For me, Japan is one of the most fascinating countries in the world.
Japan has so much to offer to the foreigner tourist: great towns and cities, beautiful countryside, mountains, history and food. Above all, these are the Japanese people that are most special and welcoming.
Bicycle Trip in Japan in Numbers
|2||May 13||Takayama||Gero||Route 98||53 Km||897 m|
|3||May 14||Gero||Yaotsu||Route 83||72 Km||1214 m|
|4||May 15||Yaotsu||Gifu||Minokamo||70 Km||533 m|
|5||May 16||Gifu||Hikone||Route 303||93 Km||1191 m|
|6||May 17||Hikone||Takashima||Route 303||65 Km||542 m|
|7||May 18||Takashima||Kyoto||Route 367||82 Km||1308 m|
|8||May 19||Kyoto||Kyoto||28 Km|
Bike Trip in Japan – Day by Day
Day 1: Kyoto to Takayama – By Train
After renting our bicycles, we took them by hand from our hotel (El Inn Kyoto) to Kyoto train station, and boarded on the morning direct train to Takayama. It takes the train about 4 hours to reach its destination.
We’ve disembarked the train on Takayama station, unpacked and rebuilt the bikes and rode to our Hotel. On the way we've stopped for a short coffee break in a local, lovely coffee shop.
It was rainy in the evening, and we've decided to leave the bike stored in the hotel, and went for a short visit to the lovely city of Takayama. Later in the evening we spend a quite evening in the Takayama Kanko Hotel's Onsen.
Day 2: Takayama to Gero Onsen – A Warm-up Day
The rain was over, and finally we were ready for our bicycle trip in Japan.
The first riding day was the right time to get used to our new bikes and to riding on the left side of the road. During our trip we've tried to avoid the main roads and to use side roads. Although our bikes were equipped with road tires, there were times when we rode on unpaved surfaces.
Route 41 is famous for its spectacular scenery. Luckily, there is a long and quite wide sideway designed for bicycles (not marked, though) that we could use. On some parts of the road the sideway appears on the right side of the road, and sometimes it discontinues and continue on the opposite side.
Trying to avoid the busy road (and to please Dror, who is always looking for steep climbs), we've road along route 98, a mountain road that is climbing on steep mountains, visiting lakes and ski area, and descending back to the valley, joining route 41 and route 88, directly to Gero Onsen, for a great welcome in our hotel - Suimeikan.
It was a long, enjoyable riding day: what an opening for a great riding week!
Day 3: Gero Onsen to Yaotsu – Losing my wallet, Steep Climbing to Yaotsu
We've started the day visiting Shirakawago Gassho Zukuri Museum. Then we rode again along route 41, visiting small villages along the way.
At one point of time I realized that my wallet is missing. We have suspected that it was left near a 'nomimono-machine' (drinks machine) in the village of Hida Kanayama, but we were not sure if this was the place. It was too late to return to Hida Kanayama from where we were. We've decided to challenge the Japanese people's reputation to bring back lost valuables that they find.
At Shirakawa junction we've left route 41, turned East via route 62 to route 68, and start climbing the mountains north of Yaotsu, along the steep curves of route 83.
After (almost) every long climb there is a long descend, and though we've found ourselves, at the end of another challenging and enjoyable day in the warm and welcoming hands of Sato San, 4'th generation of managing lovely Matsuya Ryokan.
Sato san heard the story about the lost wallet: her advice was to contact the local 'Koban' (police station) and to file a claim. We were so tired and hungry and it was very helpful that the policeman did not force me to visit the station. Instead, I gave him all the details over the phone.
Day 4: Yaotsu to Gifu – From Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum to Shirakawa River
Today's weather was hot and humid. We climbed the hills of route 418 towards Suguhara hill of Humanity, to visit this important Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum. It tells the heroic story of Sugihara San, a minister in the Japanese foreign office that was stationed in Lithuania during the 2'nd world war. By doing his brave actions, Sugihara San saved the lives of around 6000 Jews.
Trying to clear our disturbing thoughts, and while descending back along route 418 and 83, we were looking for a place to rest: a coffee break would be perfect!
Kato San is a retired JAS Captain who decided to fulfill a long time dream and to open a coffee restaurant. It is located in front of the gasoline station just after crossing Kiso River, on route 83. If you have the time to visit Kato San's place, you will find there not only good coffee and excellent homemade cheese cake, but also a warm welcome.
After this short brake we continued our ride along villages and rice fields, towards Minokamo city, as my wallet was waiting there in the local 'Koban' (police station). Did we talk about the Japanese efficiency?
Day 5: Gifu to Hikone – Urban Ride, Steep Climbs, Steep Descends
There is a quite flat road that goes from Gifu to Biwa Lake, but again we have decided to take a much quitter and pictures mountain roads.
The first flat 15 miles of urban ride did not gave us the right clue about what to expect on the 2'nd half of the day. As we left the urban area and headed south, along route 365, the calm weather was changed and became very windy. At some parts of the ride we could not develop more than the minimum speed to stay stable on the bikes.
The way up to the mountain pass along route 306 was steep and long, but there was another difficulty: a flat tire that I had on the way up, one that develops slowly and is hard to recognize until a late stage.
Going down from Taga Pass to Hikone was a great reward for our climbing efforts. We spent the night at Hikone Castle Resort & Spa.
