Wander through ancient temples, cycle peaceful rural and mountain roads, admire rugged coastlines and peer into volcanic craters. Much more than a cycling trip, our adventure in Japan will give you a special opportunity to really experience the incredible Japanese culture and meet people ready to share their wonderful cuisine, centuries old traditions and beautiful countryside.
Our two week journey begins in Kyoto, where you experience the contrast of traditional and modern Japan. Here we visit Zen temples with immaculate gardens, catch a glimpse of a Geisha delicately walking the vibrant streets of Gion, witness a centuries old festival and explore the back streets of this 1200 year old city. Leaving Kyoto we then detour off the usual tourist trail, venturing across the island of Honshu to the Japan sea coast. Along the way cycling on very quiet roads through an ever changing landscape of wooded valleys, rice paddies, numerous lakes and rugged coastlines. Expect to eat great food and we give you the chance to have a go at making your own Japanese dishes.
The second week we visit the volcano filled island of Kyushu heading to the world's largest caldera surrounding Mt. Aso. Look forward to a fantastic sight and then we zoom down the side and across this incredible caldera. We ride to the edge of an active volcanic crater with bubbling sulphur pools. Enjoy riding through remote farming villages, rolling pastures and smoke belching mountains. All the more impressive with the seasonal changes adding to the overall scenic beauty.
There is no better than ending to your riding day then soaking away in a wonderfully relaxing Japanese bath. Tapping their geothermal supply these onsen baths are often part of your accommodations. Always greeted with warm smiles, you will come to appreciate the Japanese art of hospitality and cuisine. There will be plenty of wonderful delights to excite your taste buds. Food is number one in Japan and we ensure you get the chance to experience that. We stay in very comfortable and traditional minshuku, ryokan (traditional japanese inns) and hotels.
Your lead guide is Vincent, a longtime resident of Japan and well travelled cyclist. He has a deep appreciation of many things Japanese and loves to share his passion and enthusiasm for Japan with visitors from around the globe, helped by our local Japanese guide(s). They will do their best to make your Japan Explorer experience a wonderful one.
In May, the Azaleas are in full bloom around Mt. Aso and Mt. Kuji, whilst the autumn colours will dapple your day between September to November.
Day 1: Europe - Japan flights. Depart from Europe to arrive into Osaka Kansai Airport (KIX) the following day.
Day 2: Arrive in Osaka Kansai Airport and transfer to Kyoto. After arrival at Osaka airport we transfer by shuttle bus to Kyoto, with luggage and bikes transferred via our support vehicle. Our first night is in Minshuku accommodation in central Kyoto, in a quiet street close to Heian Shrine towards Higashi-yama area. In the afternoon it is time to put together your bike if you have brought your own, or have you fitted to your hire bike. Then time for dinner, trying the local speciality and an occasion to meet all your companions for the next exciting 16 days.
Day 3: Kyoto - Cycling Distance 15 km approx. Allowing for a leisurely start, after breakfast we set off to explore the magnificent ancient capital of Kyoto. In true Japanese style, it is a contrast of modern high tech and ancient traditional culture. Riding the narrow streets, in the Gion district meandering between ancient temples and narrow modern prefab buildings, you will soon get the sense of east and west merging into a thriving chaos. Heading east, we will explore more of the traditional Japanese quarters around Kiyomizu Dera. From the temple itself you will have a expansive view of the town. Flower blossoms in spring and autumn colours add to the attraction, which brings even the most seasoned Japanese tourist! Includes: (B, L).
Day 4: Western Kyoto - Cycling Distance 40 kms approx. As we continue to explore Kyoto, you will come to realise that although 21st century modernization is steadily engulfing the city, an aura of classical Japan still lingers in this ancient Capital. Autumn in Kyoto is a show of colours, as the mountain sides and gardens light up like fire in a carpet of reds, coppers and yellows.
Various colourful blossoms in spring fill Kyoto with the soft pink and white aura. The passage of seasons is an important moment for Japanese people, who flock to over 2000 temples and shrines to admire this natural artistic display. No better way to see the sights than by bike as we head westwards towards the Arashiyama hills. Another stop on our route is the gold leaf covered pavilion temple, Kinkakuji. Lunchtime, we stop by another restaurant where we sample another speciality to Kyoto.
