Biggest Road Trip Nine: Kyushu to Hokkaido (BRT9)

Day One Minus Two

Things are falling into place for the next road trip, my longest in Japan yet. I've driven round trip San Diego-northern Washington State and Central Florida-Los Angeles, but this will be my first venture by car farther north than Nagano in Japan.  The only reservation I have is for my car's 2-year check at the service center in Totsuka, Yokohama on Monday. I plan to sleep mostly in my car with occasional breaks at a hotel or hot springs when the mood and timing strike. A couple of weeks ago I ordered or went shopping for these things. 

Tesla Models S sleeping set: air mattresses, sleeping bag, pillow and mat.

Tesla Models S sleeping set: air mattresses, sleeping bag, pillow and mat.

I got a pair of Coleman air mattresses that snap together (4 cm each), a Coleman sleeping bag, a pillow and a mat (think Aladdin's magic carpet). Model S owners know that there is a 5 cm difference in level between the back of the car and the back seats when they're folded down. I've rolled and folded that mat to level things a bit.  

Unscrew the valves to fill them up. Close to stay full. Problem is getting the air out after.

Unscrew the valves to fill them up. Close to stay full. Problem is getting the air out after.

 The air mattresses have a cool design because they self-inflate. That may mean I'll have a hard time getting the air back out, but I have room for them if not. Here's the set up on paper (literally on paper tatami mats ;-) ):

Everything laid out beforehand

Everything laid out beforehand

And here it is in the car: 

The Tesla Model S mobile bed system

The Tesla Model S mobile bed system

I'll be testing this out tonight at home to see if any bugs need to be worked out. Good night.  

Day One Minus One 

Last night, I used the camper mode that some owners use to keep Model S up and running enough to keep the cabin's climate comfortable. To enable camper mode, sit in the driver's seat, push on the brake, put the car in neutral, and set your parking brake from the main screen. If you live in a country where you can control your lights, turn them off. Set your climate to the temperature and fan speed you like for sleeping. Get out of the car, take your fob with you and climb in the back. Close all the doors and slide up to the front to touch the lock button on the main screeen. You're now locked safely in your car with a running climate system. 

I used 18 C and 9 for the fan; it was a bit cool and too much wind. I'll try 19 and 5-6 next time. I stayed in the car for about 5 hours, and the set up worked fine. The air mattresses are a bit slick, and the back seats are higher than the trunk floor, so I tended to slide a bit when I did a roll. ;-) I'll work on my technique. 

Day One 

I'll start out in about an hour. My ultimate goal is to get to the Sapporo Snow Festival around February 6th. 

Kumamoto to Sapporo: 28 hours of driving, plus charging, sightseeing and sleeping

Kumamoto to Sapporo: 28 hours of driving, plus charging, sightseeing and sleeping

Today's goal is the service area (SA) at Hamamatsu: full facilities and a Supercharger with four stalls. I'll sleep in the car. 

Leg one: Kumamoto to Hamamatsu SA and Supercharger

Leg one: Kumamoto to Hamamatsu SA and Supercharger

I range charged this morning to 381 km, the lowest I've charged to so far. I've been charging in a short range for the past month, so that may the reason. I can usually drive to Miyajima on a full charge, but this morning it looked like it would be cutting it close.

381: my lowest range charge yet

381: my lowest range charge yet

I haven't written about the new Trip feature yet (not new to many owners, but Japan got it just last month with the 8.0 release); Trip adds another layer of information to help us plan drives. Mine said I would have 6% left at Miyajima. 

The new (to Japan) Trip feature predicts state of charge (SOC) upon arrival.  

The new (to Japan) Trip feature predicts state of charge (SOC) upon arrival.  

I hit rain around Tosu junction, and my usage increased. I drove for three hours and saw it was getting close. I usually can get better than the numbers, but the rain and cold weather took their toll. I drove for three hours and saw it was getting close. I usually can get better than the numbers, but the rain and cold weather took their toll.

Predicted SOC dropped to 4%. I can usually raise that number.  

Predicted SOC dropped to 4%. I can usually raise that number.  

I stopped at the Sue PA on the way to scoop the Superchargers there; it was cold and raining too hard to explore any. I've stopped at Sabagawa to fill up and will head to the Kurashiki Supercharger. I had a break in the rain from Sabagawa to Kurashiki. I plugged in at the Supercharger and crossed the street to the Coco's family restaurant. Dining and restroom breaks are about all one can do during a Supercharger stay. There are photos of the area in posts past if you want to see. 

I decided to try for Osaka instead of Kobe. That turned out to be a mistake because of the Sunday traffic. I sat in an hour of traffic and moved about 3 km. I was pretty sleepy at Osaka, so I napped for the 50 minutes for 90% of charge. Traffic was light all the way to Hamamatsu.  

It rained all night at Hamamatsu. They've blocked the behind-scenes-access from the Superchargers to the facilities, so I had to walk around to get inside. I got in late, so I decided to charge, eat, and sleep in the driver's seat. I checked out the showers. They are located inside the Driver's Spot next to the convenience store; if you blink, you'll miss them. I ate a couple of rice balls and drank some juice. After the charge was done, I moved the car all the way to the end of the employees' parking; it's very quiet there. Since I planned to get up early, I didn't put up the shades on my windows. I just put my hat over my eyes to block out the parking area lights. I slept well.

Day Two

Day Two's goal: Hamamatsu SA to Tokyo, with a stop at the Yokohama service center in Totsuka

Day Two's goal: Hamamatsu SA to Tokyo, with a stop at the Yokohama service center in Totsuka

 I woke up on my own a bit before 6. I moved the car closer to the SA and went inside with my backpack. I talked with the lady at the Driver's Spot, and she handed me a locker key. A 10-minute shower is ¥200--bring your own shampoo, towel, etc. I got a bread thingy and something to drink and enjoyed them at a rare time when not many people were around. I didn't take many photos yesterday because of the rain, but here's a shot from this morning. 

Foggy morning at the Hamamatsu SA

Foggy morning at the Hamamatsu SA

It was pretty foggy this morning when I left. I was expecting a 50 kph speed limit, but it was 80 (it's usually 100). I wasn't worried because Tesla's Autopilot includes radar--very handy! I left around 7, and by the time I got to the Mt. Fuji area, the sun was out. The drive was uneventful until I got about 4 km from the Totsuka SvC. Someone cut me off and I missed a turn, so I was 15 minutes late. They weren't quite ready for me, so it wasn't a problem to be late. My car is getting its two-year check up at the moment, and I'm updating my blog at a Starbucks next to Totsuka station. 

The service center folks lent me a brown P85 with AP hardware. I was surprised that it was installed because its VIN is more than 16k earlier than mine which was built at the end of October, 2014. I just drove it to the station to get some sustenance, but it's a good-looking car. 

Brown P85 loaner: great weather today, so I opened up the panoramic roof.  I hung out at Totsuka station while they worked on my car. When they were finished, they washed my car and hooked it up to their Supercharger. No problems found. They topped off fluids and air, aligned my wheels, checked my brakes, and tightened all that needed it. Thanks Totsuka!  The drive into Tokyo was uneventful. I ended up at a Mexican restaurant near Hiroo named after a town in San Diego: La Jolla. Food was good, but too salty. I drank about a liter of water after going there. 

Brown P85 loaner: great weather today, so I opened up the panoramic roof.  I hung out at Totsuka station while they worked on my car. When they were finished, they washed my car and hooked it up to their Supercharger. No problems found. They topped off fluids and air, aligned my wheels, checked my brakes, and tightened all that needed it. Thanks Totsuka! 

The drive into Tokyo was uneventful. I ended up at a Mexican restaurant near Hiroo named after a town in San Diego: La Jolla. Food was good, but too salty. I drank about a liter of water after going there. 

Burrito, taco, enchilada combination

Burrito, taco, enchilada combination

After two days of driving and little sleep, I was tired. I slept like a bambino. 

Day Three 

Tokyo to the Takasaki, Gunma Supercharger

Tokyo to the Takasaki, Gunma Supercharger

Today's goals were two: get my tenth Supercharger and start the drive north. I started out with a breakfast at the Good Morning Cafe. 

Waffles, an egg, salad and bacon for breakfast

Waffles, an egg, salad and bacon for breakfast

The drive getting out of Tokyo was filled with heavy traffic and tailgating drivers. Once I got on the highway that goes to Niigata, things smoothed out. The highway lanes were wide and there are three each way. After about an hour, I started to see snow in the mountains. The Takasaki Supercharger (did I mention it's my tenth?! ;-) ) is about three minutes from the highway interchange. As with the other newly installed Superchargers, this one has six stalls. I understand that Tesla will try for a minimum of six to prepare for future growth. There's a michi no eki  (rest stop) about 200 meters away. I cheated and stayed in my car during the charge because it was cold and windy. Then I drove over to use the facilities. 

Takasaki, Gunma Supercharger--six stalls! 

Takasaki, Gunma Supercharger--six stalls! 

 While I charged, I checked the weather and my maps to decide where to end up tonight. My only plan is to see the Sapporo Snow Festival starting February 6th, so I'm winging the rest. I've decided to do the longer drives on nice weather days, and I'm looking for laundry facilities every couple of days. The weather to Morioka is nice for the next couple of days, and it's going to snow in Aomori on Thursday. I couldn't find any SA with a coin laundry, and I'm passing the Nikko area on the way to Sendai. 

Takasaki to Nikko, Tochigi

Takasaki to Nikko, Tochigi

You might notice that both of today's legs have taken me off the route from Day One. Right now I'm just about done with laundry, and I've used the time to update my blog. I'll get some dinner and get up early to explore Nikko a bit--ancient shrine!   The guy managing the coin laundry recommended a kushiage  (batter-fried stuff on a stick; who doesn't love that?!) place nearby. After I finished with the laundry, I went out to find it. It should have been near a ramen shop and across from a convenience store. The only places it could have been were quite dark and had no signs. I tried a chain izakaya/robatayaki   (use of those names seem to be regional). It was the worst food I've eaten in Japan; I couldn't even finish it. When I got back, I went to the onsen  (hot baths) at the hotel and got warmed up. Sleep was easy last night. 

Day Four 

Nikko, Tochigi to Morioka, Iwate, via Sendai, Miyagi: I'm getting Japanese Superchargers 11 and 12 today. 😃

Nikko, Tochigi to Morioka, Iwate, via Sendai, Miyagi: I'm getting Japanese Superchargers 11 and 12 today. 😃

I woke up early, drank some Starbucks VIA and headed out. The hotel wanted ¥2,000 for all-you-can-eat breakfast; I decided to eat later. When I got to the car it was...

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outside. I had pre-heated it, but shut it off when I got in because of the hot shower I took to warm up. My goal in Nikko was to go see the  shrine at Toshogu. I'll let Wikipedia tell you the details, but it's a shrine dedicated to the first Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Here are some photos from this morning. 

The main entrance: ¥1,300 for the shrine and look in the 12 gods dedicated to the 12 animals from the Chinese calendar (year of the cock this year)

The main entrance: ¥1,300 for the shrine and look in the 12 gods dedicated to the 12 animals from the Chinese calendar (year of the cock this year)

A shot of the 3 warehouses (too wide of an angle to get all 3

A shot of the 3 warehouses (too wide of an angle to get all 3

The building for the 3 monkeys

The building for the 3 monkeys

One of the sculptures of the 3 monkeys

One of the sculptures of the 3 monkeys

Outside the gate to the inner shrine: ceremony under way

Outside the gate to the inner shrine: ceremony under way

Ancient Uber

Ancient Uber

Charms and sake for sale--I have an all-around good luck charm from another shrine in my car.  

