If you love sightseeing but hate tired feet, you’ll be happy to know that at most major railway stations in Japan you can rent a “jitensha” (bicycle) for about 1,000 yen per day. Many Japanese people travel to work and back by bicycle, so there is no need to feel self- conscious careening through crowds of pedestrians either. As there are no bicycle lanes in most cities in Japan, Japanese people are used to sharing the sidewalk, and the road, with bicycles.
A typical Japanese bicycle is a sturdy unisex bicycle with one or two gears. There will be a basket on the front to put shopping items or a back pack, and a rack over the back wheel to strap additional bags onto. They all come with locks so be sure to lock the bicycle when you’re not using it or you could be held responsible if it is “borrowed” and not returned.
The bicycle rental at Nara’s Kintestsu station is an especially good one. Used to dealing with foreigners, they have maps with recommended routes to the temples around Nara as well as some information in English. Bicycles are especially convenient during the hot and humid summer months when walking around places such as Nara and Kyoto can be unbearable.
Bicycle parking can be a problem in some areas such as those near train stations. Always park your bicycle in a designated bicycle parking area or a place where other people have parked their bicycles. Occasionally, the police will go around and collect illegally parked bicycles, and charge you to retrieve them from the bicycle jail which is always located in a faraway place outside of town. Usually, however, they will first ticket bicycles with a large yellow flier and give 24 hours notice before taking them away.
Two recommended bicycle routes outside of the big cities:
Kibi road (Kibi jitensha dori), a 15 km route through traditional Japanese villages, passes 15 ancient sites such as temples, shrines, gardens and pagodas. It is an easy ride with few hills. Rent bicycles outside Okayama Station.
“Shimanami Kaido” is a highway that spans 6 islands in the Seto Inland Sea, connecting Honshu with Shikoku. The islands are connected by a series of 10 bridges, and each segment is independent of the next. There are donation boxes at the beginning of each bridge where you are supposed to drop a donation of a few hundred yen for using the bridge. The highway is 60 km long, but you can do however much of it youâ€™d like, stopping to rest at several places along the way. Some segments are more difficult than others. Rent bicycles outside of Onomichi Station.
“Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast and teaches Japanese online. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com