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Aspects of bicycle touring in Japan By Bill Macher
Bicycle Touring and Camping In Japan?
First of all, please read Roger Grigsby's introduction to bicycle touring in Japan. Much good advice here about bicycle touring in general, and camping in particular. Highly recommended!
The greatest thing about bicycle touring in Japan for me personally is not having to worry about where the day will end, while at the same time enjoying the uncertainty of not knowing where I will end up. This uncertainty adds a bit of adventure to the daily routine...and when experienced day after day adds a bit of excitement to the trip. A bit of mystery perhaps. Knowing that you will be able to find somewhere good to camp in the evening may be second only to the anticipation of an onsen/sento (public bath/hot spring) visit at the end of the day!
I only plan my trips in general terms and often change my route on a daily basis at a whim, ending up where the wind may blow me at the end of a day. It is quite reassuring knowing that I will likely find a place with water and other facilities wherever I may finish the day. Knowing that in the worst case you can likely pitch you tent in the unlikeliest of places (and not be hassled by anyone) is added insurance for us nervous types. Be discrete, and there will be no problems, guaranteed.
As Roger explains, keep a low profile as much as possible. What I like to do is arrive in a town, and cruise around searching out a park that looks right. This may be a small park with a secluded corner, or a large park with an out of the way spot. Or it may be a medium sized park...where I pitch my tent right in the middle under a tree. All depends on one's gut feeling as to what is best at each location.
Keeping a low profile leads to not pitching your tent until dusk. [The picture to the left was taken the morning after, as I was breaking camp. I had hung some staff in the morning sun while I was taking my tent down...] It is OK to hang out in the park, using the facilities, but rather than flaunt one's presence (even though as a foreigner you will stand out like a sore thumb) wait until the kids have gone home and then pitch your tent. Naturally, it is NOT acceptable to build a fire, and do not make a lot of noise. There are frequently homes close by and never forget, you are a guest. If you consider the needs of others, they will treat you well, which means mainly you will be ignored to enjoy the use of the park, its water and the toilet facilities which are almost always there (in 21 nights of camping in parks in 96, only one park had no water/toilet available).
In the morning I try to break camp early...but occasionally do lounge around in the tent, especially if it is raining. As I began to appreciate the beauty and convenience of the camping in the parks experience, towards the end of the trip I would spend some time cleaning up trash in the park as a way of saying thanks for the use of the park. Not a lot of time, maybe just 10 or 15 minutes picking up the big pieces. Especially in the area where I spent the night. I certainly did not want my local "hosts" to feel that I littered there! Unfortunately, littering in Japan is still excessive, at least from my perspective.
The local parks are a haven for the bicycle tourist and almost every small town will have one or more. Having a free place to stay can help offset the rather high cost of other things in Japan, like food and beer! I have camped in a small park just next to the ferry terminal on Sado island...under a bridge after riding for several days in wall-to-wall rain (The ONLY dry spot I could find. It was wonderful!!)... So don't be put off by a fear of an expensive visit. It may cost more to fuel your engine, but a bicycle tour in Japan need not be a terribly expensive proposition. No rail or bus fares, no lodging costs...hummmm, sounds better all the time!
In addition to parks there are beaches, river banks, road side rest stops and other reasonable opportunities for free camping. So don't be afraid to take the plunge and enjoy a bicycle tour in Japan if you are so inclined.
uploaded:08, 11, 2005
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