t ask me, I have no idea where we are either. In Japan – OK?. When I said coast, within 12 odd km, we were climbing up into the hills. Have I told you that Japan is very mountainous; if I haven’t then it is – very.
The first test was 13km long and we were 1 ½ minutes late at the intermediate but made time back before the finish. Doesn’t sound a lot but usually we can hit a control to within a handful of seconds so margins like that might give an indication of how tight, twisty and steep the road was, not to mention the very fast speeds expected. From there we made our way across country to the second and third tests and on to lunch at, would you believe, a sand museum. I know, only in Japan. Needless to say we have no idea what it was about because the rain was still tipping and we were still against the clock.
The final test was scary fast, scary steep and scary twisty. Oh, and scary drop-offs on the side. We let two more modern cars pass us, the McWhirter’s Morgan +8 and somebody else in a Merc SLC. All with tons more power than us. “Never mind”, said Zebedee. An equally scary descent finally took us to the most tedious run to our billet for the night.
Japan is overpopulated with traffic lights and speed restrictions. We have renamed the event “The Rally of a Thousand Tunnels” because that’s what it feels like we’ve driven through so far or maybe the Rally of a Million Traffic Lights. We’ve been through lots more than that too. Anyway, a boring, humdrum drive at about 25mph for hour after hour to this hotel.
When we finally extricated ourselves from our very damp seats and checked in we were issued with a Kimono each to wear for dinner. A traditional Japanese banquet no less; sitting on the floor – the lot. Except we had knives and forks and the food was mostly western. And red meat – our first since before the start!
18th April 2017
No Rain! Now there’s a plus. A bit of a watery sky lowered over us as we set off for our first scenic drive (barely) towards the beginning of the competitive sections. After an hour we reached regularity one. It was re-designed and shortened from the original plan but still on an alpine style, narrow and twisty road, up and over a ridge. This time it suited both the car and I and amazingly we romped up to the top in a pretty good time.. Nevertheless, Penny and I disagreed as to whether we were early or late at the finish. We then enjoyed what was clearly the best part of the trip so far. With timing easy we relished a beautiful meander along scenic roads with villages and cherry blossom all over the wonderful valleys, finally ending up at a famous thatched village. Sorry but it didn’t inspire us. Lunch, however was incredible. A traditional Japanese roadhouse had prepared and set out a sort of hot-pot. Individual ones each with their own burners and we had to break our own eggs in to the soup. Yum! There was also lots of fish to be eaten raw and I was ticked off by one of the serving girls when I cooked it in the soup too. It was my fish so why not? It was delicious. After another bit of a drive and another couple of regularities we drove into Kyoto for another special blessing inside the grounds of a shrine. No offence guys but we are feeling a bit blessed out.
In the evening we were taken downtown for a special Geisha party. Supper was served with us sitting on tatami mats again and social entertainment was provided by the Geisha and Geikko (apprentices) as well as some traditional singing and dancing. It was a lovely night out and we still managed a bit of socialising in the bar afterwards because we can lie in tomorrow.
19th April 2017
Service & Laundry day. No driving or competition so shirts & trousers are off to the laundry while smalls and socks are done in the bathroom. I serviced the Talbot – grease all the suspension, changed tyres around, spanner check and a few other small jobs.
Then we set off on foot to the centre of town. We wandered around and found the most peculiar place to eat. We had no idea what there was but we could see the cooks making pancake like things on a hotplate so – why not? The waitress brought us the menu and there was only one item: guess what – stuffed pancakes. No idea what was in them but probably vegetarian plus a couple of fried eggs and a sort of sweet & sour sauce. Absolutely delicious when washed down with cold beer. We wandered around a bit more, found another café selling the essential staple of all rallyists – cake and coffee so in we went and had a huge ice cream pudding and coffee.
More dawdling then back to a tiny liquor store we’d spotted then back to the hotel for a bit of a rest.
20th April 2017
We had only a short day today but there were three pretty hectic regularities up in the mountains before we reached Nara, an ancient capitol of Japan. After lunch we were free to do as we wished so took the opportunity to walk around the Todaji Temple park. The main temple was erected in the 8th Century, has been partly destroyed and re-built smaller. It is still pretty big and is ranked as the largest wooden structure in the world.
I have some videos of the regularities but not enough time to get them onto YouTube yet. Be patient please. The roads shown could be classed as perhaps the best tarmac rally stages in the world, Ireland included.
