Last weekend a couple friends and myself headed down to Onomichi 尾道市 in Hiroshima Prefecture to do some serious cycling over the long weekend across the Shimanami Kaidō 広島県しまなみ海道 (an expressway located in the Seto Inland Sea).
Also known as The Nishiseto Expressway 西瀬戸自動車道, The Shimanami Kaidō is made up of the longest series of interconnecting suspension bridges in the world, connecting the city of Onomichi尾道市 to Imabari 今治市. The series of bridges represent the only connection between Shikoku and Honshu that is traversable via bike (or on foot if that’s your thing), and since they were erected only 15 years ago they are in very good condition with many small roads purpose built for cyclists.
We headed down via a long string of JR trains (in an attempt to cut costs by avoiding the Shinkansen) on the Friday evening having reserved a room in a very cheap (and dodgy) for both the Friday and Saturday nights. Saturday morning we got up bright and early, geared up and walked a short distance to our nearest bicycles rental station to pick up our the bikes we had reserved for the day.
There is a very convenient bicycle rental system that has been set up for those wishing to undertake just such a trip as we were embarking on, across each of the 6 islands as well as on the mainland over a dozen pit stops have been set up where bikes can either be rented or returned. There is quite a wide array of bikes on offer to hire including those for children, electric bikes and even tandems! For the modest fee of 500円 one can rent a standard bike for the day, children and students are 300円 and the electrical ones can only be hired for 4 hours (as that’s how long the batteries will last I presume) for 800円.
But Daniel you ask “Isn’t the one and only skill you will ever admit to possessing, that you are a beast on two wheels? So why would you hire a dodgy rental bike?”. Well concerned citizen you see the thing is as much as I love both my bicycles, and consider them an extension of my own body when we fuse each and every day. Unfortunately taking such machines on trains in Japan is nothing short of a headache (one would need to disassemble the wheels and carry them in a ‘bike bag’) and Kobe is a long way away from Onomichi! In short its simply not worth it over 500円, although it did feel like cheating………
In addition to the nominal fee a 1000円 deposit is required to be paid which will be returned on the condition that the bike is returned to the same station in which it was rented from before 6pm (5pm in Imabari) the day in which it was rented.
Anyhow I am just going to throw this out there as a warning to anyone who might be reading this with plans to undertake the trip, if all the members of your party have not decided the route they will take or if there is any chance of you splitting up, I would recommend asking for separate invoices for each bike rather than combining them. I will get into it later but half our group dropped off our bikes in Onomichi (where we would be entitled to a refund of the deposit), the other half in Imabari (where they chose to forfeit it) and it took us a good half an hour of arguing with the employees since they tried to cheat us out of our money thinking we were ignorant gaijin (not to worry we had secret weapons and prevailed). If you are looking for details regarding the hiring of bikes follow the link here.
Shimanami Kaidō has a great range of places to see and thing to do along the way if that so takes your fancy, I however was in it heart and soul for the cycling. For the more touristy things check out the link here where you can find out a little more.
When undertaking a cycling adventure such as this with a group as large as 8 people, its is not at all uncommon that separate groups will form based upon the skill level of each rider. Whilst a couple of us were making great time, there were those who being beginner cyclists lagged behind and it wasn’t long before the constant stopping and waiting became frustrating for those who wish to push ahead.
I wouldn’t say I am anything close to a pro cyclist but I am definitely what you may call a great ‘cycling enthusiast’, always looking (often to my own demise) to push my body to the limit. For such ambitions however the Shimanami Kaidō is a less than ideal route, being in general very flat, scenic and leisurely.
I would think that most intermediate cyclist could easily do the 70km it comprises of in a day with little more than a little bit of a sore buttocks to show for it. To my loyal readers you may recall my last big cycling trip last year in which I undertook the ‘Awaji 150’ from my home in Kobe, that route was a good 168km in total and there is a great deal of elevation along the cycling route around the island of Awaji, by comparison Shimanami Kaidō is child’s play.
