5 Tips When Touring Japan by Bicycle
Japan is one of the most unique countries in the world, making it one of the greatest cycling tour destinations. However, unlike parts of central Europe, Japan isn’t nearly as well known to the global cycling community, which means that many cyclists are a little intimidated. We hope, instead, that by reading this guide you’ll be inspired and enthused by Japan’s mysteries, and that we can give a few readers the push they need to finally start planning their next great Japanese cycling adventure. And if you’d like to explore Japan with Ride & Seek, take a closer look at our Japanese bike tour of both Honshu and Shikoku Islands.
Prepare for a Challenging Cycling Trip
Perhaps you already have a good idea about the varied topography of Japan, but we find that most are still surprised by how mountainous it is. As several fault lines run under Japan, it is an especially volcanic country, with a number of volcanos, mountains, hills, and all the steep cycling routes that go with this. The advantage of so much relief is that the vistas through any cycling tour of Japan are truly breathtaking, but the climbs also mean that a cycling tour in Japan is breathtaking in every sense of the word.
Another advantage — depending on who you ask — is that the ascents make for a truly challenging adventure. We find that almost everyone who embarks on one of our cycling trips is looking for an adventure, so they welcome the challenge that comes with it. If, however, you are looking for a leisurely cycling trip, Japan is not the destination for you. Ahead of your trip, it is essential to prepare by heading out on regular full-day cycles, choosing any routes nearby that allow you to practice cycling uphill.
Set Aside Time to Explore by Foot
There are many different ways to conduct a cycling tour. The two extremes could be outlined as follows: i) cycle as much as possible, covering as much distance as you can, and ii) cycle a little each day, but only to the next viable walking tour or cultural destination. Both kinds of trips have their merits, and it does come down to personal preference, but all of us at Ride and Seek feel we’ve found the perfect balance of cycling and culture.
Cycling is a means and an end in itself; it is the most wonderful way to see the idyllic landscape of Japan open up before your eyes, getting a sense of Japan that simply can’t be achieved by car, bus, or on foot. But the food, the people, the history, and the architecture of Japan are simply too unique to miss, so our tour incorporates plenty of castles, gardens, ancient villages, temples, and dozens of other sights and attractions throughout Japan. Travelling 1262km (784 miles) over 22 days, this is an epic cycling trip, but we’ve kept aside plenty of time to experience the country at a slower pace.
Embrace and Enjoy Japanese Etiquette
While not necessarily specific to cycling holidays, something many outsiders fret about in advance of visiting Japan is the culture’s unique etiquette and general approach to politeness. While it’s normal to worry about potential culture clashes when you travel, we’d encourage anyone who is considering visiting Japan to fully embrace the differences. Engaging in different cultures is one of the greatest aspects of travel, and Japan’s rich tapestry of etiquette, propriety, and manners is one of the most unique aspects of its culture. Rather than spending your whole time worrying about the differences, start learning about them. There are numerous video guides on YouTube to get you started, but we’d like to offer a few tips of our own:
– If in doubt, offer someone a polite bow. And definitely return a bow if someone bows to you. If you get this wrong, the locals will understand that you’re foreign, so don’t worry too much!
– Always remove shoes before entering indoor areas that have tatami (mats used to cover the floors).
– You can bring your bicycle on a train, but only if you cover it completely. This is because bicycles can get very dirty and the locals value hygiene and cleanliness more than perhaps anyone else. The covering is to protect fellow passengers’ clothes from perhaps scuffing on a bit of dirt from your wheel.- This isn’t etiquette but remember that Japan is one of the small group of countries that drives (and cycles) on the left. Forget this at your peril!
Choose Your Accommodation Carefully
This tip is more relevant to some than others, as not all of us fall asleep easily — even at the end of a long day of cycling! Japanese accommodation can be quite unlike western hotels as the traditional Japanese inns often have floors of rice-straw and futon-style beds on the ground that can seem a little uncomfortable if you aren’t used to them. For us, traditional Japanese accommodation more than makes up for the lack of comfort with a sense of authenticity and charm, but if you’re worried about getting your eight hours, you might want to spend extra time finding western-style hotels for each of your stops. One of the benefits of travelling through Japan, or indeed any of our Epic and Mini Epic Cycling Adventure Tours, is that we have vetted all of the accommodation. It is a mixture of traditional Japanese and western-style, but all of them are of the highest quality.
Let Ride & Seek Organise your Cycling Trip Through Japan
Perhaps this seems like a cheeky, undisguised plug for our Samurai Cycling Tour. Perhaps it is… But we also have a point: if you want the best possible experience cycling through Japan, you may need to rely on the expertise and experience of people who have planned and executed Japanese bike tours many times over. The advantages are many, as we have vetted the quality of all accommodation, we transport your luggage, and we plot out fascinating cultural activities at every point along the way. At Ride & Seek, we do everything we can to weave history and cultural appreciation into every cycling adventure tour; this additional wholistic benefit is harder to quantify before you’ve come on one of our trips, but easy to reflect on afterwards. There’s a reason why so many of our cyclists come with us on numerous follow-up adventures.
We hope this guide has inspired a few of you to make Japan your next big cycling trip destination. This enchanting country has so much to offer, and it is, undoubtedly, one of the best counties in the world to explore by bicycle! If anything we’ve covered here has prompted a few questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Whether you choose to explore Japan by yourself or with Ride and Seek, we hope you have an incredible trip!