Peddle Power: Cycling Tours in Japan

Cycling around Lake Biwa

For those who love to spend time in the saddle, our round-up of Japanese cycling tours offers some ideas for exploring Japan on two wheels.

Japan may not spring to the minds of many bicycle riders, whether casual or serious, as a touring destination when they plan a cycling holiday overseas. Believe it or not, Japan is an excellent destination to explore by bicycle - and we promise it’s not all steep uphill climbs!
 
An island country with compact yet diverse geography, Japan caters to all levels of fitness and cycling experience, from beginners to serious athletes. There are thousands of miles of outstanding cycling routes all over the country offering a wide selection of spectacular scenery and terrains, from gently undulating hills and snaking lakeside shores to coastal peninsula roads and islands connected by road-bridges.
 
While many cities, such as Kyoto and Tokyo, are also suitable for exploring partly or wholly by bicycle, the Japanese countryside is where cycling into Japan really comes into its own. Offering a plethora of quiet and relaxing rides on roads with surprisingly little traffic, road surfaces all over the country are generally in extremely good condition, even on backcountry roads in remote areas. 
 
Finally, Japan’s numerous natural hot springs dotted all over the country are a welcome bonus for tired cyclist’s legs, offering the perfect way to wind down after a long day in the saddle. 
 
Peddling along country lanes and coastal roads at your own pace, cycling allows you to discover a side of Japan that you cannot access by other forms of transport, such as train, car or even walking. With its combination of varied routes, spectacular natural scenery, and well-maintained and safe roads, bicycle is the perfect way to get off-road and discover more of Japan’s hidden gems.

1. Saddle Skedaddle

 
Saddle Skedaddle’s new Japan tours are now online and generating considerable interest. Try their classic Japan route from Mt Fuji to Kyoto or head north and discover Japan’s wild northern island of Hokkaido on these two representative tours.

Classic Japan – Fuji to Kyoto from £4,295 pp for 12 days

Cycling in Kyoto

This classic tour starts with an e-bike exploration of Tokyo before heading to Lake Kawaguchi in the stunning Fuji Five Lakes area with the iconic Mt Fuji providing an unforgettable backdrop to the ride. Heading south to the Izu Peninsula, you’ll spend time soaking in the onsen (hot springs) of Shuzenji before swapping your bike for the bullet train as you connect to Omihachiman.
 
From here, you’ll visit the impressive Hikone Castle and delightful traditional towns of Nagahama as you wind your way around picturesque Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake, on two wheels. The final day of riding will see you reach Kyoto, where you’ll experience the 1,200 year old city’s ancient temples, hidden backstreets, and immaculate gardens.
 
Nine days cycling and one rest day. Optional bike hire for £200. Guided and vehicle support. From £4,295 (flights not included; estimated cost £650). Departures on 8 May and 6 November, 2018. Find out more at https://www.skedaddle.co.uk/

Undiscovered Japan – The Heart of Hokkaido, from £3,200 for 10 days

Hida Satoyama Cycling ©SATOYAMA EXPERIENCE
 
Experience the unique Ainu culture of Hokkaido and enjoy the peace and tranquility of Japan’s most northern island during this tour, which has been carefully crafted to ensure that you enjoy the very best of this unique part of Japan. 
 
Hokkaido is a land of incredible lakes, steaming volcanic mountains and soothing natural hot springs, all of which can be explored on two wheels via a myriad of quiet country lanes that are just perfect for cycling. Tour highlights include amazing views of Lake Mashu and Iozan, whose name literally means ‘the sulphur mountain’, bird-spotting of Siberian cranes at Teshigawa, and encounters with unique native Ainu culture friendly fishing communities.
 
Eight days cycling and two non-cycling days. Optional bike hire for £210. Guided and vehicle support. From £3,200 (flights not included; estimated cost £800). Departures on 2 July and 27 August, 2018. July departure is guaranteed with the last few places available now! Find out more at https://www.skedaddle.co.uk/
 

2. Explore! - Cycle Japan, from £3,975 pp for 13 days

Cycling around Lake Biwa
 
From the ancient city of Kyoto you’ll cycle along the quiet roads of the Noto Peninsula and into the highlands surrounding UNESCO-listed, historic Shirakawa-go village, venturing firmly off the beaten track and getting a tantalizing glimpse of old Japan. On the Noto Peninsula you’ll enjoy the landscapes, flavours and characters of rural Japan, with eight days of uninterrupted point-to-point cycling.
 
Along the way you’ll visit Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s finest gardens in Kanazawa, and enjoy varied coastal paths and mountain scenery. The journey ends with an exciting journey on the iconic bullet train to modern Tokyo. 
 
