How to Bicycle Tour Japan: Tips for Cycling in Japan

How to Bicycle Tour Japan Tips for Cycling Japan

Are you considering touring Japan with your bike? Japan is one of the most attractive and often traveled countries in the world. 

Thanks to its iconic culture, countless volcanoes, fabulous coastline, and stunning landscapes that attract people from all walks of life. 

If you get an opportunity to bike tour Japan, you can be sure that your adventure will be worth it. 

Whether you are a beginner or have cycled to various parts of the world, Japan is a great destination for bicycle touring. It is a cycle-friendly country that allows cyclists from all over the world to explore safely.

I must admit that Japan is one of my favorite cycling tours destinations. My friend and I spent almost three months exploring Japan on our bikes, and it was really a beautiful experience. 

We did urban and wild camping in different places most nights, making unforgettable moments every time. 

With the rich Japanese culture, we had to do our bicycle tour slowly, but of course, you can do it faster if you love being in the saddle for long hours. 

There are tons of different cycling routes to cater to varying cyclists’ needs. Even if you don’t have much time to bike tour Japan, you can still find a decent route and enjoy amazing rides for a few days. 

As we left, I couldn’t believe how much I actually love Japan, especially the scenery and cycling experience. 

If you want to bike tour Japan and are wondering how to do it, your worry ends here. I have compiled a detailed guide on how to bike tour Japan and shared some top tips from my personal experience. 

Top Tips for Cycle Touring Japan for an Unforgettable Experience

Top Tips for Cycle Touring Japan for an Unforgettable Experience

Plan Your Route to Bike Tour Japan

There are plenty of incredible cycling routes in Japan for every cyclist looking to travel across this country. We have more details on the best cycling routes in Japan after the tips section. 

The good thing about bike touring routes in Japan is that they allow you to get as creative as you like. However, you may want to bring a paper map as sometimes your google map will not give you a point-to-point route. 

If you think you are lost, you can stop by the many bike shops in Japan and ask for directions. You can also ask one of the Japanese drivers, as they are gentle and kind to cyclists. They might warn you of impassable bridges and other bike obstructions. 

When bicycle touring Japan, we started cycling in the northern part, and there were great cycling roads from Aomori to Honshu. The adventure was exciting, and we never got bored.

The Tohoku region was my favorite place to ride in Japan. I couldn’t get enough of the great food (locally sourced) and great cycling roads that can make you pedal all day long.

If you are a beginner, I wouldn’t recommend making a long cycling trip in the north as the hill climbs will exhaust your chest and muscles. 

Our front and rear lights came in handy in this region as there were endless mountain tunnels. 

It took us about a month and a half to cycle tour the north before we cycled to the southern part, where we explored different places for about five weeks. 

There were hundreds of bicycle bike travellers in the North-South route, which is why we made many new friends along the long bike paths. 

In general, Japanese cycling roads are pretty good, although there are still a few potholes here and there.

When planning your route, you also want to consider the weather and see what climate would make your cycling trip more enjoyable and which one would ruin it.

If you just want to make a short trip, for a weekend holiday, I suggest that you find a route with minor quiet roads where you can enjoy beautiful views with fewer to no vehicles. You don’t want heavy traffic to frustrate you on your short day trip. 

Sleep for Free 

Did you know that you can sleep for free when bicycle touring Japan? Otherwise, how would budget cyclists explore such an expensive country? 

Well, my friend and I spent most of the nights in free campsites during our Japan bike tour. There were a plethora of public places to wild camp, from parks to Japanese alps and roadside stations. 

We could set up our camps in a preferred camping spot at dusk and be gone in the morning so no one would notice our presence. 

If you can be frugal and resourceful, you can comfortably cycle in Japan for months without paying for accommodation. 

There are also many designated campsites in Japan, and google maps is simply a great resource to find one near your location. You can camp in them for a small fee.

If you have some money or just don’t want to wild camp, there are countless affordable accommodation options along most Japanese bike routes. 

Some bike paths will let you ride to guesthouses, minshuku, and Henro houses. You can also spend a night in rider houses and sleeping booths at a reasonable cost.  

