Cycling in Japan
I love cycling. It’s one of my favourite activities and a different way to discover new places around you. Walking doesn’t get you far enough, and driving is something you do when you have a concrete destination. Cycling is different. I can cycle for hours, get lost, and find new shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s also the only real exercise I do, so that doesn’t hurt either.
When I was a teenager back in Spain, I used to cycle quite often. The green, mountainous coastlines and mild temperatures of the Basque Country make it a perfect place for cycling. Going from village to village and admiring the view never gets old. Anything under 100km a day was not too far. I remember going to France by bicycle, and the feeling when you reach the peak of the mountain, see a sign saying “France,” and start going downhill is tremendous. When you’re down, you find a nearby village, and people speak a different language.
Obviously, you’re not going to get that exact feeling in Japan. But cycling here can be an amazing experience in its own right. Japan has plenty of nature and quiet mountain roads to cycle on. There are some famous cycling routes I’d love to try some day, the most famous being Shimanami Kaido, a 70-kilometre route starting at Onomichi in Honshu, going through a number of small islands, and ending at Imabari in Shikoku. Though I was in Onomichi a couple of years ago, they had unfortunately run out of rental bikes by the time I arrived, so I’ll have to go earlier in the day next time.
Not everything is great about cycling in Japan, of course. There usually isn’t enough infrastructure for cyclists here, particularly in cities. Unlike in my hometown, where there are cycling paths all around that allow you to avoid traffic—and traffic lights—at all times, your only option here is to share roads with cars, or use the sidewalk.
Rules are unclear in Japan, and the ones that exist are rarely followed. In Ota Ward, the cycling lane is on the road, but when you cross the Tama River to Kawasaki, it’s on the sidewalk. Cycling lanes rarely exist, and when they do, they are usually narrow. Cycling on a sidewalk with no lanes is supposedly illegal, but everyone does it. Even the police! While cycling on the road, you have to follow all traffic laws, but cyclists often jump traffic lights. When you change lanes as a cyclist—something inevitable if you are following traffic laws—some car drivers might get angry at you.
Remember when I said I went to France by bicycle? Well, that is because I could bring my bicycle back on the train, so I didn’t have to worry about cycling back. Trains in Europe often have spaces for bicycles. Here, you need to buy an expensive foldable bike if you want to carry it on the train. Not having one means that you have to shorten your potential routes.
All that said, I have been rediscovering cycling and I’m loving it. When I lived near Kamata, I used to cycle along the Tama River, about 20km one way. I did the same route over and over, but it was safe as there was no traffic. Every now and then I would go to Haneda airport or some of the artificial islands around the area.
Since I moved to Yokohama a year ago and until recently, I kind of stopped cycling. I live on a 60-metre high plateau, and my bicycle’s first gear stopped working, meaning it was extremely difficult to cycle back home. There also isn’t an easy cycling route around here. The centre of Yokohama is full of four-lane roads and traffic lights.
So what motivated me to start cycling again? I bought an electric bicycle.
I don’t cycle for the exercise, I’m ashamed to say. I just enjoy the act of cycling itself. Getting an electric bike made cycling that much easier. For one, going uphill to my home is not an insurmountable task anymore. But also, while I can’t go any faster, it’s less tiring to go farther and leave Yokohama, especially since it gets so hot and humid here in Japan. I’m getting closer to 40, so I welcome the help.
Since getting my new bicycle, I have been to Zushi and the surrounding areas a few times. It’s 20 km one way and mostly on wide roads, but the destination is beautiful, and there are some smaller places to discover along the way. Some of my potential destinations include Hakone or Kamakura.
I intend to go to Hakone sometime in the autumn and stay the night there. Hakone is 70km away from Yokohama, so it’s very doable by electric bicycle. I tried the journey once, but it was 38 degrees, and I was extremely sunburnt by the half-way point, so I had to wait for sunset and get back. Next time, I’ll have to make sure temperatures are more bearable. As of writing this, I just discovered a quieter cycling route to Kamakura on an application for cyclists, and I’m going to try it out as soon as possible.
On my recent cycling excursions I have had pleasant conversations at empty cafes with their owners, talked to someone wearing a T-shirt with Basque language words on it (a very rare sight almost anywhere), and had quiet late dinners by empty roads. It’s these experiences that make me love cycling. While Yokohama is a big city, Kanagawa has plenty of nature, smaller towns to visit, and locals to talk to. Having an electric bicycle just makes it easier to leave the city. If you live in the centre of Tokyo, that can still be tough, but don’t be discouraged. I’m sure there’s a beautiful route somewhere near you. For instance, following the Tama river will take you to Mount Takao. And while the bike wasn’t cheap, I have saved a lot of money on commutes to the centre of Yokohama and elsewhere.
If you’re even mildly interested in getting a bicycle in Japan, I highly recommend you do so and discover the world around you. You won’t regret it.
Hi, I’m Sergio.
I’m from Spain, lived in the UK for seven years and came to Japan in 2012.
I majored in journalism in London and have been teaching English in Tokyo.
I like traveling, cycling, photography, movies, and spending time with friends.
I wrote articles about life in Japan as a foreigner and anything that I might find interesting.
My email is ” firstname.lastname@example.org “, by all means contact me about anything!
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