Camping is the option that many cyclists choose, and in many cases it's the best option, particularly for those on a budget: as one cyclist-camper explained to me, camping doubled the number of days his money would last, and thus doubled the length of his trip in Japan!

Although you're much more loaded down than when you don't camp, you can reduce the weight considerably if you decide to find meals in stores or cheap restaurants instead of trying to cook yourself. (Of course, this will increase your costs.) Deciding to camp but not cook will limit your gear to a sleeping bag, tent and foam insulating pad (for comfort and to insulate you from the cold, hard ground). I've successfully cycled with a small collapsible tent tied to the bottom of the main horizontal tube of the bike, with the sleeping bag and pad on the rear of the bike. In many cases, one side of the insulating foam pad is reflective, so it makes a dandy rear reflector as well.

Some cyclists camp wherever they find a place to do so. Technically this is illegal; you're only allowed to camp in designated campgrounds, and so KANcycling cannot recommend on-the-fly camping. However, I've also not heard of any cyclist ever getting arrested for doing it, either. The key seems to be to "be discreet" - those who set up after dark and break camp at first light, and leave no trace that they've been there, don't seem to get yelled at. Naturally, attempting to camp in urban parks will likely get you into trouble.

It wouldn't take a genius to figure out that the places with lots of natural beauty and wide open spaces - parts of the Japan Alps and most of Hokkaido, for example - are a camper's paradise. Some campgrounds even have onsen (hot springs), and in Hokkaido these are often free of charge. Once again, doing a bit of research before you go is likely to enhance your trip. (Those little notes in Japanese in the Touring Mapple guide often point out things like free onsen.)

As Japan's outdoor "boom" continues, the number of references showing information on campsites continues to increase. The book shown here is one of the largest I’ve ever seen, showing (as the title infers) the locations of 3,000 campgrounds scattered throughout the country. There are maps in the back showing the locations of these campgrounds, though you'll probably need the more detailed maps to find these campgrounds. This one is a bit old, so it may no longer be available, but one like it surely exists. For the record, here is the publishing information:

Note: cyclists in Hokkaido who want cheap accommodations but would also like a roof over their head (particularly in foul weather) might consider staying at "Rider Houses," ultra-budget crash pads for motorcyclists. See the Rider Houses section for more information.

For other reference materials that you may find useful in route planning, see RESOURCES.