Hopping on a bike is one of the best ways to take in the sights when in Japan. So what better way to get out of the crowded Tokyo metropolis and explore the slower side of life in Japan’s small cities and towns?

With a free bike rental system right in Ota Station, Ota City in Gunma Prefecture is a fantastic small city in the basin of the Kanto Plains full of culture, scenic nature and plenty of yummy eats.

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Overview: Ota City cycling day trip

Duration

  • Time from Asakusa Station (Tokyo) to Ota Station (Gunma): 1.5 hours one way by express train (¥2,130)
  • Cycling tour from Ota Station: 3.5–4.5 hours
ota cycling day trip
Photo by Rob Mcmanmon

Itinerary

  • Get your free bike rental at Ota Station.
  • Have your morning coffee and pastry at Wanderlust Bakery (great place to load up on ride snacks too).
  • Cycle Mt. Kanayama castle ruins, Hokubu Sports Park, through the rice fields, and Jakawa River Cycling Road (24 km in total).
  • Arrive back at Ota Station to return the bike and walk to a delicious meal.
  • Get the train back to Tokyo. Alternatively, consider hanging around for a sunset on Mt. Kanayama or grabbing drinks and socializing with some locals.
  • Getting there and travel costs

    It’s easy! Hop on the Tobu Isesaki Line at Asakusa Station. It’s a 90-minute express train (¥2,130) to Ota Station. There are slower trains that take almost double the time of the express (2 hours 40 minutes) for ¥1,080. Check Google Maps or Hyperdia for up-to-date train schedules.

  • Express train: ¥2,130 each way (or local train for ¥1,080 each way)
  • Bike rental: Free!
  • Lunch and snack budget: ~¥2,000 (or pack your own snacks to cut these costs)
  • About Ota City, Gunma Prefecture

    On its surface, Ota is a manufacturing city located in the Kanto Plains about 70 km from Central Tokyo. Since the end of WWII, the region’s primary output of airplane production shifted to automobiles and is home to the Subaru Motors Company. While Subaru has certainly shaped the town, Ota’s proximity to nature and countryside living as well as the quick access from Tokyo by express train create a fantastic opportunity to explore a rarely visited prefecture and unique community that captures small city life in Japan.



    ota cycling day trip
    Photo by Rob Mcmanmon

    Location and geography

    Ota is centrally located in the Kanto Plains between two of Japan’s most famous rivers. The Watarase River separates Ota City from Tochigi Prefecture on its northeast side, while the Tone River separates Ota from Saitama Prefecture on its south side. This stretch of the Kanto Plains is known as the crane’s neck of Gunma, as Gunma Prefecture is often depicted as a crane flying east to Tokyo.

    Watarase River | Photo by Rob Mcmanmon

    The highest point in Ota is Mt. Kanayama, a 240 m mountain in town full of hiking trails, a road to the top, castle ruins and plenty of nature to explore. Once atop, Mt. Kanayama offers sweeping views of the vast Kanto Plains and surrounding stratovolcanoes and mountains.

    Cycling in Ota

    With mostly flat routes and beautiful river paths, the small city of Ota is perfectly designed for cycling. Not only is it easy to get out to Ota from Tokyo by train, but getting out on a bike from Ota Station is a breeze thanks to the free bike rental program.

    Ota Gunma cycling route
    Photo by Rob Mcmanmon

    Free bike rental at Ota Station

    Simply head to the Ota Tourism Information Center in the main hall of the station and ask to rent a bicycle for the day. They will take a copy of your ID/passport and set you up with a bike—then you’re off!

    Bikes are rented on a first-come, first-served basis. We recommend arriving at the Ota Tourism Information Center as soon as it opens to guarantee your rental.

    Ota sample route highlights

    Once you have your new set of wheels for the day, consider trying our Ota recommended route. With the RidewithGPS App, you will have an interactive map on your phone with each of the stops labeled and linked to for an easy-to-follow guide to your day.

  • Stop by Wanderlust Bakery for some morning bread and coffee, as well as yummy ride snacks.
  • gunma prefecture cycling day trip
    Cherry blossom path along Yasegawa River | Photo by Rob Mcmanmon
  • Ride the Yasegawa River cherry blossom road.
  • Visit the Daikoin Temple complex.
  • Ride to the top of Mt. Kanayama to see the castle ruins and soak in the views. This is the bigger of the two climbs on the route and the views are worth the effort!
  • See the flowers at Hokubu Sports Park.
  • Ride through the rice fields and along the Jakawa River cycling road.
  • Stop at Blacksmith Coffee for a relaxing brew or matcha latte.
  • Explore the food scene by the station (more details below).
  • Where to eat and drink in Ota

    Ota is full of delicious countryside classics including udon, soba, and ramen. For ramen lovers, we have a great pick for you. However, because of Ota’s ethnic diversity, we also highly recommend diving into some of the international cuisines on offer. Most of Ota’s restaurants are nearby the station, so once back from your ride, there are plenty of options at hand.

