Cycling in Japan: your ultimate guide (cycling routes, hotels, bike hire)! Back to top
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Cycling Japan

Cycling in Japan is an experience like no other: cycling routes that snake through valleys and up volcanoes, hot springs you can soak in, unforgettable ryokan hotels, historic shrines, warm hospitality, futuristic cities and delicious food.

Experiencing Japan by bike is an experience you won't forget.

Japan has been on our “absolutely must-visit” list for many years, but since we haven’t yet been able to experience it ourselves, we’ve enlisted the help of Rob from Bike Tour Japan.

Rob is originally from Syracuse, New York and moved to Japan in 2014. He started Bike Tour Japan in 2017 with the aim of creating cycling tours of Japan that share the best of the country’s riding and off the beaten track places. His passion for all things Japan and cycling, makes him the perfect person to help us with this guide.


Fancy cycling Japan?

If you’ve ever wondered about a cycling holiday in Japan, you’re in for a treat.

Below Rob shares tons of information on everything from the best regions and cycling routes in Japan to information on bike hotels and bike rental in Japan. Enjoy!

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Why should cyclists visit Japan?

Japan is known by most for its bustling city life and dense urban areas, unique culture, and delicious traditional foods.

But for those wanting to cycle around Japan, a different side of the country awaits just beyond the tourist centres of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. 

Get two hours away from the city, and you’ll find beautifully paved roads through stunning forests. Cycling through Japan lets riders explore twisting roads that climb up and over volcanoes, chat with locals in traditional villages, and finish off each day at a luxury ryokan hotel with onsen hot spring baths. Plus, there are car free river paths and a full range of routes to suit all levels, from gentle valleys to epic 2,000m+ gains. 

In my opinion, Japan is home to all the perfect ingredients for an amazing cycling holiday. Every person who has joined us on a tour has left with unforgettable memories.

Map of Japan


Japan's cycling routes

Geography of Japan

Big cities, quiet countryside

Over 80% of Japan is uninhabitable mountainous terrain, making its cities some of the most densely populated in the world. 

To give you an idea of what this means in reality, Japan is a country of over 126 million residents, just over twice that of the UK. This entire population lives in a space the size of Manchester (UK)!

On the flipside of this, most of the 80% of Japan that isn’t inhabited is gorgeous wilderness, criss-crossed with excellent roads just ready to be explored.

Mountains

When you fly into Japan on a clear day, you can see just how huge the mountains are! Most of Japan is formed by volcanoes, many well over 2,000m tall, climbing up from sea level. And, while Mt Fuji receives all of the attention as the tallest peak in Japan, the best roads in Japan are in the centre of the country (and you can get awesome views of Fuji from Kita-Kanto and the Nagano Highlands - more on those below).

Japan’s highest paved road, for example, is a beautiful one that climbs up a volcano in Nagano Prefecture, topping at just over 2,700m above sea level. If you’re a road cyclist that loves to climb, you’re going to love Japan!

Cities v mountains

Basing yourself in a small city or town outside of Tokyo allows for many opportunities to explore a different side of Japan with direct access to nature. 

Just take a direct train north and east of the capital city, and you'll find a variety of amazing scenery and cultural experiences without the bustling city streets of Tokyo. Our top recommendations for small cities that are easy to reach from Tokyo include: Kiryu, Ashikaga, and Nikko. They're all in the Kita Kanto region (more on that below).


What are the roads like in Japan?

Kids cycle in Japan

In general, cycling in Japan is part of the culture; it’s a way of life for many locals in suburban and rural Japan. Outside of the cities, nearly every kid and young adult from 10 years+ rides their bike to school. This means most Japanese people are, or have been, cyclists since childhood. Motorists are very familiar with seeing children on bikes everyday, and their courteous driving reflects this.

Courteous drivers

Japanese drivers are notorious around the world for being cautious rule followers. Road rage and aggressive driving are virtually non-existent in Japan, and drivers tend to drive at the speed limit, which is quite low in the countryside, around 30-50kph.

Road surfaces

Road surfaces in Japan are often an exact indicator of the amount of traffic a road receives. Most people in Japan drive just a handful of main roads in a town, leaving many smaller roads with great road surfaces and no traffic. What’s more, Japan is full of river valleys, many of which have bicycle lanes and beautifully-built relatively flat pedestrian and bike paths lining each side.

