Most people visiting Japan will focus on the cities and for good reason. The contrast between the traditional and the ultra-modern is more prevalent here than in any other country. However, the cities only show one side to this remarkable culture and to truly explore Japan; you need to get out into the more rural parts, to meet the people, to immerse yourself. Guided tours can provide this, but it is always a little bit staid, a little bit set up. Wouldn't it be better to explore at your own pace, with the knowledge that there is a wealth of backup to steer you through this beautiful, cultural experience? Strap on your helmet, hop on the saddle and let us help you explore Cycling Japan – Kyoto to the Coast.
In a Nutshell
Distance: Altogether you will be cycling 264km over five days of cycling. So this means you have some more relaxed days of around 30km and some more significant days of 60km. This may look daunting, but when you convert it to miles, the toughest day is about 40 miles, which is not too bad at all.
Grading: This trip is graded Moderate. This means that you should have some experience on a bike, but you don’t have to be a committed road cyclist or anything like that. You will be cycling on a mix of cycle paths and quiet rural roads, and while you will be cycling in the cities of Nara and Kyoto, they are amongst the most cycle-friendly cities in Japan, so they don’t carry the fear that many other big cities do for cyclists. We will provide a handlebar-mounted IPad, with an excellent app to guide you along the route and point out the highlights to you.
Where is it?
The tour is located in central Japan, very close to all major airports. You will begin in the UNESCO city of Kyoto and have time to explore by both bike and by foot. The tour then takes you out into rural Japan, winding along rivers to lead you to the birthplace of Japanese civilization, Nara. From here you will cycle to the remote hill town of Yoshino before climbing into the mountains to stay in the center of Shingon Buddhism on Mt Koya. Then, it is an exhilarating ride down to the idyllic coastal town of Wakayama where your tour ends.
Why cycle it?
Exploring Japan is one of the most rewarding travel experiences on the planet. The depth and variety of ancient culture, its buildings and practices are enough to sate most travellers desire, but in Japan, there is so much more. The contrasts of modern life, technology and architecture are all framed by this strong ancient tradition which gives it a very idiosyncratic edge. The people are incredibly friendly and respectful of the fact that you may not know the way things are done in Japan and will always lend a helping hand. And the food! If you have an open mind about food, then it will most certainly be blown in Japan, particularly in Kyoto, which leads us to…….
Kyoto. Wow. If you could only visit one city in the world, this would not be a bad bet to go for. Kyoto is simply stunning. With over 2,000 temples, Kyoto is a riotous explosion of religious architecture with showstoppers like the Kinkaku-ji (the famed Golden Pavilion) or the massive Higashi Hongan-ji. You will see monks shuffle between temples, hear chants on the wind, all the while marvelling at the most detailed and beautiful traditional architecture in the country. Kyoto is the Japan of your imagination. Geishas scurry through extensive, much-loved gardens.
Kyoto is the ideal starting point for a trip to Japan, somewhere that you can easily access all the ins and outs of Japanese culture. You can attend matcha tea ceremonies, sleep on the futon in your traditional Ryokan accommodation and learn the ropes about Japanese cuisine. While it is widely disputed where the heart of Japanese culinary excellence resides, Kyoto is undoubtedly one of the main contenders. Nishiki food market is a joyful assault on the senses, where the colors, smells, sounds and tastes of Japanese food collide. Michelin star restaurants sit beside noodle stands and sushi bars, each offering their taste of the unique flavors of Japan. And this is just your first couple of days!
Nara is like a condensed version of Kyoto hosting a wealth of 7th-century architecture like the Buddhist temples of Yakushi-ji and Tōshōdai-ji. The streets of Nara-machi, a traditional merchants quarter where tradesman have converted shops into museums and craft stores are a delight, and best of this city can be explored in a day. Mt Koya is the center for Shingon Buddhism and is a covered in mist-shrouded forests, with temples scattered throughout.
While the cities you visit have tradition at their heart, escaping the city is still good, no matter what century you are in, so you will find some real delights in the rural parts of the trip. The scenery as you cycle is unique and inspiring. Cycling alongside rivers like bands of silver, the colors of the blossoms reflected in the bright water, broken only by the distinct orange wooden bridges. Looking over the rolling hills which appear to go on forever in ever increasing shades of grey.
Your accommodation is an experience in itself. Staying in Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) with tatami mat floors, and futons laid out for you every night is a wonderful experience. Eating in Ryokans is even better, with low tables bursting with beautifully presented, local, seasonal fare. We have one night in a Shukubo, with sliding paper walls and tatami matting, this 1000-year-old monastery accommodation allows you to attend Buddist meditation in the morning and have access to their Onsen (hot spring bath) all of which we would highly recommend.
Planning and preparation
Cycling from Kyoto to the Coast is very simple to get to. You can get to Kyoto from Osaka or Tokyo very quickly on the bullet train (another thing ticked off the Japanese must-do list!), and once you arrive, we will take care of the rest. Couldn’t be easier.