Two Canadians to tour Chubu and Tohoku in 2010

Nov 16, 2009
35
3
18
Vancouver, Canada
#1
My friend and I are from Vancouver (the wet coast of Canada!) and are planning a trip to Japan in September 2010 to do a cycling tour of Chubu and Tohoku. The tentative arrival date is the third week of September just before the Autumn Festival holiday on Sept 23. We would work off our jet lag in Tokyo over the weekend and start our cycling journey on Monday, Sept. 27. It might seem early to plan this trip but my friend has a great job with Xerox where they allow employees to bank 25% of their salary for 3 years and then receive the accumulated 75% of the salary in the 4th year which they have off to do whatever they want. What a great program! I wish more companies would do this. Anyway, she's off travelling in the New Year to South America and wants to finalize and budget the Japan portion before her departure.

We have some questions about cycling in Japan that I thought could be best answered in your forum.
1. As we are planning to take the Keisei Skyliner from Narita to an as yet unchosen hotel in Ueno (in order to minimize lugging our bike boxes and luggage around Tokyo), it would appear best to start our journey by taking the train in the mid-morning on Monday to a location on the outskirts of Tokyo. Are there any suggested stations where we could begin our journey? Our initial thinking is to start by riding up the east coast with no specific destination in mind at the moment. The goal is to do a loop by riding up to Miyagi or Akita Prefectures and then down the west coast and through the Nagano area and back into Tokyo. We like hills so one of the highlights for us will be the Japan Alps. The plan is to ride about 20 days or so.
2. Judging by some of the blogs of the various journeys of TCC members, there looks to be some great cycling to look forward to. It appears that most stopovers reported in the blogs are at minshukus or ryokans which look to be a little bit beyond our budget. We are looking more at youth hostels. Could someone provide an estimate of what the rates are for the ryokans and minshukus? My google searches show a minimum 10,000-12,000 yen and up for ryokans with onsens while a youth hostel is about 3,200 yen. Any suggestions for specific good value ryokans or minshukus would also be appreciated?
3. We are also planning to take advantage of the Japanese courier services which will ship your luggage around the country for a relatively modest fee. We figure around 2,500 yen for a suitcase. By doing so, we can travel light and ship our suitcase to the next chosen lodging location. Can anyone advise if this is feasible? Are these services not available at some of the more isolated locations that a cyclist may venture to such as in the Japan alps?

Anyways, I may have more questions as I continue to plan my trip. Thanks in advance for your answers and please throw in any suggestions or tips that may be useful for our journey.
 

jdd

Maximum Pace
Hardest Crash
Jul 26, 2008
2,497
628
133
Kanazawa
#2
Besides youth hostels, you might also consider kokuminshukusha (国民宿舎). These are usually priced above a hostel, below a ryokan, and more similar to what a minshuku might cost (difference is that they're usually much bigger than a minshuku, sometimes with nice baths). Can't find a decent map of their locations, but if you've got some Japanese try http://www.kokumin-shukusha.or.jp/ and explore. Within that site are two sublinks, one for kanto and points south/west, and another for hokkaido/tohoku. These list each one with supposed occupancy, but you have to stumble thru to find out where they actually are: (japanese necessary)

http://www.kokumin-shukusha.or.jp/kusitu/kks1.html
http://www.kokumin-shukusha.or.jp/kusitu/ht1.html

Also, they accept bookings in different ways, and one more common standard is that they begin accepting a certain number of months in advance (six months or so is typical). If the dates you want are on or around a holiday, that can be important. My experience with these is that they run about 7500-8500 yen, including dinner and breakfast. But I've seen that ones in heavily touristed areas charge 10,000+ (still probably cheaper than other stuff in the same area).

Also, tho you may have already found it, browse http://www.japancycling.org/v2/ and post in the Q&A there if you want.

Finally, tho hard to book in advance, there are "business hotels" that run 5-7000 yen--no dinner but some have a breakfast buffet. Usually in bigger towns and cities.
 

