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Circumnavigating the Archipelago

Andrew Deane

Speeding Up
Aug 17, 2007
Just curious -

Has anyone heard of anybody who's cycled around the entire coast of all four of Japan's main islands in a single trip? Or even one of them? Or each of them in four separate trips?

Many people cycle from Cape Sata to Cape Soya (BEE, the abominable Ms. Josie Dew, et al.), but has anyone followed a coastal road all the way round one of the main islands?

Two or three worthy & witty wackos have walked from head to toe (Alan Booth's The Roads to Sata & Craig MacLachlan's Four Pairs of Boots - required reading!). There's an 88 temple pilgrimage that roughly follows the coast of Shikoku (MacLachlan again - Tales of a Summer Henro).

And what sort of distance are we talking about around the coast? It's over 3,000 km from cape to cape, so I'm guessing we're looking at roughly 7,000 to 10,000, mostly done on rural, winding roads, empty roads. But, what an adventure it'd be!

It's a crazy dream of a man still trapped at work, staring out into a dark rainy night dreaming of long-gone youth... Reminds me of an old poem:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains...
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought...
Come, my friends.
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Sorry, bit of a long quotation from Tennyson, I know.:rolleyes:

Anyway, I'd be interested in any recommended "winter" reading on cycling in Japan, and interested to hear TCC members' epic tales!

Perhaps we could start an armchair club of would-be coastal migrants... And yes, I realize that Ulysses was an old, heroic man and I'm only a middle-aged teacher, but it's cheaper than buying a little red corvette...
i biked around Hokkaido. 23 days (Very leisurely pace) and I can't remember the distance (2,138km? but that might just be the amount of calories I ate each night). If I had the time and money I would love to do all four islands. weather is the biggest bummer. Look up Travis's(yellow giant) sprint around Kyushu.


Thanks for your post! I have had Hokkaido on the radar ever since I returned to Japan a few years ago, but for one lousy reason or another, it has remained only a vague destination among many others.

But you encourage me to think again. Do you still recall your route, or did you more or less circle the island. And what were the highlights? Challenges?

If I do it, it'll be with wife & baby in a "support wagon" (my wife is not keen on cycling great distances).

You say weather was a concern. What season did you go and what weather did you suffer?

Go for it!

Cycling the entire coast-line is a little too much, perhaps. But here's the very short versions of four trips that have completed "Honshu" and "Kyushu";

Leaving Tokyo on May 1st, 2005, I set out towards Kyoto.
Day 1: Exactly 100km to Odawara - Unevenful, except that it was dark by the time I arrived.
Day 2: Odawara to Shizuoka; 132km - Over Atami-toge (of which I had to walk the last one kilometer), down to Mishima, and following Rte.1 to Shizuoka city, arriving at about 5:30pm.
Day 3: Shizuoka to Okazaki (just south-east of Nagoya) - Had my closest call ever with a truck on a downhill just after a tunnel in the morning, but made it to Okazaki at about 7pm. Was very hard to find a place to stay there. About 150km.
Day 4: Okazaki to Hikone (on the east-side of "Biwako") - That was the day I wanted to quit. I mailed my friend, Simon "ponyman", who told me "You're almost there... Just keep pedalling!".
I'd ridden 90km to Gifu, and knew I still had about 60km to go. Was feeling the "saddle-sores" big time. Got to Hikone (again) in the dark, at about 7:30-ish. 150km.
Day 4 1/2: Only 70km to Kyoto! Left late, and arrived in Kyoto at about 2:30pm. Was elated for just having made it! (Never actually saw any of Kyoto though - too tired). On the way back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen though, the follow-through trip to Shimonoseki was already in the planning.

Pic1; Day one, between Enoshima and Odawara - 30km to go.
Pic2; Day three, between Shizuoka and Okazaki (Near "Hamamatsu")
Pic3; Last day! That's not the ocean; it's "Biwako" (largest lake in Japan) but it was misted over & you couldn't see the other side.
Pic4; Finally arriving in Kyoto - Higashi-Hongan-ji
Tour number 2...

Kyoto to Shimonoseki - 580km.
EXACTLY 1 year later, 2006 May 1st.

Day 0: I finished work on that Friday in the late afternoon, and rode straight to Tokyo station from where I took the Shinkansen to Kyoto; arriving at about 8pm.
It was dark and I had few options for accommodation, but finally found a place.