Route planning

When most drivers choose a route in Japan, they follow a GPS, so many end up on the same roads. So for cyclists planning cycling routes through Japan, my biggest piece of advice is don’t follow Google Maps driving directions unless you want cars passing you all day. 

Instead, look at the main road, and look for parallel smaller roads, or better yet, rivers with river paths. Plan your route around these small roads and river paths, especially when in dense city areas. If you are riding out in the countryside, you can be more lax about being on major roads. Also checking the roads in Google Street View will give you a good sense of the traffic to expect through your route.

Road through the forest on a cycling tour in Japan

Gorgeous scenery in the backroads of Kiryu, Gunma Prefecture

Japan's quiet mountain roads are perfect for cyclists

Foothills of Japan's North Alps, accessible from Kiryu and Ashikaga

Cycling road in Japan

Watarase River Path, cycling towards Mt Akagi

What are the best regions of Japan for cyclists

Japan is a land of huge variety in scenery, terrain, and climate. I think you find some of the best cycling in Japan in these three regions. The best one for you will depend on what kind of cycling you’re after and how important the weather and other tourist attractions are to you.

  • Kita Kanto region - Japan’s sunbelt and cycling hub near Tokyo
  • Setouchi Inland Sea - Home to the Shimanami Kaido bikeway, citrus and seafood, and Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest and most famous hot-spring baths in Japan
  • Nagano Highlands region - Home to the highest roads in Japan

Map showing the Kita Kanto region in purple, the Setouchi Sea region in green and Nagano Highlands region in yellow


Kita Kanto

"The sunbelt and cycling hub close to Tokyo"

Kita Kanto, meaning “North Kanto” is a region in the upper northwest corner of the Kanto Plains. Stretching northwest out of Tokyo, the Kanto Plains are considered the main food production zone in Japan. In ancient times, it was said that he who ruled Kanto ruled Japan. 

This region is unique thanks to its proximity to Tokyo, just 1-2hrs by train, making for an easy trip from the nation’s capital. Nikko National Park is home to stunning untouched wilderness, alpine lakes, and massive shrines dedicated to the most famous Shogun in Japan, Ieyasu Tokugawa. From Nikko, you can reach the historical silk mills of Kiryu as well as Japan’s first ever school in Ashikaga. In between these regions are an endless string of beautiful valleys, river paths, mountains, and rindo (forest roads) connecting the region, making it perfect for exploring by bicycle.

In the western corner sits two massive stratovolcanoes: Mt Akagi and Mt Haruna. With summits over 1,500m and 1,000m respectively, both volcanoes have beautiful winding roads up to their caldera lakes. Below these towering mountains sits two of Japan’s largest rivers: the Tone River and Watarase River, both with beautiful car-free cycling paths winding through the small towns and cities they connect.

This region is famous for its fresh grown local veggies, Ayu sweetfish, wagyu beef, joshu pork, and shiitake and matsutake mushrooms. If you have never had matsutake mushroom soup, this is a must for anyone visiting the region in the Fall. A simple soup made from just matsutake mushrooms, daikon radish, mitsuba leaf, and a local breed of the green citrus called yuzu, it is a warm hearty broth that captures the essence of Fall in the mountains of central Japan.

Lastly, this region is known for its sun, something we all can appreciate when on a cycling trip. While the rest of Japan averages the same average sunlight as London (and about 4x as much rain!), the Kita Kanto Region is sheltered by mountains on three sides and far from the ocean enough to avoid the humidity of the sea. This means more sunny days, fewer wet days, and a much longer riding season than anywhere else in Japan.


Setouchi Inland Sea

"Home to the Shimanami Kaido, citrus and seafood, and town of Dogo Onsen"

The Setouchi Inland Sea has arguably become the most famous region for bike riding in Japan thanks to the promotion of the Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route. But beyond the Kaido, there is much more to explore in the region for those with the curiosity to explore off the beaten path. 

I love this region because of the beautiful teal-coloured water, the fresh local seafood, and the accessibility of the cycling routes. The Shimanami Kaido, for example, is very well marked and great for those looking to dip their toes into bike touring for the first time. Beyond the standard 70km course, there is a whole other set of roads and oceanside cafes. 