21st April 2017
Nara to Koyasan. Today we left the ancient religious city and motored to an ancient pilgrimage site. The scheduled number of regularities was cut from four to three and nobody complained. The ones that ran were the usual stuff, up and over vertiginous mountain ridges on narrow, slippery, tree lined roads that are thankfully not heavily used by other traffic. As I said, we ended up in the centre of pilgrimage of the Buddhists in Japan. Somebody famous is buried at the top of a mountain and he is now surrounded by thousands of ancient, and some more modern former followers in a huge cemetery. It is a really beautiful setting, dating back to the mid 8th Century and shrouded by the mists of the mountain and many majestic, centuries old cedar trees.
Our accommodation tonight is in the Jouchiin Temple and is a simple traditional Japanese room. We enjoyed a really quite nice vegetarian meal and the monks were very generous and served us beer and saki, which is not usual. Penny had an Onsen hot spring bath and we retired early. Oh, the strange pic of the car is of the petrol station with the hoses hanging from the canopy because there isn’t room for normal pumps. Ingenious!
22nd April 2017
Here we are in Nagahama on the shores of Japan’s largest lake, Biwa. We arrived about half an hour ago in a huge tourist hotel with coaches arriving and leaving, people running everywhere and just general chaos. In Northern Irish terms I suppose you could compare it with Portrush, in England, maybe Blackpool, anywhere else, sorry – can’t help, but it looks like a big, brash seaside resort.
Today we had four regularities up and over mountains on very narrow, twisty, single lane tracks with scary drop-offs. We think our times were OK (ish) on the first three but the fourth was a disaster but we haven’t seen the scores yet so who knows. Lunch was at a new museum complex but we decided that it was better to gather ourselves rather than trek up the hill to see some modern art. The cherry blossom avenue was spectacular.
When the competition was over we had about 40 km on the motorway to Hikone where we had a very brief look at one of the few unrestored Shogun castles. When they say unrestored, they actually mean it has been re-built a couple of times with materials from other castles; so there you go!
250km today and for a change it wasn’t all forest – we actually had a pleasant pootle along some wide, lowland valleys. Mind you, these are crowded with either housing, industry or cultivation; there are very few wide open spaces as such. We don’t seem to have seen much of Japan because we are mostly surrounded by trees or underground in tunnels.
That’s it for tonight, I will try to post a couple of pictures later. Tomorrow, 270km to some-where else.
22nd April 2017 Pt2
Right. It is ten to ten on a Saturday night and I am in my pyjamas, ready for bed. Unheard of within living memory I think. We have had a “European Buffet” that is almost entirely, but not quite, unlike any European meal either of us have ever have had. We have also been quizzed by one of the Rally round directors about the event. We made our feelings known – enough said?
Tonight’s entertainment, apart from lots of reminisces from old rallying chums was a brief film by the travelling crew. We also had a performance from some traditional puppeteers. Quite spectacular.
Pics are of the Castle, bridge(s), puppets, Penny discussing scores with the overall leader, me on a futon, the temple last night, hot coffee in a can from a coin operated dispensing machine (how strange is that?) and the cherry blossom at the museum.
23rd April 2017
Today we had the most stupendous drive, meandering along several valleys to the lunch stop at a sort of cross between a theme park and our Ulster Folk Museum at home. Partially accurate and partially fun to be in with lots of interactive stuff, shops and rides for the children. Nevertheless, it was interesting and we had a good meal.
Our next expedition was to a kart track in the mountains somewhere. Until we actually crossed the gate to get in we had no idea what would be there, let alone how good the facility would be. We did the usual four laps and finished within our target plus penalties so that’s a plus. Probably not a good time as I’m trying to preserve tyres for the full distance to Sapporo.
We then drove to a couple of regularities in, guess what, mountains and trees. These roads seem to be getting narrower, steeper and the expected averages higher. Anyway, they weren’t much fun and we were glad when it was all over and we got back on the motorway to Kisoji in Nogano prefecture. Oh, by the way, we were stopped by the cops just as we joined a motorway earlier. Plod was cruising in the opposite direction and when he saw us and a few other rally cars instantly crossed the divide and the whole heap, lights, sirens and loudspeakers to get us all to pull over. These guys ended up with about 10 cars on the hard shoulder and no Japanese speakers. Lots of mobile calls and we showed him our letter from the Japan Motoring Federation (in Japanese) and our international driving permits, our Japanese insurance but more shouty phone calls were needed. Then one of our party was flagged off and he told us that he’d been held up because the local cops couldn’t reconcile his number plate. So, eventually, and after a call from our local travelling fixer, we were sent on our way with lots of smiles, grins and waving. Within a short time we were exceeding the speed limit by a factor of about 100%! 70+mph in a 70kph limit.
