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Cycling The Kii Peninsula | Japan’s Pacific Coast Cycling Road Through Mie, Wakayama 800, and Nara
The Kii Peninsula, one of the most southerly points on the main island of Honshu in Japan, offers some of the best and worst of coastal cycling in Japan. While it would be easy to focus on the terrible parts of this route, the fact of the matter is the parts that were good, were very good. And the parts that were terrible could mostly have been avoided with some better routing than what is recommend by the blue arrows.
On one hand you have a mix of stunning coastal features, rocky cliffs, and even a few views across the Setouchi Inland Sea to Shikoku. With that, is contrasted long stretches of road full of endless streams of large tractor trailers, trucks, and busses. These vehicles are unfortunately sharing twisty shoulder-less roads with you leading to a familiar scene on the Pacific Coast of Japan. Once again a blue arrow does not a good bike route make, but in this case, it makes about 25% a great route, 50% an alright route, and 25% a downright dangerous route.
So with all of that prefaced, this article will be a summation, review, and recommendations for cycling the Kii Peninsula between Mie’s Ise City to Wakayama. For those interested in understanding if this route is right for them or who want to ride the best part and not repeat the bad parts, keep reading. This and a few other mentions along the way such as cycling to Koya, and hiking the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage will round out the remainder, so come along for the journey.
But first the TL:DR for those just wanting the bullet points.
TL:DR | The Quick Summary Before the Full Deep Dive
Ok Rob, you have a tendency to go into great detail in these write-ups. All I want to know is should I ride there, if so what is the best route, and what else do I absolutely need to know?
Should I Ride There?
Sure! It’s a bit out of the way if coming from Tokyo, but it’s close if you are in Kansai region, and best to be done nowheres near the (muggy) summer or (rainy) typhoon season. Best to avoid it say late May-end Oct.
What is the Best Route?
100% not the recommended route. It is very dangerous for probably 20-30% of the time and honestly many parts are lacking coastal views, or their are views but you are unable to enjoy the views as you battle the large trucks trying to pass you on narrow roads.
Jump down to the route section below to grab my recommended route that I promise has very little to no “junk kilometers” and minimizes dangerous roads as much as possible while still seeing the best parts of the coast.
What else do I absolutely need to know?
50% or more of this route is “by the ocean” but does not see the ocean. Therefore you can easily get all of the best parts of this route by skipping most of it and focusing on a few key areas mostly on the west coast of Wakayama.
For those looking to ride the full peninsula, consider the alternative roads & route listed below.
For those who are not set on the area, if you must see coastal Japan, consider the Shimanami Kaido as well. If you are open to other areas consider one of Japan’s many car free cycling routes or mountainous quieter regions such as Kita Kanto.
And with that, let’s get into the full detailed write up on cycling the Kii Peninsula.
What is the Kii Peninsula and Why Should I Cycle There?
So just what the heck is the Kii Peninsula in the first place?
Well in short, the Kii Peninsula is the region directly south of Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya. It is comprised mainly of three prefectures, Mie & Wakayama on the coast, and Nara Prefecture nestled inland. It is technically part of the Kansai Region, but Wakayama and Mie are quite distinctly rural in comparison to Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara.
Further, the peninsula is home to the southern most point in Honshu (the main island) and two major tourist regions, the Ise Grand Shrine in Ise City, Mie, and the Shirahama Resort area just south of Wakayama.
The former, is THE home and center-point of the Japanese Shinto religion, and the later the very opposite, a wildly overbuilt tourist area home to massive high rise hotels, resorts, and capitalism at its finest.
Along the way the Kumano Kodo Hiking Pilgrimage is nestled in the lower middle of the peninsula, as well as the city of Nara to the center north (you might have heard about its deer), and the spiritual mountain town of Koya somewhere between the two.
Alongside this, the area promises what all coastal regions do, fresh seafood, ocean views, and a relatively temperate climate.
Sounds Great! Can Someone Make Me A Route?
Funny you should ask, it turns out a few years back when Japan dreamt up the “Pacific Cycling Road” they actually went ahead and painted tens of thousands of little blue arrows along much of the peninsula to help cyclists navigate the area!
So what exactly did the Kii Peninsula region do when it decided to lay down its blue arrows?
Well, I’m not sure if there was one or many “route designers” for this section but I have a feeling Wakayama & Mie were not really in communications when they made their respective portions of the route.
It is not all bad. In fact a lot of it is great, but just like Lake Biwa, a lot of it is downright dangerous.
This is the part of many bike routes people don’t want to talk about, but for me is one of the most important parts. At one point after a constant rush of large trucks and non-stop vehicles driving by us all morning, we pulled off and hopped off the bike to let some of the vehicles pass and wait for a break. I then grabbed my phone to record this short clip below that I think perfectly illustrates what it feels like to share the road with these massive trucks on roads with no real shoulder.