I also recommend time to explore the famous hot spring resort of Dogo Onsen and the castle in Matsuyama City, just past the end of the Kaido’s end point in Imabari.

If you are hoping to catch the cherry blossoms, you can expect the pink flowers in this region to bloom earlier than the rest of Japan. And for Fall colours, we recommend coming here in early December, which ties nicely with the citrus season.

This region is very accessible to all levels of riders, and even non-riders on the Shimanami Kaido bike route. 

Those looking for challenging days and good amounts of climbing will find the Kita Kanto and Nagano’s Highroads Regions a better bet.


Nagano Highlands Region 

"Known as the Japanese Alps, home to the highest roads in Japan"

While many will recognise Nagano Prefecture as the host of the Winter Olympics back in 1998, it is also home to some of Japan’s highest roads. The pinnacle of these mountains is Mt Norikura, with a 2,702m summit that towers above the rest with a whopping 2,200m of gain from the city of Matsumoto below.

This climb is made all the sweeter by the fact that the final 13km are on a car free (yes you heard me, no cars allowed!) “Eco Line'' with only the hourly bus to worry about. 

Having done many of the big passes in Europe, such as the Stelvio, Alp D’Huez, Iseran, Isoard, etc, I have to say this car free climb to the sky is really one of a kind. 

But even beyond Mt Norikura, there are also many other amazing summits topping over 2,000m above sea in the area. My personal favorite is the Utsukushigahara Highlands, or the Venus Line. But due to the height of the region and heavier precipitation, much like the high passes in Europe, the season is much shorter, often just mid July to the end of October. 

This can make finding the perfect time to cycle in this region a delicate balancing act with Japan’s rainy season (which runs from June through September).


A final note on cycling in Hokkaido

Hokkaido is not in our top 3 best places in Japan for cycling. While Hokkaido can be a great place to visit, the season is quite short and is limited to the peak summer months. While it's less wet than Honshu, you can still expect roughly 1 out of 3 days to be rainy and cold. This is in contrast with the Kita Kanto Region in spring and fall which averages one day of rain a week.

The scenery in Hokkaido is beautiful! However, between sights most of the scenery can be long straight roads with mostly crop fields to get between areas. So for riders looking to do less than 100km/day it can be quite repetitive. Whereas in Kita Kanto, Setouchi, or Nagano areas you can have vastly different microclimates and scenery within 50km of riding.

There is a reason that Hokkaido is a favorite for bikepacking; the long distances and vast wilderness is more conducive to camping and bikepacking trips than hotel-based day rides and bike tours.


Like Rob to show you around?

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Rob from Bike Tour Japan

He would love to help! 

Rob's passion is helping cyclists who want to explore the rural corners and best cycling roads Japan has to offer.

For more information, head to the Bike Tour Japan website or reach out to Rob and the team at contact@biketourjapan.com.


What are the best cycling routes in Japan?

Below I share some of my favourite Japanese cycling routes in the regions identified above.


Kita Kanto region

Hard - Akagi

Mount Akagi is the centerpiece of the Kita Kanto skyline. A 1,800m tall stratovolcano that looks more like a mountain range than a single mountain, Akagi erupted some 30,000 years ago. This created the jagged top and two caldera lakes you see today.

The best cycling route is to take the small old road up the southeast side where cars seldom drive. Then, into the caldera for a lap around the lake and a visit to the Akagi Jinja Shrine atop the lake. Finally, fly down the pristine two lane wide road for over 1,400m of ripping descent!

It’s not every day you can say you climbed up into a volcano, and Mount Akagi is the best place to do this by bike.

Easy - Kiryu Ashikaga Loop

For those looking for a more relaxing ride in Japan, the Kiryu-Ashikaga loop is a classic that any level of cyclist can enjoy. 

Starting from Kiryu City, the loop takes you out of town to the Lake Umeda Recreation Area. Then, over the Nagaishi-Touge (tr Long Rock Pass) for a beautiful view of the valley below. 

Then, fly down into Ashikaga City, where you can grab lunch, see Japan’s first school, and stroll through the beautiful central Bannaji Temple in town. 

Finally, hop on the car-free Watarase River Cycling Road back to Kiryu to check out the local silk mills. All along the way, there are options for delicious local udon and soba, as well as more international food if you prefer!

