by Francois, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2009/06/18 - Biking the Shimanami Kaido
Many people visiting Japan will consider including the Shikoku region in their travelling itinerary, especially if they prefer the charms of the countryside to the attractions offered by Japan's metropolises. Getting to Shikoku from the mainland island of Honshu is possible by train, plane, boat or bus. For a more active experience of the journey, travellers can rent bicycles along the Shimanami Kaido bicycle route and make use of their own locomotive power.
One sunny spring day, I myself decided to forgo the convenience of public transportation and undertook the journey by bicycle. Well, to be accurate, first I took a bus from the city of Onomichi on the Honshu side across the Shimanami Kaido and then biked back. The Shimanami Kaido is both a bike path and a highway that crosses six islands and the bridges that connect them in the Seto Inland Sea. It begins in Hiroshima Prefecture on Honshu and connects to Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku. So, after an hour bus ride bus ride followed by a 5 minute taxi cab ride, I reached the main bicycle rental terminal on the Shikoku side and began my journey.
The Shimanami Kaido is about 70 kilometers long, and includes six bridges. Many of the more memorable moments from the trip were on the bridges, when I took a break from pedaling and looked out over the water and the surrounding view. The weather had luckily been just about perfect and the sky and water were a beautiful blue. The bridges had wide and smooth bike lanes apart from the road. Except for one bridge, the bike lanes along the bridges were only slightly enclosed, which made biking along them quite pleasant.
Once the bike routes reached the islands, they would usually divert from the expressway. The bike route would then wind through the small towns that occupy the islands. On one of the islands I stopped for a while to watch a hawk. And though warning signs alerted me to the presence of wild boar, I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to see any.
The island with the most attractions for visitors is probably Ikuchijima island. It is the location of the Ikuo Hirayama Museum, which is devoted to one of Japan's most celebrated contemporary painters. The museum was of particular interest to me because I had recently been to Yakushiji Temple, which houses a permanent exhibition of some of his paintings. I was so fond of his work that I even bought a rather heavy artbook with an overview of his career, and resolved to carry it for the rest of my journey.
Just beside the museum is Kosanji Temple, which I also visited. I can honestly say that the temple shocked me, not having expected such an ornate temple on one of these small islands. Kosanji is very elaborate, and even borders on gaudiness. It has a number of buildings that were built as near replicas of some of Japan's most famous landmarks, such as the Yomeimon gate at Nikko's Toshugu Shrine, and the Phoenix Hall at Uji's Byodoin Temple. And as if that weren't enough, at the summit of the temple grounds is a massive marble garden, with paths and statues all made of marble imported from Italy. There is even a cafe, of course made of marble, where I had an ice coffee to replenish myself for the rest of the journey.
As the sun began to sink lower in the sky, I realized that I had to quicken my pace if I wanted to make it back to Onomichi during daylight. There wasn't too much distance left to cover in the trip, and I had found that I had quite gotten used to the cycling. I hadn't started the day too early and had spent quite a bit of time exploring the islands, so I think that the Shimanami Kaido can be traversed by a healthy person who is comfortable on a bike without too much difficulty.
The biking was easier now that the sun wasn't so strong, and it was interesting to see the way that the scenery looked at dusk compared to how it had looked at midday. With the sun getting low, I reached the last island before Honshu, Mukaishima Island, passing a number of fisherman by the side of the road. The official bike route of the Shimanami Kaido does not pass over the last bridge connecting to Honshu, and although it is traversable by bike I had noticed on the bus in the morning that it did not seem very pleasant. So, I finished the day by taking a ferry from the last island back to Onomichi, and Honshu.