Then we stop at Shimogamo shrine, a 800 year old haven of peace and tranquility. Good chance we can admire some couple having a traditional wedding. In the evening you have the town to yourself. You could wander the streets of Gion, the heart of Kyoto’s most famous geisha quarter. Wooden slated, tile roofed tea houses line these streets and it is where, come dusk, shadows of elaborated gowned woman rustle past, disappearing behind sliding doors. Includes: (B, L).
JAP10/04 and JAP11/03 Trips - Cycling distance - 50 kms approx.
The morning we venture to the Imperial Palace grounds to catch the start of the Jidai Matsuri, a parade featuring costumes from the era of past 1200 years. Then we will go look at the Golden Pavilion Temple Kinkakuji. Lunchtime, we stop by another restaurant where we sample another speciality to Kyoto. In the late afternoon, we ride to the village of Kurama to watch their famous fire festival.
Held in the north of Kyoto, this is one of the most impressive festivals held in Japan and takes place at the steps of Kurama Dera Temple. It is a display of man’s courage and strength. 3 metre long wooden torches are lifted onto the men’s backs and then once lit, carried through the narrow streets of Kurama. It is a ritual to frighten and ward away the bad spirits of nature, it's a sight not to be missed! Time permitting, you will have the choice to visit and take an outdoor bath at the Kurama Onsen (hot spring). Lunch today will be taken during our wanderings and similarly during the Festival. Includes: (B).
Day 5: Kyoto-ken hill ride - Cycling distance 75 kms approx. Today we set off, heading north, and immersing ourselves into the densely wooded hills which separate Kyoto from the north coast. Riding away from the bustle and noise of Kyoto, we take well surfaced rural roads, riding over a remote mountain passes and whizzing down into small valleys of rice paddies, dotted with typical old Japanese farm houses. The sides of these hills are densely wooded with spectacular cedar trees are home for wild boar, bear and monkeys.
After passing through these mountains our destination for the day is Miyama, a quiet village nestled in a long narrow valley filled with paddy fields. Sections of the village maintain their original character, with well preserved thatched roof farm houses (one of which is our youth hostel) giving us an idea of what Japan must have been like in the past. En route we have a picnic lunch & the evening meal at the accommodating Miyama Youth Hostel will be a pleasant surprise. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 6: Miyama to Obama - Cycling distance 65 kms approx. After a good traditional Japanese style breakfast of rice, egg and pickles, we set off for another day of quiet country roads. Some of the roads we take were once used as ancient trade routes between the Bay of Obama and Kyoto. Time is set aside to visit the National Historic monument of Higashiyama village a small village with all traditional houses and a chance to visit some museums exampling old Japanese farming lifestyle.
Before we tackle the pass we will sample some local fare for lunch. Then we take a winding climb to Gonami pass. We will be rewarded with a long descent into Natasho valley, then onto the coastal fishing town of Obama. Your accommodation for two nights is a hotel overlooking the bay. Here in Obama you will be able to sample more examples of the tasty and delightful Japanese cuisine. (B,L,D) M
Day 7: Obama Coastal Route and Myotsuji Temple - Cycling distance 40 kms approx. The contrast between the small villages and the life of the bigger cities will become more obvious as we continue exploring the countryside on our bikes. Today’s highlight is the magnificent view from the ridge,overlooking Wakasa Bay, with its rugged coastline and little fishing hamlets. Other than its importance within the Japanese fishing tradition, the Obama area is home to several important Soto Zen temples nestled up the quiet valleys. In particular, Myotsuji the three storey pagoda among centuries old cedar trees, is a monument of historical interest and part of the National treasures. If lucky we meet the delightful head priest, giving us an English introduction to the Buddhist traditions. After another full day out on our bikes, in the evening we head out for dinner and to explore Obama night life. Includes: (B, L).
Day 8: Wakasa coast - Mikata Five lakes - Cycling Distance 40 kms approx. No rush to start the day today and you'll have time to enjoy your western style breakfast and maybe go for a stroll along Obama seafront. Today we put a hand to some Japanese cooking. Time to leave the helmets on the bikes and pop on an apron, as we spend the morning chopping away at vegetables, fish and other local specialities in an attempt to impress our hosts! It is a fun occasion and we even get the chance to eat what we have prepared!