    Wanderlust Bakery Ota
    Start your day with a coffee at Wanderlust Bakery | Photo by Rob Mcmanmon

    Morning coffee and bakery

    Wanderlust Bakery: The best bakery in town and perfectly situated by the beautiful Yasegawa Sakura Riverway.

    Blacksmith Coffee: Great local cafe with coffee and matcha drinks.

    Lunch and dinner eats

    Bakajuu Gyoza Ramen Shop: Not just any gyoza, but explodingly juicy gyoza is the name at this gem of a ramen shop just a few minutes’ walk from Ota Station. Those who seek out rich, hearty ramen full of flavor will not be disappointed. And with an owner who is a locally renown jazz saxophone performer, the atmosphere is rich with cool jazz floating out from the top-of-the-line Bose sound system.

    Darbar Indian: A cult classic among local foreigners, Darbar just across from the station is home to wonderfully chewy naan and authentic Indian curries.

    Daniel House Brewpub: Ota’s own craft brewery, Daniel House boasts four unique brews just a few blocks from the station as well as some tasty Italian eats such as pastas and pizzas.

    Hanging with the locals

    United Sports Bar: If you plan to stay into the evening, United is the go-to cross-cultural hub of Ota. Much closer to a Western-style bar, United is locals and foreigners alike come to mingle, and a conversation is always welcome.

    Barra’s Irish Pub: Owned by a local Irishman, Barra’s is home to staples such as burgers, chips (fries) and of course Guinness drafts. A popular stop for locals looking to toss back a few after a day’s work, Barra’s is a great way to get a taste of Ireland out in small-town Japan.

    Bonus idea: Ota City Library

    Among the many things to explore in Ota, our top recommendation for bookworms and modern-architecture fans is the Ota City Library. Located conveniently next to the train station, this unique building stands out among more traditional buildings. Pop into this modern building to admire its architecture, light, and many multicultural books available.

    Be sure to go up to the library’s roof-top park, where there is a small outdoor space to soak in the sun, enjoy a good book or take a light nap. The library cafe offers decent coffee, tea and soft cream for a quick pick-me-up on the way out.

    Beyond Gunma: Countryside cycling experiences with Bike Tour Japan

    For explorers looking for an active travel experience in Japan beyond the cities, Bike Tour Japan (BTJ) offers both guided and self-guided tours that will take you off the beaten path. Choose from several bike options, including high quality e-bikes, hybrid bicycles, and road bicycles. No matter what type of ride you’re looking for, you’ll be sure to find the perfect adventure for you:

    Tour of the Japanese Alps (difficulty 5/5)

    Ride on the training grounds of Japan’s Olympic hopefuls. Draw inspiration from ancient traditions, incredible history, and remarkable nature. Get ready to test your body and spirit in the land of the rising sun. Learn more.

    Tour of the Nikko North Alps (difficulty 3/5)

    Join the BTJ crew as they dive into the North Alps of Japan: a world of tiny towns and massive mountains. Ride through a land where cyclists are respected and welcomed by locals. Then, unwind in beautiful surroundings while enjoying all the best of Japanese hospitality and treating yourself to freshly prepared ryokan meals. Learn more.

    Tour of the Setouchi Sea (difficulty 2/5)

    Relax in spectacular coastal onsen. Enjoy the world-famous Shimanami Kaido, an end-to-end bike path stretching across the islands of the Setouchi Sea. Then, explore the hidden and beautiful edges of this region, rarely visited by travelers. You’ll be expertly supported by BTJ’s dedicated road crew: cultural ambassador, cheerleader, road guide and mechanic—all rolled into one. We’ll ensure you get the best possible cycling and cultural experience on this unforgettable seaside escape. Learn more.

    Tour of the Japan’s Valleys & Volcanoes (difficulty 2/5)

    All of the beauty with a fraction of the climbing! The Tour of Japan’s Valleys & Volcanoes will take you on a deep journey into the small towns carved by the Watarase River Valley. Uncover breathtaking mountains, tranquil rivers, beautiful valleys and natural hot springs. Experience the spectacular and fleeting blooms, a hallmark of spring cycling in Japan. Learn more.

    Let the local experts show you the best routes, restaurants, onsen baths and cultural activities that these regions have to offer. Hop on the saddle and discover a truly unique way to see the Japanese countryside!

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