Category Archives: Japan

Motorbiking in Japan. Tokyo, Mt Fuji, Izu peninsula, Ito, Onsen, Ryokan

Quintessential Japan – Mt Fuji, Onsen Bath and a Ryokan

Mt Fuji and One Very Happy Rider
Mt Fuji and One Very Happy Rider

When traveling in Japan, particularly when you venture outside Tokyo, a stay at a traditional Japanese inn, a Ryokan, is a must. This just may be the closest that you can get to a real Japanese experience.  

In our case, we set our target for the day to ride around Mt Fuji and to head to the Izu Peninsula and the costal town of Itō for a traditional onsen bath at a local ryokan.

Ryokan and Onsen

According to wikipedia: ”A ryokan (旅館?) is a type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo period (1603–1868), when such inns served travelers along Japan’s highways. They typically feature tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata and talk with the owner.” In some other sources ryokan can be dated as far as Nara Period (710–784)

In a ryokan, Japanese traditions capsulate in one wonderful experience – much more so than with a night at yet another chain-hotel.

At a ryokan, traditions must be followed. Shoes off, often even before you reach the reception! If you have not made a booking in advance, think twice how you wish to play this in your cowboy riding boots or boots with long laces (any shoes with laces for that matter)!

Once in ryokan, you will have a comfortable room usually with classic sliding paper doors, tatami floor and a futon bed and even a low table for tea and meals. If you are lucky, you may have some chairs with backrests but with no legs!  You will learn to feel your knees! And off course, you get slippers and a yukata!

Sandals at the hotel entrance

Learn to use your slippers! There are separate slippers for general use in the ryokan and separate slippers to be used in toilets. No exceptions.

Yukata rope at the onsen
Yukata Rope at the Onsen

Use the Yukata provided, it is a light cotton kimono, which is very comfortable and doubles as a bath rope before you go to the Onsen (with hot spring) or Sento (with hot bath) or even a sauna.

Nakedness is no big deal in Japan and communal bathing is the norm – certainly amongst same sex. Have a look around to learn the process of bathing and washing, which is also particular to japan with buckets and seats…

Japanese Breakfast

Ryokans usually serve the traditional Japanese breakfast. Even if they have western option available, try the Japanese. You probably will not have one at your mainstream hotel. They may also have dinner available. Check the availability as it may require ordering in advance.

Traditional Japanese breakfast at the Ryokan
Traditional Japanese breakfast at the Ryokan
Breakfast Fish - DIY
Breakfast Fish – DIY

If you do need to go elsewhere for dinner, it is shoes off in most traditional restaurants with a tatami. Easy enough for a Finn – shoes off, naked bathing, sauna, …

Our ryokan at the Izu Peninsula was in the town of Itō with  large hot spring baths and open-air baths. We booked our stay through Airbnb. Bike securely parked by the entrance

Particularly nice touch was the hand-drawn map of Ito. 

Hand-drawn city map of Ito
Hand-drawn city map of Ito

Tokyo Road Trip

Riding in Tokyo

Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing

Tokyo is the world’s largest metropolitan area and no-one would blame you for feeling anxious about riding there for the first time. But fear not, in Tokyo, as in Japan in general, the road culture is rather civilized and most important signs are also in English. Tokyo is not much  different to for example London, where roads are narrow and traffic is on the left. Perhaps even easier.

Local Biker
Local Biker

There are a few notable differences though. For one, there is virtually no lane splitting. Sometimes you see bikes passing cars on the curb side!! but those are usually delivery bikes using cycle lanes for a very short distance. Perhaps for this reason, and narrow lanes, you do not see as many bikes in the city as you might expect to see.

Shuto Expressway
Shuto Expressway

The second strange feature is that if you are riding 2-up, it is important to remember that the central part of the Tokyo ‘Shuto’ Expressway system is off limits. The restriction only applies to this centre section and  you can join the highway slightly further out of the city center. If you are riding solo, no problem using the ’Shuto’. Don’t ask why! BUT WHY?

Finding Your Ride

I contacted a few bike rentals and by far the quickest response came from Jonathan at Japan Bike Rentals in Akasaka, Tokyo. Dealing with JBR was easy over their web pages and they were very quick and helpful with their response. I did try others but with very poor results. Language is still a big problem (unless you speak Japanese) when dealing with bike rentals but with JBR that was not an issue. It made things easier that Jonathan is an Aussie and Dorian from France.

Front of Japan Bike Rentals

Our bike for the ride this time was a  BMW R1200R. The bike was in very good condition with new tyres and the gear we hired was also good. Apart from a GPS, JBR also provided advice and printed material to help us with the ride.

Not the first Finns here!
Not the first Finns here!

Particularly the ETC card is very handy, as it allows you to pass the many toll booths smoothly. JBR provides you with the card, takes a deposit and charges according the use of it. 

Now we were geared up, set to go and headed out of town…

Out of Town

Getting out of town in this huge metropol may require some planning. In our case we headed towards Mt Fuji and Izu Peninsula. Both national park areas with less urban houses and traffic and more woods and scenery.

There are plenty of stops available for refreshments ranging from good quality chain cafes and restaurants to more local stops. Out of the city you will also find the bikes! Japan is a great place for biking and has many great biking roads once you get out of the city.

Our route back to Tokyo took us by Yokohama and Kawasaki and that was practically all in the city. the Japanese highway system however, allows you to pass through the cities quickly, if you so wish.

Although I must say that biking in central Tokyo and through Shibuya crossing is also an experience to remember!

Some further reading about biking in Japan can be found here.