As you are probably well aware Japan is a very mountainous country. It is also very wet, especially in the typhoon season from late summer to early autumn. Heavy rainfall and mountains can obviously lead to landslides and it is for that reason that it is always a good idea to check the road conditions before you leave. Trust me, I’ve ridden over 100kms to a mountain pass only to find the road closed and impassable. Ignore the sign and jump the barrier I hear you say… well yes and no. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. It all depends. Some cyclists – myself included – seem to think that sometimes the warnings don’t apply to them because bicycles can get through places cars can’t. While this can be true, if you are not careful you can also end up in all kinds of trouble. If you do decide to jump the barriers be aware of what you are getting yourself into and don’t complain – you were warned. A cycling friend once jumped the barriers in the snow photo below, hiked for 15kms or more (they had winter hiking gear with them) and ended up with frost-bitten toes and a minor amputation.
This September Japan was battered by the strongest typhoon to hit in 25 years. And then there was another one. And another one is on it’s way. On a recent bike packing trip to Fukui I checked the road conditions online, planned a route, and still found my route blocked in places due to the devastation caused by the typhoons.
Landslides and snow are the two major reasons for road closures in Japan but earthquakes and volcanoes can occasionally close roads as well. Roads closed due to snow are far more predictable and are often closed from December to April depending on the region.
Landslides on the other hand are by their very nature unpredictable so you never know when you will run into one.
So always, always, always check before leaving.
For up-to-date information regarding potential landslides and volcano activity, including volcanic ash fall forecasts, check out the English version of the Japan Metrological Agency’s website.
There is good news and bad news regarding checking prefectural road conditions. The good news is that you can usually find all the information on the their websites, the bad news is that they are usually only in Japanese and a nightmare to navigate due the website looking like it was last updated in 1998.
If possible get a Japanese friend or the manager of the guest house or hotel to check for you before leaving. If you are in the prefectural capital city you could even go to the prefectural offices and ask around. Search online with the name of the road followed by the name of the prefecture in kanji and then 道路情報 (road information). If that does’t work leave a comment below with the name of the road and the prefecture you are cycling in and I’ll check for you. I know what it’s like to have to turn around at the bottom of a mountain pass you’ve been looking forward to for weeks just because it’s closed and I’d hate to think I could have helped with a quick online search and saved you a major detour headache.
Below are some Japanese kanji along with examples that you are likely to find written on the signs although you don’t really need to read Japanese to get the gist.
全面通行止め – Road closed
冬期間通行止め – Closed for winter
冬期間閉鎖のため – Closed for winter until ~
迂回路 – Detour
自転車も通行不可 – Closed to bicycles too
Have I missed anything or would any experienced Japan-based cyclists like to add something? Just leave a comment below.