Cycling Diary: April Rail and Cycling Tour Day 2/3 to Shimanami Kaido
This is our cycling diary for Shimanami Kaido, which is probably the most well-known Japanese cycling route. The route connects Honshu to Shikoku with a series of bridges that are architecturally attractive and there are numerous opportunities to delight in the beautiful scenery of the Setonaikai inland sea, their islands and small villages en-route. For further informaton on Shimanami Kaido, please also see the following post: Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route
For cars the Shimanami Kaido しまなみ街道 is a 60 km toll road that crosses the Seto inland sea via the Geiyo islands and connects Japan's main island of Honshu to Shikoku, Japan’s fourth largest island. Fortunately bicycles can make the the journey for free and are allowed access to the six small islands that the bridge crosses. It is also known as the Nishiseto Expressway. There are two other bridges that link Shikoku and Honshu, however the Shimanami Kaido is the only one that cyclists can use.
On this journey our bicycle ride was approximately 130 km in length and included one overnight stay. It is possible to cycle the Shimanami Kaido (and return) in one day but we wanted to take our time and use the opportunity to explore a number of the islands that we passed through.
The cycling route is well maintained and marked with signage in both English and Japanese. The bridge cycle ways are safely separated from the main vehicular express way bridges although the occasional moped use it for access to some of the islands. Access to and from the bridges is by cycle ramp at gentle 5% inclines that wind their way up to the bridge and cycles can leave the bridge on these ramps to gain access to the islands.
Day 1 Shinonomichi - Innoshima
Our journey began early in the morning when we caught the 7.31 am Shinyamaguchi 新山口- Shinonomichi 新尾道 Shinkansen Kodama 730 using Japan Rail Pass arriving at Shinonomichi at 8.51. We had decided to cycle in a souherly direction, from Onomichi 尾道, across the Shimanami Kaido to Imabari 今治 City on Shikoku.
Shinonomichi 新尾道 station is cycle friendly. There are facilities available for cyclist and a tourist information centre where information on cycling the Shimanami is freely available. Indeed along the waterfront there are bike shops, cycle rental stalls and even a bicycle themed hotel (the U2) should you really wish to submerse yourself in the bike culture before you tackle the Shimanami.
We had done our homework in advance of our trip and knew that the first bridge, from Honshu to Mukaishima 向島 island is the only one not designed for cycling. With this in mind we set off for Onomichi channel waterfront which is about a 3.5km ride from Shinonomichi Shinkansen station along the 363 and takes no more than 20 minutes. Upon reaching the waterfront there are signs to the ferry which accepts bicycles for the 5 minute journey across the Onomichi channel to Mukaishima.
From Mukaishima ferry port there is little risk of getting lost as the Shimanami cycle route is clearly marked on the road with a thin blue continuous line that periodically informs you of the distance to Imabari. Initially the route follows the the 377 which actually goes all the way around the island if you wish to extend the journey.
After 5km we decided to depart from 'the blue line' to cross to Iwashijima 岩子島 Island via Mukaishima Ohashi (a red bridge). The island seems a world apart from the Shimanami. Iwashijima has few tourists and appears to be fishing island that is lost in time to the world that surrounds it. We cycled the 12km around Iwashijima island admiring the views out to sea and made a brief stop at the lovely Iwashijima Shrine on the western side of the island.
Back on Mukaishima the imposing sight of Innoshima 因島 suspension bridge soon appears. My heart began to fill with excitement at the site of this huge suspension bridge. When it was completed, in the early part of the 1980's, it was the longest suspension bridge in Asia. Following the 377 the blue line passes beneath the Innoshima bridge eventually turning off to the left where the 1.5km spiralling ramp to the bridge commences.
Arriving at the bridge I was expecting the cycling path to follow the side of the main road. However, this is not the case for this bridge. In this instance the cycle path clings to the underbelly of the main road almost giving a feeling of being precariously hung above the Mekuriseto straights some 80m below.
After crossing the Innoshima bridge the blue line leaves the Shimanami expressway and follows the route of the 366 around Innoshima island. During the middle part of the last millennium the Murakami pirates were based around here and there is a detailed exhibition at the Suigun castle which details their activities during the 15th and 16th centuries.
We had decided to spend a night on Innoshima island. We stayed a little off the beaten blue line in the Hotel Innoshima ホテルいんのしま (Japanese).