Below you will find a map I made with the area largely mapped out based on road condition for cyclists. You can press the little white box in the top right corner to pull down a legend for the map to understand what the different colors mean.
You will notice the dark red color on many stretches, those are the dangerous, shoulder-less, heavy traffic roads I just shared with you in the video above. But, you will also notice many blue and yellow roads (many I have added as alternatives). These represent low traffic and generally good to great cycling roads.
You will also notice very little to no actual cycling paths along this “Cycling Road”. This route is near 99% cycling on the road, not to be confused with a real “Cycling Road” like the many river paths also called Cycling Roads.
Feel free to use the above map to make your own route and trip. Alternatively, check out a few routes below in my routes section towards the end of the article (or use that nifty table of contents to bop around).
The Pacific Cycling Road & Wakayama 800 | Japan’s Blue Arrows, A Blessing And A Curse
The main lap around the Kii Peninsula is part of the greater Pacific Cycling Road Project. So below let’s delve into how the Pacific Cycling Road is in the Kii Peninsula region.
The Pacific Cycling Road | Just Too Many Dangerous Roads
The Pacific Cycling Road is a project that comprises, as their website states,
“A 1,400 km cycling road that runs from Choshi City, Chiba Prefecture through Kanagawa Prefecture, Shizuoka Prefecture, Aichi Prefecture, and Mie Prefecture, and ends in Wakayama city, Wakayama Prefecture.
Along the cycling road, there are many sightseeing spots and scenic spots including Mt. Fuji, a World Heritage Site.”
Unfortunately, it seems something is lost in translation in Japan, as the term “cycling road”, as the vast majority of this route seems to mean, “a blue arrow drawn on a very busy main road with little to no shoulder or cycling path in sight, often full of large vehicles and 50kph speed limits driven at closer to 80kph.”
Contrary to the name in English, this is not a cycling road in the sense of the many Rive Cycling Roads you find in Japan or even the Shimanami Kaido’s largely cycling path alongside roads or quiet back roads that connect. The main route around the Kii Peninsula very similar to other portions of the Pacific Cycling Road I’ve ridden such as the Miura Peninsula (just south of Tokyo) and parts of eastern Chiba where the route is really just telling you to take the main busy road the whole way.
Trust me, I want a project like this to work. Japan has some of the best riding in the worlds in my eyes. But projects putting people on such terrible roads as these when there are great alternatives nearby really upsets me as they promote roads that are just plain dangerous for cyclists and don’t showcase at all the beauty of Japan in my view.
I fully get the desire to trace a coast on a route, but considering you can’t even see the ocean for around 50% of this route even on this main road, why not use quieter back roads nearby instead?
Wakayama 800 | A Great Idea That Is Done Far Better
I’m not sure how or who was able to convince the Wakayama Prefecture to paint blue arrows and put up signs for cyclists over 800km or roads but kudos, that is a huge undertaking. And a lot of this project is really quite well done!
In fact, the suggested shorter routes on the site are all in all pretty darn good in terms of quality and road selection. Granted, a few have some pretty busy roads, for the most part they did a great job on the concept with one big caveat, the part that overlaps the Pacific Cycling Road.
You will find in my route section below that the best parts of the Kii Peninsula largely live in Wakayama for both scenery and route quality.
I will also say the route between Koya and Arida as well as the Mikan Hill Climb are great selections and just one small change in the former would make it truly amazing. More on that in the routes section.
Summing Up The Area’s Blue Arrows
It really is a mix bag in this region with the blue arrows, and having done over 600km in the area, I would highly recommend my alternative routes below. These routes still go to 90% of the spots along the route, skips as many of the “junk kilometers” as possible, and doesn’t miss any of the awesome coastal views.
Cycling Experience & Highlights of the Kii Peninsula
As stated at the top, the area has some really delightful scenery and roads if you know where to look. Of particular note is the many small peninsulas off of the west side of Wakayama and the quiet inner Rindo Forest Roads such as Ken Pass near Ise City (see Ise Explorer in the Route section of the article).
The area is dotted in quite a few top 10 spiritual and religious shrines and villages, and for those that really want to explore this side of Japan this area will be sure to impress. That being said, as someone who has spent near a decade at the time of writing this article living in Japan, I will say, it felt a real mix bag on seeing these iconic shrines, as many felt as “Grand” as shrines around us in terms of size and design but just more touristy.
Sights Worth the Stop
A few sights worth the stop include:
- Ise Grand Shrine – While not my favorite stop nor temple, for those interested in Shinto it might be a big highlight. For those less interested you might want to skip this one and see the Hongu Taisha, which I personally found much more remarkable.
