--Get a good map that covers the area you plan to ride in. Unfortunately, this probably means a Japanese language road map. For rides in unfamiliar territory, I suggest one of the large "book" type roadmaps of the entire Kanto region (which will cover the area 200 km in any direction from central Tokyo). I use a "Max Mapple" book that has 1:100,000 scale and in the countryside picks up everything but the smallest forest roads, with a range from Hamamatsu/Shizuoka in the SW to Niigata/Fukushima in the NE (... no rides planned along the Fukushima coast for quite awhile ...). Plus you may want another map of Tokyo itself with greater detail. You can photocopy the pages you need for a particular ride, and draw your intended route on the photocopies with a highlighter. Fold them in a plastic bag so they make it through the full ride. Even if you cannot read all the Japanese names on the map, you will be able to see the route numbers, the rivers, bridges, etc., and if you get lost you can get help from a local and reference the map.
--My understanding is that Garmin devices purchased in the US and Europe (such as my Edge 705) are not compatible with the native Japanese language Garmin maps. And the Japanese version of the same Garmin device ... is very expensive. AT THIS SITE you can download a free map that is not too bad for whatever region in Japan you want (though a lot of the romanized names are gibberish). You need to select the relevant "blocks" and then will eventually be sent a link once the map is ready for download. Of course, if you have an iPhone maybe you can just get by with Google maps on that ... but it never hurts to have a paper map as a backup. Or you can buy a romanized map that should work with a non-Japan Garmin unit at this site.
Unfortunately they are currently no English bicycle magazines in Japan. The English-language magazine Outdoor Japan however does publish occasionally cycling articles.
For English-only speakers, this monthly magazine and website is the best choice to get information about cycling roads, tours, events, races and other useful hints. Cycling related information is not that much included, however the website has some interesting pieces, including a list of all 57 cycling terminals (= B&B for cyclists) and a good list of various outdoor events. It is a little bit difficult to find the interesting bits but well worth the effort.
The good news concerning the Japanese cycling magazines is that they are plentiful and that they have some good websites - we can always look at the pictures. Many of the magazines provide useful information about cycling routes, organized tours, pro and amateur races, new bikes and much more related to cycling in Japan. As usual for Japanese magazines they are of very high quality: printed on glossy paper with many color pages in beautifully arranged designs. The drawback is that as much as a third of the magazine pages can be advertisements.
Let’s start with taking a look at the road racing magazines first and continue then with the “Lifestyle and Outdoor” magazines before providing an overview about cycling books and maps.
ROAD RACING CYCLE MAGAZINES [Japanese only]
[Monthly, 800 Yen, ~300 pages, published by Yaesu, Website, Circulation 200,000]
This is the most popular and oldest (1970) cycling magazine in Japan for road bikers. The magazine is full of information about test rides on new bikes, bicycle routes, reports about major racing events in Europe, the US and Japan, amateur race schedules and comparison of bicycle components and wears. It follows the common pattern of Japanese magazines and provides thousands of tiny pictures and detailed information about a specific topic, say carbon seat posts, and compares them in great detail. For the price and volume, Cycle Sports is probably one of the best choices and provides the national benchmark.
The cyclesports.jp website [J] has a very well organized index of brand websites, bicycle shops by area, touring proposals and racing and touring events.
[Monthly, 700 Yen, ~300 pages, published by Ei, Circulation 150,000]
Bicycle Club, published since 1985, is very similar in content to Cycle Sports and provides also tips on cycling techniques and maintenance. The August 2009 issue features among others, an article about how to setup MTB trails – provided you have an excavator and a chainsaw at hand. Bicycle Club is also very heavy on advertising.
[Monthly, 750 Yen, ~200 pages, published by Runners, Website, Circulation 120.000]
Funride (since 2001) is just as the above two magazines, heavily focused on road bikes and MTBs, but has a slightly different focus on touring and provides more details on roads, routes and hints how to organize great tours. The magazine is published by Runners, a company that also organizes many sports events (see their website runnet.jp) around the main themes of running, cycling and swimming.
