Our definitive 'Japan by Bike' tour
Cycle through Japan: a land of ancient castles, Shinto Shrines, Buddhist monasteries and statues, where traditional cultures and etiquette overlap with futuristic modern wonders. If you're searching for the ultimate guided bicycle adventure through Japan, then look no further than our flagship tour of the Land of the Rising Sun - Stunning Shikoku.
This bike tour runs from Kyoto to Hiroshima.
Introducing our most comprehensive bike tour in Japan! Discover how this bike-friendly country beautifully blends its ancient cultures and traditions with its vibrant modern world. Visit the spiritual home of the Geisha in Japan's former feudal Capital, Kyoto (one of the most enchanting cities in Asia and a beautiful location to tour by bike).
Cycle among Japan's iconic swaying cherry blossom trees. Zen out among the famous rock gardens or among chanting monks at a monastery in the ancient Buddhist retreat of Koya San, high up on a mystical mountain plateau.
Explore the intriguing island of Shikoku, where only a short trip away from industrial Japan lies a natural wonderland full to the brim of culture. This island is famous for its stunning scenery, great cycling on beautiful, well made back roads, and white coated Buddhist pilgrims following the holy 88 temple Shikoku Pilgrimage.
Pedal down narrow, almost deserted roads through evergreen forests, over wild rivers and through tiny towns, then enjoy panoramic views as you ride huge span bridges over a scattered archipelago on your way to Hiroshima. The cycling is incredible and Japan well accommodated for bike touring!
This cycle tour explores everything you know as Japan, while at the same time, introducing you to hidden wonders that fuel intrigue.
Peak Season: For tours commencing from March 18 (2020) to 24 April (2020) there is a peak season surcharge of 10% on the price of this tour due to hotel rate increases at this time of year.
Special note for 2019: Due to festivities surrounding the Emperor's Coronation and subsequent Golden Week celebration, no bookings for this tour can be made for departures between April 24th, 2019 and May 10th, 2019.
14 days duration
731 km distance
Difficulty: Somewhat challenging
Tour Features & Inclusions
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Japan has such well-maintained roads that we venture onto hybrid bikes for this tour. 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 cycle touring and perfectly suited to the Japanese conditions.
Hotels in Japan are compact, but generally comfortable and convenient. We have a mixture of accommodation on this tour from conventional 3-4 star hotels, to small traditional Ryokan Inns, 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 reach maximum when needed. Bulky luggage is transferred by courier to the endpoint of the ride, 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 until we reach the next hotel. 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. Most meals are included on the tour, except for rest days.
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 Stunning Shikoku bike tour
Welcome to Kyoto
Japan's cultural epicentre encompasses more than just history, temples and tradition, which it has plenty of. Check out the mighty Imperial Palace and the Golden Pavilion shimmering against the lake on which they sit. In addition to its 17 UNESCO world heritage sites, Kyoto is also a known to be the hub for Japan's dynamic modern art scene. On this arrival day nothing is planned until the late afternoon tour briefing, so you are free to explore this fascinating city on your own. After our welcome briefing that talks through the practicalities of the trip and a bike fitting, we head out for a great welcome feast. The first of many.
Arashiyama Loop Ride
Your immersive Japan bike tour begins! We embark on a scenic cycling loop of the city by tracking the Katsura River, following its waters upstream through the rural outskirts of Kyoto, to the postcard-like beauty of the Arashiyama district. This area is famous for its iconic bamboo forest, manicured parks, cherry blossom gardens, temples and shrines. A highlight of the district is the Okochi-Sanso Villa: a stunning example of traditional Japanese architecture nestled among the bamboo grove.
After lunch we visit the unique Kinkaku-ji with it’s shimmering golden reflection in the lake and famous zen-style gardens. As we pedal back into the central city area, we cycle by the impressive Imperial palace and formidable Nijo castle. We finish the ride by joining the River Kamo as it cuts its way through downtown Kyoto. Look around as we ride by young lovers, artists and musicians all enjoying an afternoon by the riverbank. Dinner this evening will be had in a great little eatery with a proud chef preparing our meal.
Cycle to Nara
We depart Kyoto on two wheels and start out by crossing the river heading for the hills to the east. Immediately we are cruising in the quiet, narrow lanes, through the neighbourhoods on the outskirts of town, then on a winding road through the forest. The rest of today includes a few small developed areas, but mostly great riding on country roads through beautiful forest and farmland. One highlight of the day is the Byodoin Temple, that endows the 10 yen coin, and views over green tea plantations.
We pedal all the way to our accommodation located in central Nara. Then it’s time to rack the bikes and explore Nara Park which is home to hordes of deer that were traditionally seen as sacred. We'll visit the two significant shrines of Todai-ji & Kofuku-ji before walking back through town, stopping for a drink and then dinner.
