3 Day Kusatsu Mountain Challenge


The best way to beat the heat of Japan in July, is the sweat it out! This challenging bike trip includes plenty of hills (and sweating), a 2,000 meter crossing of volcano, and possible off-road/dirt-road riding that require shoulder the bikes and proceed on foot. Average daily riding is 80km, with a total of more than 1,700 meters altitude gain throughout the three days. Rest assured, it also includes 1,800 meters of total vertical drop as well, and there is always a hot bath and cold beer waiting where it is most important.

This is a challenging ride for anyone with an average level of fitness that is willing to push themselves. On-road altitude gain of up to 800m over 50km, and off-road downhill ride which may require some walking over terrain impassible even by bike will give you a greater sense of accomplishment than if you just stay home and spend your three-day weekend surfing the web.

The route starts just outside of the Kanto Plain's urban sprawl, passing through country villages, Kusatsu onsen village, over one of the "famous one-hundred mountains of Japan", and into the remote Akiyamago Valley, in Nagano. Accommodation for this 3 days / 2 night trip includes a family inn in Kusatsu, and a bear hunter's lodge or preserved thatch roofed house in Akiyamago. Hot-springs are abundant, including one that requires digging into the riverbed - and featured in the recent movie Silk because of its remoteness. Nightly hot-spring baths and hearty meals (bear-meat stew anyone?) will make you all-but-forget your saddle-sore butt.


Kusatsu is famous for its natural hot-springs. Mt. Shirane is famous for its beauty. The Akiyamago Vally is famous for its remoteness and unique culture that has survived a century of modernization. This trip will include:

  • A night in the famous (and highest in altitude) Kusatsu natural hot-spring village. Enjoy one or more of the many sulfurous baths, and catch the traditional Yu-odori dance.
  • Two nights in quaint family run Minshuku inns, complete with cotton yukata robe and heavenly futon. One inn is owned and run by one of the few remaining traditional bear hunters in the area who is always eager to share the folklore and songs of his youth.
  • Gorgeous views from atop one of Japan's one-hundred celebrated mountains. Take a short hike to view inside the crater of this active volcanoe.
  • Exhilarating downhill cruises through deserted mountain roads with amazing views.
  • Elaborate dinners based on local foods and traditions, including bear meat, wild boar, or other game, and satisfying mountain-top picnics with a view.
  • Ride through what has been rated among the most beautiful farming villages in Japan and hear just exactly how all that rice is grown in Japan.
  • Visit local museums depicting the hardships faced by early settlers of this remote, snow-bound region.


The itinerary for this trip is tentative and may change due to weather or unexpected one life opportunities. Contact One Life Japan for the most recent detailed itinerary.

Day 1

Distance: 40 - 60 km, mostly uphill.

Route: The tentative meet-up point is Takasaki, just on the outskirts of the urban sprawl emanating from Tokyo. We have a big day ahead of us, so after a brief orientation over a cup of coffee, we will waste no time gearing up and getting on the road. The ride starts off with a gentle climb for most of the day as we watch the city-scape melt into rural farm villages. The final push at the end of the will take us up 500 meters in just under ten kilometers. We will be tired, but everything will be forgotten as the mountains on either side open up into the tiny Hot Spring village of Kusatsu. Situated at 1,200 meters, even the infamous July heat of Tokyo will be a distant memory.

Day 2

Distance: 70 km 30% up / 70% down.

Route: Today is the real test. We will literally find ourselves standing on top of the "roof of Japan" at Mt. Shirane (2,000+ meters). Getting there will likely take most of the morning, but the last 50 km is a breeze. You may want to bring a swimsuit, and we'll bring the refreshments to be chilled in the frigid river where a natural hot spring can be dug by hand. After a break, we will saddle up again for our final coast down to an elaborate bear-meat dinner prepared by local hunters. Once all the sake runs out, we'll spend the night in comfy futons dreaming of the next day's downhill cruise back into civilization.

Day 3

Distance: 20+ km.

Route: You awake to the smell of fresh brewed coffee and an invitation to take an early morning walk through this isolated mountain village, said to be home to descendants of fallen samurai warriors and independent matagi hunters of old. Today, however, wake-up call is optional. Sleep in. You deserve it.

The day's ride is short, and downhill through some of the most amazing scenery Japan has to offer, with plenty of stops at museums attempting to answer the question "Just how did people survive in such a harsh environment?", traditional wood-workers, famous waterfalls, and even an optional tour of a Japanese supermarket and 100-yen shop - one of the great wonders of modern Japanese society.

