Friday evening after work I hitched a ride with a friend and his wife to Gokayama (五箇山), a world heritage site, high in the mountains in Toyama prefecture (富山県), about 3 hours north of Nagoya.Arriving around 11pm we all chose to sleep at one of the Michi-no-eki (道の駅) that you can find everywhere throughout Japan. They slept in their car while I slept in my tent. Pitching a tent at a Michi-no-eki is frowned upon so I had to find a quiet secluded spot and pack up as soon as it got light the next morning.
After a good but cold night’s sleep I awoke at 5am, packed up and headed out for a long day of riding. The plan was to ride from Gokayama to Yatsuo (八尾) and then on to Takayama (高山市) in Gifu prefecture (岐阜県) and sleep rough somewhere on the outskirts of the city. I’d purposely left the tent and a few other bits of gear in my friends car as I planned to use only a bivy bag for the next two days.
The ride to Takayama was straightforward with some beautiful views and plenty of snow still lingering after winter. The ride was so good in fact that I arrived in Takayama well ahead of schedule and decided to push on to Kiso (木祖村) in Nagano prefecture (長野県). The new plan was to sleep somewhere high in the hills and catch the dawn light to hopefully take some nice photographs.
At around 8pm and 200kms of riding I found a sheltered bus stop in Kiso and decided to sleep there for the night. If you find yourself riding in the parts of Japan that have a lot of snowfall in winter you can take advantage of these bus shelters as the buses are infrequent, the shelters are usually clean and warm, and as most of them are in rural areas if you set up after the last bus has gone and leave before the first bus the next morning then nobody will know you slept there.
The plan worked out well the next morning as I was greeted with some wonderful views of Mt. Ontake (御嶽山) and surrounding area. I pushed on to Agematsu (上松町) and then on to Nakatsugawa (中津川) where I packed up my bike into a train bag and caught the JR Chuo line (中央線) back home into Kasugai (春日井市).
Way back in the early 1990s when I was a teenager in England I’d always dreamt of exploring new countries by bicycle. Who’d of thought that I’d be sleeping in a rural bus stop deep in the Japanese mountains 30 years later.
I did a short trip from Agematsu (上松) on the Nakasendo (中山道) to Mt. Ontake (御嶽山) recently, catching the late afternoon train from Kachigawa (勝川) north of Nagoya to Nakatsugawa, where I changed trains to Agematsu. Altogether about two hours of travel. From there I rode just under 40kms or so west towards Kaida Kogen (開田高原) before finding shelter in a small picnic area at the side of the road for the night.
These areas are perfect for bike packing in Japan – easy to find, sheltered from the rain, and quite often have toilets and amenities nearby.
I settled down for the night and surprisingly managed to sleep for a solid 8 hours or so. Maybe it was the calming sound of the nearby river or simply tiredness after waking up at 4am earlier that day.
After packing up I headed up Mt. Ontake to superb views of not only the volcano itself but also the ‘Alpe d’Huez’ of Japan, Mt. Norikura (乗鞍), and Ishikawa prefecture (covered in cloud) in the far distance. From there I rode the R435 and R441 across the northern slope of Mt. Ontake (still erupting) down into Gero Onsen and back home. I’ve written about riding here before so take a look if you haven’t already.
Train fare – ¥1940 (single)
There is no planned route for this trip but if you want any help with planning your own please send me a message.
At the end of July and beginning of August I had a few days spare to do a short bike packing trip before a two week trip to Australia for work. A friend of mine, Alex, who I hadn’t seen in a while and had previously been living just outside Nagoya for more than a decade recently called time on his job, packed his bags, and moved out into the southern Nagano countryside with his young family. He moved to Urugi village (売木) which is fairly isolated and hidden away behind a number of mountain passes. Alex is planning on converting his house into a guest house for foreigners so if anybody is interested in staying please get in touch.
With that in mind I chose to plan a route that took in Urugi, where I could sleep the night in his traditional house, catch up on old times, and then head north to Mt. Nyukasa (入笠山) and Mugikusa Pass (麦草峠) in central Nagano. I originally planned to head further east to Tenryu (天龍) and cycle north from there but the road was closed due to a landslide. There was also a summer lightening storm when I arrived at the base of Mt. Nyukasa so it wan’t wise to ride up that either. However, I still managed to camp rough at Fujimi Panorama (富士見パノラマ), a popular mountain biking park/ski resort, and head up Mugikusa Pass the following day. I stashed all my gear in a bush at the bottom of the climb before heading up to 2128m. It was a climb I’d done on numerous occasions before so knew what to expect. Despite reaching more than 2000m the gradient never gets too difficult. On a clear day you are rewarded with some wonderful mountain views.
From the top of the pass I turned around, descended into Suwa (諏訪) and headed to Shiojiri (塩尻) where I caught the Shinano Express back to Aichi.
A short, cheap trip, but satisfying and as usual there was some breathtaking scenery.
Autumn is the perfect time of year for bike packing in Japan so expect some new routes/rides to appear here in the coming months.