Day 1: Kyoto to Himeji - 125km - I left really early, not being sure of the speed I could hold, but then found myself in Kobe at around noon. I had less than 30km to ride, so I spent some time hanging around.... a convenience store, to have lunch & a few beverages whilst thinking "this is all too easy"!
But those last 30km were SOOOO slow! Finally arrived in Himeji at 4pm.
Day 2: Himeji to Fukuyama - 160km - I knew this would be a long day, so I left early. The most memorable (scary) part was all of the over-passes - didn't want to stop at the bottom for traffic-lights. Then I went up one over-pass that I couldn't get off of - 11km of shear HELL! Trucks whizzing past with only centimeters to spare - like a bad acid-trip! Finally made it down, and got to my destination at around 5pm.
Day 3: Fukuyama to Iwakuni - 110km-ish?! - I reached Hiroshima at about 2:30pm an took time to check out the "Genbaku-Dome" (where the BOMB exploded above some 60 years earlier), and it started raining as I continued towards Iwakuni - about 20km.
Once again, finding accommodation was difficult, as there was a company function happening in town.
Day 4: Iwakuni to Shimonoseki - 155km - This was to be my last (and longest) day. I had the option of following Rte.188 around the coast or taking Rte.2 inland and saving myself about 20km - I took Rte.2!
I was almost there, so I didn't want to take any chances. I also met a guy on a motorbike who I saw about 3 times at various different convenience stores - of course he got there before me, but he was taking much longer breaks - he waved at me just I reached Shimonoseki. Got there just before sunset; 5:30.

Pic1; Akashi-Ohashi (between Kobe & Himeji)
Pic2; In front of Himeji Castle!
Pic3; Hiroshima (Genbaku-Dome) & my bike.
Pic4; Me, my bike, and the worst tragedy in recent history.
Pic5; Finally arriving in Shimonoseki - The bridge to Kyushu in the background.

Yellow Giant,

Thanks for the posts. I am intrigued by your approach: fast & light; piece by piece. You appear to be carrying only a backpack's worth of gear. Care to share the contents, and comments on what you needed/didn't need?

Did you ride to a specific destination, or simply go as far as you wanted/could before looking for accommodation?

When I was living single in Canada, I took up ultra-lite backpacking, and doing trails fast and light. Has its advantages (and its challenges, too: try riding out a West Coast rainstorm in a light-weight tent!).

I went from Otaru straight up to wakkanai then down to shiritoko, nemuro and kushiro. Erimo and hakkodate up to Otaru again. On the coast the whole way to avoid killer mountain passes. I went exactly 10 years ago to the day so i got snow on shiritoko pass and the odd storm. Most mornings i was waking up with ice on the tent. yes i camped the whole time, often in paddocks. biggest storm dumped three inches or water in my tent. not nice. having a support wagon look at Travis's modus operandi (sp)? .

I wrote this last year after the "Kyushu" trip, just before the "Tohoku" ride:

There have been some very good questions regarding how much "luggage" to take on a trip like this. I can't tell you exactly what to take, so I will tell you what works (worked) for me last time.

I never use panniers / saddle-bags on a road-bike. I've seen pictures of Sora-san with saddle-bags on the front & back of his bike, and I would probably recommend that for any trips longer than 10 days.

Last time though, I bought a "deuter - Trans Alpine 30", 30 litre back-pack specifically for the Kyushu ride (on my previous tours, I only had a 25 litre back-pack.)

Bottom line is: "Most of what I was carrying, I was wearing!
I rode in the same clothes everyday. All I changed were my socks and underwear each day.
A good rule of thumb is, if you're riding for 3 days, take four sets of undies, and four pairs of socks. If the ride is 5 days, take six pairs (Boy-Scout training – Be Prepared!)

Apart from the riding gear that I was wearing most of the time, because I was riding in winter, I had one pair of "ski-pants" to put on when I stopped for breaks to keep the warmth in, and my trusty blue "Columbia" all-weather jacket, for the same reason, and a small scarf to keep my ears warm – They are also "semi-casual" – and good for wearing around the town once you arrive.
That keeps the load down in the clothing department. NO extra shoes! You will hardly ever use them. Just walk around the streets in your bike shoes - if you have some cool shoe-covers, nobody will notice anyway.

Other important stuff is the rain gear!
I always take my wind/water-proof yellow rain cape, my full-length Pearl-Izumi rain-pants and Shimano waterproof shoe covers. Also, an extra pair of heavy duty winter gloves (which I only needed to use once on the last trip).
THAT IS IT! For the clothes! Nothing else needed.

I took THREE spare tubes with me (never had to use any of them), and one tire/tyre.
Most punctures are only pin-points, and the tube is all you need, but SOMETIMES, when the tire gets a long gash in it, even replacing the tube won't fix it – the tube bulges out of the tire like a blister, and you need to change the whole tire as well (I've had it happen! And again, boy-scout training)!
As for puncture repair-kit & bicycle-fitted pump….. If I have to tell you that, then you're not ready!

