Exploring Japan on a Two Wheels: Where to Go If You Want to Go Bicycle Touring in Japan

Japan is one of the best places to explore on a bicycle. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful, it’s also safe for cyclists in every sense of the word. What’s more, it’s still a destination that is relatively unexplored when it comes to cycling. 

Although Europe remains the Mecca for cyclists, and most people prefer to head to France or Italy when they want to go on a bike tour, but if you want to go off the beaten track a bit, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better place than Japan to enjoy cycling in. 

Zeroing down on the best cycling routes in this beautiful country is no easy task, as there’s just so much to explore. That said, we’ve tried our best to bring you a list of the 4 best places to go bike touring in if you’ve got about 8-10 days in hand and plan to spend them exploring Japan on a bike.

Just a word of advice before we begin. Unlike in Europe, where a lot of people prefer doing self-guided tours, it’s better if you do a guided bike tour in Japan. This is because of the cultural differences, and also the fact that you’d be exploring a country that is very different from any other place you’ve been to. Having a guide by your side will not only make things like getting around, checking in and out of hotels etc. a lot easier, but will also help you to understand the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Japan better.

There are plenty of operators that run quality guided tours in Japan. You could begin by having a look at this company that does great guided Japan cycling tours complete with a local guide and a support van that follows you all the way. 

That said, here’s our list of the best places to explore in Japan on an 8-10 day itinerary.

1. Kyoto to Sea of Japan

Kyoto, the beating heart and the cultural capital of Japan, is often the first place on everyone’s Japan itinerary once they’re out of Tokyo. However, few people ever truly get to experience the rustic rural charm of Tokyo outside of the city. When you’re cycling through Kyoto, you’ll get to see quaint Japanese villages, beautiful castles that are off the tourist circuit, and plenty of onesens.

A good eight-day Kyoto cycling itinerary would start from the city of Kyoto itself, and once you’ve seen its landmarks such as the Golden Pavilion and the Kiyomizu Temple, you can head due north towards Miyama, along the Yura river. This is authentic rural Japan, and you get to ride past people farming, fishing, and tending to their cattle. . 

The next stop on the itinerary should be Fukuchiyama, famous for its castle built in 1576, and also home to a museum of sericulture, as the town is a center of silk production.  Next, head due east towards the Sea of Japan via Takeda, which sits right on the Prime Meridian. The area is known for its high quality grape cultivation. 

The beautiful Kinosaki Onsen should be the next stop on your itinerary. Make sure to also spend time at the Taiza Onsen, famous for its sunsets over the Sea of Japan. 

Finally, on day 8, you arrive at Amanohashidate, the famous sandbar in the Tango Peninsula, also known as the gateway to heaven. 

2. Shikoku

The smallest of the 4 major Japanese islands, Shikoku is perhaps the religious heartland of Japan. Among the Japanese, Shikoku is perhaps most famous for its 88 temple pilgrimage which involves doing a circuit of 88 famous Buddhist temples spread out across the island.

In fact, Buddhism is everywhere in Shikoku, and you should expect to see plenty of beautiful monasteries and faithful Japanese pilgrims paying obeisance at these monasteries.  In addition, Mount Koya, situated in Wakayama Prefecture, is one of the most sacred places in Japan and a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists.

If Buddhism is your thing, and you  haven’t been to this small Himalayan kingdom yet, make sure a Bhutan bike tour is next on your itinerary after you’re done with Shikoku.

Getting back to Shikoku, apart from its Buddhist temples, the greatest Shikoku highlight is the Shimanami Kaido, a stunning 80 km long highway over the Seto Inland Sea. With a dedicated bike path, this is a route that is tailor-made for cyclists.

You can start biking from Onomichi, a picturesque town set amongst hills and the sea that is often used as a setting for films. In fact, it’ll remind you of San Francisco like it looked back in the ‘60s, before the techbros took over. The nearest airport to Onomichi is the Kochi airport,

From Onomichi, the Shinamami Kaido highway takes you to Maytsuyama, famous for its castle and home to the Dogo Onsen. Next, you can ride through Nakatsu, famous for its gorges, and towards Kochi, which has some of the finest sake or rice wine in all of Japan.

The next stop should be Iya Valley, famous for its vine bridges, and some scenic biking along the Yoshira river. Finally, end your biking in Konpira.

3. Noto Peninsula

Noto peninsula is located in the central Japanese island of Honshu, and juts out westwards into the Sea of Japan. While having a beautiful coastline, the peninsula is also home to the beautiful Japanese Alps, which makes the peninsula a great setting for a cycling adventure.

Start biking from Kanazawa, then head north towards Hakui and Togi along the coast. Stay at the charming Wakura Onsen, then head towards Takayama for a change of setting from the sea to the mountains. Get ready to tackle some serious hills around Gujiyo-Hachiman, and the biking at Gifu on day 8. 

4. Eastern Hokkaido

Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, is also its coldest. Hokkaido’s northern tip, the Shiretoko Peninsula is just across the Sea of Okhotsk from the Russian island of Sakhalin. Hokkaido is different from the rest of Japan because of its heavy forest cover. Which means when you’re out cycling here, you’re in pristine wilderness.

A week-long Hokkaido cycling itinerary would start from Abashiri, a town in northeastern Hokkaido. The Memanbetsu airport in nearby Ozora is the best way to get to Abashiri. 

From Abashiri, you can begin cycling towards the Shiretoko peninsula, which is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its drift ice. This is also a great site for whale watching, and you can expect to see a few critically endangered whale species from the coast itself, although for the best sightings, you might need to head a little deeper into the sea on a boat.

From Shiretoko, follow the coast and bike east towards Rausu, famous for its kelp, which is prized in Japanese cuisine. 

While on the topic of cuisine, we would highly recommend trying out a dish called Jingisukan. Made from grilled lamb cooked with beansprouts, onions, bell peppers and mushrooms in an iron skillet, the dish is named after the Mongolian emperor Genghis Khan, because the iron skillet in which the dish is cooked presumably resembles the helmet worn by nomadic Mongol horsemen. Whether the Mongols really do wear such helmets is something we’ll only know if we ever went cycling in Mongolia, but what we can vouch for is that this dish will have you licking your fingers in delight.

From Rausu, turn south towards  the Akan Mashu national park. You get to ride past some quaint fishermen’s villages along the way, and some beautiful views of the Sea of Okhotsk. Once you turn inland, you can make a stop at the Yoroushi Onsen. Next, head towards the beautiful Mashu Lake, and spend the night at the Akanko Onsen. End the cycling in Abashiri so you can fly back conveniently from the Ozora airport.

Final Thoughts

And that’s it. That’s our list of the 4 best itineraries in Japan that will allow you to explore the best of this beautiful island country on a bicycle. If you’re interested in other active travel adventures such as skiing, make sure to check out this definitive guide to the best ski resorts in Japan that we compiled.

Happy travels!

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