Japan is known as the country of 7,000 island, 6,852 to be precise. But where are all these islands exactly?
We think we found them, or at least a good portion of them, while cycling the Shimanami Kaido from Onomichi to Imabari. The Shimanami Kaido is a highway connecting Hiroshima Prefecture to Ehime Prefecture in Shikoku. It was built with cyclists in mind, as there is a very clearly marked path for the entire 70KM. Along the way you cross six architecturally-unique bridges and from the bridges you can see the green/blue ocean dotted with countless volcano-shaped islands.
The waterways running between the islands are teaming with life: cargo ships moving majestically from port to port, fishing boats out checking their nets, and teenagers taking advantage of the sun to do a little wakeboarding.
Cycling the Shimanami Kaido gives you a glimpse into a pocket of Japan that changed drastically since industrialization, but hasn't caught up to Tokyo, Osaka or even Fukuoka in terms of pace of life and density of the population. Still plenty of green space here.
It's also a region that residents are surprised foreigner's pick to visit - "Why here?" residents ask.
Well, because…...it’s scenic, an experience of rural Japanese life that isn't so far out of the well and well connected, it’s not an intimidating distance by bike, very accomplishable, the architecture of the bridges is iconic, the area has a rich history and there is delightful Japanese hospitality to be experienced along the way. It's an easy decision really.
If you are thinking of trying to fit this experience into your itinerary - here is a bit of information to help you do that.
Shimanami Kaido Itineraries
The whole route is about 70 KM (43 miles), and can be covered in one day, but doesn’t have to be. Below are a few different ways to incorporate the Shimanami Kaido into your Japan itinerary.
1. Half-Day - Electric Bicycle - Distance 28.5KM
This itinerary has you starting and finishing in Onomichi. It enables you to use electric cycles and takes you across a few of the bridges. I would recommend this for someone who is interested in cycling, but doesn't want to commit to the distance. It's a nice
- AM - Have a hearty breakfast and pick up some water and snacks for the road.
- 9:00 - Pick-up bikes from rental store at Onomichi Port
- 9:15 - Ferry from Onomichi to Setoda [Ferry Schedule]
- 9:54 - Arrive in Setoda
- 12:00/13:00 - Start to cycle back toward Onomichi (if you are cycling at 10KM per hour it should take about three hours to get back)
- Cross the Ikuchi Bridge and Innoshima Bridge before ferrying from Mukaishima to Onomichi
- 15:00/16:00 - Return cycles to the rental station where you picked them up!
- Potentially stay the night in Onomichi - there are some great views and good baths to be had
41.5 KM or 48 KM
2. One-Day - City Bike (w/ basket) - Distance 41.5KM or 48KM
The beauty of this plan, is it gives you a lot of freedom around where you start and finish. If you rent a regular bicycle you can drop if off at any of the terminals along the way. In my opinion the bridges between Ikuchijima to Imabari were more architecturally stunning and so I would focus my time on them. In this example, you start from Imabari, but you could also start from Onomichi and accomplish the same route.
- Let's imagine you spent the night before the ride in Matsuyama after ferrying over from Hiroshima - after waking up and having a good breakfast you would make your way to JR Matsuyama Station and take the Yosan-line Limited Express bound for Imabari.
- 8:10 - Train departs Matsuyama for Imabari
- 8:46 - Train arrives at Imabari
- 9:00 - Pick-up bicycles at the rental terminal at the train station
- Bike from Imabari Station to Setoda Port (48KM)
- Cycling at 10KM an hour this would take almost five hours
- Cross the Kurushima-Kaikyo, Hakata Oshima and Tatara Bridges
- Explore around Setoda (Kosanji Temple + Hirayama Ikuo Museum)
- 18:00 - Return your bicycles to the rental station by Setoda Port before it closes
- 18:40 - Ferry from Setoda Port to Onomichi (arriving at 19:19)
- Alternatively, you could stay at one of the Ryokan on Ikuchijima and return to Onomichi the following day
3. Two-Days - City Bike (w/ basket) - Distance 70KM
If your itinerary allows for more time along the road, all the better. That way you can move through the islands slowly, and give yourself time to deviate from the path to explore. You'll need to rent a bicycle that can be dropped off in a different place then it was picked up. I would also recommend having a basket on your bike, so you don't have to carry things on your back while you ride. City bikes have a basket and can be dropped off anywhere along the course, so fit this itinerary well!