That's it really!
Keitai, wallet and tissues were all carried in the jersey's rear pockets.
Travel as light as possible

For longer journeys though, I think Philip was right in saying "SteveT" is the man to speak to on these matters! He's got loads of advice for loooong rides.
Send SteveT a PM, and ask him what he thinks.

As for the ride plan itself; I would always go for a distance of between 120-150km a day. Plan that before you even start out. And ALWAYS do a "map check" the night before. Sometimes, your original plan can seem too over-estimated, or sometimes under-estimated. But make a basic plan before you set out, and you can change it en-route according to how you feel.
Hope this helps! T
Light as a Feather

Thanks, both of you for these posts.

Kiwisimon, I'll check your route on the map when I get home tonight.

Yes, I have been slowly reading through SteveT's fabulous account of his London-Tokyo ride a few years ago (http://www.turnrightforjapan.com/). I used to do cycle-camping as a teen, (Cascade Mountains & San Juan Islands, Washington State, USA; Gulf Islands & Vancouver Island, BC, Canada; Cornwall, England, etc.), but NEVER such a MONSTER trip as Steve's 15,000 km!

But, now I have certain responsibilities, time has become acutely restricted, and a two- or three-day blitzkrieg on a specific route seems the way to go. The 30 liter pack sure carries a lot, despite its apparent limitations. The wonderful thing about cycling in Japan is the proliferation of conbini that dot the landscape. It eliminates the need to carry a lot of food & water.

YellowGiant, just a few more questions:

What did you do about accommodation? Book ahead? Wing it? Stay at minshoku? Ryokan? Sleep in bus shelters...

Did you carry a lock for your bike? (Yes, I know, this is not Mongolia, and herdsmen don't ride off with your bike & tent in the middle of the night, but...)

I did a 9 and a half days, 1040+km ride up and around the Tohoku coast. The whole story is here

I certainly packed too much and ended up mailing things home... unfortunately including my house key::eek::

When I do it again, I will not bring more than 3 sets of undies/socks because I washed them almost every night. This meant sometimes putting on damp things in the morning but it was fine for summer. I don't think I packed nearly enough to justify the pannier and bags, in the end.

I didn't book in advance and when I woke up one morning only to realize I had two broken spokes and needed to wait until a bike shop opened, I was glad I didn't have to change reservations/bike in the dark. Being able to go with the flow and change my mind as I went was good for me. It can backfire, but I got lucky.

Generally, I had a list of cheap-ish places along my route and had a destination I was shooting for. If by 3pm or so, I knew I would get there, I'd call ahead and make sure there was a spot. I traveled just before Obon holidays so it was never a problem. More often than not, though, I'd roll into town, go to a convini and ask for a recommendation of where to stay. This always worked well for me, but depending on your looks etc, it may not work as well. Some of my guy friends consistently get bad customer service in Japan, shockingly. Being a woman traveling alone had some Japanese ladies very concerned that I find a good place before dark. Also, my Japanese is good enough for this strategy.


I began at last to read over SkewedSnapshots. What fabulous photos! I like the interesting subjects and unusual angles. Also, thanks for your advice on traveling light and free. I understand you take a certain risk, but then that is a part of the adventure. And, in a country like Japan, the very worst that could result is a cold night at a bus stop! But at least this is a secure country (in general).

I cycled a mountain road in the Izu Peninsula this weekend, and I found myself routing to avoid tunnels like you did. But, the smaller roads are always more interesting, and scenic.

I look forward to reading the rest of your blog as time permits (I'm a teacher too, and it's report writing time)...


YellowGiant, just a few more questions:
What did you do about accommodation? Book ahead? Wing it? Stay at minshoku? Ryokan? Sleep in bus shelters...
Did you carry a lock for your bike? (Yes, I know, this is not Mongolia, and herdsmen don't ride off with your bike & tent in the middle of the night, but...)

Sorry for the late reply!
Usually, I never book ahead; I just hope there are rooms available at the "Business Hotels". Although, depending on the season, you can't always rely on this.
On the "Tohoku tour" with Thomas, we were advised to book ahead as two days later was the official start of the Japanese holiday season. And one day before reaching Tohoku, we stayed at Hirosaki - we were very lucky to get the last two rooms in the place (As we were checking in, the counter phone rang and the lady behind the desk had to turn the guy away - EXTREMELY lucky).

To the second question; Yes, I always carry a bike lock, but it's short & thin, and can only do 2 bikes at a time - frame only. Or one bike around a post & wheels.

Thomas & I can both recommend "Toyoku-Inn" 東横イン
Very clean, and all relatively new!
Most of them will allow you to keep your bikes in their parking area, or somewhere behind the building.

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