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Riding a motorcycle in Japan is a very special experience. A land with a rugged spectacular coastlines, a mountainous interior as high as European alps with deep valleys criss-crossed with superb roads. It is also one of the safest places on earth with no petty crime. It is easy to access anything you need while travelling here, with terrific food and a rich history to explore if you choose.

In this post I am going to write a few things aiming to help motorcycle riders thinking about Japan but not sure. It is not intended to be a travel guide for Japan, there are 1000’s of people writing those already. Nor is it for the expats living here or intrepid adventurer riding around the world who will likely find this article too basic. This is written for the average rider like myself, curious about riding different places but not always sure about their ability to deal with every challenge.


List of contents

1. When is the best time to visit Japan for motorcycle riding?

Timing your ride to here is essential. Japan might have four distinctly different seasons but none of them are dry. While it is true you could ride here any month of the year the best time in my opinion is May. The next best is from late October to mid November.

For southern Japan, Kyushu is still mild enough most winters to ride into December which often has very clear air and sunny days but risk of ice in mountains exists.

Hokkaido has a different weather pattern, being so far north the harsh winters are long and mid year is the popular time to ride there when the rest of country is too hot but finding fine weather there is just luck as summer there is still often wet.

Japan rainy season (Tsuyu)

OkinawaMay 8June 23
Southern KyushuMay 29July 13
ShikokuJune 4July 17
KinkiJune 6July 19
KantoJune 8July 20
Northern TohokuJune 12July 27
map of japan

The above chart is not a prediction but rather the dates are an average of historical data and it could be longer or shorter in any region. Some years it can be dry, I rode right through June 2014 summer with barely a wet day but then in 2021 the monsoon arrived in Kyushu 2nd week of May and I had to abandon a big tour.

August is peak summer and humidity can reach 70% and temperatures high 30’s. Its unpleasant to ride if not accustomed to but there is usually fine weather in early August which is when many summer festivals are held.

September the heat eases, chance of some fine weather late in month but some years it is wet right through. October is generally less rain however it is also typhoon season.

Japan gets a lot of typhoons (22 in 2017) so there will be at least one in September and October, maybe a couple more every year. Look at this typhoon info site for more.

Be aware there is a national public holiday period called Golden week start of May where 1/2 the country takes a small holiday and hotels and bike rentals need to be booked well in advance. It is usually perfect weather that week but busy.  


May the days warm up to 20. It can feel like more in city traffic if stopped in full sun but less when moving in the mountains where it can still be cool perhaps down to 10 degrees. The alpine roads all start to open then but snow will remain at higher levels in Tohoku and Hokkaido.

August in Japan the heat is oppressive – if you have been in SE Asia in summer then that is how it is here.

October in Kyushu still mid to high 20’s but some years already light snow has fallen in Hokkaido.

November can see days swing between fine and 16 or rain and 8 degrees and in the mountains I have seen it drop to 2 degrees. However it can be a good time to ride the south if you have decent riding gear like Goretex with liners.

December in recent years has been fine. Mornings can be 2 degrees and sunsets by 4pm but days can be in the 10-15 degrees range with clear air and god for going south but north would be high risk of ice.

Okinawa is so far south it’s climate is tropical like South East Asia and temperature wise is warm to hot constantly however it also rains constantly.

Ishigaki is further south than Taipei and a wonderful tropical island to ride anytime of the year. You can rent electric scooters at the harbour no booking needed so just ride on dry days during your stay.

Where can I rent a motorcycle in Japan?

You are likely to be arriving in Tokyo which is also where you can rent a motorcycle but to be honest Tokyo is a lousy place to start or end a ride being a metropolis of 30+ million people you need to allocate the first and last day to just clearing and returning to this highly urbanized zone.

Best Bike is a Japan motorcycle share and rental service which delivers bikes to you. This would be my pick because they can have a bike for you to collect out of Tokyo. You can even arrange the bike to be at a port town like Yokosuka then go on the overnight ferry to Kyushu and ride back – my favourite way to tour Japan.

Rental819 is a very large national motorcycle rental agency with 100 agencies across Japan. There are three stores in Tokyo that have English speaking staff. (note the full range of bikes seems to only show on the Japanese language site)

Apex Moto is a motorcycle dealership run by an Australian which is located west of Tokyo and can assist if you want to buy and sell back a motorcycle.

Japan Bike Rentals is a Tokyo rental shop with English speaking staff.

Japan Touring Service is a motorcycle dealership and rental service based in Okayama.

Bike Rental Japan is motorcycle rental service in Osaka with English speaking staff.

Honda Japan have entered the rental business but mostly for domestic business. Link here.

Yasukari is a bike rental shop with prices that were reasonable at the time of last publishing.

The USA rental chain Eagle Rider resell Rental819 under their own banner – it may be advantageous for people in USA to book via domestic company.

Yamaha and Naps accessories shop rent bikes but neither seem suitable for foreigners but worth checking if they try fix that.

Note – Covid19 has destroyed the tourist industry worldwide so some businesses listed may have been affected.

Bike rental pricing in Japan is one of the more expensive in world however you don’t need a big bike for the roads here. Renting in the 250-400cc category will bring price down and this is ample power for the roads here. Then realise hotels are half the price of Australia or USA. Food is very affordable and you can buy a 6 pack of beer for $5 – so all up costs will balance out.

3. What gear to bring?

Unless you plan to do a ride in summer then the temperatures as noted in the first section lean towards cool. Most important you should have a good rain solution with you be it Gore-Tex outfit or a quality breathable rain outfit, waterproof gloves, waterproof boots or good covers. You will encounter rain on any tour in Japan.

Best to have gear that you have tested in rain to know works well. Finding out your Gore-Tex jacket leaks or pants leak or flap about and let water into boots or boot covers let water splash up from beneath (a few of my personal mistakes on tours) are best discovered at home.

Something I find very helpful is technical base layer shirts rather than riding in cotton t-shirts which are hopeless. Same for socks, any of those outdoor shops has the coolmax and stay dry gear. Also your gloves really need to be up to the task of dealing with a wet day sub 10 degrees if riding in Autumn.

Some rental bikes will have luggage but many models these days do not have cases. If you use a bag on rear seat this opens up more options. I use a general purpose bag made of tarpaulin material that is water resistant and in heavy rain fit a backpack rain cover which you can buy online for $1. This makes loading and checking in to hotel so much easier than using bike luggage.

You must have a International drivers permit. It is an out-dated document in these days of Google translate but make sure you grab one before leaving.

4. Where to ride?

If starting with a small ride from Tokyo I would suggest riding two areas close by. If you only had a couple of days then Izu peninsular seems a natural choice. There is a high concentration of good riding roads there and Mt Fuji views. If you had a couple more days then Nagano region and Izu region would be a great combo to experience the Japanese alps.

As I mention in my rides here I find 250-300km a maximum daily ride distance (if not using the expressways) taking in some sights. If you have more than a few days then you can build on Nagano + Izu adding time around Nikko and more of the Gunma region to make a loop for a week. If you had 9 or 10 days then perhaps Shikoku and the inland sea region can be considered or a one way to Kyushu the come back on a overnight ferry. See my tours for ideas (apologies some of the older Japan tours still need editing after I moved blogs)

A summer option is north to Aomori region to see the traditional Neputa/Nebuta Japanese festivals early August. Must book hotel well in advance in the host towns and bring your mesh ride gear for it will be hot. Hokkaido is a two week ride for those with the time but this is a very different side of Japan. I would suggest you leave this until last as much of Hokkaido is flat farm land.

There is a wealth of information about where to ride but of course it is all in Japanese. There is a series of touring maps produced specifically for motorcycle touring in Japan which you can figure out with a little time no matter what language you speak.


I have a set of these now, the Touring Mapples but in my experience they are not the bibles of road information people claim. I have found so many nice roads not marked in these books I stopped looking at them years ago and my best roads map listed elsewhere in this post now covers more than these.

There is also monthly magazines for touring, these are as much about food and onsens for the public bathing which Japanese are obsessed about as roads but they offer nice images and if here then any big book shop will carry some of these.


Below is a Google map with some of the good motorcycle roads in Japan. I made this for my own reference as I ride here but feel it is comprehensive enough to share as I have ridden about 100,000km exploring the country so far.

Black lines are good riding roads. Blue are also good but might be narrow or busy. Green is scenic road or alternative but could be narrow in parts. Red are favourite roads of mine. Symbols are for view points, hotels I have stayed at, attractions and warnings. Click to open it full screen then the legend appears and when you click on things further info is often provided.