- Day 1 : Onomichi to Setoda (28.5 KM)
- 9:00 - Pickup bicycles from rental station by Onomichi Port
- Ferry from Mukaishima to Onomichi and then bike across the Innoshima Bridge and Ikuchi Bridge
- Stop along the way for Botanical Gardens and mountain top views
- Arrive in Setoda - visit the local sites (Kosanji Temple + Hirayama Ikuo Museum)
- Check-in to your ryokan, have a nice bath and delicious dinner
- Day 2: Setoda to Imabari/Sunrise Itoyama (48KM/41.5 KM)
- Enjoy breakfast at your ryokan and then get on the road
- 9:30 - Cycle from Setoda to Imabari crossing the Tatara, Hakata-Oshima and Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridges
- Stop along the way for mikan ice cream, beaches and sweet cafes
- 18:00 - Return cycles to Sunrise Itoyama (just off the Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge) or to Imabari Station Terminal
- Spend the night in Imabari or train over to Matsuyama and stay there
4. One-Day - Cross Bike - Distance 70KM
This is the simplest of all the itineraries. It is for a physically fit person that wants to accomplish the course in one day. You can start from either Imabari or Onomichi - although the onramp to the Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge can be intimidating, so it may be better to start from Onomichi and go down it rather than up!
- Pick-up bikes the night before your ride, so you can get a head start on the day.
- 8:00 - After a hearty breakfast, start out on the road
- Work your way across the bridges, stopping for photos, snacks and potentially a sight seeing spot or two (time allowing).
- If you are cycling at 10km per hour you it will take between 7 - 7.5 hours to cycle the whole way.
- 18:00 - Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination and return your bicycles to the store by 18:00 when they close.
- If you are renting from Giant you can pay 3000 yen extra to be able to drop it off in a different location than you picked it up! Definitely recommend this option, this way you get the advantage of a nice bike with lots of gears, and the convenience of returning it when you finish.
- If you rent a normal bicycle from the Shimanami Rent-a-Cycle, you can leave your bike at any station along the way
Rental Cycle Options
***Recommend reserving bicycles ahead of time****
- Giant - a range of cross bikes, more gears, lighter bikes, no baskets. Can pay 3000yen extra to drop off at a different location than where you picked up.
- Shimanami Kaido Rent-a-Cycle - range of options from electric, to tandem, to city bikes. Less expensive than Giant. Different bikes are available at different terminals, so reserving ahead is crucial.
- You can pick-up a map of the area/course at any of the rental cycle centers or tourist information centers.
- Bella Vista - Gorgeous Seaside Hotel
- Setouchi Minato no Yado - Minimalist, traditional house
- Airbnb - Entire house, bright and airy, sleeps four
- Suminoe Ryokan - Right next to Setoda Port, traditional ryokan, lovely garden and sea views
- Juicy Fruits - Closer to Sunset Beach, man who runs the pension is a farmer and will share oranges when in season!
- "Log House" Airbnb - Entire house, air mattresses for beds, sleeps eight, 10 minute cycle from the port
- "Koune Paradiso" Airbnb - Private room, sweet host, provide food
- Shimanami Guesthouse Airbnb, Imabari - Entire house, sleeps five, free parking available, right in front of Imabari Station
- Shimanami Cycling Airbnb, Imabari - Entire home, sleeps eight, 20 minute walk from station
- Sen Guesthouse, Matsuyama - Bunk or private rooms available, lovely staff and roof to watch the sunset from
- Tatami Suite Airbnb, Matsuyama - Private room, sleeps 5, engaged hosts, close to the castle in Matsuyama
Here is the best site with list of accommodations along the Shimanami Kaido.
If you are moving around the country by train, here are recommended routes to access the Shimanami Kaido.
- Hiroshima → Onomichi
- Okayama → Onomichi
- Matsuyama, Shikoku → Imabari
- Matsuyama to Imabri (35 mins) by JR Limited Express Shiokaze
- Kyoto → Onomichi
It would be cumbersome to carry your luggage with you while biking the Shimanami Kaido. Luckily though, Japan makes it super easy to send it ahead. You can ship your luggage from any hotel or convenience store. They say to leave at least 48 hours for luggage to arrive, but I think 24+ hours is enough if you are shipping within the region (for example: Hiroshima to Onomichi). If you are shipping from a hotel, they will help you fill out the form, you just need to give them the address, contact number and delivery date desired.
If you are sending from a convenience store, then you'll need to go and request a haitatsu (配達) form - the blank one below is called a yu-pa-ku.
I've filled in the below form with the address of Suminoe Ryokan on Ikuchijima. You start with the zip-code, then the address, then the name of the hotel and finally the phone number. Do that for the destination as well as the original location. The attendant will help you fill in the arrival date, size of luggage, arrival time, etc.
It's very reasonable to ship luggage, for a 30 liter backpack I've paid about 1,300-2,000 JPY. So worth it to not have to worry about carrying everything!