[Irregular, 1,575 Yen, ~120 pages, published by Yaesu]
An European style magazine, meaning that you read from left to right, writing only about major European und US road race cycling. Every issue has a main theme, such as Giro d’Italia or the Tour de France and some additional information about other races, history of races, teams and riders. There is less information about anything Japan specific. Although expensive, the price is partly justified by the good design and few advertisements. More like a coffee table book.
[Monthly, 1,200 Yen, ~150 pages, published by Nigensha, Website, Circulation 80.000]
This magazine surfs since 2000 very hard on the borderline between road bikes and “lifestyle bikes”. Although it has some interesting features on routes, new bikes and techniques, it tries to please everybody with articles about MTBs, messenger bikes and the now very popular mini bikes. Mini bikes are nice if you have a mini apartment and you cover mini distances. As the topics are wide spread, it is hard to find anything longer of interest.
LIFESTYLE CYCLING MAGAZINES
自転車人 Jitensha Jin
[Quarterly, 1,200 Yen, ~150 pages, published by Yamakei]
[Quarterly, 1,200 Yen, ~150 pages, published by Yamakei]
Jitensha means bicycle in Japanese. A surprisingly good magazine, mainly reporting about touring: From global undertakings to long rides in Japan and even to short city tour levels. The July 2009 issue even has a list of the best 122 (!) hill climbs in Japan. Although relatively expensive, it features as ana advantage only a few advertisements.
自転車生活 Jitensha Seikatsu
[Irregular, 1,000 Yen, ~150 pages, published by Ei]
Rather a magazine for city bikes and riders interested in short rides, with a very feminine touch. Subsequently it promotes a book called “Cycle for Beginner and Girls”. Not exactly uninteresting to read after dinner, but apart from the articles about cycle tours, it features way too many photos of restaurants and food.
自転車日和 Jitensha Biyori
[Quarterly, 1,030 Yen, ~150 pages, published by Tatsumi, Website]
Subtitle: “For wonderful bicycle life”. A very feminine magazine, given the cover shot of a stylish looking girl with a stylish but slow bike on the beach in not-for-cycling shoes. Many hints how to dress for cycling and where to eat on trips shorter are rounding up the general picture. When an article in pink colors explained how to decorate your speed meter with glass jewelry I stopped reading. But hey, I am a man and not expected to understand.
GO!GO! Enjoy自転車 Life
[Single Issue, 1,000 Yen, ~150 pages, published by Seibido Mook]
Very, very basic information about type of bikes, cycling techniques, maintenance, traffic signs and rules and other items of no interest to the sports cyclist. Includes a touring proposal for Hakodate City divided into two days. Not really serious.
Finally for those of us who love to think about what bike of part to buy next, there are fantastic catalogs available about every possible road bike and component available in Japan. These catalogs are published in Japanese on an annual basis, for example “Road Bike and Parts Catalog 2011”, by Ei or “Road bike 2009” by Yaesu. One can spend hours looking and the pictures, comparing prices, materials and weights and imagine what one desperately needs to have.
Bicycle magazines come and go and for an actual overview please take a look at the books updated website.
BOOKS IN ENGLISH
Again, as for the magazines, there are very few books on cycling in Japan available in English. “Cycling Japan: A Personal Guide to Exploring Japan by Bicycle by Bryan Harrell” was published by Kodansha in 1993 and gives basic information about cycling as well as longer tours covering all of Japan. The Book is not in print any longer and somewhat outdated, but still the best and only choice available in English.
Niwa Takashi [Yamamichi.jp], a well known Japanese road cyclist and TV [NHK] commentator has published a series of books about cycle roads. One of the books “Cycling Japan” is bilingual and includes descriptions of ten bicycle tours between 100 and 350 km length in various parts of Japan. His other guide books, unfortunately only in Japanese, are covering tours in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chichibu, Chiba and other parts of Japan.
