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WHAT’S NEW

SPECIAL REPORT: 
COVID-19 AND CYCLING IN JAPAN

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MORE FOREIGN RESIDENTS TO BE LET BACK INTO THE COUNTRY

The Japan Times reports today that more foreign residents will be allowed to return to Japan. Those permitted to return will be expanded to include “expatriate workers and educators.” A PCR test will be required to re-enter the country. We’ll have more information later in the week after the formal announcement is made.

Obviously this does not affect tourist entry, but any movement on entry by foreigners is progress.


CORONAVIRUS TESTING CENTERS

Kyodo News and the Japan Times report that Japan will open coronavirus testing centers at the three main international airports (Narita, Haneda and Kansai), and in the cities of Tokyo and Osaka.

 

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The airport centers will test both international arrivals and departures, while the city centers will be exclusively for departing travelers. The aim is to increase PCR testing to more than 4,000 tests per day, and to use new methods to reduce testing times to a few hours  (test results currently take 1 to 2 days).

The Japan Times article also says:

“The government has yet to decide whether to use [the centers] for those in Japan who may require evidence they are virus-free to travel outside the country.”


Meanwhile, talks on opening up reciprocal travel arrangements with Taiwan and Brunei are set to begin soon, and arrangements with China and South Korea are said to be “under consideration.” The process would be the same as that for the initial four countries: first business people, then students and finally regular travelers (“tourists”), and each stage will take time. So even when they happen, these openings will be slow.


FOUR COUNTRIES

According to today’s Japan Times, Japan is “in talks” to allow in travelers from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam. Entry would be contingent on getting a PCR test and submitting an itinerary of specific places to be visited during the travelers’ stay. Apparently they’re planning to allow in business people first, followed by students and then later tourists. Visitors may be required to use a GPS smartphone app to facilitate contact tracing. More info as this situation develops.

UPDATE: A Bloomberg article (also carried by the Japan Times) on Thailand tourism reports that “Thailand’s first few travel-bubble pacts, with nations such as Japan and Australia, probably won’t be ready until at least August.”


NO CHANGE IN STRICT ENTRY BAN

Japan’s current immigration policy still denies entry to travelers coming from 111 countries. As we’ve noted before, Japan is also preventing re-entry by non-Japanese permanent residents who were out of the country before the ban took effect. We’ve been on the lookout for any change in that particular policy, since it might indicate a softening of entry restrictions in general.

Yesterday the Japan Times reported that the exceptions to the ban on non-Japanese resident re-entry have been clarified. The details are not encouraging. The ban remains in place, and only in very limited circumstances will it be waived on humanitarian grounds. Moreover, people who are in Japan now but need to go overseas will also be prevented from returning; the only exceptions are for things like visiting critically ill relatives or attending funerals, having medical treatment, or testifying in court.

Since there’s been no relaxation of even the policy on lawful permanent residents, it seems unlikely that ordinary tourists will be allowed in anytime soon. There has been some talk (or rumor) of the idea of establishing travel “bubbles” between Japan and places that have held the virus in check such as Hawaii and New Zealand. If that happens, we’ll let you know.


COVID-19 UPDATE

We’ve updated our COVID-19 Special Report here.


TWO NEW TOURING GUIDES

The July cycling magazines don’t have much in the way of route information. Bicycle Club reverts to form by offering a freebie item (paper-thin cycling cap), but much of the rest of the issue is devoted to “indoor cycling style.” And Cycle Sports has an interesting comparison of online map services (covering services such as STRAVA Routebuilder, Ride With GPS and Komoot as well as Google Maps) but there’s little touring information. However, both magazines have released new stand-alone touring guides that come at the perfect time for anyone looking to enjoy the great weather on a bicycle in newly unlockdown-ed Japan.


Bicycle Club’s guide is “Introduction to Solo Road Bike Touring.”

The subtitle says that it “provides the know-how for traveling solo, from bike-bagging to long rides and bicycle camping.” Some guides turn out to contain mostly bicycle model recommendations and cycle gear promotions. Thankfully, this one mainly stays laser-focused on the nuts and bolts of how to tour. Almost half of the book is occupied by detailed coverage of 10 specific routes throughout the country — six of which are given additional space for profiles individual riders showing how they traveled each route, with many wonderful photos and examples of the specific gear they took along. Also has a section on bicycle-camping. Lastly, it’s relatively moderately priced (¥1200).


The guide from Cycle Sports is something we’ve been eagerly anticipating for a long time. It’s part of the magazine's Jitensha-tabi (cycle journey) series which up to now has consisted of six volumes. However, this apparently marks the beginning of a new Jitensha-tabi series that focuses on one particular type of road: the Kyu-kaido or old historic roads.



The Kaido roads were built up through the Edo period to connect various parts of the country, often with the capital (Edo, now known as Tokyo). This guide focuses on the most famous of these: the Tokkaido, which linked Edo with Kyoto along the Pacific coast. (Yes, that’s right: finally a guide that shows a great way to cycle between Kyoto and Tokyo!) The route covers the nearly 500 km distance between the two cities on roads that parallel the busy National Route 1 highway, avoiding it as much as possible and joining it only when absolutely necessary. In addition to all of the detailed maps and information, the guide is also beautifully done, with page after page of lovely photos. And it’s also relatively inexpensive (¥1200). Best of all: as mentioned earlier, this is clearly the first in a series, so we can expect new issues covering the other famous Kaido in the future.


Both of these guides are available now in major bookstores throughout Japan. Here is the publishing information.


LOCKDOWN ENDED NATIONWIDE

As you’ve probably heard, the government has lifted the lockdown in all parts of the country (even in Tokyo and Hokkaido where daily cases are at or near the low double digits). This should make it easier (and more socially acceptable) for people to move around the country, including bicycle-tourists. So if you’re already here, you are presumably free to plan cycle trips, and inns and so on will be opening up again. However, the ban on people coming into the country is still in place (and even non-Japanese legal residents of Japan are still barred from returning). The government is reportedly studying the question of how to reopen the country to non-Japanese; stay tuned.


(The mood on the street is relieved but still wary; 100% of shop owners are still masked, and the vast, vast majority of people in downtown shopping areas and so on are wearing masks as well.)


An additional note: we’ll put this in the Update to our special COVID-19 report, but we have one important piece of advice for people planning to go cycle-touring in Japan: WEAR A MASK when near other people. This will accomplish two things: it will help to keep both you and others safe, and more importantly it will show people in rural communities that you understand the current situation and are taking the disease seriously. We can’t think of anything that will do more to ensure that your presence is accepted and welcomed in Japan.


KANSAI TO BE UNLOCKED

As reported late yesterday (May 20 JST), the government has decided to lift the (voluntary) lockdown advisory for the three Kansai prefectures (Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto). Details are now being worked out. The lockdown will remain in place for the Tokyo area prefectures (Kanagawa, Tokyo, Chiba) and Hokkaido. Note that this will not affect the international travel situation — at present, even lawful permanent residents of Japan are still not allowed back into the country! This situation was covered in the Japan Times and NHK reported on it last night as well, so that part may change — but it will probably be awhile before tourists are allowed in.


Incidentally, NHK last night presented a jaw-dropping statistic. Only 2,900 foreign tourists visited Japan in April — a 99.9 percent decline as compared to a year earlier.


THURSDAY

The news this morning reports that a decision on lifting the (voluntary) lockdown in the remaining 8 prefectures will be made on Thursday JST. (Note that this will not affect international travel, particularly arrivals; those restrictions will stay in place.)


If we were to make predictions, we’d say there’s a good chance that the lockdown will be lifted — even in the Tokyo area prefectures, cases were down to single digits yesterday. The case for opening up is particularly good in Kansai: yesterday in all of the Kansai prefectures only one new case (in Hyogo) was reported.


JAPAN PARTIALLY EASES LOCKDOWN

Japan has eased its (voluntary) lockdown in 39 of its 47 prefectures, keeping the lockdown in place in only the Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas (including surrounding prefectures) as well as Hokkaido, which has seen a resurgence of infections. The government says it will consider what to do about the lockdown in the remaining prefectures in one week.


