Motorcycle Travel Guide: Japan

Welcome to the Motorcycle Travel Guide for Japan. Here’s everything you need to know about travelling overland with a bike in Japan. You’ll find links to our in-depth guides, info on roads, visas, accommodation, paperwork, tips, tricks and loads more. 

BMW G310GS Motorcycle Travel Japan

Contents

Motorcycle Travel in Japan

Is Japan good for motorcycle travel?

Japan is an incredibly beautiful country and you must visit. However, if you’re thinking of exploring the country with a motorcycle, then let’s clear up some points first.

For motorcycle travellers, there’s two ways to ride in Japan. You can either take your own (foreign registered) motorcycle into Japan by shipping it in or using a RoRo ferry from South Korea or Vladivostok. Or you can fly in and rent a bike or join an organised tour. Let’s look at your options below, and we’ll explain how to do both in more detail further in the article. 

Taking your own motorcycle into Japan

Shipping into Japan, whether by international shipment or RoRo ferry, is very expensive and time consuming. If you are only going to be riding in Japan for a short period of time – say two to three weeks. Then it may not be worth the time and money to do this. That’s because it takes a lot of time to get around Japan. You will have spent a lot of money to get there and if you only have a few weeks, you won’t get far before having to turn around to get your bike back to wherever you’re going to ship it from. If you only have a short timeframe for Japan, it’s better to ship your motorcycle to the next destination, fly in and use public transport or rent a motorcycle when you’re there.  

However, if you have a lot of time (one to two month plus) then it is certainly worth it. You will have time to get out of the big cities and find the incredible riding routes laced throughout the country. Of course, you’ll end up back on slow going main roads at times, but won’t be pushed for time to get around. You need time to enjoy and experience Japan on your own bike.

Joining an organised tour or renting

Even if you have a short period of time for Japan, this is still a great option. You won’t have any of the eye watering temporary import costs and will be able to jump on your bike and start riding straight away. Your rental company will be able to provide you with good routes and you can do a short or long trip. Same goes for joining a tour.

BMW G310GS Motorcycle Travel Japan

Our motorcycle travel experience in Japan

We spent five months and 5,000 miles exploring the country on our own motorcycles. We wouldn’t have enjoyed it with public transport because we crave the freedom our own transport offers and also because we wanted to see so much. To find out what it was like for us, have a read of the below guide and check out our blogs. 

READ MORE: 

Paperwork needed to take a motorcycle into Japan

We have a dedicated guide on what paperwork you need for Japan. Please follow the links below this section. 

If you’re travelling with your own vehicle you will need either a carnet de passage or a temporary import. The carnet is the easiest way to enter and exit Japan. It will make your life easier. But, you can enter without one by using a temporary import. 

There used to be a caveat that to use a temporary import you had to enter Japan using a RORO ferry (roll on, roll off) and – importantly – also exit using a ferry. This was the case back in 2019. 

However, as of April 2024 we have received a report that it is now possible to enter Japan via ferry from South Korea with a temporary import and then ship your bike out of Japan – instead of having to exit via ferry. 

See our Paperwork Guide for Japan below for more info. 

READ MORE:

What visas do I need for Japan?

The visa situation in Japan makes motorcycle travel easy. UK citizens can enter Japan for up to 90 days without a visa. You’ll get a 90-day stamp in your passport when you enter.

You can extend your visa while you’re in Japan for a further 90 days before it expires. You can do this at an Immigration Bureau (Nyukoku Kanrikyoku). These bureaus are dotted all over Japan in major cities and just need a quick Google to find. Once you arrive, you will be directed by the staff on what paperwork to fill out.

We applied and received an additional 3-month stay; however, it was a little touch-and-go. The staff said we could not receive a further stay purely to extend our sightseeing. It took a little wrangling but they allowed it in the end. So, if you are planning on extending, plan carefully (you can not extend too far in advance either).

You can leave Japan and leave your vehicle in the country. You won’t be asked anything about your vehicle on leaving or when you re-enter. 

How do I get my motorcycle or vehicle into Japan?

To get your own vehicle into Japan you can either ship it in via cargo ship, fly it in or use a ferry from Russia or South Korea. 

