Words and Photos by Eric Yeo Shumin.
15 October – 5 December 2018.
Wakkanai – Kagoshima: 3348km in 51 days.
I have always wanted to explore the Japanese countryside, particularly in Fall and Spring. What better way to do it than a road-trip of sorts. I could stop whenever I wanted and did not have to follow a fixed itinerary.
That plus the public transportation system in rural Japan is very poor, with limited bus/train timings and low frequency.
As an experienced driver and motorcyclist, it seemed natural to rent a car or bike to drive across Japan. However, the cost was an issue. Unlike European or American destinations, car rental is not cheap, nor is the cost of petrol. It might have made sense as a group but was too costly for a solo traveller.
The next practical choice was to cycle. It seemed daunting at first, Japan is not a small country by any means and I am not a seasoned cyclist.
I looked up the internet and found stories of people who have done it, particularly inspiring was the first Japan Odyssey (2015) and Matt from the Jayoe Nation (2017). It was then that I knew it was possible to transverse the length of Japan by bicycle.
Budget and Route
There was no fixed budget, but the goal was to keep costs as low as possible. I was going to camp when possible, to save on accommodation costs and have more freedom on my route.
I did minor modifications on my existing “parts- bin” carbon road bike inspired by the long distance cyclists of the Transcontinental.
Got a disposable cardboard bicycle box from Hup Leong Singapore, modified it with wheels to enable easier wheeling around the airport and flew on Flyscoot which did not charge extra for oversized luggage to Sapporo.
From Sapporo, I hopped on an overnight bus to Wakkanai where I unpacked, re-assembled the bicycle, and disposed of the cardboard box.
The plan was to ride from Cape Soya to Cape Sata cutting through the mountainous region of central Japan to view the fall foliage. It was going to be the harder but more scenic route.
There was going to be minimal camera gear to save weight, and it doesn’t get any more minimal than just shooting with my mobile phone.
Total weight of the bike and luggage is less than 25kg. I did not cook or bring food as it was readily available everywhere in Japan.
Starting point: Wakkanai, Hokkaido
Hokkaido in October is hard, windy, rainy and cold. Particularly north of Asahikawa, the weather changes quickly, but its glorious when the sun shines.
I was already soaked on the first day. When arriving at Cape Soya, the northernmost point in Japan remember to get a Scallop bento.
Mid-October is just past the prime for fall-foliage viewing in Hokkaido. Still beautiful nonetheless. Get the steamed corn and apples in Hokkaido; they are the best I have ever had.
There is also a bento shop (日の丸亭当別店) in Tobetsu that serves crazy huge and delicious chicken karaage. Part of the benefits of cycling is that you’re always hungry and you have the luxury of eating a lot.
Cities offered more competition and choice for accommodation, it was also harder to find a secluded spot to camp. Thus the plan was to stay in hostels and B&B’s (Bed and Breakfasts) to do laundry and “recharge”.
I was very grateful to meet fellow cyclist Mr Kudo-san and owner of a hostel (Shabby House) in Sapporo. He was intrigued by what I was doing and offered me to have dinner with his family. I had an amazing cultural exchange and great conversation that night.
Enjoy the autumn colours at Nakajima Park and get lunch at Soup Curry Garaku. The Japanese love to queue for food much like Singaporeans.
22 Oct, from Sapporo to Lake Toya, peak autumn colours all around. Hot-spring / onsen enthusiasts would probably enjoy a dip in the resort town of Jozankei.
Camping at Lake Toya, a popular weekend getaway but completely deserted on weekdays. There is only one convenience store here, and it only opens from 9 am to 6 pm. Make sure to grab an early dinner!
On the way to Hakodate passing by Oshamambe, don’t miss the crab meat bento – which is more like crab floss and has an interesting taste of seafood. More intriguing was the “dining” area which was a simulated train car!
Probably well known to most tourists, visit the Hachiman-Zaka Slope in Hakodate and grab a burger at the well-known local burger shop Lucky Pierrot.
Arrived in Aomori by overnight ferry (save on accommodation).
After riding in Hokkaido, Eric continued on his journey by pedalling down South towards Tohuku.
Stay tuned for the next part of Eric’s bikepacking journey on Sportsincycling.com!