Gear up for a mountain bike adventure in Japan
Mountain bikes are rugged machines designed to withstand wild mountain trails with steep turns, craggy rocks and jutting roots. Hop on one for a fun adventure around untrodden paths to get in touch with nature.
Since Japan is filled with mountainous regions, mountain biking has been gaining traction among fans. You’ll find courses around the country designed for riders of all levels, from children to experienced cyclists.
Mountain biking requires the use of a variety of techniques to conquer challenging terrains. The exhilaration of riding downhill and the joys of picking up new techniques are unbeatable, but be prepared for a wild ride!
Most mountain bike parks and tours in Japan offer bike and helmet rentals. Some places also provide children’s bikes and e-bikes for inexperienced riders, but note that these may be limited in number, so it’s best to book in advance.
You can also check in your own bike on the plane as long as it doesn’t exceed the designated size and weight restrictions. Size limits may vary depending on the size of the aircraft, so be sure to check with your airline in advance.
Use protective cases and cushioning materials to prevent damage to your bike. It’s also a good idea to deflate your tires to prevent punctures when the air pressure rises in the cabin, and remove pedals and sharp parts so that there’s no damage from movements and vibrations.
In Japan, bicycles can be carried on board the bullet trains, local trains, and buses. In most cases, the entire bicycle must be covered, so bring a bike bag with you.
Hakuba is located in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture, home to the soaring northern Japan Alps. Hakuba Village sits at the foot of the Hakuba mountain range, crowned by the 2,932-m Mount Shirouma, and is packed with accommodation and hot springs. The area is a popular ski resort, hiking area, and summer retreat.
The Hakuba Iwatake MTB Park used to host one of the largest mountain bike events in Japan. Now, with new courses and equipment such as e-bikes, the park has become a spot suitable for riders of all levels and ages. There’s a gondola that takes you to the top of the mountain, and from there, you can ride down to the bottom via a course geared to your level.
The most popular course for experienced riders is the 3,672-m long Kamikaze Downhill Course, which takes you from the 1,272 m summit to an elevation drop of 521 m. Novices can try the Alps Downhill Course (6,900 m), which zigzags down the mountain at a more leisurely pace and gives you time to enjoy the spectacular views. Families can go on the cross-country course or the mountaintop tour course that circles the summit of Mount Iwatake.
The facility is open from late April to mid-November. It takes about 4 hours to get there by car from Tokyo. Alternatively, you can take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano Station (80 mins), then take an hour-long bus ride to Hakuba.
Niseko in Hokkaido is known for its magnificent natural landscapes. The area is dotted with ski resorts and lodging, and surrounded by mountains like the towering Mount Yotei, which has a striking resemblance to Mount Fuji. You can enjoy a plethora of recreational activities both in winter and summer, when the weather is mild.
Niseko Grand HIRAFU offers a dedicated mountain bike course that utilizes the slopes of the ski resort. There are two courses: the Downhill Course (about 3,000 m long) for advanced and intermediate riders and the Flow Trail (about 2,500 m long) for beginners.
For the Downhill Course, mountain bikers load up their bikes and ride the summer gondola to the starting point, from where they zoom down an exhilarating trail with a drop of about 475 m. Schooling and electric mountain bike rentals are also available, so you can combine biking with other summer activities.
Niseko is a 130-minute drive from New Chitose Airport, or can be reached by bus or JR train lines.
Niseko Grand HIRAFU Mountain Bike Course
※Closed for the 2021 season.
The Fujimi Panorama Resort is a highland area located in Nagano, at the foot of Mount Nyukasa. It offers beautiful views of Mount Fuji and Mount Yatsugatake.
This bustling ski resort transforms into a paradise for mountain bikers in the summer. The course has a maximum length of about 8 km and an altitude difference of 730 m. “Even three days of biking here will leave you wanting more” is the spot’s main concept.
Take a gondola to the 1,780-m summit to kick of your MTB adventure. There are a total of 15 downhill courses: Four for advanced skiers, five for intermediate skiers, and six for beginners. Although the beginners’ courses have wide trails, be sure to exercise caution since they include off-road paths with slopes. The intermediate and advanced courses have jumps, drop-offs, and other intense portions, so solid control is a must. You can learn the basics at the skill improvement course near the foot of the mountain—it has seven practice trails. There’s also a school for beginner to intermediate riders, and a store selling items carefully curated by professional riders.