Phil

Maximum Pace
#3
1. As we are planning to take the Keisei Skyliner from Narita to an as yet unchosen hotel in Ueno (in order to minimize lugging our bike boxes and luggage around Tokyo), it would appear best to start our journey by taking the train in the mid-morning on Monday to a location on the outskirts of Tokyo. Are there any suggested stations where we could begin our journey? Our initial thinking is to start by riding up the east coast with no specific destination in mind at the moment. The goal is to do a loop by riding up to Miyagi or Akita Prefectures and then down the west coast and through the Nagano area and back into Tokyo. We like hills so one of the highlights for us will be the Japan Alps. The plan is to ride about 20 days or so.
If you're planning to go up the east coast, you could do worse than starting at Narita itself or Sakura (a couple of stations west toward Tokyo). From there you have easy access to the Tone River cycling path, which would take you almost to the coast, at which point you could turn north up the 355 or 50 at the east end of the big Kasumigaura Lake. If you do this, you might want to consider staying in Narita over the weekend, and just doing day trips by train to Tokyo.

Other options might be taking the Joban line to, say, Tsuchiura or the Tsukuba Express to Tsukuba and starting from there. It might be hard to avoid using Rte 6 from that side of the lake, however, which--at least the parts I've driven--is a fairly grim road for cycling.

Note that the coastal roads aren't always the best choice here, as they are often the busiest roads in any given region. That said, I've driven on some nice coastal roads up in northern Miyagi near Kesennuma.

I think Phil Harris and koribeyer on these boards, as well as others, have toured the east coast of Tohoku, so they might know more about the roads there.

2. Judging by some of the blogs of the various journeys of TCC members, there looks to be some great cycling to look forward to. It appears that most stopovers reported in the blogs are at minshukus or ryokans which look to be a little bit beyond our budget. We are looking more at youth hostels. Could someone provide an estimate of what the rates are for the ryokans and minshukus? My google searches show a minimum 10,000-12,000 yen and up for ryokans with onsens while a youth hostel is about 3,200 yen. Any suggestions for specific good value ryokans or minshukus would also be appreciated?
10,000-12,000 is probably the median price for ryokans, but I don't think its hard to find cheaper (say in the 5000-6000 range), especially in touristy destinations (All along the coast of Kujukuri, for example, there are (bare-bones) places to stay for 3000 yen... That would be without meals, or "sudomari"). Also, you probably know this already, but accommodation prices are almost always per person, not per room.

Everything I've read about Japanese youth hostels suggests they are not worth the bother; they're barely cheaper than minshukus but with strict, arbitrary rules and schoolchild-like dormitory arrangements... I have no personal experience, however.

If not booking ahead, a good plan in the countryside is to head to the nearest small town with a train station and there may be some kind of tourist information booth/center there that can help you find rooms. Every city hall will also have a Tourism Department who might be able to help.

It sounds like this might be in your itinerary already, but I'd definitely recommend taking in Lake Towada when you pass through Akita. One good route might be to turn left at Morioka in Iwate, go over the right shoulder of Iwate-san to cross mount Hachimantai, then through Kazuno and on to the lake. One of the most picturesque places I've been to in Japan.

Anyway, hope this helps. Good luck with the planning and trip.
 
#4
Hello there,

First, I would reiterate a couple of things that Phil mentioned:
- If you have a choice, always go for a minshuku over a youth hostel. There are some nice youth hostels but they are generally few and far between. For the same price you can often find a friendly minshuku, with better food, and your own room. In general, minshuku are definitely the way to go - generally around 6000 yen to 8000 yen, including breakfast and dinner, you can eat yourself senseless so that you really only need a light lunch during the day to keep you going.
- In general, avoid the coast roads. There are a few nice stretches, but in general you're far better off sticking inland. Seeing as you like "hills", this should suit you perfectly !

