You kids today with your GPS and iPhones, back in my day we had to naivigate by the stars, during the day! When touring around the countryside of Japan by bicycle the smell of the air, direction of the wind and some animal tracks in the mud were all we needed to get to our destination.
The situation changed after the invention of paper, the printing press and the publication of the Touring Mapple series of motorcycle touring maps.
Motorcycle touring maps? For cyclists? What gives?
As we are all well aware of, the cycle tourist market here in Japan isn't exactly booming. As a result publishers are hesitant to invest in the publication of bicycle touring maps if you can count the number of potential buyers without removing your shoes. Motorcycle tourists on the other hand are in abundance (who'd have thunk it?) and hence Mapple have taken it upon themselves to publish a special series of map books aimed at the needs of a motorcycle tourist.
Surprisingly, or not, the information presented in the Touring Mapple series for motorcycle tourists is incredibly useful for bicycle tourists also. They show, for example, the location of camping grounds and onsen so you can plan where you'll be bathing and sleeping each night. In addition to this they single out alternative, lower traffic or more scenic/interesting routes which appeal to us touring types. In some areas they also include valuable information such as "while this looks like a quiet country road look out for speeding trucks on weekdays as there is a quarry nearby". Steep inclines, unsealed roads, you'll find them all conveniently marked within the pages of Touring Mapple.
Before you ask, no, I'm not on the Mapple payroll. I discovered these maps some 10 or more years ago and they have served me well when planing long weekend rides, scenic outings or epic cycling adventures. I would encourage anyone planning a cycling adventure in Japan to consider using these maps when planning their route.
If you're not of the Japanese reading persuasion you'll get less out of these maps, but once you've worked out what all the icons in the legend stand for you'll be able to mine these maps for an incredible amount of useful information to help you on your way. (Unlike your GPS or iPhone these maps require no batteries, but they also can't receive incoming calls.)