Setouchi Inland Sea


Hard - Extended Shimanami Kaido cycling road

For those looking to go beyond the Kaido’s standard route (below), our favourite route wiggles around each of the islands to hit the best sights on each one. 

While it covers much more distance, exploring the islands by bike is a lot of fun and it is possible to break this into multiple days as well and stay a few nights on the islands.

Things you'll see on the way include far-reaching views from Muku Bay Observation area, the Kousanji Temple complex, the sandy Hata Okiura Beach and the huge ship building works at Aiesu Shipyard.

Easy - Classic Shimanami Kaido

Don’t fix what ain’t broken. For those looking for an easy route in the Setouchi Sea area, the classic 70km Shimanami Kaido Route is a great day trip option.

As Japan's most famous cycling course, it is well-labelled and designed with plenty of infrastructure to help riders along the way.

You'll find sea views, small fishing towns, citrus groves, and the longest suspension bridge in Japan. However be aware that it's not all sandy shores as, due to the typhoon season each year, the shorelines are usually protected with concrete reinforcements. 

There’s more on bike hire for the Shimanami Kaido below.

Nagano Highlands Region 


Hard - Norikura

There are few places in the world that you can climb for over 50km and gain more than 2,200m. 

That is exactly what you’ll find on Mount Norikura, a huge stratovocano surrounded by high peaks. 

Beyond that, the final 13 kilometres (and 900m of climbing) are car free!

As the tree line recedes, a landscape of volcanic rocks and sweeping views from the top of Japan’s Alps awaits.


Easier - Utsukushigahara

While not much easier than Norikura (this is the highroads region after all!), my personal favourite climb in the area is the Utsukushigahara. 

A mouthful for non-Japanese speakers, its name translates into “The Beautiful Highlands”, and it really lives up to the name.

Summiting just over 2,000m above sea, this high grassland plateau sits directly east of the high peaks of Nagano. Once you reach the ridge, the final 7km of road seemingly dangles off massive cliffs that drop to the city of Matsumoto below, giving stunning views of the high alps across the valley.


Do I need a guide to do a cycling tour in Japan?

Cycle touring comes in so many different flavours, and each style is unique and valid. I love a great bike-packing trip just as much as I love a great organised tour - they just fulfil different desires and comforts.

When exploring Japan by bicycle, there are lots of ways to have a great time on a self-organised tour, and I have done many of these myself and with friends over the years, exploring different corners of Japan. 

Organised cycling tours of Japan aren’t always necessary

For example, you really don’t need a guide for a route like the Shimanami Kaido as the route is impeccably marked out for you. Couple that with decent rental bike options at both ends, many lodges listed on western booking sites, and you can have a smooth and fun trip.

That said, for those looking to explore beyond these well-marked paths, I think there is a lot of value in booking a guided or self-guided cycling tour of Japan. 

Advantages of an organised bike trip to Japan

One of the main things I hear from those that organise their own bike tours in Japan is about the heavy traffic they encountered while on their tour. Funnily enough, the exact opposite is said in our guests' reviews for our trips. In fact, one guest mentioned how they “couldn’t believe we rode for 4 hours through amazing scenery and saw monkeys, deer, kamoshika, and just two cars!?”

Besides knowing that you are getting top-notch routes that are optimised for maximum enjoyment while on the bike, you are also getting the top picks of the area when it comes to food, hotels, hot springs, and sights to see.

For me, this is where a lot of value comes in booking a high-quality tour, guided or self-guided. Choosing an accredited tour company optimises your enjoyment of the limited time you have in Japan. Why ride in high traffic, shuttle between locations, depend on scouring the internet for the best restaurant option, or waste time doing chores such as laundry and snack shopping, when this can all be taken care of by good trip designers?

When it comes to guided tours, it really is a chance to spend the most time doing what you love and letting the guides take care of “travel chores”. Our team takes care of navigation, carrying luggage and extra layers, doing the laundry so you have a fresh pair of bibs for each day's ride, cleaning and maintaining the bikes, and setting up scrumptious smorgasbords of Japanese treats and fresh fruit at the top of climbs. For those looking to focus on cycling, a guided tour is really the best way to make the most of it and soak it all in.

