Bike tour through Japan's historic homeland
Explore the intriguing city of Kyoto by bicycle, a place consistently highly rated by visitors. Cycle beyond Kyoto to another ancient capital, Nara, before riding on to Mount Yoshino, a mountain top village full of cherry trees. Visit the spiritual highlight of Mount Koya and bike through evergreen forests to the coast.
This bike tour runs from Kyoto to Wakayama.
Kyoto is more than just a former capital and the home of the famed Cherry Blossoms. It is the spiritual home of Japanese culture and such an aesthetically perfect one at that and a brilliant place for bike touring. Cycle quiet alleys along canals with perfectly graded falls and willows dipping in from the side, wide boulevards leading to awe inspiring structures. Little eateries who's owners take great pride in their signature dishes and who's customers are as loyal as bees are to blossoms.
We show you Kyoto by bike, but then we venture further afield, riding through another lesser known former capital Nara where the Buddhist clergy almost stole the show, up to Yoshino where natural beauty abounds and onto Mount Koya where we stay in a monastic center and have an opportunity pray with monks.
Great bike riding on the best made roads we have found in Asia, great cultural insights and amazing, authentic Japanese cuisine make this an unmissable adventure tour.
7 days duration
255 km distance
Trip Features & Tour Inclusions
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Japan has such well-maintained roads that we venture onto hybrid bikes for this ride. The Cannondale Quick 1 Disc bikes are fixed fork (no suspension), flat handlebar hybrid bikes with mid-width fast rolling tyres and hydraulic discs for braking confidence. A reliable and performance geared Shimano 105 drivetrain and class-leading weight make this a great bike for lightweight touring and perfectly suited to the Japanese conditions.
We make use of the traditional Ryokan Inns on four nights of this tour, some with attached onsen (thermal hot spring) baths. These are atmospheric, family run guesthouses with, tatami matted floors, paper walls, futon beds, Yukata gowns and a traditional Japanese feast that awaits you at each one. We have selected these properties for their character, location and comfort. Note, double beds are not available in the Ryokan's as they are single futon mattresses on the floor.
Your Tour Leader is a Japanese national who has lived abroad at various stages, but is now back in Japan doing what he truly loves, riding bikes with friendly visitors. Our leaders are often cited as being the highlight of the tour and this we believe will be true of your experience in Japan. We have searched far and wide to find someone who can really tell you the story of Japan and we believe we have found him.
We provide a support vehicle driven by a skilled bike mechanic. You can be well assured that our great team are right behind you with support and they can keep your bike humming along like a swiss watch.
An air-conditioned support van is provided and will be within 15 minutes maximum when needed. We generally transfer surplus, bulky luggage by courier to the endpoint of the ride by courier, so it is a good idea to pack in two parts, one part that you need daily and one part that you don't need to see until the end. This makes your daily routine a lot easier.
Japanese cuisine is world famous. We aim to deliver a wide ranging food experience on this tour from some simple meals up to the more ornate and gourmet experiences in the larger towns.
Granola bars, fruit, and electrolyte drinks, as well as delicious local snacks will be provided to keep your energy up for riding.
A beautiful, limited edition, memento Grasshopper cycling jersey is yours to wear and take home as well as our trademark bottle.
4 to 14
This tour is guaranteed for a minimum of 4 travellers. And we limit the group size to only 14 travellers so that you get all the attention you want in an intimate group.
There is no surcharge for single travellers - we will match you with another same sex single traveller. If you want a single room there is a an optional upgrade that you can book.
for Japan Heritage Cycle - Kyoto & Surrounds
Kyoto - Welcome to the Ancient Capital
Japan's cultural epicentre encompasses more than just history, temples and tradition, which it has plenty of with the mighty Imperial Palace and the Golden Pavilion shimmering against the lake on which it sits, as the UNESCO world heritage site is also a hub for Japan's dynamic modern art scene. Being an arrival day, nothing is planned until the late afternoon briefing with your tour guide, so you are free to explore this fascinating city before then. After our briefing to run through the practicalities of the trip, we'll head out for a great welcome feast. The first of many.
