Biking the Shimanami Kaido

80km from Imabari to Onomichi

Saturday, December 05, 2015

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

Thanks, pamphlet.

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!

This way to Onomichi.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

On the other side, we get a great view of the bridge.

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

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

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

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

The town features more citrus gardens.

And a barber shop!

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

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

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

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.

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

Speaking of the locals…

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

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.

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.

We reach the pagoda and continue walking around the hill.

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.

We reach the top of the hill.

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.