Family Bike Adventure in Japan (4 days / 3 nights)


This is a bike adventure is great for anyone, but built especially with families needs in mind. Flexible distances with optional extensions allow both children and their parents an opportunity to challenge themselves, while still having time to take in the beauty of rural Japan.

Participants will have an opportunity to see and learn about traditional country life in Japan through participation - to have fun while getting a first-hand taste of the history and culture that are all but lost in modern metropolitan cities of Japan. Our trips are designed with educational aspects as well.

Days include riding and walking over a variety of terrain - from rolling hills, highland plateaus, river valleys, and mountain roads (usually downhill), and an average day's ride can be anywhere from 2 to 5 hours, depending on the family. When not riding, resting, or eating, there are plenty of other activities to keep occupied with - from going on a wild-edibles, or bug hunt in the spring, to helping weed the rice paddy (or catch frogs in most cases) in the summer. Below is a list of just some of the possible highlights and activities, and the sample itinerary puts it into perspective.

While this is a family trip, and we make every effort to let gravity do most of the work, it is still a mountainous area. Occasionally, there will be some hills to ride or walk up. We know that anyone (even children) with an average level of fitness, and that is willing to push themselves just a bit can make it. The support van is always on hand, but we like to encourage a little challenge.

Description & Highlights

These are just a few of the highlights of our family trips. Some of them are only seasonally available, and some rely heavily on the kindness and schedule of our fellow villagers who lead busy lives of their own. If there is something from this list that your family is particularly excited about, please let us know in advance, and we will do our best to provide it.

  • Make Soba, Mochi, Oyaki, or other traditional Japanese foods with a local expert.
  • Work up a sweat helping a local farmer in the field.
  • Joining ojichan and obachan (elderly folks) for tea and a chat (we will translate).
  • Walk forest trails with a local guide, learning about plants and their traditional uses.
  • Creating haiku poems or painting traditional etegami painted postcards.
  • Watercolor, sketch, photography, or nature-craft outings.
  • Helping to survey and map local wildlife and vegetation.
  • Off-road, down-hill mountain bike riding - a safe and thrilling ride with thrilling views.
  • Tracking wild rabbits, fox, or even bear. If your lucky, you may even see one, and if you are even luckier, you will come back alive!
  • Fish for trout and iwana in one of the many shallow rivers flowing through the area.
  • Gather bamboo and other materials from the forest needed to make Japanese kanjiki snowshoes.
  • Making traditional Japanese washi paper and rice straw handicrafts.
  • A visit to a local grade school for games and international exchange.
  • Learn how to make sushi from a master sushi chef.
  • Helping to clear brush and rebuild mountain trails once used by locals who made their living in the nearby forests.
  • Build a shelter, fire, and cook a meal using only a knife and what can be found in the surrounding forest
  • Soak in a small hot-spring village in Japan's Snow Country - choose from 13 hot springs, or visit them all.
  • A night in a 200+ year old farm house turned family inn, with a traditional dinner prepared by a local chef who recently returned home from his work in a five-star Tokyo restaurant.
  • Picking wild edibles with the locals - a tradition in this area that, less then one-hundred years ago - meant life or death for the inhabitants of this small village.
  • Seeing the famous "Snow Monkeys" of Japan - the northern most living primates that do not wear clothing!
  • A visit to the last geta maker in Nagano (wooden sandal craftsman). Hear his story, watch him at work and have any of your questions answered.
  • Hot Spring baths every night - ranging from those only visited by the locals, to baths famous around Japan - but so remote that they receive very few visiors.
  • Get muddy as you plant rice the old fashioned way - by hand. You will also get a comprehensive explanation about the ins and outs of rice farming in Japan.
  • Spend the entire four days catching frogs in the rice fields. (Kidding, of course, but on past trips it seems that the children would have been content to do just that!)
  • Challenge yourself or each other with the orienteering course we have developed for the village.
  • Try bear meat, wild pig, and other game from a local hunter, following the centuries old traditions of the matagi (roaming hunters of Japan)
  • Visit local museums depicting the hardships faced by early settlers of this remote, snow-bound region.
  • Take a guided tour of the supermarket and 100 Yen Shop where our facilitator and professional chef points out interesting foods and explains how they are used and their history.
  • Sit under a tree by the rive and read a book or take a nap while we wear the kids out elsewhere.

Sample Itinerary

Below is a sample itinerary that is subject to change depending on the needs and interests of the family, as well as One Life opportunities that may arise.

Day 1

Distance: Between 20 - 30 km, mostly downhill.

Activities: Meet in Obuse, a small town near Nagano city. We will take your family to the nearby Yudanaka to see the famous snow monkeys, hoping that the tribe doesn't (or does?) decide to adopt your child. After a quick safety talk and introduction to the bikes we helmet up for a cool downhill cruise into Iyama city, with a stop for a picnic lunch on the sumo ring of an out-of the way temple.

Iyama is known as the "Kyoto of Nagano", for its many (much less crowded) temples. If your are all templed out by this point in your vacation, and not afraid of heights, we'll try to convince the Japan Olympic ski-jump coach to give us an insiders look at the ski-jump training facility - from the top of the jump stand...

Before it gets too late, everyone piles into the van to head for Nozawa Onsen hot-spring village. Anyone who is looking for more riding has the option to join me for another 12km of up-hill riding - just to make the bath that much more appreciated. You will spend the night in a 200 year-old traditional farmhouse-made-inn. This family run inn boasts a chef (the owner's son) who is a refugee from big city life and five-star restaurants in Tokyo. The village itself is home to eleven hot-spring baths - all within walking distance. While most people make it their goal to visit all eleven, our personal record is four in one night.

Day 2

Distance: About 30 km on downhill and level terrain.

Activities: After a morning bath, try your hand at making paper. The paper in this area is famous in this area because of the unique climate and some of the cleanest water in Japan. The afternoon will be filled with a ride along the banks of the Chikuma-gawa - Japan's longest river. You will arrive in Sakae Village with plenty of time to relax or explore on your own, followed by a bath in the most local of local hot-springs, hardly even known to those outside the village. If we're lucky the town's sushi-chef will have the afternoon free to teach everyone the real way to make and eat sushi. And just in case you're worried, we get to eat the professional sushi he makes too.

Accommodation will be at a local's home, the only ryokan in the village, or an amazing refurbished farm house on the mountain-side that you all to yourselves. Only the most adventurous will be considered for the privileged of our favorite accommodations - a sleeping bag and a candle in the nearby shrine.

Dinner will be at the local trucker's dive (comfort food, and much better than it sounds), or a home made dinner of local, seasonal, traditional Japanese fare that your family helps to prepare. The hot-spring bath can be before or after, but we recommend before, if only because after the beer and sake tasting we offer - giving you a chance to sip all those different cans you see on the shelves - some people just don't make it to the bath.

Day 3

Distance: Between 10 - 40 km on hilly terrain or downhill on a mountain road.

Activities: After a breakfast made from locally grown vegetables and cheese from the local dairy, gear up for a facilitated afternoon ride through the village that holds the record for the deepest snow in Japan's recorded history - one of the snowiest inhabited regions in the world. Learn about life in the countryside and the challenges they have been facing as Japan moved from isolation in the Edo period, to the current globalized ecomony.

Other than sleeping in, options for the day include getting a lift to the top of a nearby mountain (dad has to ride up with me), where we can take a short ridge-line hike with spectacular views all around, or just skip the hike and get right to the downhill ride on an un-paved logging road - wide enough to be safe, but rocky enough to give a thrill every now and then.

If downhill is not your thing, challenge yourself with our orienteering course which not only tests your navigational skills, but also your observational skills as finding the next clue requires you to answer a question about the area. We have designed it to be both fun and learningful, with ample opportunity to break through the language barrier and interact with locals along the way - even if it is with sign-language.

What ever you choose to do this day, you will be back in time for an amazing home-cooked dinner of bear-meat stew, grilled deer or wild boar. Not your thing? Don't worry, there will also be plenty of "regular" exotic Japanese dishes as well.

Day 4

Distance:About 10-30 km hilly with support van.

Activities: Ride through fields and rice-paddies. Taste water from one of the official "100 cleanest springs in Japan". Visit a museum that shows how people used to live in this area before snow-plows and gore-tex. Take a guided tour of the supermarket and 100 ($1) yen shop, where you can pick up great gifts for everyone you know at home and they will never know how little you paid!!!

Whatever you do, you will probably not want to leave, but there is always a last bus. We will make sure that you get on safely, and have all your connections in order to arrive at your next location in time to relax.

Day 5

Are you still here??

No problem! We can certainly find something for you to do. If you are interested in trip longer than four days, just let us know. If you are interested in doing more riding, let us know. If you are interested in more relax time, let us know. Whatever you are interested in, just let us know.

Pricing &Whats Included

Price per person:

Adults: ...........................140,000 JPY
Children: .........................100,000 JPY


Bikes, gear, snacks, accommodation, 3 breakfasts, 3 dinners, most 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 participants itineraries. We will send a detailed travel plan once we know where you are coming from, and going to after leaving us.

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.