Kyoto - Explore by Bike
Kyoto is such a great city to explore by bike. Wide roads and shared pathways, considerate and careful drivers and little alleyways along canals abound, it is really fun urban riding. The city was the capital of Japan for so long (in two episodes) and it is very much the heritage and cultural capital still.
Our ride starts out along the river and takes you up to the north of the city where you can visit the Bamboo Forest, and at certain times of year the flowering cherry blossom gardens. There is a stop at the Tenryuji Temple, which is typical of the ancient architecture that has endured the passage of time. We'll then ride onto Ryoanji in the east, famous for its zen-style garden, along the way stopping at Kinkakuji, where we can take in a great view out over the city.
There are lots of traditional sweets available on the route, so we can stop and graze on these before rolling back into town along the Kamo River. This evening is free for you to explore the dining options on your own, but we have some wonderful suggestions if you need.
Nara - Cycle Between Capitals
Leaving a city the size of Kyoto by bike may sound daunting, but actually it is not. The roads are well planned and the drivers are courteous. After only a few kilometers on the roads, you will connect to the bike path and then it is smooth sailing as you ride a levy by the river. There are some junctions and some road intersections that you need to negotiate, but for the most part you are on uninterrupted path past Bamboo forests, corn crops and green tea plantations. A small cafe that is welcoming to cyclists can be found for morning tea and there is a viewing tower with a spotless bathroom about a half way through the ride.
You will be staying in a conventional hotel this evening, but with creatively designed rooms, themed individually as Japanese, Minimalist and Hawaiian. The hosts are friendly and this is an intimate property of only 13 rooms. You are right around the corner from two Emporial tombs that are set on islands surrounded by moats. The lanes and streets through the communities surrounding them are intriguing and have likely been there a long time.
Yoshino - Cycle up to the Kii Mountain Range
You stayed on the northern edge of Nara last night, so this morning you get to ride through the remnants of the ancient city. To be fair there is not much left, but there is an impressive replica of the palace that you will ride past.
The Nara period was from AD 710-794, during that time the city was modeled on Chang’an the Tang Capital of China. The upper class at the time adopted the Chinese system of writing and also adopted Buddhism as their religion.an the Tang Capital of China. The upper class at the time adopted the Chinese system of writing and also adopted Buddhism as their religion.
As you pass through Nara you will see that it is a city of some size. The ride route takes you on a somewhat complex, but a navigable route to avoid riding with any heavy traffic. Once you clear the city, the riding turns to very pleasant little back roads through the countryside. You will start to encounter hills, but most are not significant in length. You will find yourself among more agriculture and smaller villages.
As the day wears on, the hills start to increase until you reach the foot of the climb up to Yoshino. This is only about 6km though and the gradient is not severe. Yoshino is a picturesque location set on a ridge with a collection of temples atop. Tonight you will stay in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese Inn. This means a room with tatami matting that you can sit on and on which you must not wear shoes. Dinner is provided at the Inn.
Koyasan - Cycle to Mount Koya
After another delicious Japanese breakfast that must be enjoyed at a slow pace, we saddle up and head down the hill. The second third of the day is on undulating terrain, but with some sharp little uphills at times. Following a quick lunch we'll push on towards the big hill. The climb is in two parts, the first is around 4km long, then there is a 3km descent and some undulations before you get into the main climb of 8km. The road is very narrow, but there are few vehicles if any and the views are spectacular. As you reach the top, there is a section that undulates all the way into your accommodation.
The Shukubo is a style of accommodation, somewhat unique to Koyasan. These were originally accommodation for the students and novice monks who were studying nearby at the monastery, but these days they accept paying guests. On arrival, a staff member will take you around to explain the workings of the property, including the Onsen. Your room is a traditional Japanese one with Tatami matting and futons.