Obviously this does not affect international travel, but it might make it easier (and more acceptable) to travel in most areas of the country for people who are already here, and for tourists once they are able to get in.


Stay tuned.


WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET?


Japan's major cycling magazines have switched personalities this month (June) in that it's not Bicycle Club but Cycle Sports  that offers the freebie: a very cool-looking wallet designed in cooperation with Italian bike manufacturer Cinelli. Absolutely FREE with your purchase of the ¥1,000 magazine. Get yours before they're all gone.




The other reason to get this issue is the lead article on "Your Second Trip to Shimanami" complete with truly impressive cover art.


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CORONAVIRUS SPECIAL REPORT

OK, obviously it wasn’t “in a day or so,” but CoronaTime is different, as we're all discovering together. But we finally have a report on what the COVID-19 crisis means for cycling in Japan. Access it here:


COVID-19 and Cycling in Japan (May 2020)



SPECIAL REPORT

In a day or so we will post a Special Report on the current coronavirus situation in Japan and how it is likely to affect cycling during the coming months. Please stand by.


WAKAYAMA 800

The May issue of Bicycle Club becomes the first Japanese cycling magazine in years to include a special supplement with touring routes. It’s only 16 pages long, but it features detailed coverage of four routes and makes reference to a total of 10, and includes a full-sized map of Wakayama Prefecture marked with cycling routes. Free with your purchase of the ¥1000 magazine; for those outside Japan, the Wakayama 800 site is here:  https://www.wakayama-kanko.or.jp/marutabi/cycling/

And here’s a site where you can get route maps for individual routes (click the MORE button for each route): https://wave.pref.wakayama.lg.jp/cycling/routemap-archive.php



HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Here’s our New Year’s Card for 2020 ― of course meant to evoke the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Best wishes to all for many rewarding cycling journeys in the new year.


NATIONAL CYCLE ROUTE LOGO

The relevant office in the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has graciously consented to let us post the very cool new official logo for National Cycle Routes in Japan, so here it is:

Here’s some information in English on the new National Cycle Route designation:

http://www.mlit.go.jp/road/bicycleuse/good-cycle-japan/national_cycle_route/english.html

A look at the “Mandatory Criteria” for the establishment of such routes will show what a major undertaking this is. Kudos to the Japanese government for supporting cycling and cyclists in this manner.





FIRST THREE NATIONAL

CYCLE ROUTES ANNOUNCED

Earlier this year, we reported on an ambitious plan by the Japanese government to establish national cycle routes in Japan, and noted that 59 routes were under consideration. Late in the year, the first three official National Cycle Routes were announced, and it should surprise exactly no one that Shimanami Kaido was selected to be one of the initial routes. The inclusion of the route circling Lake Biwa as one of the initial three routes is also not surprising. Only the third one was somewhat unexpected: the “Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road” (https://www.ringringroad.com/english/).

General information (in Japanese) on the three routes and general maps are here:

http://www.mlit.go.jp/report/press/content/001315541.pdf

Also in this document is the new official logo (selected from 273 entries). The standards for download and proper use are still being finalized; we’ll post the logo here as soon as we can legally do so.


WEIGHTY MATTERS

It’s already the New Year in cycling magazine-land in Japan, and the January issues are already out. As usual, Cycle Sports is a massive tome (their January issue always is), but there’s little of interest for touring cyclists — the lead article is “100 best product recommendations” by cycle shop staff, which has a lot of information but none of direct interest to people looking to go bike-touring. Meanwhile, Bicycle Club starts the new year by managing to find yet ANOTHER creative freebie giveaway — this time, a weight meter that looks identical to the ones people use for weighing luggage, designed to enable you to measure the weight of your bagged bicycle! (You attach the meter to the bikebag and then lift from the meter.) There’s also a nice article on the Sea of Okhotsk coast of northeastern Hokkaido, focusing on specific parts of that ride. The meter is free with your purchase of the ¥1000 magazine; available in bookstores for the next month.


