Shimanami Kaido – Hiroshima & Ehime, Japan

It’s been a while since I’ve been on a good bike ride, so when a friend and I got the opportunity to cycle 70km from the town of Onomichi in Hiroshima to Imabari in Ehime we showed up, jumped on our rental bikes and went off giddy with excitement. Shimanami Kaido is one of the best cycling rides I’ve ever done, and paraphrasing my friend Al who recommended it to me: “if you can drop everything right now and do it, DO!” (Thanks Al for an amazing recommendation).

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Waiting for the little ferry to take us to Mukaishima Island which is where the Shimanami Kaido cycling road begins.

Getting off at the JR Onomichi station, we grabbed some useful maps and brochures at the information centre but most of it was in Japanese. There is also map available in English that you can download online. Across the street from the station is Green Hill Hotel, and at the parking lot underneath is where you can rent a decent 8 speed bicycle for ¥‎2000 ($24 CAD) for the day. Next to Green Hill Hotel is another hotel called U2 which looks like the hipster cyclist dream (you can hang your bicycle up right in your room), worth checking out if you’re thinking about staying the night in Onomichi.

After renting our bikes, we walked to the small ferry terminal next to Green Hill Hotel and paid ¥‎120 ($1.40 CAD) to take a quick 10 minute ferry ride to Mukaishima Island where the Shimanami Kaido route begins. Getting off the ferry, the route is super easy to follow – find the painted blue line, and off you go!

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Follow the painted blue line!

After cycling through the town we came across a sign showing the distance to the first bridge crossing. Along the Shimanami Kaido, there is plenty of signage in English with distances. You’ll always know how far along you are the route and there’s very little chance of getting lost.

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Sign showing the distance to the first bridge we’ll be crossing leading to Innoshima Island.

As we leave the town behind us, we reach the first section of cycling along the coast – and it’s glorious. The view of the sea and mountain range spread out before us, basking in the morning sun.

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Bridge 1: Innoshima Bridge
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Two people find an idyllic small island for their fishing trip!

Shimanami Kaido has the best cycling infrastructure I’ve ever experienced. The route leading towards the bridges were specifically built to have a gradual incline, with an average gradient of 3%. Which means even though I only had an 8 speed bicycle, it was a comfortable ride going up. There are no steep sections to navigate along the route, which makes it a perfect relaxing ride to do for those who may not cycle as much. Also the route along the bridges are completely separated from cars, so it’s very safe.

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Cycling up towards Innoshima Bridge.
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A sign showing the average gradient and that it’s a 1.1km steady climb up to the bridge.
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Cool factor; the route goes underneath the Innoshima bridge while cars zoom above.

The second bridge that crosses over to Ikuchijima island had one of the best views and was my favourite to cross. I loved seeing the thick steel cables rise high above, it almost looked like an instrument the wind could play!

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Bridge 2: Ikuchi bridge.
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Trying to look upwards, sideways, behind, forwards, all at the same time. 360 stellar views.
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The view from Ikuchi bridge.
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Along the way we found this shrine overlooking the sea. I loved seeing the burst of red that popped out against the blue of the sea and sky.

As we climbed up to cross Tatara bridge, the third one, there were lemon orchards along the route! This area of Japan is famous for its citrus fruit, and Ehime prefecture is known as the “Orchard of Japan”. I stopped to take some photos, it was cute seeing the dots of yellow amongst all the green of the trees.

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A small truck hidden behind all the lemon trees.
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A happy looking lemon enjoying the sunshine for the day.

I was rustling a little in the trees to try and get this close up shot of the lemon in the photo above, and luckily the sweet old lady who happened to be nearby harvesting didn’t think I was stealing her lemons. As I made my way back to my bicycle I heard a shout “hoi!”, and looked up to see her standing above me. I break into my usual cheesy grin and wave while hollering “konichiwa”, and she tosses down two lemons for me!

Have you tried eating a freshly picked lemon? In our excitement at receiving this gift of citrus delight, we cut one up and ate it like an orange. The initial bite was so soooo sour, but it was incredibly refreshing! The next few kms I cycled were powered by half of that magical lemon.

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An orange stand along the route where we stopped to enjoy some tasty oranges.

Buying fruit in the cities in Japan is expensive, so I’ve been having fresh fruit withdrawal. Convenience store bananas have mostly been the only budget friendly fruit I’ve been eating here, and when I really feel like splurging I’ll maybe buy an apple. A far cry from the big delicious fruit salads I was eating daily in Thailand and Brunei before coming here. So getting to eat fresh oranges on this trip was a real treat!

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Bridge 3: Tatara bridge.
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Along Shimanami Kaido there are several rest stops and small cafes where you can take a break and enjoy a snack. This upcoming rest stop was called “Cyclists’ Sanctuary”.
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The path going downhill after getting off Tatara bridge.
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Cherry blossoms that were still in full bloom! Our trip was in late April, and the weather was perfect for cycling – neither too hot or cold.
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Bridge 4: Omishima Bridge.
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Bridge 5: Hakata Oshima Bridge.
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Crossing Hakata Omishima Bridge, and the view below once we crossed over.

After crossing Hakata Omishima Bridge we only had one more bridge to cross before reaching Imabari. We had been cycling for about 7 hours (with breaks) at this point and I could feel my legs becoming jelly as my body was shouting for a refuel: “Carbs! Carbs!”

My request was answered in the form of a small cafe – and after a coffee and tasty lemon cake I was ready for the last bridge that would carry us over to Imabari.

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A nice small cafe on route to the last bridge before reaching Imabari.
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Passing by a statue of a Shikoku pilgrim. Shikoku is famous for it’s 88 temples that pilgrims visit clockwise and can complete the route by walking which would take 6 – 8 weeks or by also taking the bus.
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Bridge 6: Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge.
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The ramp leading up to Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge. A major turn in dramatic views!

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Shimanami Kaido is every cyclists dream: excellent views, a decent distance (for roadie keeners you can make a return trip in a day for that extra challenge!), plenty of rest stops, and amazing infrastructure for a safe and smooth ride. If you enjoy cycling and plan on visiting Japan, this should be high on your list of rides to do!

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6 bridges, 6 islands, at least 6 beers maybe after you’re done to celebrate.

Access:

We started our Shimanami Kaido route from Onomichi. Get off at JR Onomichi Station.

Top Tips:

  • Bicycle shorts. It would save you from a very sore bum after the ride.
  • The entire 70km length of Shimanami Kaido can be comfortably done in a day, but there are also accommodation options along the way if you want to make it a 2 day trip.
  • It took 9 hours to cycle (with breaks, and also an afternoon nap…) from Onomichi to Imabari.
  • The bicycles we rented came with bike lights, make sure they work. If you plan on doing the route in a day you most likely will be finishing at night.
  • The route is mostly flat, with some incline when approaching to cross one of the bridges.
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The finishing view, and what an ending! Cycling over Kurushima Kaikyo bridge to Imabari and catching sight of this lighthouse.

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