Cycling Tours in Japan
Take a Ride in Tokyo
Cycling through the city was much easier than I initially thought it would be. The guide did a very good job leading us through backstreets and side streets to avoid traffic on the main roads.
We didn’t go too fast nor too slow; most importantly, he guide allowed us to move at our desired pace.
The rules for bicycles are not so different from the United States. Bicycles are considered vehicles, so cyclists are encouraged to ride on the roads and only use sidewalks in specific circumstances. When there are designated bicycle paths, those should be used.
Children under 13 and adults 70 and over, or physically disabled people are allowed to ride on the sidewalk. On sidewalks, pedestrians have the priority and cyclist must be prepared to dismount bicycle, if necessary. On the road, cyclist must stay on the left side.
For all cyclist rules, click here.
The very first stop of the tour is the grave of Hachi and his owner. For those who do not know the story, Hachi is a very famous story in Japan about the loyalty of man’s best friend.
There is a statue of Hachi at Shibuya Station and it was also made into a movie, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, starring Richard Gere.
At first it was odd to think a cemetery was on a tour of Tokyo, but the beauty of the cemetery made it worth seeing.
The owner’s grave was a traditional Japanese style grave and for Hachi there was a miniature dog house with a toy dog next to it.
The roads going through the cemetery are lined with cherry blossom trees and makes it a very nice ride.
One of the highlights of the trip was going to the Shinto Shrine. It was one of the few stops where we got off the bikes and walked around to explore.
I learned a lot about the culture, such as the purpose of the guard lion dogs, or koma-ina, that stand at the entrance of every shrine.
If you have visited a shrine, you have probably seen these guarding the entrance. Komainu or lion dogs, are the bouncers of the shrine.
An interesting fact I learned about the komainu is that one has its mouth open to represent the sound of “a”, and the other has its mouth closed to represent “um”.
Together they represent the sacred “Aum” or “Om” sound. These guard dogs guard the shrine from evil spirits.
When using public equipment I usually expect it to have some damage, whether it is from wear or just misuse but the city bikes were much better than I expected. They were in good shape, they were motor supported which was very helpful throughout the tour, making it easy to navigate hills without expending too much energy.
In order to use the bikes you must register online and you receive a code to unlock a bicycle. There is a sign with directions on how to register. This code allows you to lock your bike at any time during your trip and use the code to unlock the bike. There is also a basket to carry any extra baggage you have.
Some issues I found were the tires were a little flat, so hitting bumps or potholes were very uncomfortable. Also the brakes were worn down, so being aware of your speed is important, especially when going downhill. I had to make sure I didn’t go too fast in case I needed to stop quickly to avoid a car or stop at a light.
I also learned the proper way to prayer at a shinto shrine. First, you cleanse yourself before going to pray. To cleanse oneself, you take a scoop of water and wash your left hand, then your right hand. Next, you cup some water and rinse your lips. Lastly, you hold the scoop vertically to cleanse the handle.
To pray, you first call the god/spirit by ringing the bell in front of the shrine. Then, you make a small donation, bow twice, clap twice, say your prayer, and finish with one final bow.
My omikuji, or fortune read:
“Beginning or renewing things is favored; even if you suffer somewhat, someone will be there to help you. Pray to the Divine, be modest, and if you are steadfast, fat will be good to you and you shall have good fortune.”
Yoyogi Park has a long history dating back to the World Wars. A peaceful and beautiful part of Tokyo, the park was once host to facilities for members of the US military and dependents. Where housing, schools, churches and shops were is now a public park where people can relax and enjoy nature. With bicycle paths throughout the park and a bike rental shop, it’s an ideal area for a leisurely bicycle ride.
Cherry blossom trees are planted throughout the park and as winter gives way to spring, crowds of people sit under the trees to “hanami” – the Japanese tradition of viewing the pink sakura blossoms. They bring blankets, food, drinks, and music to enjoy their day out.
Even though I am not an enthusiastic cyclist and haven’t rode a bicycle in about five years, the JCTA cycling tour was very fun and showed me a different side to Tokyo.
While everyone will take away something different from the tour, I most enjoyed the Shinto shrine and riding through Yoyogi Park. In particular, the shrine gave me a chance to learn something about the history of Japan and broadened my cultural perspective. Yoyogi Park was a pleasant and relaxing experience, cruising along the bike path through all of the cherry blossoms.
The bicycles were in good condition and having the motor assist makes it a much more enjoyable ride. There was very few hills or steep climbs making it ideal for the whole family and each stop brought something different to the tour.
If you’re looking for pop culture, history, culture, religion, or beauty, this tour provides a taste of everything!