Europe Or Japan? Decision Time Looms…

So… what’s up next? Well, we have the UCI World Championships here in Yorkshire this coming week and I’d like to venture over to one of the nearby starting points (Bradford or Leeds) and perhaps even the Harrogate ‘loop’ to see some of the cycling action. I have a little trip to Scotland planned in early November along the lines of my EuroVelo-related visit to Belgium a couple of years ago. Then there are a couple of speaking engagements in early 2020 and the Cycle Touring Festival in May…

But I’m thinking of next summer and the possibility of another end-to-end ride that’s worthy of me putting pen to paper and writing another book. It is, of course, the natural progression from investing in a new bicycle – Wanda, the Koga WorldTraveller – and heading off to Spain and Portugal this summer to test her out. Indeed the purchase of a new bike was because I want to do more end-to-end rides and write books about them. It’s not so much a case of ‘if‘ as a case of ‘when‘ and ‘where‘. The answer to those two questions really needs to be delivered in the next few months and certainly before the end of 2019.

The two options are:

  • Somewhere end-to-end in Europe (again…) or
  • Japan, top to bottom

Clearly there are other feasible options out there, but for 2020, these are the two that I am currently weighing up. One option is on my doorstep and logistically relatively straightforward; the other is far away and logistically more problematic. I have no idea which of the two will finally win out although I think the European option (despite Brexit…) is more likely even if my preference would be for Japan. Other factors – time and money primarily – need to take precedence over my mere emotional desires. I hate to disappoint but, by continuing to read this post, you are not going to find me making a decision today.

However, it is emails from people like Tamás that get me thinking. Tamás is, I think, from Hungary, and he noticed that I had written here on about the possibility of cycling the length of Japan in 2020. You can too by visiting this page of the site

…although I think the ‘coming soon’ bit in the video should have included the caveat ‘perhaps’. After introducing himself, Tamás offered his advice:

“I [cycled Japan] last year in 5500km avoiding the big cities. I am not sure what kind of trip you are planning but if you have any questions and you think I might be able to answer then do not hesitate to ask. I was doing camping almost all the way.”

Tamás B

Eager to find out what he had to say, I responded and Tamás has just emailed back with some very useful pieces of advice as well as links to online resources. Over to you Tamás!

I can recommend the following websites since I have found them very useful before and during my trip…

  • – Lots if useful information
  • Free camping, hot springs and Mich-no-Eki in Japan – The Michi no Eki network is quite handy in Japan and during my trip only 1 of the campings was not available from the map. Unfortunately the map does not says what kind of camping is it. The car campings in Japan don’t really like cycle tourers and might not let you stay. And they are expensive.
  • Windfinder – Lets face it… Wind can make your day pretty bad when you are cycling…
  • Sakura Mobile – You can’t buy a SIM card in Japan and the roaming is super expensive so I had this Sakura data SIM card and it was brilliant. With a data SIM you can and should use Google Maps (GM).

I used GM and Open Street Map (OSM) as well since OSM works offline and it can show you the elevation as well so you will see how hard your day will be 🙂  Furthermore GM was a big help to find spots when I was doing wild camping. I am not sure what kind of trip is in your mind but I was doing camping almost all the way and my trip ended up being 5500km in about 63 days, daily average 100km cycling.

I would have to check my bank statements to give you exact number but I think I did not spend more than €2000 during my time in Japan and I have visited lots of place there. My flight ticket was €750. You should try and fly with British Airways because with them you can take your bike for free. On the way back I had to pay €200 to Japan Airlines.

AirBnB is widely available and not expensive; I never paid more for a night than €30.

If you are cycling in Japan water and public toilets are everywhere and they are clean as well. You can was your clothes with coin washers.

Taking your bike on public transport is a challenge since you have to take it apart, and this is the main reason I did not use public transport at all.

There are small supermarkets at every stop so you do not have to carry much food on the bike BUT… I suggest if you get food from supermarkets (they have ready to eat food and it is quite good as well; they heat it up for you) you should eat it right there because there are no bins in Japan. Seriously. Basically these shops are your only chance to get rid of your rubbish. And these shops (at least 7Eleven…) are the places you are going to get your cash as well since they have ATMs. You have to use cash because they do not really use card terminals.

The traffic is super safe in Japan (I did not go to Tokyo though so that might be crazy). As I can see on your map you have planned the shortest route possible and I am pretty sure before you go you will change it here and there but let me say that the Japanese coast line is kind of boring. There are plenty of nice places as well but one fishing village is the same as the rest. That is the reason my trip was over 5000km with lots of mountains.

