Tips for a successful bike tour in Canada
When it comes to bike touring in a truly unique country that will surprise you daily, there are not many places in the world that can achieve that every moment of the day like Japan can. With a small country that is 95% covered in mountains and a huge population, it is traditions and culture that allow the people of Japan to live in continuous harmony. With only 1% of the population being able to speak English and the vast majority of the population being ethnic Japanese, it will sometimes astonish you at how things are done.
However, I’ve never yet met a person that has travelled to Japan and not enjoyed the experience and left as a more trusting person. Every country has differences in the culture which can pose various challenges to bike tourists, but that usually aren’t evident until after some time. Hopefully these tips can help other cyclists so that they are prepared when they roll across the border.
Tip #1 - Convenience stores
Convenience stories (conbini) are the key to survival in Japan. They quite literally have everything you might ever need while on tour in Japan.
- 7/11, Family Mart, Lawsons Station are the three most popular conbini in Japan. They have everything you need.
- Food for cooking, snacks, drinks, food ready to eat
- Hot coffee, ice coffee, canned coffee, drinks, beer, liquor, etc
- Wifi, toilets, under garments, personal hygiene products
- Ticket services for busses, trains, etc.
Tip #2 - Litter
- The Japanese really take littering seriously, and there aren’t always garbage cans around.
- Carry your trash and throw it out later.
- Many Japanese that smoke don’t even ash on the street buy carry portable ashtrays
Tip #3 - Lost property
- If you lose something, go to the nearest Police Koban, the little police huts you see all over the place. In all likelihood, someone will hand it in.
- Japan has a very high return rate of lost things, even wallets with money in them. Something 85% chance of getting it back.
Tip #4 - Bike bag
- In Japan, you can only take folding bikes onto the train if they are in a bag and completely covered.
- I use the 305g Compact Rinko Bag Quick Carry that cost $50 to get on busses and ferries without paying extra.
- The downside is you’d still need to carry all you luggage as well as the bike.
- There are some cycle friendly trains where you don’t need to have a bag, click here.
Tip #5 - Saying 'No' in Japan
- Japanese people are very polite and it is considered rude to make someone else lose face (look bad). Thus, saying no in a direct manner is liable to make someone feel stupid.
- Judge each situation carefully.
Tip #6 - Basic Japanese
Konnichiwa = hello
Arrigato = thank you
Sayonara = goodbye
Sumimasen = excuse me (most commonly), sorry
Gomei Nasai = sorry
1 = ichi
2 = ni
3 = san
4 = shi
5 = go
6 = roku
7 = shichi
8 = hachi
9 = kyu/ku
10 = ju
Tip #7 - Expensive accomodation
- Free camping, public onsen (saunas), and Warmshowers are great ways to save money in Japan.
- Join the Facebook group Free Camping and Hot Springs in Japan to know where to go.
- I remember staying in a hostel in the most dangerous neighbourhood in Osaka, which was relatively cheaper than other places, only to find out that it is still considered very safe in comparison with the rest of the world.
Tip #8 - Bike parking
- When parking your bike in cities, be aware of where you are parking, as many places are not allowed to park.
- City bylaw often goes around and collects bikes not parked in the right place.
- I always lock mine to railings, and have never had a problem but that doesn’t mean you will be as lucky.
Tip #9 - Japanese festivals
- March/April: Cherry blossom festival (everywhere)
- May: Kanda Matsuri (Tokyo)
- May: Hakata Dontaku Matsuri (Fukuoka)
- July: Gion Matsuri festival (Kyoto)
- July: Tenjin Matsuri (Osaka)
- August: Awa Odori (Tokushima)
- August: Nebuta Matsuri (Aomori City)
- August: Tanabata Matsuri (Sendai City, Miyagi)
- September: Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri (Kishiwada, Osaka)
Tip #10 - Food and drink machines
In Japan you will see a drink machines quite literally everywhere in the country. Even in the most rural village, there is likely to be a machine on the side of the road near someone’s house where you can buy a drink. Japan is amazing in that not only can you buy cold drinks from machines, but you can also buy hot coffee, food, cigarettes, beer and more.