Lake Inawashiro lies at the foot of the 1,816-meter high Mt. Bandai, about 80 minutes north of Tokyo on the Tohoku Shinkansen line, in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture.
Its attractions include mountains covered in green foliage in spring, camping and swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the lake in summer, red and yellow leaves in fall, and the elegant swans that fly over from Siberia in winter.
The lake is a popular destination for cyclists from spring through fall, and every year a cycling event known as the Tour de Inawashiro is held on its shores.
In this article, we’d like to introduce a cycling trip that takes you right around Lake Inawashiro. So what kind of scenery can you expect to see?
Koriyama City is promoting cycle tourism. So what kind of place is it?
As we travelled north from Tokyo, on the Tohoku Shinkansen, the crowded city gradually gave way to a rural landscape, and finally to deep mountains.
We got out at Koriyama and headed for the Mazasse Plaza information center, operated by Koriyama City, 10 minutes’ walk from the station.
Mazasse Plaza has hired out city bikes for urban tourism for some years, but in 2019 began offering bikes for serious cyclists, including hybrids and road bikes, as well as a range of essential gear for long-distance cycling, including helmets, saddle bags and sling bags.
A member of staff told us, “Fukushima Prefecture, where Koriyama City is located, is on a drive to promote cycle tourism, and from 2019 year we have started renting out road bikes.
“We also get visitors from Asia, Europe, the US, and the Middle East. From here, it’s about 30 km, or two hours, to Lake Inawashiro. Enjoy your trip!”
A trip around Lake Inawashiro, Japan’s fourth-largest lake
So we rented green road bikes and headed out towards Lake Inawashiro on National Route 49. As we left the city, the landscape gradually became more mountainous.
The road climbed gently through an unspoiled Japanese landscape of mountain streams, thick forest and small farms nestling in valleys, and suddenly, there before us were the deep blue waters of Lake Inawashiro!
Lake Inawashiro is Japan’s fourth-largest, with a circumference of 55 km. As we stood on the shore, 514 meters above sea level, the air felt deliciously cool and clean.
The pleasant breeze off the lake cooled us down perfectly from our pedaling.
So why do so many cyclists come to Lake Inawashiro? One reason is that the lakeshore road is relatively flat, with few ups and downs. Another could be the great sense of freedom you get from riding along the very edge of the lake.
This time, we chose a cycling trip that took us right around the lake in a counterclockwise direction, bringing you even closer to its natural beauty.
If you have time, why not take a boat ride?
The north side of the lake has a dedicated cycle road, allowing you to ride along the lakeshore in comfort and safety.
To our left, Lake Inawashiro, to our right, the majestic Mt. Bandai: the beauty of the landscape made our spirits soar and inspired us to pedal faster.
From the cycling road, we switched to National Route 49. We stopped for a break at the Lake Inawashiro sightseeing boat pier.
Lake Inawashiro is famously so clear you can see the rocks on the bottom; it’s also known as Tenkyo-ko (Heavenly Mirror Lake).
If you have time, we recommend a ride on a sightseeing boat. A round trip taking in beautiful views lasts around 35 minutes.
During the Tour de Inawashiro, you can also take your bike on a short course from this pier to the opposite shore of the lake.
The scenery south and west of the lake is outstandingly beautiful
From the sightseeing boat pier, we took Prefectural Route 376 (the Konan-Minato line), heading for the southwestern side of the lake. The volume of traffic here fell sharply, which made for easy cycling.
There were also fewer shops, with virtually no convenience stores (which means it’s best to get food and drink while you are on the north side of the lake).
We found ourselves in the midst of a rural landscape typical of old Japan. Enjoying the gentle ups and downs of the hills along the lakeshore, we eventually reached Hanryo Sakai no Omatsu Ato (Site of the Domain Boundary Great Pine), south of the lake.
During the age of the samurai, this was the border between the domains of two feudal lords. The road here is almost level with the water, and on a windy day, spray from the waves on the lake reaches as far as the road. It’s a popular spot with cyclists.
On the opposite side of the lake stands the majestic Mt. Bandai. Of all 55 km of Lake Inawashiro’s circumference, the southern part has the finest views. Now there was not much further to go, and we found new strength in our legs.
Stop for a break at a bakery popular with cyclists
With only about 6 km to go, we headed northwards on Prefectural Road 9, which runs up the eastern shore of the lake. Suddenly, as if to give us an incentive, we came to a side road on which stood the Komugi Bakery.
Komugi’s home-baked bread is not just popular with local people, but has fans who travel long distances to buy it. The shop is also a popular place for cyclists to take a break.
The owner, Ms.Yaginuma, said, “I opened the shop six years ago. About three years ago there was a sharp rise in the number of cyclists coming to Lake Inawashiro, so as well as loaves for eating at home, I started offering snack breads that cyclists can eat when they stop for a break.”
The delicious aroma of bread and coffee and the friendly smile of the salesclerk were really welcome at the end of our ride.
The bakery also offers commemorative stickers to cyclists who have been right around the lake. Why not take one home as a souvenir of your visit, along with some bread?
After your cycling tour of Lake Inawashiro, enjoy a hot spring bath
We completed our 55 km ride in a little over three hours. Bidding farewell to the lake, we headed back towards Koriyama on National Route 49, and came to the hot spring resort of Bandai Atami Onsen.
The hot springs here were discovered 800 years ago, and are famed for their beauty benefits. It’s fun just to stroll through this atmospheric resort, which has around 20 ryokan or Japanese inns, but why not stay overnight, and soothe away your tiredness with a hot spring bath?
Cyclists will be particularly happy to find a free foot bath – a familiar type of hot spring facility in Japan, in which you soak your lower legs up to the knee.
After a hard day of pedaling, bathing your tired feet improves circulation, leaving your whole body feeling toasty, and fatigue just melts away.
The Keyaki no Mori Foot Bath is right next to Gensen Shrine, and has WiFi and a place where you can change into clean clothes after cycling.
Bandai Atami Onsen is also the starting point of the Tour de Inawashiro. You can rent a bicycle close to JR Bandai Atami Station, and cycling around Lake Inawashiro is an activity enjoyed by many visitors.
Besides Lake Inawashiro, the Koriyama area offers a cycling course that takes you through some great places to view cherry blossom (from mid- to late April), including the Takizakura cherry at Miharu, considered to be of Japan’s three finest cherry trees, the Benishidare Jizozakura cherry, said to be a daughter tree of the Miharu Takizakura, and the Natsui Senbonzakura cherry trees.