Want to do something really different this summer in Japan? How about a cycling trip across six islands in the Seto Inland Sea.
The Shimanami Kaido is a 70-km long highway that links Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture with Imabari in Ehime Prefecture. With a total of nine individual bridges, each bridge consists of a road way and a pedestrian walkway. One of the most beautiful cycling routes in the world.
With a temperate climate, you can enjoy this cycling trip any time of the year but summers are the best as you can take a dip in the pristine inland sea when you feel like.
I know, 70 km sounds a lot but don’t worry, we have provided information on how anyone can enjoy this iconic cycling path.
The starting points of the Shimanai Kaido are either Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture or Imabari in Ehime Prefecture.
Shin-Onomichi station is connected to Tokyo by shinkansen, which takes about four hours by Nozomi or five by Hikari. From there, you take a bus or train to JR Onomichi Station.
Night buses take about eleven hours and cost almost half that of a shinkansen.
You can also take buses from Hiroshima, which takes about 2 hours; from Okayama, which takes about 1.5 hours; and from Osaka, which takes about 5 hours.
Imabari is accessible by the Yosan Line of JR Shikoku. By limited express train, it takes about 40 minutes from Matsuyama (which has one of the oldest hot springs in Japan).
You can rent bicycles from two different rental systems. Regular rentals include various types of bicycles including tandems, electric-powered bikes. A rental fee of 1,000 yen per day is charged along with a 1,000 yen deposit for a regular bicycle which is refunded unless you drop off the bicycle at a different terminal.
For details on tandem and electric-powered bikes, please check the link below:
You need not reserve a bicycle but it is suggested to do so on long weekends or national holidays. The earlier you reach a terminal, the higher the chances of getting a nicer bicycle. Depending on availability, you might be provided a helmet.
There are a total of 14 terminals. Check the link below to find out more:
The second system is by Giant which offers high-quality bicycles and are available in the range of 4,000-14,000 yen per day! There are only two terminals – one at Imabari and the other at Onomichi. It costs an additional 3000 yen if you drop off the bike at a different terminal.
Onomichi is known for its temple walk. After picking up your bicycle, you can cycle through this quaint town and head up to Senkoji (temple) and Senkoji Park, both offer a lovely view of the town and sea below. Senkoji Park is a wonderful cherry blossom spot too!
Many films, manga and novels have used Onomichi as a setting and you will probably see many movie buffs around.
Since the first bridge connecting Onomichi to Mukoujima (also spelled as Mukaishima) is quite narrow with no cycling lane, most cyclists prefer taking the short ferry ride up to Mukoujima.
You can zoom through Mukoujima and head straight to the Innoshima Bridge.
From Innoshima, head toward the Ikuchi Bridge and check out Kosanji Temple on the island.
You can grab a bite to eat in the Shiomachi Shopping Street followed by a walk on the Setoda Sunset Beach.
Some cyclists take a break in their journey at this point and stay at the Setoda Private Hostel and why wouldn’t they? The Hostel has a lovely bath overlooking the beach.
If you do plan to stay here, then you can go for a swim and unwind.
Continue on the route and head to Tatara Bridge that connects Ikuchijima to Omishima and is one of the most popular bridges.
One of the stops that has become popular in recent years is Okunoshima, a ferry ride from Omishima.
If you love rabbits, you must stop by this unique island habited mostly by bunnies!! Apparently when last counted, there were 700 rabbits in 2013!
For more: https://www.qkamura.or.jp/ohkuno/
From Omishima, you cycle by the sea towards Hakatajima and then to Oshima.
One of the most recommended views of the Japanese landscape is from the Kirōsan Observation Park at 307 meters in Oshima. From here, you get a panoramic view which includes the Kurushima-Kaikyo bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world, and hundreds of surrounding islands.
From personal experience, it is quite a task to climb up the hill to the observatory. You can cycle half way and walk your cycle the rest of the way. But believe me, the views are breathtaking and you won’t regret the pain in your thighs! Sunset is probably the most spectacular time.
After enjoying the view from Kirosan, you can either complete the last lap of this long journey or stay on Omishima.
On crossing the longest suspension bridge, you can relax at the Sunrise Itoyama, grab a bite to eat or just head to drop off your bicycle to the terminal of your choice in Imabari.
Want to make the most of this trip? Then from Imabari, you can visit Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama, which is just 35 min away from train or bus.
Why not stop at one of the oldest hot springs in Japan, which was an inspiration for the onsen scenes in the famous Ghibli film, Spirited Away?
Google Maps Link
A useful Google Maps link created by ©CycloTourisme Shimanami which has several more spots to see, accommodation, places to eat as well as cycle terminals.
One day or two?
If you are reasonably fit and don’t want to sightsee the various towns or villages that come on the Shimanami Kaido, then you can start early in the morning and complete the 70 km in about 7-8 hours.
However, if you have travelled all the way, it would be a waste not to stop by and soak in the sleepy charm of the Japanese countryside. Doing about 35 km each day, gives you ample time to stop, take a deep breath and enjoy the scenic views.
Each time you have to get onto a bridge, you have to go uphill and this can be tiring but you can always walk your bicycle if it gets too strenuous.
If you get tired you can stop and leave your rental cycles at any one of the terminals and hop on to a bus.
If you do plan a stay, then check the link below for accommodations:
Things to remember while cycling
1. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes
2. Drink lots of water
3. Apply enough sunscreen.
4. Please ensure to follow traffic rules; as far as possible, stay on the left or stick to the cycling path.
5. Do not cycle intoxicated.
6. In case you get a puncture, you can visit any of the rental cycle terminals on the islands or try finding a police station and ask for a pump.
7. If you plan to cycle at night, make sure you have a light.
The main route has a blue line as shown in the image above so you do not need any map. The blue line will guide you all the way.
This feature is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more spots and areas you can explore on the Shimanami Kaido.
Get doses of history and culture, interact with locals and fellow cyclists while you enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the Seto Inland Sea.
Official Website: http://www.go-shimanami.jp/global/english/