“The Sun in My Eyes: Two-Wheeling East “ by Josie Dew (Little, 2002), “Jitensha: Down the Japanese Archipelago on a Bicycle” by Donald R. Schlief (Trafford, 2006) are personal accounts of foreigners travelling by bike in Japan. Personally if it comes to travel accounts in Japan I prefer the not cycling related one, such as “The Inland Sea” by Donald Richie, “The roads to Sata” by Alan Booth (Walking the length of Japan) and “Hitching Rides with Buddha” by Will Ferguson (Hitch-hiking the length of Japan in the other direction from one bar to the next). These are wonderful examples of travels which let you learn about the country and its people. No book review on Japan should miss Dave Barry’s “”Dave Barry does Japan” (1993) which is the most underrated true story of Japan.
Even in times of Garmin, Google Maps, MapMyRide and iphones, a printed map might be a good alternative to take on a ride. There are two kinds of maps, folding maps which are light and small and can be easily taken on a ride in the jersey’s back pocket and map booklets with hundreds of pages in a larger scale. They provide much more information, but one has to copy the relevant pages before the ride.
For the folding maps, Shobunsha issues a series of maps by prefecture in the scale 1:150,000 which gives a very good overview about major roads and even some of the smaller forest roads. They are available in virtually any bookstore and cost less than 1,000 Yen. However they are in Japanese only.
Equally good are the smaller map books called “Light Mapple” by the same company in the scale 1:30,000 which are available for all prefectures of Japan. For 840 Yen they are cheap and you can make copies for tour planning at the local convenience store. Again, there are only available in Japanese.
Even more detail is offered by the “Prefectural Mapple” by Shobunsha, which were used to verify information for this book. They offer additionally many detailed maps of cities in even larger scale and cost between 2,000 and 3,000 Yen. Western Tokyo, for example is completely mapped out in 1:10,000 scale. Again, also these maps are only available in Japanese.
And for detailed English road maps? Again, there is very little available which can be really helpful. “Tokyo City Atlas: A bilingual Guide” published by Kodansha in 2004 (2,200 Yen) is very good for the greater Tokyo region, although it focuses very much on the 23 wards in the center of Tokyo and less on the more cycle-friendly Western part in the mountains. The same is true for “Tokyo Metropolitan Atlas” (Shobunsha, 2007) which offers more or less the same information.
The “Road Atlas Japan” (Shobunsha, 2007, 3,000 Yen) is also a good bilingual source with maps in 1:250,000 scale covering all of Japan. As the scale is too small, many of the more interesting cycle roads are missed out although.
Well, it is also the purpose of this book and the related website to provide you with ample road information in the greater Tokyo area so we hope that you do not need to buy additional maps.
Websites offer a far better access to English information about cycling in the greater Tokyo area than magazines and books. The most important resources are connected to bicycle clubs and magazines. This chapter will comment on other websites: General websites in English, some Japanese websites with information about cycling races and organized tours and other useful Japanese websites.
ANNEX LINK LIST
GENERAL ENGLISH WEBSITES
The best English speaking information about everything related to cycling in Japan is the Tokyo Cycling Club [E]. The site is organized as a forum and allows registered users to ask questions which are normally answered quickly and in a helpful way. Registration is free and easy so it is definitely worth a try to work with this site. All topics from touring, racing and commuting to mechanical and new bike issues are discussed. TCC also organizes tours and race participations for selected events.
Along with the TCC site, Japan Cycling Navigator [J/E] is one of the best sources of information on cycling in Japan, focusing on tourists and short term visitors. JCN also publishes irregular a bilingual newsletter which can be downloaded from their website in pdf format.
More general information is provided by TokyoTopia [E] (“Tokyo made simple”, it says) which reports about all things possible and impossible in Tokyo, but also has some pages related exclusively to cycling. Not great in detail, but good for newcomers to the megacity.
