I’ve gone on about it enough, my friends, that I am sure you are fully aware of our recent exploits overseas in the land of okonomiyaki and Hello Kitty. If you haven’t, then you evidently don’t follow my instagram (hint) and also live under a very large rock.
At Easter, Tim and I packed up the children (bicycles) and flew 9 hours over the ocean to Japan to cycle around the country. Only in the recent years has Japan become a mark on the map for the avid cyclist, and it’s little wonder why it has taken off in popularity. Japan is an amazing country with amazing culture and is one of the most cyclist-friendly places in the world.
Now that I’ve offered the expectation, I need to bring you back to reality and fully prepare you for the experience that awaits you. Travelling with your bike is hard, reword that to travelling internationally with your bike and you have yourself quite the fun time ahead. I have never travelled domestically on a flight with my bike before, so I was straight in the deep end with this international business and even with Tim’s decades of experience was still quite a tough pill to swallow.
Here’s what to expect when you travel to Japan with your bike:
Oversized Baggage Fees with LCCs
If you fly with a low cost carrier like Tim and I did (because we’re cheapskates and wanted to maximise sneaker purchases once landed) then you will be slugged with oversize baggage fees. Note: these may not be charged to you exiting Australia, but you will definitely be slapped with the fee by the Japanese LCC staff upon trying to come back.
You Need Sturdy, Compact Luggage
I’m not just talking about a hard case bike bag for the flight. Japan is not a country dominated by cars like here in Australia. Catching a taxi is stupid expensive, and generally reserved for when there is no other transport option. You will be catching a lot of trains and doing a lot of walking around their maze of a rail and subway system. A bike bag with 4 wheels will serve you well, a compact bike bag with 4 wheels will serve you even better. The trains are packed, and in some stations like the Osaka Shinkansen station, they will even measure your bike bag to ensure it is within their size regulations. My big old thing barely made it. Imagine not being able to travel on the shinkansen…
You Cannot Take Your Bike on the Train Without It Being in a Bag
Period. If your bike is not in a bag, you cannot take it on the train. Take heed of this when planning any potential routes. Tim and I got caught with this when we rode from Osaka to Kyoto. And suffered because of it. 50kms into an unrelenting, block head wind home was not fun.
Most trains stations have lockers or storage facilities for bike bags, so if you’re planning a ride a bit out of town that you needed to catch transport to, check this out first before canning the ride.
Hotels May Not Be Thrilled with your Bicycle
Tim and I deliberately sourced “cyclist friendly” accommodation, and yet somehow at Mt Fuji were still refused our bicycles back inside after our ride. We had to lock our bikes up on their front deck right at the entrance of the hotel. The Japanese people seem to have a genuine problem with bikes outside of bags, because if your bike is in its bag then they have absolutely no problem with it.
AirBnBs, however, are no issue at all and all our AirBnBs were incredible and accommodating.
If you stay in a city, it will take you an hour by bike to get out
Tim and I doubled the trip has a regular tourist trip too, so we chose to stay in the big cities. This was fine except for the part where the traffic lights and time it took to get out of the cities into the mountains was an hour at minimum. Be prepared for this and take this into account when planning your rides.
The traffic is hectic, but safe
Everyone is incredibly accommodating of cyclists. There are mums with children on either side of her weaving her way by bike in and out of the traffic. Drivers move to the other side of the road for you and treat you like another vehicle to be respected. It’s fantastic. The traffic is insane though so be prepared for lots of traffic lights.
I could go on and on about more more things to expect, but then where is the mystery and fun in that?
If you’ve been to Japan and have your own tips, or have any questions, drop them in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you and happy to help answer any questions you may have!