Japan Best roads map

I have been asked where is my favourite riding area and that is hard to answer but Shikoku is a candidate with low volume of cars and a different feeling, like Japan in a older time. Kyushu also has so much great riding packed into it, especially the southern half. Within those two islands I would say The inland sea region and Amakusa in Kyushu are what I think is the very best of Japan.

Petty much everywhere that is not urbanized is good and that is the key in riding here – avoid the main roads, bypass towns and forget about riding in the big cities like Kyoto as many people seem to want to do – the traffic density is extreme and you will spend hours in traffic jams while the country roads can be empty away from the mega cities.

5. Do I need to learn Japanese and chopsticks and all about Japanese gas stations.

You need not learn the language but if you learn a few words then it would certainly help. On the other hand I would urge you to practice using chopsticks if you have never used them before because you may encounter that this is only eating utensil provided. Google it or YouTube for instructions and tips and practice a few times before leaving home. I travelled to Japan first around 1996 pre smart phones and dual language signage on the railway knowing nothing and never having used chopsticks – but I have done all the dumb things in life.

Grab a few apps on your phone about Japan, a language one, a Tokyo rail map and Google translate app. To translate written Japanese use the Google translate app to scan the words and translate – essential.

If you want to learn a little Japanese then the best app I have tried out of dozens is called Human Japanese. Other wise a few words will go a long way such as Konnichiwa – Hello, Aarigatō gozaimasu – Thank you, Sumimasen – Excuse me (but is said so many situations in Japan) and try to learn how to say where you are from, Japanese people always ask this. Watashi wa ōsutoraria-jin desu – I’m Australian.

Some English-Japanese slang that you really must know is ‘Hi-Oc’ meaning premium fuel, ‘Man-Tan’ meaning full tank of fuel, ‘Card-O’ meaning I want to pay with credit card. When pulling up to the petrol bowser many are full service, especially small gas stations and you do not pump your own fuel. In this case you need to say those things and you must say Card-O before any fuel is pumped.

Not everywhere takes cards, small country side gas station will be cash only – you can ask Card-OK? or take out card from wallet and say OK? But any large one will take cards now days so you might alight and flip you helmet up and say Hi-Oc, Man-Tan, Card-o to the attendant and they then swipe the card and give it back to you then start to pump the fuel for you and afterwards present the credit card payment slip to sign.

In Japan credit card payment is still always sign for authorisation, using PIN or paywave has not arrived here. Credit cards are still a new thing in country side. Japan still has no online bill payment system whatsoever, no pay by card over telephone system. I find only a couple of brands of gas stations will take my foreign bank credit card many will decline it. I look for Eneos gas stations which always accept my card and most Idemitsu gas stations but small rural gas stations will nearly always be cash only.

You do not need to remove your helmet at the gas station in Japan. Yep, how good is that. Of course if driving a car you need not even get out of the car. The attendant will come to your window and also wipe your screen – and give you a face washer to refresh yourself while waiting – like you see in the old movies, it all still happens here. Bikers don’t get it quite as good but I have had a couple of attendants wipe down the bike’s screen if they see it has bugs on it. If you want to clean your screen/visor just say the ever useful word Sumimasen and motion you want to wipe to attendant and they will point to the towels.


Above you can see a typical suburban gas station. A rider has arrived and an attendant is about to fill the scooter. One of the attendants has run out to the footpath to help guide the car leaving, this is all part of the service, he may even step out to the road and stop traffic to allow the car to leave then yell thanks so much for your business as the customer drives away. This is standard level of service in Japan.

There is no shop selling food or drinks at Japanese gas stations, they usually fix flat tyres and some offer car washing but no shop because when the driver need not get out of car then obviously the shop would not work. Payment if cash is after not in advance (which I have only ever seen in USA) but at self serve of course your card has to be authorised in advance.

The self serve petrol pumps can be difficult to work out how to operate but the trade off is fuel there is cheaper. The main issue is they will ask for a member card and to skip this often cancels the sale, use Google Translate on your phone – nobody will yell at you to put the phone away like the idiots in gas stations in west who think radio waves can make things combust.

Another thing that gets confusing is there is no fixed colours for the fuel pumps in Japan. So different brand gas stations have different colour pumps for regular, premium and diesel. This is getting better slowly but if the fuel type is not 100% clear then stop and confirm.

If you want a hassle free first trip look for full service pumps. You pay a few cents more per litre usually for full service but your riding a motorcycle not using huge amounts of fuel and if here for a one off tour for a week or so the total difference is likely to be less than a coffee and it can be fun as the attendants will often try ask where you are from and be interested in you and hell where else in the world can you get this level of service for a few cents.

p.s. there is no tipping in Japan – that is a North American custom and it would be demeaning and slightly offensive to tip a gas station attendant in Japan. Same applies everywhere you go in Japan, if you are from USA you will have a hard time with this but if you want to show appreciation then learn a few words to be polite as this is the most important thing in Japan.

6. Riding the Japanese road network.

Japan drives on the left, if you come from one of the countries that drives on the right then I would not let this concern you. I travel a lot switching between left and right side sometimes one week to the next and on a motorcycle I find you adjust very easy unlike driving a car which I find awkward to be sitting on the opposite side of the vehicle with strange to me layout and perspective looking forward. None of this happens on two wheels and the only thing I might do is when pulling into a shopping mall car park get bit confused for a moment.

The speed limits in Japan are ultra low if not on the national highway network. 50 kph on open country roads, 40 kph if those roads have bends. Like many things in Japan the speed limit dates back to past, to the very early days and first cars when roads were all narrow and still had horse and buggy. Despite things like bullet trains Japan actually has a strong culture of keeping old ways intact. The bullet train only came thanks to extraordinary efforts in the 60’s – a period when the world took bold moves like concord and the moon landing.

More common and certainly the current thinking is inward looking and retaining old ways. Good news is in reality the speed limits are mostly ignored because they are impractical. I think you can decide what you think is safe and good road behaviour just same as you would anywhere – however if you only see things black and white and must follow the posted limits to the letter then you probably will not enjoy riding Japan at 40kph with angry drivers queued up behind you.


Venus Line, Nagano.

The national highway network is a privately owned network of toll roads called Nexco. The speed on them is normally 100kph but is dynamic and limits are reduced in rain or wind or some people claim sarcastically if the sun goes behind a cloud, as often there appears no logic to the lower kph being shown in the LED signage but anyway for most drivers the speed limits on the expressways, like country roads, are seen as a guide and cars generally ignore the 80kph and all do 100kph all the time.

There is as of writing very low policing of speeding. A few highway fixed mounted speed cameras that people briefly slow down for (only forward facing, no risk to bikes) and around the big cities police have unmarked Silver and Black Toyota Royal Saloon luxury cars that they use for tailing and then issuing speeding tickets. You will see them parked in the highway bus stops, they generally target drivers who are really going fast and ignore people speeding a little , like 10% over the limit which is common on highways.

Now I am not suggesting you break any speed limits, you are in a foreign land and not in a race so sit back and enjoy the wonderful views the elevated expressways offer. However like the rest of Asia drivers can be aggressive and you don’t want to engage with them so going with the flow is always safer when on a bike. In Australia you must ride at low speed at road works or face heavy fines, in Japan if you slowed to 50kph at highway roadworks when traffic is flowing at 100kph someone will literally nudge you off the road.

Toll roads system

Nexco is the general name for the expressway network but it seems operated by different companies so you might go all day on a single toll gate ticket and exit the network paying just one toll or you might change a few times to different networks and each time you will pay a separate toll. There is no reason to worry about this if here on a tour, you are unlikely to be using toll roads much and on the odd occasion the cost will not be a major expense.

Using the toll roads here you need to know a few things. Japan uses a old toll system with boom gates instead of number plate camera recognition. The automatic electronic gates are marked ETC and you need to avoid these. At the manual gate you must stop and take the ticket issued by the machine and put this in a safe place to present later at the toll booth (or you stop and pay a flat fee on some toll roads).

