Warm toilet seats, slurping noodles, vending machines for everything, cuteness everywhere - Japan is modern, quirky and like nowhere you will have been before or likely to go in the future. It’s a place unlike anywhere else in the world. Here’s why you should put a visit to the land of the rising sun on your cycling bucket list.
1. The Food
How do the Japanese make even a simple bowl of noodle soup taste so special? Japan was isolated from the rest of the world for a very long time and thus developed many culinary traditions that are unique and unaffected by foreign influence. One distinguishing feature of many signature Japanese dishes is a dedication to simplicity and purity: fewer ingredients, cleaner flavors, and less manipulation of the ingredients.
The beauty of being on a cycling tour in a country with such beautiful food is that your appetite is strong and you can eat and try more food. In many cases a cycling tour of Japan is more like an eating tour with some cycling between meals.
2. The connection with ancient tradition and culture
The reverence the Japanese have for preserving their history is next-level. Every shrine and temple is lovingly tended to, and held as close to its original state as possible.
You can attend a Shogun fortress in Kyoto and learn all about how they hid in the walls, waiting to protect the emperor. You can attend ancient ceremonies that have been enacted for centuries, and are played out in all their former glory, not just for tourists but as a way of life. You can still find beautiful old vistas in little castle towns, mountain villages and tiny fishing villages, preserved to be exactly as they would have been years ago. It honestly feels like another magical world.
3. The modern infrastructure
When investing in roads the Japanese have often replaced the old one with a new one running in parallel. This leaves the quiet old road (still well maintained) as a perfect route for cyclists.
These almost deserted, well maintained, hotmix roads, take you up climbs over deserted mountain passes, and down descents with more switchbacks than Alpe d'Huez. Many of the roads have low speed limits of 40-60 km/h, so even when there is traffic it goes at a sensible pace which makes for a safe and comfortable riding environment. Plus the Japanese are among the most courteous people going so you can relax a little on the roads.
4. The scenery
Most Japanese live in the crowded plains where the mega-cities exist and which projects the idea that Japan is all neon and hi tech. But much of the country is rural and largely untouched.
There is an incredible amount of natural beauty, be it cherry blossom season, iconic snow-capped volcanoes, tall timber forests, diverse coastlines, or stunning crystal clear lakes. Japan, being a land of volcanoes, has hot springs bursting out of the ground throughout the country. All this natural beauty combines seamlessly with the ancient buildings to create a stunning landscape. If you haven't ever considered visiting Japan because you thought it was all about the cities, think again. The incredible beauty of the landscapes are something that should be experienced by all keen travellers.
5. The Accommodation
Like much of what has already been described above, the Japanese have been able to develop their own style when it comes to accommodation for visitors. While modern western-style hotels are common in cities and larger towns, the ryokan really is the epitome of where you can lay your head each evening when staying in smaller towns.
Ryokan are small and family owned inns that give you a taste of old Japan. With tatami mat floors, futon beds, shared natural onsen thermal bathes, and yukata (a casual kimono) for wearing around the residence you need to leave your regular ideas of a 'hotel' behind you. Ryokan have a long history, once serving travellers along Japan's ancient highways. The oldest ryokan in Japan still operating was opened in the eighth century!
Whether it is an onsen ( a bath house where water is pumped up from volcanic activity under the earth) or a sento (regular boiled water sometimes with minerals added), soaking in a bath after a day's riding is incredibly relaxing and invigorating, there are even reported health benefits.
Yes, it’s a bit unnerving to strip naked in front of strangers…at least at first. Once you realize this is just another Japanese custom, as inherent to the culture as using chopsticks, bowing, and taking your shoes off before entering a house, the shyness slips away. If anything, you become emboldened in your naked state. It becomes just another aspect of the experience as a whole, rather than the one that defines it. You realize no one is judging you or comparing their body to yours.
So will cycling Japan change your life? Maybe not quite on a level where your whole life's direction changes. But you will come home with a new perspective on how life can be lived and you will have eaten some of the most delicious food in the world, cycled quiet roads passing through stunning scenery and experienced a very different way of life that blends the ancient and very modern into a unique culture. For me that counts as life changing, and it certainly makes for life long memories that can only be created by getting out and doing it!
Pedal Pedal will be heading to Japan in September 2018 for our unique two week cycling tour across three of Japan's main islands. To find out more or make a booking, click on the link below.
$400 early bird discount applies until 31 Dec 2017!
Japan Information Night
Join Pedal Pedal and the Japan Tourism Bureau to hear all about cycling and Japan.
venue: Nexus Travel, Monbulk
date: 15 November 2017
Islands of Japan Cycling Tour
In 2018 Pedal Pedal head to Japan for our annual Grand Pedal. Two weeks of cycling, food and experiencing the best of Japan. Fully supported cycling!
24 Sep-5 Oct 2018