Road Maps

Normally bicyclists will profit by buying the most detailed maps they can find; I sometimes use 1:86,000 for detailed route planning. However, as the Japanese love to build roads (or, to put it another way, since Japan has a very powerful construction lobby), any map you buy is likely to be a bit out of date. Therefore, currency must also be a major consideration. Most maps sold here are 1/200,000 (for those that include Hokkaido, this often changes to 1/300,000 for the Hokkaido portion), and these should be good enough for most route planning.

There are also other considerations that may be more important where the rubber meets the road. One is elevation; try to find a map that has elevation markings right on the road as opposed to only on high peaks beside the road (not all maps have the markings right on the road). This beats trying to figure out the elevation squiggles on the map, and wondering whether how close the road gets to the elevation of that nearby 2,000m peak. Another is, of course, linguistic. One of the advantages of the "Max Mapple" series described in the Road Maps section is that, even though this is a Japanese map, major (and sometimes quite minor) city and area names are also shown in roman characters (romaji) as well as in Japanese. Therefore, even if you don't read any Japanese at all, you can use an English-only map to do your general planning and take the Japanese map pages for detailed on-the-road checking to make sure you're on the right road. I strongly recommend that you take along a Japanese map, partly for the greater detail (there's nothing harder than trying to figure out whether that Chinese character on the sign at the fork in the road corresponds to anything on your English map... ) and to make it easy to ask for directions if you need to do so.

Shobunsha seems to be the major map company in Japan; they make a series of folding maps for individual prefectures, each at 1:200,000; which are supposedly updated yearly, More to the point, they also make the "Mapple" series of car maps, for regions of Japan and for the whole country. These are also updated with new editions regularly; I've found very few mistakes in any of these maps. There are several types of Mapple guides, including "Super Mapple" and my current favorite, the silver "Max-Mapple" edition shown here.

However, there's now an even better option than the "Super Mapple" and "Max Mapple" series. "Touring Mapple" is a series of seven guides, only slightly larger than a regular paperback book, that are designed for motorcyclists. Since motorcyclists are also primarily interested in finding pretty scenery to ride through, these guides are tailor-made for cyclists as well. Each guide in the series contains the same kind of detailed maps as in the other Mapple books, with the addition of clearly marked recommended routes for touring - with little notes (only in Japanese, unfortunately) giving information about particularly pretty sections, or places with no stores or accommodations for long distances, or places with a lot of traffic in certain seasons. Add to that the fact that the books are light enough to carry along with you, and you've got the ideal guide for both cyclists and their motorized cousins. The one disadvantage is cost: each guide is around 1500 yen, so buying all seven would be quite a bit more expensive than buying Super Mapple or Max Mapple (3200 yen). But even if you don't think you can justify the expense, it would be useful to flip through the Touring Mapple guides at a bookstore to see if they might be useful enough to justify buying.

One other advantage of the Touring Mapple guides: they show the locations of Toho-yado inns, youth hostels and even some "rider houses" on Hokkaido.

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