Charms and sake for sale--I have an all-around good luck charm from another shrine in my car.  

I spent about 90 minutes walking around the shrine and saw the outside of the one next door. I set the navi for the Sendai Supercharger and saw I needed some power to make. I was also hungry, so I used my EVsmart app (works in Japan only) to look for both. There was an Aeon mall about 10 km away, so I set the navi there. It took me through some farmers' roads, and once I had to do a Bat Turn. Once there I plugged in and found only Mac appetizing.

50 kW CHAdeMO at Aeon mall near Nikko

50 kW CHAdeMO at Aeon mall near Nikko

After 30 minutes, the Trip tab in the car showed 6% remaining in Sendai. If I couldn't improve that percentage, I would need 10-15 minutes. I got it up to 14%, but got hit with some strong headwinds, and it went down to 8%. I stopped at a SA just past the Aizu-Wakamatsu interchange and south of Fukushima (sorry missed the name). 

I got 15 minutes of CHAdeMO here. Beautiful, cold day

I got 15 minutes of CHAdeMO here. Beautiful, cold day

Sorry, I couldn't read the name of the mountain. That's the view from behind where my car charged.

Sorry, I couldn't read the name of the mountain. That's the view from behind where my car charged.

The drive was very nice. The weather was clear and the colors vibrant. I was starting to see more snow up high. It stayed like that to Sendai and some time beyond. 

First time to see a Supercharger stall ICE'd (a gas car parked in an EV spot) in Japan  

First time to see a Supercharger stall ICE'd (a gas car parked in an EV spot) in Japan  

The Sendai Supercharger is located in the underground parking of a hotel which is next to an outlet mall. I got 45 minutes to 90% (I had arrived with 19%. While I charged, I stretched my legs, caught up with my internet chores and planned my next move. Before I left, I picked up a full set of JAF (think AAA) maps of all the highways. Many rest stops have a hotel, but none on the Tohoku highway showed one. My plan was to stop at a bigger SA and ask at the information booth. The only information I could find was playing out on a video screen, and it wasn't giving up hotel info. I drove through two more, but no cigar. 

Right about that time, the skies darkened up and it began to rain a bit. That all turned into more rain, colder temperatures, and finally, full on snow. The wife and I talked on the phone while I drove, and she offered to get me a room (where I'm slowly adding the day's content (sorry if you RSSing and getting my slow update notices (I got two loads of laundry in tonight after dinner.) 

Anyway, the temperature was hovering between -1 and 3, the snow wasn't sticking, and the locals were hauling ass. I stayed in the left lane for the most part as I build up some slightly forgotten skills (if you knew about the Lake Tahoe return run Thankgiving Sunday, 1975...) I got to Morioka smoothly and plugged in; only needed about 40 minutes. That is my last Supercharger run until the return trip. 

My first Supercharger with snow. They need to plow back a bit more. I had to stretch the cable to get it in. 

My first Supercharger with snow. They need to plow back a bit more. I had to stretch the cable to get it in. 

First time have the front frozen. About 45 into the snow, the Autopilot shutdown and no TACC. Te radar had ice on it, rendering it useless. 

First time have the front frozen. About 45 into the snow, the Autopilot shutdown and no TACC. Te radar had ice on it, rendering it useless. 

Checked to the hotel, my car wouldn't fit in their parking machine, so I had to go down the street and parking in a parking structure, for an extra charge. 😭 Went to eat; did MUCH better this time. Came back and took over the coin laundry. All set for the next several days. Here I am and about to fall over. Things should get more interesting tomorrow, but I won't say now. Let's leave it as a surprise. Good night! 

Day Five

 

Downtown Morioka, -4 C atm

Downtown Morioka, -4 C atm

Had the hotel breakfast--not many choices, but it was all healthy. I'll pack up and make the slippery walk to the car. Here's the first goal today: 

Morioka, Iwate to the ferry terminal in Aomori, one of two ferry routes to Hokkaido

Morioka, Iwate to the ferry terminal in Aomori, one of two ferry routes to Hokkaido

I got in the car, pre-warmed and toasty, down the street from the hotel. Even though it was in a covered garage, it was cold. 

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This was my first morning drive in sub-freezing temperatures, so I took it easy. The highway speed limit was 50 kph the entire way to Aomori. During the entire trip I saw 0 drivers at that speed. For the first 15 minutes everyone on the road was passing me. I sped up a bit as I got more confidence and got tired of trucks cutting me off and spraying my car.

Between that spray and the occasional flurry of snow falling and blowing off trees, both the car's sensors and radar unit got covered. About 45 minutes on the highway and the Autosteer function stopped; 30 minutes later the TACC shut down. The former wasn't a problem because there were some clumps of snow and potholes to dodge; I was taking control of steering every so often anyway. I missed TACC because of the way it keeps my speed steady. I have to say here that the car (with the Michelin X-ICE tires) has performed FAR beyond my expectations. I'm driving a rear wheel drive P85+, but it feels like an all wheel drive car. Just fantastic! Just imagine what the dual drivers experience. 

I had Supercharged for the last time northbound, so my new plan is to keep the car charged over 50% or so. I took a break to charge here.  

50 kW CHAdeMO in the snow

50 kW CHAdeMO in the snow

This stop is the only time my wheels slipped so far. The snow in front of the charger was about 15 cm thick and unplowed. I had to rock the car a bit to back in. While the car charged, I knocked off some of the snow around the wheel wells and cleaned off the sensors and radar. All systems were back until they got covered again. I took one more break and saw much more snow on the ground. 

Rest stop snow

Rest stop snow

I got to the Aomori ferry terminal and parked my car in the line. There were only 3 other cars. The rest of the vehicles on this ship are trucks. There was an electronic booth to buy a ticket, but I wanted to get out of my car to stretch my legs and assess what my car looked like. The thing to do for tickets is take your car registration, so they can charge you for the size of your car (and the number of passengers, if any). A one-way ticket is ¥16460 for a MS and a driver to go to Hakodate, Hokkaido. 

The bottom of my car was covered in snow and ice. 

The front-left side after the drive to Aomori

The front-left side after the drive to Aomori

The car (after some work with a plastic shovel) and the ferry

The car (after some work with a plastic shovel) and the ferry

I bought a small shovel at a local DIY store before I left in case I got stuck in snow somewhere. I used it to knock off as much as I could, hoping the paint will stay nice. I waited in the car for about 20 minutes; they loaded most of the trucks, then the cars.

Aomori to Hakodate by ferry

Aomori to Hakodate by ferry

I'm currently crossing the Tsuragu Straits in that big ol' ferry you see above. Not only is it probably the biggest ship I've ridden on, it's also beautiful inside. Here are selected photos from inside. 

Escalators on a ferry! 

Escalators on a ferry! 

Elevators on a ferry! 

Elevators on a ferry! 

Kids' playroom! 

Kids' playroom! 

Vending machines! This is the only food available. BYOB (bring your own bento) 

Vending machines! This is the only food available. BYOB (bring your own bento) 

Seating on the sides--chairs either have magnets holding them down or are chained to the deck.  

Seating on the sides--chairs either have magnets holding them down or are chained to the deck.  

Bunk beds for catching a nap

Bunk beds for catching a nap

Sample layout of one of the decks

Sample layout of one of the decks

The wind is blowing hard, and I see rough seas, but I can barely feel any swaying. Tonight is a nice Hakodate hotel with the Number One rated breakfast in Japan. 😎

At the end of the ferry journey, all drivers head back to their vehicles; we are not allowed to stay in them during the voyage. I got into a pre-toasty car and was told to back up 50 meters; I've never had to back up so far. It wasn't a big deal, just a strange maneuver. It turns out I had to make a sharp left to the ramp down.  

On to the tarmac at Hakodate, snow was everywhere! The drive to the hotel was uneventful. I parked in about 10 cm of fresh snow with hard pack underneath. Checked in and went in search of food. To celebrate making it to Hokkaido, I treated myself to a delicious fillet dinner. After dinner, I went up to the hot springs to decompress. They have seven baths (one is cold), and I got in five of the hot ones. I almost fell when I took a wrong turn in the dim light (I usually skip the glasses when I bathe). 😁 There were many big, uneven rocks that I thought denoted a pathway. The rocks were loose and moved when I stepped on them. Be careful out there!

 Day Six 

 This morning, the hotel had a bag of coffee beans and a hand-cranked grinder waiting for me. Yummy!

Complementary coffee beans, grinder and two kinds of popcorn.  

Complementary coffee beans, grinder and two kinds of popcorn.  

I got ready and went down to the breakfast buffet. The server who seated me was also one of my servers from the night before. I greeted her with a "long time, no see!" and got a laugh out of her. There were far too many choices to eat the all, so I got selective. Here's my first tray. 

Tray One for breakfast

Tray One for breakfast

I went healthy and picked mostly Japanese items. That tamagoyaki (grilled egg) was the best I've ever had and the salmon was rich and flavorful. I went back and got a couple of kinds of yogurt. It was indeed a great breakfast, but I've had others here just as good or better. Guests only can eat here; apparently, the breakfast is just too popular.

I took a shot of the car from an angle I had never seen before. 

The Red Rocket is much bigger than I thought! 

The Red Rocket is much bigger than I thought! 

There is a fort and and viewpoint up from the hotel, but I couldn't see them when I left. After seeing the 30+ car pileup around Sapporo the night before on the news, I decided to skip it. Here are some shots before I left. 

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I headed out late morning with ½ a battery charge. Since the highways south of the Tohoku area have SA/PA every 20-30 km with CHAdeMO, I really hadn't thought that this are would be a problem. When I drove in the night before, there were no J1772 around the hotel. I just planned to make a day of it driving, checking out the scenery and charging. Here's a shot of the highway chargers courtesy of the EVsmart app. 

EVsmart app zoomed out to show only highway chargers  

EVsmart app zoomed out to show only highway chargers  

I needed to get off the highway somewhere before that first SA south of Sapporo. Zooming in EVsmart gives more detail. I decided to try for the first Nissan dealer I passed, then again when it was needed, perhaps, Muroran. Here's my planned route for the day. 

Day six trip to Sapporo  

Day six trip to Sapporo  

 I drove for about 45 minutes on surface streets, until the first Nissan dealer. I missed the sign for the CHAdeMO, so I pulled around the back to ask where it was. Once I learned its location, I drove back towards the front side. I needed to drive back to the right on a Main Street, kind of making a very wide U-turn. At the street, to my left was a center divider, so I moved right to miss it and drove over, wait for it, a curb. 

I approached from the left (it's below on a hill) and missed seeing this curb. 

I approached from the left (it's below on a hill) and missed seeing this curb. 

There was traffic coming from both sides so I missed seeing this curb as I moved up. The car made contact after both the front and rear wheels went over the curb. I see no damage to the battery or even the front; I believe contact was made at the lift points. I did, however, scrape the right side of the diffuser enough to break it off. 

Diffuser, right side, broken

Diffuser, right side, broken

I thought it best to report here the bad with the good. Total user error, but having run it through my head several times, I could see it happening again. 