The hotel is located near the top of the Sabataishi hill in Innoshima Park on the southern part of the island. It is traditional Japanese, with good food and an excellent onsen bath with amazing views of the inland sea.
From here it is only a short distance to the east to reach the beach resort of Orikonohama. To the west is the island's main town where it is possible to find restaurants and shops to purchase provisions. The only challenge being the return to the hotel which involves a 750m ride along a road with an average gradient of 9%.
Day 2 Innoshima - Imabari
After an excellent night's sleep we rise early and take an onsen to watch the sun rise over the horizon. We grab a free coffee from the lobby, make our way to a local convenience store for breakfast before cycling the 5km to the Innoshima bridge.
The Innoshima bridge is a traditional suspension bridge that cross the straights between Innoshima and Ikuchijima 生口島. The bridge has cycle lanes separated from, but at the same level as, the main highway. It is worth stopping to admire the views and take photographs.
Continuing on the Ikuchijima, the blue line of the cycle path departs from the main highway and descends down to route 81 below. Initially it heads north along the coast, providing excellent views across to Innoshima, before eventually turning to a more southerly direction.
Approximately 12km into our cycle along the 81 we encounter the Dolce Ice Cream café. We stop and indulge in a double portion of amazing ice cream. We sit on the outside terrace overlooking the coast and beyond to the islands of Sagi and Takemashima. For a moment I wonder whether I am in Japan or on the coast of the Italian Riviera. It is a beautiful place and the memory of our short stop here will surely stay with me.
Back onto our bikes and the 81 passes through the small village of Setoda 瀬戸田. Here there is a tourist information centre with some guides in English. Setoda is also the setting for the delightful Choonzan Park 潮音山公園 with its multi-story pagoda and the bridging point to the small island of Takemashima. We are tempted to cross to Takemashima to do a quick circumnavigation around the island on route 370 but, with a Shinkansen booked for early afternoon, we decide to push on towards Imabari. Continuing on the blue line of the 81, we ride along the coast with the clear blue sea on our right hand side. The road is quiet but we do pass several convenience stores and snack bars which would make excellent places to stop and rest tired legs. Unfortunately we have to pass by the wonderfully named, westward facing, sunset beach with its fine sand until we eventually reach the Ikuchi bridge at the southern tip of Innoshima.
The 490 metre long Ikuchi Suspension Bridge links Innoshima to Omishima island. Arriving on to Omishima there is a car/bicycle service station where it is possible to take a break, do some bike maintenance or simply take photographs of the bridge. Less than 1km west of here there is the appeal of Tatara Onsen to rest tired legs however we needed to continue. Following the blue line we leave the bridge behind and find ourselves cycling along the eastern coast of Omishima with amazing views over the Seto inland sea. The 10km journey south across Omishima passes quickly I am continually distracted by the rather pleasant views across the Hamaguriseto straight towards the north western peninsula of Hakata island.
The steel arched bridge that links Omishima to Hakata is no more than 250 metres in length. The cycle path is on the right hand side of the bridge. Pleasingly there is no need to cross the highway as the cycle ramp from the 317 takes you straight to the cycle path.
My excitement rises as we arrive on to Hakata in the knowledge that the world famous Kurushima Kaikyo Ohashi Bridge 来島海峡大橋 is only 7km away. Cycling across Hakata the blue line forms a gentle (3%) incline before descending towards the crescendo of our journey: the final crossing to Shikoku.
The Kurushima Kaikyo Ohashi Bridge comrpises of three successive suspension bridges with six towers. The bridge, at over 4km in length is the world's largest suspension bridge structure. Indeed it is so long that the end towers give the appearance of almost disappearing over the horizon. The cycle across the bridge is pleasant with many people cycling their bikes across. Crossing this bridge, as a cyclist, was possibly the highlight of my journey to Japan on this occasion.
Arriving on to Shikoku the blue line follows route 49 for the 10km through the outskirts of Imbari to the station where we arrived just just in time to bag our bikes and catch the Limited Express Shiokaze 18 to Okayama where we caught the Shinkansen Kodama 672 to our next destination: Shinfuji.
Our cycling diary will continue, so watch this space.
Further Journey from Imabari
From Imabari to Shinfuji (6 hr 5 min) Standard fare 17,470 yen
12:59 Imabari depart via Limited Express Shiokaze 18 to Okayama
15:11 Okayama arrive
15:23 Okayama depart via Shinkansen Kodama 672
19:04 Shinfuji arrive