A few other things:
- You could consider taking a night train north: it's a relaxing way to start a bike trip and you don't lose a day traveling.
- The shipping service, or "takkyubin" is great - I often use this to ship my bike and/or camping gear to the start of a route. However, I don't think this is feasible to do on a daily basis - you'll spend half your time looking for the shipping offices and filling out forms.
- I would recommend to travel with a tent to give you maximum flexibility, but I guess you're looking to travel as light as possible: you can do that pretty easily if staying at minshukus, as they give you a "yukata" to wear once you arrive. And in small Japanese towns it seems you can quite freely walk around in your pajamas...
- Here are a few other general tips about touring in Japan:
https://tokyocycle.com/bbs/showpost.php?p=7485&postcount=5

Tohoku is a fantastic choice of destination: I've been there a few times now - if you like mountains and you like onsen you won't do any better. In September last year I did a twelve day tour north to south, following the mountains, the "spine of the north". Some highlights which I highly recommend:
- Sukayu Onsen in Aomori: an incredibly atmospheric old wooden onsen up in the mountains of Aomori
- The descent towards Towada-ko: some great natural onsen on the way.
- Oirase Valley: a magical little stream which takes you to the shore of Towada-ko
- Hachmantai mountain range: nice climb, this one ...
- Urabandai, Fukushima-ken
- Inawashiro-ko: cycling round the east and west shore of this is wonderful
- Ouchi, Fukushima-ken: if thatched houses are your thing..
Also, although not visited on this trip, Tamagawa Onsen, Akita-ken: on the way to Tazawa-ko, fire and brimstone ...

I actually mapped my daily routes, which might be useful:
http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/Spine-o-the-North-Day-1
http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/Spine-o-the-North-Day-2
... and so on up to....
http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/Spine-o-the-North-Day-12-Last-Day

Photographs are here - click on "show info" in the top right to see the associated comments with each photo:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/stantopia/sets/72157607282985550/show/


Hopefully this should give you a few ideas. Too many, perhaps ?!

Cheers
Steve
 
Nov 16, 2009
35
3
18
Vancouver, Canada
#5
Thanks guys for all the information and suggestions.

With respect to the delivery service (or takkyubin) and wasting time to find pick-up locations and filling out forms, do they not come to you at your lodging? I was hoping that I could arrange for them to come to wherever I'm staying to pick up my suitcase.

Also, if the east coast is not all that interesting, we may head to Mt. Fuji first and circle up the west coast of Honshu. We're still wide open for route suggestions at the moment. We ride the local mountains here in Vancouver, Seymour and Cypress, which are total elevation gains of about 1,000 metres and an average grade of 6-7%, I think. How does that compare to Mt. Fuji?

Any idea of what the weather will be like in late September to mid-October in Tohoku? Should we be prepared for rain and colder temperatures in the mountains?

Thanks again.
 
Nov 9, 2006
303
0
36
Yokohama
#6
Tohoku

Also, if the east coast is not all that interesting, we may head to Mt. Fuji first and circle up the west coast of Honshu. We're still wide open for route suggestions at the moment.
I road down the east coast from Aomori prefecture to Yokohama; I found it quite interesting.

[QUOTE}Any idea of what the weather will be like in late September to mid-October in Tohoku? Should we be prepared for rain and colder temperatures in the mountains?[/QUOTE]

Not much rain, unless a typhoon happens to be passing. Mid-October temps will be cool at night

I`ve been able to find minshukus for as little as 4000 yen (no meals). In Sonma port, I stayed at a minshuku (advertised as a ryokan) for 4500 yen for one night and two meals
Soma_Inn.jpg


Should you decide to bike the up east coast from Tokyo, I recommend this place in Ryori-Wan in Iwate prefecture (綾里湾)
Ryori-Wan3.jpg
 
Nov 16, 2009
35
3
18
Vancouver, Canada
#7
Great photos Steve!

Looked over your photos from flickr of your ride in Tohoku and they were excellent! Full of colour and contrast. Lots of sights to look forward to. Your suggestion of taking the train up north and then riding down is interesting. Can you tell me how much this would cost?