Cycling Japan's mountainous regions

The mountain climbs in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture are truly breathtaking

Bikes by a beach in Japan

Good local guides can show you off-the-map spots, including this hidden alpine beach at Chuzenjiko in Nikko

Bike with backdrop of mountains in Japan

Incredible rows of mountains in the backroads between Kiryu and Nikko

Looking for a cycling tour in Japan?

Bike Tour Japan logo
Rob from Bike Tour Japan

Get in touch with Bike Tour Japan; they would love to help you plan your trip.

Bike Tour Japan is run by Rob, a longtime resident of Japan and the brains behind this guide you're reading. He loves to help guests explore Japan's impressive landscapes on the best cycling roads.

For more information, head to the Bike Tour Japan website or reach out to Rob and the team at contact@biketourjapan.com.

 

What are the key road cycling events in Japan?


Hill climbs in Japan

Japan is home to a large bustling Hill Climb Race Series. Here, hill climbs are more like mountain and volcano climbs than hills, with most gaining over 1,000m! Better yet, they are all mass start events. That means that 3-5,000 cyclists, at the sound of the horn, will begin racing up a massive volcano. Sounds fun huh? 

There are five main races each year, and two of the big ones are right near us in Kita Kanto: Mt Akagi (in September) and Mt Haruna (in May). Along with them, Mt Norikura, the highest road, has one, as does the Subaru Line on Mt Fuji (in June). Take a look at the official websites and you can see how to sign up!

Tour de Noto

On the Tour de Noto, riders cover 400km of roads on the Northern Coast of Japan in just three days. Starting from Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, cyclists go north to Wajima, around the peninsula to the island of Notojima, before heading south to the finish line.

We recommend that riders spend at least a week in this region to soak in the cultural and culinary experiences to be found in the small towns of Wajima, Anamizu, and Himi. We also suggest spending an extra night or two in both Wajima and Kanazawa, two unique communities that are extremely proud of their long history of traditional sea-inspired foods, crafts, and architecture.

Japan Cup Cycling Race

Besides these amateur races, Japan also hosts the Japan Cup Cycling Race each year at the road race course in Kita Kanto (a small loop in Utsunomia, in the east side of Kita Kanto region - info here) as well as in Utsunomiya City. In fact, the Bridgestone Cycling Team is based out of Utsunomiya, and spends much of their time training in the same mountains we ride in the Kita Kanto Region.

Best accommodation for cyclists

Bike hotels that cater specifically to cyclists do exist in Japan, but they tend to be in the more well-known spots for tourists, such as the Setouchi Sea. 

For riders who want to explore beyond, we recommend finding accommodation at minshuku (guesthouses) or ryokan (traditional Japanese hotels). Ryokans are our favourite places to stay!


Ryokans

I love the Japanese ryokan experience. If you have never stayed in a ryokan, they are a Japanese traditional hotel most similar to a B&B in the west. Often, you will have breakfast and dinner prepared on site, and the best of these ryokan have world class chefs that go out of their way to share the freshest local flavours and cuisines. 

The ryokan experience also comes with artfully-crafted onsen hot spring baths to soak your tired legs after a long day in the saddle. After each day’s ride and soak, don your traditional yukata robe & slippers, and enjoy the zen of a beautiful Japanese room. This is the best way to step away from the busy modern world and immerse yourself into a traditional and truly serene experience each night!

There are lots of types of Ryokan, from small hotels with as little as six rooms, to larger ones that are more similar to traditional hotels, but with Japanese flair.

Ryokan in Japan

Inside a traditional ryokan

A ryokan bike hotel lit up at night

A traditional shogun home that has been turned into a culturally significant site and ryokan hotel for guests

Meal in a ryokan in Japan

Delicious meals are common place!

Check the rules before you stay

When cycling, most ryokan and hotels are happy to have cyclists stay, but calling ahead and confirming their rules with bikes is important. Many hotels in Japan are not accustomed to holding bikes inside, so many will assume you will leave your bike in the parking area, with the cars. So, if you want to be able to bring your steed in with you, it is best to confirm before booking.

As long as you are willing to wipe down your frame and wheels, most hotels are very understanding. Ask politely, and most staff will permit you to keep your bicycle in your room; if your room is tatami, they will likely put your bicycle inside a locked luggage storage area. (For those not familiar with "tatami", it means straw mat floor. Here is some info on them.) 

