After learning how to choose your bike and exploring your local neighborhood, you’ll soon find that almost anywhere is within biking distance in Japan. With bike lanes aplenty, it’s no surprise that recreational biking is soon becoming a popular hobby among different age groups.
In the quest to promote cycling tourism within the country, the Japanese government has designated national cycling routes that allow cyclists to explore more of Japan’s countryside. Here’s our roundup of cycling routes that have earned the “blue-lined” national route distinction:
Thinking of conquering them all? We’re here to help point you where to start pedaling!
If there’s a route that every cyclist in Japan must do at least once, this is definitely at the top of the list. Shimanami-kaido is a 70 km route that starts from Onomichi station in Hiroshima Prefecture and ends at Imabari station in Ehime Prefecture.
To finish the course, you’ll traverse six islands and bridges offering picturesque views of the Seto Inland Sea. Save for the bridge crossings, the course is relatively flat making this course doable for cyclists of all levels.
Points of interest
Senkoji Temple and Cat alley in Onomichi. Innoshima-ohashi Memorial Park and Mount Shirotaki in Innoshima. Kosanji Temple and the Hill of Hope in Ikuchijima and Kirosan Observatory are some of the things that can be visited as a side trip.
Difficulty: Beginner friendly for the basic course, Intermediate level for a one-day blitz ride or a round trip ride to the starting course
Distance: 70 km
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It has been an ongoing dream unlikely to ever be fulfilled to bike the Tōkaidō, or whatever remains of it, and try to find the places where Hiroshige reproduced his views. The bucket is deep but the well of time is not...
There is fantastic cycling in Japan.
I wouldn't just trust routes suggested by government tourist promotion agencies though, because those people don't ride bikes and are pretty clueless. They'll send you down main roads with lots of traffic lights. In the countryside, it'll be main roads with lots of trucks and tunnels even.
When I lived in the Alps cycled about 50 km most days.
I rode from Numazu to Heda in a one-day round trip this summer, which is probably as much of the Pacific Cycling Road as I'll ever manage. Even that was an odyssey for me. The beautiful coastal scenery and the (sometimes eerie) calm of being the only person on the road for much of the ride made it all worth it though.
Timely article as I am just back from my second time on the Shimanami Kaido over the weekend. This time I took my wife along who is just above beginner level. We took two full days but wished we had one more day to explore a little bit more. It truly is a fantastic route.
One 'hidden gem' was the stunning views from the cafe at Kareiyamatenbo Park on Oshima. Well worth the steep but short 200m climb to get there.
Biwaichi, especially the sleepy northern section is also well worth riding.
The people responsible for promoting bicycle tourism in Japan should do more to explain that long stretches of these routes offer no protection at all from car and truck traffic. The blue paint is only a narrow way marker not a bicycle lane as many tourists might expect.
The second line of this article starts, “With bike lanes aplenty..”. It isn’t true and gives readers a false impression of what to expect.
Yes, these people are almost all non-cyclists. I bet the person writing the line "If there’s a route that every cyclist in Japan must do at least once, this is definitely at the top of the list." has cycled in fewer than five of Japan's forty seven prefectures and knows absolutely zero about cycling in Tohoku, along the San'in Coast, the interior of Shikoku, ..... The Shimanami Kaido was called "best in Japan" in a paid-for article that appeared on CNN. Ever since then, this "best in Japan" line has been parroted by people paid to write tourism material without asking any cyclists. I'm sure the view will be quite nice, but it is also a main road made with huge amounts of concrete and there will be big crosswinds on the wrong day.
NHK World has a cycling in Japan program which shows some nice scenery and actually uses prominent cyclists (guides, ex racers, etc), but they are barely allowed to talk about actual cycling. The bike is just a manpowered bus they use to get from one Japanese culture destination to the next, because NHK is obsessed with Japanese culture and cannot imagine anyone thinking otherwise. Big shrine for two hours - ride bike for an hour - two hours at pottery demonstration - ride bike for an hour .... That is not what real cyclists do. They ride their bikes all day and try not to get off them.
Riding a bicycle in the open country is like being in a glider sailing in the blue sky pedalled by a gentle wind. I have been riding bicycles since the forties. My bike is a mountain bike. I would love to come to Japan to ride in your beautiful country but I am not fond of slopes. An electric bike would be too heavy and expensive besides taking the exercise and pleasure out of pedalling.
I recommend cycling around the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Pref. Very beautiful coastal scenery. Lots of places to camp too.
Rode the Shimanami-Kaido. Excellent ride. 6 islands and 6 bridges ride. Views are spectacular on sunny days. Since it is a point to point ride it is a little difficult to figure out the logistics of bike rental for foreigners. All day ride. Avid cyclists can do the entire route in about 4-5 hours at average pace. Not a lot of climbing. The route was made for cycling and has everything mapped out.