Day 6: Hikone to Takashima – Along Biwa Lake, Coffee with the French Guy
We've started the day visiting Hikone Castle. Take a look:
We rode along the east bank of Lake Biwa, trying to stay near the water. It was a lovely Sunday, and many families and couples were out traveling. We met many bicycle riders on the way.
At some point we left the coastal road, and rode along a nice peninsula on scenic route 557. On the trees and near the lake there were many monkeys that probably wanted to spend some quality time with their families on such a sunny day.
As we left route 557 we found ourselves in a very nice coffee shop that is laying just on the water front of Lake Biwa, in Makinohigashi. Quite music of Lora Johns in a Japanese antique shop and a very welcoming Japanese couple, and the calmness of Lake Biwa were the perfect cast for our meeting with a French guy who have decided to take a several month break from his intensive life as a civil engineer in Tokyo and to cross Japan on his touring bike, just before making some important decisions in his life.
We spent the night at Grand Park Hotel Okibiwako Makino, near Makino station, east of the city of Takashima. It is a lovely place, located just 100 yards from the lake.
Day 7: Takashima to Kyoto – Along the Holly Valley, Up and Down to Kyoto
We left Lake Biwa heading north along route 303, than headed west along route 367 that is laying on a long valley, on the way to Kyoto. As always, we've decided to be "creative" and from time to time we've left the main road and took the small, country side roads so that we could see the "real" Japan and the Japanese people living in the countryside. If you plan to follow this route you need to be aware that unlike the rest of the main roads, route 367 does not have any bicycle sideways.
After crossing the pass, about 650m above sea level, we've started a long and nice descend to the historic city of Kyoto. The scenery of the country side was changed to a more populated area, but Kyoto does not look like other cities: in many parts of the city it still has the look and feel of a small village.
Day 8: Day trip in Kyoto – Visiting Kyoto's Temples
Today was our last riding day in Japan, so we planed a relaxed and enjoyable urban bike ride.
Going down from Jinkakuji Temple we rode along the "Route of Philosophy" and some other temples. It was a great day that left us with a hunger for more days like this in Japan.
To finalize our day (and actually our 8 days of bicycle trip in Japan) we've returned the rental bikes to Keving from CycleOsaka.com, who together with his business partner Sam, are expanding their bicycle rental business from Osaka to Kyoto as well. After celebrating our achievement drinking a cold bear with Kevin ("Kampai"!) – we've returned to our special Ryukan in Kyoto to spend a quite night in Japan.
Renting bikes in Japan was a complicated task. As our trip was a relatively short, we thought that it would be best to avoid bringing our bikes with us and to rent touring bikes locally. However, it was very difficult to find a bicycle store or a bicycle rental agency that is renting any bicycles other than simple city bikes suited for urban day trips.
Luckily there was one positive answer to our unusual Email request. It was from Sam, who runs with his business partner Kevin a successful bicycle renting business in Osaka: CycleOsaka.com. Sam arranged us three quality Trek bikes that were perfect for our needs.
'Kampai' with Kevin from CycleOsaka.com
The bikes came equipped with rear racks to hold our panniers; In addition, the handlebars were equipped with quality ergonomic grips. Other than these two additions, the bikes did not have any extra accessories.
Although the month of May was not supposed to be too rainy, in Japan there is always a possibility of rainy days. Luckily, public laundries are very common, so you can count on washing your used clothes at the end of each riding day.
On most of our riding days the weather was dry so we did not have to carry any rain resistance clothes. Each of us brought two or three sets of bicycling shorts, two bicycling shirts, two pairs of socks and three under wears. In addition, one set of cycling gloves was sufficient, as well as cycling head skull cap.
The list of personal equipment to carry in such trip is long, and includes personal papers, money (most ATM machines accepts all major credit cards), video and still cameras, mobile phones (I suggest to carry with you an external battery chargers), first aid kits, bicycle repair kits and a travel size Kleenex moist wipes.
How Did We Carry Our Bikes on the Train?
In Japan you are not allowed to carry your bicycle on a public transportation if it is not being stored inside a bicycle bag or a travel case. The good news is that you can wrap your bike with plastic bag, and even carry it with you on your rear rack to be used later on, if needed. Just remember to bring with you a utility duct tape. Take a look:
How Did We Navigate?
The planning Phase
For planning our bicycle trip in Japan we searched for maps that are made specifically for cyclists. To our surprise we did not find any cycling maps, at least not ones that are covering the area of our trip (mainly Gifu prefecture). The only option was to buy maps that are designed for motorcyclists, called Touring Mapple (you can buy them on eBay). A list of all Touring Mapple maps can be found here.
Instead we used Google Maps for planning our trip: it was enough for our needs.
Finding Our Way
Since the introduction of the GPS system, navigation has become so simple. We used an off line GPS navigation program called MAPS.ME, which was perfect for our needs. In addition, we used enlarged printouts maps of our final destinations, taken from Google Maps.
Bicycle Trip in Japan - The Movie
Last Word about Our Bicycle Trip in Japan
Although we rode only 7 days during our bicycle trip in Japan, it was a lifetime experience. Besides the scenic views, the small country roads and the food, these are the people, the Japanese famous hospitality that bought our hearts. So the only word that we can say now is: