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.
Just a quick note to say that I’ve added an interactive map with direct links to the stories and routes on the website. You can find it here. Just click on a point and it should reveal a link to the story.
Back in 2002 I cycled from Tokushima (徳島) in Shikoku (四国) to Nagoya (名古屋) over two days on my now well-used Nishiki mountain bike. I remember the ride being in two distinct parts. Firstly, the journey from Tokushima to Wakayama (和歌山) by ferry, followed by a great day riding through the countryside of northern Wakayama and Nara (奈良) prefectures. This was a pre-Garmin, Google Maps, or smartphone time so I simply headed east until I saw signs for places I recognized and navigated my way to Nagoya. Day two also started off well as I managed for the most part to avoid an approaching typhoon before a long and fast decent via Nabari (名張) into Tsu (津) on the coast of central Mie (三重).
This is where part two of the journey commenced. It was horrible. I rode along Route 23 all the way to Nagoya on a horribly busy road in the August heat, truck exhaust fumes filling my lungs and glass and debris in all the gutters and on the pavements. Whether it’s the constant stream of trucks heading between Nagoya and Osaka (大阪) or the underwhelming scenery, there is something about the area of Japan that stretches from Nagoya to Osaka, including northern Mie, that makes cycling in the area a drag. Even Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) isn’t as much fun as the photos make out.
Of course I knew all this when I decided to plan a route from Nagoya to Nara for my first trip of 2017. Perhaps I’d missed some of the quieter, more scenic routes way back in 2002 and if planned correctly the ride could be just as enjoyable as elsewhere in Japan.
Unfortunately I was wrong. It was just as I remembered. Trucks, industrial estates, and indistinct mountain passes that wouldn’t even register in other parts of Japan. Sure, there was less traffic in places this time, but that just took away the adrenaline rush and replaced it with prolonged boredom. Iga Ueno Castle (伊賀上野城) was a pleasant distraction, especially if you like ninjas, but as I’d been there before I didn’t stay for long.
So my advice for anyone wanting to ride between Nagoya and Nara (or Osaka) is simply to catch the train instead. Either that or start from central or southern Mie, starting from Kameyama (亀山) at the very least. Southern and central Mie and anywhere south of Nara city are great places to ride a bike.
In Nara city I met up with Danny from Kinkicycle and Brad from Fixed in Nara for a coffee and a chat. Nara city is a nice place and if you hook up with Danny or Brad you’ll get an insight into the local cycling scene as you ride around the streets and through Nara Park while avoiding the deer and selfie-stick tourists.
For the return ride I rode from Nara to Tsu. That too failed to produce any inspiring scenery but it was at least lacking in trucks and industrial estates.
To summarize – catch the train or start as far south as possible.
For BikePackingJapan.com last year was simply an experiment to see if this blog concept had any life in it and I’m happy to say I’ve had numerous emails regarding bike packing and cycle touring in Japan. My aim for 2017 then is to ramp up the content and make the website a solid resource for anyone wanting to experience Japan by bicycle. More on that below.
Apologies for the absence of recent posts, I’ve recently taken a few months off bike packing here due to the winter weather (not a valid excuse I know!), a cycling-related injury (lower back problem), and a two week trip to Australia. However, I did ride a couple of times solo into central Gifu and also with a friend but it has been the trip to Australia that has stood out since I last went bike packing in the Nagano/Gunma mountains.
This is a website devoted to cycling in Japan so I’ll keep it brief before moving on to general aims for 2017, but wow! if you’re a cycle commuter in Australia you have it made. Seriously. Wonderful cycle paths, fairly courteous drivers, and laws to protect the cyclists. I never felt unsafe once while cycling in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast. I’ve heard Sydney is different but I haven’t ridden there so can’t say. I also rode in the hills west of the Gold Coast and northwest of Brisbane. It was a lot of fun going off the beaten track, despite the heat, and exploring some of the gravel/dirt roads that seem to be everywhere satisfied the longing for adventure that most cyclists crave. I tried not to get carried away as I didn’t know either area particularly well and the last thing the Australian rescue services needed was another lost Brit in the bush in the middle of the scorching summer. Taking the Fairdale fitted with new Hunt 4 Season Gravel wheels and Schwable G-One tubeless tyres was a great decision. It meant I could ride pretty much anywhere I wanted without having to worry about punctures or getting stuck on difficult trails.
Anyway, back to Japan. In 2016 I mostly concentrated on the central regions – Nagano, Gifu, Ishikawa, Aichi, Mie – but for 2017 the plan is to ride further afield and for longer. Nara and Wakayama prefectures in particular are easily within range of Nagoya and have plenty of mountains to explore, and in Wakayama’s case, numerous coastal villages too. Way back in 2001 I lived in Shikoku and the isolation of Japan’s smallest main island is also something that needs to be revisited in the near future.
It goes without saying that Hokkaido is on the list too. I just need to find the time.
I’d also like to find someone else to collaborate with so that it becomes easier to cover more parts of Japan. If anyone is interested please get in touch.