Japan Family Bike Adventure

Tailored for Families. Enjoyed by All.

Trip Basics

Season:
March ~ November
Duration:
4 ~ 6 Days
Estimate:
¥160,000 ~ ¥280,000
People:
2 ~ 8 ppl
Region:
Shinshu/Nagano
Difficulty:
Relax & Ride

Overview

Our family-focused itineraries are by far the most popular.

Perfect for families, small groups of close friends, or anyone likely to have a variety of interests and physical abilities, we work to make the trip fit seamlessly within the rest of your itinerary in Japan, focusing on:

  • Flexibility
  • Cultural Activities
  • Diverse range of fitness levels

Our personalized, private, and customizable approach ensures that everyone's interests and needs are taken into account. This makes the family itinerary also an ideal option for friends, couples, and individuals who want to join others in taking a break from the Golden Route to explore the Japanese countryside in a unique and active way, without worrying about keeping up with everyone else.

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An average day can include 2 to 5 hours of riding or walking through a variety of terrain and scenery—from farm hamlets and rolling hills to rice paddies, highland plateaus, river valleys, and mountain roads. Wherever possible, rides are on mild hills or downhill paved terrain.

In addition to the day's ride, there are opportunities to experience first-hand traditional Japanese country life. Activities include making soba (buckwheat noodles), pounding mochi rice, planting or harvesting rice by hand, a scavenger hunt designed to promote immersion and interaction with the locals, and, of course, soaking in an onsen hot spring.

A Sample Itinerary

The Japan Family Bike trip itinerary is customizable, based on:

  • Participants' Ages
  • Desired Activity Level
  • Travel Schedule
  • Seasonal Highlights
  • Festivals and Special Events

Below is an example of a typical 5-Day trip, detailed routes, distances, and highlights.

Your trip may not follow this exactly and will be tailored to your family's specific needs and some unforeseen opportunities.


Day 1 Panoramic Views & Making Soba Noodles

20 ~ 40 km ( 3 ~ 6 hrs)

  • Visit Takahashi Museum of Doll Art
  • Tranquil Iiyama Temples
  • Discover Iiyama Butsudan Road
  • Make Your Own Soba Noodles
  • Panoramic Mountainside Hotspring
  • Scenic Easy or Moderate Route

Today is a relaxed day with flexible bike options and plenty of room for exploration. The main goal is to get familiar with the area, the bikes, and your guide.

We meet at Iiyama Stataion - just two hours from Tokyo - were you will be fitted with bicycles, helmets and any other optional gear such as rain gear or gps. Luggage will be loaded into the van, and after a brief examination of the map to get your bearings and the lay of the land, it's time to begin exploring.

The ride starts rather level ground through the town, and will soon grow slightly more hilly as we enter the small hamlets dotted amongst the rice fields.... read more ›› 


Day 2: Snow Monkeys, Washi & Onsen Town

40 ~ 50 km ( 4 ~5 hr)

  • Visit Nagano's Famous Snow Monkeys
  • Ride Deeper into Rural Areas
  • Make Japanese Washi PaperKamisuki-ya
  • Explore Nozawa Onsen VillageAbout Nozawa
  • Kaiseki Dinner at 200 Year-Old Inn Minshuku Ikesho

The hamlet is beautiful in the rising with the sun, whether you are into photography or just want to breathe the fresh country air. Or, you can sleep in until breakfast is served. There is nothing fancy about the breakfast, but it is healthy and will keep you filled up for the riding ahead.

When everyone is ready, we will begin the official ride of the day. The first leg is a short, but beautiful downhill cruise toward the Monkey Park reserve in Jigokudani (Hell Valley), followed by an unfortunate but necessary uphill ride through Shibu Onsen town and up a mountain surrounded by Japanese cedar forests, and a short hike to the hot spring frequented by a wild troupe of the famous Snow Monkeys. ... read more ›› 


Day 3: A Taste of Japanese Lifestyle

20~ 45 km ( 4~5 hrs)

  • Relaxed Riding on Car Free Roads
  • Optional Off-road Mountain Biking
  • Explore a Japanese Supermarket
  • Japanese Style BBQ at Farm Inn

Enjoy a slow, relaxed morning before departing on what many people consider one of the most beautiful sections of the route. This journey takes you through forested roads, past a beautiful mountain lake, and downhill to a typical supermarket in semi-rural areas. Here, you will have a chance to not only see what the average Japanese consumer has in their shopping carts, but also someone there to explain what all the food is and, to the best of our ability, how one might go about preparing it.