Find Affordable Food

Find Affordable Food

Japan’s fame for delicious food is definitely earned. Everything we ate there was very tasty. 

However, I wouldn’t say that most Japanese hotels and restaurants are ideal for travelers with a low budget. It’s nearly the same as European standard prices. 

We actually ate only a few times in hotels when cycling in Japan. Sometimes we could even prepare our own meals in convenient campsites. 

Depending on how you love to eat and the budget you are working with, here are some great options for food when you visit Japan:

Japanese Supermarkets

In my opinion and from the experience I got from my Japan cycle tour, Japanese supermarkets are for sure the best places to get budget food. 

You’ve probably heard other travelers saying that Japan is among the countries with the best supermarkets in the world. I can agree with that. 

In Japanese supermarkets, you can find every type of packed food you’ve been dreaming of. Even the smallest supermarkets in Japan have a kitchen where they prepare fresh bento for their customers. 

With even less than 4USD, you can get a good 8-piece sushi bok in most supermarkets. 

Towards the end of our Japan tour, we realized that most Japanese supermarkets offer about 50% discount on bento a few hours before closing. Isn’t that amazing for budget bike travellers? 

So, if you are spending your night near a supermarket, you can be sure to get a satisfying meal with less than two dollars. 

All sorts of fruits and vegetables are available in these supermarkets to keep you charged during the tour. 

Now, if you love camp-cooking your own meals, you won’t have to bring any ingredients as you can find literally any ingredient you need in Japanese supermarkets. You just need to have a few bucks. 

Convenience Stores 

Also known as Konbini, convenience stores are virtually everywhere in Japan. When you visit Japan, you’ll find them in every town you stop by as there are over 50,000 of them.

Some of the best Konbini brands include Family Mart, 7-Eleven, and Lawsons. 

7-eleven is the biggest convenience store that has more than 20,000 locations across the country. It’s very well-stocked with various fresh foods like coffee, bread, and pleasant lunch boxes. 

You can always stop by a 7-Eleven store to have a fresh cup of coffee and pack some treats to keep you going. 

Some of the meals that cyclists can buy from most convenience stores include instant ramen noodles, sandwiches, chips, bento boxes, and rice balls. You can also enjoy cold and hot beverages from these stores. 

And if you are a beer person, you can always grab Japanese beer, wine, sochu, wine, or sake after a long cycling day. 

All of these Japanese foods and drinks are delicious, nutritious, and ideal for cyclists travelling on a budget. 

Discount Stores 

Another fascinating and affordable food option I loved when cycling in Japan was discount stores. 

Well, they are actually big cosmetic and soap stores, but most of them have a food section.

In discount stores, you can buy udon and noodles with sauce, jam-filled bread buns for breakfast, onigiri, beer, and vegetables. 

Vending Machines

Vending machines are also everywhere in Japan. You can find them even in areas you think are the most remote!

I was surprised to find a vending machine on the top of a hill in one of Japan’s main islands, Kyushu. 

Unfortunately, there are not many food options in vending machines as most of them sell red (hot) and blue (cold) drinks.

But you can still find some selling snacks and noodles. 

Roadside Stalls 

You’ll find many roadside stalls in rural areas where you can buy seasonal fruits and vegetables. 

Many travelers will definitely love these stalls as they are very budget-friendly. And if you find someone in the stall, just pick what you want and leave the money in the box, no one will ask you!

Refill Your Bottles in Parks and Public Taps

Refill Your Bottles in Parks and Public Taps

Unlike most countries I have visited, I found it easy to refill my drinking water bottles in Japan. Clean water is usually available in parks and public taps. 

You can also find drinking water in convenience stores and gas stations. 

If you can’t find any tap water nearby, you can always buy bottled water as it’s also cheap in convenience stores and supermarkets.

Shower in Onsen and Public Baths

So, how do you stay clean in Japan? Do you have to book a hotel to have a proper bath? 

Absolutely not!

Having a good shower is quite easy in Japan. You can take a bath in an onsen and public baths for about a dollar or even free in some areas. We showered without paying a penny in Beppu Kyushu. 

