Trip: Cycling across Japan, Spring 2023

So you have a love for the country of Japan, and you want to see more of it? You’d like a real adventure, to see the real country, outside of a short tour or holiday. You want to be there for a long time, but without breaking the bank. So, why not try bicycle touring? The plan – cycling across Japan within a 90-day visa window, wildcamping and couchsurfing, eating great food, seeing astounding sights and meeting unique people. The problem? You planned this trip for April 2020…

Yikes. Cycling across Japan, take two.

Three years later. I’ll be setting off to Japan in mid-April 2023 with the intention of cycling from Cape Sata, Hokkaido, to Cape Soya, Kyushu – the southernmost point of the main islands to the northernmost point. Wild, right? While making it all the way across the country is a general aim, this trip will be more about what happens on the way – the places I visit, the people I talk to, the things I see and the pace I choose to set. Bicycle touring/bikepacking can be about reaching X destination by X date, hitting X kilometres and smashing goals – but that’s not going to be my general approach to this trip. Packing my life onto a bike, it’s going to be exciting as well as a challenge. You really get to know yourself on a bike tour, and it’s a unique experience to do it in a country like Japan.

With plenty of cheap and filling dishes (ramen, okonomiyaki, yakiniku, udon and, of course, sake…), a healthy attitude to wildcamping and hot springs, shrines and great sights, there’s a lot it has to offer to bikepackers. Each region is different, and getting out of Tokyo and seeing less-visited prefectures will be well worthwhile. There’s Udo Shrine (鵜戸神宮) near to Miyazaki, a Shinto shrine built into a cliff overlooking the ocean. Also, Sakurajima (桜島), an active volcano in the middle of Kagoshima Bay. And then there’s the amazing hot springs of Kirishima and the red sands hiking up Mount Takachiho-no-mine. And that’s before you’ve even left southern Kyushu! There’s so much to see, and I’ll be pedalling my way from sight to sight.

Training up on some short cycle trips around England
A great Spring day to test out the bike’s weight

Let’s get ready-ready… to cycle!

With the sabbatical booked off worked, the preparations are time-consuming but relatively simple. Now that Japan is finally open, the vast majority of restrictions (including quarantines and routine tests) aren’t necessary. Just an optional signup to VisitJapanWeb and some QR codes should ensure a quick breeze-through in security and customs at Haneda. Specific cycle insurance as well as travel insurance is a must. The paperwork aside and bags packed, the main concern now is training and reducing weight in the panniers wherever possible. An extra few grams here and there quickly adds up, so less is more is the goal here.

An invaluable resource in preparing for this trip has been TomsBikeTrip, as well as his book, How To Hit The Road: A Beginner’s Guide To Cycle Touring & Bikepacking. I really recommend his blog as a starting point for planning any kind of bikepacking trip.

I hope to write more in detail about the gear I’m bringing, how it works out, the apps and gadgets (as well as home comforts) I’ve chosen to take, as well as the trip itself on a weekly basis.

Wish me luck! 幸運を祈りてくれ?

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A Japan-enthusiast from the UK, with a particular interest in history and the language, as well as cycling, writing and rock climbing.