I plugged into the 44 kW Nissan CHAdeMO, paid my ¥540, got 30 minutes of 20 KW (the skinny Nissan chargers are throttled for Tesla), did my best to clean up the mess with the diffuser, and contacted Tesla about repairs. They are going to take care of me on my return trip, but my error guarantees I won't make the Supercharger opening ceremony in Fukuoka on the 10th. I'm perhaps more disappointed about that than the diffuser. 😳

I stopped at a DIY shop before the highway and bought a roll of duct tape. I've run a long piece from the diffuser to under the bumper to help keep any wind stress. Be careful out there.  

 Much of the highway you see north of Hakodate is one lane each way with passing lanes here and there. I think there was one SA with a gas station. The rest were PA with toilets and a drink machine or two. I pulled off the highway at Muroran looking for a Nissan dealer's CHAdeMO. The roads were confusing with signs pointing to route #37 that ended up taking me across a long bridge going the wrong way. I had to do a couple of U-turns to get going on the road into town.

I backed into the CHAdeMO at a Nissan dealer and was immediately met by a salesperson with wide eyes and tons of questions. I showed him and a few others the car, then the staff ushered me in the store and served me a drink and asked me a lot about the Tesla. I charged for an hour, enough to get to the first SA with a CHAdeMO. I want to thanks to  札幌日産自動車 室蘭中島店 for taking care of me so well! 👍🏼

The rest of the drive was in the dark, but the roads were clearer and the speed limit was 100. I charged at Wattsu SA for an hour just in case I couldn't get a spot to charge in Sapporo. I drove to the Tokyo Dome Hotel where I explained that there was a charger around the corner where I hoped to park overnight. They let me park long enough to check in and take my stuff to my room. I drove around the block to find the parking with one J1772 and plugged in for the night. I topped off to 90% overnight and paid the (pricey!) ¥2,000 for parking. 

Day six overnight parking

Day six overnight parking

I went to a recently-opened izakaya. The food was good, but portions were designed for large groups. I got boneless chicken wings and a salad, and that's all I could eat. Those are the highlights from day six. 

Day Seven 

Saturday morning I got up early and went to the hotel's Japanese restaurant for breakfast. The plan I had at the Tokyo Dome Hotel included either Japanese or buffet (some of both of Japanese and Western) breakfasts. 

Notable were the tamagoyaki, the grilled salmon, the soup (with more salmon), and the yummy thing on the top left that I can never remember its name).

Notable were the tamagoyaki, the grilled salmon, the soup (with more salmon), and the yummy thing on the top left that I can never remember its name).

Some time into breakfast, my Tesla app notified me that my P85+ was done charging. I went back to my room and grabbed my laundry. I went up a floor and found the one washer open. I had about a load and a half, but figured if there was only one machine, I had better get it done. While those clothes all washed, I went to the parking lot around the corner to retrieve my car. I paid the pricy ¥2,000, thinking the hotel should have some EV charging spots (that request and one for more washing machines went into my comments) and moved my car to the hotel parking (guest pay ¥1,000 a night). Here's a shot around the time I went to get the car.

Some cities, like Sapporo, still have street cars.

Some cities, like Sapporo, still have street cars.

I went back and fiddled with laundry for the next hour and a half and met a Canadian wrestler with the stage name of Davy Boy Smith Jr. (type davy b in your google to see him on top) who was also surprised at the laundry set up. He was very nice, and I ended up putting his load in the dryer and comping him. It was nice meeting you Davy! 

I was tired from the trip, so I decided to have an easy day. I spent some time in my room and even took a nap. I had seen my first view of the Sapporo Snow Festival from the restaurant.

The Japanese Self-Defense Force putting the final touches on a sculpture.

The Japanese Self-Defense Force putting the final touches on a sculpture.

My hotel was next to Odori Park, where all the sculptured ice and snow is. I went out and walked around the areas I could get into. Here are some selected shots from that walk.

Snowy Arc de Triomphe

Snowy Arc de Triomphe

Taiwan building or built by a Taiwanese team or both (couldn't tell from the info there)

Taiwan building or built by a Taiwanese team or both (couldn't tell from the info there)

Train and friends

Train and friends

It was my free day, so I decided to check out this thing called craft beer. Sapporo is noted for its beer community, so I used Mr. google to check it out. I found this place: Beer Cellar Sapporo.

Current draft selections are well marked. I believe all are from Oregon.

Current draft selections are well marked. I believe all are from Oregon.

Beer Cellar Sapporo features beers and ciders from the U.S. state of Oregon. Since I'm mostly used to what I can get out of a can or a bottle here in Kyushu, I took Tom the barkeep's suggestion of four flights (samples).

Four flights of Oregon craft beers

Four flights of Oregon craft beers

Of the four I had, I liked the Mosaic Eruption IPA the best, so I had a small of that after. I also enjoyed an open face sandwich and some meat and cheese. 

Assorted meat

Assorted meat

Assorted cheese

Assorted cheese

I finished up with an IPA from the Beer Cellar Sapporo's extensive bottled selection: Off Leash.

Off Leash IPA

Off Leash IPA

Beer Cellar Sapporo's great selection of beer and cider

Beer Cellar Sapporo's great selection of beer and cider

I ended up staying almost four hours there. Tom, on the left, is from Oregon, and Mr. Aoki, the owner is from Tochigi. They were very nice to me and held my hand as I explored some of Oregon's yummy craft brews. Thanks!

Tom, Mr. Aoki, and another staff member

Tom, Mr. Aoki, and another staff member

Day seven was a good one.

Day Eight 

This morning I tried the breakfast buffet and ate mostly Western food (plus natto). I went back to my room and updated this post (way behind, but still plugging away). I had charged to 90% the night before last, so all was ready for today. I checked out of the Tokyo Dome Hotel and headed down to Chitose airport to pick up Jr. who was joining me for the Sapporo Snow Festival. The drive down, about an hour, was uneventful and smooth. I had some time there to add to this post, but the free airport wifi wasn't cooperating, so I used my 4G. We bought some Hokkaido exclusive White Black Thunder bars to take back as souvenirs. The drive back to Sapporo was equally smooth, and we headed to the Royton Sapporo for the night. I reserved there because my EVsmart app showed a CHAdeMO and two J1772 in the underground parking lot. I plugged in for the night and left the setting at 90%.

Royton Sapporo Hotel charge setup: CHAdeMO and two J1772s

Royton Sapporo Hotel charge setup: CHAdeMO and two J1772s

We decompressed a bit in the room before heading out to dinner. The view from the 19th floor in downtown Sapporo was quite nice. This photo has a view of the Sapporo Winter Olympics ski jump site (look at the sun, and move slightly towards 4 o'clock; it's a longer white patch.)

 On the way to eat, we walked through Odori Park to see some of the ice and snow sculptures. Here are some photos.

All-ice sculpture

All-ice sculpture

Pooh San

Pooh San

Many of the international sculptures were still being put together the night before. This one is Finland's.

Many of the international sculptures were still being put together the night before. This one is Finland's.

Crab is one of the specialties in Hokkaido, so we arranged to have dinner at on of the recommended restaurants. It was a feast that neither of could get all the way through. The potatoes and rice and the end went mostly uneaten, but everything we ate was absolutely delicious! 

Sashimi

Sashimi

Asparagus cooked in butter! This was incredible!

Asparagus cooked in butter! This was incredible!

Two kinds of crab. yummy!

Two kinds of crab. yummy!

Grilled salmon!

Grilled salmon!

We were so full after the above, we could only taste the potatoes and rice dish. We did manage to find space for the vanilla ice cream, though.

In Japan, after people have been out eating and drinking, they will often have ramen shime (a bowl of ramen to finish off the night). Sushi is a possibility, too. In Sapporo, however, the finish is often parfait shime, so we headed out to find a place that serves it. The first place we found recommended was serving the kind we were looking for, so we headed to a another branch of the shop. We had to wait about ten minutes, but they called us on the phone when our table was ready. Here is what we had.

Sapporo parfait shime

Sapporo parfait shime

On the way back to the hotel, we walked through the pre-festival festival. Assuming, because of the festival crowds, we may not get some of the shots we saw this evening, we did our best to capture what we saw. Here are some highlights.

This sculpture had a Greek theme

This sculpture had a Greek theme

Taiwan theme, ice sculpture?

Taiwan theme, ice sculpture?

The Arc de Triomphe, sponsored by the Japan (horse) Racing Association...

The Arc de Triomphe, sponsored by the Japan (horse) Racing Association...

This one looked great!

This one looked great!

Star Wars, perhaps the most popular one?

Star Wars, perhaps the most popular one?

Day Nine

The next morning, we headed down for a quick all-you-can-eat breakfast. The Super Bowl was playing, so we wanted to catch the halftime show with Lady Gaga. I enjoyed watching her play her hits in front of a large crowd. We checked out and headed to the car with a 90% charge. I love those hotels with J1772 charging setups.

There is another site about 10 km from the main one at Odori Park, so we drove out there to check it out. I have to say once we got there, we could find no place to park our car. The venue itself was closed to public parking. The nearby airport had a sign saying parking was for those using the airport only. The two workers we asked directed us either to the airport parking or back to the venue. We needed up parking in a strip mall parking and walking. We stayed only about an hour, so hopefully we caused little disruption; there were plenty of open spots. I would like to see this taken care of in the future.

There was an indoor section for the youngsters, and the outside had something for everyone. Here are some selected shots from the time we spent there.

Kids' area inside

Kids' area inside

Smaller slide for the smaller ones

Smaller slide for the smaller ones

Ride a raft behind a snowmobile

Ride a raft behind a snowmobile

Big slide for the big kids

Big slide for the big kids

Forest of snowmen (the Japanese versions usually have two parts, not three)

Forest of snowmen (the Japanese versions usually have two parts, not three)

Blocks of ice for this slide; no tube necessary

Blocks of ice for this slide; no tube necessary

We had crab the night before, so today's goal was to eat Genghis Khan, or the Japanese version of Mongolian BBQ. We found a place with parking, so went there on the way back to Odori Park.

All the fixings for a Mongolian BBQ with two kinds of lamb

All the fixings for a Mongolian BBQ with two kinds of lamb

Put the veggies around the side first, add the entire pot of sauce, then put one kind of meat in the middle.

Put the veggies around the side first, add the entire pot of sauce, then put one kind of meat in the middle.

We tried to get into the first parking place I used two nights before, but it was full. I finally drove back to the Royton Sapporo and plugged in. We walked to the Former Hokkaido Government building, made of red brick. It is an impressive place.

The back of the former Hokkaido government building

The back of the former Hokkaido government building

The former Hokkaido government building from the front

The former Hokkaido government building from the front

From there we walked back to Odori Park to see the places that weren't open to the public before the festival started. They had a ski/snowboard slope set up, and we watched some of the practice runs.

Moguls: he's upside-down!

Moguls: he's upside-down!

I think the best shots of the rest were already seen above. We went back to the hotel to get the car and stopped by the front desk to pay for parking. I told the staff that we stayed the night before and came back to get a bit more charge. They gave us those four or so hours for free; thank you Royton Sapporo!