Onsens are simply natural hot springs that happen as a result of volcanic activity in Japan. They come in many shapes, and some of them are usually enclosed. 

If you are scared of wearing your birth suit in front of strangers to keep it clean, you can use the indoor hot springs, usually found in onsen ryokans. 

However, you’ll want to keep in mind that all onsens in Japan have some rules that everyone has to follow. 

I’m not a traditional expert in cultural rules, but at least I learned a few basics concerning the Japanese onsens. 

Rule number one; you must have a pre-bath before entering an onsen, including thorough scrubbing and rinsing down to remove any sweat and dirt. 

Secondly, there is no way you can enter an onsen dressed or with a towel. You have to be totally naked as any clothing is considered dirty and would contaminate the onsen. 

I’m not going to lie, I was hesitant at first to use onsen as well. But when I learned the onsen etiquette, everything got easy, and I fell in love with the natural hot springs. 

Another rule is to cover your private parts with a small towel when moving around, from the shower to onsen and vice versa. At least show some modesty in these traditional baths. 

Unfortunately, individuals with tattoos are not allowed in these cultural environments. But I’ve heard of some cyclists who covered their small tattoos with waterproof bandages that went unnoticed. 

But if your whole body is covered with ink, I’m afraid you will have to miss out on this enjoyable aspect of Japanese culture. 

Even more of keeping yourself clean when cycling in Japan, there are plenty of lovely waterfalls and rivers to enjoy, especially during the warm season. 

Use Free-Wi-Fi In Japan

Connecting to the internet is also not hard when bike touring Japan. You’ll enjoy using free wifi in almost all convenience stores across Japan. 

The free Wi-Fi is fast enough to let you upload your videos online and share your beautiful moments with family and friends while still on the go. 

Japanese people allow you to connect to the internet for about an hour freely. Or you can simply subscribe and enjoy an unlimited network.

Don’t Forget to Charge Your Devices 

Depending on what you like to do when cycle touring, you may want to keep your devices charged when cycling to different places. 

Remember, there are so many stunning sceneries that every cyclist will want to take a photo and keep the memory. 

So, you need to ensure that your phone or camera has some power for the same. This way, you’ll be able to film your adventures and create incredible content for your fans. 

Even if you are not a content creator but just looking to spend a cycling holiday in Japan, you need to keep your communication devices and probably your GPS device battery charged. 

Now, you might be wondering whether it’s possible to recharge your devices while on the go during your Japan tour. 

The truth is, most stores, hotel chains, and restaurants have charging points for travelers in Japan where you can quickly charge your devices when you need to. 

And as we said earlier, stores are everywhere In Japan, so you can be sure that charging your devices won’t be a problem. 

We also charged our phones and GPS handheld devices at a McDonalds on our Japan bike tour. 

Another clever way to charge your devices freely during your bike tour is to plug them in onsens when sitting around after a relaxing bath. 

Some 7-eleven store toilets also have charging points to plug in your phone when doing your business there. 

Though I never did that, to be honest, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Only when there is absolutely no other option would it be worth it. 

Check Rules Before Booking a Hotel or Ryokan 

If you want to book a hotel and spend a night, it’s important to check the rules before paying for it to avoid bad surprises. 

The reason is that some hotels do not allow cyclists to bring their bikes inside the rooms. They expect them to leave the bikes in the parking area. 

For some reason, this can be quite inconvenient, especially if you are a person who likes sleeping next to their bike. 

So, if you want to bring your bicycle inside a hotel, probably to improve your gear organization and ensure that everything is well-packed before the next day, I recommend checking the rules first. 

However, this may not be a problem in some Japanese hotels. They may only ask you politely to wipe down your bike’s frame and wheels. 

Best Cycling Routes in Japan

Best Cycling Routes in Japan

There are many great routes for cycling in Japan and the best one for you will depend on your specific needs. 

While I haven’t cycled in some of these routes, I researched and found them worth mentioning in the list. 

Read on to see which one is your favorite:

Tour De Noto (Ishikwa- Toyama

Are you planning to indulge in Japan’s rural side during your cycle? Well, the Tour De Noto cycling route should be at the top of your list. 