Shipping your motorcycle to / from Japan

If you’re shipping your motorcycle to Japan by plane or cargo ship, then you will need to speak to a shipping company in whichever country you are shipping from for their prices. But, you will also need to speak to an agent in Japan. 

We recommend contacting our recommended shipping company in Japan to help you receive the bike and handle the paperwork and customs. Check out our recommended motorcycle shipping company for Japan and have a read of our shipping guides too. 

READ MORE: 

Ferry from Russia to Japan

If you are using a ferry from Russia then you will be coming from Vladivostok using DBS ferries. Speak to Yuri from Links, Ltd (details can be found in Shipping Companies under Russia). 

READ MORE: How to Get the Ferry from Russia to Japan 

Ferry from South Korea to Japan

To enter Japan from South Korea you will be using Kampu Ferries or Camellia Line Ferries. Speak to Mr Youn (details can be found in the Shipping Companies Finder under South Korea). 

READ MORE:

International Motorcycle Shipping Companies
Welcome to the Motorcycle Shipping Companies Finder. This page lists worldwide freight forwarders, companies, agents, fixers, ferry services and detailed guides. Click a country on the map to see what's on offer.
Read More

How to rent a motorcycle in Japan

Renting a motorcycle or going on a bike tour in Japan is straight forward. Check out our comprehensive recommended companies page to see what’s on offer in Japan. 

You will need your passport, driver’s licence and your International Drivers Permit to rent a motorcycle. It’s also worth taking your own riding kit as Western clothing sizes are usually larger than Japanese. 

READ MORE: Japan Motorcycle Rental and Tour Companies

Is Japan as expensive as everyone says it is?

Japan is expensive compared to most motorcycle travel destinations like South East Asia, Central Asia and South America. You’re paying first-world country prices. A hefty chunk of your budget will be spent on entering and exiting the country (regardless if you’re using RORO or shipping/flying), Japanese insurance and the big one – accommodation. So, it is expensive but that’s relative to where you’ve been and what you’ve done prior. Read on to find out how to save money and make Japan more affordable for motorcycle travel.

Riding roads in Japan

Japan has two types of roads: the free national road and the jaw dropping expensive toll road. Toll roads will eat away at your budget. If you use a debit or credit card to pay, then they charge the full amount twice and reimburse one payment later. The national roads can be painstakingly slow, especially anywhere near a city. Plot your routes away from major cities, avoid toll roads and you’ll be fine.

BMW R1200GSA motorcycle touring and travel in Japan guide

Accommodation and camping in Japan

Hotels are a big expense in Japan. Turning up at a hotel without a reservation can sometimes appear rude to Japanese and you’d be surprised how full hotels get, so booking online in advance is worth it. Booking.com is your best bet for Japan. There are other similar Japanese websites, but they’re tricky to use and complicated.

We used AirBnB for longer stays as it proves a lot cheaper than hotels. We used an AirBnB for a four-week stay in Osaka and a three-week stay in Kyoto, had the entire apartment to ourselves and saved a mini fortune.

Love Hotels are also a good option. Before you spit out your breakfast in disgust, let us explain… Love Hotels in Japan are not the seedy and gross hotels that spring to mind. They’re immaculate, well looked after and socially acceptable establishments… that can be booked out for the hour. They’re dotted all over the country and are easy to spot. The prices are listed outside and you can book the room for 8 hours for a much cheaper rate than most hotels. The love hotel room is more often than not, twice the size of an average hotel room, packed with amenities, easy to check in and out and cheaper. Check them out!

For a rough idea, expect to pay 20 USD for a dorm room hostels, 50 USD for a hotel room, 30 USD for a Love Hotel and 10 USD for a campsite.

Here’s a handy map from Booking.com to give you an idea of hotel prices in Japan. 

Booking.com

Motorcycle camping in Japan

There are three types of campsite in Japan: privately owned campsites, official free campsites or wild camping.

The privately owned campsites can prove quite expensive. They are lovely though, usually very well looked after and super clean.

The official free campsites are dotted all over the country and excellent. They don’t usually have showers but do have working toilets. They’re an excellent way to save money. We recommend the fantastic Facebook group Free camping and hotsprings in Japan. Download their map to your Google maps and you’ll see hundreds of great campsites spread across the country.

