Exploring Japan: Guide to bikepacking in Land of Rising Sun
Exploring Japan: Guide to bikepacking in Land of Rising Sun
With more and more people enjoying cycling since the start of the pandemic to avoid overcrowded trains and buses, bikepacking has become a popular new way to explore the country. In addition to working out while traveling and being surrounded by Japan’s stunning landscapes, bikepacking also provides an opportunity to explore hidden gems that are not easily accessible by public transport or car. Follow us on our journey and find out where to go and how to get started with bikepacking in Japan!
Inspired by our first experience of an overnight bike trip along the world-renowned Shimanami Kaido along a string of islands between Shikoku and Honshu, we bought new bikes in Yokohama and were ready to go on our first week-long bikepacking trip in March 2021!
Bikepacking in Tottori & Shimane Prefecture
If you have cycled the Shimanami Kaido yourself, you will be familiar with the blue cycling lines along the roadside that have been placed there as official cycling route guides. After we found out that these were also introduced across the east coast of Tottori, we chose this as our first outing and cycled along it through beautiful countryside, old villages, and past coastal backdrops. When you’re out on your bike, it’s up to you to decide what kind of terrain to follow and which sights to take in along the way. The combined area of Tottori & Shimane is called San’In and you can visit unusual sights like the sand dunes, Detective Conan town, and even a winery. We would highly recommend starting on Higashihama’s stunning rocky coastal route on Tottori’s east coast to Matsue in Shimane prefecture during cherry blossom season. Our absolute highlights were the views from the Yonago castle grounds on a hilltop and staying in a lake house on the tiny lake island called Daikonshima with its Michelin-starred Yuushien Garden.
Cycling the Wakayama 800 Along Coastlines, Rice Fields, and Sacred Temples
The newly established cycling route Wakayama 800 served as the basis for our second week-long bikepacking trip in autumn 2021. This time we added a few more challenges and decided to cycle up the sacred Mount Kōya with the reward of a relaxing overnight temple stay. With well-planned blue cycling lanes through mikan fields and all along the rugged coast, it was an easy route to follow, however much more challenging due to its mountainous profile. One of our highlights on this trip was visiting a white-sand seaside resort called Shirahama and watching the sun set over its iconic sea cave island called Engetsu (moon shape) island. From there, we enjoyed the most scenic coastal ride with views over phenomenal rock formations in the sea, to the southern-most point of Honshu in Kushimoto. If you’re curious about these two bikepacking trips, check out our cycling channel Jitensha Adventure!
Getting Started With Your Own Bikepacking Adventure
If reading this made you want to hop on your bike and get started, we would like to share our tips with you for what you need to get started!
- First of all, you need a comfortable and versatile bike to explore different terrain, ideally at least a hybrid bike or mountain bike or, even better, a gravel bike. If you are planning to take your bike on a train, consider how heavy this will feel when you pack it into a bag.
- If you would like to make use of Japan’s clean and cheap campgrounds, make sure that your bike has panniers; or, if you’re seeking more comfort like us and prefer to stay in hotels or guesthouses, you can simply buy attachable bikepacking bags for the front, middle, and rear of your bike. Fortunately, with so many convenient coin laundries in Japan, you won’t need to pack too many clothes and can make space for a few basic bike tools. For bigger repairs, we have luckily found bike shops and friendly locals in restaurants to help us out.
- One important purchase you will need to make is a rinko bike bag to properly store your bike on the train, which can be bought in shops like Montbell and Y’s Road. For this procedure, you’ll need to take at least your front wheel off and we’d highly recommend practicing this a few times before your trip, just taking a local train with your bike. How about joining the Half Fast Cycling Club in Tokyo for one of their weekend rides to practice and get more advice from experienced riders?
- Plan a route that suits you! Think about your fitness level and what kind of landscapes interest you. Are there places in Japan that are still on your bucket list and could you plan a trip to get around that area with your bike? While planning, make sure the suggested route per day on Google Maps is quite a bit less than you can comfortably cycle per day, as the kilometers soon add up with café and sightseeing stops and before you know it you will cycle much more than anticipated on certain days.
- Stay safe and accessorize with high-visibility clothing, know the road cycling rules in Japan and make sure you arrive at your destination before dark falls.
In the end, as with all types of travel, do it the way that brings you the most joy! A better bike or more gadgets might make it more comfortable, but all that counts is that you’re free to set your own pace and have fun. And while you’re getting ready and planning your first bikepacking trip, I am hopeful that the Japanese tourism organizations will continue adding more and more official blue cycling routes. After all, choosing a bike as the means of transport on your holiday is not just rewarding for yourself as every mile traveled will have been your own body’s effort – but it is also a contribution to the environment by being an eco-friendly way to explore the world.
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