Tonight we have enjoyed REAL FOOD, Steak on a grill or pizza from a brick oven, lots of delicious, fresh, crispy salads (OK, the chips were cold but you can’t have everything) then quite nice puddings.
Tomorrow we’re on our way to visit the fabled Mt. Fujii and the regularities have been cut from three to one – cheers all around from the competitors but we still have a big distance to cover. We’re over half way, still talking and still good friends with all our chums.
By the way. The first photograph is of the world famous rally navigator, Anne Steinhauser and her equally famous “Good Luck” gloves.
More to come so keep tuned.
24th April 2017
Only one regularity today but that was a long one up and over a mountain for a change. We reached 4,110 ft. The timings were more suitable for us and we think we’ve nailed it to within a few seconds. Then a long drive to Shizuoka for an early check in for a change.
It’s hard to cope with hotel rooms sometimes, especially when they are like this. For the sailors out there, this is the very best room we could have as you can see from the number. As for the view, it should have Mt Fujii just about in the middle but it’s a bit too hazy in the distance. Maybe another opportunity tomorrow when we drive there for a special test on Fujii Race Track. One of our competitors can’t wait – in 1976 he was James Hunt’s race team manager when he won the world championship here. Maybe some more pics about today later.
26th April 2017
Day off in Tokyo. Most of the competition was called off yesterday because of road works, landslides and the urgent need to get into the heart of Tokyo before rush hour. We had a regularity after lunch and then a four lap blast around the Fujii kart track – sadly not the full GP circuit. We had a very long slog to get up to about 4,000 feet on Mount Fujii to take a pic in a car park then down and an even longer grind back up again. Other than that, not much to report really. The dash into the centre of town wasn’t as frightening as we expected and the arrival and check-in was very smooth. I decided to disembowel the car and get the battery out in readiness for a new one to be installed. There’s a big “but” here. The battery is a pretty universal one, from a Land Rover Defender but apparently there doesn’t seem to be one in Tokyo. The incredibly helpful concierge, Mai Hashitani has spent ages on the ‘phone to lots of battery suppliers and motor factors but no joy. They are ringing round too to see what can be had. The Land Rover agent can’t seem to place the order without a model number and year so we’ve just emailed pictures to him to see if that helps. If there’s no luck then I’ll put everything back together and rely on jump leads every morning again.
The bedroom has a pretty impressive view but the rest of the room is a chinese laundry already
Tonight we’re off to the Ginza for a night on the tiles and paint the town red!
Oops. It turns out that I, as a mere driver and not one of the superior race of navigators, officially have no idea what is going on. In my last post I said that we had a regularity before the test at Fujii track. Not true, I’m afraid, we didn’t have a regularity all day! Mea Culpa. Moving on – we eventually tracked down a store, a bit like a super duper Halfords about half an hour away by taxi. They had the correct size of battery but at the eye watering price of about £200. It apparently is normally used for a domestic market Lexus.
27th April 2017
We’re into the last week from Tokyo to Hakodate and Lake Toya.
Last night we took a taxi into the Ginza district – sort of the West End and we had a stroll around amongst the huge crowds. We eventually had a meal (excellent) in an Italian restaurant of all things, then back to bed for an early start – up at 05:30 – so much for painting the town red!
The organisers have told us that because of the rush at the finish; arrive at hotel, then a two hour drive to the port for container loading and a two hour coach trip back, then wash and change for the prize-giving bun fight, they are having our shipping company collect the cars at the hotel. So, that’s a weight of everyone’s minds. Today, the escape from Tokyo was, if anything even more painless than the drive in. Did I say that the motorway in the video was the topmost of three, at about eighth story level? Well it was and the trip out used the second and third levels. It is absolutely amazing that it works but there you go. We had a longish trek to someone’s private “museum” or collection of Bentleys and Rolls Royces in an industrial estate somewhere but the coffee ran out too quickly so we were allowed to leave early and get back up the road to the lunch halt. About 150 km from the hotel saw us at an amazing modern art museum for lunch in their café. Then back on the road for two regularities. We completely messed up the first by not starting our trip meter so I drove through guessing as best I could. The second was very narrow and steep but I had to be careful because I had overheated the brakes coming down the previous mountain. Something one has to put up with. It was only 9km long but the instructions tell me that there were 53 hairpins. My shoulders could describe every one.