Train & Cycle to Mystical Koyasan
A multi-modal day of touring awaits. Start out by walking over the road to the train station and experience the incredible piece of Japanese precision infrastructure that is the railway. We spend around 50 minutes on the train, zipping through less interesting urban areas and disembark nearby the oldest temple in Japan: Asuka-dera. Here the bikes are waiting, so we commence our pedaling for the day and enjoy the countryside roads from there until lunch.
The ride takes us over two hills, the second of which will be a decent, but relatively brief challenge to wake up the legs. You are rewarded for your efforts with some fun descents and quick river roads. We'll stop for lunch atop Mount Yoshino and then continue on, back into the valley.
For the strong riders and hill climbers, there is an optional hill-climb to reach the destination, but at 12km total ascent this may not suit everyone. The regular program has us boarding another spotless and punctual train. Around 50 minutes later we'll change to a cable car that brings us to Mount Koya (or Koya-san) where we'll spend the night in a lodge called a Shukubo. Whether you cycle or catch the view from the train, Mount Koya will be a fantastic reward!
The Shukubo is somewhat similar to a Ryokan, but is staffed by volunteers. The Shukubo exist mainly for the accommodation of monks who have come to study and pilgrims visiting the holy site. Mount Koya is the worldwide headquarters of Shingon Buddhism, a significant location to stop at! Soak up the new experience and the spiritual energy of the place with this unique accommodation. Meals are delivered to your traditional-style room, and a great Onsen awaits to soak away that lactic acid.
Cycle Back Roads to Tokushima
This morning you have the option to take part in a Buddhist service before breakfast. On leaving our temple lodging we will visit Kobo Daishi Mausoleum in Okunoin Cemetery and Kongobuji Temple, which is the main temple of the 3600 Shingon temples throughout Japan.
The ride today starts off with a very enjoyable descent on a wide, well-made road. The only traffic should be travelling in the other direction, so we can enjoy the ride worry-free. We peel off the main route after around 10km and are back on those well-maintained deserted back roads. After lunch, we hit another cycleway that takes us along a river all the way into the port city of Wakayama, avoiding almost all the busy sections of road. Here we have a coffee and wait for the ferry to take us over to Shikoku, a 1.5-hour journey. As we are staying in a city tonight, a business style hotel accommodates us, and we head out for dinner.
Scenic Cycle to Shishikui
The tranquil ride along the limpid Naka River leads us through inland Tokushima to the Anan coastal area in the south of Tokushima.
After some relatively flat cycling paths to get out of the built up areas, we ride along an undulating river road, then through what can only be described as an incredibly scenic section of coastal riding. Set back somewhat from the coast, but elevated on some of the best roads you will ride, this 15km section will be a lasting memory of the journey.
As we roll into the lunch stop, we see the imposing Yakuou-ji: the 23rd of the 88 temples of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage. We do often see a number of 'ohenro' pilgrims in white clothing with their distinct luggage making the long walk through the island in the coming days. An interesting cultural experience!
The rest of the day is quite flat, so the ride is another door to door, achievable one. However, if you wish to cut it short, there is a convenient opportunity to take the train from the 80km mark. Trains in Japan are an enjoyable experience that allow you to relax and take in the view, and taking a train means you don’t have to crawl along with the support vehicle for the rest of the ride.
The accommodation this evening is just along the beach.
Short Ride to Muroto
This is a short day of cycling, so we have the morning to relax and enjoy the atmosphere of the lodge. If the weather is warm enough, a swim might be in the cards. Otherwise, after a great breakfast, you can linger, read a little more about Shikoku or practice your sprouting Japanese vocabulary. We spend most of today riding along the coastline with an undulating road. It is a slightly busier road than we have experienced before, but still not intimidating in any way. Take your eyes off the road for a second to catch a glimpse of fishermen hauling in a catch. Depending on the time of year, we can sometimes see surfers out on the waves, too.
Rolling into the little town of Moroto, we find the accommodation for this evening; a spotlessly clean Motel managed by a lovely couple. This is real, off-the-beaten- track Japan where you will find lots to look at on a wander of the neighborhood and where dinner will be an adventure with your Tour Leader at the helm as always.
Cycle Along the Coast to Kochi
We stay on the beautiful shorelines throughout the day today. Along the way we encounter Shinshouji: the 25th temple of the Shikoku 88. We also see the old townscapes of Kiragawa, which retain a number of heritage architectural features including stonewalls and tiled roofs. Thanks to the typhoon-proof architecture, these heritage buildings have survived well and been kept in good condition to this date. On the last 15km to Kochi, we will enjoy riding on the designated cycling path that used to be a railway. Situated in inner Kochi city, the 400-year-old Kochi Castle rises gloriously above the city skyline, symbolising the spirit and heritage of the city.
We are in a business style hotel this evening given the city location, and we are within walking distance of an evening food market full of interesting food choices.