Starting from Kanazawa and ending in Toyama city, this cycling route goes around Noto, Hanto, Japan’s largest Peninsulas.

With this route, you will enjoy beautiful sceneries, seascapes, and countryside during the whole trip.

This route is pretty long, and you need to be well prepared to accomplish all the 400 kilometers. It can take up to a 5-day tour for experienced cyclists from start to finish.

If you enjoy cycling with a large group of riders, you can join thousands of other riders along this route every September for an ultimate Japan Odyssey cycling experience.

Shimanami Kaido (Hiroshima-Ehime)

Shimanami Kaido (Hiroshima-Ehime)

This is one of the most spectacular cycling routes in the country that any cycling enthusiast worldwide could dream of.

Shimanami Kaido is a 70 km course that stretches from Hiroshima Prefecture to Ehime Prefecture through six islands, including Shimanami Kaido, Japan’s main island.

Although the country offers very small room for cyclists on the road, this route has dedicated bicycle trails on roads and bridges separated from cars. This gives you ample time to stop and take pictures along the way without any disturbances.

The climbing angles on this route are not very steep for easy climbing, even for beginners. Also, when you are tired, you will easily find resting points, restaurants, coffee shops, and shops on this route.

If this is your first time on this route, you don’t have to worry about getting lost. A blue line on the road from the JR Onomichi Station will indicate the recommended route for cyclists up to the Seto Inland Sea.

Shiretoko Peninsula (Rausu- Utoro)

This 33km cycling route starts from Rausu and ends in Utoro is really a crown of natural beauty. 

You can decide to begin your cycle from a small town called Rausu. It’s habited by fishermen meaning you enjoy Onsen hot springs alongside fresh seafood.

This route goes through Shiretoko National Park for a world natural heritage site and can be extended towards the end to visit the gorgeous Shiretoko five lakes.

Don’t want to carry your bicycle? Well, the Shiretoko Cycling Route has many bicycles available for rent along the way both day and night. 

Shiretoko Cycling Support is a good bike shop in Utoro. They can rent bicycles day and night, but you must book in advance and speak Japanese or find someone to translate for you.

One thing that you should take note of in this route is the higuma brown bear habitats. Although they are not common to see, consider carrying a bell to keep them away.

Mountain Cycling Route (Hakuba -Nagano)

Hakuba is situated at the foot of the North Alps northeast of Nagano.

Although it’s well known for its ski resorts, Hakuba is also great for cycling with beautiful scenery and tourist facilities during the summer.

This route starts from Hakuba and through the Minekata Pass. As you climb, you will see the beautiful Japanese Alps from the peak.

You will then pass through small villages before proceeding to the next Pass called the Taibo, from which you will have a clear view of both the Alps and the Togakushi Mountain.

If you still have some energy left, you can proceed to Togakushi Shrine, where you can have lunch and rest a bit.

Yamanote Line Loop

This cycling route goes around central Tokyo with multiple guidebook-friendly sightseeing spots of the city.

The total length of this route is about 35km with about 29 stations that link different neighborhoods, each with its allures and a place in the city’s patchwork.

It may take you a whole day to cycle around this route, whether you are a professional or a beginner rider. 

One of the best things about this route is the giant route marker that alleviates the need for google maps and road signs. 

Once you get going, you know you are moving in the right directions, plus you will catch the endless cross-section of Tokyo in a single swoop.

Since this route is circular, you can begin your cycle in whatever spot you like. But to keep things easy, you should have a simple route planning on where to stop and have lunch before you embark on the ride.

Kanda River Cycle

Kanda River Cycle

The Kanda River Cycle begins in Inokashira Park and slices through Shinjuku and Bunkyo before finally ending into the Sumida River near Ryogoku.

Its distance is 25km and moves through parks, gardens, suburban sprawl, and commercial centers.

For easy navigation, this route goes in the opposite direction to the flow of river water. This is because some rivers intersect with this river, and sometimes the water goes underground, making navigation difficult. 

Whichever side of the river you choose is okay since there are small bridges throughout the length of this route. All you have to do is head west, not sticking to the river banks.

