Golden Week Cycling

tunnel

Golden Week is one of the biggest vacation times in Japan. It’s a combination of one-day holidays that result in a little over a week of time off. And it’s springtime, so virtually every cyclist takes to the road. This year, we went on a ride in the Japanese Alps with a group of friends.

rice_field_cyclists

Spring in Japan is a great time for cycling. It’s warm, but not yet hot. The skies are blue, and the fresh green of the forests looks especially vivid in the bright sunlight. The rice fields are being flooded. It’s the Japan you imagine in children’s picture books.

avalanche_gallery

The best roads of Japan go through the mountains, and this pass was especially spectacular. The cliffs were so steep and loose that the road was built into the mountain, with avalanche galleries protecting it from falling rocks (and snow in the winter). At the top, we exited a tunnel to see a spectacular view of the Japanese Alps (top photo).

mule_mountains

This area really deserves the name “Japanese Alps”, as the steep mountains and broad valleys look remarkably similar to Switzerland. So do the small fields, and even the ski slopes.

lakeside_cyclists

We cycled on tiny roads past bucolic lakes.

mountain_road

The roads rarely were flat, which made the cycling more interesting.

lookout

The pace was unhurried, with plenty of time for exploring…

shrine

… visiting local shrines…

soba_farm

…and even a farm where wasabi (Japanese horseradish) is grown in the shade of a little valley.

dirt_path

We avoided large roads as much as possible, preferring little byways and even dirt paths.

matsumoto_castle

Our ride ended in Matsumoto with its magnificent castle.

rinko_matsumoto

After some more sightseeing, we Rinko’d our bikes and returned to Tokyo. Thank you to our friends for organizing this great trip!

Photo credit: Natsuko Hirose (top photo).

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. Bicycle Quarterly's sister company, Compass Bicycles Ltd., turns the results of our research into high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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10 Responses to Golden Week Cycling

  1. Your story reminded me how precious is Japan. As you probably know, c.10 days before Golden Week, earthquakes bigger than Kobe 1996, and the biggest in Japan since the 2011 tsunami, hit Kumamoto City & Prefecture on Kyushu. The area was devastated. Buildings, roads, bridges, water supplies &c were destroyed; c.50 people died (miraculously few considering the size of the quakes). Many, many thousands of people evacuated, and c.100,000 are still living outside or in emergency shelters, grieving and in shock. Many businesses remain closed. I was there visiting my son, riding in the mountains, and waiting for Golden Week before going further afield. We spent 3–4 days living outside before I evacuated to Fukuoka and then home—too shaken to stay. Please spare a thought for the people of Kumamoto. It’ll take many years for the area to recover (they estimate badly damaged Kumamoto Castle will take 50 years to rebuild). Meanwhile, if anyone’s visiting Japan, remember that Kumamoto and Kyushu are as interesting as anywhere. There’re wonderful places to ride: by the sea and in the mountains (not as high as the Japanese Alps, but with there own attractions). And extremely friendly people. I’m returning asap.

    • In fact, we had planned to ride in Kyushu during Golden Week. We were quite shaken by the news from the earthquake, and glad that the damage wasn’t bigger.

      The earthquake meant that many of the roads we wanted to take are inaccessible. So we had to change our plans at the last moment. I think it’s still too early to travel there now – emergency relief takes precedence – but I definitely hope to visit there in the future.

      • Yes, probably the areas around the Mt Aso caldera (one of the largest in the world and a big tourist attraction), and Minamiaso in particular, are best avoided for some time. Kumamoto City itself is only slowly getting back into shape. However, there’re many other parts—if not of Kumamoto Prefecture, then certainly of Kyushu—that are still open to visitors.

        (BTW, I see a “there/their” error in my original post. What can I say? It happens to the best of us.)

  2. I love the style of “the Mule”. Simplicity and functionality.

  3. Paul Richard says:

    Great article! Noticed your bag was PACKED! Probably clothes for the varying spring temperatures.

  4. I would love to have cue sheets or map of route you took. Are they available?

  5. Michael says:

    How much weight would you say is in that front bag of yours?

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