Your supermarket adventure ends with a shopping spree where you are given a list (in Japanese) of grocery needs for the night's Japanese-style BBQ dinner ... read more ›› 


Day 4: Mountain Hamlet Loop to Final Onsen

20 ~ 40 km ( 2 ~ 4 hr)

  • Scenic Easy or Moderate Route
  • Farm Life Experience
  • Explore Small Farm Hamlets
  • Soak in a Hot Spring Bath
  • Transport to Train Station and Farewell

You may awake to the bustle of our host in the kitchen preparing an extravagant, yet deceptively simple breakfast. It is fine to resist the urge to help out and simply roll back over in your futon for another hour of sleep, or you may want to take a morning stroll to take in the fresh air and mountain view from the nearby ski slope.

Depending on the season and the mood, breakfast is around a traditional fire pit or in the foyer bathed in soft morning sunlight. If it's cold, the wood stove may be lit, and even in the summer months, the mornings are deceptively chilly.

After breakfast, we will make onigiri rice balls... read more ›› 


Day 4 (5 Day Option): Remote Mountain Challenge

30 ~ 45 km ( 5 ~ 6 hr)

  • Overnight Stay at a Quiet Mountain Inn
  • Ride Deeper into Rural Areas
  • Bear Meat Ramen
  • WIld Hotspring In River

Today we will travel deep into the remote Akiyamago valley, nestled between the towering Mount Naeba and Torikabuto Mountain and ranked among Japan's 100 hidden wonders and steeped in history.

The residents of the valley are believed to be descendants of Heike clan samurai who, in the 1180s, found themselves on the losing side of the Genpei War and sought refuge in the remoteness of the valley. Here, they exchanged their swords for the toils of mountain agriculture, cultivating a unique lifestyle in one of Japan's most challenging landscapes.

First, though, breakfast at the farm inn.... read more ›› 


Day 5 (5 Day Option): Back To Civilization

40 km ( 3 ~ 5 hr)

  • 40 km Long Scenic Downhill Cruise
  • Tsunan Folk Museum
  • Final Soak in Luxury Hot Spring
  • Last Minute Stop at Local Gift Shop
  • Transport to Train Station and Farewell

Today we will travel deep into the remote Akiyamago valley, nestled between the towering Mount Naeba and Torikabuto Mountain and ranked among Japan's 100 hidden wonders and steeped in history.

The residents of the valley are believed to be descendants of Heike clan samurai who, in the 1180s, found themselves on the losing side of the Genpei War and sought refuge in the remoteness of the valley. Here, they exchanged their swords for the toils of mountain agriculture, cultivating a unique lifestyle in one of Japan's most challenging landscapes.

First, though, breakfast at the farm inn.... read more ›› 

Possible Highlights

One Life Japan offers a variety of non-riding activities to insight into the history, culture, nature and modern day life in rural Japan. * Please note that some activities are only available seasonally and may depend on the kindness and availability of local volunteers.

Making soba noodles by hand under the guidance of a knowledgeable soba teacher in Japan is one of the highlights of eveyone's trip.

Soba, a popular Japanese dish of simple buckwheat flour and water, is a staple of the Japanese diet, evident in the ubiquity of soba shops across the country, from humble street-side stalls to high-end restaurants. Each region boasts its own variation, reflecting local flavors and traditions and it is a particularly important part of culinary heritage of the mountainous regions where the climate was less conducive to rice.

A local soba master will guide you through the process, begining with the almost ceremonial preparation of the buckwheat dough, the delicate art of mixing, kneading, rolling the dough into a perfect, thin sheet and the precise cutting into perfectly sized noodles are skills that require patience and a steady hand.

The experience is not just about learning a culinary technique - it's an immersion into a centuries-old tradition, offering a deeper understanding and appreciation Japanese cuisine.

One reason Japan is ranked #1 in the world for bicycle touring and other active adventures is not because of abundant hills to climb, rather it is due to abundant hot-springs to soak in afterwards.

Hot-springs are a staple of our trips, from with remote mountain-top baths with incredible views, small towns built around the hot-springs centuries ago where multiple baths are all within a short walk from the inn, to modern full spas with saunas and various baths.

On most trips you will have the opportunity to try several different baths, each with its own unique characteristics - some for curing various ailments, and some just for relaxing. You will visit indoor, outdoor, hot, less-hot, modern, and rustic old-style bath houses.

All baths are separated according to gender, and your we will be on hand to explain the bath-house etiquette.

A traditional ryokan experience is a must for anyone visiting Japan.

