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Motorcycling in Japan During Trip

#1
Hi folks, I'm considering my next vacation to Japan and want to use this as an opportunity to ride a motorcycle there. Key things about myself:
  • I took and passed a basic motorcycle learning course in 2016; therefore, I have the appropriate American license
  • I do not have motorcycle experience past the basic learning course

I can research the process of getting the international license so I can ride in Japan myself, and would plan to rent a motorcycle there. That being said because I have such little experience I want to take some training courses there, ride around, etc.

My question: Does anybody know places in Japan that would provide a 1-week course or something where you get lots of exposure to riding a motorcycle? I want to mostly use this to become more comfortable with riding while in a country I love. Then when I return to America I could comfortably buy a motorcycle. I'm not sure if something like this exists even in America.

Thanks!
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#2
I'd worry about the complexity of registering for a formal driving/riding course as a foreign visitor. There is also the cost of it. Driving schools in Japan aren't cheap. Maybe consider doing the rental and getting your experience in a rural area. That will give you the vibe and instinct for the different driving rules outside of bad traffic. As you gain confidence, venture into the cities more. My limited experience driving in Japan has been with car rentals on rural legs of a trip where rail wasn't a good option, and I found the driving in those places to be simple and fun.
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#3
I would think twice about riding in Japan unless you are used to driving on the left side of the road. There is a learning curve to driving on the opposite side of the road and when you combine that with trying to follow a gps on unfamiliar roads and being a rather green rider it's likely to dramatically increase your chances of a mishap.

If you do decide to ride in Japan, I would steer clear of the cities and stick to the rural roads. That's good advice for riding motorcycles in any country really.

Regarding international drivers licences, it's simply a $10 fee at the local DMV and I'm pretty sure the motorcycle certification carrys over.
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#4
I rent a car when I visit inlaws so I can't really give any advice about motorcycle driving per say, but to be a contrast to what yogert909 said, I found driving in Japan to be quite easy and the switch to the opposite side of the road wasn't difficult to adjust to. However, I've had years of experience driving so the only shifts I had to make were learning how to read the signs quick enough to know where I was going, knowing what the shapes of signs mean (they have different signs which mean different things so look those up before you go), and learning how to navigate very very cramped roads. I would think motorcycle riding would be fantastic and much easier than a car. Traffic in Japan moves much more slow and the drivers (compared to Atlanta where I'm from) are much more courteous and safe.

Since you are a beginner, I would seriously try to practice riding more here in America before learning how to ride there. Just imagine getting into a wreck...yikes. Also, even if you were able to register for a course is your Japanese at a level where you'd actually learn how to ride? If it were me, I'd try to get more experience in America then go cruising in Japan once you know how to ride a bike to a level where you're comfortable. Driving in a car around the mountains was amazing, I'm sure a bike would be even better. Good luck and I hope you are able to get on the road!
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#5
^ Fairly sure that traffic in India is less of a nightmare than traffic in Atlanta, lol

I second the suggestion to get more experience here in the States first. Think of your first time driving out of state, it'll be like that again, but on the opposite side of the road with different signs (and possibly some different laws; be sure to check that). I don't think doing that while using a vehicle you only did a basic class on a year ago is a very good idea.

A lot of people underestimate the amount of things that their brain has automated for driving a car on roads they frequently travel (it's a big cause of wrecks, actually, because people stop looking out for unexpected hazards; but that's a different topic). This is why it becomes so easy after you've been driving for a few months, but seems really difficult and nerve wracking at the start; a motorcycle is a completely different vehicle, and you'll have to get more used to it to ride easy.

Anyway, I would suggest renting a bike, doing another course (like a defensive riding course or something other than the basic course), or otherwise getting ahold of a bike with which to get more experience here. There are lots of great roads to ride here in the States.
Then make sure you study up on the different signage (and laws?) before you go to Japan, so you'll be able to ride with more confidence and less unpleasant surprises.

Have fun!