The river goes through several temples, shrines, gardens, small parks, and many other attractive sceneries.

Once you are past the Mitakadai Station, the river will start to run roughly parallel with the Inokashira line, a sign that you are approaching your destination.

Northern Kyushu Usa-Beppu

This cycling route takes you from the beautiful city of Usa to the hot springs resort of Beppu for a distance of 40 kilometers with plenty of beautiful things to see on the way.

Northern Kyushu is among the highly recommended routes if you are a keen cyclist going after less travelled trails.

Northern Kyushu hosts many of Japan’s most significant shrines, including those dedicated to Hachiman, the God of War, and archery. Be sure to check them even before you embark on your ride.

Once you leave Usa, you will enjoy scenic riding before you arrive at the town of Beppu. It will be more fun if you arrive on time as you’ll fully enjoy the city’s charming hot springs, hot water baths, and sand baths.

Imperial Palace (Sprint-Tokyo)

If you want to visit the imperial palace for the first time or want to view it from a different angle, then a bicycle ride may be a great way to do so.

A 3km bike riding loop around the Imperial palace is the best for Sunday Mornings’ short bike ride. During this day, the roads around this place are barred to cars for a carefree bike ride.

Since there are normally up to 5 lanes open to bike riders, it may also be an excellent way to ride together with your friends or family during a cycling holiday. It’s also enjoyable if you like riding in heavy traffic.

Although riding along this route is enjoyable with a great view of the Imperial Palace, it’s more suitable for purposes of exercise or leisurely due to its short distance of three kilometers.

Also, even if you don’t own a bicycle or are working on a budget, you don’t have to worry when it comes to riding on two wheels around the Imperial Palace. 

There are over 250 bicycles that you can borrow for free. Just head onto the reception desk, fill out a simple form, and you will be good to go.

Mt Fuji View from Lake Yamanakako

Mt Fuji View from Lake Yamanakako

While most tourists to Japan only catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji through a bullet train window, bike travellers can enjoy the full glory of this mountain from around Lake Yamanakako.

Lake Yamanakako is the largest lake in Japan and has the best bike trails compared to all the five lakes of Fuji.

On a calm, clear day, cycling around this lake is one of the most beautiful sceneries. This includes a lot of lake water and the view of Mt Fuji.  

The cycling distance around this lake is 14km, and you may want to take a few stops along the route to enjoy the different scenic landscapes and wildlife.

If you don’t want to travel with your bicycle, that’s fine. Along the northwest shores, there are several places you can rent bikes. 

Depending on your budget, renting a bicycle for a whole day along this route may cost up to 3000 yens.

Tamako Cycle Route and Lake Tama

If you can wait to hit nature without going too far, this one is for you. This 10km ride begins from Tanashi station and goes straight to lake Tama.

Lake Tama is a reservoir that supplies the City of Tokyo with drinking water and is surrounded by lush greenery and excellent bicycle trails.

This route is effortless to navigate even without good navigation skills, thanks to an underground pipe that flows from the lake to the city.

Once you set out from Tanashi Station, go south at the intersection of Route 7 and Inokashira Dori.

Although the route narrows at some point, it still leaves plenty of space for a hassle-free ride down the lake.

An hour is enough to reach the lake, but the time may be longer depending on speed and whether you stop along the way to bond with nature.

After rains, the paths become muddy, making riding difficult, especially on a beaten path. Be sure to check the weather before you set the ball rolling unless you have a fat bicycle.

When to Bike Tour Japan

When to Bike Tour Japan

I was intrigued by how Japan’s weather is travel-friendly. Most Japanese people will tell you that it’s actually possible to travel the country all year round. 

And based on my experience and what I’ve heard other cyclists saying, I can say that this is possible. You just have to go south during wet months like December and January. 

Then bike tour the northern parts of Japan in warm months like April, May, and June, and you will be comfortable with the weather.

If you are obsessed with bike touring Shimanami Kaido in winter, you’ll need to bring the appropriate gear lest the Siberian winds will give you restless nights. 

For autumn and spring, you are good to bicycle tour in every part of Japan, from the northern coast to the south. Think of red maple leaves and cherry blossoms beckoning to your eyes. Wonderful colors, aren’t they?  

