Of all the regions for motorcycling in Japan, Hokkaido must come top of the list. It is known as the Riders’ Holy Ground for good reason: quiet long straight roads, winding mountain passes, almost no traffic lights (and even fewer police). Many take advantage of the summer holidays to escape the heat and enjoy the open roads—boarding the ferries from the mainland and elsewhere, motorcycles laden with luggage.

Getting there

Unless you live in Hokkaido or want to rent a motorcycle, you’re going to need to take the ferry. There is no bridge or underground tunnel that connects Hokkaido with the main island for traffic (the 54 kilometer Seikan Tunnel is only for trains). The inter-regional ferries arrive at three places in Hokkaido: Otaru, Tomakomai, and Muroran—the arrival point depending on the departure port and the ferry company. You can read more about booking the ferry in Japan here.

The ferry terminal at Tomakomai

When is the touring season?

The peak season is mid-July to mid-August (especially around the obon holiday), but touring is possible from June until October (either side of these months there is a chance of snow, and during winter heavy snowfall would make motorbike touring impossible).

What are the roads like?

Fantastic. It’s what attracts bikers in the first place. On some roads you can ride for miles before meeting oncoming traffic. However, not all the roads are suited for sports bikes or cruisers. Some minor roads are not particularly well-kept and others are nothing but dirt tracks. With a bit of forward planning it’s easy to avoid these routes, but nevertheless a good number of riders come on adventure bikes that give them the freedom to head just about anywhere.

An open road near Shikaribetsu Lake

Anything else I should know?

Hokkaido is a vast expanse of farm land and mountain regions. Much of the east and north side of the island is sparsely populated which means that gasoline / petrol stations can be few and far between. It’s advisable to err on the side of caution and fill up at each chance.

There’s something of a riding cult in Hokkaido, especially during the peak season. Perhaps partly because on some roads you don’t often meet riders coming in the other direction, but there is a custom of waving to oncoming bikers and cyclists—an unwritten rule of the road by which the majority of bikers abide. I say wave, but in most cases its a frantic punch of the air to shout “this is amazing” to your fellow rider. At first it seems a little strange, but after a few timid hand signals your fist will soon be pumping the air, cheering on your motorbiking comrades.

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