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Biking the Shimanami Kaido

biking8 min read

pretty pagoda

On my last day in Tokyo, as I was preparing to leave for Hiroshima, a friend from the OSS Cafe mentioned a biking path near there. It's a relatively easy ride that goes from Shikoku, one of the 4 Japanese main islands, to Honshu, the mainland. It crosses 5 other islands along the 80km journey.

The last time I started a bike journey, it was to cycle to Fuji from Tokyo (120km); I made it half way and took the train home. I figured riding 40km one day and 40km the next would be entirely possible, so I booked a hostel around the half way point and took the Shinkansen to Shin-Onomichi station.

And off we go!

My Bags on a Bench in Shin-Onomichi

My shoes are still soaked from yesterday's rain. I change my socks for the second time today.

Changing my socks once more.

I can't bike 80km with a 40L backpack, so I store it in a coin locker at Shin-Onomichi.

I later realize this will cost me not ¥700, but ¥2,100 because it'll be in there over two nights. Seems like it's billed in increments of 12 hours, but I'm not entirely sure.

My bag about to enter its home for the next 48 hours.

Regardless, I pack 2 days worth of clothes into my 15L day pack and take the bus to Onomichi Station.

You want Bus Stop number 7, for Innoshima Bridge (因島大橋). There's a connection to be made to get all the way to Imabari. You can buy a combined ticket for a few hundred Yen less than paying for each bus separately.

The bus from Shin-Onomichi to Onomichi Station

The rain from yesterday continues it's slow downpour, scratching at the windows as we cruise south.

Rain on the window.

The darkness and rain don't entertain optimistic thoughts; I can only hope that the weather clears for tomorrow.

A blurry picture though the window.

I wait 50 minutes at the Innoshima Bridge bus stop for the connection to Imabari.

Chillin' at the bus stop.

The bus to Imabari takes us through brightly lit tunnels, disturbing the already fitful sleep of passengers.

A brightly lit tunnel.

I arrive in Imabari and check into the Cycle No Ie (Cycle Home) hostel.

The hostel entrance.

I'm greeted by an overjoyed sponge, oblivious to the drab conditions outside.

A kawaii as fuck sponge.

I'm the only one in the hostel, a side effect of the weather, it seems. I'm not sure if this is a blessing or not.

The owner of the hostel invites me to a restaurant where her friends are waiting.

Group dinner

The language distribution was fun to work with; I speak English and can get around with very basic Japanese, two of the Japanese natives spoke Japanese and basic English, one of them spoke English pretty well (she studied abroad, I'd later learn), and the Korean guy knew Korean and moderate English and Japanese.

We ended up switching between English and Japanese (and Korean!) in the middle of sentences when a vocabulary word escaped us. Add in some translating and we've got ourselves a pretty great conversation.

The deep concentration required for me to understand questions like "Is it your first time in Japan?" and "Where did you learn Japanese?" was hilarious to the native speakers.

Okinawa seaweed plate

The next morning I rent the bicycles from the station less than 50 meters away. There are bicycle rental stations all over the route; at least one per island and multiple on the mainlands. They cost ¥1,000 a day with a ¥1,000 deposit (forfeited when you return the bike to a different station). Total cost: ¥3,000.

I have two bikes because Jamie, a traveler I met the previous day in Hiroshima is coming along as well.

The rented bicycles.

The bike rental station also handed me a pamphlet with a helpful map and list of tourist destinations.

Steep hills: I can do it!

Thanks, pamphlet.

Imabari's mascot, it seems.

I hang out at the Imabari Station and wait for Jamie to arrive via bus; he left Hiroshima early that morning, so he should be here by noon.

His bus arrives!

A bus at the station.

This way to Onomichi.

The beginning of the blue line on the path.

The bike path is paved and decorated with a blue line the entire way; it's basically impossible to get lost. Rest assured though, we manage to do it later down the road.

Starting at the station.

We start at the station and make our way to the first bridge, Kurushima Kaikyo, the world's longest suspension bridge.

On our way we pass a bustling shipyard, owned by Imabari Shipbuilding, Japan's largest ship builder.

An Imabari shipyard

The bridge was finished in 1999, but looks remarkably modern.

The bridge from the approach

The occasional truck barrels past as we slowly make our way across the 4-kilometer-long bridge.

An empty car-carrying truck

We also quickly learn the custom of yelling "Konnichiwa!" to passing cyclists and waving as they pass.

Crossing the first bridge

The water below is an impressive shade of blue-green as it meets the shore.

The blue-green water

We make it to Oshima, the next island, stopping to snap a picture of the bridge before bombing down the relatively steep incline from bridge-height to sea-level.

The bridge, from the other side.

First bridge, nice!

Oshima passes by quickly and uneventfully. Before we know it, we're crossing the Hakata-Oshima Bridge.

The bridge from below.

The bridge from above.

At the other end of Hakata, we stop at a rest station before biking up the beautiful incline to the Omishima Bridge connecting Hakata to Omishima, the third island.

The rest stop beach shimanami kaido 30 !The beautiful incline.

The Omishima BridgeOn the other side, we get a great view of the bridge.

The Omishima Bridge

We also notice a higher density of gardens growing citrus fruits; citrus horticulture is a key industry on the islands.

