Japan by bike: overview
The archipelago of Japan is surely the most unique and individual of all Asian destinations, from wintry Hokkaido to the tropical islands of the Okinawa chain
running north to south along the coasts of Russia, China and the Koreas for an incredible distance. The main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa.
Almost 80 per cent of the Japanese land mass is mountainous, wildly beautiful and mainly uninhabited, with most of its peoples crowded into the coastal plains along the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. Touring by bike is best restricted to the coastal regions and foothills, as the Japan Alps are just that – Alps.
Most commercial road travel in Japan is via its motorways and fast roads, with the back roads along the coasts and through the countryside a stress-free experience. Japan is divided into mega-cities with fascinating histories but very modern and sophisticated, and smaller towns and villages with a much more laid-back vibe, perfect for bike tours. The Japanese are faultlessly friendly and helpful, and immensely proud of their country, its culture and its history.
Best attractions in Japan
From a medieval dictatorship in which the emperor was merely a figurehead, Japan has developed during the last 140 years into one of the world’s most advanced nations. In contrast, monuments of the 16th to late 19th century Shogunate era and the earlier periods are everywhere and, in the Kyoto and Nara areas, go back to the 6th and 7th centuries.
Spectacular Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, castles, the royal city of Kyoto, the ancient capital, Nara, Ise’s Grand Shrine, the Inland Sea and the rugged coastline all have a quality unique to Japan.
Japanese cuisine is among the world’s healthiest, and is closely related to the seasons, which, in the Japanese mindset, change far more often than ours. Freshness of ingredients is everything, as is presentation, making a traditional Japanese meal a feast for the eye as well as delicious. Shopping is a treat, with everything from upscale malls to the ubiquitous and amazing 100 yen stores found everywhere.
Weather and tourist seasons
Japan’s climate is as varied as its geographical locations. The northernmost island, Hokkaido, has long, snowbound winters, great for winter sports, and its short summer sees the land bursting with flowers and greenery.
Honshu’s coastal plains are occasionally under snow during its moderately cold winters. Spring and autumn are temperate, but summer temperatures can be steamy, especially in the south. Shikoku has a warm temperate climate most of the year and Kyushu is warm and humid, tending towards the sub-tropical. Okinawa, of course, is totally tropical. Remember, though, that the September/October typhoon season is best avoided if you’re touring by bike!