I think Bengul and I left Hokkaido with a sense of appreciation of its beauty and distinct culture. It was our first experience with Japan and I feel like we hit the jackpot. Even though we had to change our original plans, our second half of the journey well exceeded my expectations and now we have one more reason to come back.
Following is an overall view of all routes we followed on our tour. Individual sections have different colours. You can click on the map to open each section. I’ve used RideWithGPS to plan and draw the maps and it worked great as a planning tool. If you pay a few bucks a month, it lets you download the maps for offline viewing. Navigation is also available during riding but we didn’t need it most of the time. Maybe a free open source app such as OsmDroid is enough too; depends on what you want.
Hokkaido arguably has less traffic than anywhere in Japan. That’s what they say anyway. However, roads are high quality and they generally go straight, so I think most vehicles drive faster than they should. There are a lot of tunnels with varying lengths; some with generous shoulders and some not so much. Some tunnels have alternate side roads (usually gravel), but you cannot tell for sure without consulting a map; there are no signs.
If you believe the hype, they say you can camp anywhere you like, but this is not entirely true. You have to be respectful, cautious and have some common sense. We saw lots of signs that prohibited camping. If you are travelling alone maybe you can get away with it by being a bit discreet. I imagine in most cases locals don’t know how to handle it so they don’t bother anyone.
Japan is expensive but not so much than any other tourist destination. One thing that bothered me is that they charge per person on campsites and hotels, not by tent or room. So there is no advantage for being a group.
Convenience stores are everywhere to save you (Seicomart, Lawson, 7-eleven), however I wouldn’t rely too much on what they offer, it’s mostly junk food.
When to go? This was our first time and we did it in September. Last days of August were hot and I can’t imagin how it would be during July. September is advertised as one of the rainiest months and it proved to be correct. August is supposed to be the busiest though and I don’t know which one you’d prefer. Many campsites close by October or earlier.
What gear did we use? I am not going to present a laundry list of equipment; here is a summary though. We still have our MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent which we’ve been using it for the last two years and it’s getting a bit beat up lately with a tent pole broken in two places, a ripped of fly and a leaky bottom; it’s light and easy to setup. I still use my trusty old Masi cyclocross bike — no issues. I’ve upgraded my front rack to a Blackburn Outpost; worked well although it looks a bit burly. Bengul brought her hybrid Marin with front shocks. We upgraded her handles to Ergon GP2 just before the trip and I think she likes them. Her bike had rear racks only. On this trip we tried using an alcohol stove exclusively and it worked well. Alcohol burns much cleaner than other fuels but not as efficient as white gas or kerosene. For Japan, finding alcohol fuel is easy once you know where to look (hint: pharmacies). I still use my Evernew titanium cooking pot, it’s as new as first day.
Photos by Bengul can be found on her Flickr album.
Here is a list of links to the related blog posts in chronological order:
- Lake Katsurazawa
- Rainbows and Typhoons
- Fukiage Hot Spring
- Asahikawa to Wakkanai
- Rishiri Island
- Wakkanai to Otaru
- Otaru to Lake Toya
- Lake Toya to Chitose
A few on-line resources we found very useful:
And here are some stats:
- Distance travelled: 1,300km
- Days on bicycles: 22 out of 32
- Average speed: 16km/hr
- Average spending: 100 CAD (8,000 yen) per day
- Flat tires: 0