Ever Japanese style inn we use is chosen for it special "charming point" - the food, atmosphere, warmth of the inn-keeper, the architecture, the hot-spring, or a combination of all of these.

Traditional futon on a straw tatami floor

You will notice that there are no beds in your room. While you enjoy dinner, the inn-keeper prepares your futon on the floor for what may well be the most comfortable sleep of your time in Japan. Some inns also provide soba husk pillows - a comfort that, after experiencing it, many visitors o2021ess over finding a pillow to take home with them from Japan.

Relax with Green Tea and Sweets

Upon arrival it is customary to remove your shoes before being shown to your room with the unmistakable aroma of straw tatami floor. In the middle of the room is usually a low table with complementary green tea and traditional Japanese sweets,usually a local seasonal delicacy, to enjoy while you rest and unwind from your long journey.

Change into A Cotton Yukata Robe

The most welcome moment after a long ride is getting out of your sweaty riding clothes and into a cool loose-fitting cotton yukata robe. The inn-keeper will explain the proper way to wear it, and you are encouraged to enjoy it for the remainder of your stay at the inn - including at dinner, to the bath, and even outside for an evening stroll.

Relax in the Onsen Bath

After tea and a short rest, it is time to enjoy a soak in the hot-spring baths. Some ryokan have their own in-house shared public bath (gender-separate), others are located within a short walk to local baths. The inn will provide a small towel and toiletries if needed which you can carry with you to the bath. Your guide will be on hand to instruct you on the proper bath etiquette.

Traditional Kaiseki Dinner

Exquisite, elaborate, intricate meals are the soul of the ryokan experience. Even Japanese travellers come from all over Japan to dine on the most authentic regional cuisine that is unavailable or unknown in their own region.

Established in 1964 when villagers sought a solution to the problem of a few monkeys coming down from the mountains to enjoy the natural public hot springs in town, this park and study center has become a beloved destination for visitors. The park is now home to a non-captive troupe of Japanese macaques, commonly known as snow monkeys, who return to the forest each night. Despite being wild, their familiarity with humans allows visitors to walk among them and observe their unique social habits and playful antics.

These snow monkeys have adapted remarkably to the cold climate, often seen soaking in the warm waters of the hot springs, a behavior not typically observed in other monkey species. This unique interaction with their environment, coupled with the stunning winter scenery, makes it a photographer's paradise. The park is not just a place for observation but also for learning about the monkeys' behavior and ecology, making it a must-visit attraction and one of the most popular in Japan. Be sure to have your camera ready to capture these extraordinary moments!

While many Japanese supermarkets resemble modern supermarkets in the West to some degree, there are plenty of small differences and quirks possibly unique to Japan. This supermarket adventure will give you an opportunity to explore as a real shopper as we shop for our night's dinner.

We will use a shopping list, with Japanese pronunciation with which you will have to ask one of the attendants if you can night find the item yourself, and of course you will be free to challenge yourself with any strange food that you might never have thought you would be brave enough to eat.

The kids usually love the candy and snack isle, where they can load up for their rest of the time in Japan, as well as bring unique gifts back to their friends.

Fans of Japanese cooking at home can find a larger variety of miso, soy sauce, etc to take home for your own kitchen.

Beer lovers will be invited to try a blind beer taste test at dinner with brews that I will choose from the many colorful cans and bottles. We can also try some plum wine and or sake, chu-hi, or any other Japanese beverages.

Finally you can spy on the other shoppers' baskets to see what typical shoppers buy for their families. It is very different than the high-class food courts you will find in the department stores in large cities.

Check out some of the articles others have written about Japanese supermarkets in the links to the right for a primer.

Nestled between the towering Mount Naeba and Torikabuto Mountain in Japan's snow country, the Akiyamago Valley is a secluded gem ranked among Japan's 100 hidden wonders. This valley, rich in history, is believed to be inhabited by descendants of the Heike clan samurai who sought refuge here following their defeat in the Genpei War during the 1180s.

These samurai transformed from warriors to farmers, adapting to the steep terrain and heavy snowfall of one of Japan’s most challenging regions. The valley remains so remote that even today, it can be completely isolated for months due to heavy snow closing the only access road.

Japan's traditional nomadic Matagi bear hunters found a natural fit in this culture of self-sufficiency and isolation. Over centuries, they married locals and settled in the valley. Though no longer nomadic, bear hunting traditions persist, with bear meat still considered a delicacy. The matagi's songs and traditions live on through elders' stories and in the local museum.

