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Touring Japan North to South - planning first long tour

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Touring Japan North to South - planning first long tour

Old 09-17-17, 01:24 PM
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Kazuo
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Touring Japan North to South - planning first long tour

Hello guys, I'm planning a trip to Japan (never been there, but wanted to for a very long time) and would like to adjust my plans acording to more experienced cyclists, as I'm a total newbie when it comes to touring

I have no set date yet. It would be great to go next year, but 2019 seems more likely because I would like to train a bit more before the trip and there's also the question of finances (need to save up), as well as the need of refreshing my Japanese skills. I'm considering going for two months, April and May most likely (or March and April, but I suppose the North would still be covered in snow at that time, if my own country's climate is anything to go by).
There are several possibilities for me to get to Japan and I'm still undecided which one I'm going to use, so let's not bother with that.
When it comes to me, I'd say I'm a moderately skilled cyclist and average (maybe slightly above average) athletic. I've been riding a touring bike for years, but most of the time I only do one-day roundtrips (something like 60km is easy).
This is my bike:
JUST FOUND OUT I CAN'T SUBMIT PICTURES YET SO THIS'LL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL LATER.
It's roughly 15 years old, 27“ tires, got it from my mum because it was too big for her and to tell the truth, it might be slightly big (long might be a better word) for me as well, but I can ride on it just fine (the frame size is correct).
The panniers aren't very big, but I don't plan to carry much equipment anyway (I'll get to that later on).
I might buy a couple for the front wheel as well, to have more space for souvenirs etc., though I don't plan to buy much and might ship some of it home instead of carrying it around the whole time. And potentially a small handlebar bag, though I don't like the idea of not seeing where I'm going, so maybe just some kind of poach for the map would be enough.
From my research it's aparently very easy to come across supermarkets in Japan (roughly every 20km), so I don't plan to stack up on food either (carry just one extra bottle of water and a snack/packed lunch on any ocassion).

This is the plan so far:
JUST FOUND OUT I CAN'T SUBMIT PICTURES YET SO THIS'LL HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL LATER. The plan is to start in Wakkanai in the North and go all the way down to Okinawa and finish back in Nagasaki to catch a flight home.
It's just a basic idea, roughly 3100km + ferries. The only points I absolutely do wanna visit are Aomori, Tokyo, Osaka and some rural places, most of the other stuff is just along the way. I plan to stay in Tokyo and Osaka for roughly a week each and explore the cities and other nearby areas (namely Kyoto and Nara). I know both regions have plenty of spots to visit for a much longer time, but for this trip I'm just thinking of travelling Japan as a whole, get a basic idea of the country and then eventually come back to the one or other specific place to explore it more.
To prepare for the distance, I'm considering a cross-country race (roughly 1000km) next year + some minor trips.
I think between 80 and 120km per day is a good distance (I know the first day should be significantly shorter, I'm just throwing the average in here). There seem to be plenty of places where I would just ride through, so I guess I could cover more distances on such days and have a bit more free time on others to explore rural areas on others. I think around April there should be roughly 10-12 hours daylight, so even with 8 hours in the saddle there should be almost six hours to do other things every day and get enough sleep still.

As for sleep, originally I planned to stay in cheap hostels etc. to avoid extra equipment, but now I'm thinking of camping and urban camping for most of the trip and only stay in a hotel when I'm staying in one place for a longer period of time, when I need to wash my clothes and to experience the one or other type of Japanese hotel Aparently urban camping is safe in Japan and generally nobody has a problem with it if you're gone early in the morning. I plan to get up early each day anyway and use the time in the afternoon to explore wherever I've arrived, instead of sleeping in and wasting my time.

I think that covers the major points, so here's my list of equipment I plan to bring with me:
tools for small bike repares
spares
locks (normally I use two)
bike-cover (required in Japan to travel by train etc.)
helmet
bike computer
pump
lights
safety triangle
maps
clothing
sleeping clothes
(spare) shoes
gloves
rain jacket
towel
personal hygiene stuff
first aid kit
tent
sleeping bag
sleeping mat
spork
knife
phone
go-pro and equipment
charger for both
power sockets convertor
money and documents
emergency food
stuff for time-off (book, mp3, headphones, etc.)
possibly a small solar panel


Thanks for reading this far and please feel free to add anything essential or your own experience from travelling Japan!