Tonight is at a mountain resort hotel on the shores of Lake Chuzenji; we’re at about 4,400 feet and it is perishing outside – 1,700 miles so far. There’s snow on the hills around. Tomorrow we’re heading East again for Nikko and the famous Twin Ring Motegi circuit.
Forgot to say that the picture of the coloured squiggles is at the art museum and Penny ready for a hot tub Onsen bath.
28th April 2017
Yet another long day today with just under 300 km covered. Last night we dined with Andy Actman and Nikki Bannister and it was a lovely relaxing time with a couple of old chums in the rallying world albeit they are on the organisation side, not the competitive side like us. It turns out that Andy has a lot of autotesting experience in Ireland as well as selling spectacle frames to the trade. There was one customer who will remain nameless was always hard to get cash from.
This morning we had two regularities and, say it very quietly, we think we cleaned one with zero penalties. Almost unheard of in the Rawlings Talbot because I’m deaf when Penny tells (bellows) at me to drive slower. The second wasn’t too shabby by our standards so peace and harmony all around.
We were up and down mountains all morning rising to just short of 5,000 feet but never lower than about 2,700 ft. Cool air helped the car stay below boiling point too.
Lunch was at a Shogun Manor House and was quite interesting. I’m afraid we skipped the visit to a castle because there was a very long haul on motorways to Nigata for the night. We pulled off at a rest area – there aren’t many service stations as we know them, had a can of hot coffee and were given a drive-by inspection by the police. No consequences thank goodness so on to our hotel for a wonderful greeting by a couple of Geisha.
Tomorrow we’re off to Sado Island for two nights and a bit of entertainment from the Kodo Drummers.
29th April 2017
Early start this morning for the ferry crossing to Sado Island; only a 2 ½ hour crossing but a bit different from the Stena ferry we are used to. The pic below is the reserved first class seating – a bit different from the Stena lounge on the trip to Birkenhead, I think you’ll agree!
Anyway, last night we had another Geisha display, but they’re called something else in Nigata and we also had a ceremonial opening of Saki barrel as well as free Saki all night. As a drink, it’s OK, but only if you really, really like degreasing fluid as a tipple. The other picture is of Penny holding our tickets and boarding cards – we presume – nothing was collected.
Once off the boat we had a 32 km drive to a pleasant roadhouse for lunch and our first “out” control of the day. This was delayed because of a very impressive electrical storm with one lightning bolt striking only half a kilometre or so away. One of the four regularities was also cancelled because the road is still blocked with 4ft of snow so a bit of re-routing got the competition underway. I’m sorry to say that the average speeds expected have crept up again and we simply can’t even get near to the targets. Not only that but the hairpin roads down from 4,000 feet are frying the Talbot’s brakes so we sort of can’t do a lot I’m afraid.
30th April 2017
Actually a bit of a slow start this morning with a lie in to seven o’clock. Mind you, we were both awake waiting for the alarm. We had four regularities to cram in before lunch and boy, did the rally setters throw it all at us. Until I sit down with the road book and a bit of peace, they will have to stay a bit jumbled. Perhaps a quick sense of the impressions of them all will do. Impossibly tight hairpins that had to be taken in two stabs; ridiculously narrow tracks that I feared we might drop off on several occasions; high average speeds that we couldn’t really achieve but made up time racing through villages; sneaky little lanes to catch out the unwary for a wrong approach to a marshal; adults and children everywhere, smiling and waving and bright. clear, air on a wonderfully sunny day.
Lunch was at a village gymnasium and we think the local equivalent of the Women’s Institute laid it on. As the competitive part of the day was over, we then drove to a car park above the village of Shukunegi, a sort of Japanese version of a Cornish fishing village. Tiny, steep, cramped lanes between miniature houses- absolutely beautiful.
