Japan may be one of the best and safest places to bike in the world, and a lot of bikers already know it. Travelling along any main highway in Japan you`re bound to come across lots of bikers on weekend rides or even on long-haul, length-of-country journeys. They look rough, they seem noisy, but chances are they're some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. While the safe drivers and picturesque scenery in Japan are reasons enough to travel through the country by bike, there are some other good reasons why Japan is full of convenience for bikers.
Photo : Alex Williams on Flickr
Mapple is a guidebook series produced in Japan specifically for bikers. There are Mapple books for each island which are the perfect size to fit into your luggage, and magazines for prefectures. Mapple is great because not only do the maps go into great detail so there's only the most slim chance of you getting lost, but they also highlight which are the most popular, scenic roads for bikers. This, as you can imagine, is hugely useful, and allows you to enjoy beautiful scenery without having to spend hours researching the best spots to drive. If you're a little bit skeptical about whether this popular scenic road is really that beautiful or not, be sure to check the back of the book, where Mapple provides pictures of some roads and scenery denoted in the maps. Mapple also gives you the names and addresses of popular campsites, guest-houses, and rider houses. That brings us to the next great thing about biking in Japan…
Rider houses, I believe, are unique to Japan. These are super-cheap accommodation options for riders out in the middle of nowhere who don't want to stay at a campsite but don't want to dish out four-thousand yen for a guest-house, business hotel, or youth hostel (beware - youth hostels are not cheap in Japan!). A room in a rider house will typically consist of a tatami floor, a futon, covers, and that's it. If you`re lucky, there might be a tv in the common room. The shower (if there is one) may be coin-operated, and there is also a high chance of the toilet being a long-drop. However, you will have a place to cook and sleep, and if that is enough for you, then a rider house is the way to go. For this basic-of-basic accommodation option expect to pay from 500 yen to 1500 yen a night. Sounds pretty sweet? Here's the catch – rider houses are only typically found in Hokkaido and Tohoku. Further south the cheapest place to stay will probably be a guest house, but if you're up to it, try a campsite.
There are campsites all over Japan (check out this online map of nearly all campsites in Japan at http://www.hatinosu.net/), which is fantastic for the traveling biker, but not all are cheap. The most I`ve paid for a plot was 1600 yen for one night. Granted it was summer, a holiday, and a beachside campsite, but it was still a nasty shock for the wallet. Most campsites, however, will range from 300 to 700 yen per night, and typically have showers, vending machines, toilets, etc – all the basics. This is a great choice for bikers who want the full `outdoors` experience, and is also a fantastic way to meet fellow travelers.
A tip: when camping in Japan make sure you know what wild animals there might be in the area. While if you hear a scratching outside your tent at night there`s a high chance it will simply be a nora-neko (stray cat- rampant in Japan, especially Kyushu and Okinawa), in Hokkaido it is not unheard of for bears to come out from the mountains at night to have a naughty scavenge through some poor traveler`s food bags. Inoshishi (wild boar) are also scattered around south Honshu and Kyushu, so before you go on your camping adventure it`s always best to research what to do if you come across one of these wild and potentially dangerous animals. While it may sound super corny, don`t be scared, just be prepared. Even if camping may not be your thing, the frequency of campsites in Japan is not something to be sniffed at and, who knows, you might just change your mind one day and set up camp for a challenge!
If these reasons haven`t got you reaching for your map and jacket, there`s plenty of great things about Japan that will! Check out the road rules and grab your helmet for a life-changing ride in Japan!
Photo : Christophe Richard on Flickr