Benefit from small groups of 10-16 people per tour. Cycling grade is moderate, with daily distances varying between 8-71 km but averaging 45 km. Cost of bike hire, spare parts, day-to-day bike maintenance and support vehicle are all included in the tour cost - all you need to bring is your own helmet! From £4,680 with flights or £3,975 without flights. Find out more at www.explore.co.uk/
 

3. Freedom Treks - Cycling Holidays in Japan, from £488 pp

Freedom Treks is a UK-based specialist travel company offering cycling holidays to the most scenic and interesting places in Europe and Asia. Covering rolling terrain, their tours range from moderate to challenging and so are perfect for regular cyclists. They offer a number of cycling tours in Japan, from guided tours on Honshu and Kyushu to self-guided tours on Hokkaido.
 

Highlights of Japan - from £1,715 pp for 9 days

 Hida Satoyama Cycling ©SATOYAMA EXPERIENCE
 
Setting off from the ancient capital of Kyoto, this nine-day tour is full of diversity - expect everything from ancient castles and mighty volcanoes, to roaming deer and the world’s largest wooden structure at Todaiji Temple in Nara and the Atomic Bomb Museum in Hiroshima. 
 
Touring along the southern coast of Honshu and continuing south to tranquil Kyushu, you’ll experience two famous cycling routes and also have the chance to explore some areas on foot. Along the way, you’ll ride beside rivers, along coastlines and ascend mountains, enjoying refreshing sea breezes and backdrops of volcanic peaks. On Kyushu, you’ll hike around the world’s largest volcanic crater on Mt Aso and stay at the foot of Mt Nakadake. 
 
Throughout the week, you can expect delicious Japanese cuisine, relaxing onsen (hot springs), and a night in a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn) dating back to 1909. The tour ends in coastal Izumi, where Siberian cranes overwinter in the wetlands.
 
English speaking guides and support vehicle during rides. From £1,715-1,973 pp, not including flights or bike hire. This year’s departure is scheduled for Wednesday 16 May, 2018. Find out more at www.freedomtreks.co.uk/
 

4. Imaginative Traveller - Cycle Japan, from £3,396 pp for 14 days

Cycling around Lake Biwa 
From the frenetic chaos of Tokyo to cultural Kyoto and the natural rustic beauty of the serene Noto Peninsula, this cycling adventure has it all. Starting in Osaka and ending in Tokyo, the first day’s ride takes you through Osaka Castle park and into the heart of Kyoto. Here, you’ll explore riverside leisure district Arashiyama with its gorgeous bamboo forests and Ryoanji Temple with its famous white rock garden. 
 
Riding from Kyoto to Nara, you’ll encounter its freely roaming deer, giant Buddha statue at Todaiji Temple, and Nagarebashi Bridge, one of the longest wooden bridges in Japan and a popular filming location for samurai drama. On Day 5, take a break from all that peddling with a fascinating walking tour of Kanazawa’s gardens, temples and shrines plus its well-preserved Edo Period districts, art museums and regional handicrafts. 
 
This is followed by three days exploring the Noto Peninsula by bicycle before catching the bullet train to Tokyo, where you’ll enjoy cycling tours of the capital taking in sights such as its eclectic architecture and Tsukiji Fish Market. Throughout the tour you’ll end rewarding days in the saddle with feasts of sushi, tempura and unagi (eel), all washed down with traditional sake or beer.
 
A support vehicle accompanies the tour. From £3,396 (not including flights) with scheduled departures this year in April, May, June, July, September (three departures) and November. Find out more at www.imaginative-traveller.com/
 

5. Oku Japan - Cycling Tours of Noto Peninsula from £1,245 pp for 5 days

Cycling around Lake Biwa

This village-to-village self-guided cycling tour of the Noto Peninsula is available in three lengths ranging from five days to a full week: £1,245 for 5 days, £1,380 for 6 days, and £1,520 for 7 days. The longest tour includes six days of road cycling with distances ranging from 13-66 km per day. 
 
Explore some of Japan’s most beautiful and unspoiled scenery on the peninsula, which is located on the Japan Sea coast of Ishikawa prefecture. Riding from peaceful mountain roads to breathtaking coastal trails, you’ll peddle through a plethora of pristine landscapes, including terraced rice fields, dramatic coastlines and sleepy seaside villages, enjoying Japan’s abundant nature and some of its finest seafood on the way.
 
The tour includes a day in former castle town of Kanazawa, famous for its proud feudal history, exquisite local handicrafts, and three well-preserved teahouse districts where geisha still entertain. It also includes two nights in Wajima, the most important town on the peninsula, where you can enjoy a day at leisure, embarking on side-trip by bike or sallying forth on an exploration of the local market and downtown area.
 
Other highlights include a visit to beautiful Kenrokuen Garden and intriguing Omicho food market in coastal Kanazawa; stop-offs at Sekinohara, a fascinating rock formation created by the waves, and Soujiji Temple, one of the two head temples of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism; and an exploration of the narrow back-streets and  old fishermen’s houses in the quaint and engaging fishing town of Ogi.
 
From £1,520 pp for 7 days (flights not included). Bike rental (high-quality folding Brompton) plus helmet, tool kit, bicycle lock, GPS device with detailed route information, and local support by telephone are all included in the price. April-November departure recommended. 

Add on a Tour Extension...

