Traveling with your bike in Japan is not that hard, you just have to remember three simple things: cleanliness, expediency, and patience.
There is no way a train conductor is going to let you and your filthy bike roll on to his train. You are not going to talk a freeway bus driver into taking the time to open and close his bus bay for you to slide your bike into, and while it is possible, it is odd and a bit trying to explain to everyone what you are trying to do if you don’t speak Japanese.
Here’s the basics:
1. You can put your bike on trains, but it must be taken apart and put in a RINKO bag. There is no other way to get your bike on a train.
2. JR would not let us put our bike underneath a freeway/long distance bus, bag or not.
3. We were able to slide our complete bicycles underneath a local (Kanazawa to Kyoto: two hours) bus, but this appeared to be a matter of both great humor and mild consternation to everyone around us. Just like trying this in New England on Peter Pan, totally at the discretion of the driver.
Here are the tips:
1. Take a photo of you and your bike so you can clearly point to it and while explaining you want to travel with it. This was so helpful once we finally thought of it.
2. Take a photo of you and your bike in a rinko bag so you can clearly point to it while buying your ticket..or make your pal stand outside the office and point to him and the bike!
3. If at all possible, you will want to buy the seat at the END of the train car (in the reserved section). Yes, the reserved tickets cost more, but when you are trying to rush on and off the train, knowing exactly where you will be is worth it, don’t you think? Plus, that’s where you need to store your bike: behind the last seat.
4. Our train to Narita had Green Cars (a.k.a first class) which looked like typical train and regular cars which looked like a subway. Again, if given the option and you’ve got the money, I thought it a wise use of yen to be in the Green Car, bikes stored out of the way, and not being jostled for the hour and half ride.
5. Have some handy wipes in your bag or save some of the packaged napkins you’ll get often for wiping your greasy paws off.
6. Rinko bags (at least the ones we bought) cost about $70 dollars and were actually very small and light, meaning you could easily add them onto your touring kit…the town we ended our tour in had no bicycle shops and no Rinko bags!
The best site about traveling with bikes in Japan and pretty much anything else to do with bicycle touring in Japan is Japan Cycling Navigator. In addition to showing you how to use a rinko bag, there are also ideas on how to make do with a tarp, which we couldn’t find the night we were going to try this!