Our first stop on the way back was the other side of the Wattsu SA. There they have a 50 kW CHAdeMO and a restaurant. It was Sunday night, and they close at 7 o'clock. We got there just before 7, and I had their soup curry, another specialty in Hokkaido. We drove the four plus hours back to the ferry terminal at Hakodate, bought tickets and waited to load on to the ferry. I knew I wanted some good sleep, so I paid an extra ¥5,000 or so for a room. It was way nicer than I thought it would be.

An upgrade on accommodations for the ride back

An upgrade on accommodations for the ride back

I had a solid three hours of sleep in this room, so it was worth the extra money.

Day Ten

We arrived in Aomori with about 90 km of charge. The first highway CHAdeMO was about 55 km from where we were, but I didn't want to cut it too close in the freezing weather. The first place I tried was a Lawson convenience store, but I could not get it to start up. I drove to a Family Mart which was a bit slow, but I added a comfortable buffer to the battery (and got a needed cup of coffee). 

There was a lot of ice around Aomori at 5 o-clock in the morning; I was siding all over, but the car was not!

There was a lot of ice around Aomori at 5 o-clock in the morning; I was siding all over, but the car was not!

We stopped at the first SA with a CHAdeMO and added enough to get to Morioka and a 30% buffer. The drive was pleasant, but there was a lot of snow on the ground and, at times, falling pretty hard.

Road conditions from Aomori to Morioka

Road conditions from Aomori to Morioka

We arrived in Morioka after 8 o'clock and looked for a place to eat. The Morioka Supercharger is in a parking lot of a Tsutaya bookstore. There is a bakery connected to it, so we went to try it.

Yummy bread at the Morioka Supercharger! The coffee was good, too.

Yummy bread at the Morioka Supercharger! The coffee was good, too.

Here's a daytime shot of the Morioka Supercharger. The snow could be plowed a bit more. I had to really pull to get the cold cable to cooperate.

Daytime shot of the Morioka SC

Daytime shot of the Morioka SC

From there we drove to the Sendai SC. The temperature warmed a bit, but it was snowing pretty hard when we got to Sendai. From there, I set the navi to the Palace hotel in Tokyo. We can't drive all the way there without CHAdeMO,, but I like to set our goals. I wasn't paying attention, but the navi routed us on the west coast route. I assumed it chose this route because of the weather in the mountains and all the snow that was coming down.

Astute Japan-watchers will wonder whether we drove past the nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima. Yes, we did. About 10 km from the site, I started to see signs displaying the local radiation levels. I have never wanted to keep moving so badly before. Here's the output at the closest point to the plant.

3.6 micro sieverts/hr at the closest point; that car was in my way...

3.6 micro sieverts/hr at the closest point; that car was in my way...

We cleared the area as quickly as possible, and took a break for a charge. We stopped once more for food (the CHAdeMO was being used)

Fried oysters (top) and fried chicken for dinner

Fried oysters (top) and fried chicken for dinner

and once so I could take a 10-minute nap to recharge. We arrived at the Palace Hotel Supercharger around 7:30 and, after I apologized for bringing such a dirty car, handed the valet my fob for a charge. I got a great night's sleep this night; ready to make the second-half drive home.

Day Eleven

I made it to the Yokohama service center in Totsuka around 11 o'clock, and the team there quickly figured out how to repair my busted diffuser. They cut off the left side as well, straightened both sides out, then used a kind of bond to put them all back together. Doing it this way saved me ¥50,000. Thank you so much, guys! My car was absolutely filthy after the drive north; it was covered with both dirt and salt. The staff there cleaned up my car, and I was on my way home again.

Side shot of my car

Side shot of my car

The rear

The rear

I drove to the Hamamatsu SC in Shizuoka. I saw Mt. Fuji from Yokohama, so I thought I might be able to to see it as I got closer in Fuji. As usual, clouds moved in and covered the top half or so. I keep hoping. Instead of driving to Kobe/Osaka for the next charge, I went a bit more west to charge and the new Gifu Hashima Supercharger. I make mistakes driving through Nagoya about 50% of the time. Check out this cloverleaf in Nagoya, and perhaps you'll understand.

Changing highways can be a nightmare; this one gave me trouble.

Changing highways can be a nightmare; this one gave me trouble.

There are four stalls at the Gifu Hashima Supercharger. It is located in a large shopping center. You should be able to find something around to eat while you charge. By the time I used the facilities, my car was ready.

Four stalls with the cool paint job

Four stalls with the cool paint job

That charge gave me 13 Japanese Superchargers, 100% of the SC available. Yay me!

From there, I drove to the Kobe SC with a cup of coffee. A few minutes after I started my charge, another Model S pulled in. I noticed it was a right-hand drive car. We said hello, and after he finished, he came over and told me it was a four-year-old import from the U.S. Since the charge ports are the same, it works fine here. Very, very cool to see.

From Kobe to Kurashiki was smooth, except for the truckers. Late night drives can be stressful on the remote highways in Japan. Truckers like to pull out in front of cars quite a bit, and it happened at least 10 times between Kurashiki and home. Autopilot handles such events very well; I rarely have to take over. I stopped in my usual spot—Sabagawa to charge enough to get home (I added a 23% buffer). The new (for Japan, new) Trip function shows exactly what I did to get home.

Top left is the charge from Kurashiki; middle is Sabagawa CHAdeMO; left side is estimate home.

Top left is the charge from Kurashiki; middle is Sabagawa CHAdeMO; left side is estimate home.

I got home around 8:30 in the morning, tired, but extremely satisfied with the trip, and most importantly, with the car. Want to drive in the snow in Model S? Put on some snow tires, and enjoy the ride.

I left at 44,642 km; arrived in Sapporo at 47,237; and got home at 49,776 for a total of 5,134 km.

Japan Gets its 14th Supercharger: Fukuoka's Sue Smart Interchange

On February 10th, Tesla Japan will open its 14th Supercharger at the Sue Smart IC (interchange) near Fukuoka city. The Sue IC is between the Fukuoka and Dazaifu ICs. The term Smart is used when there is both an exit/entrance and service/parking area together. These ICs are perfect for Superchargers because they are so close to the highway, with no need to drive into a city away from your route. You exit the highway, make a few turns, and plug into a Supercharger that is located next to a SA/PA. You can still use the facilities and get back on your route in a timely manner. 

I'll get some pictures up next time I drive by, perhaps Sunday as I start my next road trip. 

Thank you very much, Tesla, for working to extend the Japanese Supercharger network. 

Bigger Road Trip Six: Up the Western Sea of Japan Coast (BRT6)

A word of warning: this post is a long one, the longest on this site (@sbeggs you'll need a pot of coffee for this one). There are plenty of photos for the text-shy. The trip to Tokyo recounted here was, with one notable exception, off the Tesla Supercharger grid and had plenty of weak CHAdeMO chargers. It was both challenging and fun.

2016 was a busy year for me, good busy, but busy. Jr. came home for the summer, so much of what I did revolved around that visit. In September, Jr. needed to get back to school, so the family planned a road trip on a route none of us had taken by car: north along the Sea of Japan. Our first day was scheduled to be a long one in order to get us to newer places [NOTE: I made the trip to Matsue, Shimane on my own in 1987, but I took trains; that's another tale for another time.]

Day One

Our first long stop for sightseeing and food was in Hagi, Yamaguchi prefecture.

First run for the morning and early afternoon: Kumamoto to Hagi; that blue ¾ up is where the bridge from Kyushu to Honshu is located.

First run for the morning and early afternoon: Kumamoto to Hagi; that blue ¾ up is where the bridge from Kyushu to Honshu is located.

That drive is about ¾ of a battery charge and really too long without a stop along the way. We stopped on the Kyushu side to stretch our legs, etc. While we stopped, I plugged into the CHAdeMO. Here is the view from the stop. The bridge connects the island of Kyushu with the main island of Honshu.

You may recognize this bridge from a past post. I add it here to preview the weather that I was about to deal with.

You may recognize this bridge from a past post. I add it here to preview the weather that I was about to deal with.

There was a light rain during the stop, and it wasn't too bad for the drive to Hagi, an ancient town with a rich history (and castle ruins). We stopped at a seaside area, called Seamart, for lunch, and a CHAdeMO charge. The seafood bowl with rice sounded and looked pretty good, but we were unimpressed. The one we had the year before, at Tokyo's Tsukiji seafood market, was incredible!

It looks a LOT better than it tasted.

It looks a LOT better than it tasted.

After we finished, we drove back a ways towards Hagi proper. By then, the rain was coming down. I didn't even want to get out of the car for sightseeing, but it was Jr.'s first time. There's a famous shrine that encloses an area where a famous guy taught some other famous guys. Here's the school.

Shoka Son Juku, in the pouring rain

Shoka Son Juku, in the pouring rain

You can see from the photo that the rain is coming down (in reality, it hasn't really even started yet :-/ ). We drove more into town, looking for a place to charge and park while we walked around a bit. There was a CHAdeMO listed in public parking, but we never found it. We parked and started walking. The town has a large area that preserves the look of its heyday.

The entire area has maintained its look of the past. If it weren't for the rain.

The entire area has maintained its look of the past. If it weren't for the rain.

After walking about 15 minutes, we decided to give up; the rain was just too heavy. We did not pass any other tourists while we were out. We decided to make our way to our destination for the day: Izumo Taisha, one of the two most sacred shrines in Japan.

Hagi to Izumo Taisha Shrine, in Shimane prefecture, no highways, just surface streets

Hagi to Izumo Taisha Shrine, in Shimane prefecture, no highways, just surface streets

As you can see from the map above, we hugged the coastline from time to time on the second leg of our day one route. However, I cannot remember seeing the Sea of Japan at all. It was raining so hard, it was all I could do to focus on the road and the drive. With the charge in Hagi, I should have had plenty of power to get to Izumo in Shimane prefecture. Even driving between 40-60 kph, prime hypermiling speeds, I lost 20-30% of my power on this drive. I finally had to stop at a michi no eki (think premium rest stop on a regular road). The rest area was closed, the toilets were locked up, but there was a CHAdeMO with a 40kW rating. It turned out to be a skinny Nissan charger, which is notorious for giving only 30% of its power to a Tesla. True to its reputation, I got 14kW and stayed for 30 minutes to replenish. 

I cannot be sure, but I think the rain got worse as we continued our drive and day turned to night. By the time we got to Izumo, we were late for our traditional Japanese hotel reservation and low on power. We found a shopping mall with two 50kW CHAdeMO and stopped there for some food and power. When we got to the hotel, they weren't too happy, but showed me how to get in and out. The family headed for the baths before they closed, and I headed to another CHAdeMO at a michi no eki that is free. I got a nice charge there while I caught up on email and reading. I missed the baths, but got a shower in the room. To tell you the truth, the advantage of staying in that hotel was that it was a three-minute walk from our next day goal of Izumo Taisha (that shrine I mentioned above).

Day Two

We had the breakfast provided by the hotel the next morning and checked out. The people at the hotel were nice to let us leave the car while we explored their town. We walked the few hundred meters to the shrine and spent the next couple of hours in awe.

The main entrance to Izumo Taisha shrine, one of the two most sacred Japanese shrines

The main entrance to Izumo Taisha shrine, one of the two most sacred Japanese shrines

I'm not a Japanese scholar, so I cannot speak much about Shinto, the Japanese native religion. The Japanese Imperial family worships here at Izumo, Ise Jingu (Ise Shrine), and other Shinto shrines. Virtually all Japanese go to a Shinto shrine at least once a year, especially for the New Year (I went last week). Many Japanese get married at a shrine or at a wedding hall with a Shinto ceremony (my wedding was Shinto). I'll let the pictures tell the rest.