When arriving at a toll booth again move to the manual non ETC lane and stop to pay toll. Most booths will be manned and you hand the ticket to the Nexco staff member. Some but not all booths will accept credit cards. Look for the international symbols of Visa and MasterCard being displayed to recognise that booth accepts payment by card. (but I have found at least two had the signs then still said no card…credit cards are not widely used by Japanese) 

Another thing with paying by card is that requires the attendant do something different to normal processing of the toll ticket. If you give the toll card first then fish out your credit card later mostly they will have to go though a process of cancelling then re reading the toll ticket then swiping your card. But miraculously toll booths do not require you sign for the transaction. 

Some booths are unmanned and you need to insert the ticket into the slot as marked and then depending on the network again it may only take cash or it may take credit cards. (the Tokyo metropolitan expressway system, the busiest in the country still does not take credit cards) basically always carry enough cash. 

Sorry to harp on about that but with so many countries having moved to cashless years ago I know people will be getting caught out here. I too still find it odd, especially that there is no online payment of bills, no phone payment of bills. Cafe may have touch screen tablets for menu but no electronic payment. 


Here is a explanation from Nexco with photos of how to use the toll gates and a further link to a pdf on how to use the machines. 

This is a link to a real time expressway roads condition map. 

Like most expressway systems if you take the wrong ramp you likely will have to ride 10 km before you can exit then return back to the junction to take the right one so if in any doubt try to pull over and make sure rather than taking a guess. Having good navigation device is essential.

The Nexco network has the most amazing parking areas (service areas/rest areas) of any highway network I have even been on. There are two types, the basic rest area with toilet and vending machines just for call of nature stop and the full Monty parking areas that can have a huge range of facilities including hot showers, massage chairs, quiet zones for a sleep, coin laundry, dog walking park, children’s activity centre, cafes, bakeries and full restaurants.

Some now have a Starbucks or specialised stores selling fashion, even motorcycle accessories. A few remain that are old and underutilized but many are quite fabulous places to stop for a rest and have dedicated under cover motorcycle parking. You can check facilities at the Nexco site.  The Japanese GPS’s give details of the facilities at each stop ahead but alas the Garmin GPS offers rudimentary road guidance.


Just be aware that the price of fuel at these parking area places is 5-10Y a litre above the prices on the street. If you need fuel nothing much can do as to exit and re-join besides wasting time will certainly increase the overall toll anyway but try fill up before any long ride on the expressways if not don’t sweat the extra couple dollars in the big scheme of things.

A legacy thing that is catching people out is the Tokyo Metro Expressway still has a ban on motorcycles having a passenger. This used to apply to the entire expressway system but every other operator has dropped the ban except the Tokyo metropolitan expressway. If you have rented a bike and have a passenger you will be stopped at the toll gate if trying to join within the Tokyo metro area. The map below will give a rough idea of where you cannot ride two up in red.

Related to this there are actually roads that totally ban motorcycles. On tour here I doubt you will encounter these with the exception of two mountain passes I have shown on my best roads map as being closed to riders the rest are mostly suburban roads in Tokyo or Osaka. But a list and may can be found HERE.

All the expressway signs are dual language  actually I found some that were not at major junctions on my last ride and had no idea which lane to take at the split haha – away from the expressway most intersection signs now are dual language until you get well off the beaten track. But if you are not familiar with the towns in-route to your final destination then this may not be much help and so a good GPS earns its keep in Japan.


Some oddities you may encounter is intersections with confusing traffic light signals, an example is a red proceed light but then a green proceed arrow may appear while the red light remains lit. Not sure the thinking on this one.

There is a lot of colour markings on the roads. On new roads in mountains you find yellow or red stripes to be careful and slow down. Some roads have slightly raised stripes which I think has been fitted to annoy the car drifters which is a big scene here but can be a hassle for bikers too but mostly the markings are using grit/glass particle so are not slippery.


Suzuka Skyline, Mie

Cars stop at all railway crossings all the time (so fortunately most crossing have been grade separated by bridge or tunnel). There is no stop sign at rail crossing that I have noticed but I presume the rule to stop dates back to before flashing lights were fitted to railway crossings and lives on forever despite it being pointless exercise.

Many traffic lights do not have a turn arrow but oncoming traffic can get a red light for about a minute before your light goes red to allow you to turn right across flow. There is nothing to tell you the traffic light on other side of intersection is displaying red.

The solid middle yellow line marking means no passing like double yellow or double white in other countries. Sometimes cars will put on there hazard lights to indicate they are stopping which then allows you to pass. Often then they continue on behind you having just been courteous. Other cars flash their hazards back to the car that has let them pass, this is a way to say thanks. I give a wave on the bike. You need a lot of patience riding in Japan, at times you will get stuck at low speeds in urban zones so always route around towns.

Rest areas with toilets on rural roads will surprise most people. They will nearly always be spotless and have ample supply of paper and many will have heated seats and clean towels and flowers that local people change frequently. In many parts of the world public toilets are disgusting but in Japan people have pride and do not vandalize everything so you end up with toilets that sometimes would not look out of place in a hotel. Here is a map of just some of the rest areas throughout Japan.

Convenience stores will nearly always have toilets too so you need not wonder where to go like in so many countries. But whatever you do unless you understand what all the buttons on the computer toilets do don’t touch them. Flushing will always be by a handle located separately from those buttons.

Planning your route and GPS navigation in Japan

When planning your ride in Japan it is important to not over estimate the distance that can be covered in a day. If renting a motorcycle in Tokyo the shops in Japan do not open early then you need to fill out paperwork, store luggage, pack get your gear on, perhaps your ride day is starting late morning. I mention this first up as I have seen a few people plan ambitious rides here that looked doomed to fail on the first day with distances you cannot easy ride here. If using the expressway then sure you can cover ground just like you might in other countries but off those toll roads it is not possible.

For me 300km is a very full day of riding on small regional roads. I aim now for a maximum of 250km a day on rural roads and if you want to stop and visit temples and look around sights along way you could even reduce that more.

If I am on the expressways that is a different matter, basically I can double my daily distance without feeling rushed.

Three navigation points.

Point 1. People route via the Google map ‘yellow’ colour roads which they think are all minor roads but these can be busy connecting roads full of trucks. Important to try use low volume roads and roads known to be good riding as Iisted in my map or on other resources.

Point 2. Google maps gives a false impression that an area is not so urbanised in regular map mode. You need to switch to satellite view occasionally to get the real view and then route around the larger towns using bypass roads or the ‘wide farm roads’ as they are called and avoid going through the downtown shopping areas.

Point 3. Japan went through a road building boom but now the economy is bust and you must be aware some roads reach a point where the building just stopped. Use Google street view to check roads and don’t be too ambitious. Example – a group from Australia were going to ride the entire route 299 from Tokyo then the 361 to Takayama after picking up bikes from Tokyo mid morning. The 299 starts out two lane sweepers but ends up a one lane goat track that usually is closed and takes hours to detour.

Roads here can also be closed due to land slides from earthquakes or typhoons, Bridges and tunnels can be closed after an earthquake while they await repairs. The signage is always in Japanese only and usually is a white sign with the route number and a red circle with a red X marked (I will add a photo in future) or it may be a electronic signboard. You need to stop and see if road is totally closed or just no heavy vehicles using Google translate app.

New – The best road condition site with English (or that Google can easy translate to English), is now from Toyota. LINK do check especially in May many roads still closed with snow in Tohoku.

GPS routing

Edit – I now have a whole separate post just about GPS routing in Japan which you can read here. If using a phone I am recommending riders try an app called Ride with GPS (no affiliation) which is a route planner and turn by turn navigation app. In the contact section of the blog is a link to my Ride with GPS account and you can use any of my routes freely.

Many foreign riders in Japan find that app works for them or they use Google navigation and cut their routes each day down into 3 or 4 smaller routes to not exceed Google Navigations waypoint limitations.

Update – I am now trialing MyRoute App along side my Garmin and am moving away from RWGPS for my rides in Europe and elsewhere. I no longer have my Japanese Garmin which was lost in shipping so if I go back to ride Japan I will test MyRoute App there. The main thing is having good junction guidance on the expressways, without that it becomes a very difficult place to ride.

Japanese Garmin

Japan expressway junctions.


Edit – I now have a whole separate page just about Japanese ferries which I am slowly expanding. If you are going to really explore this country then you need to use the ferry network as Japan is made up of 6000 islands. 


7. Access and money.

This is a motorcycling blog so I am not going to try cover things that regular travel blogs might talk about but I have a couple of tips for visiting riders.