We will be sad to see you go, but the bus will be waiting to take you back to Tokyo over an easier, more travelled path.

Pricing &Whats Included

Price per person:

The base price for this trip is 70,000 JPY for a participant registering alone. Gather friends for the group discounts listed below!

single: 80,000 JPY
group of two: 75,000 JPY
group of three: 70,000 JPY


Bikes, gear, snacks, accommodation, 2 breakfasts, 2 dinners, 2 lunches, entrance fees, guides, support van, maps, photos. (See below for details.)

Does not include transportation to and from start and end points. Find travel options and costs here.

  • Bikes:

    Our cross touring and mountain bikes are selected to make your trip the most comfortable and enjoyable possible. Our frames are sturdy, stable, and light-weight, fitted with ultra-comfortable seats, handle bars and grips. Pannier saddle bags allow you to easily carry warm clothing, water, snacks, and any souvenirs you pick-up along the way.
  • Meals:

    Dinners, breakfasts, and most lunches are included. Perhaps the most important part of any trip to Japan is the food. While the well-known sushi and sukiyaki are available, we seek out local, traditional meals that have developed in the region over the centuries defining and being defined by the local culture and history. Wherever possible we choose fresh, local, organic ingredients grown by farmers we know - you will even get to meet some of them. Lunches will either be at local restaurants or luxurious picnics with macrobiotic, traditional vegetarian and zen foods overlooking beautiful mountain valleys.
  • Accommodation:

    Accommodations range from 200 year-old family run minshuku inns, mountain-top huts, and opportunities to stay in a local's home. Every night offers a hot-spring bath, comfortable traditional cotton yukata robe, and a oh-so-heavenly futon on a traditional straw tatami floor. Our main interest in choosing accommodation is the friendliness and openness of the owners. While they may not all speak English, we will be there when needed to translate and facilitate communication.
  • Entrance Fees:

    Most museums, baths, festivals, and other entrance fees are covered so you are free to go anywhere and do anything your wanderlust takes you.
  • Facilitators &Communicators:

    You have the option of riding with bilingual facilitators that have studied the area and culture and are anxious to share as much as you want to hear, and probably a lot you didn't even know you wanted to hear. (Of course, we will shut-up if you ask nicely). Alternatively, you can strike out on your own with scheduled meeting points. Either way, we will be available every step of the journey, whether you are trying to communicate with your host for the night, the old man at the vegetable stand, or trying to find a certain color of kimono for that perfect souvenir. We can also provide printed translations of important museum exhibits and explanation of various foods and interesting cultural artifacts found along the way.
  • Support Vehicle:

    Not only do we carry your luggage and have elaborate picnic lunches waiting at the perfect lookout point, but we also carry people when needed. If you would rather spend more time at a museum or napping on a mountain top while the rest of the group rides on, our support vehicle will help you catch up. Want to walk instead of ride? The support vehicle will take your bike to the next meeting point. Had enough up-hills for the day? Our support vehicle will carry you to the top leaving you to enjoy the cruise down.
  • Maps:

    Reading a map in Japanese can be a daunting task. We try to make it a little easier by adding some English where it makes sense, as well as important landmarks and points of interest. We even give you a pen to keep notes on the map of the one of a kind encounters and experiences you have along the way.
  • Photographer:

    Photos of you, your fellow adventurers, and the people you meet on your journey, edited and collected into one CD with optional large-size prints of the really good shots.

Getting There &Away

Transportation Options

Transportation to the start point is fastest by Shinkansen bullet train. Transportation from the end point to Tokyo and other destinations is available via JR trains, and a slightly faster bus/bullet train combo. Start time and location may vary slightly to accommodate all participants travel options. We will send a detailed itinerary once everything has been finalized.

OLJ Programs & Tours

OLJ Tour Basics

We believe in A Better Way

One Life Japan's goal is to promote the recognition and exploration of possibility - the possibility within ourselves and within society to create a better life.

Possibility is born with an awareness and understanding of the whole process of life - its vast expanse with all its subtleties, with its extraordinary beauty, its sorrows, its joys, and its challenges. This understanding is the first step to cultivating the capacity to think freely without culturally learned fears and formulas, to begin to answer for oneself what is real, and what is true.

We make use of the uniqueness, contrasts, and beauty of Japan's culture, nature, and history to introduce a holistic view, promoting an awareness of complexity, ecology, culture, and self.