The big bonus was a special performance by the internationally renowned Kodo Drummers. We’ve missed them twice when they’ve visited Belfast for the Queen’s Festival and feel it was a real privilege to see and hear them perform in their own, home theatre. It’s small, only about 150 seats and also, like the rest of the buildings, made from timber. Beautiful. Believe it or not, 100 noisy ralliers were silent for the whole hour and the applause at the end was almost as spectacular as the performance. Afterwards the second year apprentices gave an impromptu gig on the grass outside. The three girls in the black and white outfits are from the main band and dance, play instruments and play drums like their lives depend on it. I don’t have enough adjectives so all I’ll say is go and visit them if they are touring near you: you won’t regret it. Oh, and Glynnis, buy the DVDs and videos for the Stomp crew. They’ll love it!
1st May 2017
Happy May Day at home. Up early for a change (!) and the usual cold rice, cold chips, cold tempura or tepid sausages (actually frankfurters) with terrible scrambled eggs and other stuff for breakfast. I think the whole rally is craving something hot and recognisable to start the day.
We were warned about driving the direct route to the ferry because of the hundreds of traffic lights and advised to take the mountain route instead. We drove directly and encountered about two or three dozen traffic lights so arrived over an hour early. The ferry crossing passed quickly and the rally headed into the ‘burbs of Niigata to another museum collection for an early lunch. Our first control time “out” for the day was not until about half two ish and everyone got a bit fed up with waiting around for an extra hour or so. Anyway, a blast up the motorway to a local race track saw the usual boring four lap timed test. Quite a few competitors, including us, took it very easy to protect what is left of out tyres for the next two and a half days. Some others’ tyres are even completely bald!
Then another slog to the mountains for two regularities. The average speeds seem to have crept up again and we weren’t prepared to take the risks expected of us to meet our target on the first and quite honestly, an instruction given to us was frankly dangerous. I made my feelings very clear at the end of the day.
A shortish drive along the NW coast to Tsuruoka and we found the hotel for the usual Japanese Banquet dinner. These have become a bit tedious with lots of food left untouched but tonight’s speciality was a deep fried fish head. This created huge merriment during a “Samurai” demonstration that was described as “a bit like Village People” or “Power Rangers meet Darth Vader’s Granny”. All a bit of harmless fun and another early night for a dawn start tomorrow.
The panoramic pic is of a very impressive trained Wisteria, said to be over 150 years old.
2nd May 2017
A long day, mostly on motorways as we are pushing North as quickly as possible and the finish is getting closer. At first we had a succession of tunnels that seemed to go on for ever. The longest was about 7.5 km but all together it seemed like driving from Bangor to Holywood, mostly underground apart from very brief breaks of a couple of seconds in some valleys. Very strange.
Then a nice drive along the coast while others went up Japan’s second most sacred mountain, Choki. Shortly after we had our first regularity which was set at a decent speed and was quite good fun, although rally cars were crossing each other at a couple of points on a loop. Still, we think we did tolerably well and after that we had another test at a kart track. This had a very long, fast straight but everywhere else was too tight for the pre-war cars like us; or maybe it’s just me. We had enough time to wave at other competitors as we circulated – not really something one should do!
Lunch was at a spectacular lakeside hotel with some REAL Samurai (!) in attendance. Another long drive over a very snowy mountain took us to our second and last regularity of the day. We messed up soon after the start by missing a turning but we corrected ourselves and I blasted along trying to make up time. Unfortunately, because I was doing this, Penny couldn’t work out how far along and hence what time we were into the section so we were probably too early at the finish which means more penalties than being late. Sorry.
Tonight we are at another lakeside hotel with real beds – such luxury and tomorrow, after a couple of competitive bits we’re on another ferry for the finishing stretch. By the way, this region is the home of the Akito dogs, hence the picture.
One of our co-competitors, Alan & Carol Pontin sent this curious photograph. As we were leaving lunch a couple of days ago, I spotted a very strange looking mutt with a multi coloured tail. Alan very kindly took this snap and I hope you’ll agree that it is a bit odd.
3rd May 2017
Our last day on Honshu so we are now on the ferry to Hokkaido. It doesn’t dock until six pm so we’ll be driving to the hotel in the dark.
