Bill asks "What is touring in Japan like?"

Rodger Grigsby answers;

Good choice of cycle touring destinations, Bill! I've toured there on three separate occasions, with a total of about 4,000 miles logged on those steep hills and rugged coasts. I hope to be able to return to Japan and tour many more times: that's how good it is...

So, what's so good about it???

Well, it's Safe - Clean - Beautiful - Civilized - Delicious - Beautiful, etc. etc., but for the cycle tourist there are a few things that make it especially good.

CampingFirst, although it's expensive, you can have a reasonably priced experience by camping out. I've camped on the top of castle-moat walls, in the foyer of big-city art museums, in Shinto shrines and under the eaves of Buddhist temples. Lighthouses always offer a good spot nearby, and it's hard to beat Japanese beaches. Most towns, large or small, have a river running through or by them, and along those rivers there is inevitable a park or ballfield, or croquet court, and nobody seems to care if you camp there. In smaller towns, the city park, if it's on the coast or near a wood, is also good. The funny thing is that the Japanese don't pay much attention to a Gaijin over there. It's like a foreigner is not EXPECTED to know how to act properly Japanese, so you can get away with just about anything (reasonable, that is...). Now, when I say "camping", I don't mean big bonfires, and such setups, just quick overnight bivvies. Don't do things which will draw too much attention, and don't set up camp until evening. DO bring a freestanding tent: there's lots of BUGS over there, and it likes to rain at night, even in good weather. Look for rest-stop shelters near parks and along beautiful "tourist" stretches of coast. These covered pavillions have a table, and many have running water too. I often pitched the tent UNDER these, using it for privacy and bug-proofing, while letting the structure protect me from rain. If you don't camp, you can often find a youth hostel: they're all over Japan and a good guide is available at most YHs.

While on the subject of camping, I'll mention cooking. Unless you have a lot of money in your tour budget, you'll not want to eat out at every meal. My daily routine would usually include one restaurant meal, with the other two self-prepared, or convenience food. A typical day would be: roll over and fire up my KEROSENE fuel stove to get the "espresso machine" going (that's tour-ese for Nescafe). If I hadn't eaten them at 2:00am in a sugar orgy, I'd pull out the pastries/bread I'd purchased yesterday and have them with my coffee. At home I'd have fruit too, but in Japan fruit is a very pricey proposition, even bananas. If I'd camped near a convenience food store, which are EVERYWHERE in Japan, I'd often get my coffee and pastry there instead of firing up the barbie. By the way, in the local 7-11, or Circle K, or whatever, look for a type of hamburger-bun-like pastry called a "Kureempan": it's a sweet roll filled with delicious custard. When I last toured there with my brother Kevin in '93, if the store had only one of them we had a serious "discussion" about who would get it. They're just right to get you ready to hit the road (the LEFT side of the road: don't forget ....)

When dinner time rolled around, we'd go to a cheap noodle place for RAMEN. The real Japanese ramen is NOT like the dry staff from Safeway:
it's really good. Try Miso Ramen, with a rich broth that'll tune up your electrolyte balance if anything will. Another good choice is Tonkatsu Teishoku, or a pork cutlet set meal. If we were camping and didn't eat out, we'd get our own pre-cooked ramen at a store and boil it up with sprouts and/or cabbage with a hunk of tofu thrown in. Very simple,one-pot, and satisfying. Top it off with a 1000ml can of Sapporo Draft and you'll forget those saddle sores quickly as you ponder the sun setting over the Japan Sea!!!

outdoor onsen(Hot spring)We'll you've had a taste of lodging and eating, how about BATHING? That is the REAL reason touring in Japan is such a pleasure. Ususally, if you are camp-touring, the end of the day is kind of a drag because getting cleaned up is a chore if not a downright hassle. Well, in Japan, practically every little village has a SENTO, or public bath-house. You'll recognize it by the curtains hanging in front in the late afternoon, indicating that it's open for biz. They usually have the "steaming water" logo and the Chinese Character for "Soup" written on them. Why the Japanese picked the character for "soup" for the bath is a mystery, but once you're in the bath it'll get a little clearer (!!!!)

(Editor's notes: The Chinese Character means not only the soup but also hot water. Japanese people of former days never compared Onsen with the soup. Japanese reading of that character is Yu, which originally meant water or hot water for ablution before praying.)

local bath is a famous hot spring, and sometimes it's down a quiet alley and hard to find, but ask a local and they'll inevitably lead you to one, even in the big cities. I'll leave it to your further research to discover the niceties and proper etiquette for the SENTOl, but will say that for the cycle tourist there is a good "program" for ending the day.

First, find the local bathhouse, then find your bivvy spot, and try to relate it to the bath (ie, less than a mile away). Don't leave your staff at the bivvy site, just get it scoped out so you can pitch camp in the dark, if need be.

Second, find a restaurant near the bath, if eating out is on the agenda.
(Sushi and beer are REALLY good after a hot soak!) Don't go in yet, just line up your intended dining experience, and check out the bike parking,


Third, if you intend to have "cocktails" after your ride, purchase the beers, etc. before going to the bath, unless the liquor store is next door. You don't want to spoil that mellow after-bath glow any more than necessary.

Japanese kidsLast, go take a bath, lollygagging in the tubs and the foyer for an hour or so, then sit outside the bath in an alley for "cocktails" before dining. Once the sun has set and the cocktail hour is past, have your meal and repair to your pre-selected lodging site. Once tucked in you'll ask: "I wonder what the poor folks are doing 'bout now???" (God, talking about this is making me thing about buying a ticket to Narita!)

Anyway, there's lots more that's good to know about Japan Touring, but I hope these bits of experience will be useful to the two-wheeled wayfarer in Nippon. And don't forget to bring along a copy of Matsuo Basho's "Narrow Road to the Deep North": those 300 year old haiku about HIS journey into Japan's "backcountry" are still fresh and wonderful.


uploaded:16, 11, 2006