We spent two months cycling through Japan, from Hokkaido to the western tip of Honshu and loved it. It is a fantastic country and great for cycle touring. It ranks as the number one country (so far) of the 21 countries we have toured on this trip. We started in Hokkaido at the end of August and the weather throughout the trip was good apart from having to shelter from two typhoons. It is a mountainous country and very beautiful, we watched the autumn colours appear as we headed south. We caught 2 ferries, from Hokkaido to Akita and from Kobe to Shikoka.
We Cycled 3,115km
climbing 41,135 metres
Why is it so good? There is no one reason but a combination of many;
1. The countryside, beautiful scenery, from neat rice fields to groves of Japanese cedar and bamboo. Good roads generally quiet. In most cases if there was a busy road you could find a quieter road that was heading the same way or follow a cycle track by the road. The north in particular was quieter.
2. The people, we found most people to be very friendly and helpful. More reserved than in some countries but if you asked for help they would go out of their way to try and aid you. We were given food in parks when people had barbecues and the stall holders in the country were keen for us to try their fruit and veg. Few people spoke much English until you reached any main tourist area. As with every other country the Japanese were less amiable in busy tourist areas.
3. The Japanese eye for detail. Everything works from vending machines always being full and giving change to free public toilets everywhere that were always clean and had toilet paper. There was rarely any litter anywhere and recycling is an art form. The towns and cities were always neat and tidy and well cared for.
4.The camping, the Japanese like to camp so there are plenty of campsites around. Many are free and the average we paid was about 1000 yen a night about £6. The camp sites are all basic with rarely any showers or wi-fi. There are no caravans and not many motorhomes around. Apart from camp sites we camped in parks and roadside rest stops with no problem.
5. The food, Japan has an a amazing range of food with thousands of regional specialties. It is generally fairly cheap to eat out. A bowl of ramen costs around 800 yen less than £5. Most of the places we ate didn’t have an English menu but many had pictures or plastic models of food in the window. The nicest meals we had were usually in small places in quiet towns. The fruit and veg are very fresh. The fruits are huge, with big apples and peaches which taste delicious. Usually from small producers who will have their name and often a picture of them, if the fruit comes in a bag.
6. Tokyo is an incredible city with no real centre but made up of 23 wards all with their own different characters. You can spend weeks exploring it and it is fun to cycle around. We liked all the modern architecture, and they are all built to a very high standard.
7. Convenience stores and vending machines. Most towns had a convenience store which sold all essentials including cakes and coffee and snacks. They also had toilets often the high-tec ones with mini showers. A great place for a break and refuel. If there weren’t any convenience stores around you could usually find a vending machine dispensing cans of cold coffee, sports drinks or juice. This is great as you rarely need to carry much food on your bike.
8. The cities and towns. Apart from Tokyo there were plenty of other beautiful cities with interesting buildings and architecture. There were a few areas with traditional wooden housing but most had been lost in the rush to modernise.
9.Kawaii (cute) The Japanese are into cute in a big way from cars to road signs, from clothes to furniture. Hello Kitty is just a fraction of what is on offer..
10.Onsens. Hot springs and public baths are everywhere and after a hot or cold day on the bike they are a great way to revive and freshen up. Again most regions have their own special water with “health giving properties”.
And then there is the snow in winter, the cherry blossoms of spring, the autumnal colours………