Etiquette

As for staying at ryokan, most will have you change out of your shoes at the door and into slippers inside. 

There are also two things some guests will want to watch for before booking with ryokans:

Futon bedding: Most traditional ryokans use futon bedding, which is laid on tatami floor. Multiple futons can be stacked to make a softer bed feel if that’s your preference.

Bath: Most traditional ryokan will have two ofuro, or public baths, one for each gender. These are large rooms, often crafted of fine woods or stone with showers along the walls and one or more large baths. Expect to be naked.

In my opinion, these two aspects of ryokan stays are unique opportunities to live like the locals and fully experience Japanese culture! If this is not something you are interested in though, we recommend searching for western-style hotels or checking with the ryokan to see if they have western amenities before booking.

Favourite ryokans for cyclists

In the regions mentioned, my favourite ryokans are 

Hoshi no Yado, Kita Kanto region - central to Nikko town. Used to cyclists. English speaking staff with amazing food. Great launch point for amazing rides.

U2, Setouchi Sea - a town centre bike hotel that acts as the hub for visiting cyclists in Onomichi, and a great place to meet other riders. There's also a bike shop inside the buliding.

Yumoto Ya, Nagano region - traditional Ryokan where the hot spring baths have sweeping views of the Japanese Alps. Great meals too. Located just outside town/castle, quiet but town is just a short bike ride away.

Bike hire

Bike rental in Japan

Japanese cities and towns have lots of great places for bike hire, as does the Shimanami Kaido cycle way.

That said, if you plan to ride outside of the main cities or the Kaido, you are best off hiring while within the city and taking the bike out, as most hires will not deliver beyond the town/cities. This will also ensure you get the quality road bikes you want without having a degree in Japanese!

Be aware that hire bikes will be set up "UK style" Left is rear, right is front for brakes. They will not switch this for you at any shops that I am aware of.


Shimanami Kaido bike rental

Most rentals around the Shimanami Kaido are mid to low-end hybrid or road bikes, so if you are looking to rent a high-end road bike, we recommend renting one from Tokyo or Osaka. 


Japan bike shops

Shimano is King. Japan is Shimano-land, and if you have Shimano parts on your bike, they can be easily repaired and replaced at most shops. If you have Sram or Campy, most parts must be ordered. 

Almost every town in Japan has a bike shop, but most shops service a mix of simple town bikes, hybrids, and road bikes. So if there is something proprietary about your bike it is best to bring extras just in case.

Inside a bike shop in Japan

Bikes for sale

Cycling clothing in a bike hire in Japan

In case you forget something...!

Bike rental Japan

Cycling is popular in Japan so there are plenty of bike shops around

Want to find the real Japan?

Bike Tour Japan logo
Rob from Bike Tour Japan

Get in touch with Rob and the team at  Bike Tour Japan. They would love to help you plan your trip.

Rob is an American cyclist who has lived in Japan for many years. He wrote this guide you're reading and knows all the best places for cyclists visiting Japan. 

Check out his website at Bike Tour Japan or reach out to Rob and the team at contact@biketourjapan.com.

When to visit

Japan has many microclimates and you will need to consider the weather for each unique region you plan to visit. We have run tours where guests can go skiing one day, and the next day, we are in short sleeves cycling in 25’c sunny weather just 100km away.

As regards my favourite regions, generally speaking, 

  • Kita Kanto region is best from March to mid-June and September to early December.
  • Setouchi is best early March to May and November to mid-December. 
  • The Mountains of Nagano are the most limited season: September to October.

Beyond this, most of Japan’s summer is hot, humid, and wet from mid-June to the end of July. This is called Tsuyu, or the first rainy season. After this, August is typically drier but extremely hot and still very humid. Then in late August/early September, the typhoon season comes in, bringing big rainstorms weekly from the south.

This is another reason we love cycling the Kita Kanto region, the mountains to its west protect from the Sea of Japan’s rain and snow, and the southern mountains protect it from typhoons. Its distance from the sea also protects it from the Pacific Ocean’s humidity.

