Cycling Japan

Lana's recent bikepacking trip to Japan didn't just yield some unbelievably pretty photos; it revealed a country that is incredibly friendly to cyclists. We were all jealous of this trip. Enjoy a top read before researching flights to Japan.

Words & Images - Lana Adams

Last year my partner Max and I made a pact - when we saw cheap flights to Japan that fit into our work/study schedules we’d buy them and go cycle there. We mentioned this to our friend Pat who had previously traveled to Japan to cycle tour and he was instantly in. So when the flights appeared, we bought them. 

If you google cycling in Japan you’ll find a choir of blog posts saying what an amazing country it is to tour and cycle in. It didn’t disappoint. Cycling is an incredibly important way of life there, if you don’t catch the train, you cycle. The cities are too large and complicated to bother driving 5 blocks to grab some last minute ingredients for dinner. Outside supermarkets there are rows and rows of bicycle lined up, most equipped with baskets to make them useful, utilitarian vehicles. The sidewalk is the bike lane of choice, and we were very out of place roaming the streets in lycra and helmets!

You exist on the road as just another road user, and over the 500km we cycled there we didn’t encounter the slightest hint of road rage, not a single scary close pass, nothing. I believe this is helped by the lower speed limits throughout the country, and made every ride double as pleasant. There’s not even a particularly large amount of cycling infrastructure, it’s just that it’s not needed when you are normalised and respected on the roads. 

Our plan was to have pre-booked airbnb’s waiting for us each evening, and to cycle from one to the other - from Osaka to Kyoto, to Nara, to Kobe and finally back to Osaka to leave. Our plans changed slightly when Pat unfortunately broke his collarbone a week and half out, so we juggled up our plans and spent 3-4 days in each location to get a feel of the places more instead of instantly riding off the next day and to not completely abandon him. We were to carry everything we needed on our bikes, using bikepacking bags, and we chose our road bikes as our bikes of choice. I have a touring bike but I wanted to travel as light as possible, and there would be days where we left out bags in our accommodation and we were able to ride carefree and wanted to feel somewhat nimble up the Japanese climbs. 

And climb we did. My favourite roads were steep and narrow, mostly one lane, littered with switchbacks and safety mirrors around every bend to predict any (rare) oncoming traffic. Our rides were planned by either using google street view, exploring Strava segments, or by just choosing interesting looking roads near our accommodation. This worked in our favour every ride, we once encountered unexpected roadworks that cut our ride short and once we attempted to play dumb at a toll road before being told we couldn’t ride it (this turned out to be a great turn of events as we got to take a smaller road and found our first Japanese gravel!).

We were lucky to arrive right in the midst of the short cherry blossom season and experienced some of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen. I took two film cameras with me, and tried to document them all. I think I’m still coming down from coming home a month later. If you get the chance to take a bike, do! It was an incredible way to see parts of the country that I would never have had the chance to see. 

Follow Lana on: