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Ohayou Gozaimasu Japan

04 June 2019

by Fraser McLachlan

Earlier this year Jillian, Max, Finn and I seized a brief family holiday opportunity for a spring cycle tour in Japan. We headed for Kyushu - the furthest south of Japan’s main islands where the weather is expected to be warmer in April - we got that part almost right!


Last minute flights booked, we folded up four smallish bikes and flew to Fukuoka via Singapore. Touring as a family has been a many and varied experience for us over the years. With the boys now 16 and 18 it is even better as they carry more than their share of the load. None of us had been to Japan before, so we were looking forward to the unexpected.

Kushida Shrine, Fukuoka.

Having pre-booked our first night's accomodation to decompress on arrival, we then provisioned before heading out into the great unknown. Our limited information was topped up by friends Richard and Linda who had biked there last year - plenty of helpful hints. We shopped at Yogabashi for SIM cards and gas canisters, then out to the countryside.

Off-road towards Karatsu.

Karatsu Castle.

As it turns out there are plenty of quiet roads, and the myriad of small cars travel slowly at 50 kmh. Very cycle friendly. Our first day's riding ended at the anticipated  beach/fishing village/camping ground. But it transpires camping happens in summer, not April. We surreptitiously pitched our tents anyway.


Camping at Hita.

Initially we meandered south along the west coast, cruising by villages, beaches and bridges, and gazing across the Sea of Japan towards Korea. The weather was warm and still - idyllic. After four days we made it to Nagasaki, and checked out the Atomic Museum - sobering. Then on via a variety of ferries and islands to the far south.

Enroute to Nagasaki.

Two days out from Kagoshima the freewheel on Max’s bike collapsed, and after some roadside fettling we carried on with the cluster wired to the spokes - a full range of gears but now riding 'fixie' style.

Kagoshima is a city of 600 thousand with stunning views across the bay to a still active volcano. At this point Max left us by Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to head home early, retracing our 8 days in just 80 minutes at 300kmh. We then choose to slow it down a tad (50-60 km each day rather than 70-80 km) to enjoy more of the scenery. So back north we went, avoiding the east coast and instead heading through Kumamoto and up into the hills around Mt Aso.

Yashiro Castle. 

The good weather finally abandoned us. We had to endure three days of rain and cold - not great when biking and camping. Our saving grace was the Onsen hot pool visits at the end of each day - an experience in itself. Bliss for a cold wet cyclist, and usually less than $10 per bather.

We became adept at finding public parks with toilet blocks for low impact camping, with the polite Japanese choosing to ignore us in the early hours of the morning. Our last week overlapped with 'Golden Week' when many locals were on holiday too. Consequently there was no accommodation anywhere, we had no option other than to camp.

Kinrin Lake, Yufuin.

Kyushu National Museum, Dazaifu.

With the weather improving we detoured to Yufuin, a beautiful touristy hill town. And then back west towards our start point, stopping finally at the National Museum. Thus completing a throughly pleasant and low key 900 km roundtrip spread over 3 weeks, taking in most of the Kyushu highlights.

The Nitty Gritty
  • maps.me is the mapping app of choice. Combine with Google maps for aerial photos of suitable camping spots. An overlay with possible 'free' campsites is also useful.
  • Avoid Golden Week (end of April, early May) as all accommodation is taken by domestic tourists.
  • Cash is king - it is possible to get up to 50000 yen (approx NZ$700) from Post Office ATMs.
  • Seek out recharging of phones at 7-Eleven/Lawson/FamilyMart convenience stores - open 24 hours and everywhere.
  • Kyushu is quite hilly, with regular 300m climbs. Often topped off with longish road tunnels.
  • Traffic is polite to cyclists, but some roads are still busy - try to choose more obscure routes.
  • The scenery is beautiful, once you realise all the land is carefully managed. There is no real wilderness.
  • And also no flat land for camping in the country, so semi-urban parks are the best option.
  • The money we saved on hotels we spent on a wide variety of great food - Sushi plus Udon, Ramen (a local speciality) and Soba noodles. As well as heaps of ice cream and the ubiquitous roadside drink dispensers.

Sayonara Fukuoka. Props from Kyushu Tourism.