There is no other country that peaks SpiceRoads followers and cycling tour fans interest like Japan, in a recent customer survey 40% chose Japan as their number one country to learn more about and earmark for their next cycling holiday.
My cycle and travel adventures started 19 years ago and my appetite to experience new places will not be dwindling anytime soon. I’ve been lucky enough to cycle in over 40 countries enjoying 1000’s of cities, towns, and cultures, along the journey. Each with their own story to tell, one of my all-time totally unique favourites is Japan. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the land of the rising sun 8 times over the last 4 years for pleasure and work to develop new cycling tours, fine-tune and optimise existing tours, train, and onboard new guides and local teams and even guide a couple of trips for custom groups. With that here are just 8 reasons you must cycle tour Japan.
1. THE ENJOYMENT OF BICYCLE TOURING
In my mind, there is no better way to immerse yourself in a new region than exploring by bicycle. If you are a curious person by nature you will I love the authenticity bicycle holidays and how close they can get you to local life. On a bicycle tour, you are traveling on your terms, if you see something of interest you can just stop, explore and ask questions. The other wonderful benefit is that locals seem so much more open and approachable to a stranger on a bike, often they are as inquisitive as you about the situation, and the uniqueness of the encounter is often shared. You are a traveler, not a tourist, you are welcomed and this is hugely increased thanks to the hospitable Japanese culture.
There is a strong Biking Culture in Japan it is commonplace scenario for people, even in the concrete jungles of Tokyo – to see people; young and old using bicycles to get to where they want to be. If you walk on the sidewalks, seeing people riding bikes easing their way beside you is just normal and there are bike lanes everywhere.
2. THE CUISINE (AND DRINKS)
As an avid daily cyclist, I’m always hungry, I’m unsure the constant cycling drives my hunger or my desire to constantly try new foods drives my cycling. Either way, I’m comfortable with the situation.
Japanese cuisine, the simplicity, the holding true to traditions, the unique flavours, fresh ingredients, the minimalist but sophisticated presentation and that is just the tip if the iceberg for the Japanese foods we already know. To be in Japan immersed in the country's deep tradition of heritage cooking, traditional ceremonies and to taste REAL cuisine in a journey in itself. From the hole in the wall Izakaya in downtown Kyoto to the okonomiyaki restaurants in Nara serving the same dishes since 1971, to the endless snow crab and seafood of the western coastline of Kanazawa and the Noto Peninsula.
The traditional, the modern and the just straight out different and weird, you will want to try it all.
I’ll also bundle sake, whiskey and beer under reason one, Japan has a long produced world-renowned beers and whiskey. Sake is the national drink, from a brewing technique that is believed to have spread throughout Japan in the Nara period (710 to 794), so a fair history there.
3. THE CONNECTION WITH ANCIENT TRADITIONS AND CULTURE
To be fair this is one of the aspects I was least familiar with about Japan but this is my standard modus operandi when traveling to new places. I’ll do the top line homework but prefer to land in a new location without expectations and to be open to all that it has to offer, the good, the bad, and the outrageous. Engaging with local guides, tour leaders or friendly locals is key to this approach though, as I travel I want the know the “WHY” as much as the “WHAT”, almost everything that happens in Japan happens for a reason, they are meticulous in all aspects of life and business by nature.
Kimono and traditional dress, tea ceremonies, sumo wrestling, hot springs, communal bathing, bowing, rising sun, music, visual arts, sports, pop culture, respect, national pride, gardens, bonsai, architecture, Pokemon they all have a reason and process that are observed. There are SO many experiences that are completely unique to Japan that will have you in awe and eager learn about. A guide can seriously enhance this experience by deeper explanation and also showing you some of the off the tourist path insider moments. Art has a long history in Japan, it is extremely diverse an on display at all times, there is something for every art lover. Searching out galleries is a great way to pass a free afternoon, but if galleries are not your thing you will find natural exhibits in every setting.
4. THE MODERN AND SAFE INFRASTRUCTURE
Trains and Bullet train make extended transfers a breeze. In Japan, you are rarely far away from a train station and your next destination. No questions asked you get to put your feet up and enjoy the changing landscape as it hurtles past peacefully, personally I’d probably have a beer in hand for the trip. Purely for carb loading and rehydration purposes of course. The bullet trains can transfer you between travel hubs smoothly and effortlessly.
When investing in roads the Japanese have often replaced the old one with a new one running in parallel. This leaves the quiet old road (still well maintained) as a perfect route for cyclists. Beyond the main roads sees climbs over deserted along jade rivers, gentle climbs over mountains pass, descents on perfectly maintained roads. Most of these B roads speed limits of 60 km/h off the motorways and generally lower at 40 km/h on villages and outskirts. So even when there is traffic it goes at a sensible pace. A safe and comfortable riding environment, that said SpiceRoads tours usually have been meticulously crafted to take you on the roads less traveled ensures you are shown the roads less traveled.
