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touring around Japan in July-August


May 28, 2008
Hi folks,

I am a Canadian planning to come and tour in Japan in July-August for about a month. I was told by some that it was unspeakable hot and humid in most of Japan but nice in the north. But is it very rainy in Northern Honshu then? Is this a good plan if I am not a fan of being drenched? Other places more appropriate you think, such as the Japan "alps"?

Also, should I bring a tent or will I easily find places to stay (ryokan and such)?

Any tips on how to get in and out of Tokyo or Narita would be appreciated too!


Hi Christo, welcome!

I lived up in Akita for three years, and the summers are plenty hot up there as they are in Kanto (Tokyo region). The mountains will provide a respite from the heat, and there are plenty of them running along the spine of Tohoku. Only trouble is it gets a bit hot climbing up them :) I wouldn't say it's rainy at all up there, once you're past the rainy season (June-ish). There is a chance you'll meet up with a typhoon or two, but they only last a day or two.

If you're on Honshu, my guess is you'll always be within a bike ride of a place to stay...although the small village minshukus are a dying (dead?) breed, most towns with a train station will still have a ryokan/hotel.

Getting out of Narita is easy...you're already well out into the countryside, so you just have to point the bike north. If leaving from Tokyo, the river routes appear to be the best, although the Tokyo guys would know more.
Japan Eh!

I am from Toronto and now living in Yokohama and work in Tokyo. Last year I cycled from Tokyo to Fukuoka. The best thing I did in my life - absolutely breathtaking scenes and amazing people. I did the trip in two segments first Tokyo to Kobe – 3.5 days (solo) and then Kobe to Fukuoka – 4 days (with my friend from Toronto). I then didn't speak single word of Japanese. The best part of the trip is PEOPLE. People even offered me to stay in homes but I stayed in hotels and they are dirt cheap and twice restaurants insisted that I not pay for food (Canadian flag on your backpack is a big PLUS).

I/We had load of fun and probably I can share information. If you tell me your schedule I might join you but I am not into racing - I cycle for fun. You are welcome to stay in my home (I have four rooms) if you need a place in Tokyo. I can also offer you one of my bikes for the trip. I have medium size Rush Carbon and Jekyll 800. They are in great shape, Jekyll got touring tires.

Yes it is extremely hot and wear very bright color cotton (many tunnels in Japan and drivers are not as friendly as in Ontario more like Bostonians). If you tell me your route and average mileage you expect to do, it will be good start. I am jealous but anything for fellow countryman.
travel in North Honshu

Hey Donny,

What a generous offer! Are you really serious about lending one of your bike? Maybe I could rent it, that would save me a lot of packing trouble and I wouldn't feel bad putting mileage on it...

I haven't finalised my plans, but my idea was to head North as it's supposed to be cooler. Hokkaido appeals less as I gather it's very similar to north-eastern America... lots of wilderness but not much in terms of architecture and pretty towns. True? I am not a competitive type in the least bit. My goal is to experience Japan on a slow pace and get the freedom to explore remote corners and go anywhere I like. I am thinking of doing 80-100 kms a day, but staying put for a while when I find a good spot. I am quite into swimming so a place that has good food and neat dipping spots could hold me down for a few days. I am thinking of spending about a month in Japan. I heard it was very expensive so it's nice to hear that it's not necessarily that bad.

Do you think it's worth carrying camping gear then? Or can I find a cheap place to stay quite easily, not speaking Japanese?


Japan's best kept secret

Hi Christo,

Thought I might chime into this thread. First of all, great choice - Japan is a hidden gem, prime cycle touring destination. I'm surprised it's remained a secret for so long !  Anyway, here are some tips, completely subjective --

You can probably survive without a tent and stay at cheap "minshuku" (Bed & Breakfast) in smaller towns & villages, and business hotels in the larger towns. The minshuku are always a great deal - anywhere between 4,500Yen - 7,000Yen and you always get to eat as much as you can at dinner and breakfast.  With some gluttony at breakfast, you can often get through to dinner with only a few snacks…
However, self-supported gives you more flexibility, and if you're cycling for a month, you are definitely going to come across some beautiful places where you'll think "Man, I really wish I'd brought a tent now…".  If you're used to carrying loads, bring the tent !

