Japan (September 2009)

Publié le par Sylvie

Visa

Visitors get three months on arrival (at least French and Belgians). No money to pay, it’s so easy after China!
 

Money
1 euro = 130 yens

It’s easy to withdraw money in the big cities. Cash machines that would take our card (a Visa) were a bit more difficult to find in Kyushu and Shikoku. We withdrew in a convenience store in Miyazaki (Kyushu) and in a bank in Kochi (Shikoku).
 

Road & sleep

The detailed mileage is on the stories page. Our map on the home page shows all our stops.

We want to thank Will Lockmiller, an American cyclist who lives with his wife Chrissy in Numazu. He designed the whole route for us and lent us his maps. The information below is largely based on the detailed itinerary he sent us.

Japan is very safe (we were even leaving our bikes and our luggage to go shopping!) and we ended up sleeping in sometimes very unusual places (storage place, a florists’ garden…). Michi no eki (rest stations on the road) are usually very good places, with grassy areas. We sometimes slept on the pavement when there was no grass. Just make sure you ask before putting up your tent. Also, we started using Warmshowers, a website similar to hospitality club or couchsurfing and we met a lot of cool people!

Food can be very expensive. After a few days, we found the best option for us was buying lunch from a convenience store (7-Eleven, Lawson, Sunrus… just take your pick!) and cook pasta for dinner. Portions are not very big so at least we could get a big meal in the evening. In touristy and remote places (Ebino Kogen and Aso on Kyushu, Oboke gorges on Shikoku for example), there are less shops, a few restaurants and it’s very expensive. Before getting into these places, it’s a good idea to get some food for your lunch (onigiris, rice balls stuffed with fish or vegetables can be kept for a day and fill you up).

There were many tunnels in Kyushu but they were all lit and some even had a pavement on which we could cycle.

Regarding maps, we were lucky, Will sent us his Touring Mapple maps. They are expensive but are designed for touring motorbikers and are very complete: camp sites, onsens, hotels, shops… it was very useful. A cheaper option is ‘Japan: a Bilingual Atlas’ published by Kodansha (orange cover).

We bought a phrasebook which proved very useful. Unlike Chinese, Japanese is very easy to pronounce and Japanese people are delighted when you can say a few words in their own language. Outside the big cities, very few people speak English. But the hand language worked very well.

 

Ferries

Japan is made of four islands so, unless you only cycle on Honshu (which is also the most crowded island), you are bound to take ferries.

Shanghai – Osaka: Shanghai Ferry. We booked over the phone and paid the ticket on the day of departure at the ferry terminal. We paid 400 euros for two people and two bicycles in a 4-bed cabin. The cabin includes a washbasin and a small sitting room with a window onto the sea. Not many people travel by ferry so, like two other foreigners couples, we had the cabin all for ourselves. The boat departs from Shanghai twice a week at about 9am and arrives 48h later in Osaka. There is a restaurant on-board but it’s a bit expensive so you might want to bring some food. There is free hot water in the cabins. There is a bath and hot showers.

Osaka – Miyazaki: Miyazaki Ferry. We also booked over the phone and paid at the terminal. 22.800 yens for two people and two bicycles for a dorm (about 10.000 yens/pers and 1.000 yens/bicycle). The dorm is one big room with mats and blankets on the floor. Very clean (it’s Japan!). Restaurant, bath and hot showers and free hot water for cooking instant noodle soups. The boat leaves at 7pm and arrives at 7:30am the next day in Miyazaki.

Beppu – Yawatahama: there are 4 or 5 departures every day. We bought our ticket at the ferry terminal in Beppu. 3.000 yens/pers and 1.000 yens/bicycles. The crossing takes about 3h. Ferries for Matsuyama depart from Oita (a few km south of Beppu). We were short of time so we decided to go straight to Yawatahama.

Tokushima – Wakayama: there are 12 departures per day. We got our ticket at the terminal in Tokushima. 2.000 yens/pers and 600 yens/bicycle. The crossing takes about 2h.
 

Buses and trains

Twice we tried to put our bicycles on public transport: in Kyoto, there was a typhoon coming and we were short of time for our flight. In Numazu, Sylvie hurts her knee and couldn’t cycle to Tokyo. Twice we were unsuccessful regardless of the amount of effort we put in. You can only put a bicycle on a train or in a bus if it is completely dismantled and packed in a bag. Our bicycles, even dismantled, would have been outside the authorised dimensions.