Today’s competition was curtailed a wee bit because the rally had to be sure of getting to the quay on time. First we had a regularity, guess where, up a mountain and down the other side at a single fixed speed of 50 kph. We couldn’t get near that going up, especially as we met one of the locals on completely the wrong side of the road on a totally blind hairpin. Going down and making up time was equally interesting as we caught one of our touring cars and couldn’t get past for quite a while so that sort of messed things up a bit. The second regularity was cancelled so we drove to our last circuit test; this time on a full size race track. Five laps, as fast as possible was a bit of fun and we didn’t mind trying a bit harder as there is now just enough tread to get us to the finish, unlike some others. I’m still praying for no rain tomorrow.
The ferry is quite interesting. We had a wonderful send-off from a folk band and the local mascot, described to us a “The Aomori Fairy”. Mind you, that might have lost a bit in translation. We are in the Prefecture of Aomori. The ferry is about the same size as our Belfast to Birkenhead boat but there is only seating for about seventy people. The rest of the space is taken up with Ryoken rooms. In the photograph, there is one of four corridors with these rooms on either side. Each one can accommodate about 18 or so people. The one in the pic is one of four reserved for the rally. There is no cafeteria or restaurant, just a bank of vending machines and microwaves on the right to heat up whatever it is.
We are still clinging on to second in class although overall we have been as high as eighth and as low as sixteenth. As of last night we were in thirteenth. The movement up and down is more to retirements than our performance. In our class, Jan and Jan in their Alvis held (I think) first overall for a while but sadly suffered a bit of an off and holed their petrol tank. Once fixed they were out of the first three overall so are leading our class. Just behind us are Jose and Maria, also in an Alvis and they are trying hard to relieve us of our place. So, it’s all still a bit nip and tuck and with four more competitive sections left, nothing is secure.
Incidentally, the blue car at the bottom is the Triumph Stag of Kieron Brown and Philip Garett. In the recent past they have won the Trans – America Rally but had problems early on this event so have been touring. They’ll be in Venice with us later in the year.
5th May 2017
Sorry about the lack of a post yesterday but it was all a bit hectic. The last day of competition and the organisers threw four regularities at us in the morning. Mostly they were OK with achievable set speeds but a couple had little dodges including a 360 deg turn around a roundabout (perhaps Japan’s only one and in the middle of nowhere) and another loop up and down a lane. They were fine but there was nobody to confirm that we’d done it so there would have been no penalty if we hadn’t. The final test finished within shouting distance of the hotel so we stopped and hoisted our Ulster flags for the finishing ceremony under an inflatable arch. We’ve always done it with these two flags so it is a bit of tradition with us.
We then took the cable-car down to an Italian restaurant for lunch and once that was over and done with and we had eventually dropped our bags, we had to very quickly decide on what was being shipped back in the car and what is coming with us by air. As we were finishing that, the first pair of transporters turned up to take the various cars to the container terminal for shipping. We won’t see the car in UK again until about the end of June and even then it’ll have to go to the Talbot Clinic for some remedial work before the next event.
Once all that was over we dashed back to the room for a scrub and fresh clothes for the awards dinner. As you might expect it was all a bit chaotic but finally all the prizes were given to the correct crews. We won two “silver” salvers, suitably engraved but packing them for the flight has been a bit of a problem but Penny managed it. If they are inspected by either security or customs, I pity the staff because they are protected by quite a bit of laundry! Following that it was back to the bar for more re-hydration (you’ve got to be careful) and we had our latest night for nearly a month.
So, that’s it. Three weeks of quite intense rallying, sadly not always organised to a very high standard in the opinion of us and quite a few other competitors, but fun nevertheless with a super bunch of chums from all around the world. We’ve been entranced and privileged with driving through the beautiful Japanese countryside (perhaps not the countless tunnels) meeting so many cheery folk and being entertained so well. We can live without the cuisine for a bit and, to a certain extent, the sleeping arrangement of Futons on Tatami mats.
In the next few weeks I will post a few more photos and videos so if you can be bothered, keep an eye out for the adventures of the Samurai Talbot before they begin again in September.
This afternoon we begin the long haul back to “Home Sweet Home” so, “That’s All Folks”!
15th May 2017
Nice folk to drive with – Anne & Jean Steinhaüser in their Bentley:
Here’s a bit of video I picked up from the wonderweb
12th May: Here’s a bit of (boring) video of us driving through an industrial estate after picking the cars up at the start:
11th May: Here’s a bit of video at a race track somewhere:
And here’s another bit at a Folk Heritage museum somewhere: