June 18, 2017

Cycling on the Shimanami Kaido

When friends around me are thinking of climbing Mount Fuji, my only interest is to cycle on the Shimanami Kaido(しまなみ海道). It is a 60 km toll road that links Japan's main island Honshu(本州)to Shikoku(四国), connecting 6 small islands in the Seto Inland Sea(瀬戸内海). It is also traversable by foot/bicycle, though the route is longer at 70 km.

I finally managed to make an attempt in April 2017. Actually, autumn would be a better choice, as spring weather tends to be unpredictable and showers are common. Of course, summer would be too hot and winter too cold.

Experienced cyclists should have no problem completing the whole journey in a day, but since I'm an amateur, intended to cover the route in 2 days, staying in a ryokan (Japanese inn) on the 3rd island (Ikuchijima) on the 1st night. However, it was raining all the time on both days, so I was left with the option of covering half the journey on another (sunny) day, or postponing it to my next Japan trip, due to lack of time.

Of course, since the ryokan stay had already been booked, I had to go ahead with it. This wasn't an issue, as there is a ferry that connects the starting point, Onomichi(尾道)in Hiroshima(広島)to Setoda port(瀬戸田港)in Ikuchijima(生口島), and Ikuchijima has sightseeing spots that are worth visiting even for non-cyclists. Indeed, flexibility is important when planning to cycle on the Shimanami Kaido.

There are 2 cycling terminals near Onomichi station for bike rental, and I chose to go for the cheaper one. It costs 1000 yen a day and another 1000 yen deposit that will be refunded if the bicycle is returned to the same terminal. Making a reservation in advance is possible but not necessary. Electric bicycles are also available at a higher rate, but the cycling route is constructed such that the inclines are not too steep, so non-electric ones are actually fine (gear adjustment is sufficient). Before bike rental, heavy belongings can be deposited at lockers or baggage service counter on the ground floor of the adjacent building.

Small tolls along the way (500 yen in total) are waived till 31 March 2018 to promote tourism. From Onomichi to the 1st island Mukaishima(向島), the most common way is to take the short ferry ride (110 yen for 1 adult + 1 bicycle).

And finally, the actual journey started! Blue and white lines are painted on the road for cyclists to follow, so there is no need to worry about getting lost. It was around 13 degree Celsius when I started my journey at 10 am, rather cold but actually just nice after cycling for around half an hour, thanks to the sun!

When I was there, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, adding to the already picturesque sceneries along the way~

Crossing the first bridge (Innoshima bridge) to Innoshima island(因島)! Cars above, cyclists and pedestrians below~

Going up the bridges was the toughest part. Once or twice I had to get down and push the bicycle, but just for a while~

Innoshima is the island of Hassaku(八朔), Japanese citrus hybrid similar to an orange in color but with the size/taste of a grapefruit.

It was nice enjoying rural scenery on my left and coastal scenery on my right. There are plenty of convenience stores along the way for food/drinks/toilet, and a few eateries/cafes. I had lunch in a ramen shop beside the first Lawson that I saw. The tachiuo(太刀魚)shio(塩)ramen was average but good comfort food for me~ Also tried some Hassaku products, since they are the local specialty.

Crossing the Ikuchi bridge to Ikuchijima(生口島). The bridge is uncovered, offering unobstructed views of the Seto Inland Sea!

Ikuchijima is the island of lemons~ Notable attractions on this island include Ikuo Hirayama Museum of Art(郁夫平山美術館)and Kosanji temple(耕三寺), which I checked out separately on another day. Kosanji is more impressive than I had expected, and the compound is rather big, probably takes around 2 hours to cover everything in a comfortable pace. The highlights of this temple include a hill of marble-- Miraishin no Oka(未来心の丘)and a 350 m long cave with countless statues that depicted the Buddhist version of hell, as well as Buddha statues. There are also replicas of famous Japanese temple buildings and a small museum across the street from the temple. Kosanji also holds cherry blossom festival in spring.

Since I did not intend to cover the whole journey, I turned out towards Setoda port at the Kosanji road junction, cutting through しおまち商店街, an empty shopping arcade with some food/fruit shops, and took the 3.10 pm ferry back to Onomichi with the bicycle as planned. (1350 yen, 40 minutes, 8 departures a day) My pace of cycling was moderate/comfortable, though the only rest stop I had was lunch (45 minutes).

30 km in slightly more than 4 hours was just nice for me. Due to my lack of stamina/exercise/experience, completing all 70 km in a day would be very tough. I am also not sure if I am able to do the remaining 40 km on the 2nd day if I were to follow my original plan. In fact, my knees were quite painful the next day and I had to spend most of the time sitting down. I guess my advice to similar travelers would be to book a night's stay on Ikuchijima, and judge for themselves whether they are still able/keen to complete the whole journey after covering the first half. Those who are fine with not covering all 70 km can also start the day earlier, do some sightseeing after reaching Ikuchijima, before taking the ferry back to Onomichi in the evening.

As for accommodation options on Ikuchijima, there are a few places to consider near Setoda port, depending on budget. The pricier ones are ryokan 旅館 (Japanese inn) such as Tsutsui(旅館つつ井)and Suminoe(住之江旅館), followed by minshuku 民宿 (family-run/budget version of ryokan) such as Hiyoshi(民宿旅館ひよし)and Sazanami(御宿さざなみ). For the budget-conscious, there is also Setoda Private Hostel.

I stayed in Tsutsui to pamper myself with its lemon-bath (hot spring bath filled with slices of fresh lemons!) after a day of exercise (which didn't happen :P) This lemon-themed ryokan is located just behind Setoda port terminal. It costs 14000 yen for a night's stay inclusive of 2 meals, expensive for an accommodation on the island, but average for a ryokan. Glad it welcomes solo travelers!

Dinner was sumptuous as expected! Breakfast was simple yet delicious~

It was really fun exploring the islands in Seto Inland Sea by bicycle, and I wouldn't mind doing it again, or covering the remaining journey next time! In fact, there are also many sightseeing spots in Omishima(大三島), though they are mostly not located near the cycling route. Let me train my knees first :P


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