Everyone knows about the Japan Rail NEX airport train but did you know there is a rival airport train that is both faster and about 30% cheaper called the Skyliner. It’s just 36 minutes from Narita to Nippori station which is where you should change to the JR Tokyo network. In addition to the Skyliner that same rail company provides a budget service that most of the local people choose called Narita Sky Access which just uses regular rollingstock but still runs partly express and can save you a good bit of money.


Skyliner above

You can access anywhere in Tokyo via the rail network. There are many lines and it is worth getting a rail map application on your smart phone (look up one called Navitime for Japan Travel). Some stations you can pick up a paper map of the network. I see people spending a lot of time at ticket machines buying single tickets when using the train networks in Tokyo. The easy way is to get a ‘Suica’ smart card and load $10 to $20 on it then you simply touch the sensor and the fare is automatically worked out and is at a discount to buying paper tickets. You may end up not using every dollar on the card but in the scale of things on holiday a couple of dollars unused seems trivial for the ease and time saved.

Apart from the Suica Japan is a cash society. Credit card use is slowly expanding but you should never assume anywhere will take a credit card, even brand new supermarket with computer check outs can be cash. In my travels to Japan before living here I found I could easy obtain better exchange rates buying Yen in my home country than in Japan. Once you leave the airport there are not a lot of currency exchanges like Thailand, a couple in tourist areas only. Easier perhaps to withdraw from ATM’s using your credit card but things to be aware of. Most ATM’s will be totally in Japanese with zero English. I have found I can operate most of them using Google translate on my phone.

Not all ATM’s accept credit cards issued by banks outside of Japan, even though they might have the international Visa and MasterCard symbols on them they still will only accept Japan bank issued cards. Related to this is some merchants can only process payments with Japan bank issued credit cards. Japan really is behind the world in digital things.

Convenience stores can help you with almost anything you may need while in Japan, including cash. 7/11 have ATM’s that kind of have English but then switch back to Japanese at what looks like the confirm screen. Lawson stores seem to vary but I have found some with English option ATM’s. Family Mart also have an ATM, I found theirs in Japanese was simple to operate.

A tip for using an ATM here is you need to enter the yen symbol, ie like having to insert the $ symbol when typing in the amount – even though there is no option to withdraw any other currency. This goes after the amount and ATMs will not proceed without it being typed. This is a classic example of Japanese way of thinking.

Many bank ATM’s only operate until a certain hour at night i.e. 9.00pm then they turn off. Also ATM’s on public holidays or weekends charge a higher fee than business hours. How the banks managed to sell this idea to the public that ATM’s cost more to run after hours I do not know but please do not tell the Australian banks or they will no doubt try to emulate this scam.

8. Accommodation

I only stay in hotels when riding. I like the idea of camping away from the city in the evening and I have simple tastes so a BBQ or some rice and instant curry camp dinner is fine by me too but the problem is the weather. If it was warm and dry then I would look into camping more but riding in Japan you will always encounter some rain and nights are often cold and rainy. Camping in that mix and trying to get my gear dry and cook something at night in the wet or next day huddled inside a tent in cold rain is just not worth the hassle for me.

I can get a good hotel here between Y4000-Y6000 a night. With a hotel I have a warm heated room with laundry usually on site with dryer to clean and prep things for next day. I can connect to high speed wi-fi and most importantly take a long hot shower which is first thing I want to do after a days riding then head out to get a nice meal. Commercial camp sites can easy cost Y3000 a night so it’s not a big saving unless you free camp with no facilities.

Here is a map of free camp sites around the country which may interest the adventure rider coming here. (note – this is not my map and I cannot say if it remains up to date) Note that commercial camp sites always require advance booking via phone and they all say if you arrive without a booking you will not gain access.

Here is another list, free camping in Hiroshima. This is roadside rest stops in Japan with facilities and mostly free 24 hour parking. Maybe not really suitable for bikers, a camper car might be able to stay overnight I think but still handy to know as some have a shower.

AirBnB last time I looked was expensive in Japan (and seems more expensive than hotels everywhere now days). Prices for hotels here can be as low as 3000 Yen a night and the cheapest is the Rider Inn hostel type places at Y1500-Y2000 a night but I do not have a list of those and additionally you need to have some basic Japanese to book them and to stay at them.

Love hotels are everywhere in Japan, understand that you need be not too prudish to use them as you will see guys with working girls coming and going as Japan has the worlds biggest prostitution industry and the love hotels exist primarily for that purpose despite Japanese saying its for young couples to escape but I have stayed in some on tour when hotels were full and they were great value. Big rooms and undercover parking, usually a little out of town but quite a few have food that can be ordered or simply ride to the nearest 7/11 and grab few things. The prices vary wildly but some can be a real bargain.

Agoda and Booking.com have finally started to list hotels here but lag behind local hotel search engines like Rakuten or Jalan or RuRuBu (JTB). You will need a VPN to access these Japanese sites outside of Japan. Rakuten has a English as well as a Japanese site and I used their English site frequently on my tours. Some Japanese booking sites may try divert you to English versions but don’t waste your time with them (except Rakuten). These are a token effort to perhaps comply and often show inflated prices or no vacancy any date while the Japanese language site will have many rooms available at lower prices. Japanese hotels prefer to only have Japanese people staying in their establishments, a theme you will find extends to many restaurants and shops.

There are free VPN’s to access Japanese sites (I use Proton VPN, it’s entirely free) and even without one it is it is possible to use some of the Japanese hotel own booking sites, you may need to use a translation service like Google Translate to input your name in Katakana as English is not accepted and be sure to use the built in auto translation in Chrome browser when accessing Japanese sites.

Update. I now book most of my hotels from Google maps. But to do this outside of Japan you do need a VPN and set your country to Japan. Then when you click hotels in any area of map then click on a hotel all the Japanese booking site options and Japanese Yen pricing appears. Without a VPN you will just be shown Booking.com and higher prices.

Japan is moving slowly to join the rest of the world but resisting as much as possible – it really is such a inward looking country, which is part of the attraction to visit. Still much better now than when I first started travelling here 30 years ago nothing was online obviously then and some hotels declined to allow non Japanese to stay in them and I could not rent a motorbike unless I had a Japanese person travelling with me but two up riding wasn’t allowed on the expressways – but that is whole other story.

One of my favourite hotel chains

Hotel chains I have used include Route Inn, Super Hotel, AZ Hotel, Green Hotel. A+, Ark, Smile, and Washington group to mention a few. I recommend the first three which always have parking, others you need to check if their parking is flat ground or automatic stacker parking which does not accept bikes.

I was told to simply say Check In at hotel counters upon arrival and they will understand this term as it is used by Japanese but staff rarely understand because when Japanese speak English words they make it sound totally different like Checkoo Inna or something. Or the reception staff is simply scared that they have to interact with a foreigner as mostly happens in rural Japan where you might be first foreigner they have spoken to.

Away from the major cities you will always be the only non Japanese staying and they will look at the register when you first arrive and see the only foreign name on the screen and say Dr Livingstone I presume Mr. Warren? or what every your name is. All hotel staff have done English training but it might be the first time to use it and they might try then suddenly (nervously) switch back to Japanese. They always have a bunch of stuff they need to say to you even though they know you will not understand. Just smile and nod a few times and say Hai (yes) then at the end when you get door card say Domo (short form of thanks).

If possible always have your booking on phone to show. Every ride here at least once or twice the reception will not understand I have a booking and will check me in to a new room and then later that causes problems.

Rooms are small by western standards but will have many nice touches, always a small fridge, shoe cleaner, disposable room slippers, decent sound proofing and block out curtains, a small desk and cupboard is standard.


Bathrooms again small but do the job and will include everything unlike some countries that supply nothing. Many of the ‘business hotel chains’ as they are known offer large buffet breakfast included in the room rate which sets you up for a big ride each day, if not I just get something at the supermarket for breakfast.

The big chains have lots of little extras. Super Hotel lets you pick the type and height of pillow. Route Inn has free espresso coffee machine. Green hotels have free welcome drinks. You will find all have a computer corner with free use of PC and a printer. (maybe covid has now restricted things)

You will find a bottle of Japanese version of Febreeze in your room. This is standard and is great for the motorcycle rider, I apply to riding jacket, pants, boots and helmet. Another good thing is breakfasts usually start as early as 6.30am which is great for us riders. Many hotels I have stayed at in Europe the breakfast started at 8.00 or 8.30am which is not helpful.

