By Georgina Apse.
Japan is a popular cycle touring destination for many cycling enthusiasts. Whether you’re looking to scrape by on a budget, or splurge on a credit card tour, anything is possible in the land of the rising sun. Here are five reasons why Japan is a great choice for your next bike tour.
A great size for cycle touring
Japan is the size of the state of Montana with half the total population of the United States. This means that that there is a whole lot of food, culture, and beautiful scenery packed into a small grouping of islands. From the southern tip of Kyushu to the northern tip of Hokkaido, the distance is just over 1000 miles. Some extreme cyclists have ridden this distance in just a few days, but it is recommended that you take more time to take in the sights.
Wild camping, no problem!
Although technically in a legal grey area, most travellers have no trouble pitching up in parks, on beaches, and away from busy areas. Japan has a culture of nojuku (businessmen sleeping on park benches or outside train stations), so sleeping in even public places is very much the norm and generally accepted. To be safe, set up camp after it gets dark, pack up first thing in the morning, and never trespass onto private property. The goal is to not attract negative attention to yourself, so be smart about when and where you set up camp for the night.
Great food available everywhere
And great food it is too! The small island nation boasts unique cuisine options that are just as accessible in the countryside as in the cities. Even convenience stores and supermarkets have diverse and reasonably priced meals that can be very delicious. If you want to splurge a little more, the options become endless. Whether you’re looking for udon or sushi, you’ll be able to find it just about anywhere you go. Bonus tip: whenever you enter a new region, ask people you meet what the local delicacies, or meibutsu are.
Nothing beats a soak after a long day of riding. Although historically more common than in today’s world, bathhouses are still a part of Japanese culture and can be found in many different guises. Are you looking for a quick soak without having to shell out a huge amount of cash? There are plenty of these types of baths, usually referred to as ofuroyasan. These establishments offer the opportunity to show up, pay between 300 and 500 yen, and enjoy a hot bath. If you’re looking for more of a bed and breakfast type experience, look for a minshuku. Usually family run, these places offer lodging and sometimes include meals. Want to go all out? A ryokan or onsen is a resort that offers a traditional Japanese experience. The water in these places come from volcanic springs and often contain minerals that are good for the skin. Meals are always included and often feature local delicacies.
Japan is safe for travellers for a number of reasons. Crime rates are extremely low and theft and violence against tourists are practically nonexistent. It is not uncommon to see bicycle tourists leave their bicycles and all their gear unlocked outside of a supermarket while they shop inside. Furthermore, motorists are very friendly towards cyclists and will give them plenty of room on the road. Incidents of road rage are extremely rare and often cars will not pass you until another lane emerges. As a bit of a warning, there are many exposed ditches on the side of the road. Always be aware of these as they can sometimes be several feet deep!
Japan is a beautiful country with a rich cycling culture that only seems to be growing. So if you enjoy Japanese culture and bike touring, then a bike tour in Japan is right up your alley!