I was planning my trip all the way making a map with day-by-day schedule but on the first week it turned out it was a waste of time. Every night I was planning the next day keeping in mind that I have to cycle around 100km. Another thing… You should learn some basic Japanese. It happened many times with me that people started to talk to me in Japanese like they were sure that I am speaking that language and I do actually speak a bit of Japanese but it could be very frustrating. In big cities young people probably speak some English but I did not meet many of them. I am pretty sure I have more to tell but this is what I have now. If you have any specific question just ask.

Tamás B

What a wonderfully useful email to receive and many thanks to Tamás for taking the time to send it. Lots of really practical information about a trip that he clearly thoroughly enjoyed. “I might go back next year to do some cycling on a different route” he added to his original email. That, I suppose, is the ultimate endorsement. You never know; I might even meet him…

So, Europe or Japan? I did warn you not to expect a decision quite yet…

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Categories: Adventure, Cycling, Japan 2020, Travel

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  1. Japan, even if it has to involve air traffic…
    Was just there for cycling and can perhaps add a few things: the michi-no-eki (literally: road stations) that we encountered are not generally campsites (but some of them also have camping facilities). We did, however, spend a night in one of them – there is a low podium with the plastic equivalent of tatami mats, and people actually slept there (not just us). At another one, the guy running the shop encouraged us to just camp outside, as the nearby campground was closed for renovation, and of course we could use the toilet facilities. We never encountered a campsite that would not take bike tourers – there were some that were labeled “Autocamping”, but that did not matter. Some of those were actually free of charge.
    We only cycled in the northern prefectures of Akita, Iwate and Aomori, though – campsites are much more frequent there than in other parts of the country.

    • Thanks Clemens. Lots of useful, practical information there. Much appreciated! You were ‘just there’. Was that in July and August? What was the weather like?

      • Sorry that took so long. It was in August and September. We started August 18th in Akita, in sweltering conditions, but by the third day (in Shirakami Sanchi a little further north) it was significantly better. Around Tsugaru Hantō and in Shimokita Hantō it was mostly warm, but not oppressively hot, a bit humid, but not too bad either, and we had very little rain. Already in September, we cycled from Aomori south over the Hakkōda mountains – I suffered a little from heat there, just on the one day – to Lake Towada, then Towada-Hachimantai with the Hachimantai Aspite Line to Morioka (where we had the only afternoon with serious rain) and on to Laka Tazawa, Kakunodate and back to Akita – all under already slightly autumnal conditions, except for the last day in the coastal plain, where it was hot again.
        We escaped all typhoons (one passed over Tokyo when we were there, but that was after our cycling trip), I never wore socks or long pants in all the time. A few evenings on campsites I took a light padded jacket (Arcteryx Atom Hoodie, the lightest model), and I think I actually slipped INTO my sleeping bag (a VERY light one, too!) once – the other nights I used a silk sleeping bag liner and draped the sleeping bag loosely over me…(we did use a proper tent, though, not a tarp or similar.

        It may be regional or annual variation, probably both, but three years ago we cycled through Central Honshu – from Tokyo to Fuji-san and on across the Alps to Takayama, then eastwards again via Matsumoto to Nikko and back to Narita – almost same time of the year (one week later, I think). The first week to Takayama was seriously hot, on the eastward leg we had a lot of rain – almost every day, and some of it pretty torrrential.

        Temperatures any higher than what we experienced in Central Honshu in very late August combined with the humidity are probably not pleasant at all anymore – for me anyway, I do not love heat.

        Hope this helps, if there is anything else I can do, I´d be happy to!

  2. Well, if you happen to be in Japan for the obvious window – Cherry Blossom Season, the tree not the shoe polish obvs, ie mid-April to early June, heading north up the country – then we might be able to meet up, as we’re planning a Japan End to End around then too. Which might sway you to the Europe option instead!

    There’s probably more mileage in a Japan book, though it’s been pretty well covered by bike travelogues, so publishers might take some convincing.

    My feeling would be that, having done big Europe End to Ends already, you could profitably do Japan as your headline trip, and fit in smaller European End to Ends ad hoc – it’s possible to do Belgium or the Netherlands in a long weekend, and even somewhere as enticing as Slovakia in a leisurely fortnight.

    Enjoy the next few evenings poring over maps and researching online, anyway!

    • Thanks Rob. Yes, I’d love to escape Europe for a long ride, even if it is just the once. Time will tell… If I do go to Japan next year, however, it will be in July and August. Not only is that when I have (potentially) time available but also when the Olympics is taking place and I’d like to link a visit to Japan with seeing the Tokyo 2020 cycling road race. It was the cycling road race at Beijing 2008 that inspired me to go off and (as I wrote at the time) ‘cycle somewhere exotic’ (definition of ‘exotic’: originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country). I’ve never quite managed that in Europe over the past ten years but in Japan 2020 I could actually achieve it, 12 years later… Look forward to reading about your own trip as you head in the opposite direction.

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