Food will not be western breakfast so look at what others are eating and follow – I see so many reviews where people are in another country and complain that food is not like their home country – no shit Sherlock! Your hotel room will always have a Japanese style deep bath/shower combo but you also may find the hotel has a public bath on the ground floor.

Japanese people are obsessed with public bathing, even in hotels with nice private bathrooms they will all go down to basement public bath where they squat at a row of low taps and rinse with a bucket of water. Then get into a large tub of very hot water. This old fashioned bathing ritual comes from when homes never had private baths (as late as into the 70’s) and is deeply ingrained.

I tried it on my first trip to Japan. I am not too shy but honestly never felt relaxed either. I don’t find sitting in a tub with a bunch of naked men to be natural. As a foreigner all eyes are on you constantly which when naked is uncomfortable. Squatting to wash yourself beforehand is also really awkward and difficult with old moto-x knee injury and the big tub is scolding hot. I concluded why would I go to all that bother when I can enjoy a shower and/or deep tub bath in privacy of my room. Some foreigners wax lyrically about public bathing but they are generally the same ones who defend everything Japan does including it’s embedded racism.

Hotels are the one place that almost always accept credit cards. And nice thing in Japan the idea of charging an extra fee for using a card does not seem to exist yet unlike many countries. Enjoy while it lasts.

You will occasionally encounter a hotel that doesn’t accept foreign cards – reception will just indicate your card was declined. It hasn’t, the machine has not even tried to process it just detected non Japan card and then declined. Always carry some cash.

One negative of Japanese hotels is their hours are reduced a little. Check in often cannot happen before 3.00pm and a couple of very old style places were even 4pm and latest check out is 10.00am. Usually not a issue as you will be riding during the daytime hours but when it’s raining I wish I could check in 2.00pm like some other countries.


We all need to wash clothes on tour and while you will not be spoilt to have laundry shop on every corner like South East Asia you will find in Japan every business hotel has a coin laundry on site. This is terrific on tour, I can easy wash a few things properly and further more I can remove liners from my riding gear and wash them too.


All bigger towns will have coin laundries scattered about as well. These commercial laundries can be a little expensive as the machines are huge used by people to wash their futons but they will often include detergent and drying in the price (washer dryer combination machines) and being such huge machines they are very fast to dry a small load of clothing, you literally can get all your washing finished and dry in an extended lunch break or when sheltering from rain.

9. Food and drink

Japan is a country where food and eating is a religion. Every TV channel runs cooking shows 24/7 and little else apart from the news. I would need a whole new blog to talk about the food and dining options in Japan so this post is not going to explore that at all. Instead I am going to give some ideas for simple and economical food that is easy for a non Japanese speaking biker who may have some trepidation about eating out in a foreign country.

If you are staying at a business hotel in Japan then a breakfast buffet is included and personally after eating this I rarely feel any desire to have a big sit down restaurant lunch. As long as it is fine I like to get something light at the convenience stores and make a stop somewhere scenic or relaxing near a river or view point where there is a parking area with tables and chairs. The convenience stores offer a wide variety of fresh food. I usually grab some sandwiches or sushi roll but there is onigiri rice balls with filling which are very popular and lots of salads from simple to elaborate.

The Japanese have a tangy cold noodle dish in warmer months which is delicious and you can find many bakery items as well as a wide range of hot food. I have a cooler bag I got from a 100 yen shop along with a cooler pack I freeze each night in the hotel room fridge then I can buy something mid morning when I stop for a coffee and place it on my bike for later and stop whenever I feel like it. This works really well as in the mountains or following a valley there will usually be nice rest spots but if you prefer cafe lunch the shops are of course in the towns so plan your route to there at middle of day.

There is always many small rural cafes serving Japanese dishes. None will speak any English or have a menu in English so it is a little hard to access them but some hot ramen noodles on a cold day is always what I am seeking. To get thatiIf on the expressway the service areas will have a wide variety of food and make a great place to stop for lunch, as well you will find it usually easier there with the food portrayed in photos but maybe still no English.

However you will find the system in highway rest areas is paying via a machine next to counter of cafe. You first pick the number that matches the food item which many will have photos on wall. You put enough cash in then press the button for the item you want and then get a coupon to give to the counter. It seems harder than it actually is, just watch someone else and you will understand it. A tip is the specialty or best ramen of the shop will usually be the first button.

In large towns options will expand and may include some western fast food chains if you felt like something familiar for lunch. I have been following a round the world rider from Australia who loves nothing better than some McDonalds for lunch in every country he visits. That chain is of course in Japan along with Burger King and KFC. Lotteria, Freshness burger and Moss burger are other chains. Doutor Coffee, Pronto coffee and Tulleys coffee are chains all offering western type lunch.


After a big day riding I tend to look for family restaurants or other simple dining options in the evening. Often I take a walk to see what is around (I look at Google maps before heading off) but if I see one of the big chains then that will do me. Some of the family restaurants I like include Coco’s, Big Boy, Jolly Pasta, Denny’s, Royal Host, Joyful and Gusto to mention just a few.

These all will have menus with pictures, some may have English menus but usually you will be able to work it out from the photos and a bit of Google translate on your phone. A large meal at these sort of places will be between Y700-Y1100 on average. The menus are a fusion of western and Japanese and they are not daunting places to eat at if you are not adept at solo dining.


Above Saizeriya are often attached to supermarkets or department stores and offer very good value meals from about Y400.

Japanese fast food chains you might sample include Sukiya and Yoshinoya which while having a focus on soy sauce flavour beef on rice but also offer some other amazing value meals sets. In the south there is Ringer Hut which seems to have a focus on Nagasaki style noodles but also offers other meals and is similarly very good value.

You wont find any English menus but it will all be in photos.


Ringer hut spicy cold noodles in summer are great.

Alternatively you might just want to relax in your room, plan next days ride, catch up with social media – I do this more and more of late. You can get an excellent hot meal from any convenience store nearby. Each evening fresh made meals fill the shelves and the shop will heat the meal for you and provide chop sticks or fork and spoon for dessert items. Lots of people stop on the way home and get dinner this way because it is difficult to make it by yourself for less as many meals are around Y300-Y400. And the quality is very high as with all food in Japan.

Supermarkets also have an area with premade meals and will have a microwave at the front somewhere for you to heat it and all the business hotels have microwaves near the foyer for this purpose as well. I used to think it odd but it is a way of life here and you will see workers who are staying at the hotel perhaps on business coming back to the hotel with dinner from the nearby convenience store. I carry one of those cloth reusable supermarket bags with me on any travel here or abroad and use this to bring hot food back to the hotel rather than plastic bag. If nearby the food is always still hot.

If you want the convenience shop to heat up something (and they have not already motioned to the microwave after they scan the item which they always do) then simply say ‘Ting’ to indicate you want it microwaved, Ting being the sound of the microwave when finished. No, I am not making a joke. But range of meals can leave shelves early, I now tend to get something before meal time and say no to it being heated (pronounced ‘eee-eh’) then use the hotel microwave when I am ready to eat. Every hotel here has a microwave.

Even better than convenience dinners, there is a chain of obento (boxed dinner) shops called Hotto Motto that are a great takeaway option if one is nearby. Their meals are large and made fresh on the spot. I sometimes get a dinner from them and a beer and just relax in the room, especially after being on the road awhile. You may see other obento shops too, there are other chains but in rural Japan I only notice Hotto Motto.

IMG_4816 (2)

If you like a beer then you can get one at any convenience store. Beer from a supermarket or the large warehouse style pharmacies (drug stores) is much cheaper, as low as Y100 a can but when you order a beer with a meal in a restaurant you will find the standard price is Y500 for a glass, even when the meal might only be Y800. Soft drinks also get marked up steeply but the great thing is iced water is always free and will be served with every meal, even fast food burger shops have iced water available although you will need to request it. Some places also will provide free tea, hot or iced depending on the season. So to eat cheap in Japan skip the drink at the restaurant and have the complimentary water. By the way tap water in Japan is safe to drink, actually the water quality here is amongst the best in world.

As I said at the beginning if more adventurous or a foodie then the dining options are unlimited in Japan so this is intended for the biker who wants some simple options with the focus of travel here being ‘the ride’. I try to explore the larger towns I am in and eat something out but smaller towns I am just as happy to grab something and wander back to the room and relax.

