Japan, a nation imbued with a distinctive charm and rich cultural tapestry, never fails to fascinate. Its many unique charms allure travelers from all corners of the globe, year after year, and cycle touring is increasingly becoming a popular way to explore Japan.
The country presents a delightful blend of tradition and modernity, where vibrant cities coexist harmoniously with age-old customs and traditions. This is the land of iconic cultural highlights like sushi and sumo wrestling, the spiritual practices of Shinto and the valor of the samurai.
Japan is a treasure trove of curious highlights and unique experiences that captivate and enthrall visitors, most often leaving them longing to return for more. You can immerse yourself fully in the experience with a stay at a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) and a relaxing hot spring bath (onsen), among many other cultural highlights.
For cycle tourers and nature lovers, the geographical diversity ranges from majestic volcanic ranges and lush evergreen forests to exotic tropical beaches and the mountainous ski slopes of the northeast. If you are looking to explore the enchanting landscapes of the land of the rising sun by bicycle then the timing and location of your visit can significantly shape your experience. So we have put together this guide to what’s the best time of year to cycle tour Japan.
Japan's Four Seasons
We all appreciate a little diversity and Japan’s range of altitudes and latitudes means it experiences different weather conditions - from the balmy tropics of Okinawa to the Alpine region of Hokkaido.
Depending on where and when you visit, you can experience a range of weather conditions. However, it’s likely that most touring cyclists are going to focus on a particular region, so the changes will be much less pronounced, with the exception of high-altitude locations.
For this guide we’ve focused on the main island of Honshu, where you’ll find major transport gateways at Osaka and Tokyo, cultural and historic hubs at Kyoto and Nara, and just nearby the island of Shikoku, which you can explore via one of our guided cycle tours.
This central Japanese region experiences four seasons, as in much of the western hemisphere: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter (in Japanese, Haru 春, Natsu 夏, Aki 秋, and Fuyu 冬).
Spring is iconic in Japan as everything starts to bloom, and a rainbow of wildflowers, azaleas, wisteria, and cherry blossoms light up the entire countryside. The ubiquitous sakura, or cherry blossom, attracts thousands of visitors, with both domestic and foreign tourists alike making their way to the best locations to catch a glimpse of the beautiful sight.
You can sometimes still see a little snow on the mountain peaks, but even there the temperature should be warm enough during the day to ride in short sleeves. You may see some rain during a cycling trip at this time, but not enough to disrupt your journey. Expect an occasional shower, bigger downpours are rare.
Cycling in Japan in Spring is a lovely experience as the blooming flowers are a feast for the eyes as you pedal through pleasant temperatures. However, due to the iconic status of the sakura (cherry blossom), April is also busy. If you choose to travel during this time, expect to encounter larger crowds around famous sites.
Keep an eye out for the golden week national holidays in late April/early May. This is the peak time of the year for domestic travel and during this week it is virtually impossible to secure accommodation outside of Tokyo. Therefore, if you wish to experience gloriously fragrant and fresh springtime in Japan by bicycle, we’d recommend timing your visit either side of this.
Here's our summary for visiting Japan in the Spring:
- March is a good time to go but you can encounter some crowds in the second half.
- April is slightly better weather with crowds in the first half.
- May, make sure to avoid Golden Week and you can enjoy great weather and fewer crowds, as the peak Sakura season has largely passed.
During the Japanese summer you’ll encounter their rainy season followed by the hottest month of the year. While the elements can appear more challenging, there’s still enough decent weather around for some good riding, especially considering the countryside comes alive in a rich blanket of green.
July is the traditional rainy season, followed by the heat of August. During June and July, cyclists should expect the air to be thick with moisture as mist and fog cling to treetops and mountain peaks. At this time, you’ll often see moss appearing throughout the countryside, a reflection of the dampness in the air, which may seem quite unlike the hot and dry summers many people are accustomed to.
It’s a time of pros and cons for riders. You’re not likely to experience complete washout days but should be prepared to get wet. On top of this, humidity means that hydration is critical. However, the lush, vibrant views are marvelous, and you’ll get to witness the flooded rice paddies that look like reflective pools mirroring the landscape. The forests of Japan can resemble a tropical rainforest at this time of year.
As the rain recedes, August is the hottest month. Days take on a pattern of fresh, pleasant mornings that build in humidity and heat to a sticky afternoon downpour. At this time of year, the sun rises nice and early at around 4 am. For early starters, you can get a lot of fantastic morning riding done to admire the verdant scenery before the heat of the afternoon. Heading higher into the mountains will help keep temperatures down.
