It’s already been three weeks since we’ve returned from our first one-week bikepacking trip to Tottori and Shimane prefectures, collectively known as “San’In“. This region calls upon tourists to “discover another Japan” and we think rightly so, as our trip started with walking on sand dunes, cycling up a cliffside path to see crystal clear water dotted with tiny islands, wandring through immaculate farmlands and ending our adventure by staying on a tiny island in the middle of on a lake.
I thought about it for a while, how I would like to structure my blog article about our cycling trip, and decided that I’ll write about our cycle each day to provide insights to those interested in cycling the San’In route.
On this map, you can see all the places we stopped at or stayed overnight. We followed almost the whole San’In cycling route to which we found this comprehensive pdf which helped us a lot to plan out our trip! In the bike maps planning stages, we chose destinations to stay the night that were less than 50km apart, as side trips easily add up and we wanted to have time throughout the day to take in the local sights. Looking back, this was the right decision! We stayed for two nights in Tottori City and in Matsue, while in all other places we only stayed for one night, which meant packing up our belongings and carrying our bike bags with us almost daily. And of course we checked the weather forecast and decided to go to San’In as sunshine was predicted for the whole week.
Preparing for our bike trip in terms of equipment, we went to a trusted bikeshop (where I bought my Trek crossbike) and made sure we have all the necessary equipment, from bike bags to cycling clothes, proper lights, tools etc. These preparations took us a few weeks and probably deserve a separate article for those who are interested in bikepacking! I should also note here that we didn’t camp, but stayed in hotels and therefore didn’t have to bring camping equipment with us which made our bags a lot lighter.
Day 1: Travelling with our bikes on the train from Yokohama to Tottori City, then cycling to Iwami (15.4km) for a Japanese guesthouse stay
Taking bikes on the train in Japan is a real endeaveour, as you are limited to JR (Japan Rail) trains and have to store your bike in a so-called “rinko” bike bag after taking the front wheel off. To test out different models, I got the cheapest bike bag from Montbell which is more like a bike cover, and he got a more sturdy, expensive one from another brand, which is excellent, but to fit a big mountainbike in, you also have to remove the saddle and peddle. We practised this procedure a few weekends in advance of our trip and even after having mastered all the steps, it still takes us about 20 minutes to pack up our bikes in these bags. We really hope that Japanese railway companies will change these regulations in the future, so that it will be easier and safer to take your bikes on the train. Just imagine carrying your whole bike on a shoulder strap in addition to bikepacking bags etc.
Just as we were about to leave our house to set off to Shin-Yokohama on our bikes, it started pouring it down and we had to stop at the nearest JR train station to take a local train from there. Luckily, Shin-Yokohama (where the shinkansen trains depart) is not too far from where we live! Arrived, bought two tickets to Tottori City (so expensive – just close your eyes and pay!), told the ticket salesman that we need seats with large luggage space and boarded the train to Himeiji. It was a delightful 3 hour train ride with not many passengers on board, our bikes safely stored behind us and two delicious bento boxes in hand. In Himeiji, we had to change onto a JR “super-express” train and even though we had booked seats with luggage storage, there was no way our bikes could have fitted into the vintage train’s little storage cabinet. I felt nervous about what to do, but the ticket inspector was easy going and helped us to tie our bikes in their bags to the luggage rails in an empty compartment with a vending machine. Phew! And just like that, we were onboard one of our most scenic train rides in Japan yet, making our way through misty cloud lined valleys, farmlands and cherry tree lined train stations.
After a total journey of about 6 hours, we made it to Tottori City, expertly re-assmbled our bikes outside the station with a 7-11 cafe latte in hand while the sun was setting on the horizon. I was a little nervous about our 15-km bike ride in the dark to the Japanese guesthouse that we had booked for the night, as I didn’t know how well the paths would be maintained, if it was well-lit etc. However, it turned out to be a spectacular bike ride up and down a few hills, past the sand dunes (which we could smell, but not yet see), the full moon and the stars guided us and most of the way was paved with special bike lanes and not much traffic.
We arrived at beautiful traditional (yet modernised) Japanese house with two friendly owners, who awaited us with a small dinner, travel tipps and a warm welcome. This house turned out to be the best place we stayed in throughout our whole trip!
Day 2: Iwami to Higashihama, Tottori Sand Dunes and Museum and Tottori City (38.3 km, 354 m elevation gain)
The next morning, the guesthouse owners made us a huge breakfast, gave us parting gifts and advised us to follow the coastal route for stunning views up to Higashihama, which is the official starting point of the San’In Cycling route. They were right, the views onto the crystal clear water and cliff edges were out of this world and nothing like anywhere else in Japan. People everywhere were friendly, waving at us and wishing us well.
It was already early afternoon when we arrived by the Tottori Sand Dunes, which we found interesting but overly touristy, and the nearby Sand Museum with hand sculptured landscapes from sand artists all over the world. The museum was stunning and we glad we didn’t skip it! With all the hills we climbed, it was an exhausting day and we were glad when we finally arrived at the Super Hotel by the station. They let us park our bikes in a small backstreet staff parking area and that day I learned that on a bike trip it’s nicer to stay away from city centers and train stations and rather stay somewhere quiet with lots of space.
I can’t wait to tell you more about our bike trip! Next up: Tottori castle ruins and the most beautiful cherry blossom spots we’ve ever seen, pitstop on a flower island on a lake, Hawai onsen, Detective Conan town and more.