A citrus garden

The bike road snakes along the coast line, providing great views of the neighboring islands.

A neighboring island.

We also pass a small shack on the sea. It's a library, apparently.

The library shack.

A closer look at the library.

We pass through the town, but few, if any people, are outside. We're not sure why.

The town and bike.

The town features more citrus gardens.

Another citrus garden

And a barber shop!

A surprisingly modern barbershop

The road sinking into the distance makes for a good photo.

A totally casual picture of my bike

We soon find ourselves at Tatarashimanami Park, which overlooks the Tatara Bridge to Ikuchi Island.

A clocktower in Tatarashimanami Park

A lock fence at the park

On the approach to the bridge, we pass a helicopter, proudly guarding the hillside.

A decorative helicopter on a hill

The front of the helicopter.

The next island, Ikuchijima, is one of my favorites. The bike path goes along the northern coastline and through a small town. We pass by a bus coated in fading psychedelic graffiti.

A graffiti'd bus.

Closeup of the 'Happy Go Lucky' graffiti

Closeup of the bus tire

Closeup of the front of the bus

Do or Die' Graffiti

Near the bus is also a small shack where locals undoubtedly hang out and watch sports at the adjacent field.

A small shack with chairs and a fire pit.

Speaking of the locals...

Some 'locals' at a store

The dolls were originally intended to scare away birds, but they're now kept purely for artistic purposes.

About this time the light is fading and so is our stamina. We arrive at our home for the night, Setoda Private Hostel.

The hostel approach

The hostel, closer up

looking backwards from the hostel entrance

The area is beautiful, complete with a beach and some seriously decorative trees.

The beach's stone pier

It's a great place to hang out and watch the world.

View from the pier

That's a nice tree right there

We wake up early (at 7:00) for breakfast at 7:30 and start biking again around 9:00. I'm excited for today; the longest distance and highest elevations are behind us now. We also have 3 more hours on our side, so exploring the islands is more of an objective.

First up, Kosan-ji a beautiful Buddhist Temple.

The entrance to Kousan-ji

Next, we take a detour to the north and explore the mountain/hill around Koujou-ji Temple which houses a Three Storied Pagoda, one of Japan's National Treasures.

We begin by biking up the side of the hill, but eventually end up parking the bikes in a clearing and walking.

view from the trail

the city below

We reach the pagoda and continue walking around the hill.

the three storied pagoda

You can see Kosan-ji Temple from here, as well as the marble ruins of the Hill of Hope. It's a bit far away for a clear picture, but the sight is astounding.

view from the hill

We reach the top of the hill.

The top of the hill

Throughout the area are concrete posts point out locations where painters created famous works of art.

The three story pagoda from above

Jamie and the top of the hill

It's surprisingly serene up here, the windy silence only broken by birds chirping and the arrhythmic pounding of steel far away.

The view from above

Next up, more biking! But first, a quick stop at a local gelato store where they make gelato from the local citrus fruits.

The gelato store

my gelato!

We grab ourselves some gelato and find a dope bench area across the road.

some scenic benches

a nice view

I once again notice the prevalence of solar farms around the islands; we've passed at least one per island. I'd love to know much much of their energy usage is renewable.

Some solar panels

We pass another factory yard; I'm not quite sure what they process here, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were related to ship-building.

a factory yard of some sort

As we approach the next bridge, the aptly named Ikuchi Bridge, I can't help but love the coastline and the color of the water.

the ikuchi Bridge

an awesome water-land moment

Another angle of the Ikuchi Bridge

We make it across in record time, grab a snapshot of the accomplishment, wait for a scooter to zoom past, and then bomb down the incline to sea-level.

The bridge from across the way

getting passed by a scooter

On the next island, Innoshima Island, there's a temple atop Mt. Shirotaki. It shows off 500 carved Buddha statues and amazing views of the island from a raised observatory.

it's the climb

half way there

pretty flowers along the way

The bridge to Mokuojima

panorama of the area

the town below

close up of a stone and the bridge

We also stumbled upon an abandoned (?) amusement park with an impressive water slide and an overgrown racing track.

the amusement park

The area is guarded by a frowning dinosaur. Perhaps he wants people to cut the grass.

the mad dino

We move along and cross the bridge to Mokuojima, where bicycles and scooters ride along below the stream of larger vehicles above.

the below road

The bridge from Mokuojima

We ride along the coastline for a bit, grabbing a water bottle at one of the ever-present vending machines.

the coastal road

a vending machine

a quick rest

the view back

a fallen comrade

local fishermen

a pretty formation

We pass by the local port where boats dock and caught fish dry in the sun.

docked boats

fish from afar

fish close up

We pass by a bridge going to an adjacent island; we're headed to Onomichi, so we ignore the red herring.

a red herring bridge

At the north end of Mokuojima we find the ferry docked and waiting for us. We roll aboard, pay the ¥110 fare, and land in Onomichi a few minutes later.

the ferry

on the ferry

We bike along the Onomichi coastal road for a bit before reaching the end of the blue line. Nearby is the bike rental return station. We drop of the bikes and part ways; I'm heading to Himeji, and Jamie is on his way back to Hiroshima.

The End