That said we were not as nearly as prepared for this trip as the last (since we left much later in the morning on less than amazing bikes), because of this I was hesitant to attempt cycling all the way to Imabari and then returning in the same day but still wanted to do more than the 76km the one way trip comprised of. Instead half of our group cycled all the way to the 50km pit stop at Oshima before and turning back headed towards Onomichi, whilst the girls cycled all the way to Imabari.
Quite comically in retrospect (but perhaps not so much at the time) they became stranded on the other side unable to find a bus, ultimately resorting to hitchhiking back to Onomichi that night, their sign says 美女３尾道 (3 beautiful women, headed towards Onomichi) which apparently a convenience store attendant wrote for them on a piece of cardboard!
Another reason why cycling back to our starting point seemed a little more attractive was one can save a little bit of money and a long bus trip doing so, the bus back along the bridges takes 90 minutes and costs the quite steep price of 2200円 for the trip, here is a link to the schedule if you find it useful in addition there is also the 1000円 deposit that is refundable for the bicycles return.
I must add that there are some small fees for traversing each of the bridges with little collection terminals set up at the beginning of each bridge, although they are quite cheap (adding up to only 500円 for the entire way) you must have the change to pay for them so a pocket full of 50円 coins may prove useful, the list of bridge tolls can be found here. The final fee one encounters along the way is the 110円 for the ferry connecting Onomichi to the first island Mukaishima.
I am certainly very keen to return to do the trip once again in the future as it really is an amazing ride, one of the things I found really amazing about the entire route was this magical blue line! At times you find yourself passing forks in the road and traversing winding roads through little towns but matter where you are ridding getting lost is something pretty difficult to achieve. One has to simply look down and check if there is a blue line painted alongside the regular road markings, if so you’re on the right track, if not turn around the way you came and find out just where that blue line turned off into!
Being very very familiar with the perils of becoming lost and frustrated when cycling unknown roads this feature of the trip is a lifesaver.
In addition there are markers every KM you ride telling you just how far you till your destination, finally when exiting each of the bridges there are large blue signs pointing the directions to head if you would like to explore the sights that particular island has to offer (in both Japanese and English)!
By 7pm on the Saturday night we had all reunited at our ever so dodgy hotel and set out in search of an izakaya for some well deserved drinks, but as we were all quite weary we took it pretty easy.
Before heading back to Kobe on Sunday however we decided to explore a little of the town of Onomichi since it really is quite a quaint and charming corner of Japan.
Characterized by a plethora of outstretching narrow laneways and staircases along the文学のこみち(Path of Literature) which head up to千光寺 Senkōji Temple and the adjoining千光寺公園 Senkōji Park in which brilliant views of Onomichi can be seen.
If hiking isn’t your thing (would not recommend the walk is beautiful) another way to reach the temple is via the Senkoji Ropeway which runs from 9AM-5:15PM, 270円 one way /430円 return.
When I reached the summit I kind of nostalgia washed over me, which was really odd since this was my first time visiting Onomichi, Suddenly a thought came into my mind ‘huh this city really looks like an aweful like the setting of one of my favorite anime I had watched years prior called かみちゅ! Kamichu! A super cute anime very similar to something Studio Ghibli might make about a middle school girl who suddenly discovers that, overnight, she has become a kami 神(literally a Shinto god). I gave it a quick Google and seems I was right on the money, the series was indeed set in Onomichi over in the Spring of 1983 and many of the temples and landmarks featured in the anime are real locations and faithfully depicted.
To anyone who likes a little slice of life anime, I couldn’t recommend it enough; in my opinion it bares a strong similarity to Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi 千と千尋の神隠し (Spirited Away) so if you liked that go for it!!
Our trip back to Kobe turned out to be very long and uneventful, instead of paying the 20,000円 or so that the Shinkansen新幹線(Bullet Train) would usually cost for the return journey we instead managed to find a string of 6 local trains on the JR line that got us back in around 4 hours (and cost us only 4650円 return), my time isn’t worth that much that I am above spending a Sunday train hopping with my buddies so for me it was time well spent ^^
On that note I’ma go give Kamichu a re-watch for nostalgias sake.
-Dan (and here is a kancho for good luck)