5. THE VISUAL IMPACT AND SCENERY
Japan is acclaimed for its endless and diverse natural beauty, be it Cherry Blossom season, iconic snow-capped volcanoes like Mt Fuji, ancient tall timber forests, diverse coastlines, stunning crystal clear lakes, and exquisitely manicured gardens. Japan is a volcanic place, alongside the molten rock, hot springs burst out of the ground across the country and feature in the tour such as Kyushu Onsen to Onsen. There is also scenic amazement in the megacities, stereotypy neon signs, modern architecture, and pop culture displays everywhere. The ancient architecture on display all over the country is endless, the Shinto shrines, the blazing orange gates, the temples and monastery, castles, traditional homes, architecture, and tradition it is endlessly on display. As mentioned the stories and history that accompanies these presents a wonderful story.
If possible you can schedule a trip around the Sakura season (cherry blossom) that has been celebrated in Japan for many centuries and holds a very particular place in Japanese culture. Although there are many varieties of the cherry tree in Japan, most bloom in spring, turning the countryside beautiful sea of pink and white and there is a real sense pride and joy for the season all over the country for both visitors and locals.
One of my favorite places in Japan is Nara, rich in history, fantastic local foods and restaurants run by the same families for generations, sakes distilleries, and the famous deers that roam the streets.
6. THE DIVERSE LANDSCAPE AND CYCLING OPTIONS
Cyclist, love a challenge and Japan has plenty for you to enjoy be it; conquering mountains, rugged coastlines, epic bridge crossing connecting islands, or navigating around volcanoes there is a little test somewhere for all. Most of the time you enjoy casually pedaling along stunning coastlines, through World Heritage National Parks, cycle-friendly rural roads; farmlands, around caldera lakes, and though cityscapes. Japan has it all and in just 7 days you can get a sample of it all, a true cyclist’s paradise! I can’t pick a favorite place I have cycled in Japan as they really are so diverse. SpiceRoads currently offers 3 very different tours and experiences in Japan with several new tours due for release in late 2020. There is plenty more information on the cycling topography at each tour page.
7. THE ACCOMMODATION, HOSPITALITY AND INHERENT RESPECT
This is an aspect I’ve become accustomed to over my trips to Japan, no matter the accommodation type or level there is an unwavering focus on hospitality, cleanliness, and welcoming. Nothing is ever too much trouble for your host, you are always treated as the only person in the accommodation. There are several types of accommodation in Japan. Japanese modern hotels are short on space but high on amenities, but the real experience is in the traditional Ryokan accommodation, with tatami mat floors, futon beds, shared natural onsen thermal baths, and Yukata wearing residence. Japanese culture is a great model of a hierarchic society based on mutual respect. It emphasizes the respect of privacy and elders are to influence the youth through teaching them how to respect each other from a very early age.
8. THE WEIRD AND WACKY
From the moment you disembark the plane at the airport, you will be stepping into a new world, automation and machines are everywhere. Your first few trips to the bathroom may be a little daunting but be adventurous and go with the flow (hehe). There is a vending machine for your every requirement, again it starts at the airport, purchase your SIM card, train ticket, any drink you can imagine hot tea, noodles or coffee are there. In the cities of Kyoto and Tokyo, there are underwear vending machines, yep, weird. Vending machines are all over the countryside too, you can be 40km down a wooded forest road and find a vending machine with all the fueling needed to ride out the journey. Pop-culture is on display everywhere it includes Japanese cinema, cuisine, television programs, anime, manga, video games and music. There is a large industry of music, films, and there is a huge comic book industry, among other forms of entertainment. Game centres, bowling alleys, and karaoke parlors are well-known hangout places for teens while older people may play games. It is just everywhere! There is so much more, crazy noisy pachinko games (gambling rooms) are wildly popular. Under Japanese law, cash cannot be paid out directly for pachinko balls, but there is usually a small establishment located nearby, separate from the game parlor but sometimes in a separate unit as part of the same building, where players may sell special prizes for cash, it’s very discreet in Japanese style. In the city of Tokyo is the most insane theatre show on earth called Robot Restaurant Show, it’s so incredibly Japanese!!! It sells out hours in advance for 3 screenings per night, but with the effort to buy your tickets early then explore the hub of Tokyo.
This article could have been The 80 reasons you should tour Japan, but then where would the fun be in that if you were prepared or anticipating all wonderful moments along the journey. If you would like to ask me any specific questions on Japan or need assistance with your trip planning please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until we ride again soon
Director of Product and Marketing