Changing into our cycling clothes, we head off along the coastal road, breathing in the sea air, riding past more fishing villages, stopping to watch men and woman tend to the fishing nets and putting out to dry in the sun, seaweed, squid and fish of various and unusual kinds. After an easy 'roller coaster' ride, we reach Mikata promontory.
For the last part of the ride we will focus our eyes on a quiet path round the Five Lakes of Mikata, part of the Wakasa Bay Quasi National Park. Each lake offers scenery that differs delicately from the others. Approximately sixty species of fish are said to live in the five lakes, where unique and simple traditional fishing methods are still practiced. This area is famous for plum production, which is then made into a sweet plum liqueur and the salty “umeboshi” pickles. Right on the lakeside is our next accommodation, a delightful Ryokan Onsen with superb outdoor bathing pools. The Ryokan is in a lush setting and you'll really not want to leave, with your evening meal some of the finest Japanese food you will taste during your stay in Japan! Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 9: Two Lakes Ride - Cycling distance 65 kms approx. We ride along the Wakasa bay coast towards Tsuruga. Stopping for lunch in a peaceful pine forest nearby the sea. After lunch we say sayonara to the Sea of Japan and venture over the coastal mountains, heading south towards the largest freshwater lake in Japan, Biwa-ko. The landscape around Biwa-Ko is yet again different, villages alternate with marsh lands, grassy beaches and tree lined shores. Following minor roads on the lakes edge, our clockwise route is simply lovely. The accommodation for the evening will be at a Ryokan overlooking the northern end of the lake. The evening sunset is usually spectacular and the early morning skyline always offers breathtaking photo opportunities. Includes: (B, L, D).
Day 10: Rest day and ferry to Kyushu. A leisurely start for the transfer to Osaka by train. In Osaka you have the time in the afternoon to explore at you own pleasure: a city renowned for being the little one compared to Tokyo but having friendlier people and far better food. A great chance to wander off shopping in one of the many shopping districts, catch up with your e-mail or maybe visit one of many interesting museums or galleries. Late afternoon we meet up to go to the ferry terminal.
At 7 pm we take the ferry to Kyushu island. The ferry is an overnight journey, arriving in Beppu early the next morning. Widely used by locals, Japanese ferries offer another cultural experience, not to be missed! Big common tatami rooms are used as sleeping, resting, drinking and eating areas. Sitting cross legged, lying down, people eat, drink, chat with strangers, televisions overhead show the inevitably bizarre quiz show, photographs are taken and its just the start!
On board 'onsens'(hot baths) allow people to relax in swish swashing pools, exchanging stories in between back rubs and boiling water dips: a voyage highlight is night sailing beneath the longest suspension bridge in the world, connecting Honshu with Awaji island and Shikoku. You can have dinner and your weary bones can rest on a bunk bed for a good nights sleep. Nb.The overnight ferry trip is 11 hours through the very calm Inland Sea, and the group has it's own private room with berths. Includes:(B).
Day 11: Beppu and transfer to Kuju-san - Cycling distance 65 km approx. On arriving in Beppu you will be surprised to notice the steam rising from the thousands of hot springs vents back dropped by a large mountain. Beppu is among the most famous hot springs area in Japan. Together the springs release 68,000 litres of water per minute. After stopping off for breakfast, we take a bus transfer heading south along Yamanami highway, a scenic road that gradually climbs into Aso-Kuju National Park. From the top of Mt. Kuju pass, we get back on the bikes and enjoy our ride through landscapes of high rugged extinct volcanoes, open meadows and densely forested woods.
Enroute we can try another hot spring then enjoy a peaceful picnic lunch. Plenty of downhill follows and the size of Aso caldera becomes apparent as we approach its edge and start out on our steep and breathtaking descent into the fertile Aso plain, at the bottom of the caldera. Our accommodation for the next few nights will be at the friendly Akamizu Lodge set below the caldera slopes. Includes: (B, L, D).