We cannot walk down this path. It's only for special ceremonies. It's beautiful. 

We cannot walk down this path. It's only for special ceremonies. It's beautiful. 

The entrance into the middle area of the shrine

The entrance into the middle area of the shrine

The rope is huge and weighs more than a metric ton. They make a new one periodically and put it up in a ceremony.

The rope is huge and weighs more than a metric ton. They make a new one periodically and put it up in a ceremony.

This is as far as the public can go. Inside is the inner shrine. Only priests and invited guests may enter. The two above are praying and making an offering. I got lucky for this shot because it was very crowded that day.

This is as far as the public can go. Inside is the inner shrine. Only priests and invited guests may enter. The two above are praying and making an offering. I got lucky for this shot because it was very crowded that day.

Next door was another shrine. This creek separated the two.

Next door was another shrine. This creek separated the two.

Kitajima Koku Zo Kan, the shrine next door.

Kitajima Koku Zo Kan, the shrine next door.

Inside

Inside

This has to be a power spot! We had trouble leaving here; it was so peaceful..

This has to be a power spot! We had trouble leaving here; it was so peaceful..

The ceremonial areas

The ceremonial areas

This is the view looking the other way from Izumo Taisha. There are shops and restaurants along the way. Not far past the tori down the way is the CHAdeMO I used the night before.

This is the view looking the other way from Izumo Taisha. There are shops and restaurants along the way. Not far past the tori down the way is the CHAdeMO I used the night before.

We did the walk around I described above. The family walked down that road you see above. I grabbed a cup of coffee and my car and drove back to the CHAdeMO from the night before. I used the time to charge up (I'm not a fan of shopping, so things stayed balanced.) 

This Starbucks was next to that road and maintains the look of the town.

This Starbucks was next to that road and maintains the look of the town.

Our next route took us to Matsue, another castle town.

Second day driving took us from Izumo to Matsue to a Japanese art museum to Tottori City, Tottori prefecture.

Second day driving took us from Izumo to Matsue to a Japanese art museum to Tottori City, Tottori prefecture.

Matsue is the home of the Matsudaira clan and there is an original castle (most castles in Japan were dismantled or burned down at the end of the Edo period; those that survived were usually because of some loyalty of the local leaders to the government) in the middle of the city. Funny story: we were looking for the parking lot next to the castle, and the Tesla Navi took us through a path in the middle of the castle grounds. When I realized where we were, it was too late to turn around. I forged ahead and drove some places I would never have gone in a car. Anyway, it's funny now; it was not funny at the time. ;-/

This shot is not far from one of the parking lots. Everything was green that day..

This shot is not far from one of the parking lots. Everything was green that day..

Matsue Castle: my second visit (first was 1987). It's one of my favorite castles because it's not rebuilt.

Matsue Castle: my second visit (first was 1987). It's one of my favorite castles because it's not rebuilt.

Soba (buckwheat) noodles are one of the specialties of the area. After our tour of the castle and its grounds, we hopped in the car in search of noodles. The place we found was spectacular!

Three tiers of soba with the fixings on the side. Add them as you like with the dipping sauce. Perfection!

Three tiers of soba with the fixings on the side. Add them as you like with the dipping sauce. Perfection!

We had a well-charged battery at this point and headed off to a famous museum that was on our way to the next destination, Tottori. I used the museum stop as a chance to take a nap in the car and recharge myself. There were no public chargers around, but we had plenty to get to Tottori.

As I mentioned before, most of the trip up to this point was on surface streets; the Sea of Japan side does not yet have a complete highway. There are, however, sections of highways being built. Most of the complete highways, with some exceptions, in Japan are four lanes, two each way. As a new highway is built, one side with two lanes is often completed first. When a segment is long enough, those two lanes are open for traffic going both ways. There is no charge for using this kind of highway (but, wait for it, they will charge when it's done). The only traffic lights are those at the beginning and ending of the segment; speed limits are 70 kph. I write this because several of these segments were open between Matsue and Tottori. Between these roads and the lack of heavy rain, the rest of the drive on day two was much smoother. 

We arrived in Tottori City, Tottori prefecture in the evening. We checked into our hotel and went in search of a destination charger. The app I use for charging information in Japan is EVsmart, and it showed a destination charger in the parking structure near our hotel. It turned out to be outside the the parking structure and owned by a local newspaper company that runs a car sharing program. The wife called and got permission to use the charger overnight. I unplugged the car (sorry, either a Mitsubishi Miev or a BMW; I cannot recall) and plugged mine in. We set off in search of food and ended up at a great yakitori (grilled meat and vegetables on sticks). There wasn't much else open at 8 pm near Tottori Station; that was a bit of a surprise as there was a large commercial area around the station.

Day Three

The destination charger we used overnight

The destination charger we used overnight

The Rocket plugged in after an overnight charge

The Rocket plugged in after an overnight charge

The coast line north of Tottori City is home to Japan's sole sand dunes. They were quite a sight to see, for more than one reason.

Tottori's sand dunes

Tottori's sand dunes

No camels are not native to Japan, but you can get a camel ride. One hump or two?

No camels are not native to Japan, but you can get a camel ride. One hump or two?

At the main area is a large parking lot at the top and a smaller one at the bottom. EV pro tip: the lower one has a 40kW CHAdeMO; park at the bottom and walk up. I didn't need more than 30 minutes, so I moved my car down to the charger after we had mostly finished looking around and shopping was about to commence.

Between the parking lots is a sand museum that is noted for its art work. The exhibits rotate, depending on a particular event or theme. Since the Olympics were in Rio, Brazil last year, the theme on display was Brazil and more broadly South America. Each of the areas you see in the pictures below were sculpted by sand artists showing off their best. I'm not sure if these pictures do the exhibit justice, but it was quite a sight to behold. Tottori is far off the beaten path (They have a good sense of humor about it; one souvenir cookie showed someone on the package saying, "I got this for you in Shimane or Tottori. I can't remember which."), but if you're in the area, check it out.

This section shows the Conquest of South America by the Spanish and Portuguese.

This section shows the Conquest of South America by the Spanish and Portuguese.

The Colonial Period

The Colonial Period

Macchu Picchu in sand

Macchu Picchu in sand

At least two choices to get to Hikone, Shiga prefecture were available. The southern route has three Superchargers available, but the northern route was one that I had never driven. The weather continued to improve while we were exploring the sandy areas, so we decided on the northern course. It was mostly a driving day; we did not get to a highway until later in the drive. We had lunch along the way at a chain coffee shop I had never been to; the portions were huge! Once we hit the highway, we stopped at one parking area with a CHAdeMO, but it was a skinny Nissan (see above). We stayed long enough to get a drink and use the restrooms. Because we could not get a hotel with a destination charger in Hikone, we did stop on the way there at a service area for a CHAdeMO charge.

Surface streets in the beginning, highways the last 1/3 

Surface streets in the beginning, highways the last 1/3 

Hikone Castle at night from the front of our hotel 

Hikone Castle at night from the front of our hotel 

I lived in Hikone, Shiga prefecture for two years in the early '90s. Hikone is another castle town, with an original castle. Ii Naosuke, local daimyo, was loyal to the government, helping to broker an end to the battles at the end of the Edo Period, so his castle was spared. Some of his descendants still live in the area.

Surrounding Hikone Castle is an area that has some original and/or restored buildings from the old days. One of the buildings is a former ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) which has been recently renovated into two buildings: their home and a restaurant called Sugimoto (their family name). I used to go 2-3 times a week when I lived there; it was my home away from home. The food there was good and the company was interesting. Since the State of Michigan has a joint-education center (where I worked) in Hikone, there was no shortage of people going to there for dinner and drinks. We went there for dinner that evening. The master has just about lost his eyesight, but he loves to talk about anything. Thanks for the good time, Mr. Sugimoto and family.

Day Four

Hikone Castle during the day

Hikone Castle during the day

Hikone Castle is not a large one, but it sits high on a hill in the middle of the city. Once you get inside, it's only three stories. Like the one in Matsue, there is not much lighting inside, so you can get a feeling for what it was like back in the day.

Hikone Castle 

Hikone Castle 

The grounds around Hikone Castle

The grounds around Hikone Castle

Next to the castle is a good museum built on the castle grounds. The Ii family is noted by its red armor, not a common color.

Next to the castle is a good museum built on the castle grounds. The Ii family is noted by its red armor, not a common color.

After our walk-around, we headed back to the car and got another bowl of soba for lunch. The drive to Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefecture was uneventful and mainly on highways. We stopped for charging at a parking area along the way, and interestingly, a team of three people responsible for the highway chargers happened to be at the CHAdeMO when I hooked up. They had all heard of Tesla, but only one of them had seen one. They asked me lots of questions, and I showed them my car. They drove off all with (the Tesla?) grins and waving at me.

Back on the highway system here

Back on the highway system here

Kanazawa is another castle town, but its castle was destroyed; one of the guard buildings and the incredible garden Kenrokuen remain. We got to the hotel in the late afternoon and checked in. This hotel has destination charging, so I had plugged in and used my NCS charge card. I believe it was a Toyota charger, but I can't find a photo, and I can't quite remember. We spent some time in the room catching our breath, then walked to the old part of the city. The night before we didn't have many choices when we went to a yakitori. This night we found a yakitori in the old part of town that came highly recommended. The food was great, the owners were friendly, especially after they heard how far we had come, and some of the customers were interesting. There was the couple from Brazil who were watching what we were eating and ordering and often ordering the same. We talked with them a bit before they had to leave. On our other side was a local businessman who enjoyed talking about his travels and giving the owner a hard time.

The old section: just walk around!

The old section: just walk around!

Day Five

We checked out of our hotel and walked across the street to the castle area. The grounds were too expansive to walk, and we did not see the castle ruins. One of the gates has been restored, and it is impressive. Kenrokuen is next door and looks different, depending on the season. I had been there during four different seasons, so I used the time to take a break and people-watch.

Kanazawa Castle Gate outside

Kanazawa Castle Gate outside

Kanazawa Castle Gate inside

Kanazawa Castle Gate inside

There is more to do and see in Kanazawa, but we had another kinda sorta long drive day for the afternoon. Our destination for day five was Karuizawa, Nagano prefecture, one of the premier mountain resorts in Japan. This was mostly a highway drive, but the last hour and a half or so was on a busy two-lane road. That northern point on the route represents the farthest north my Tesla has been.

Kanazawa, Ishikawa to Karuizawa, Nagano 

Kanazawa, Ishikawa to Karuizawa, Nagano 

There were a couple of routes we could have taken, but the Tesla Supercharger near Nagano city, opened just before Hamamatsu, helped us make the choice. The location is very convenient: it's about 5 minutes from the highway entrance/exit. It's in a hotel parking lot, so there are food and restaurants available. Also, if you're traveling with another EV, there's a CHAdeMO at the same spot.

Nagano Supercharger: this was my seventh.

Nagano Supercharger: this was my seventh.

We arrived at our hotel some time after dark, checked in, and went in search of food. There was a small shopping mall near the station in Karuizawa. We found an Italian restaurant that was pretty decent. After that, we walked around the station, stopped at the bar someone recommended, and after strolled around some more. Karuizawa is a very pleasant place to spend some time.