Akiyamago Valley offers ample attractions to be a standalone destination. Visitors can hike Mt. Naeba, bike along the Nakatsu River, gather wild vegetables and mushrooms, fish, and soak in wild hot springs bubbling up from the riverbed. In winter, they can make traditional snowshoes and explore the valley’s unique foods and culture.

Staying in local family-run minshuku (Japanese-style bed and breakfasts), some of which have been passed down through centuries, provides an intimate experience of Japanese hospitality and rural life amidst stunning natural scenery.

Famous for bears and bear hunting, the valley is also home to indigenous monkeys and the elusive kamoshika (Japanese serow), a goat-antelope native to the Japanese Alps and an official national treasure of Japan. The valley itself is a living museum, with remnants of hamlets lost to famine and traditional thatched-roof houses remaining as they were since the Edo period, when there was only a footpath into the valley.

Small shrines and the occasional temple are commonplace in most hamlets throughout Nagano. A leisurely walk through any village will reveal a variety of shrines and cemeteries, each with their unique settings and characteristics. These local shrines offer an intimate and authentic experience, contrasting with the more prominent, often crowded temples found in places like Kyoto.

The Shinshu region, including Iiyama, is known for its high concentration of small, scenic temples, often referred to as a mini-Kyoto. Additionally, Butsudan Street is famous throughout Japan for its beautiful gold-leaf altars, showcasing the region's rich cultural heritage.

In addition to these local gems, Nagano also boasts more famous sites such as the Zenkoji Temple, a pilgrimage destination for people from across Japan, and the Togakushi Shrine, nestled deep in the Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park. These renowned temples offer a glimpse into the area's spiritual significance.

Whether nestled in small hamlets, larger towns, or deep in the forest, each location offers a unique charm. From the intricate details of a modest shrine to the grandeur of a significant temple, you can immerse yourself in the spiritual and cultural essence of the region, ensuring ample time to walk, explore, and enjoy each site's unique atmosphere.

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With abundant rivers and coastline, fishing is a great way to wait for the sun - and your fellow riders - to rise. Inland rivers are great for catching small iwana trout, and coastal waters provide a variety species readily caught directly from the pier. The fishing is relaxed with the emphasis on family fun.

For a more involved, full or multi-day fishing experience, we can book a river guide deep in the remote mountain valleys, or charter a fishing boat in the Japan sea.

Difficulty

While completely customizable and flexible, the family trips are planned with all physical levels in mind.

We have had children who only learned to ride a bike a week before joining, multi-generation families, families where half the members are avid riders, and half not-so-much.

The base trip is planned to be ridable by most people, with the van available for those who just would rather relax than climb another hill, or time for optional extended rides for those who need more challenge.

Below are some charts that give an idea of typical rides. There will always be some hills, because it is Japan, but I guarantee the charts look scarier than the reality.

21 km | 195 m 195 m
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17 km | 511 m m
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13 km | 375 m 280 m
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26 km | 304 m 678 m
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13 km | 147 m 383 m
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30 km | 476 m 384 m
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30 km | 1115 m 749 m
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37 km | 288 m 1370 m
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Optional Additional Challenges

11 km | 309 m 203 m
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30 km | 430 m 610 m
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34 km | 671 m 850 m
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10 km | 400 m 310 m
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12 km | 110 m 660 m
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Price Estimates

  • These are general estimates.
  • Price estimates are per person.
  • Unless otherwise noted, trips are custom private trips. If you are open to having others join, we will try to fill more spaces.
  • The itineraries shown is a basic sample of what to expect. Each itinerary can be customized based on our discussions during the planning phase, inn availability, extra days, and transportation details, the pricing is subject to some fluctuation.

2 People

  • Quote: Please contact for a quote

3 People

  • Quote: Please contact for a quote

4 ~ 5 People

  • Quote: Please contact for a quote

6 People

  • Quote: Please contact for a quote

7+ People

  • Quote: Please contact for a quote

Dates & Availability

The Family Bike Adventure in Northern Nagano is available April ~ November. Because this region is part of Japan's unique Snow Country, bicycle riding in the winter months is generally not possible, but bicycle and walking trips in more hospitable regions can be arranged for the winter months. Just contact us to organize a place and time.

If you are in Japan for the winter months, it is almost a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity for a Family Winter Snow Country Adventure to experience the deep snow, hot baths, and culture that is distinct even in Japan.

The basic Nagano Family Itinerary is a variation of that outlined above, but will differ based on season, accommodation availability, and special festivals or events. Below is what you can expect for each season:

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec





April

It is not unusual to find snow on the ground in April, as some winters accumulate as much as 3 to 4 meters. The roads, however, will be clear, and while still a bit chilly, the temperatures are great for bike riding.