Not easy to go out here drinking at bars like in SE Asia, wander to the bar district in any town and you will find they strictly do not allow entry to foreigners. There are no regular sports bars in Japan. Seriously. You have Izakaya drinking/eating type of restaurant that is just for groups with focus on eating or hostess bars that are behind closed doors. Japan has by far the biggest sex industry in the world, some larger cities the hostess bar zone can go for many blocks with literally 1000’s of bars but even if you just wanted a couple of beers strictly entry to foreigners. So sadly there is no place to go and watch sport and perhaps strike up a conversation with someone and riding here can feel a little lonely with the language and the culture.

10. IT/Communication/Health

You can buy a travel sim in advance from amazon or at airport. Once here all major electrical retailers. Yodobashi, Bic Camera, Yamada, Softmap should all have a travel sim or tourist sim sold for visitors to Japan. Of course your phone needs to be unlocked to be able to use this.

Another option is buy a roaming data card from AIS the Thai carrier which will work here and you can be on air soon as you touch down – these are as little as 300 baht and can be ordered online in advance.

I have seen rental wi-fi devices at airport upon arrival here but they are not cheap. If you have locked handset then it would be an option.

In most countries now you can pre purchase a certain amount of international data roaming or put a cap on the data roaming costs per day and this is another further option. In Australia the telcos offer international roaming and I tend to use this now as despite it costing more I can get some important calls from home while I am away.

Being able to use phone apps when travelling is essential so I would strongly urge you have mobile data capability here.

Medications in Japan have 1/2 normal strength or less (I have seen headache tablets with as low as 100mg – 1/5th of rest of world dosage and useless). People will tell you it is because body size is smaller as reason but that is BS because rest of Asia they use standard strength tablets. I believe it was a cunning move by the big pharmaceuticals here to double the price of medication on the ruse that Japanese should have smaller dosage for smaller body than westerners. Bring all your own medications.

If you have to buy anything then understand the dosage needs to be doubled. Painkillers are expensive and so are cold and flu tablets which are often further diluted so the recommended dosage will be 3 tablets 3 times a day but the dosage in 3 tablets will still be half what western cold and flu tablets would be so you actually need to take 18 tablets a day and use the entire bottle in couple of days!

I hope you never need this but dial 119 for ambulance in Japan.

Need to print out anything and if not staying at a hotel with computer/printer corner then head to the nearest convenience store. All have printers that accept USB memory drives, the file format needs to be PDF but that is likely the case already anyway. Very cheap just 0.10yen. I don’t bother to own a printer here, makes no sense.

A very good tourist map of Japan with a ton of info can be found on the JAL web site.

Well I am going to post this article as it currently is as already quite large in word count but will keep updating. Hope it has been of some help.


  1. What an wonderful blog. I like your blog all of your post are wonderful.

  2. Excellent summary. Only thing missing is common but unique road signs. Perhaps more info on the Radar (gantries, etc), that Japanese GPS do highlight, but Google etc. don't.

    • Thanks, I will add your suggestions to the article.

      Japan radar is all front facing so no need to worry about that on a motorcycle.
      Common road signs are self explanatory symbols – stop, give way, no entry, etc. Unique signage tends to be in written Japanese which I am not able to translate. However this has not presented any issues to me so far.

  3. Hi Warren.my name is Alex and after i read u blog i start riding on 18/4.rent a bike in rental819 odaiba tokyo.maybe we can meeting for a cofe or beer.i don't have a telephone only data sim card so u can find me on facebook rider8.

  4. WOW thanks. I'm coming to Japan with my friend for two weeks riding around southern areas in September (2017)
    This was really insightful, funny and fits with stuff I've heard. thank you very much

    • You're welcome, glad it has been of some assist. South is best if you have the time, hope weather is good for you.

      • Vimal Prasad S

        Hi Warren,

        Exceptional post that gives lots of information.

        Also if you can suggest more about the gps and the non toll routes it Willis be more helpful

        • Hi Vimal,

          I have a separate post about GPS routing in the guides section of the blog. Despite phones getting more bike navigation apps every year they still do not present a navigation screen that is as easy to see and glove friendly to operate as the old Garmin GPS units. The best phone routing software in my experience is Ride with GPS which is only one with Google Street View built in and once you get used to checking roads on the fly all the other route makers that don’t have that become a joke. Ride with GPS also has it’s own turn by turn phone navi app which is about as good as things get on a phone with good recalculation and all your routes made are automatically ready to navigate. I still use a Garmin as I find phone screens too hard to see in sunlight and the text too small to read without glasses and impossible to operate while riding to make changes to route.

          The best non toll roads for riding are all in the Best Japan Motorcycle Roads map which you can find in this article or in the guides section. Be sure to open it full screen to see all the listings.

  5. Warren, hope you don't mind but I shared this post on my Facebook page "Touring Japan by Bicycle"as it has many things we have in common and your photo's are much nicer than some of mine.

  6. An excellent article mate, lots of tips for anyone thinking of going. I'd like to try it one day.

  7. Thanks Steve, hope it may be of some assist.

  8. Hi Warren, This is very useful and detailed article. I am in Tokyo until end of June. I would like to join you If you plan a ride around nearby areas or may be have a coffee or tea may be?

    • Hi Waqas apologies for late reply all the comments last month google marked as spam so I did not receive until now.
      I have been in Indonesia just back now in July so could not have met anyone.
      Maybe another time.

  9. Thanks a ton for this Steve – I'm leaving next month to travel by motorcycle for a month all over Japan and this has been so helpful!

  10. Sorry, Warren** Haha!

    • Have a good ride Vyzion. I shall try to do a ride myself here late August or September, few typhoons at the moment, hope that clears for us.

  11. Great article mate will be very helpful. I’m riding my drz from Hokkaido to Isumi Chiba in a couple of weeks where we just bought a house this will be my first big ride in Japan since moving here in April. If you are looking for a ride along the way let me know

  12. Was actually wondering which route would be more interesting Aomori to Niigata or Aomori to Sendai? If I go via Sendai I wanted to check out the Ebisu circuit in Tohoku and if I go via Niigata I can go via Gunma and visit a mate who runs a outdoor company. All heading to Chiba in the end

    • Some of the best roads are in the middle, you can zig-zag your way south then turn left to Sendai or carry on to Bandai then right to Niigata. Have a look at the map of bets roads in this post, expand it to pan and zoom.

    • Ebisu Circuit… is very strange. It's not well signposted, all the roads in the circuit are really really are (as in forget a u turn if you change your mind) and the safari park just… I can't prepare you for the strangeness of riding a motorbike past parked drift cars as a camel is led past you.

      Also, no guarantee of drifters being active so unless there's an event, can't guarantee you'll see much action.

      I did the Sanriku Coast which was exciting at times (read as tight and twisty) but also the middle bit is fun (West Coast… not so much).

      Have fun!

    • The Honda museum is nice, I went just for that. I found it ok using gps but a few access roads were closed.

  13. Hi there! Great information! I'm planning to ride in Japan for a week in mid-February (only time that I'll be free). Understand that it is gonna be cold. any advice for the route that I should take? I'll most probably be flying to Tokyo.

    • Rc I think I replied to you but seems not to display. Anyway February you really cannot ride Japan. Its peak winter in Northern Hemisphere country, lots of snow.

  14. This is a super helpful site! Just wish I'd found it before my two trips (so far). Ah well, live and learn.

  15. Hi Warren,
    I just wanted to say thanks for this blog. My partner and I love doing the random road trip. We usually have a general plan of where we want to end up, but often get distracted by nice roads we stumble across. When we are somewhere we don't know so well (and I lose internet), I try to remember the road numbers you wrote and shout "sweeping or scenic?". You have helped to make our road trips that much more fun 🙂 Thanks.

  16. Your suggestions have been awesome – thank you!

  17. Excellent article with many valuable tips! Shikoku is indeed the best choice for a motorcycle tour in Japan.
    A day tour Fukushima-> Bamdai-Azuma SkyLine -> Bamdai-Azuma LakeLine -> Nishi-Agatsuma SkyValley -> Yonezawa -> Fukushima is also nice.
    If somebody likes a hot onzen after a drive, the Dormy Inn hotel chain is recommendable. They offer, though located in mid of cities, onzen and free ramen in the evening.
    Regarding speeding, be aware of unmarked police vehicles (white or grey Toyota Crown or Nissan Fuga). You attract their attention when you drive 20 km/h or more over the limit.

  18. Thank you Hakusan, I shall look for the Dormy Inn chain on my next tour.
    I sometimes see new Toyota Crown in silver pull over cars either side of cities they use the highway bus stops it seems.