[Off Topic: One of the things I want to do when I go to Japan is go on a cycling tour; I hear there are some great places to ride, and it's far safer there than it is where I live. Gonna have to figure out whether I'm going to ship my bike or buy one when I get there... Oh well, that's going to be over a year from now.]
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#6
(2017-04-10, 10:59 am)bizarrojosh Wrote: I rent a car when I visit inlaws so I can't really give any advice about motorcycle driving per say, but to be a contrast to what yogert909 said, I found driving in Japan to be quite easy and the switch to the opposite side of the road wasn't difficult to adjust to. However, I've had years of experience driving so the only shifts I had to make were learning how to read the signs quick enough to know where I was going, knowing what the shapes of signs mean (they have different signs which mean different things so look those up before you go), and learning how to navigate very very cramped roads. I would think motorcycle riding would be fantastic and much easier than a car. Traffic in Japan moves much more slow and the drivers (compared to Atlanta where I'm from) are much more courteous and safe.
It's pretty easy most of the time, but it's the times when you get overloaded that you can make mistakes.  I've only rented a car in Japan once and most of the time it was smooth sailing.  However, there were a few times when I was trying to follow the GPS and find the street I needed to turn on that I made mistakes.  Mistakes in this case were driving down the wrong side of the road after making a turn (and turning on the wipers instead of the turn signal).  I also made mistakes after getting a little too comfortable thinking I was getting the hang of it, in the middle of a conversation, making a turn without thinking and ending up on the wrong side of the road again.  Fortunately this only happened a few times on uncrowded roads in rural Japan and I didn't run into anyone.  However if someone was coming the other direction and the timing was right, it could have turned out badly.

I've been riding motorcycles for 20 years, so I  can say with confidence that riding a motorcycle is more difficult than driving a car.  It's still pretty easy most of the time.  But it's those times when it gets difficult that make all the difference.  If an obstacle suddenly appears on the road in front of you in a car, all you do it swing the wheel left or right and/or hit the brakes.  On a motorcycle turns are more complicated because body position matters.  You can't just swing the handlebars right or left and turn more than a few feet because you need to get the bike leaning over.  In addition, braking is more complicated because you have independent control of front and rear brakes.  In a panic stop situation, it's extremely common to use too little input on the front brake and way too much input on the rear brake - causing the rear of the bike to fishtail.  Fishtailing a car is not really a big deal.  Fishtailing a motorcycle often ends up in a lowside or a highside.  

Overall, according to the US department of Transportation "Per vehicle mile traveled in 2013, motorcyclist fatalities occurred 26 times more frequently than passenger car occupant fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes, and motorcyclists were nearly 5 times more likely to be injured...".  

Driving overall is pretty easy.  Adding a factor like texting while driving is considered dangerous but most of the time it's pretty easy.  It's those odd moments when someone is making a blind left in front of you at the same time that you're avoiding a pedestrian and a text comes in that things get dicey.  Your senses get overloaded.

This brings me back to OP's situation.  Riding a motorcycle is already much more dangerous than driving a car, but you'll be adding multiple factors which will make riding all the more dangerous .  You'll be riding a rental bike that's you're not familiar with, on unfamiliar roads, trying to follow directions (gps?, map?), on the opposite side of the street than you're familiar with, and you are new to riding motorcycles.  That seems like many orders of magnitude more complicated than riding a motorcycle on familiar streets, which again is pretty simple most of the time.  It's those occasional times when you get everything thrown at you at once that it really matters.
Edited: 2017-04-13, 1:36 pm
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#7
I completely agree I shouldn't jump into things, yogert. As you stated above, the less familiar you are with a vehicle the more brainpower it's going to take to simply focus on operating it, then add onto that an unfamiliar locale and international signs, plus driving on the opposite side of the road, it's certainly dangerous.

My thought when I first posted this was if there was a safe area to meet Japanese folks, practice riding the motorcycle in Japan (even if it's just on a safety course that isn't a public road), etc. that it would be quite fun. However since I have my license already I also wasn't really looking for the license course because that is incredibly expensive. Really just something chill to work on basic motorcycle skills with others that isn't too expensive. Probably doesn't exist but I appreciate the feedback.
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#8
Hmm. Seems unlikely that there would be a workshop like that. However I'll bet there is something like the "track days" we have here in the US. That would be more aligned to sport bikes and racing I'd imagine so I'm not sure that's what you're into. I'd also imagine there would be a language barrier at least for motorcycle specific jargon.

Hmm, maybe there's something like what we call a "group ride" or a rally or something. Riding with a group is much safer than riding solo because cars are more apt to see a huge group of bikes. Just make sure it's not some insane speed-freak group you're riding with.
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#9
Group riding definitely exists. A lot of "clubs" exist for people that drive different things such as BMWs, expensive sports cars, etc. There are def. clubs for motorcycle riders. How you find these groups though, I don't know. I'm not sure what words to look up for it.
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#10
Another idea would be to visit some of the Japanese custom bike builders.  I'm not too knowledgable on that front, but I know Go Takamine, originator of the "Brat Style" has his shop in Tokyo.  And there's a deus ex machina in harajuku that you could check out too.
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