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.]
Our first long stop for sightseeing and food was in Hagi, Yamaguchi prefecture.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.)
Our next route took us to Matsue, another castle town.
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. ;-/
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
Days Seven to Nine
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.
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.
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. ;-)
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.
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.
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.
Whew! Think I'll stop here. Thanks for reading this far. :-D