I have a few questions too:
  1. my bike doesn't have a suspension on the front fork. Normally I have no problem with that, it's only a pain on harder terrain (like gravel or roots downhill), though I did consider buying a new one before. What's your personal opinion on the matter and would it be neccessary for a country like Japan, with well-build roads?
  2. should I consider more training for the trip or is moderate skill ok?
  3. is there a good place to get (up to date and preferable in English) cycling maps of Japan on the internet?
  4. I never did urban camping before, is there anything to watch out for, aside from what you could call „using your common sense“?
  5. is the mileage/hours doable or is it too crazy? Consider I'll be having a week off after every 1000km roughly (probably still use my bike to ride around town, but not as much as on the road).
  6. is Japan as safe as they say it is?
Maybe something else will pop up eventually, but that's it for now.


Thanks for any advice or input at all!
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Old 09-17-17, 08:29 PM
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sam21fire
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Do a search for Japan on crazyguyonabike.com: Bicycle Touring: A place for bicycle tourists and their journals. There are quite a few journals from folks who've toured there (including mine) that will give some really good tips.
Japan is fantastic for riding, but ya gotta be ready for hills/mountains.
Good luck!
Sam
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Old 09-17-17, 08:55 PM
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raybo
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While I second checking out crazyguyonabike.com, here are 5 links to information about touring in Japan that you might find interesting.
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Old 09-18-17, 12:46 AM
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Originally Posted by Kazuo View Post
tools for small bike repares
spares
locks (normally I use two)
bike-cover (required in Japan to travel by train etc.)

...

stuff for time-off (book, mp3, headphones, etc.)
possibly a small solar panel
You can easily get away with not carrying a lot of stuff in Japan, it's not like you're going through a deserted wasteland.

I'd only carry one of the thicker cables with either a padlock or a U-lock. Contrary to popular belief, bike theft *is* a problem there, but I doubt you'll be leaving your bike out in the same spot day after day.

No need to carry much food, especially if you're just flying it down the coast. I always get by fine with convenience store food, or a small burner and cook set.

I don't bother with solar panels- sometimes I just stop in a McDonalds or a michi no eki and charge my stuff and top off battery packs.


Originally Posted by Kazuo View Post

  1. my bike doesn't have a suspension on the front fork. Normally I have no problem with that, it's only a pain on harder terrain (like gravel or roots downhill), though I did consider buying a new one before. What's your personal opinion on the matter and would it be neccessary for a country like Japan, with well-build roads?
  2. should I consider more training for the trip or is moderate skill ok?
  3. is there a good place to get (up to date and preferable in English) cycling maps of Japan on the internet?
  4. I never did urban camping before, is there anything to watch out for, aside from what you could call „using your common sense“?
  5. is the mileage/hours doable or is it too crazy? Consider I'll be having a week off after every 1000km roughly (probably still use my bike to ride around town, but not as much as on the road).
  6. is Japan as safe as they say it is?
1- You'll do just fine without a front suspension. I run 23mm tires on a road bike all the time over there. I'm not too sure on what the availability is on 27" tires in Japan though. You might want to look into that, and into really getting the fit on your bike dialed in.

2- Being in good shape is always nice.

3- I never bothered with cycling maps, I just got those "Mapple" road atlases in convenience stores. Then I'd stop and ask people if they thought a given road was a good idea if I wasn't too sure about it.

4- Show up late and leave early. Don't call attention to yourself. I'd rather hit a hotel if I was in a really urban area.

5- IMHO you should consider just running light so you can easily hop trains if you start running behind schedule.

6- Yes and no. You can get into trouble anywhere if you go looking for it.

Last edited by manapua_man; 09-18-17 at 12:51 AM.
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Old 09-18-17, 07:49 AM
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I live in Japan. I would suggest not riding the whole country. It's better to take trains to worthwhile areas and not waste your time on crowded, polluted and ugly roads. Please be aware: Japan has destroyed more of its natural environment than any developed country. 99% of rivers have dams and concrete banks/beds, for example. Having said that, it still has a lot to offer.