The best by far are "Touring Mapple", aimed at motorcyclists: there's a book per region (Tohoku, Kyushu, Shikoku, etc..). Although they are mostly in Japanese, they clearly label routes (trunk roads, minor roads, etc), contours, towns, heights of mountain passes, campsites, onsen (hot-springs), and points of interest (if you can read some Japanese!). They also colour-highlight roads which are particularly scenic:
http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto/map_e.html#TOURING MAPPLE

There is also a less detailed English atlas: good enough, but doesn't cover some of the more "interesting" mountain roads. Also, it doesn't have much Kanji, so it can be difficult if looking for road-signs (which are generally in Japanese…):
http://www.e-wadachi.com/howto/map_e.html#ROAD ATLAS JAPAN

Route planning: 
Anywhere flat in Japan has generally been over-developed, so you've really got to head to the mountains. If you follow the "Touring Mapple" road codes, you can equate Red to a main trunk-road, Green to a quieter A-road/B-road, and Yellow to decent lanes. In general, I try to avoid the Red roads, unless they are used to join up the Green roads.
  One warning about coastal roads:  unless they are craggy or remote, I generally avoid them as they are built-up, busy with traffic, and not particulary attractive. The dead giveaway is a Red road between large towns on the map - it'll be a bloody nightmare.  But for non-trunk routes (Green, Yellow or White) it can be absolutely beautiful. Tell me if this Cycling by Colours is starting to sound a bit lame...
  One tip: if you look at your map carefully and see a road zig-zagging upwards, have faith ! Sure, it's probably going to be steep, and a little (?) painful but it's also likely to have a lot of trees which will keep you relatively cool and shaded. You can also gauge how steep a road is by checking on the map if there's a river running alongside it.

Yep, it'll be hot & humid pretty much wherever you go. With a month at your disposal, you could chose a region, and explore it well: Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kyushu, Shikoku, etc. 
Hokkaido is very popular for cyclists, an outdoor "paradise": less built up than Japan in general, some great camp-sites, more "vista" type views. However, there's less accomodation choice-per-mile, the roads are straighter (you see the 1200m pass you have to climb hours before you actually get there…) and there is less visible history, as you guessed.  Personally I prefer the unpredictability of Honshu (the rest of Japan), where a turn in the road can bring a new surprise. A few places which randomly come to mind:

- Shikoku has the "88 Temple Pilgrimage" route, which takes in the whole island, and with diversions for sightseeing comes close to 1000 road miles. Some nasty climbs, but the sense of satisfaction from completing this though leg-power alone is fantastic. And you really get a sense of the culture and history of the place. Oh, and the monk at each temple puts a stamp and writes some calligraphy in a book/scroll you pick up at Temple #1.
- Kyushu is my perenial favourite:  mountains, onsen, and even some lovely coastal roads in the south (particularly hot in summer, though !).
There are many historical and natural places of interest (check Lonely Planet, etc) so you can cover a lot of sights as well.
- Tohoku was my first love:  you can really feel that you're away from everywhere, get deep into mountains, and leave the rest to the Mountain Gods
- The rest of Honshu has some wonderful places: west coast of Izu peninsula, the Southern Alps (as you mentioned), the Kii Peninsula (get a ferry to the bottom and cycle up through the valleys to Kyoto, via Koya-san)... it's endless.
Here are a couple of useful sites for route ideas and general touring info:

Let me know if there's other info I might be able to help you with -
Wow, great info Steve, for newcomers and old hands alike. I'm going to have to pick up one of those Touring Mapples next time I'm at the book shop. Sounds like just the ticket for longer journeys.
heat in Tohoku

Thanks for the detailed information Steve!

So from what you say, I get the impression that it's going to be incredibly hot anywhere I go. I had picked Tohoku mostly bc I thought the weather would be milder. Isn't it? It's pretty close to Hokkaido... If it's not, then it sounds like Shikoku might be a better cycling spot?
Hi Christo,
I think that Tohoku, although still sweaty, should be a couple degress C cooler than Shikoku. But I figure that as you're going to be feeling the temperature anyway, no matter where you go in a Japanese summer, I personally wouldn't make that the priority. As Phil mentioned in a an earlier post, it'll be a little cooler once you're in the mountains - and there are plenty of them to go round, no matter where you are ...
So - have a think which areas interest you, and take it from there. You might decide that Tohoku is the place to go anyway, regardless of climate!
Hello Koribeyer,
I've stayed in a couple: one was just like a friendly minshuku (B&B), very well-organised with optional dinner - only difference was that you share a room with others. The other one was a shed.
One thing to bear in mind in August is that they get quite busy and from what I understand many don't accept reservations: it's first-come-first-served. Generally once it's full you may be turned away. However, lone foreign cyclists have a good chance of some sympathy being shown.
Still, if you're set on Tohoku, go to Tohoku ! You can still find minshuku for 5000yen with a huge breakfast & dinner thrown in - you'd be surprised how much money this can save by cutting out convenience-store munchies.

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