YEAR-END CYCLE MAGS

The December cycling magazine issues are out, and the two major players end the year by doing the same sort of thing they’ve done all year: Bicycle Club finds yet another unique freebie to offer (this time it’s socks!), while Cycle Sports has yet another great article with 11 long-ride routes especially chosen for enjoying the late fall delicacies available in each area (Nikko, Hakone, Shiga Kogen and Koya-san among others). Includes some truly lovely photos; available in bookstores for the next month.


TRAY MAGNIFIQUE


Apologies to the French speakers for the pun, but surely one of the more unusual freebie gifts in a cycling magazine has to be the lovely Lezyne tray included with the November issue of Bicycle Club — designed to hold valuables or tools and components during maintenance. Long-distance cyclists will also be interested in the article on the “10 best bicycle routes” in the country  that showcases rides that will be very familiar to KANcycling readers: Lake Biwa, Kyushu’s Yamanami Highway, Hakuba to Matsumoto and, of course, Shimanami. Get your copy in the next two weeks before they’re gone.




BICYCLE CLUB JULY

This month it's Bicycle Club that wins the cycle-mag bang-for-buck competition, with yet another freebie: a tiny bag that is actually designed to store another small pouch until it’s needed (but of course you can just start using them separately right away). Both are designed in collaboration with major bikebag manufacturer Ostrich. The issue also features a detailed “rinko” guide on how to take your bicycle in a bag on trains and buses (with helpful “NG” graphics showing what NOT to do), and an article on a “triple climb” ride around Mt. Fuji. In stores now until June 25 or so.
    

CYCLE SPORTS JUNE

We’re a bit late in covering this, but the June issues of both major bicycle magazines include free goodies (a cycle cap for Cycle Sports and, unusually, a folding wallet with cycle logo for Bicycle Club). In terms of content, though, Cycle Sports is the hands down winner for its nearly 30 page title article “Let’s go on a trip by bicycle” that is a great general primer on traveling by bicycle. Tons of practical advice on a nuts and bolts level (for example, pointing out that although Fukuoka is the gateway to Kyushu, there are cheap LCC flights to Saga Airport as well, and showing the exact bike-packing contents for both lunchtime rides and extended camping trips). There should still be copies available at your local bookstore if you go in the next week or so.


NATIONAL CYCLE ROUTES

The other intriguing article in the Bicycle21 issue mentioned in the previous post is about an ambitious plan to establish National Cycle Routes throughout Japan. The article says that 59 routes are currently being studied for possible designation as National Cycle Routes. Apart from a brief mention on the cycle.travel website in 2015, when the idea was first announced, there seems to have been no information in English on this up to now, so you may be reading about it here for the first time. This article includes a map supposedly showing the location of these candidate routes — we’ve been unable to locate the map online, but the caption says it was provided by the task force studying this issue. Here’s a tiny screenshot to whet your appetite:

For a more detailed version, check out the magazine. Until the official routes are unveiled, this could be a new game for cyclists: try to figure out where the proposed routes go. (But that red circle right at Shimanami should surprise exactly no one.) We’ll provide more details as soon as we know more.


CYCLE THE PACIFIC

Apart from the disappointment of this year’s Long Ride / Hill Climb supplement (see previous post), the cycle magazines have some things of interest this month. Cycle Sports has several routes in Miyazaki. Bicycle Club’s freebie offering is a name card case (an essential item in Japan) with a bicycle sprocket drive chain on the front, which is novel. But the most interesting magazine on the stands is the February issue of Bicycle 21, a venerable magazine that has been published since 2003 (!), for not one but two intriguing articles, the second of which we’ll cover in a separate post. The first is a (frustratingly brief) article on the big news about the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, long-planned but not yet fully in place (and covered in KANcycling’s Shizuoka route). Apparently a committee was formed in November with the goal of having it completed, all the way from Chiba through Wakayama, by the time of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. Exciting, if it really happens. The issue also has information on a 110km route around Ishikari (near Sapporo) on Hokkaido.




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