Lastly, for Hokkaido in the great north, the best season is when the rest of Japan is hot, in August. Though June to the end of September is generally a good time, much of Hokkaido can still be quite wet over the summer, with rainy and cloudy days not uncommon for half of each week. Note that Hokkaido is a different island that sits north of Honshu, it's completely separated from the main island of Honshu, which includes Nagano, Gunma, Tochigi. We usually don't recommend road cycling in Hokkaido, but it is a commonly-asked and searched place. 


Riding through Japan in Autumn/Fall

Cycling in Nagano Prefecture in November - amazing Autumn colours!

Blossom on a tree in Japan

You can experience the cherry blossom season (hanami) in early spring

Cherry blossom in Japan in Spring

Gunma Prefecture has some lovely cherry blossom roads, full of different shades of pink

Tips and articles

Road Rules in Japan

It's vital to understand the traffic laws, and obey all signals when out riding. You'll find some pointers below. Some are Japan specific, some are general good practice. 

  • Ride on the left side of the road and the left side of the lane. Look out for the infamous ‘drift-right’ that is common for those from countries who usually ride/drive on the right side of the road!
  • When you are at a light you must stop and wait for the signal to change. Japan has no ‘right on red’ (or in their case ‘left on red’) law.
  • Bikes and pedestrians have the right of way, and most drivers are respectful to cyclists on the road. However, if you see that traffic is building up behind you, return drivers' courtesy, and pull off for a moment to let traffic pass.
  • Familiarise yourself with Japan's traffic signs.
  • Wear a helmet.
  • Always ride in the direction of traffic.
  • Do not wear headphones or earphones while riding.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Communicate with those around you with your hands/arms well in advance, for example “right turn”, “left turn”, “slowing”, “stopping”, “car up”, “car back”.
  • Make eye contact with motorists when possible.
  • Avoid erratic movements on the bike. Keeping a straight line is the best way for drivers to predict what you're going to do.
  • Always be aware of weather and road conditions, and how this may affect your ability to stop or turn the bike. Give yourself double braking time and distance in wet conditions. 

Tips for planning a Japan cycling trip

When planning a cycling trip to Japan, it is best to consider what you are looking for. There really is so much variety in this country that you can spend a week or two and only scratch the surface of its geography, food, and culture. 

Japan is really well set up for cycling in many ways, but it is not always obvious for visitors just how much cycling infrastructure and how many quiet roads there are.

If you are looking for an easy ride, the Shimanami Kaido is great and anyone can figure it out on their own. If you want to hit the big mountains or get lost in the wilds of the countryside, it will take some research, Japanese language skills, or a guide to really get the most out of that side of Japan. And if you want to just connect A to B by bike, I highly recommend planning your route without Google Maps.


How fit you need to be to cycle Japan

Japan is very mountainous and if you want to get a taste of those mountains, it’ll help if you’re fit. We can offer guests electric road bike hire - and of course we can tailor trips to include flat river routes where possible, but a base level of fitness will certainly help you get the most out of a trip. 


Best food to buy from convenience stores

If you are cycling around Japan’s main island you are rarely more than 15km from a convenience store (they call Conbini コンビニ), where you can find a myriad of treats, food, and drinks. Even gas stations tend to be well-stocked. This is great for those on a self-guided cycling tour as you can easily stock up on snacks (we recommend tasty onigiri rice balls - the dorayaki pancake sandwiches and canned iced tea are awesome too).

Delicious Japanese food

Non-Japanese cuisines are abundant, even in smaller cities. Indian, Italian, French, and  Chinese restaurants are particularly popular with the locals

Pizzas in Japan

Japanese locals love pizza, and you'll find a wide array of Japanese as well as traditional Neapolitan styles here

Convenience store food in Japan

Vending machines are all over the cities and countryside - a very convenient way to re-fuel


Do you need to speak (some) Japanese?

While it never hurts to speak the local language, Japanese people are generally very excited to help or work with foreign tourists who come to their shops. 

If you are going it alone, Google Translate can help a lot, but most chains will have picture menus or some English. That said, most of the smaller local restaurants will still have handwritten signs and menus, so your mileage may vary when you get off the beaten track. Going with a tour company will allow you to have an ambassador and easier access to understanding the local language and culture. 


Money

Surprisingly, despite being very technologically advanced, Japan is a cash-based economy. That means you need to assume you'll be paying in cash at restaurants, markets and many shops. 