- Katsuura Ichiba Market – A local market with a selection of shops nestled up against the local tuna port. A real treat is the sushi stand just inside the market where they have delectable cuts from todays catch fresh off the boats at a very reasonable price.
- Nachi Falls – Quite possible the most iconic scene in the region and for good reason.
- Shirasaki Peninsula Area – In my opinion the most beautiful portion of this route and most stunning coastal scenery of the trip.
- Mikan Hill Climb – While not part of the route per-say, this was easily one of the best parts of the trip for me and a real rarity in Japan to have such a “bald” climb where you get views around every corner.
- Koya Temples & Village – The center of Shingon Buddhism in Japan and a very well known touristed town for its many shrines and temple stay options available.
- Hongu Taisha Shrine – The ending point on the main Nakahechi hike of the Kumano Kodo and a beautiful Shinto Shrine set in a very small town deep in the mountains of the peninsula.
Weather in the Kii Peninsula | When to Ride
Being a large coastal region on the Pacific coast with a very mountainous interior the weather varies greatly across the region. But in general one can classify the region as having very similar weather patterns to Osaka to its north with a bit more precipitation during rainy seasons, especially when typhoons come in.
While it is painting with a broad brush, it is fair to say that unless you travel in the winter (Nov-eary Mar) your chances of getting rained on are around 1/3 days to 1/2 days, and the amounts are pretty decent.
Further to consider is the more southern aspect of the region, meaning that hotter days and more humidity earlier in the year. This means the “muggy season” for the region starts about 2 weeks earlier than Tokyo and lasts about 2 weeks longer as well.
So with this and temperature considerations, I would say the best time to ride in the region (assuming you are not climbing too high up inland) is the winter months of Nov-Mar for those ok with cooler weather. And for those looking for warmer weather but not yet oppressively muggy April-mid May as well as October are worth looking at.
We rode the area in early December and average highs were around 10-15’C and lows around 5-10’C and it was largely sunny, dry, and a bit windy. So layers but not freezing, and for me pretty nice to ideal cycling weather.
Rainfall & Typhoons Around the Kii Peninsula
Rain is no joke in the Kii Peninsula. Along with the southern island of Kyushu and neighboring Shikoku this area is one of the wettest in all of Japan. And this is largely due to the proximity to the Pacific Ocean and direct path of the annual typhoons that come each summer/fall to the region.
This is a big consideration if you are coming around July-Oct in this region as the typhoons (also known as hurricanes in the Atlantic) can regularly bring 50cm or more of rain to this region. This often causes many areas to completely shut down as flooding and landslides are not uncommon. Because this area is often the first place such storms make landfall, they are often at full force and can be quite dangerous with huge winds and rain. Be sure to plan alternatives if you plan to travel to this region during this time.
It is actually quite amazing just how much rain can fall in an area so concentrated and then so little just 50-100km or so away. This is a large part of why we love riding up in our areas of Kita Kanto (that light blue-ish white area in the center of the main island just NW of Tokyo). It is one of the driest regions in Japan, great for long days outdoors!
Routes | Recommendations and Select Routes in the Area
*Please Note: Strava has some terrible inaccuracies in elevation data for some reason in many parts of Japan. Namely thinking that tunnels don’t exist and therefore thinking you will be climbing over the mountain rather than passing through it. Many of these elevation estimates are as much as 2x reality. When you see a sudden jut up in the elevation profile, try zooming in and looking at the map to see if it is a tunnel; it probably is.
The Kii Peninsula Full Route | Ise to Wakayama
This route is about as close as you can get, given what you are working with, to a complete lap of the peninsula with as few “junk kilometers” as possible. There are still probably 20-30km of bad roads, but that is a big improvement from the some 100-150km of bad roads in the original route.
This route passes by nearly every major site except the Southern Most Point of Honshu at the very south. I did not find this point to be of much significance of beauty beyond this accolade, and it takes many junk miles to get there, so I felt it was ok to keep it off the route.
Kii Peninsula | The Best Part Century Ride
If I were to recommend one stretch of this route it would be this. At just about 160km total riding this by far is the best coastal scenery of the whole route, as well as getting to see orange groves, and Shirahama.
Knock it out in one long day or break it up into a few days with quite a few places to stop and stay along the way.
Kii Peninsula | The Best 50km
As the name suggests, this is the best part of the whole route. If you are short on time or don’t want such a big endeavor in this short 50km you will find more coastal views, quieter roads, and the white stone cliffs of Shirasaki (the best natural feature in the area IMO).
Ise Explorer | Oceans & Rindo in Ise 95km
Just under 100km, this loop will take you out to the coast east of Ise City and down to the the small city of Shima for lunch. Then, the return takes you over Ken Pass for a great Rindo Forest Road deep in the mountains. This dumps you out at the Ise Grand Shrine where you can explore by foot before coming back to town via a quieter residential road.
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