Days 12-13: Aso Caldera and Kumamoto - Cycling distance 50 kms approx. From our comfortable base of the Akamizu Lodge, we spend one day riding to the edge of a live volcano. An exciting day making our way up the side of the volcano and then cruising down the other side and back around wonderful quite roads. Riding close to active sections of the volcano, as well as the gentle contours and plateau of one of the largest calderas in the world, it will be a unique experience. Within the caldera lie five central cones, one of which is still active. There are spectacular views as we slalom through the forest and rice fields. Later in the day we check out another natural Onsen with a curious range of baths to dip into and soak away your weariness and worries. Includes: (B, L, D).
The other day we trade the bike for the train and take a train to Kumamoto city. Kumamoto is home to one of the most majestic castles in Japan. It is one of only 3 Black castles in Japan. The recently renovated keep, was rebuilt using the centuries old techniques, an incredible example of fine craftsmanship. After the castle visit there is time to wander the town, you can walk back to the station or go back by trolley car. Our accommodation and evening meals will be at the Akamizu YMCA Lodge. A very special place where most of our previous guests are very pleasantly surprised. Includes: (B, D).
Day 14: Akamizu - Yutsubo Onsen - Cycling distance 65 kms approx. After breakfast, we begin the return journey to back to Beppu. After we cross the Caldera floor and we take a two step climb to the Onsen village of Yutsubo in Kokonoe county. Our destination is Sensui Minshuku, a real gem in the rural heartland of Kyushu. You will be eager to try one of their many different baths to be followed by a 20 course dinner of local grown ingredients. From the fresh river trout taken from the nearby river, rice grown across the way, fruits picked from the hillside tree and sake brewed down the road. You’ll go back to room happy to hit the big fluffy futon feeling more than satisfied and ready for a good nights sleep. (B,L,D)
Day 15: Mt. Kuju - Yufuin - Cycling Distance 45 kms approx. Taking a combination of narrow tarmac roads and mountain dirt tracks, we make our way to the onsen town of Yufuin. On the way we will have a chance to walk over Japan’s highest and longest suspension bridge. So high Godzilla wouldn’t be able to grab you from the river below. A beautiful spot this bridge gives the fantastic view of two waterfalls tumbling into the deep valley floor. Onto some easy dirt roads we have lunch before we drop down into the wide valley where Yufuin is situated.
This is one of the many places in Kyushu trying to preserve the medieval-period homes and streets. Over the decades, it has attracted many eccentric artists who have settled because of the charm of the surrounding landscape. The quiet arty atmosphere, many hot springs and small crafts and art museums makes Yufuin and interesting stop for our last evening in Kyushu. Our accommodation is a new Japanese B&B a short walk from central Yufuin. We will be eating out this evening and it can be another chance to stretch your croaky chords. Includes: (B, L).
Day 16: Cycle Yufin to Beppu and take ferry to Osaka - Cycling Distance 35 kms approx. In the morning there is more time to explore the narrow streets, do some gift shopping from one of the various interesting craft shops, of this fascinating hot spring town. Then about mid morning we get on our bikes for our final day riding in Japan. As we say goodbye to the volcanic topography of Kyushu we have our final climb, then a short flat ride to our final picnic lunch in a picturesque spot. Great place for the group photo. After lunch the rest of the riding is all the way down to the ferry terminal, where we pack the bikes and leave you time to visit your last hot spring bath. With the ferry leaving in the early evening, we will have dinner on board, with accommodation onboard as Day 10. Includes: (B, L).
Day 17: Kyoto and Osaka - Free day. With the ferry arriving early morning, we transfer to Kyoto via Osaka by local transport. This final day is dedicated to your free exploration of Osaka, Nara or Kyoto, which still has many undiscovered areas for you to explore. In the evening we will have our final evening meal at a typical Japanese pub, a sad time saying goodbye to your companions over the last 16 days. Your final nights accommodation in Kyoto is a nice hotel in the midst of downtown giving you a chance to easily to make any last minute purchases or stay out late with your new found friends. All meals on this day are at your own expense.
Day 18: Kansai Airport transfer. Typically an early morning departure to get you to the airport on time for check-in. We arrange a similar shuttle bus transfer from your accommodation back to the airport. Once here it’s time to say sayanora to your guides and Japan. Alternatively, there is plenty more to see in this amazing country, with Bullet Trains able to whisk you away in a matter of hours. Anyone fancy a trip to see Mount Fuji or a few days in Tokyo? Includes: (B).
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