Japanese people won’t depart from the rules whatever the situation. This was the first time we couldn’t take buses or trains with our bicycles after a year and half cycling across Europe and Asia. Even the Japanese post wouldn’t take them. The only option was to call movers but it would have been very expensive. So we waited for the typhoon to pass and a friend rode Sylvie’s bike from Numazu to Tokyo (he ended up buying a recumbent after this memorable experience!).

We called JAL, a company that picks up and delivers packages to the airport, to take most of our luggage and our bicycles to the airport. Cost for 2 bicycles and 2 big boxes: 85 euros.
 

Plane

We flew with Air Canada from Tokyo to Santiago (Chile) via Toronto. This was by far the cheapest airline. Still, about 1,000 euros for a ticket.

The luggage rules are the same as for flying to North America. We put our panniers in three boxes so, as each passenger is allowed 2 pieces (check the maximum weight allowed), we only paid for one bicycle (about 200$). We also had to pay 50$ of handling fee for each bicycle. Make sure the boxes and the bicycles don’t go over the weight and the dimensions stated on the website. They measured and weighed our bicycles and boxes very precisely (we got away with the bikes being 500g above the limit!).


Kyushu: Miyazaki – Beppu (560 km)

Kyushu was our favourite spot for cycling in Japan. It can be tremendously hilly and steep but it’s worth the effort. Most of the time, we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and the scenery was amazing: volcanoes, hot springs, gorges… The people were very friendly, we received small gifts every day and we even got offered hospitality by someone. Very unusual as Japanese people are usually too shy to ask a stranger in their home. 

Route
The ferry from Osaka arrives in Miyazaki early in the morning. Ride south from Miyazaki along the coast on route 220. Soon after leaving Miyazaki, you can stop to see Aoshima, a peninsula with some interesting geology. Continue south on 220. This is the Hawaii of Japan! A few tunnels but they are safe.

In Aburatsu, turn right on 222, go 2.6 km into town and take a left onto route 3. Route 3 goes through farmland and forest and there is very little traffic (the alternative route down and around the peninsula is scenic but cripplingly up and down, and much, much longer). At one point the road narrows significantly into a single lane and trend windingly up hill into dense forest. Don't worry, this is still Route 3.

The road then descends into Shibushi city. From Shibushi, go southwest on Route 220. After about 8 km, you come to Kuni no Matsubara Osaki Michinoeki (くにの松原道の駅)on the left side of the road. It has a hot springs bathhouse (onsen) that costs 300 yens or so, and behind the onsen is a huge park with lots of great spots to put up a tent (south of the Michi no Eki, keep going along a walking path behind the parking lot).

After Shibushi the ride is very pleasant and pastoral. Continue on 220 from Kuni no Matsubara and after about 2 km, turn right onto route 64. Route 64 goes through some beautiful farmland and rolling foothills. At one point on route 64 you will need to cross Highway 269. You will actually get on 269 for about 100m going to the southwest, and then soon turn right again onto 64. When you come to route 504, turn left onto 504 and go south for about 1.5 km. Then turn right onto route 71. Follow signs to Takatouge (this means ‘tall pass’). Route 71 goes up and over Takatouge (about 500 m) at a gradual slope, and then suddenly you will see the volcano of Sakurajima (if the weather is clear). Route 71 ends at the coast and rejoins route 220. Turn right onto 220 and go north towards the big volcano. If you want to circle Sakurajima, there is a youth hostel on the south side of the volcano on route 224. After passing Sakurajima, cross a long bridge and go back to the mainland (this is still 220). After about 2 km from the bridge, you arrive at the Sakurajima Michi no Eki. This Michi no Eki has a great bathhouse (about 200 yens), a restaurant, and a big lawn where we camped facing the volcano (we asked the people of the Michi no Eki first).

From Sakurajima to Beppu, it is very hilly but also very beautiful. From the Sakurajima Michi-no-Eki, continue north on 220. After about 8 km, turn right onto route 478. It is a very steep for about 5 km before reaching a plateau. Route 478 goes through 2-3 intersections before turning into route 491. Continue north-northeast on 491 until you reach route 31. Take a left onto route 31 and go northwest towards Kirishima Onsen. As you approach Kirishima Onsen, the road begins to steepen. In the town of Kirishima Onsen, turn right at the ‘T’ to go uphill on route 1. The road climbs very steeply for about 6 km then a little less steeply for another 6 km. There is a free camping area with picnic tables on the left of the road when arriving on the plateau and a hot springs bathhouse in the hotel that is just to the left after the intersection (you can use the bathhouse without staying at the hotel). We arrived at Ebino Kogen around noon, did the short walk around the volcanoes and then cycled 8 km downhill on route 30 to Shiratori Onsen (a bathhouse and campsite) where we camped (great food and big plates at the restaurant!).