Various services offer cycling tours within Tokyo, mostly conducted within the urban city limits and centering on the main tourist attractions such as the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower or Asakusa. Cycle-Tokyo [E] is one of them and apart from the commercial operations they offer some hints and infos on cycling. Other operators are Tokyo Cycling [E], and Okatours [E].
Yamamichi [J/E] organizes bike tours in Tokyo and other locations as well, but is also active in the publishing of cycling tour books and bike rentals. The organization is run by Niwa Takashi, who comments on cycling on NHK, Japan’s national public broadcaster.
Tokyo Green Map [E] operates a website which shows routes, rental spots, bicycle shops and other geographical information in a very basic manner. Please check the link on the book’s website.
Another English site is the blog Tokyobybike [E] which is much smaller and only publishes posts infrequently, but still has always interesting information about general cycling in Tokyo. This is only one example of blogs by foreigners in Japan; there are many more. A list of cycling related English speaking blogs is available at the book’s website.
Finally, be sure to check from time to time the website of the International Adventure Club Tokyo [E/J]. Although the club is more general outdoor activity related, they organize cycling related events from time to time.
EVENTS AND RACES
If you have checked the lists in the Japanese cycling magazines already, you have noticed that there are many cycling races and organized rides in Japan. For almost all of these events, you have to apply well in advance and this is difficult because there is almost no English information available. Many races also sell out fast. If have a some Japanese ability, you can check the listed web pages first and then try to apply with the help of the TCC forum where member are helpful with newcomers.
There are two major racing associations: JCRC (Japan Cycling Racing Club Association) organizes about 10 road races (flat, hill climb, and track) in the greater Tokyo area every year. Racing is divided into different classes and series championships are held. JCRC targets competitive hobby cyclists rather than young amateurs looking to turn pro.
An event organized by JCRC and the sports newspaper Nikkan Sports is the “Tour-du-Japon”, not to be confused with the Tour of Japan which is an UCI-sanctioned pro event. The tour consists of five short distance races between May and November in the area around Tokyo and is one of the most popular amateur racing events.
JCBF (All Japan Businessman Cycling Federation) is, despite the odd name, the more competitive organization. Very similar to the JCRC, they organize about 20 races a year in all of Japan and hold annual championships.
BIKENAVI conducts longer endurance type of races in the greater Kanto area, about six to seven a year, including a Fuji hill climb. This is of course not to the top of the mountain, but only as far as the asphalt roads will get you. JCCERC, whatever that should stand for, offers interesting eight-hour endurance races on the Tsukuba car race track north of Tokyo. These are huge events with almost 2.000 cyclists attending and you need to apply fast to get a place.
TEAMKENS offers some shorter races, but is generally more focused on triathlon events. Other popular race events are hold at car or motorcycle tracks such as Motegi, Suzuka or Fuji Speedway. A link summary of some of these races is published by R&I (Race & Intelligence). Even more participants are drawn by the major hill climbing events, FUJI HILL CLIMB [E/J], hold in May, for example draws more than 5.000 riders and is often sold out within five days. The same can be said about the hill climbs in Norikura, Kusatsu und Utsukushigahara. And there is also the TOUR DE OKINAWA in November, a combined pro and amateur race.
If you want to test yourself on Japanese road racing tracks, you have some choices: There are two cycling sport centers under operation about 150 – 200 km away from central Tokyo. One is located at Shuzenji [CSC.OR.JP] at the Izu peninsular in the West and consists of a very hilly 5 km loop with murderous slopes, a velodrome, a 500m Keirin track, an amusement park around the theme of cycling and even a swimming pool. The other one, GUNMA CSC is a little bit further away in Gunma and has a hilly and technical 6 km long loop plus some amusement facilities in a very sorry state. Some of the JCRC and JCBF races are held on these two tracks. Other event organizrs are CRRA (Powertag) and the pro races organized by the Japan Cycling Association JCA.
