A Cyclist’s Dream: Riding the Shimanami Kaido
Shimanami Kaido (しまなみ海道) is a 74 kilometres bikeway that connects Japan’s main island of Honshu to the island of Shikoku. Passing over 6 bridges and 6 islands in the Seto inland sea, the picturesque Shimanami Kaido is every cyclist’s dream.
The best way to enjoy this scenic bikeway is to cycle through the 6 islands. I started from Onimichi in Hiroshima prefecture and ended in Imabari, Ehime prefecture. The bikeway can also be accessed from another direction – Imabari to Onimichi.
A good cyclist can probably complete the entire bikeway in 1 day but there will not be enough time to visit various sights on the islands. A minimum of 2 days with an overnight stay on one of the islands like Omishima or Ohshima is highly recommended for a fulfilling ride. Professional cyclist can make reservations for a good road bicycle in advance. Amateur cyclist can rent a mamachari for 2,000 yen (1,000 yen for a 2-day rental and 1,000 yen non-refundable deposit if the bicycle is returned at a different station). Before embarking on the cycling expedition, remember to take useful biking tour guide maps from the bicycle rental shop. The maps can be downloaded here.
The bikeway only starts after a 5-minute ferry ride from Onimichi port to Mukaishima. The bikeway is clearly marked by blue and white lines, road markers, and signs. Other than the challenging slopes up and down the bridges, the entire cycling course is relatively flat.
The gentle coastal ride through Mukaishima goes through Tachibana beach, a popular getaway for summer sports. Mukaishima Orchid Center displays a wide variety of colourful orchids that thrive in Mukaishima’s warm climate. After a relaxing cycle through Mukaishima, the first suspended bridge, Innoshima Bridge (1,339 meters) awaits.
Innoshima used to be a playground for the Murakami Suigun or pirates. During the Muromachi and Sengoku periods, they controlled the waters of the Seto inland sea. The Innoshima Suigun Castle provides a glimpse into the past of piracy with its extensive display of armours, weapons and historical documents. In summer, Innoshima celebrates its annual Pirate festival. The renowned three-part celebration consists of the Island, Fire and Sea festivals.
The next bridge, Ikuchi (790 meters) links Innoshima to Ikuchijima. There are some museums and temples on Ikuchijima. Ikuo Hirayama Museum of Art showcases art exhibits by one of Japan’s most famous painters, Hirayama Ikuo. The museum shop sells a series of souvenir-worthy postcards featuring Hirayama’s evocative paintings of the bridges and islands.
After crossing Tatara Bridge (1,480 meters), the bikeway leaves Hiroshima Prefecture and enters Omishima, an island located at the border of Ehime Prefecture. The steep slopes on the island lead to Oyamazumi Shrine, a Shinto shrine revered by sailors and warriors. Other than shrines, there are many art museums like Omishima Museum of Art, Tokoro Museum Omishima, Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture and Ken Iwata Mother and Child Museum on the island. Most museums are closed on Monday. Omishima is a relaxing island for cyclists to rest for the night and soak in hot springs like Tatara hot spa and Mare Grazier Omishima to recuperate after a long day of riding.
After traversing the hilly Omishima landscape and crossing the arch Omishima Bridge (328 meters), the next island Hakatajima offers is a friendly cycling route. Hakata Furusato Historical Park exhibits some artifacts with information about the local island culture.
The fifth bridge, Hakata-Ohshima Bridge (1,196 meters) links Hakatajima to Ohshima. Located on the top of Kirosan, Kirosan Observatory Park is a perfect resting spot to admire the majestic Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge, which is complemented by the dynamic tidal currents of Kurushima Straits. Many tourists like to board a cruise ship at Miyakubo and Yoshiumi in order to experience the tidal currents up close.
The last bridge, Kurushima-Kaikyo (4,105 meters), is the world’s longest suspension structure linking three bridges. It connects Ohshima to Imabari. Take the elevator down from the bridge to the small island Umashima to observe the tidal rapids.
Finally, after riding across Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge, be rewarded with a spectacular panorama of Shimanami Kaido from Itoyama Park observatory deck. Sunrise Itoyama is the bicycle rental centre where most people start or end their cycling expedition. Technically, the bikeway does not end at Sunrise Itoyama. From Sunrise Itoyama, it is another 30- to 45-minute ride to Imabari Station. Do not forget to visit Imabari castle, a unique coastal castle, which is near Imabari station.
Riding through Shimanami Kaido was a life-changing experience. Every ascent and descent that accompanied the crossing of bridges was memorable. Every island enhanced the landscape with its unique flavor. At the end of my journey, after crossing numerous bridges and islands, I was greatly humbled and inspired by the grandeur of Nature. So, what are you waiting for? Include Shimanami Kaido in your travel itinerary and enjoy the ride!