The restaurant and cafe serve locally-made soba noodles, Shinshu beef, and rhubarb ice cream. They’re open from late April to November.
Fujimi Panorama Resort can be accessed via Fujimi Station on the JR Chuo Line, 135 minutes away from Tokyo. The resort is 10 minutes from the station by shuttle bus.
The slopes of Japan’s highest mountain, Mount Fuji, are covered with forests and lakes, and serve as a great setting for outdoor sports. Fujiten Resort in the Lake Kawaguchi area has a full-blown mountain bike course, and nearby, you’ll find many hot springs, restaurants, and lodging facilities.
It has a total of eight unique mountain bike courses designed by professional MTB freeriders, including the Grasshopper (1,100 m), a safe course that allows you to ride freely on grassy ski slopes with unobstructed views, the Little Whistler, a course with a series of big jumps for advanced riders, and the Skill Park, where you can practice tabletops, drop offs, and pump tracks. The facility is open from May to November.
There’s also a trekking course for visitors. The observation deck near the center of the trail offers spectacular views of Mount Fuji. After you work up an appetite, treat yourself to ramen or a barbecued meal at the restaurant.
It’s 90 minutes from Tokyo by car. Alternatively, take a train or highway bus to the nearest station, Kawaguchiko Station (two hours from Tokyo) and then take a 20-minute cab ride to Fujiten Resort.
The Minakami area is known for its heavy snowfall in winter, but from spring to autumn, it shines with lush and vibrant colors. It’s the perfect natural setting to enjoy an array of outdoor activities.
MTB JAPAN Adventure Tours offers mountain bike tours to Urami Falls, Mount Mitsumine, and other attractions around Minakami. This mostly off-road mountain biking adventure lets you bolt through forests and enjoy thrills that you won’t find in an artificial biking park. Soak in views of verdant greens or colorful autumn foliage as you dodge tree roots and bumpy rocks.
The route is selected by the guide team according to the weather conditions of the day and the experience level of the participants. Tours range from half-day to two days, and there’s a team led by a professional rider from New Zealand—they offer tours in English and beginners are welcome.
The area is also a treasure-trove of mineral-rich hot springs. Take a relaxing soak after an exhilarating day of hiking.
To get to the tour base, take the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo to Jomo Kogen Station (60 minutes). From there, it’s a 20-minute bus ride to the nearest station, JR Minakami Station.
To enjoy mountain biking in between your sightseeing itinerary in Tokyo, head to Smile Bike Park, the only mountain bike park in the city. It’s located in Inagi City in the west part of Tokyo. While the area around the station is rather urbanized, the park itself is heavily forested.
There is a slalom course on the slopes of the Tama Hills and a pump track where you practice how to apply weight. It has two full-scale cross-country trails that are designed with few rocks and tree roots so that you won’t trip easily.
The place is also great for beginners and families since you can rent electric bikes and kids’ bikes. Advanced riders can attempt tabletop jumps or try the “Super Advanced Course.” Cornering and jumping lessons are available for seasoned riders looking to improve their skills. The facility is open all year but note that reservations are required for renting bikes and private lessons.
To get there, take the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku to Shinyurigaoka Station (30 minutes). Then you’ll need to take a bus and walk for about 20 minutes.
If pedaling is not your cup of tea, hop on a rickshaw to explore popular tourist destinations. These traditional two-wheelers are pulled by drivers and come with chairs, offering a leisurely way to move around historic townscapes.
Rickshaws have a long history, and the modern ones are designed for a smooth journey. Combine it with a kimono rental for some memorable photographs.
If you want to take a rickshaw ride in Tokyo, head to the old district of Asakusa. There are plenty of them parked near the station, but you can also choose to book your ride in advance. Some tour companies offer rickshaw rides with English-speaking guides who can introduce you to the local history and noteworthy spots.
The Asukusa area combines the old and the new—it’s famous for Sensoji Temple, Kaminarimon Gate, and traditional shops. You can choose to take your rickshaw to the nearby Kappabashi shopping street where you’ll find top-class knives and other kitchen utensils or the towering TOKYO SKYTREE.