Along with the cherry blossoms in early to mid-April, the scene here is quite different from the bustling viewing parties in larger cities. Instead, farmers begin their spring preparations after the long winter. The blossoms set against the backdrop of remaining snow and plows tilling the fields offer a unique perspective of the season.

The first wild vegetables begin peeking out from under the fresh snowmelt, where they have been lying dormant, waiting for the light of day. Gathering wild vegetables with a local is a possibility, but savoring them in the seasonal meals is a guarantee.


May

In May, the trees begin to show their first vibrant green buds. Wild vegetable hunting continues, following the snow line as it moves further up the mountains. Some lesser-used mountain passes are still closed, waiting their turn for the village plows.

May is rice planting time, and as the month progresses, the paddies begin to fill. Most fields are planted by tractors, but it is not uncommon to see farmers filling in gaps by hand. With advanced notice, we can arrange an opportunity to get muddy and spend an afternoon planting a rice field by hand.


June

By June, most of the rice fields should be planted, and within a few weeks, the scenery changes dramatically as the rice shoots grow, filling the paddies with their vibrant green. Early June is often the time for the "tayasumi" (rest from the rice field) festivals in each hamlet, a chance for villagers to catch up before diving back into their busy spring schedules.

The temperatures are still very favorable for bike riding. A jacket may be required in the early morning and late evening, or on some of the higher altitude downhill cruises. The hiking season gets into full swing as the trails officially open, and Shinto mountain opening ceremonies are held to bless the mountains and everyone who works in them, from forestry workers to hunters to hikers.

While June is technically the beginning of the rainy season, it is still a great time to visit. Far from detracting from the experience, the rain brings out the vibrant colors and morning mists, providing for some excellent scenery. Normal rain gear will suffice, but in the event of an extraordinary downpour, the hot onsen will only be that much more appreciated.




July

July brings heat and humidity, but it also ushers in lush and beautiful landscapes. Despite the change in weather, July is still great for bike riding and hiking. Random downpours make the colors pop and create a picturesque veil of mist.


August

August is lazy. Ideally, we like to keep our bike riding to early morning and late afternoon when it is a bit cooler. Midday can be spent on less strenuous activities where possible.

August is also the time for festivals and fireworks. In this region, each hamlet has its own festival, usually featuring drums, flutes, and the colorful shishi lions dance. Larger firework festivals are also common.

Depending on the time of your visit, we may have the chance to join one or more of these local festivals, which are usually very intimate with few outside visitors, except for family members who have returned from the city.

Hiking and rides to higher altitudes offer a slight respite from the heat, as does a dip in the river, taking a break from a long challenging hill, or a white water raft ride.

Summer is also when fresh vegetables are at their most abundant. Fresh tomatoes, watermelon, strawberries, and some of the best corn you will ever have are all abundant in August.




September

Summer stretches into September, and while it can still be hot, there is a noticeable difference from August. The weather is not the only thing changing, as the rice fields begin to mature and turn gold.

The autumn colors may begin changing in the higher areas in late September. While the areas we ride our bikes will still be green, the slowly descending autumn colors create a dramatic backdrop, blending from orange into green and then the golden rice terraces. The summer heat gives way to more moderate temperatures.

Harvesting rice and soba is a key activity during this month.


October

Arguably one of the best times to visit, October offers clear and cool weather. Unlike spring, the mountain trails and roads are free of snow, making hiking and long mountain pass rides accessible.

The autumn colors descend further down the mountain into the valley, reaching the village. The shrines and temples are especially beautiful this time of year.

October is also a great time for enjoying apples and mushrooms.


November

November is the time to savor apples, fresh rice, mushrooms, and persimmons.




December ~ February

Northern Nagano will be covered in meters of snow.

For those who want to experience this unique snow region, we offer Winter Snow Country Experiences. These focus on easy snowshoe walks with traditional Japanese snowshoes, long soaks in hot springs, and plenty of snow play for children (and adults).

The area is well-known for its top-notch ski resorts, and One Life Japan can offer a break from the slopes to experience more of the local culture.

The famous Snow Monkeys are very popular, and many group tours are available to see them. One Life Japan will take you, but we prefer to make that just one part of the day, focusing more on lesser-visited attractions like making soba and visiting local sites.

A highlight of mid-January is the local New Year’s celebration. The Nozawa Fire Festival is famous and spectacular, but many people do not know about the many local dondoyaki festivals happening throughout the countryside on a much smaller, more intimate scale.

Bicycle and walking trips in other regions of Japan are also available upon request.