Day Six

The next morning, we checked out and headed out for breakfast. We first tried parking at a hotel with a CHAdeMO, but it wouldn't start. We didn't necessarily need the charge because this day's drive was mostly downhill, but I thought about topping off while we looked around. There is a shopping area outside of the city that seems to attract lots of visitors. We found a place to park and went to a bakery that had been recommended. After we ate, we walked around; the location was incredible. The mountain air and temperature were pleasant, and there was a river running the length of the shopping area. There was a kind of market off to the side where local growers and artisans were selling food and wares.

The river running through the shopping area

The river running through the shopping area

Our goals for the rest of the day were to drop off the Red Rocket at the Yokohama service center in Totsuka, pick up the 90D loaner that was reserved for us, and head into Tokyo. Since the route is downhill, we didn't need a charge to get there. I was surprised that the navi routed us so far out of the way, but with Tokyo's traffic, the western route must have been the faster one.

Just south of Karuizawa is a road famous for its 200 or so curves. The road is so famous that they have numbered each of the curves with a sign (Curve Number One, etc.) Since the weather was nice and the temperature perfect, we rolled down the windows. As we were driving, my wife noticed that the car was making a new sound from time to time. Since we were mostly coasting, it wasn't happening all the time. When I used the accelerator, we noticed the sound of something rubbing against something—yes, the milling sound Tesla motors make when the bearings have started to wear. That sound—the sound of something sliding on another something as you are going slowly and pressing slightly on the accelerator—is one to report to your service center. 

The route from Karuizawa to Totsuka, Yokohama, Kanazawa prefecture

The route from Karuizawa to Totsuka, Yokohama, Kanazawa prefecture

We rolled into Totsuka in the afternoon. The purposes of this service visit were to get new tires put on the car and get the right-front wheel repaired (I dinged it on the drive back from the Hamamatsu Supercharger opening event). We also told the staff about the sound we heard. With help from the staff, we moved our stuff out of the Rocket and into the 90D.

The Red Rocket next to the Titanium 90D loaner

The Red Rocket next to the Titanium 90D loaner

The 90D Loaner

I read complaints on the forums about people having to wait for appointments for their service center and Tesla loaners. The easiest way to deal with that is to plan ahead and call or email in advance and make an appointment. When I know something is coming up, for this trip's new tires and wheel repair, for example, I'll set up an appointment as soon as my plans are firm. They had one of their best and newest loaners ready and waiting for me; I believe it had 3,000 km on it. Due to exchange rates and improvement in Tesla's cars, if I were buying a new Model S today, the 90D is about the equivalent build, acceleration and price to my P85+. There were differences, of course, like the dual drive (with the smaller frunk) and longer range, but those are examples of the constant improvements Tesla has made in its technology.

Both traffic and roads in the Kanto area are different from what I experience in Kyushu, so I did not get to do some of the things I might have done if I had had the car here. I could tell that the acceleration was similar to my car. The feeling and handling of the car were both quite different, however. The added control of the front wheel drive made the car steer much more sure than my car. When I accelerated into a turn, the car went exactly where I wanted it and felt like it was on train rails. My car handles really well, too; it's just that the rear wheel drive adds a different effect on turns. The 90D's build was much more solid as well. The car was quieter and just had a different feel to it.

The titanium 90D loaner

The titanium 90D loaner

The day we got the loaner we needed to go through the middle of Tokyo. I opened up the panoramic roof and turned up the music a bit. We drove through Shinjuku and past Shinjuku station and had a good time enjoying the scenery of the big city. I ended up having the car for eight days (the wheel repair took an extra day; we were there during a week with two national holiday—the downside of retiring is that I don't look at calendars much any more). I will say that the 90D is a better car than my P85+ in many ways, but I will also say that I missed my car the entire time it was at the service center. There is something about that rear wheel drive with a larger motor that makes my car special. If you ever think you want to buy a Tesla, I would recommend driving the used car or a version of the new one you plan to buy. You might save some money by going with the older car. Having written that, I know that when the time comes to get a new car. Tesla is going to be making much better cars than the one I own now.

The drive into Tokyo from Yokohama

The drive into Tokyo from Yokohama

We spent the next few days getting the new place ready. We did a combined IKEA and Costco run to get some furnishing and supplies. We had some yummy meals in the big city and generally had a good time, despite the rainy weather.

Korean yakiniku, a kind of grilled meat and vegetable meal cooked at the table

Korean yakiniku, a kind of grilled meat and vegetable meal cooked at the table

Days Seven to Nine

Good Morning Cafe burger

Good Morning Cafe burger

After getting things settled, we had some free time to play. We took Jr. and a friend (who was visiting Tokyo for the first time) to Tokyo Disneyland in the 90D. I'm afraid Jr.'s friend did not get an appropriate taste of Kanto because we had the car there. Most people walk and take trains/busses in that area. Oh, well next visit.

Tokyo to Tokyo Disneyland (which is not in Tokyo; it's in Chiba.)

Tokyo to Tokyo Disneyland (which is not in Tokyo; it's in Chiba.)

Tokyo Disneyland has one of the better castles in the Disney realm.

Tokyo Disneyland has one of the better castles in the Disney realm.

Halloween was the theme at the Haunted Mansion—my first time to see it

Halloween was the theme at the Haunted Mansion—my first time to see it

Jr.'s friend's reason to come to the Kanto area was to go to an event in Yokohama. We took the 90D and spent some time exploring the port area in the pouring rain.

Sautéd chicken at Bill's in the Red Brick buildings

Sautéd chicken at Bill's in the Red Brick buildings

The Red Brick buildings in Yokohama

The Red Brick buildings in Yokohama

I got two more Superchargers in Kanto, adding a total of three on this trip. One of the days we were driving in town and needed to top off the battery. We went to the Palace Hotel Tokyo near the Imperial Palace. I didn't understand the system there, so ended up driving underground until someone helped us with what to do. Most Tesla drivers will never see the single Supercharger there because it is valet parking only. I saw it because I drove by it; not all Superchargers have a paired duo (or more). It's just the one here. Anyway, you drive up to the hotel like a VIP, get out of your car, hand over your fob, get a ticket for your car, and go have lunch or whatever. Make sure you've set up your battery limit or use your Tesla app to set it; you won't be able to get to your car during the charge. You'll feel like a noob the first time, just like me. ;-)

The third Supercharger I added (for a running total of nine so far) is near Odaiba, a huge shopping and media center. The location itself, Odaiba Times, is not so near to the action, so you'll have to walk or take a taxi if you want to leave your car. However, I would have to say that by the time you get to Odaiba, it will be time to head back to move your car. You need to drive underground and follow the signs to the Superchargers; there are four stalls here. After you've plugged in, take your parking ticket with you and walk left to the elevators. Go up to the first floor, and walk forward and to the right a bit. Find the security window and show the worker your ticket and Tesla fob. They will validate your parking for a few hours. See my noob comment in the paragraph above. ;-)

Odaiba Times parking: look for this elevator and take it up to the first floor for parking validation

Odaiba Times parking: look for this elevator and take it up to the first floor for parking validation

Days Ten to 11

We headed back to Totsuka to get the Rocket back on the tenth day. As it turned out, the drive unit (DU) was replaced because of the issues associated with the milling sound. In reality, having the milling sound and the DU is not a big deal. It is a known issue, and Tesla has your car covered for eight years. Some things new happened on this service center visit: both remote access and walk away door lock were turned off. I wasn't told about either change. I figured out the remote access on my own, but I did not discover the lock situation until 1/2 way into our trip home. Tesla, please make a point of either returning the settings to their original position OR tell owners about any changes made. Owners, check your settings after a service visit. Let's be careful out there.

If you depend on the car locking itself, make sure your settings are where you want them.

If you depend on the car locking itself, make sure your settings are where you want them.

Check your car when you leave. The front passenger side door handle had a problem, and it was replaced on this visit. I did not look carefully and found it to be off center when I got home. It has since been replaced to my satisfaction.

This replaced door handle was not a match for my car; it was way off-center.

This replaced door handle was not a match for my car; it was way off-center.

The drive home: each time I've been to Tokyo in the Model S, I'll stay over somewhere on the way and do the entire drive in one go coming home. It's about 16 hours driving and charging. My usual route home takes me to Hamamatsu, Kobe and Kurashiki for Supercharging (each of those has restrooms and restaurants; Osaka does not) and I often take one long break at Sabagawa service area for CHAdeMO charging and food. 90% from there is usually plenty to get home. This time we stopped at Miyajima for CHAdeMO and coffee and food at Starbucks, then another stop at Sabagawa.

The route home to Kyushu

The route home to Kyushu

The Supercharger at Hamamatsu: this area gets lots of looks from other drivers when I stop here.

The Supercharger at Hamamatsu: this area gets lots of looks from other drivers when I stop here.

Oden (one kind of hot pot food in Japan) at Hamamatsu 

Oden (one kind of hot pot food in Japan) at Hamamatsu 

The Miyajima stop going away from Tokyo has the view! That's the area north of Hiroshima in the midground and Miyajima in the background.

The Miyajima stop going away from Tokyo has the view! That's the area north of Hiroshima in the midground and Miyajima in the background.

Whew! Think I'll stop here. Thanks for reading this far. :-D

Would You Like to Buy a Tesla?

Tesla Motors has a (fairly ongoing) campaign to sell its cars. Current owners (and maybe those with orders in) receive a link to share with anyone interested in owning a Tesla. People using the link will each save $1,000 on the next car ordered.

If any fans of Tesla in Japan decide to take the plunge, please use this link to start your adventure. My Model S P85+ is the most awesome car I've ever owned or driven. If you ever try a Tesla out, I think you will agree.

[EDIT] I bumped this post up to the top because I just noticed I have one referral (I didn't even know where to look). Anyway, thanks for choosing Tesla.

Winter Drive 2017: Kyushu to Hokkaido (BRT9)

As I mentioned in my two-year review, I added new wheels and tires last month for the first time. I've got a set of T Sportline 19" gray wheels (they sat in their boxes for a year and a half) and Michelin X-ICE 3 snow tires on the car now. It has been a dream of mine to drive into snow country in my P85+. This blog post is me committing to such a drive. I plan to head north to Hokkaido at the end of January with the goal of seeing Sapporo's Snow Festival for the first time. On paper, it's quite the drive—over 2,300 km with no detours, but I'll be stopping along the way to charge and see some of the sites and get my annual check done at the service center in Totsuka, Yokohama. Here's the straight route from google:

The gray route is shorter, but the blue route includes four or five (depending on the details) more critical Superchargers.

The gray route is shorter, but the blue route includes four or five (depending on the details) more critical Superchargers.

I plan to do most of my sleeping in the car (I've spent five nights sleeping in the driver's seat so far; I'm going to continue to look into air mattresses. I haven't decided on one yet. There are plenty of places to bathe along the way. Many highway stops have showers, and there are many hot springs along the way. I'll have to work out the ferry between Honshu and Hokkaido; it may be crowded because of the Snow Festival. Other details will sort themselves out. If anything is post-worthy, I'll write it up.