For most of the races you can apply online, often via the SPORTS ENTRY service. The site lists thousand of sport events held all over Japan for participation, from golf, running, and swimming to tennis and baseball. For cycling alone, there is a list of about 30 to 40 races and rides a month, depending on the season. You need to register as a member once (no charge), then one can apply for the events online and pay afterwards at your local convenience store.
And once the race is over, you might want to see some cool pictures of you? ALLSPORTS provides this service. Two to three days after the event you can browse on their website through thousand of photos and try to find yourself or your buddies, a process that often takes longer than the race itself. Note that ALLSPORTS would like you to buy pictures from them, and the ones that appear online are watermarked and otherwise protected.
For certain races STREAMER.POWERTAG is providing a similar service for the finish line shot plus personal race statistics.
If you consider races too challenging or too dangerous, you can attend organized rides where you ride for one, two or three days (sometimes on closed roads) with support provided by the organizers. Major events are the SADO LONGRIDE in May, which is a 210 km loop along the coast of Sado Island in the Sea of Japan close to Niigata; the TOUR DU NOTO, a three day event in September, starting in Kanazawa and covering 430 km of beautiful rural coast and mountain roads in the Noto peninsular and the TOUR DE CHIBA, also a three days event with a total length of 350 km hold in October on the Boso peninsula. All these events are very well organized and give you the chance to see corners of Japan you normally wouldn’t see, meet a lot of riders and do some quite challenging distances.
Finally some English speaking outdoor operators outside of Tokyo such as EVERGREEN HAKUBA, RIDE NORTHSTAR and SWEET RIDERS offer mountain bike and road cycling tours in the Japanese countryside.
OTHER JAPANESE SITES
CYCLOWIRED [J] is a site reporting about racing news from Japan and around the world, as well as about new bikes and components. The news are quite up to date, but unless your Japanese is very good you might prefer to read the same news from English sites.
CYCLING PORTAL JAPAN [J] has thousands of cycling roads mapped out on its website, which is nice and a good reference. But there is no description or any information about the roads, so the value of the information is limited.
Specializing in hill climbs, the CYBER CYCLIST PASS GUIDE [J] presents maps that show the most challenging hill climbs in Japan with icons. The site includes ride reports with photos, elevation profiles and GPS data linked to the climbs so this provides real solid information for own tour planning. An excellent site.
Wada Toge is one of the most famous hill climbs for cyclists in Tokyo. At WADA CLIMBS [J] you can see a ranking how long it took other riders to conquer this hill and you can even send your own best times to the operator so that you will be included in the ranking. Theoretically you could also do this for some other climbs, but Wada has by far the most entries and longest history.
Tired of riding yourself? Would prefer to see other riders suffering?
KEIRIN is the official site of the Japanese Keirin Federation and offers information about races. Events and results of track racing in Japan. Besides horse and boat racing, keirin races are the only events where bets can be placed and there are about 70 track grounds all over in Japan. In the Tokyo area, you can go to watch races in Chiba, Kawasaki, Matsudo, Fuchu, Tachikawa, Hiratsuka, Odawara and Omiya.
To the best of our knowledge there is only one major cycling exhibition held in Japan; The CYCLE MODE, conducted in November at the Intex exhibition hall in Osaka and in December at the Makuhari Messe close to Tokyo. The content of both exhibitions is more or less the same with the Tokyo one being slightly bigger.
All major brands, component and clothing maker from Japan and around the world are there and every aspect of cycling is covered. The exhibition is supported by events with cycling stars from Japan and abroad. In 2008 for example, Eddy Merckx was present to sign autographs. Shimano and others introduce their new developments and pro mechanics give tips and hints for proper maintenance.
The best thing is, that outside of the exhibition halls a short road and MTB track is setup and that visitors can borrow bikes from the exhibitor’s booth and try them out for themselves. The biggest lines form in front of the Colnago and Pinarello booths, the makers with the highest brand image in Japan. Naturally only smaller frame sizes are available but nevertheless the options are breathtaking.
Definitely worth a visit.