Since we finished our trip in July 2010, we have had quite a few ask for help in planning their own bike tours in Japan. We have compiled many of the most common questions into the list below.

We have done our best to remove any personal information from the questions; however, please let us know if you have sent us a question and would like it removed from this page.

  1. I am thinking of doing some cycle touring in Japan and would like very much to get some practical advice on how to plan my trip.

    The best way to start is by answering a few basic questions. Once you’ve answered these questions, you will have a much better idea of how to start planning each phase of the trip. We recommend starting with these questions:

    • Where would you like to go in Japan? Would you prefer staying in one region, or do you want to see as much of the country as possible?
    • When are you planning to go on your tour? The weather can vary quite a bit during the year (even during the warmer part of the year from May to September), and this may affect where you can tour. Remember that Japan is primarily oriented on a north-south axis, so it can be quite warm in the south and still be very cool in the north.
    • What kind of terrain do you enjoy? Do you like mountains? Do you prefer urban areas or rural areas? Japan has all of these, but the southern part of the country (southern Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku) is much more densely populated and urbanized than the Tohoku region (northern Honshu) and Hokkaido.
    • Will you be camping, or do you prefer staying in hotels and inns? Or do you prefer a mix of both? Depending on the time of year, it can be very difficult to find camping in the southern part of the country, but hotels can be found everywhere. Camping is much easier (and cheaper) in Hokkaido, if you prefer that style of bike touring.

  2. I am a beginner at bicycle touring; do you think Japan would be too difficult for my first tour?

    Don’t worry about being a novice–our trip through Japan was our first long cycling tour. If you can handle the different culture and language, then Japan is actually a very easy place to tour. You are never very far from supplies (we rarely rode more than an hour or two without passing through some small town with at least a convenience store or two), and people are always willing to help you if you get into trouble. In addition, you almost never need to worry about your personal safety or your belongings. The toughest part about touring in Japan may be all the mountains!

  3. Would you still suggest touring in Japan after all of the problems following the Tsunami of 2011?

    This is a tough question to answer. Our trip was in 2010 (before the tsunami), so we have not directly seen the impact on the Tohoku region. However, we did ride through the affected area on our trip. From what we understand, it is generally safe to ride through the Tohoku region, although we would not recommend going anywhere near the Fukushima area. If you are considering a length of Japan ride, you may want to go up the west coast of Tohoku instead of the eastern side (as we did).

    However, please keep in mind that we are by now means experts: please research carefully before making a decision about this part of your trip.

  4. I really like the idea of riding the length of Japan, but I’m also considering just choosing a region like Hokkaido. Do you have any recommendations either way? What if I’m only doing a two week tour?

    If you only have a short amount of time, we would recommend picking a single region and exploring it in depth. Depending on the time of year and your touring style, Hokkaido can be a great place for a short tour–especially if you enjoy natural scenery, camping, and hot springs. We have heard that Shikoku or Kyushu can also be great for shorter tours, particularly if you are interested in exploring Japan’s history and culture.

    For a longer tour, we loved riding through the length of the country. However, we feel that this type of trip should not be rushed–it’s even better if you have plenty of time to enjoy the sights along the way.

  5. I have a lot of questions about practicalities–I noticed you used Surly LHTs–would you recommend them? Did you use 26inch tyres? Did you use cycling clips or just normal shoes? Which tent did you take? Are there any major changes to your gear that you wish you made not you’ve completed your trip? Any recommendations re. panniers, waterproofs?
    Also–what roughly was your budget each day? I’m aware Japan is a pricey country, but I wonder how affordable it is camping and using stores sometimes for food?