7-Eleven convenience stores will accept international debit cards - and so will some department stores, hotel chains and taxi chains. But you can't assume it will be possible, so carry cash. Theft is rare.

There are ATMs at post offices and convenience stores. 

Tipping is not expected (and not really done by the Japanese themselves).

Bargaining/haggling is not done (unless you're at a flea market).


Japanese culture

Japan is the only country in the world that still has a reigning emperor. Emperors don’t have power but they are looked up to as a symbol of the country’s traditions. The Imperial Palace in Tokyo (the home of the Emperor) is definitely worth a visit. 

Japan is known for its distinctive etiquette. Here are some headline things to watch out for - but just do your best and don't stress, you won't be expected to know all the rules!

  • Head-bowing instead of hand-shaking.
  • No shoes indoors. Keep your eye out for the show rack at the entrance.
  • Speak quietly at temples and shrines - and don't worry about coming in in cycling kit (though do zip up your jersey!).
  • Tea is important and regularly offered, but you don’t have to finish your cup; stop drinking when you’ve had enough.
  • If you're in an onsen or public baths, expect to bathe naked. Shower before entering the bath. Put a small towel on your head, or beside the bath, not in the bath water. Leave your large towel in the changing area. No tattoos are permitted in some onsens.
  • If you’re confused, look at what the locals do and do as they do! 
Busy city in Japan

Ikaho Historical Onsen Town has gorgeous street to go strollinng and hot-spring hopping throughout town

Shrine in Japan

Soaking in the zen of the Tairyuin Buddhist Temple in Kiryu, Japan

Shrine in Japan

Ashikaga is well-known for its quaint temples and historical Buddhist and Confucian schools.

How to get to Japan

Getting to Japan is largely a function of where you plan to visit on your trip. 

Airports

In general, most fly into Tokyo’s Narita or Haneda International Airports when riding in the Kita Kanto or Nagano Regions. 

For those cycling down in the Setouchi Sea, Hiroshima International Airport is closest, with Osaka not too far away. 

This site shows flight connections all over the world; it's handy for seeing which airports in Japan you can fly to from your home airport (remember to use the city name/airport code in the search box).

Trains

Thanks to Japan Rail's Shinkansen high speed rail, even Tokyo to Hiroshima is just 4hrs by bullet train. 

From Tokyo’s Asakusa Station, you can get out to the major Kita Kanto hubs of Kiryu, Ashikaga-Shi, and Nikko train stations directly in 1-2hrs via express trains. To start the Shimanami Kaido, take trains to Onomichi Station from Hiroshima or Osaka.

Transferring your bikes

For those flying in with bikes, airports have great service at the Yamato Shipping Counter (aka Kuro Neko, “Black Cat”). From here, you can ship any luggage for very reasonable rates anywhere within Japan with quick two-day delivery. Bike boxes typically cost around 5,000yen one way.

This is by far the easiest way to travel around the cities before you begin cycling.


A big thank you to Rob for sharing such valuable insights on cycling in Japan.

Don't know about you, but we are feeling more inspired than ever to visit!


More about Rob

Rob fell in love with cycling as a way to explore natural landscapes at the perfect pace.

After graduating from the Eastman School of Music in 2014, he spent a year working, cycling, and creating a community in Japan. Since then, Rob has returned each year to delve deeper into the secluded countryside.

Now he lives in Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture, Japan. It's a funky mountain town about 1.5 hours by express train from Tokyo. It has a rich history of silk production and Japanese hipster cafes and restaurants. 

Rob is driven by the desire to create unforgettable cycling trips for guests from all over the world. He loves surprising travellers with unique and immersive experiences that exist just outside the international hubs of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. 

Cyclist cycling through Japan

In addition to creating intimate adventures throughout Japan, Rob also previously worked with Duvine Cycling in Northern California. When he is off the bike, he enjoys playing classical guitar, and chatting with the locals at a nearby cafe or hot-spring onsen. 

Head to Bike Tour Japan to find out more.



More about Bike Tour Japan

For any cyclists who want to explore a deeper side of Japan in the rural corners of this wild country, please head to their website or reach out to Rob and the team at contact@biketourjapan.com.

They can't wait to ride with you!


Have you cycled Japan?

Let us know how you found it; share your experiences below!

Also feel free to comment below if you've got any questions about planning a trip here.

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