It’s hard to sum up two months of cycling across Japan, but I’ve picked my most memorable moments and summed it up into three sections: highlights, cycling notes and budget notes. In the captions I’ve provided the specific names or locations you can look up for yourself.
Food is always on my mind after a long day in the saddle and these are the highlights (in the order that I experienced them) that I would definitely recommend to anyone going to Japan. Most of them are reasonably priced, but the occasional splurge on a big meal was definitely worth it.
I was very lucky to meet up with two of my cousins that I haven’t seen in over a decade and they were able to show me around to the places they call home (Chi Hanh on the left in Yokohama and Thao Lam on the right in Kakogawa). They helped me recharge my batteries with lots of food and relaxing onsens. I hope they come to Australia one day so I can return the favour.
I didn’t spend much money on tours and attractions because there was so much free stuff to do like hiking and enjoying the beautiful parks and scenery.
Castles galore! Although the castles have different features and histories, Matsumoto Castle (bottom right) was my favourite because it’s one of twelve original castles and they provide free English tours to help you understand its significance.
The two main religions are Shinto and Buddhism and the temples and pagodas were incredible to admire, particularly because they were paired with equally beautiful gardens and surroundings.
Although some people I met here were rather shy, there was always a lot of joy, warmth and smiling faces. It was nice to take a break from the solo side of things and meet people in hostels and go exploring together.
The final figures for my Japan tour from Fukuoka to Tokyo (including the last leg to Narita Airport):
- 28 rides and 34 days for resting and exploring
- 128 hours of cycling, ~4.5 per ride
- 1,978km distance, ~71km per ride
- 16,726m elevation, ~597m per ride
Needless to say, Japan is very mountainous and some of the days were pretty brutal. Rides 14-20 were in the Japanese Alps and I took plenty of time triple checking the weather, elevation maps and any blog posts I could find about the area and it all went smoothly. The Alps were by far the highlight of my trip, especially the Norikura Skyline, and it was painful but also rewarding to tackle some of the most challenging rides I’ve ever done.
The infrastructure in Japan is phenomenal for cyclists, although you still have to ride on highways, most cars and trucks are diverted onto the extensive network of expressways and toll roads. Drivers are also very courteous and give you plenty of space on the road shoulder and they’re used to seeing cyclists, so it’s safe to say that they’re looking out for you too. In the Alps region there were a lot of tunnels, so you would just need to have your front and rear lights charged and ready to go in those sections.
Navigation-wise, the signs on the road include English as well and provide distances to make things easier. I mostly used Google Maps, by looking at walking routes and using the terrain layer to see the elevation lines. I bought a data only SIM card which costed roughly $40 AUD for 2GB of data with a 3 month expiry.
Food-wise, things are really easy, there are always vending machines nearby and an icy cold drink for 100 yen ($1.20 AUD) is a huge morale booster. The convenience stores (mainly 7/11, Lawsons, Family Mart) are very common and they have very cheap ready made meals, free wifi and exceptionally clean bathrooms. On the main highways there are also rest stops that you can find on Google Maps and they will have similar amenities, plus restaurants or cafes, often serving ice cream.
Since Japan is such a safe place, a simple cable lock is enough to deter potential thieves and in most areas there are still people walking around or cycling late at night, so I never felt unsafe. I found that people were very helpful when I had a few mechanical problems or got lost.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that Japan is an expensive place to visit and I braced myself for the worst, however I found that my Japan tour was a lot cheaper than my South Korea tour.
- Accommodation: admittedly it can be pricey for hostels, averaging 2400 yen or $30 AUD per night, but the quality and reliability is very high. The minimum standard includes: clean and tidy rooms, good wifi, fully equipped kitchen (sometimes free breakfast) , clean bathroom with body wash/shampoo/conditioner, usually a fancy toilet with seat warmer and bidet, each bunk equipped with a light, powerpoints, storage and a curtain.
- Eating out: this depends on your preferences but it ranges from:
- 400 yen ($5 AUD) for a ready made meal from a convenience store
- 800 yen ($10 AUD) for a typical Japanese main meal at dinner or a lunch set
- 1200 yen ($15 AUD) for a special meal, for example, if it has extra meat
- 2000+ yen ($25 AUD) for a really special meal, like Kobe beef (up to 11k yen for the highest grade), all you can eat BBQ, Hida beef or fancy sashimi
- Groceries: fresh fruit and vegetables can be exceptionally expensive (the pretty fruit are priced higher and are given as gifts), but all the basics like milk, eggs and bread are cheap.
- Transportation: this section is much smaller because I didn’t have airfares, I just took a $110 ferry from Busan, South Korea. Unsurprisingly, public transport is incredibly efficient, always on time and very easy to follow. You can get an IC card to use on subways, metros, trains and buses across the country, plus it works on vending machines and convenience stores too. Alternatively the day passes for each city are usually good value.
- Leisure: attractions are very cheap and usually under 400 yen ($5 AUD) for museums, galleries, gardens and popular temples in places like Kyoto. In Tokyo they have a lot of experience-based attractions with cover charges around 1000 yen ($25 AUD), but I guess that’s what you need to pay to be surrounded by cats/owls/hedgehogs/maids/robots/any other peculiar things.