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Follow the Blue Line: Five Must-Ride National Cycling Routes in Japan

If there’s the 100 famous mountains for hikers, this is the list that cyclists need to ride at least once in Japan.

By 4 min read

After learning how to choose your bike and exploring your local neighborhood, you’ll soon find that almost anywhere is within biking distance in Japan. With bike lanes aplenty, it’s no surprise that recreational biking is soon becoming a popular hobby among different age groups.

In the quest to promote cycling tourism within the country, the Japanese government has designated national cycling routes that allow cyclists to explore more of Japan’s countryside. Here’s our roundup of cycling routes that have earned the “blue-lined” national route distinction:

Thinking of conquering them all? We’re here to help point you where to start pedaling!

1. Shimanami-kaido

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The most challenging part of this route is the ascent up the bridges.

If there’s a route that every cyclist in Japan must do at least once, this is definitely at the top of the list.  Shimanami-kaido is a 70 km route that starts from Onomichi station in Hiroshima Prefecture and ends at Imabari station in Ehime Prefecture.

To finish the course, you’ll traverse six islands and bridges offering picturesque views of the Seto Inland Sea. Save for the bridge crossings, the course is relatively flat making this course doable for cyclists of all levels.

Points of interest

Senkoji Temple and Cat alley in Onomichi. Innoshima-ohashi Memorial Park and Mount Shirotaki in Innoshima. Kosanji Temple and the Hill of Hope in Ikuchijima and Kirosan Observatory are some of the things that can be visited as a side trip.

Difficulty: Beginner friendly for the basic course, Intermediate level for a one-day blitz ride or a round trip ride to the starting course

Distance: 70 km

2. Biwa-ichi

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Go the distance around Japan’s largest lake.

The first to be recognized as a National Cycling Route, Biwa-ichi is a 200 km lakeside route that goes around Japan’s largest lake: Lake Biwa. The full loop hits the sweet spot of distance and difficulty for long-distance cyclists while rewarding the lake’s scenic views and surrounding cities.

Cyclists can cover the full lake route for 200 km or focus on the north basin (150 km) or the south basin (50km) crossing at Biwako Ohashi Bridge which bisects the lake.

Points of interest

At the north basin route, views of the Chikibushima island along with blooming sakura (cherry blossom) provide a tranquil backdrop while pedaling away. Castles and temples such as Hikone Castle, Ishiyama-dera, Shirahige Shrine, Nagama castle and more line the route.

Difficulty: Intermediate to experienced cyclists may find the full lake loop of 200 km challenging over a multi-day trip.  For those with limited time, the south-basin loop (50 km) is doable for beginners aiming for a one-day ride

Distance: 50 km for the south basin loop, 150 km for the north basin loop and 200 km for the whole lakeside route

3. Ring-Ring Road

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An ideal spring outdoor activity.

This cycling road allows the rider to marvel at the towering height of Mount Tsukuba and the vastness of the second-largest lake in Japan: Kasumigaura. If you decide to ride this route during spring, you will be treated to rows and rows of sakura trees blooming along the way.

Located in Ibaraki Prefecture, this cycling route can be tackled in different ways: from a straight 80 km route that stretches from JR Iwase Station to JR Itako Station, to a full course option that traverses the full length of the lake at about 180 km.

Points of interest

The mountain-side stage of the route features Mount Tsukuba and seasonal blooms. The lakeside stage of the route allows you to see the Ushiku Daibutsu on clear days.

Difficulty: Relatively flat and manageable for experienced cyclists, Difficulty increases depending on route distance and wind.

Distance: From 40 km to 180 km for the full mountain and lakeside route.

4. Pacific Cycling Road

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For the true adventure seeker.

The Pacific Cycling Road is a route that spans six prefectures: Wakayama, Mie, Aichi, Shizuoka, Kanagawa and Chiba. Totaling around 1,400 km you will experience coast upon coast of hilly roads between major cities and fishing villages, all while passing through scenic views like the Meoto-Iwa and Mount Fuji. It also requires you to make several ferry transfers between prefectures from Mie to Aichi and Kanagawa to Chiba.

The cycling route can be done from Wakayama Prefecture or Chiba Prefecture. This multi-day ride is highly recommended for advanced long-distance riders.

Points of interest

Shirahama beach, rock formations in Sandanbeki and Taiji town. Aside from that, there’s an abundance of capes, beaches, lighthouses and aquariums along the route.

Difficulty: For advanced long-distance riders.

Distance: 1,400 km

5. Toyama Bay Cycling Route

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Cycle around one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Bays”.

Among the cycling routes within the list, the Toyama Bay Cycling route is the “newest” in promotion and establishment. This 102 km route lets you enjoy sweeping views of Toyama Bay, considered one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Bays”.

Toyama has also made it convenient for cyclists to enjoy the ride by providing several cycle stations, cafes and restaurants with dedicated bicycle racks for parking, rental pumps and restrooms.

Points of interest

Kaiwomaru and Ao Castle Ruins.

Difficulty: Beginner-friendly due to ease of access and the relatively flat course.

Distance: 102 km

Which of these routes have you tried? Let us know in the comments below!

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