Nagoya – Nara – Tsu

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.

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Kasugai – Nara

Kasugai – Nara 156km

Elevation gain – 1502m

Hotel – Hotel Nara Annex ¥6200 including breakfast. Don’t bother though, I booked a non-smoking room but they gave me a smoking room despite my complaints.

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Nara – Tsu

Nara to Tsu – 87.5km

Elevation – 1300m

Train from Tsu to Nagoya – ¥1010 for the local train.

Nagoya – Nara – Tsu

Lake Biwa & Kyoto

Around Lake Biwa to Kyoto

Cycling to Kyoto via Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) is a popular option among cyclists in Japan and with a cycle path running nearly all the way along the lake’s eastern coast it is an easy and fairly safe way to put some good kilometres in the legs.

When I first made the journey I cycled from Inuyama (just north of Nagoya), past Mt. Ibuki (伊吹山) in Sekigahara (関ヶ原) (an historic town famous for one of Japan’s most famous battles), around the northern shore of the lake, through Takashima (高島市) and over the mountains to the west, before the long descent from the north into Kyoto. I spent a weekend in Kyoto with a friend before cycling back along the eastern shore staying on the cycle path whenever possible.

From Nagoya the shortest route is around the lake’s southern shore through Kusatsu (草津市) on to Otsu (大津市) and then Kyoto. If you cross the bridge in Moriyama (守山市) you can ride on both shores on the same ride. To avoid the mountains in northern Mie it’s probably best make your way via Hikone (彦根). Hikone has a popular castle built in the Edo period and will more than likely be the place where you’ll reach the eastern coast of Lake Biwa to join the cycle path.

If you are coming from Takayama and the north you have the option of cycling down either coast. There are a couple of tunnels on the northern shore that you’ll have to pass through if you want to avoid cycling up and over Mt. Higashiyama, but if you don’t mind a bit of climbing then the ride along the R513 and R557 makes for a good option as you’ll take in small fishing villages and quaint fishing ports of the northern shore.

While most of the western shore is a pleasant quiet ride some parts are downright dangerous, especially along the R161 near the famous Shirahige Shrine (白髭神社), so it’s best to stick to the paths closest to the shore whenever possible.

Wind direction can be a serious issue along Lake Biwa. If you have a tailwind you’ll make your way around the lake in no time, but if it’s a headwind it can be quite miserable. If you are riding with a partner or friend then it’s probably best to rotate shifts riding at the front so that you all get a chance to get out of the wind and rest.

There are a number of campsites along the shore so finding a place to pitch a tent shouldn’t be an issue. If you are riding outside the camping season then as long as you pitch up late in the day and don’t mind roughing it then there should be ample places along the lake to sleep. Watch out for the wind though – It can be bitterly cold in winter and there is occasional snow too.

Distance – Approximately 100kms for each shore

Total elevation –  depends on the route

Campsite – numerous along the shores

Want the files for any of our routes? Get in touch and we’ll be happy to send them.

Lake Biwa & Kyoto