The descent into the city of Ebino on route 30 is steep and winding and goes for 12 km. In Ebino City, cross the river and get on route 221. The road climbs again, for 8 km. Follow route 221 up and over a loop bridge (you can see it from the city), down another loop bridge on the other side and then descend for about 12 km into the city of Asagiri (there is a 2 km long tunnel at the end of the ascent). We had lunch in a big supermarket in the commercial centre at the bottom of the descent. Turn right on highway 219 and begin riding northeast. You can then rejoin a cycle path along the Kuma river, about 20 km long, on the south side. There are signs for it on route 219. The cycle path ends near Yunomae station. Turn left onto route 388 and after about 5 km go up another loop bridge that takes you to Ichifusa Dam. Continue around the south side of the lake on 388 and soon you arrive into the town of Yuyama (hot-springs mountain). There are Minshukus (bed and breakfast) and small restaurants as well as a bathhouse (Moto-yu 元湯).

Between Yuyama and Aso (135km) there aren’t many shops except in Mamihara. Unfortunately, we didn’t stock up in this supermarket so we lived on crisps and tinned pineapple for two days. From Yuyama, continue on route 388 and climb the steep and winding road up to Yuyama pass (7 km, from 350 to 940 m). From Yuyama pass, the road descends for 8 km into a very small mountain village. Continue on 388 and climb steeply with a river gorge off to your left (8 km, from 350 to 1150 m). At the fork in the road, take left (look for a blue sign). The road becomes narrow and steep, goes over a pass and then descends steeply for about 12 km. It rejoins route 265 and goes through Shiiba Village. Stay on 265 (it takes you across the river at a left turn) bound for Aso. From where you cross the river on the big bridge, go north on 265, up for about 15 km then down for 13 km to Mamihara. Route 218 will cross 265 here and you need to turn left onto 218 for about 1km, and then return to 265.

(For an alternative route, you can go east on 218 to visit the gorges of Takachiho.)

Continue north on 265 and follow signs to Aso. The road goes up and down for 10 km then up for 9 km and then down for 11 km onto the Southern Aso plateau. At the fork near the bottom of the descent, turn right and continue north on 265 (it’s possible to ride all the way up and down to the other side on route 111, it’s apparently very scenic). There are many campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, and hotels on this road. Whether you go around or up and over the volcanoes, you will end up in the town of Aso (tourist information office not helpful). We stayed at Kodai no sato camping: in Aso, follow route 11, the campsite is signed. After Aso, follow route 11 north out of Aso. Route 11 climbs for 8 km via switchbacks up onto the plateau and becomes the Yamanami Highway. Route 11 goes up and down for 13 km, then up for 7 km, down for 12 km and up and down for 20 km into Yufuin. After Yufuin, there is one last climb of 6 km before dropping into Beppu on a 20 km descent.

Differences in heights and distances

Miyazaki – Sakurajima: 1300m – 166km

Sakurajima – Kirishima Onsen: 1030m – 62km

Kirishima onsen – Ebino Kogen (plateau): 900m – 20km

Ebino Kogen – Yuyama: 705m – 71km

Yuyama-Kumini tunnel: 1550m – 56km

Kumini tunnel – Aso: 1020m – 77km

Aso – Beppu: 1535m – 94km

Sleep

Sakurajima: we slept at the Michi no eki. The bathhouse costs about 150 yens per person and camping is free, on a big lawn facing the volcano.

Kirishima Onsen: we camped in a Michi no eki after the town. Unfortunately this is also the playground for the young motorcyclists of the region at night. A bit scary and noisy for a half an hour!

Ebino Kogen: you can camp for free in the picnic area just before the intersection with the hotels and the tourist information. There is also a campsite with a bathhouse and a restaurant, about 8 km after the intersection: Shiratori Onsen, about 1500 yens for two for camping and bath.

Yuyama: we wanted to camp in the park facing the bathhouse but it’s forbidden. In the end, an old guy offered us his field. Onsen: 400 yens/pers.

Aso: Kodai no sato camping, 1000 yens for two. There are no showers but there is an onsen a few km away. The campsite is great and the people very friendly. There is a restaurant on-site.

Beppu: Beppu Guesthouse, 1500 yens/pers (dorm). Very clean and friendly. There is a kitchen, a washing machine that we used for free, internet and free wireless. This is the cheapest place we could find. It’s also possible to sleep in some internet cafés but in Beppu, it was more expensive than the guesthouse.
 