 
Tour extensions are also available to a unique homestay experience with a local family in the peaceful farming community of Asuka or an overnight stay in the monastery lodgings of the atmospheric mountain-top temple town of Mount Koya. Find out more at www.okujapan.com/

6. STA Travel - Japan Hike, Bike and Kayak, from £2,889 pp for 13 days

Cycling around Lake Biwa

Get off the beaten track and experience parts of Japan that big-city tours tend to skip. Take in major cultural touchstones like Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima, along with lesser known areas - we’ll bet that you’ve never even heard of Chikatsuyu, Katsuura, or Ikuchijima Island!
 
Along the way, you’ll hike along the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route to visit forested shrines framed by spectacular waterfalls, island-hop by bicycle as you follow the Shimanami Kaido across a chain of tiny islands connected by bridges, and kayak around the famed ‘floating’ torii gate at Miyajima in Hiroshima. Every view is that much sweeter when you've worked for it.
 
Starts in Osaka, ends in Tokyo, visits Chikatsuyu, Katsuura, Wakayama, Kyoto, Onomichi, Ikuchijima, Matsuyama, Hiroshima, Tokyo. Tour highlights include: In Kyoto, enjoy a trip to Fushimi Inari Taisha, with its winding tunnels of orange torii gates, and plenty of free time. On Ikuchijima Island, spend a night in an authentic ryokan and savour an exquisite multi-course kaiseki meal. In Hiroshima, take a tram ride through the city to the moving Peace Park and museum.
 
English-speaking local guide and group leader in attendance throughout. From £2,889 pp (not including international flights). Secure your place with a deposit of only £100! Find out more at http://tours.statravel.co.uk/

 

7. Travel Local - Biking the Noto Peninsula, from £1,750 pp for 7 days

Edajima Cycling Event, Hiroshima ©Hiroshima Prefecture

Travel Local tailor this trip to you, so you can change anything to make it the way you want it to be, from excursions, to accommodation, to places visited. After meeting in Kyoto and transferring to Kanazawa by train you’ll have time to visit Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen Garden before you hop on your trusty cycles and begin your exploration of the Noto Peninsula. 

You’ll cycle the rugged coastline from Hodatsu to Togi before spending two days in charming port town Wajima, cycling through local villages and taking a cycling day trip from Wajima to Osawacho, a picturesque village with unique bamboo fencing. Along the way you’ll traverse hard-packed sand on the Chirihama Driveway, visit a sacred shrine and a historic temple, and witness spectacular natural rock formations. 

From Wajima, you’ll power past past scenic views such as Shiroyone Senmaida’s two thousand terraced rice fields, the old houses of Tokikunike village, and sea salt farms, as you head to Suzushi. From here you’ll travel to Notojima Island via the sleepy, nostalgic fishing village of Ogi, using a mixture of taxi, bicycle and train! 

On the final day of the tour you’ll peddle to Wakura Onsen, a coastal hot spring town with a 1,200 year old history, for a relaxing and rewarding end-of-trip soak before boarding your train back to Kanazawa. From £1,750 pp not including international flights. Find out more at www.travellocal.com/

Travel Local is staging a Japan Week takeover from 12-16 March, 2018. Make sure to follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for Japan fun facts, photos and insider tips from local experts!

8. The Flashpack: Journey to Japan, Udon Wanna Miss This, from £4,199 for 13 days

Tokyo Cycling Tour  ©Tokyo Great Cycling Tour

From kayaking to karaoke, you’ll journey through mountains, along rural rivers and into Japan’s pulsating cities on this action-packed 13-day tour. Along the way, you’ll master the art of ninja, sushi-making, and sake-sampling, plus enjoy bustling fish markets, secret foodie tours, and even lunch with a sumo wrestler.
 
Tour highlights include off-the-beaten options aplenty. In Tokyo, take a cycling tour through Kiyosumi Shirakawa, a little-known neighbourhood in eastern Tokyo, discover Japanese whisky at the Tokyo Whisky Library, and observe authentic city life in the trendy neighbourhood of Nakameguro.
 
Day 3 will be spent exploring Kiyosumi Shirakawa from the comfort of your saddle. Convening at a local cafe, you’ll meet Ito, your guide for the day, a born-and-bred local who will spend the day showing off the sights of her hometown. You’ll get to immerse yourself in local life as you explore this charming but unknown part of Tokyo from your vantage point of the saddle of a Tokyo Bike.

Along the way, you’ll stop off at local shops and businesses, from a local cheese maker to a chocolatier and even some tofu sampling! You may even get the chance to meet one of the original designers of the classic Tokyo Bike. Your efforts will be rewarded with a backstreet bowl of ramen and a cheeky craft beer overlooking a charming waterway before you head to Roppongi Hills for a glitzy night out in Tokyo’s neon-lit jungle.
 
Maximum 14 people per tour. The next departure is scheduled for 3 May, 2018. From £4,199 pp (not including flights). Secure your place with a deposit of £300. Find out more at https://flashpack.com/

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