Japan in context: tunnels

Tunnels in Japan
I’ve never been a fan of cycling through tunnels. I’ve had some hair-raising experiences in the past. Japan, however, has put me much more at ease……..


probably more through repetition than anything else, because in the last 5 weeks, I must have easily quadrupled the number of tunnels I’ve cycled through in my lifetime……some 250 in Japan alone, the longest nearly 3 km. (My lifetime longest was over 10 km in the Italian Dolomites). If you’re worried about tunnels in general, Japanese tunnels are generally cyclist-friendly. They frequently have a side-walk, sometimes a dedicated tunnel for cyclists and pedestrians,(as in this one below)


are nearly always lit to some degree, and will nearly always tell you the length before you enter.
However, if tunnels are really not your thing, be aware of the following:
1. The road inside tunnels is not always flat. Nice when it’s going downhill, but a pain if it goes uphill.
2. Traffic noise is amplified tenfold, and can be very scary at first. What may sound like a ten ton truck may, in fact, be a little Daihatsu. What may sound as if it’s a tornado breezing up your backside may, in fact, be coming from the front. Whatever you do, and however you feel, hold rigidly to your position on the road. It’s much safer than cowering in the gutter. One Japanese cyclist told me he would always cycle down the middle of the road….I’m not recommending that, but I can appreciate his reasoning….


3. Wind…….If the wind is in your face when you enter a tunnel, it will continue in your face inside the tunnel, but be twice as strong. Why? Well, I’m sure physicists can explain this much more eloquently than me,  but I call it the ‘tunnel-funnel effect’. The great thing is that, when you eventually emerge into the daylight, what you thought had been a strong wind outside the tunnel, suddenly feels light and manageable. You might just stop complaining about it…..though that’s unlikely.
4. And finally, if the lighting gives out in the middle of a tunnel, it is very difficult (indeed impossible) to ride in a straight line. Best to get off the bike immediately and walk. Once you are plunged into pitch darkness, you lose the lateral visual parameters that help you keep in a straight line.


Japanese tunnels have taught me one thing: the easiest way to the other side of the mountain is……..well, not surprisingly, through the mountain itself. So tunnels should really be a cause for celebration……shouldn’t they?

About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 28, 2015, in End-to-End of Japan 3000kms and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Nicely put. I was so scared for my first couple of tunnels because my only previous experience was Korea where a cyclist should definitely NOT ride through tunnels if they want to live to speak about it (actually, the tunnels there are off limits to cyclists but I did make one attempt and regretted it).

    Back to Japan, I have the same feeling about the tunnels. Scary at first, noisy always but great to avoid those big mountains.

  2. Nice collection 🙂 I have gone through many tunnels by train in Sweden and in India, both times through mountains.

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