  19. Hi Warren,
    Great blog! I am seriously considering a long stay in Japan, initially to learn Japanese and than perhaps a few months to discover Japan on a motorbike. All this after I retire in 2020/21. Info in your posts will Be a great help. Keep it up

    • Hi Ash, I think you will enjoy Japan. It is not expensive cost of living, food, transport, rent etc all about half Australia. If you buy a bike that would be better than renting. The company I list Apex Moto sells and buys back bikes. If you live in country side then it is best value. Language schools are actually a bit expensive here in Tokyo, I think other cities are much better. Message me anytime, hope we can meet up then.

  20. Hi Warren,
    Great blog! I am seriously considering few months to discover Japan on a bike trip . Info in your posts will Be a great help. Keep it up

  21. Hi Warren,
    Just come back from my first 2 week holiday in Japan. This is in readiness for a 2021 trip on a motorbike.
    I am from a hot country – Kenya – but I have never sweated so much in the humidity as I did last month in Japan. I dread to think what it must be like in motorcycle gear !
    Safe riding and keep doing the blog.

    • Hi Ash,

      This year has been terrible. A combo of high humidity and dead still air.
      Last few summers I could easy ride as the humidity was lower and always some sort of breeze, but this year dead still like in a vacuum.
      I tried last week and I am used to heat but it was tough.

  22. Nathan Millward

    Fantastic information. Hugely appreciate the effort gone into putting it together. Aiming to ride there next year.

  23. Hi Warren, lots of great info here. My wife and I have just moved to Tokyo from NZ for her work. Once we move from our temporary accommodation into something more permanent I will be buying a bike. Undecided yet as to what I will get but MC parking was probably one of the most important stipulations when it came to us finding a place (much to the frustration of the relocation services people). Take care on the road and will hopefully see you out there one day.

    • Hi Nick, thanks for the feedback, appreciate it.

      If you are moving to a condo and specify must have big bike parking the real estate will act like it is something rare but actually it’s not and they are just being lazy. I got the same response but once the agents realised it wasn’t negotiable they soon found heaps with parking. Do consider also the commute into Tokyo, some train lines are newer less congested or others have limited express services with reserved seating which will make life much more bearable. Then consider can you get to any riding in a day easy from that location. Some places (like where I am) day rides are difficult.

      Bikes here plummet in value, if you can buy pre owned then can save heaps. Apex Motors is Aussie run shop and also agent for auctions. Msg me about anything via blog or facebook.

  24. Paul Buckland

    Thank you very much for your map tips and advice Warren. Only two weeks until I hire a bike from EZ Moto in Osaka (cheapest I could find and wide range), and we are riding Nara, Wakayama and Shikoku via the ferry, then back through Okayama and Hyogo.
    I wasn’t able to find enough info about the AutoRace at either Hamamatsu or Sanyo (Habu), and it is a bit far out of our way, so maybe next time.
    My suggestion if you are looking for developing this site more is something about AutoRace on this blog, it seems very hard to find out when these cool races are on, and I reckon a few hours at one would add to any Japan motorcycling trip. I would love to see and hear one live!!

    • Your welcome Paul.
      The timing and destination for your ride is looking good, the leaves should be turning and you will be avoiding the region affected by floods. Fingers crossed the weather is ok.

      I have not seen AutoRace so I will reserve judgement but it is primarily a gambling event like Kyōtei (BoatRace) and Keirin (Racing cycle).

  25. Thanks for all the work and well-written details. Do you know the laws regarding two people on a motorbike. I heard it has to be over 125cc and even then restricted on some roads.

    • There are restrictions on two up riding. The motorcycle needs to be bigger than 125cc. The rider needs to have held a motorcycle licence for 1 year. If using the expressway the rider needs to have held a licence for 3 years and the Tokyo inner expressway network bans two up riding.

  26. Hello Warren!
    Great blog. I was wondering if you could help me out. I am planning a trip from Fukuoka all the way up to Hokkaido. I plan to do some woofing in Niigata (August) and Hokkaido (June or July or both with some camping). My rough plan was coming up to Shikoku first, then heading north to the northern coast of Shimane and follow the coast up Tottori/Fukui , then I was thinking coming into the mountains like Nagano and Hakuba ( Where do you think I should head around any of these parts?)

    Then start my way up to Hokkaido for the rainy season (How long would you spend in Hokkaido with camping, sightseeing etc?) then come back down east side to Tokyo etc. Ibaraki.

    Thank you!! and information would be a big help. Cheers!!!


    • Hi Peter,
      That should be a good ride. If you refer to my ‘best motorcycle roads in Japan’ map in this post then that will point you to the better roads and good viewpoints.
      I would suggest after Fukui to ride due East to Nagano rather than via Toyama. The area around Nagano has so many good roads, have a look at my map but not to be missed would be the Venus Line and Mt Shirane.
      Hokkaido whilst interesting is not as scenic as the rest of Japan. I can’t say how long you might want there as I am not familiar with how you like to travel however I would suggest to reduce the days there a little and have some extra days on the ride up and back, particularly in areas of incredible scenery like the Seto Inland sea, Nagano region and perhaps also at Aomori as there is so much to see around those parts.
      Riding mid year (or any time in Japan) you will encounter some wet days so when building your routes always keep that in mind and have some short days to get laundry done or to be able to wait out or detour around rain.
      You need to book the ferries in advance to and from Hokkaido, don’t leave it until day before, they do fill in peak ride season.
      If you have any questions just ask me, I hope things here improve regarding the virus and your ride will be a success.

      • Peter Grubisic

        Warren! Thank a ton. I will check it out now. Great info, but as you said about the ferries, maybe they aren’t so busy this time? Did you book online? Cheer and thank you again!!!

        It’s gonna be fun!

        • Hi Peter,

          I booked online. In current situation it is hard to predict what things will be like then. If the restrictions are lifted then I expect it will be busier than other years since nobody can travel on Golden week this year. However if things get worse and there is major spread of the virus in Japan then you might expect personal travel will be further restricted and won’t be able to use the ferries. It’s anyone’s guess how this is going to pan out here at the moment.

  27. Hello Warren,

    Yes, I understand. Best to check first. I was looking for your “Best rides in Japan” But I can’t seem to find it. Do you have a link? Cheers!!

    P.s. Any “special” places to visit??

    • Hi Peter,

      The map of best roads is in this post/article towards the top. Also it can be found under the menu item called Toolbox, sub menu item, Best Motorcycle Roads.

      You will see the map is colour coded and the map legend says which is my favourite roads, but that is more to do with nice surveying. As far as special places I like the Amakusa region in Kyushu and area around the Seto Inland Sea, particularly the islands with beautiful viewpoints.

      It was my intention to revisit those places after Golden week, you can view my routes for that ride and previous tours at Ride with GPS (https://ridewithgps.com/users/54514) but with the current state of emergency asking everyone to stay home most likely to be extended beyond May 6th it is looking doubtful (still I keep my ferry booking open for the moment in faint hope).

  28. Nice! thank you!! Do the colours mean anything or do they just differentiate the separate roads?

    Yes, corona. I will be camping around hehe

    Thanks a million.


    • Yes if you click to view the map full size then you will see the map legend explaining the map better as well the full list of routes then is shown in side pane.

      The difference between the black, blue and green roads is hard to define to others since I made this map for my own reference and not designed for public. Basically black roads two lanes no issues, blue is also a good road but had something that made me mark it down a notch, often that will be because narrow one lane sections or just too much traffic, green is perhaps a road not always the best riding but scenic or one I was undecided on but worth making a note on my map. But it’s loose listing since just my opinion on the day.

  29. Hi Warren,
    Thanks, I checked it out. I have been so busy these last couple of days! I have been trying to search for bike insurance. Is there a website or anything to recommend???? This is my last obstacle!
    Thanks a million.

    • Hi Peter, there is a motorcycle shop called Apex Moto (link in this post where the rental shops are listed) that is also a insurance broker.

  30. Hello Warren,

    Just saw you cancelled your ride :(! Mine is going ahead! 🙂 I got insurance at Red Baron yesterday. I feel relieved 🙂
    I just thought of another question. Fixed speed cameras. Can they get us on a bike? Cheers


    • Hi Peter, yes the PM announced an extension of the existing travel restrictions on Friday so unless there is some last minute reversal my tour this year is cancelled.
      The fixed cameras are front facing only so no need to worry about those. Police do set up radar traps occasionally but so far it remains something I do not see often. If other cars are flashing their lights then slow down as something ahead.