How to Communicate If You Can’t Speak Japanese

How to Communicate If You Can’t Speak Japanese

As you might have noticed, the people of Japan have a great sense of pride in their rich culture. It’s evident in their great food, onsens, and the way they love their language. 

I was surprised to find that even the youth who know some English would still speak to us in Japanese. 

So, it can be quite problematic to communicate with them. I had learned some basics, which came in handy when ordering foods in restaurants and shopping in stores. 

In cases where we wouldn’t understand each other, I preferred to use the google translate app, and it did magic. 

FAQs

FAQs

Q: Is Japan Good for Cycling?

A: Yes, Japan is a good country for cycling. It’s actually one of the most cycling-friendly countries you can ever visit. 

I have cycled Japan for more than two months, and all I can say is that the experience was excellent. 

There are many beautiful sights in this destination. Think of the stunning coastline, gorgeous sceneries, incredible parks, and the amazing routes you get to ride on. 

Not to mention the epic sunsets and sunrises on the lovely landscape that will help you create remarkable experiences. 

And that’s not all. Accommodation won’t be an issue, and you can wild camp nearly anywhere in Japan, from urban areas to cities and rural Japan trails. 

The cities are clean and Japanese people are super-friendly. Even if you are not a fluent Japanese speaker, you can be sure that it won’t really be a big problem to order delicious food in restaurants and get some directions. 

Don’t celebrate yet. You’ll need to use the google translate app if you can’t speak any Japanese. 

If you feel that you’ll need more guidance during your trip, you can book an organized Japan bike tour, and you’ll be sure of a professional guiding you throughout the journey. 

Q: How Long Does It Take to Cycle Around Japan?

A: It takes about two to three months to cycle around Japan, depending on your speed and interests. A 4,500km distance for the whole trip is generally enough to cycle around the country. You could start from Cape Soya to Cape Sata. 

If you ride at high speeds and enjoy being on the saddle all the time, you can finish cycling Japan within a month and a half. 

However, if you are more interested in nature and love viewing incredible sceneries and landscapes, it may take up to three months or more since you’ll be cycling at a slow pace. 

Q How Do You Get in Shape for Bicycle Touring (2)

Q: How Do You Get in Shape for Bicycle Touring? 

A: You need to build strength and endurance to get in shape for bicycle touring Japan

Doing some cross-training will improve your general fitness and enhance your resilience. You can improve your strength by cycling more. 

Several long weekend rides with friends will get you in shape for bike touring Japan. If you live in Japan, head out to small islands and try to cycle through on the weekend for your base training miles. 

You don’t have to follow the extreme tips for advanced cyclists to become fit for bike touring Japan, though. All you have to do is be a healthy cyclist who has the strength to pedal for more than a few hours. 

In fact, for an easy Japan bike tour like the Tour of the Setouchi inland sea, you may not need much training. 

Just get on your bike, and you’ll be fit while enjoying the famous Shimanami Kaido bike path. 

Q: Can You Cycle Across Japan?

A: Yes, you can cycle across Japan, and it would only take a few weeks, depending on your pace.

This country has many bike-friendly places where cyclists from all over the world can explore with their bikes. 

Whether you are a pro or want to make your first tour, cycling Japan is definitely a perfect way to get a feel of a great bike tour. 

You’ll get a chance to ride on pleasant bike paths, view beautiful sceneries, and have unmatched fun on the Japanese coastline. 

And if you don’t have a good touring bike, there are many bike hire places in Japanese cities and towns. 

Conclusion

Conclusion

If you are considering a Japan bike tour, you are in for a fantastic adventure. Bike touring Japan is a great experience that you would never get from any other destination. 

There are many captivating cycling routes that will let you have unforgettable moments. 

Whether you want to make a solo self-supported bike tour or use a bicycle tour company’s services, you can be sure of an excellent experience cycling in Japan. 

The great Japanese food, rich culture, and natural environment will indeed fascinate you. 

Feel free to use the guidelines and tips provided above, and be sure to bring the appropriate cycling and camping gear. 

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