Roughly at the turn of August into September comes the typhoon season. While the name may put off a few, typhoon season can be a fantastic time to ride weather-wise. In reality, you’ll encounter less rain than in early summer but prepare for a sharp deluge if the rains come. A typhoon may require some flexibility with your itinerary and some changes to the riding, but Japanese trains offer many connection opportunities so options and alternatives are usually readily available. The bonus is, immediately following a typhoon the air is fresh, leaving crystal-clear days perfect for riding.
Our thoughts on visiting Japan in the summer:
Summer sees fewer international visitors and if you are fine with some rain and humidity then you can enjoy the sights with less crowds and rides through rich green countryside.
Summer is also a great time to immerse yourself in Japanese culture as many festivals take place during August. Almost every town will have a festival in this month, called a matsuri, they usually pay tribute to a different deity or a famous historical event and will vary from place to place. However, typically, a central feature is an elaborate parade through town with colorful floats, spellbinding costumes, and energetic group dances often rounded off with fireworks and other festivities.
The street food stalls that spring up alongside these matsuri celebrations are particularly enticing for visitors. These street food vendors offer up delectable local treats for you to fill up and kick back after a fantastic day of riding.
Autumn is a favorite among many cyclists in Japan for its delightful color palette of reds, oranges, and gold in the canopy. Japanese maples and Ginkgo trees provide picture-perfect views, while the weather makes for pleasant riding.
Autumn brings a steady stream of pleasant, sunny days. Skies are mostly clear, meaning you can feel the sun's warmth when riding, and yet a cooling breeze is always around the corner to offer a nice reprieve.
Our thoughts on cycle touring in Japan during Autumn/Fall:
On the island of Shikoku, where some of our cycle tours run, the weather is heavenly at this time of year. In the day it's warm, but not too warm, and in the evening it's cool but not too much so - perfect weather for cycle touring!
As the temperatures cool in the evenings, there’s nothing better than rejuvenating in the relaxing hot springs of a traditional onsen before a delicious local meal to prepare for the next day’s ride.
Cycling in Japan from September to November gives you the best chance to admire the picturesque fall foliage, experience tourist hotspots with fewer crowds than in Spring, and benefit from the finest weather for riding. The odd typhoon can sometimes creep into late September to momentarily disrupt even the best-laid plans, but this is rare as they tend to dissipate at sea this late in the season.
Winter sets in during December and lasts until late February. Mountainous regions get a lot of snow, making winter an excellent time for skiing enthusiasts to come and visit Japan. However, it’s the least welcoming time for cyclists.
In general, expect cold to frosty evenings and cool days in the southernmost reaches of Honshu. The occasional warm days could make for some pleasant riding if you’re lucky to enjoy some heat from direct sunlight. However, for the most part, a winter cycling trip to Japan will depend heavily on layers and a brave, potentially masochistic mindset.
Our opinion on cycle touring Japan in the winter:
In short, we’d advise against a winter cycling tour of Japan.
Our overall summary of the best time to cycle tour Japan:
Ultimately, we believe there’s ample reason to embark upon your cycle tour anytime between March and November, and if you can do so in May or October, then you might just get the very best conditions that Japan has to offer. The nearby months can be great too if they work better for your timing and preferences, just keep in mind that mother nature can be unpredictable no matter the time of year - We run amazing bike tours in Japan but have not yet mastered the art of controlling the weather!
We don’t recommend undertaking a cycling trip between December and February as it is just too icy and cold.
Why Cycle Japan?
Japan is unparalleled in its appeal to cyclists. The scenery is outstanding. The rich history and culture is unbelievably intact and accessible. You literally live and breathe the culture on a daily basis when cycling in Japan. The cuisine is exquisite and even in the most obscure places, you will find food that will delight your taste buds, presented beautifully; a signature trait that the Japanese take great pride in.
The riding itself is near perfect. There are quiet roads and excellent cycling infrastructure with optimal gradients, winding through shaded valleys and along scenic ridgelines. Coastal roads with pleasant breezes and a great variety of undulations, climbs, descents, and flat leisurely rides at intervals. There is something for every occasion and for everyone to enjoy, which is our idea of cycling heaven!
It also happens to be one of our most popular cycle touring destinations in recent years; a good option for both beginners and veterans alike.
Japan's efficient transport network makes it convenient to explore, with a high-speed train able to briskly whisk you to a different region, and wherever you go you can immerse yourself in the country thanks to the unanimously friendly and welcoming local population. On any of our bike tours in Japan, you’ll learn about the ancient customs emblematic of Japanese culture while witnessing some of the country's most beautiful scenery.
In case you’re not convinced of the merits to visit Japan, and for a more detailed description of the reasons why to do so (besides the weather), check out former Grasshopper team member, Noel Tanner’s seven reasons to cycle-tour Japan.
Browse our carefully curated itineraries and learn more about the amazing adventures that await. For more information about any of the tours we operate, please feel free to contact our friendly team for a chat.