Wakayama - Descend to the Coast
By rising early you will be able to see Koyosan almost deserted of people. Koyasan which is actually a modification of the original name of the mountain Kong-Obb Ji, but the town that has developed around this site is called Koya. The mountain top is the worldwide headquarters of Shingon Buddhism.
The deserted town in the early morning is postcard perfect. Depending on the time of year, you will see moss and lush greenery spilling out from behind rock walls. Small lanes, and winding streets are lined by small houses and businesses and you will probably see processions of monks walking to their meditation session. There are a couple of main sites to visit including the 45 meter tall, orange colored, Konpon Daito Pagoda and the memorial grounds.
Back at the Shukubo, breakfast has been prepared for you in your room. A selection of vegetarian delicacies as eaten by the monks themselves. Perhaps you may fancy an Onsen dip before starting the ride and we'll be back on the bikes by 10am at the latest.
Descending off the mountain is exhilarating. The road surface is superb the road is a lot wider than the one on which we climbed the day before. You do need to watch the oncoming vehicles of which there will be a few, but the traffic in your direction is insignificant as most people are making the trip up rather than down.
About halfway down the hill, we leave the main route and take to smaller backroads usually almost deserted of cars. A climb of around 3km to get the blood moving, then an undulating ride with a downwards trend, through shady Cedar forests and then along a fast moving river. Around the 30km mark, we leave the hills behind and things start to become more built up. After working your way through a relatively busy little junction town, you will find the trailhead of the bike path that takes you all the way into Wakayama along the river.
This is flat, open riding and because there are no vehicles, you can slip into that meditative state that one gets when pedaling away. Wakayama is a mid size city with all the conveniences you would expect. The hotel is centrally located to the various sites and is a comfortable, conventional hotel.
Return to Kyoto, Osaka or Osaka Airport
Wakayama could actually keep you busy for a morning. There is the castle, an Art Museum and a Train Museum, all within walking distance of the hotel.
Checkout time at the hotel is 10am, but it is possible to request an 11 or 12noon check out, depending on how busy the hotel is. Once you are ready to leave, it is just a short taxi ride to the train station. From here you can easily take a train to Osaka Airport (KIX), Osaka City, or Kyoto.
What's the Riding Like?
Some hilly terrain
5 days riding
We are cycling on generally excellent roads for the duration of the tour. For the most part, traffic is only light and drivers are courteous towards cyclists. In terms of gradient, we have a bit of everything, but the steepest parts of the climbs are not long and the longest parts of the climbs are not steep. The cycling is some of the best in Asia. We will be using hybrid bikes with touring tires. These bikes strike the perfect balance of comfortable and efficiency on this terrain.
What our guests tell us...
Just a selection of reviews from some of our Pioneering Tours.
I’ve traveled several times with Grasshopper, this time to Japan. Roads in Japan’s countryside are really terrific, well-paved, light traffic. The cultural interest is all around us … Grasshopper picks routes I will never forget, beautiful, sometimes almost magical. They make sure the food is great.
Kenji's time abroad and varied career within Japan enables him to explain Japan in such great context and in such a personal manner. When someone said "Japan", it would invoke the image of the Wave off Kanagawa, but now I think it will will invoke an image of Kanji's smiling, enthusiastic face. The service from Grasshopper before, during and after the trip was truly outstanding
If you like windy and fresh ocean rides, with lots of kilometers of water and rocks and waves and stunning views; if you're fond of speedy road bike rides on excellent road surfaces; If you enjoy the look of aquamarine mountain rivers and brooks; if you love the challenges of climbing the exhausting hills which later fill you with pride of yourself that you just have made another achievement; if you find the small fishermen villages enchanting, if you find those temples and ashrams fascinating; if you feel like riding huge endless magnificent bridges and finally, in case you are a big fan of Japanese cuisine and simply can not have enough - that would be a great trip for you to make! I just did and I loved it!
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