My plan for the blog will be to keep it as one entry and update from my phone each day that I can. I usually write from my desktop, hence my occasional absence from posting, so the photos will be from my phone directly. I often edit the photos on the computer first, so we'll have to see. That's it for now. Just wanted to let both my readers of what's coming up. ;-)

Big Road Trip Number Three (BRT3)

One big difference between Tesla Japan and Tesla in other countries is owners' meetings. I have not heard of any such meetings on the Tesla forums or other places. I lost track of how many have taken place in Japan, but there have been at least ten. I wrote about an early one that took place around a year ago. They have been held at a few places, mostly Tesla stores or the Service Center. I attended my second meeting at the new Osaka store late last year, and, of course, I drove there.

Since I gained the confidence to make it to the Miyajima service area (SA) in one go from my previous road trip, I did a range charge. While previous range charges yielded 393 and 382 km., this one was a bit lower at 379 km. I know from experience and discussions on the forums that these numbers do not represent real world driving figures. There will be a post or two or three on battery issues in the future.

One problem before leaving was that although I had used the Miyajima CHAdeMO both times in the previous trip, it was not in my navi's database. The closest charger to Miyajima in the database was showing 406 km away. I knew I could get to the farther one but didn't want to push it. I just had to rely on not spacing out and missing the exit for the SA at Miyajima. I had made it there in one go before and had 40 km./11% remaining. That was just enough to make it to the next CHAdeMO, but why chance it?

The CHAdeMO was free when I pulled up, but there was a BMW plug-in hybrid i3 waiting to charge after my first 30 minutes were up. He was intent on charging, although not needing to charge is one of the points of hybrids, because he told me he wanted the power to go into the mountains. So I had to pack up my CHAdeMO adapter and move to the next rest stop. Keep in mind, my goal was Osaka, so the Supercharger there was my goal for the day. I needed enough charging to get there. As I pulled up to the next rest area with a CHAdeMO, a Mitsubishi hybrid pulled into the charging spot just as I was about to pull in. He saw me, and waved me in as he parked across the way. I pulled up and went to talk with him. He was very nice and told me to go ahead. We talked for 15-20 minutes; he seemed to be a big Tesla fan. After we talked, I went into the shop for a few minutes. When I came back, that gentleman was gone, and no one else was waiting. I grabbed another 30 minutes while I could. I needed another 30 minutes somewhere to make it to Osaka, so I tried the Miki SA where the CHAdeMO was out of service the first time I was there. I checked the EVsmart app and saw that it had successful chargers recently. I got the 30 minutes, but about ten minutes in, a Nissan Leaf pulled up and waited for me to leave. 30 minutes got me enough to make it to Osaka.

Miki SA CHAdeMO back up and running. 50kW!

Miki SA CHAdeMO back up and running. 50kW!

I pulled into the Osaka Supercharger and started charging. Tesla Japan had put together a driving trip after the meeting into the local mountains to check out the leaves changing colors, so I wanted to have enough charge for that the next day. Two more Model S pulled in as I was charging, so it was a nice sight. Both had Osaka plates, and one of the owners lives around the corner. He told me in a previous encounter that he had no place at his home to install a charger. Please keep in mind, not all owners' ideas about Supercharging fit all. There are numerous threads on the Tesla forums debating who should use Superchargers.

3 out of four spots taken; never seen so many

3 out of four spots taken; never seen so many

After charging, I parked in the paid public parking next to the new Osaka store. I spent the night in a business hotel (that means a no-frills room with very little space) that was in walking distance. The next morning, I went to the new store, and it was a thing of beauty. Here are some shots.

Two pristine Roadsters stand out on one side of the store

Two pristine Roadsters stand out on one side of the store

This is the main section of the store; not nearly as cramped as Aoyama

This is the main section of the store; not nearly as cramped as Aoyama

A Model S chassis; I like the front view because you can see the fans for cooling

A Model S chassis; I like the front view because you can see the fans for cooling

Gotta have a red one on display

Gotta have a red one on display

They had some food and drink for us at the meeting. There was a presentation of Autopilot and some of the plans for expansion. Then there was a Q & A session which, much like the one I attended in Tokyo, turned into a complaint session. Most of the complaints were along the lines of, "Why can't my car do...?" I think many owners have come from other brands and expect their cars to behave the same. I came from driving Hondas for more than 30 years, and I had no expectations that my Tesla would be anything like any Honda I had driven. I enjoyed the meeting and hearing about plans for Tesla in Japan. I am hoping the talk of completing the Supercharger network happens soon. These long trips just make me want to drive my car more and more.

The group drive was cancelled by those of us who signed up. The weather had turned rainy and windy overnight, so the goal of checking out the changing leaves was not possible. After talking with owners and Tesla staff, I hopped in my car for the drive home. I first went to the Kobe Supercharger to get a good charge; I prefer that one to Osaka because there is a restroom at the golf course where the Supercharger is located.

Kobe Supercharger on Port Island

Kobe Supercharger on Port Island

I don't really have much to add about the trip home except to say that a trip to/from my home to/from the Kansai area (Kobe or Osaka for our purposes) takes ten hours. If I drive a bit quicker, I need to charge longer on CHAdeMO. If I drive slower, I can drive longer and don't need to charge as much. The difference in charging/driving time is about 30 minutes any way I look at it. I left Kobe around 5:30 and got home around 3:30. It's been that way every similar leg I've driven.

Takeaways from this trip: Tesla owners in Japan really have need for the Supercharger network to get filled in. If we have to wait for charging, plus need to deal with CHAdeMO charging speeds, long-distance driving is going to take longer than it should. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy the breaks I take while I'm charging. I get a chance to stretch my legs, eat, do things on my phone that need doing, and the other obvious thing. Regardless, Nexco (the government agency that runs Japan's highways) is going to need to rethink charging needs for drivers of EVs. As these vehicles become more ubiquitous, more drivers are going to need more chargers and time hooked up charging.

Bigger Road Trip Number Two

The next trip was just about twice the distance: the wife and I drove to the Kanto area (home of Tokyo and Yokohama) in mid-summer last year. The plan was to drive to Osaka and spend the night in a hotel, then do the rest of the drive on the second day. We had several things to do in Yokohama and Tokyo, so the timing was good to make the trip by car. We had no hotel reservation for the return drive, so the plan was an all-nighter. I didn't take Tesla photos at each stop, so we'll see how this one proceeds. Here we go...

This trip was different from the previous one in many ways. I had much more confidence in that I understood CHAdeMO charging on the highway and the car much better this time around. Another yuuuge difference was the Tesla navigation system. Yes, after seven months of ownership, I finally had a working navi in the car. After several months of having only a few Superchargers in Kanto and Kansai and nowhere else, Tesla Japan allowed Model S owners to apply through their site for NCS cards; we have these cards until mid-summer this year to make up for the lack of a robust Supercharger network. Unless more Superchargers are installed, I'm hoping for a card renewal. A final difference is that I wasn't alone on this trip.

I started with a range charge; you'll notice that the Rocket doesn't show 400 km. any more. This does not appear to be a degradation of the battery because I could still get 400 km. on a full charge.

I don't show 400 km. any more, but I can still get 400

I don't show 400 km. any more, but I can still get 400

From the post on the last trip, we learned that the Miyajima service area (SA) is 365 km. away; within range on a range charge, or perhaps even less if you don't add a buffer. We also learned that you should always have a buffer because there is no guarantee that a single CHAdeMO will be functioning. For this trip, I set Miyajima as the goal for the first charge. Before we get there, some background might be useful. Typical highway speed limits range from 80 to 100 kph., and penalties are not severe if one drives less than 20 km. over the speed limit. That leaves normal highway speeds between 80 and 119 kph. (I say normal because construction zones can bring limits down to 50 kph.) That means that those 365 km. to Miyajima can take between three and a quarter to four hours. I have to say that is a long time to sit in one stretch after a pot of coffee and whatever else one might have for breakfast.

Fortunately, Japanese highways have parking areas (PA) and SA for restrooms; food and drink; and fuel—or power, in the case of EVs. PA are smaller and have restrooms, vending machines for drinks, and sometimes hot food like a ramen shop or karaage (fried chicken). SA are more full service and have sit down restaurants or food courts, occasionally dog runs, and gas stations. SA are usually where the one CHAdeMO is located. SA, and occasionally PA, have some scenic value, as in the rose garden I mentioned in the last post. That leads us to our first bio break of this trip. We made our first stop at Mekari PA, which sits under the Shimonoseki Bridge connecting the island of Kyushu with the island of Honshu. Mekari clearly breaks the mold of the typical PA because of the view.

Shimonoseki Bridge from Mekari PA

Shimonoseki Bridge from Mekari PA

The view of Shimonoseki, Honshu from Mekari PA

The view of Shimonoseki, Honshu from Mekari PA

From Mekari PA, we made the drive to Miyajima. As I wrote previously, we are limited to 30 minutes at a time on CHAdeMO, but if no one is waiting, I can restart. My technique is to start the charge, take a restroom break, come back and do whatever needs to be done at the car (take pictures, put things away, etc.) For example, here are the data that I captured during the first charge from the run to Miyajima. You can see that I drove 370 km., and although I took the photo after the charge started, I had 32 km. of energy left—402 km. possible. P.S. Tesla, this photo is an example of why some of us like to have the date on our dashboards.

Please excuse the dust and the glare. Having the date on the dash can help jog our memories; I miss some of the old dash set up

Please excuse the dust and the glare. Having the date on the dash can help jog our memories; I miss some of the old dash set up

After 30 minutes, I'll restart if possible, then go get something to eat. With 30 plus minutes still to go, there is time for a sit-down meal. Miyajima SA heading north is is on the opposite side from Miyajima island, which is a small island off the Inland Sea coast of Hiroshima. The waters between the two areas are filled with oyster farms, so a logical choice for lunch was oysters, grilled for the wife and fried for me. Check it out!

Grilled oysters on the top tray; fried on the bottom

Grilled oysters on the top tray; fried on the bottom

Sometime into the meal, 30 minutes had passed. I headed back to the car to check. No one waiting! I got 90 minutes of charge and about 80% into the battery (known as state of charge, or SOC). I don't have any more photos from this day, but we did get to Miki SA, where the CHAdeMO was out of service last time, and we charged enough to get to the hotel near Osaka. The hotel had a Tesla Roadster charger and an adapter for Model S. There was some discussion about moving my car when the charge finished, but I won out when I told them I would be sleeping at 2 am when the charge was scheduled to finish. I woke up to an 85% SOC, and I used the Tesla app to add some more power during breakfast. Doing it this way warms up the battery, which helps save power down the road.

Second Day Driving: Even though I had a new navigation system, there are seemingly a million roads around the Nagoya area. I somehow missed the exit to get on the more direct highway past Nagoya. I ended up driving through several toll booths, which raised the cost of the trip a bit. Coming home, we crossed a couple of different bridges and went through fewer toll booths. Driver beware! We stopped at the Hamamatsu SA, which I had heard about in many places. This SA seems to be a must-stop for EVs. It turns out there's a very nice food court, brand-spanking new restrooms, and a 50 kW CHAdeMO. That is the highest-power CHAdeMO available, so now I understand Hamamatsu SA's popularity. I had some chicken, Nagoya style, I believe, while the car got some juice.

A picture is worth a thousand words

A picture is worth a thousand words

Here are some of the data from that charger. I'm going to have a post about these data and the others I have from various CHAdeMO chargers.

It doesn't get much better than this on CHAdeMO. Hamamatsu SA's is top-of-the-line. Our next stop was the Yokohama service center's Supercharger. Check out the early numbers from that charge.