Shikoku: Matsuyama – Tokushima (500 km)

We actually started in Yawatahama but we have information from Matsuyama.

Shikoku was interesting but we preferred Kyushu. It could be because it was the beginning of our trip in Japan but the people were more friendly and we found the scenery more beautiful and interesting. That said, people on Shikoku were also nice and some of the places were really beautiful: the Shimanto river and the Oboke/Koboke gorges. The Shimanto river is one of the last three rivers in Japan to remain entirely un-dammed from its headwaters to the ocean. In Matsuyama, the Dogo Onsen is one of the most ancient bathhouses of Japan.

The roads are less steep than on Kyushu and the differences in height much less. Of all the route we did, only the Oboke and Koboke gorges area was quite hilly. 

Route

From Matsuyama, ride south out of town on route 56 and then get on 378 to ride south along the coast. When you get near the long, spindly peninsula, cut back inland to Yawatahama and take route 25 to route 56 again and continue south to Uwajima city.

From Uwajima, the road goes up for 7 km then down for 7 km. Start out of town on route 320 to Izume, and then get on route 381. Then it’s all flat along the Shimanto river. Take 381 almost all the way across to the opposite coast to Kubokawa.

In Kubokawa, go north on route 56. The road goes up for 7 km, then down for 10 km. Just after the small town of Susaki, take a right onto route 23 and then 6 km later, turn right again onto 47 to go out onto the narrow peninsula. The road on the peninsula is very hilly (a true roller coaster) but you get great views. Route 47 rejoins the mainland. Turn right onto route 23 again which takes you along the coast into the city of Kochi.

From Kochi, take route 195 to the east. The road goes up for about 7 km and then undulates along a river. We went to the Oboke and Koboke gorges and from there crossed north to rejoin the big river that goes to Tokushima.

Sleep

Matsuyama: you can sleep in Dogo Koen (Dogo Park) near the Dogo Onsen.

Uwajima: youth hostel at the top of a hill (ask the people in town). We camped for free and payed 200 yens/pers. for a shower. The hostel closes at the end of September.

Kubokawa: we passed 3 Michi no eki along the Shimanto river, all suitable for camping. We stopped at the last one and camped on a small patch of grass next to the vending machines and the tables. There are no showers but if you ride 2 km further, there is another rest station with free hot showers (but you cannot camp).

Kochi: we camped in the big park below the bridge, next to the homeless people and the cemetery. No showers but we setup one with our tarps. Very safe, we saw a motorbiker pitch his tent then leave all his stuff and go into town for dinner.

Otoyo: there is a campsite up the hill but it was late in the afternoon so we camped at the small Michi no eki.

 

Honshu: Wakayama – Tokyo (760 km)

We were supposed to ride from Kyoto along the Biwako lake to Fukui and the Notto peninsula before crossing to Nagano and Matsumoto onto Fuji and Tokyo but we didn’t have enough time. We don’t recommend taking the route through Nagoya and Hamamatsu, it’s a very crowded area. The whole coast is urbanised and being stopped by traffic lights every 300m wasn’t fun at all.

Route

We rode mostly in urbanised areas with no major hills.

From Wakayama, we rode straight to Nara. 100 km of solid urbanised area. Between Nara and Kyoto, there is a cycle path that goes along a river (look for information on internet). From Kyoto, we rode along the Biwako lake and turned east, roughly when we reached Maibara. We followed a river which meant almost no hills. After Nagoya, we rode through Hamamatsu and Shizuoka to Numazu. Don’t bother with the bike path from Hamamatsu, it’s not well maintained and there are a lot of concrete ‘things’ in the way, designed to slow down cyclists. Also, be careful not to accidentally get on the highway. Usually there are signs indicating ‘Forbidden to cyclists’ but at one point we found ourselves flying on a big road with no traffic lights… and a police car behind us! After Shizuoka, there is a big highway, forbidden to cyclists. A cycle path goes along it. We did it at night, very uncomfortable with the cars lights blinding us. On top of the that, the cycle path sometimes goes on the hard shoulder of the highway for about 20 m before going back behind the railing…

From Numazu, we rode through Hakone (beautiful volcano, a long ascent of about 20 km) to Tokyo.

An alternative could have been to ride from Kyoto to Toba and take a ferry to the small peninsula on the other side. That would have spared us going through Nagoya (which at the end, wasn’t that scary, just very populated). We left Kyoto just after a typhoon so the ferry was cancelled.

Sleep

We found someone to host us every night, we were very lucky. Hotels are very expensive and on this route, it’s very difficult to camp as there are houses nearly all the time.

Publié dans Practical info

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