  31. Hello Warren,
    I very recently found your blog and I am just out of words! Thank you soo much for such a detailing! 🙂
    I moved to Japan(Nagoya) 2 weeks ago and planning for a Motorcycle ride towards south of Japan (Kyoto, Tottori, Kagoshima, Shikoku(Iya valley) and back to Nagoya), for 8 days (Dec 27th 2020 to 3rd of Jan 21 ).
    I am wholly relying on your camping points (carrying my own tent), for accommodation, guess its going to be an adventure 😉
    Do you suggest anything to beware of, like the places/about the timing of ride ?

    I would like to know, if any permissions required before pitching the tent at these places or we can go ahead directly?
    Eager to hear suggestions or reply from you at the earliest.
    Take care and stay safe

    • Hi Manoj,

      Commercial camping sites will close over winter and many roads or forest places will be gated due to snow or ice. Additionally that map is number of years old so some of the places will no longer be available. If it was summer then I’d say you would have no problems finding other places in the mountains to camp but winter the mountain roads are closed.

      The season you are going will make it challenging. Even roads with medium elevation or that are in shadow all day if there has been rain are high risk of black ice. Tottori and west coast is snowing already I don’t think that is possible.

      I would suggest take the overnight Sunflower ferry from Osaka to Kyushu and ride just the coastal roads in the lower half of Kyushu where the temperatures will be slightly less cold. There is so much to see there easily my favourite part of Japan. Then return on same ferry.

  32. Hi Warren
    What a great blog with an abundance of information. My wife and I are moving to Japan in early 2021 and I will be bring my bike with me and can’t wait to get on the road for a tour. Cheers

  33. Hi Warren,

    Thank you for putting out such informative and crisp post, this is very helpful for anyone trying to understand the nuances of motorcycle touring in Japan ?
    Such a treasure trove of info, brilliant ✊

    Wish you more safe and fun rides, take care


  34. Thank you so much for your wealth of information, Warren! Very kind of you to take the time to share. I have seen you mention various times to avoid riding in Japan but I haven’t seen much on March. I will be riding 2 up with my wife in mid-March, 2023 and would like to know if you think that’s a bad idea. We plan to ride from Tokyo doing a South and West loop over 9 or 10 days. Thanks again!

    • Hi Eric, mid March will be very cold but I have completed some great tours at the end of Winter. High roads will be closed with snow but there is still plenty to see. You must avoid West and ride South. Focus on the Seto inland sea, the island roads and Kyushu. Have very good rider gear, some days will be wet so be prepared to change routes and hotels on the fly and have Goretex gear plus seriously good gloves, boots, neck gaiter etc. With the right gear, routing and mindset you could do a fantastic ride then. Ask me anything.

  35. Hi Warren,

    Thank you once again for this incredibly informative post. I’m just starting off riding, having just completed my 大型 license today, but I’ve already benefited from your map when I planned a day trip from Tokyo around Mt Fuji on a smaller cc bike. It was a wonderful experience, and I’m looking forward to many more.

    Despite the rain and heat this summer so far, I hope we get some good weather later this year. I’m looking to go on a longer tour through the Nagano area, as I’ve heard great things from you and others.


    • Hi Dan,

      Thanks for your kind words, glad this was of some assistance.
      Great news on your license, hope your riding goes well.
      I am missing riding and Japan.

  36. Thank you for being the pioneer of motorcycle travel in Japan and for sharing your experiences. I am riding in Japan right now, in September 2022, and finding that many of the persistent inconveniences you point out (cash only, no English language among travel industry staff) have thankfully been gone away or have been significantly improved.

    • Thanks for your feedback Nik, I have seen a ramp up in credit card facilities in recent years but then it can really vary in rural areas. Still handy to carry some cash for the odd occasion.

  37. Great read, informative, Google custom maps are so convenient, I’ll start by renting for a day or two but maybe I’ll come back here in spring for a full tour thanks to some of your insights. <3

  38. Great blog, thank you so much for this. Can I ask for more information and tips on touring with a pillion in Japan? Kudos!

    • Hi Byron,

      Feel free to ask me anything.

      If you are touring with a pillion and renting a bike from central Tokyo be aware the Tokyo expressway inner city portion bans two people on a motorcycle. This is a legacy from when two people on a motorcycle was banned country wide for expressways but it was lifted everywhere else.

      Apart from that normal planning would apply to ensure you have a good experience, ride in the less rainy seasons, reconsider riding in peak summer if not acclimatized to extreme humidity, avoid urbanized areas religiously when route planning, focus on the countryside – Kyushu and Shikoku are easily the best regions and would take a few tours to properly explore.

  39. Fantastic write up. Love how you are not a weeaboo!
    I just got back after a five week trip, no bike this time, and the casual racism was way higher than previously experienced in our six visits.
    Heading over for a week of riding in two months. Will see how it goes.

    • Hi Homer,

      Yes I am not a Japanophile haha. Japan is a spectacular country for motorcycling, high wealth has built amazing roads over rugged landscapes but I encountered regular racism during my years there and when I was diagnosed with cancer this year despite holding top health insurance and residency I ended up being denied treatment because I was a foreigner bringing an end to my time living there.

      In two months… it might be bit cold then? Chiba usually stays ice free, or as far south as you can get with very warm gear.

  40. hi Guys,

    were you able to book a scooter 125cc or a bigger size motor from EU before hand ?
    if yes could you please advise on which site ?

    Thanks in advance

    • Garius,

      I know readers of this blog who have booked in advance with Best Bike, Rental819 and Japan Bike Rental – you can start by looking at any of those.

  41. Hi Warren, what a great page. Such incredibly helpful information.
    I’m thinking of doing a short ride in Japan next year as part of a holiday, but would need to be with a group. Do you know any companies that offer small group rides?
    I’m happy travelling on my own but feel I would be less stressed if I had someone with me on a bike ride.
    PS. I hope you are cancer free!

    • Hi Helen,

      The only company I know of is Moto Tours Japan (mototoursjapan.com) I did see them advertising originally on social media what I thought was rides for Japanese and non Japanese but now they seem focused on domestic customers only.
      I would still try them and see if they can help you as nobody else is really doing tours there.
      Occasional I see a poorly thought out tour offered by a company with no experience in Japan at stupidly expensive price and think I should run tours there myself but I’ve no reason to take on the work at my stage in life.

      I am cancer free thanks and started back on my bucket list of riding the world 🙂

  42. Outstanding article (haven’t read it all yet).
    Appreciate the work put in. Just rode South America and pages like this really help. Vlogged the lot and whacked it on facebook. I’ll be doing the same with Japan.
    This is the bucket list last tick and
    Japan is my final destination.

    • Hi Brian, thanks 🙂

      I’m starting to plan my rides for Central and South America which will bring me more or less to the end of my bucket list however I actually hope I keep adding to my list and there is always one more ride I am planning.

      • The Atacama in Chile and Andes crossing was mindblowing. Riding solo magnifies the experience yen fold. Just been on there looking at flights to Tokyo. Its looking good value. Looking like I’ll need to learn a bit of Japanese. 👍

        • Hi Brian

          You can get by with zero Japanese but two words really worth knowing are Sumimasen, which means sorry but is used in many situations. Also Arigato Gozaimasu which is thank you. Armed with those and Google translate on a phone you really can do just about anything in Japan.

          The Atacama is no.1 on my list (of rides I want to do in South America). Maybe 2024, I still have a few other places and am deliberately leaving South America to last due to the distance and expensive airfares from Australia.

  43. Wonderful site! I am thinkikng of returning to Japan for 2 weeks at the end of March. And maybe rent a bike for the full two weeks or only 1 week. Would that be too early in the season to ride up north, Ibaraki, Fukushima, etc?
    What would be a good route if you have 1 vs 2 weeks starting from Tokyo during those days? Riding at a very leisurely pace (perhaps with my father).

    • Hi Victor,

      Alas March is too early to ride Japan. North will be all snowed in. I’ve tried south in March, it can be done, you need seriously warm rider gear as the temps can be 1-2 degrees. However I would advise against it. The landscape is still in dull winter grey. Many scenic roads will be closed. Mountain roads are mostly closed or not advisable. Even lower level roads can have black ice.

      May really is the earliest time to ride Japan. Happy to help you plan a route if you are riding there another time.

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