This is fairly early in the charge

This is fairly early in the charge

Compare that to the ramp up of the Supercharger.

Wow!

Wow!

Keep in mind this was taking place mid-summer. All that power was going into the battery. Guess what else was running at full tilt? Yep, the air conditioning. It was on in the car while we sat, but the cool air was not going into the cabin. It was all directed at keeping the battery cooled down. I have never heard so much noise coming from my car. Once I figured out what was going on, I relaxed. We had to get out of the car for some fresh air. Here is what we saw.

We spent the night in Yokohama because I had an appointment to have a couple of things checked out in the car. The next day, I brought the Rocket back here. While they worked on the car, I took a peek inside the garage. Guess what I saw? My first look at a Dual, a P85D, when they had not yet been released in Japan. They were waiting approval from the Japanese government. I asked if I could test drive it, but was told it wasn't available yet. Bummer.

The rest of the trip was spent hanging around Tokyo, doing some of the things we needed and wanted to do. Fresh seafood on a bed of rice, eggs Benedict, Mexican food, and a nice aquarium were some of the highlights. I was told to bring the car back in on the way home, so we stopped off again at the service center. They went way out of their way to take care of a rattle that had developed. They found it, after we took the car out on a shake down drive, and fixed it. Thank you again! While we were waiting for our final charge, another red S stopped by. Sorry for the overexposure of my car (the kids might call it Tesla porn).

From the service center, we had a 1,208 km. drive home, and we did it in one shot.

We pretty much did the reverse of the trip to Kanto, minus the hotel stay. Keep in mind as I write this, these are not the same rest stops. They are on the opposite side of the highways; each PA or SA is not accessible to the opposite side. We stopped at Hamamatsu SA for food and charging. We went through Nagoya with me making only one wrong turn. We got some fast juice at the Osaka Supercharger; some guy next to us had his stereo on full blast! We charged somewhere along the way before stopping at Miyajima. That one has a Starbucks, but it wasn't open yet. It was 6:30 am, and I really needed some good coffee at that point. Our final stop for charging was at the Dannoura PA, which is on the opposite side of the Shimonoseki Bridge.

You're looking at the northern tip of the island of Kyushu

You're looking at the northern tip of the island of Kyushu

We left Yokohama around 4 pm and arrived home around 10 am the next morning, about 18 hours of driving, charging and napping. We're going to do it again soon, so I hope you can see how much fun it can be to travel by EV.

Takeaways from this trip: new Tesla owners often ask whether the car is capable of driving for long distances and how far can you go. The answer is going to depend on weather, terrain, your charging options, and how you drive your car. I'm here to tell you the only way to know is to drive your car, charge it up, use different chargers and charger companies, spend the night, drive all night, whatever kind of driving you are used to doing. Start off slow, and stay in areas you know. Sign up for whatever cards your country or area uses. If you don't have Superchargers around, get a CHAdeMO adapter. Despite all the work Tesla has put into creating its cars, they are still thinking people's cars.

I didn't talk about the wife's ride above because I thought this section was more appropriate. My wife basically sleeps when on a long drive in the front seat. She finds the ride quite comfortable and relaxing. We have the textile seats and both of us love them. The back seats are another matter; the headrests jut forward, making napping impossible it seems (I haven't spent much time back there except for cleaning). In the next iteration of the car, Tesla might consider some adjustability or at least have them set back a bit. The car is relaxing; people are going to want to snooze. 

Be prepared to teach the folks in charge of your destination charger how it is used. Twice now I've met unreasonable expectations regarding a slow, overnight charge. The staff in Osaka was very nice, but insisting that I move the car in the middle of the night is just odd. The other instance was recently at an onsen (hot spring) that had two J1772 chargers. To get back the 90% SOC that I had when I started from home, the car showed that I needed 14 hours at 3 kW of power. The man helping me maintained that one hour was plenty. After two hours of this, he finally called the number on the charger whose operator taught him how to change the settings. Once the charger was set up, I was able to control the charging from my app. I added some more in the morning to heat up the battery and get us home. As a side note, the man helping us clearly did some homework the night I stayed. When we were leaving the next morning, he asked me a ton of questions about Teslas.

Big Road Trip Number One

After taking several trips around the island of Kyushu, where I live, I had a chance to take my first real road trip last spring. The closer trips didn't require charging or I used my credit card (described below in another post) or I got some free power along the way (these freebies are just about dried up now). So my first trip to the Kansai area (home to Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka) would take some planning, at least for a noob like I was at the time.

Since there were no Superchargers along the way, I would need to depend on a range charge (a charge of 100%) at home and the use of the CHAdeMO along the Japanese highway system. At the time, the closest Supercharger was in Kobe, some 700 km. away. A range charge at the Typical setting (as opposed to Ideal), according to the Red Rocket's gauge, would get me 400 km or so, depending on road conditions and my driving. Since the Tesla navigation system was not yet available in Japan, I was, and still am, using an iPhone app called EVsmart. If you are in Japan and driving an EV, this is a must-have app; it will provide you with all of the chargers you can use in the country. Go into the Settings menu and set the make and model of your car; it will display the chargers your car can use.

So, according to the EVsmart data, I could probably make it as far as the Miyajima service area (SA) near Hiroshima, a distance of 365 km.

These screenshots are a bit wide. If you look closely, you may see another green box underneath some of the charging spots. Each of these SAs has a charger on both sides of the highway.

These screenshots are a bit wide. If you look closely, you may see another green box underneath some of the charging spots. Each of these SAs has a charger on both sides of the highway.

I didn't make it that far, not because of power needs, but because I needed a lunch break. I did my first charge at the Sabagawa SA, 264 km away.

I had signed up for a Nihon Charging System (NCS) card ahead of time. As I wrote earlier, going through the motions of pulling out my CC each time (I've since learned that once you get a code number, you can use it all day; I never tried it) is way too much trouble, plus the rate is much, much cheaper if you have the card. Now I just hit okay, hold my NCS card up, hit okay, and make sure it all took. It takes less than a minute.

There was a rose display going, so the SA was looking good.

SabagawaFlowers.jpg

The NCS CHAdeMO system allows only 30 minute charges. If you need more, you have to make sure no one is waiting and restart the charge. I grabbed another 30 minutes here before heading out. I made another stop at a SA which name I cannot remember right now. I do remember that it had a laundromat and a shower, good for long-distance travelers like truckers. I set my sights for the Miki SA, near the Kobe area where I was headed for the night. I left myself a 70 km. buffer just in case.

Well, guess what happened? I got to the CHAdeMO at Miki and saw this:

Even if your Japanese is as bad as mine, you can tell that this charger is out of service. Major bummer. I asked the gents at the gas station next door (who have nothing to do with this system) who told me there was no other way to charge here. That buffer I left? It was right where I had predicted it at 69 km., but I had not planned on finding a broken charger. I had two options: stay on the highway and go to the next SA (which would take me farther than I needed to go) or go to the Kobe Supercharger which was 48 km. away and do my first super charge. It was a no-brainer, even though I have a tendency to take a wrong turn here or there. It was mostly downhill; the Supercharger in Kobe is on man-made Port Island. Regardless, I took it slowly and arrived with 37 km. to spare.

I miss this gauge set up, but I see the need for the newer version.

I miss this gauge set up, but I see the need for the newer version.

The parking at the Kobe Supercharger is very tight. I'm not sure how they could get four cars in there at the same time. When I arrived, mine was the only car; another one came later.

All I can say is what a joy it was to be on a trip and have the charging power of a Supercharger! Check out the numbers.

I get nothing close to that using the CHAdeMO chargers. I do what I have to do, but I can't wait for the Supercharger network to get filled in here in Japan. After spending the night at my destination, I headed to Osaka to check out the then new Tesla mini-store. When I ordered my car, the company had basically a kiosk in the Panasonic building near Osaka and Umeda stations. Now there were three spots for parking and actual displays of Tesla's technologies. [Note: the Osaka store is now open and can be found using this link.]

How cool is that red car?

How cool is that red car?

After my visit at the shop, I headed to the Osaka Supercharger to get juiced up for the trip back. Again, the spaces are tight, but I've seen as many as three cars fit in at a time.

I didn't take any more photos or notes on this trip. I ended up doing the drive home during the night and got home around 3 am. Both trips, there and back took a total of ten hours—seven and a half hours of driving and two and a half hours of charging.

I do have several takeaways. Always leave a buffer in case you cannot charge at your planned stop. While I still use EVsmart to look ahead for places to charge, I will often start to look for the next charging spot when my battery shows less than 100 km. The CHAdeMO on Japan's highways tend to be spaced 30-50 km. apart. That leaves enough chance of error to have one or two more available down the road. I learned that I am in control of the remaining energy in the battery; I can slow down and use the egg-under-the-pedal technique I learned in the 1970's during the oil crisis. I can add 10-20% to the battery just by controlling how I drive. Superchargers rock! I am using every opportunity I get to let Tesla know that we are still severely lacking a useful network. And finally, even though CHAdeMO offer about 1/2 the power of Superchargers, they are an essential part of any trip more than 350 km. or so. If you plan on doing any travel in your Tesla, it will pay for you to get an NCS card to save money and time charging on the road.

Tokyo Owners' Meeting

Back in April, Tesla Japan announced its first owners' meeting. The timing of the meeting was perfect for me because I was in Tokyo with the family to see Katy Perry in concert.

I signed up for the meeting, and showed up early. I had eaten nearby at a restaurant known for its great breakfasts. At the meeting, the staff was very kind to provide all kinds of refreshments and food. I'll have to remember that for the next meeting; I was just too full to eat much. Thanks for the spread!

Anyway, the meeting was a presentation of some of the things Tesla has been working on. Since I read the forums regularly, I was up to speed on the content of the presentation. After the team was done, we had time for questions. If you are following this blog or even how things are progressing in Japan, you will know many of the questions were about Superchargers. We still have only six of them, all in Kansai or Kanto. Since the purpose is to enable long-distance driving, the Supercharger network is in need of expansion. When someone said the network should be extended from Kanto to Kansai, I added that we need Superchargers to go to Kyushu and Tohoku. We heard no word on the next ones on the way.

The lack of a navigation system was the next big topic, but we heard the team was hard at work preparing one and that there was an alpha version about finished. Fingers are crossed that we will have that added to our cars soon.

The rest of the Q & A session was a virtual bitch (the verb, not the noun) fest with a variety of complaints coming from owners. One guy noted that he did not want to have to go out to find out information about his car; he wanted to be told everything about the car. That exploration is one of the compelling things of ownership for me. Although I've had cars for the past 24+ years here in Japan, I have never had to really think about them; my in-laws have a Honda dealership and they just take of my cars. With my Model S, I get to learn all kinds of things about driving, wheels, tires, batteries, charging, and all those things associated with EV ownership. While Elon Musk has said he wants Tesla car ownership to be easy, Model S really is a thinking person's car. Since the meeting had taken a bit of a turn towards the end, I felt that I needed to say the truth about my ownership. Since I love my car, that's what I said.

After the meeting we were all given a chance to mingle and meet each other. One of the highlights for me was meeting Dan Myggen who works in Fremont. You may know him as the star and creator of the original owner delivery videos. We had a nice talk and have exchanged email.

I'm looking forward to the next owners' meeting. Thanks for putting these together, Tesla.