A great itinerary to travel Shikoku and Honshu
with a focus on the Japanese Alps
What to see and do, bicycle touring or backpacking
This article is part of our Rough Guide for budget travel in Japan. Check the first part in the link above for hints, hacks, and tricks to make your dream trip to Japan become true.
Here’s the second stage of our bicycle trip itinerary, in the islands of Shikoku and Honshu. It wasn’t as perfect as the first part of our bicycle touring itinerary in Kyushu, just because of the busy part from Okayama to Osaka. Aside from that, we think this is a great itinerary to tour southeast Shikoku and southern Honshu, with a focus on the Japanese Alps (Arupusu), so we decided to share it with our fellow travelers.
We cycled this stage in one month, riding it all at a slow pace. It can be done way faster with any other kind of transportation.
Links in this post bring you to the full travel journal articles about each destination in Japan. Unfortunately, some of those are still only in Italian so use your translator.
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check also part one:
the perfect itinerary for bicycle touring or backpacking in Kyushu
Shikoku is the smallest of the four major islands of Japan, and also the less visited. Our ride here was short so please contribute in the comments. Bicycle touring Shikoku seems very promising and we hope to come back and cycle more of it in the future.
From the narrow Sadamisaki peninsula, with its fruit trees terrace on the steep slopes and the quiet fishermen villages, the ride along the coast to the castle town of Matsuyama it’s scenic.
From here we took the famous Shimanami Kaido, the 70km cycling path above the islands of the Seto Inland Sea.
The path is very popular to local cyclists and spectaculars in some parts. But you will end up in a very busy area of Honshu (the biggest of the Japanese four major islands) and we regret that. I would suggest to ride more of Shikoku instead and take a ferry later (the biggest suspended bridge in the world connects eastern Shikoku with Honshu in Kobe, though I think it’s not possible to cycle it).
Bicycle Touring Honshu
The busiest parts are in Honshu, the main south road that connects Hiroshima to Osaka, passing through Okayama and Kobe, basically a seamless urban area. We did this road and it was the second worst road in our Japanese tour, try to avoid it going up along the north coast, even though it makes the thing much longer.
We haven’t done the north coast of southern Honshu so you are welcome to contribute about that in the comments.
In Osaka there’s a free campground in the Tsurumi Ryokuchi park (GPS coordinates: N 34° 43′ 00.2 E 135° 34′ 05.7).
From Osaka to Kyoto the road goes up a hill, next to the usual river. Kyoto is beautiful and worth spent some days, you can stay at the student dorm for 200Y (1.5€), it’s a dirty place but funny.
(Kyoto student dorm open to travelers GPS coordinates: N 35° 01′ 41.5 E 135° 46′ 42.2)
Along the Biwa lake (the biggest lake in Japan) and the town of Otsu (where we happen to see the beautiful local festival, Otsu Matsuri), again in the calm and scenic countryside.
Then some cycling on the northern coast of Honshu to Kanazawa, from where we start our exploration of the Japanese Alps. Being there in autumn was a right match, the colors are astounding. Pass from the kawaii (cute) town of Shirakawa, if you time your visit for the local raw sake traditional festival in October (Doburoku matsuri), you will not regret. Some climbs are steep but doable. Temperatures in October were almost perfect.
The road from Takayama to Matsumoto it’s a hell of tunnels after the Hida pass (2000msl). Very narrow, very dark, very long and with a lot of big coaches going fast, I will suggest to absolutely avoid to do this road by bicycle. It was the worst road in Japan and maybe even in the whole trip, never been so scared before. Besides that, Takayama and Matsumoto are tow beautiful cities really worth including in your Japan itinerary. If you have a bit of a budget have here’s a list of some of the best hotels in Japan.
In the Japanese Alps, in the first days of November, it starts to be cold in the night (a few degrees below 0°C) so we headed south to Mount Fuji without visiting it (a pity), to rapidly reach Tokyo from the busy road that goes from Shizuoka. The only nice part here is the climb to Hakone, expect middle/heavy traffic though.
Below is the complete map of our bicycle trip in Japan. It’s the complete GPS recording of the journey.
Click on the track to get the elevation profile, you can also use the search tool to find a specific location and display the GPX track of reference.