    Great questions. Here are some answers:

    • Surly Long Haul Trucker: This is a great bike, we really loved ours. They have really good balance when loaded up, they’re very durable, and easy to repair. One thing you might want to change: Vicky had problems with the road-style brake levers on long descents; you may want to consider mountain- or cross-style levers instead if you have smaller hands.
    • Tire size: Kelly’s LHT has 700cc wheels, while Vicky’s has 26 inch wheels. This was not ideal, as it meant we had to carry two different sets of tubes and spare tires. This was because the 54″ Surly LHT (Vicky’s) required 26 inch tires, while the 56″ LHT (Kelly’s) had the larger rim size. This changed in 2011 however; now you can use 26″ wheels for both frame sizes (see Surly’s LHT page for more info).
    • Cycling Shoes: We both used SPD pedals and shoes. Being able to clip in was a huge advantage, given how much climbing we did in the mountains. However, we made two choices that really made things easier: (1) we both used mountain bike shoes, which had recessed clips that made walking around easier. (2) We bought pedals with clips on one side and normal surfaces on the other; this meant we could also easily ride in sandals or normal shoes whenever we wanted.
    • Tent: We used an REI three-person tent (something very similar to the Quarter Dome T3, but a now-discontinued model); this tent was a little heavier but gave us plenty of space for keeping our gear out of the rain. The tent worked pretty well (especially considering how much it rained on us). The floor leaked a little bit after a while (due to a couple of punctures), but we were able to patch those. We definitely recommend taking a tent footprint as well, for extra moisture / puncture protection.
    • Gear: The most obvious one is better rain gear, and something to keep our feet dry. Riding with wet socks and shoes (especially in the cooler mountains) can get really tiring. Riding with your entire body soaking wet (as we did for weeks until we broke down and purchased real rain jackets) is exhausting.

      Other than that, most of our gear worked well. Our Whisperlite Dragonfly cooking stove in particular worked out well, as it could use multiple types of fuel.
    • Panniers: We had fully waterproof Ortliebs, front and rear. These were great as we didn’t have to deal with separate rain covers. They’re a little heavier, but absolutely worth it if you’re in the rain.
    • Budget: It’s hard to give a short answer for this. Really, it depends on your budget and how you want to travel. Japan is relatively expensive, but probably not much different from traveling in Europe. One benefit is that you can free-camp quite a lot, and you can get your meals down to a few dollars each, if you’re willing to have a repetitious diet. Don’t except to eat a whole lot of fresh vegetables, though–unless you’re willing to pay quite a bit more. We’ll try to put together a separate page to show our budget for the trip.

  6. Can I get a GPS record of your trip?

    Unfortunately, we don’t have a GPS recording of the tour. However, you can get the exact directions by going to our Route page and zooming into each segment.

  7. How is internet access in Japan? Did you use 3G or Wifi internet?

    We found internet connectivity to be a little problematic. It’s easy enough when you are in a hostel or hotel (although hostels are not a sure bet for an internet connection), but it’s much more difficult when you’re wandering around looking for a campsite or place to stay for the night. We ended up using our iPhone very sparingly, and only as a last resort. It’s pretty difficult for a visitor to get even a pre-paid phone plan in Japan (you have to have a permanent address), so we had to pay international data rates on our US wireless account.

    We never did this, but it seems to work for other bike tourists in Japan: find an all-night internet cafe, and pay the overnight rate and sleep there. You get a private room with a couch, a bathroom, and as much internet time as you need. The only problem is the noise of the cafe, and juggling sleep time with time spent online…

  8. What did you do with your bikes and equipment when you were shopping / sleeping / sightseeing / not on your bikes?

    This was almost never a problem–Japan is an extremely safe, respectful country. With the exception of a few areas in a few major cities, there is very little crime, and it would be extremely rare for someone to be rude to you, much less steal your equipment.

    We forgot our bike locks when packing for the trip, and ended up buying two when we arrived in Fukuoka. By the third week of the trip, we stopped using it–and despite leaving our bikes and gear outside stores, museums, hotels, etc. we never had any problems. In general, you should have no problem leaving your bikes and gear in a campground while running errands or sightseeing.