Also, in those instances where it is necessary to take a toll road, do cyclists have to pay? If so, is there a reduced rate for cyclists?

Thanks!
 
#9
Hello Velojim,

Thanks for the comments ! You'll find Japan is an incredibly photogenic place - bring spare memory cards, batteries and a charger. There are other bike trips also photo-documented under my flickr account if you want further ideas.

With respect to the Takyubin, maybe it could work by summoning them to your lodgings every night... but I wouldn't rely on it. A good compromise might be to do it every few days from major towns and carry what you need in-between.

Night-trains are slowly disappearing from Japan, losing out to buses and cheaper flights. I took the "Akebono" train from Ueno but I'm not sure it that's still running. Here is a link to all the night-trains but I would confirm first:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2356.html

The Japan tourist information line is a great source of information:

Tourist Information -
Japan National Tourist Oganization (JNTO)
Travel-Phone English toll-free info; except Tokyo & Kyoto
Daily 9am-5pm (0120 444800) or (0088 224800)
Tokyo Tourist Information Center 03 5321 3077
Yokohama Tourist Information Center 045 441 7300
Osaka Visitor Information Center 06 6345 2189
Kobe Convention & Visitors Association 078-303-1010
Kyoto Tourist Information Center 075 344 3300
Sapporo Tourist Information Center 011 209 5020
Sendai General Tourist Information Center 022 222 4069

I know they used to be very helpful. At one point I was on first name terms with the ladies operating the toll-free line...

Cheers
Steve
 
Nov 16, 2009
35
3
18
Vancouver, Canada
#10
Average daily cost for meals

Steve:
When you were cycling in Tohuku, did you eat out mostly in restaurants? Apart from your costs of lodging, may I ask what you would have paid for meals? Are bento box lunches from a convenience store a viable option or are that few and far between in that area?
tks,
Jim
 
#11
Hey Jim,
Assuming you're staying in minshuku/ryokan/hostels where breakfast and evening meal are included, you only need to worry about lunch. In Japan, even off the beaten track you'll find somewhere to eat, whether it be a restaurant or convenience store. Either case, you're looking at around a 1000 yen or less (ask for "oomori" - a large portion - in restaurants). Add to that snacks & drinks through the day - say, another 1000 yen ? Plus other refreshments ...:beer2:

The key is the 2 meals at your lodgings - you will eat well !

Cheers
Steve
 
Nov 16, 2009
35
3
18
Vancouver, Canada
#12
Steve, thanks for your reply. I figure 10,000 yen on average should be more than enough per day to survive. I'm getting quite excited about cycling around Japan although it's still months away. After having cycled in the south of France which was amazing, I think Japan may be even better but without the boulangeries and patisseries.

Looking at your flickr pictures and reading that you stuck mostly to mountain roads, what kind of distance and elevation gains were you averaging per day?

Cheers,

Jim
 
#13
Hi Jim,
Generally between 80km and 120km (+/- 20km some days), and between 1000m and 1500m (+/- 500m some days) - depends how much sightseeing I did. The route links I posted above will give more detail. I was carrying quite a load, so if you're travelling light you should be able to cover more distance if you want (though I don't suggest it - go at a leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery).
I've been meaning to start posting up my notes/diary for various trips (for the last few years ...) - hopefully in the next couple weeks or so I'll have something up. Keep your eyes peeled on this thread !

Cheers
Steve
 

Velojim

Cruising
Nov 16, 2009
35
3
18
Vancouver, Canada
#14
Best route of your Tohoku Spine Tour

Thanks, Steve, for all your suggestions and your patience in dealing with my queries. Were there any routes of the 12 days that you rode that you would consider "must ride" routes? I'd like to incorporate some of them into my route planning.

Also, I would imagine that it would be possible to base oneself at one location and spend a couple of days riding around rather than having to move each day to a new location. Are there any specific locations which you could recommend for this?

Cheers,

Jim