If you check Waddo on youtube you can see some of my videos. They should offer some suggestions of places worth visiting.

And you do not need to worry about having your loaded bike stolen at all. Most people just put a cheap lock through a wheel so it cannot be pushed away and it is sufficient. I don't even bother doing that.

Feel free to email me closer to the date of your trip if you need any help.
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Old 09-18-17, 07:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Kazuo View Post
...It's roughly 15 years old, 27“ tires

I think between 80 and 120km per day is a good distance

my bike doesn't have a suspension on the front fork. Normally I have no problem with that, it's only a pain on harder terrain (like gravel or roots downhill), though I did consider buying a new one before. What's your personal opinion on the matter and would it be neccessary for a country like Japan, with well-build roads?

should I consider more training for the trip or is moderate skill ok?

is the mileage/hours doable or is it too crazy? Consider I'll be having a week off after every 1000km
-Was anyone making 27" wheel bikes 15 years ago? Are you sure they arent 700c wheels? Or 26" wheels?

-80 to 120 km sounds do-able for a fit rider. For me it would depend on how often I want to stop and check out interesting things.

-I'd want to build up to where I can ride 2 hard days in a row before I began my tour. This should not require an extra year of training or anything like that.

-For pavement or gravel road touring I'd prefer rigid forks over suspension.
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Old 09-18-17, 08:29 AM
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Originally Posted by waddo View Post
I live in Japan. I would suggest not riding the whole country. It's better to take trains to worthwhile areas and not waste your time on crowded, polluted and ugly roads.
IMHO riding through a lot of urban areas is pretty fun.
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Old 09-18-17, 09:12 AM
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Probably don't plan to tour in this part of the year, Japan had a Major Cyclone pass over all its Islands, as reported on NHK this morning.

It's like Hurricane season in the Caribbean, for similar reasons..
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Old 09-18-17, 11:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Kazuo View Post
  1. my bike doesn't have a suspension on the front fork. Normally I have no problem with that, it's only a pain on harder terrain (like gravel or roots downhill), though I did consider buying a new one before. What's your personal opinion on the matter and would it be neccessary for a country like Japan, with well-build roads?
  2. should I consider more training for the trip or is moderate skill ok?
  3. is there a good place to get (up to date and preferable in English) cycling maps of Japan on the internet?
  4. I never did urban camping before, is there anything to watch out for, aside from what you could call „using your common sense“?
  5. is the mileage/hours doable or is it too crazy? Consider I'll be having a week off after every 1000km roughly (probably still use my bike to ride around town, but not as much as on the road).
  6. is Japan as safe as they say it is?
We did Kyoto -> Tokyo this spring.

1. I wouldn't bother with a suspension fork.
2. Being reasonably fit should be enough. Plan for shorter days initially, maybe, and plan a couple of zero days in your schedule, that you can use when tired.
3. I do not see how we could have managed without electronic navigation. I'd strongly suggest a software that can navigate offline. We use Locus + bRouter on Android. (street addresses are impossible to find, street names a major challenge to understand, no way we could have found Tokyo's bike paths, etc.)
4. We'd planned to camp. We ended up spending most nights at airbnb or "business hotels". Those living in Japan are in a better position to dispose of this question. My impression is that stealth camping is tolerated because Japanese people are polite. Regular campgrounds are few and work in ways that we were unable to understand, like closed on Wednesdays, or closed without apparent reason.
5. Mileage looks OK. As others have suggested, consider riding the train. Two things. (1) Japan is quite hilly. Which is why an electronic navigation software is useful, so you can have an idea of the elevation gain, and select the most appropriate route. For example, circumnavigating Mt Fuji clockwise is pleasant, counterclockwise would have meant pushing our bikes over several kms. (2) have you considered riding south to north?
6. Be careful in large cities, where you are supposed to use designated parking areas. This seems to be strictly enforced. In one case, the concierge of the building in which we were staying had left an angry note on our bikes and moved them on the sidewalk where they'd be taken to the pound. This being said, we never feared petty theft.
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