Wild camping is relatively easy in Japan. As long as you tuck yourself out of the way and disappear in the morning you won’t have a problem.

BMW R1200GSA and BMW G310GS motorcycles camping in Japan

Top tips

  • Very little English is spoken outside of major cities. Prepare to get good at Japanese charades
  • However long you think it’ll take to get somewhere, double it
  • Cash is king in Japan
  • 7-Eleven is your best friend. They’re a huge franchise in Japan, use them for free wi-fi, to cool down, for their clean high-tech toilets and tasty and cheap food. Also, we only ever withdraw money from ATMs in 7-Elevens as there’s no charge. 
  • Try to avoid visiting during major national holidays like Golden Week. Cheery Blossom season is also pretty mad. 
  • We recommend using skyscanner.net to book your flights to Japan. When you’re selecting dates, click ‘flexible dates’ and select the whole month. You’ll then find the cheapest dates. 
  • It’s worth having mobile data in Japan for navigation and translation apps. We found the easiest way to get data is to use an eSIM service like Airalo, where you can download a SIM onto your phone and sort your data before you even arrive in the country. 

Read more on motorcycle travel in Japan

Thanks for checking out our Motorcycle Travel in Japan Guide. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more articles on motorcycling in Japan that we recommend you read next. 

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We hope you found the Motorcycle Travel Guide for Japan helpful. If you’re planning a trip there or have any questions, please post a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

8 thoughts on “Motorcycle Travel Guide: Japan”

  1. This is a bit confusing. On your site the Japan intro says:

    “Japan is a phenomenal blend of culture, architecture, stunning scenery and fascinating ancient history. And riding a motorcycle through this incredible country is the best way to explore it and uncover its hidden gems. Japan is seriously addictive and you’re going to love it.”

    Then this whole article basically says you spent 5 months rode 5000 miles and you feel it’s overpriced, crowded, you don’t really recommend it as a destination.

    Which is true?

    Reply
    • Hi Charlie, thanks for your comment!
      I can see how that may be confusing. Please allow me to explain… Both are true.

      Japan is an incredible country, well worth visiting and riding a bike there is the perfect way to explore. But, as you also rightly pointed out I did write that it is expensive and busy.
      I explained in this article that because of the above reasons you mentioned, it is not worth riding your own bike (a foreign vehicle that you have temporarily imported into Japan) if you are riding there for a short period of time.

      If you’re flying in and renting a bike or joining a tour for a short period, then great! You do away with all the massive costs of shipping in and your routes and roads are planned for you. Easy.
      If you are going to Japan for an extended period of time, like we did for 5 months then it is definitely worth riding as it’s the best way to get around the entire country over a long period. But only if you have the time. The fact that it takes a long time to get anywhere wont matter and you can spend more time searching out the great riding routes. You also won’t spend all your time on public transport.

      So, yes it is an amazing country and you’ll love riding there – IF – you have the time for a long trip with your own motorcycle or if you are going to rent or join a tour.
      I appreciate that the article is a little confusing. I will amend it this week to make it clearer.

      Thanks again for getting in touch,
      Cheers,
      Andy

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply. 👍👍
        I ultimately decided on a Vietnam 1/2 street 1/2 Enduro ride. We’ll see how that goes! Excited and nervous at the same time!

        Reply
        • Hey Charlie, no worries and that sounds like a great trip! Vietnam is awesome, we were just there riding through Ha Giang three months ago. Have a great trip mate and all the best!
          Cheers,
          Andy

          Reply
  2. Loving reading your stories. and seeing the photographs of Japan. Very inspiring and making us want to go next year. Did you use a translation app to communicate?

    Reply
    • Hi Jenni, thanks very much for your comment!
      That’s brilliant! You should definitely go, you’ll love it 😀 If you want more ideas on places to go there, we have loads more guides in the Japan section.
      We just used Google Translate. You can download a language for offline use so you don’t need to have wifi or connectivity. But quite often, even without the app, you can get what you want to say across with a few hand signals and big smiles! You might find this article interesting: 5 Tips for Communicating when Travelling

      Thanks again and all the best!
      Andy

      Reply
  3. Loving reading your stories. and seeing the photographs of Japan. Very inspiring and making us want to go next year. Did you use a translation app to communicate?

    Reply

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