Rest Day in Kochi
Today is a day to recharge and rest your tired legs in the beautiful coastal city of Kochi. Explore Kochi Castle or the preserved residence of Yamauchi Samurai. Take a leisurely stroll around one of Kochi's many walking paths through parks and by beaches. Or just relax and take a soak in the onsen to prepare to hit the road again tomorrow.
Cycle &Transfer to Yusuhara
On fresher legs, we are prepared for a challenging ride. After leaving the city by car to a nice park where the bikes are set up, we rejoin the river landscapes that Kochi is renowned for. Today we ride along the Niyodo River, popular among the local people for fishing, camping and canoeing.
When we leave the Niyodo River, the road begins to gain height and we get into more and more remote territory. This road was likely one of those built around 300 years ago to connect the pilgrimage sites. The climb is in three stages. We ease into the first and then after climbing around 8km, descend a little before taking on the next 8km rise. The last is only 6km and takes us through some of the most beautiful forest so far. A fun descent then awaits as we dip into the tiny and tidy town of Yusuhara where we stay in a contemporary hotel with some interesting modern architectural design. You’ll rest there feeling proud of the day’s accomplishments.
Paper Making and Cycle to Shimanto River
This morning before mounting the bikes we will test our creativity with an opportunity to experience traditional Japanese washi paper making. Washi is commonly made from the fibres of bark of trees and plants, and often seen used for shoji screens and some origami papers. Dutch national Rogier and his Japanese wife have been at this for 25 years and their paper art has been exhibited numerous times in Tokyo and beyond. You may get to take away a lampshade or some such item if your efforts permit.
After our morning arts activity, we are back in the saddle, this time for a much tamer ride. Much of the ride is along rivers- and what spectacular rivers they are! Clear, blue and clean with more of that lovely evergreen forest surrounding them. Take in the peaceful scenery as you pedal. We pass through lots of small villages today. This area has suffered from Japan’s well recognised demographic problem, so many businesses have been boarded up, leaving a curious, yet strangely photogenic decay.
In the afternoon, we meet the Shimanto River and by it, our accommodation. A Japanese-style resort property with Onsen and truly amazing food.
Cycle to Uwajima, Train to Imabari
Today is like a continuation of yesterday’s ride as we continue to follow these lovely clean rivers through small communities. After about 20km, we reach a short uphill, then we come across some more built-up areas as we draw nearer to the coast. We pass quite a lot of intensive agriculture-mostly rice paddies- and hit the coast just in time for a great lunch of sashimi and tempura. After lunch, we have a short ride before boarding the train for a great and speedy trip, zipping through countryside and along the coast to reach the city of Imabari. There we are in a compact but centrally located hotel.
Cycle to Onomichi
Today the Shimanami Kaido awaits. After a short ride through town, we arrive at the visitor's centre that marks the start of his epic cycle route. The visitor’s centre looks out over the first bridge we will encounter, spanning a strait filled with clear blue water and islands dotting the distant horizon.
The ride is a mixture of dedicated cycleway and road with a cycle lane. There are a series of bridges to pass over that provide spectacular views out over this archipelago and there are spiral-shaped paths leading up to and down from each one of these bridges.
As the day wears on, we pass through Ohmishima, and time permitting we can visit the Ohyamazumi Shrine to the gods of the ocean and mountains. For people interested in samurai culture, check out the neighbouring museum that displays Japanese swords registered as national treasures.
We conclude the ride on a special ferry for cyclists that helps to keep the distance achievable. We pass around the last couple of islands and into the seaside town of Onomichi, home to a special variety of Udon and the endpoint of our journey. With the cycling over, we have one last dinner together in a great little place nearby the hotel.
Conclusion of Tour, Transfer
The tour finishes after breakfast in Onomichi. Reaching any number of destinations in Japan from here is easy thanks to the Shinkansen (bullet train). You can be in Kyoto in 2.5 hours, Tokyo in 4.5 or Hiroshima in less than an hour on a regular train. The Kansai International Airport can also be reached on an easy combination of trains in around 3.5 hours. Your guide will be able to assist you in planning the train trip to your next destination and there is a courier service that can deliver your bulky luggage to your next hotel.
- We can also arrange:
To Kansai airport - 3 hours by train
To Osaka - 2 hours by train
What's the Riding Like?
Some hilly terrain
11 day riding
On this bike tour we are generally cycling on excellent roads for the duration the trip. 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 climb are not long and the longest parts of the climb are not steep. The cycling is some of the best in Asia and we will be using hybrid bikes fitted with touring tires. These bikes strike the perfect balance of comfortable and efficiency on this terrain and are ideal for this type of bike touring.
What our guests tell us...
Just a selection of reviews from some of our cycle tours.
can't say that I've ever had a ride quite like this one. Every day I experienced great cycling, exquisite food, and scenery that just made me want to move to Japan. But above all, I became intrigued about how this place got to be the way it is. Thus it surely will have been my first of many rides in Japan with Grasshopper
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. 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!