Cycle tour of Tokyo
Pedestrians at Shibuya's famous all points crossing. Picture: Gary Hartree

Yes, the thought had crossed my mind as I shelled out 5000 yen (about $60) to join a small group bicycle tour in the busy heart of Tokyo.

More cycling holidays:
FOUR TOP CITIES TO CYCLE AROUND
VICTORIA, BC
CYCLING THROUGH INDOCHINA
VIETNAM BY BIKE
RIDE INTO BALI’S HEART
COPENHAGEN
CYCLE TO MANJIMUP
SEE WESTERN AUSTRALIA BY BIKE
PARIS ON TWO WHEELS
VERSAILLES BY BICYCLE

Why would I want to take my life into my hands by riding a bicycle on the teeming roads and footpaths in a city of 13 million people?

Having arrived at Shinjuku railway station from the airport late the previous night for an eight-day stay, and relying on a mud map and landmark neon signs on various buildings to find my hotel about 10 minutes away, I was looking for a quick and effective way of coming to grips with the layout of Tokyo on my first full day out. But how to go about it?

I didn't fancy the rather impersonal nature of a big bus tour and needed a little more time to work out the extensive metro rail system. But I had heard about some operators who run bicycle tours catering for people visiting Tokyo for the first time and who want to see a lot inside one day. I booked a place on a central Tokyo ride in the afternoon and headed by train to the meeting point.

As it turned out, I need not have worried too much about taking my chances dodging Tokyo's bustling traffic and continuous flow of pedestrians.

In Japan, they drive on the same side of the road as Australian motorists and thousands of locals ride bikes, so why not join them? Riders are also allowed to use the footpaths and much of our tour route would involve riding on wide footpaths.

After going through the itinerary with our guide and collecting our bikes, an easy warm-up ride through narrow residential streets brought us to our first main stop - trendy, vibrant Shibuya. With its big department stores, tacky Love Hotel Hill, statue of legendary dog Hachiko and busy railway station, Shibuya is a sea of people, even in its quieter moments.

Joining the throngs at the famous Shibuya all points crossing - as they cross the road junction from several entrances at the same time - gives one the feeling of being sucked in to a human whirlpool. It is one of Tokyo's "must do" experiences.

Concrete, glass and crowds eventually gave way to the beauty and serenity of Yoyogi Park, one of the city's most popular urban parks. Formerly a military parade ground and the athletes' village for the 1964 Olympic Games, the 54ha park is officially the fifth biggest urban park in Tokyo. It features a broad central field and many species of Japanese trees, including the iconic cherry blossom trees.

Adjoining Yoyogi is Meiji Jingu, an important Shinto religious shrine and one of the most visited sites in Japan. Set well inside an urban forest, the shrine is dedicated to Meiji, the first emperor of modern Japan.

Emperor Meiji came to the throne in 1867 when Japan's feudal era ended and the emperor was restored to power. He reigned over the nation's modernisation until his death in 1912.

Out of respect for Shinto religious values, we left our bikes outside the forest and strolled for about 10 minutes to a sentinel-like torii entry gate leading into the grounds of the shrine. The surrounding forest shuts out the busy city, providing tranquillity for people visiting for prayers and contemplation, or as part of traditional Shinto weddings.

Leaving the shrine and forest, it was a short ride across a stone bridge to Harajuku, a centre of youth culture and fashion.

Here young Japanese meet to shop in the many clothing boutiques or simply hang around to show off colourful and extreme clothing styles, influenced by a mix of Japanese and international subcultures. Even Japan's version of Elvis impersonators turn up to entertain on some days.

More Japan:
SKIING IN NISEKO
IZU PENINSULA
KYOTO
GUIDE TO ONSEN ETIQUETTE
BATHING RITUALS

The main hall at Meiji Jingu Shrine. Picture: Gary Hartree

Next stop, Japan's first municipal cemetery, gave us a chance to catch our breath after the youthful exuberance of Harajuku. Opened in 1872, Aoyama Cemetery has a section containing graves of notable foreigners who lived, worked and died in Tokyo.

We ambled peacefully through the cemetery on the way to the final major stop on our ride, Roppongi. Known more for its nightlife by way of bars, restaurants and nightclubs, the district also features two major urban redevelopment projects - Tokyo Midtown and Roppongi Hills - which provide a mix of residential apartments, offices, retail outlets and hotels. Roppongi Hills is a virtual city within a city, dominated by one of Tokyo's tallest buildings, the 238m Mori Tower.

As we rode we came to appreciate a general acceptance of cyclists by pedestrians and motorists alike. We didn't seem to be a bother to anybody. Apart from being cut off by a taxi driver who turned in front of me on the way into Roppongi, the ride went smoothly. We had no concerns about parking and locking our bikes in order to explore attractions more closely.

In all, we enjoyed five hours touring some of Tokyo's most popular districts and attractions.

Choosing to spend my first day cycling the streets gave me a good initial understanding of Tokyo and the confidence to navigate my way around the city by public transport and on foot. It set me up beautifully for the remainder of my eight days in a fascinating city.

For more on bicycle tours in Tokyo, go to tokyocycling.jp

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West