Motorcycle Riding in Japan
Here's some assorted information on motorcycle use in Japan.
Getting a License
- If you have a motorcycle license in your home country and then come to Japan, you can probably ride for the first year on that plus an international driver's permit. After the first year, you can convert your home country's motorcycle license to a Japanese motorcycle license.
- If you have a driver's license (for cars) from your home country, you can use that for the first year before converting it to a Japanese driver's license. A Japanese license (for cars) also allows you to ride 50 cc scooters.
- If you want to ride motorcycles larger than 50 cc, you need a motorcycle license. There are various types, but the two most common are the chūgata (中型) and ōgata (大型), which are mid-size and large-size, respectively. The chūgata is good for bikes up to 400 cc, and the ōgata is good for any size. Probably 400 cc is enough for whatever you want to do ... roads in Japan are curvy and speed limits are low. If you've ridden in the past but don't yet have your license, you can try going to the driver's license center and taking the road test there. The reliable but more expensive option is to find a local driving school and pay them around ￥90,000 ($1,000) for an 18-hour training course, the last hour of which is the road test. Regardless of where you take the road test, the features are essentially the same. You have to navigate on a closed course with some curves, intersections, and railroad crossings. You have to ride slowly on a narrow stretch of slightly elevated track, and you have to ride quickly weaving through some cones. You also have to stop quickly from a fairly high speed. The test takes less than ten minutes. There is no specific Japanese language requirement, though it is helpful to know enough Japanese to understand the instructions of the people at the training school or test center.
- If you come to Japan with no driver's license at all, you need to do a paper test and a road test. This is quite expensive; it is probably much cheaper to get a driver's license in your home country.
Renting a Motorcycle
Motorcycle rentals in Japan are expensive but smooth. Expect to pay more to rent a small motorcycle than you would to rent a small car. Rental 819 is a national motorcycle rental service. Shops all over Japan are registered, and you can book your bike in English on the Rental 819 website. By law, a helmet is required to ride a motorcycle, and most rental shops will loan you one for a small fee. No other safety gear is legally required, and in my experience most shops don't have any of it for rent.
Famous Motorcycle Rides in Japan
The blog Motorcycle Paradise has a list they took from a Japanese motorcycle magazine of the top sixteen motorcycle roads in Japan. The same list can be found on GaijinRiders.com. Here's my abbreviated version.
- 13. Zaō Echoline. This ride is in southern Yamagata. See my 2013 trip report for maps and pictures. 38.1265, 140.4430. ☑
- 13. Mikata Goko Rainbow Line. This is a toll road in Fukui going around five lakes. The road is on a ridge, the lakes are on one side, and the Sea of Japan is on the other. 35.5997, 135.8764.
- 13. Tatsudomari Line. This is a highway in the NW corner of Aomori. There's not much in this part of Aomori except for beautiful nature and cold winters. 41.2112, 140.3778.
- 13. Hachimantai Aspite Line. This road is NW of Morioka and NE of Lake Tazawa connecting Akita to Iwate. 39.9408, 140.9374.
- 12. Chōkai Blue Line. I hit up this road a few days after riding the Zao Echoline. This road is on the border of Akita and Yamagata. See the trip report for more. 39.1183, 139.9754. ☑
- 11. Tsunoshima Big Bridge. This is a long bridge that connects mainland Honshu to Tsunoshima, an island. It's about as far west as you can go on Honshu. 34.3525, 130.8884.
- 10. Chirihama Nagisa Driveway. This is a short stretch of coastal highway in Ishikawa not far north of Kanazawa. 36.8511, 136.7551.
- 9. Aso Panorama Line. This is a mountain road in central Kyushu east of Kumamoto. Follow Route 111 up and down Aso-san. 32.8784, 131.0600.
- 7. Kōya Ryūjin Skyline. This road is in Wakayama. Start in Hashimoto and follow Route 371 south. 34.1010, 135.5490.
- 7. Shimanami-kaidō. This road crosses several bridges and islands. It connects Onomichi in Hiroshima (Honshū) to Imabari in Ehime (Shikoku). 34.2487, 133.0946.
- 6. Shiretoko Ōdan Road. This is a road in ENE Hokkaido. It's really far from anything. The named stretch is Route 334 going NW from Rausu over the pass and down to the ocean, but actually the entire area is pretty spectacular. It's a great place for hiking and camping. I drove this road (in a car) on a 2011 summer trip. 44.048, 145.118. ☑
- 5. Izu Skyline. Many riders say this is Japan's best motorcycle road, particularly in the fall when the leaves are changing color. It's on the Izu Peninsula SW of Tokyo. 35.0289, 139.0388.
- 4. Shiga Kusatsu Road. This mountain road connects Gunma to Nagano. Take Route 292 SE from Nakano City. 36.6420, 138.5294.
- 3. Yamanami Highway. This road starts from Aso in central Kyushu and heads NE. Follow Route 11. 33.0012, 131.1383.
- 2. Venus Line. This is a small mountain road east of Matsumoto in Nagano. 36.2044, 138.1421.
- 1. Bandai Azuma Skyline. Follow Route 70 west from Fukushima to some mountain lakes. 37.6643, 140.2158.