One Japanese blogger , who uses the moniker 吾輩は猫であるさん (from Wagahai wa Neko de aru, the title of a famous novel by Natsume Soseki), referred to this bike trail as a サイクリストの聖地 (saikurisuto no seichi), or “a cyclist’s holy land”. The 海道 (Kaidō) in the name means “sea way” or “sea path”, and the trail obligingly hops islands from one side of the 瀬戸内海 (Seto Naikai, “Seto Inland Sea”) to the other. After reading so much about the trail itself and individual cyclists’ experiences on it, I’m adding this ride to my bucket list for my next stay in Western Japan! (´∀`)ﾜｸﾜ
This dedicated cycling route is 70km one way, and hops isles between the cities of 尾道 (Onomichi, on Honshu) and 今治 (Imabari, on Shikoku). The islands crossed are 向島 (Mukaishima – not Mukoujima, as Google Maps sometimes transliterates it), 因島 (In-no-shima), 生口島 (Ikuchijima), 大三島 (Ōmishima), 伯方島 (Hakatajima) and 大島 (Ōshima). According to the official SHIMAP site, cycling one way between the 駅前港湾駐車場 (Ekimae Kōwan Chūshajō, “Station-front Harbor Parking Lot“) in Onomichi Port to the 今治市サイクリングターミナル「サンライズ糸山」Imabari-shi Saikuringu Taaminaru “Sanraizu Itoyama”, Imabari City Cycling Terminal “Sunrise Itoyama”, ℡: 898-41-3196), would take a serious rider about 3 hours. However, those who prefer “pottering” (taking it slow) should plan on 10 hours or more. It appears that many “potterers” do the round trip over several days, enjoying little side trips on the islands, staying over in small inns, and eating meals out at little restaurants specializing in fresh area seafood. Some even extend the ride on the Shikoku side to the castle and hotsprings city of Matsuyama, a little over 40km from the trail’s end at Imabari.
Much has been written about this trail, both in Japanese and English, so my goal here is to bring together the best of what I have discovered and provide a short, but detailed overview. (This is a process I love – I am a true research geek!) I hope that the information provided here will be a helpful first step for others considering a trip, and that those reading this who have already ridden the trail will share their insights in a comment. よろしくねぇヽ(〃´∀｀〃)ﾉ
Starting from Onomichi
Onomichi itself is a smallish port city (pop. ~150,000) in Hiroshima Prefecture, famous for temples and its historical connection with the inland sea. Shipbuilding was a primary industry, and these days steamships and ferries still call at Onomichi. It also has some natural hot springs, so you might consider a stay at a 旅館 (ryokan, traditional inn) here at the start or end of your ride. If you are a literature fan, you may recognize Onomichi as the onetime residence of authors 志賀 直哉 (Shiga Naoya), 高橋 源一郎 (Takahashi Gen’ichirō), and 林 芙美子 (Hayashi Fumiko), and you’ll definitely want to check out the 文学のこみち (Bungaku no Komichi, “Literature Lane”). There is a scenic ロープウェー (rōpuwee, “ropeway” or cable car) up to 千光寺 (Senkō-ji, a famous temple which is one of 33 pilgrimage sites dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon), and due to the well-preserved Edo-era neighborhoods, several movies (and TV shows), such as the Yasujiro Ozu classic Tokyo Story, were filmed here.
To orient yourself, Onomichi is about an hour and a half out southwest of Ōsaka by 新幹線 (shinkansen, “bullet train”) in Hiroshima Prefecture. It is recommended that those coming by bullet train from the east – Tōkyō, Kyōto, Ōsaka, etc.- alight at Fukuyama and change to the JR San’yo line (山陽本線), in order to arrive at JR Onomichi. (Shin-Onomichi, the shinkansen station, is far from the coast, and requires a separate bus ride into the town.) Before you leave the station, check out the TIC.
You might want to consider starting your trip with a short ferry ride! There are two bridges over to the first island of the trail, Mukaishima, but one (新尾道大橋, Shin Onomichi Ōhashi) is restricted to motorized vehicles, and the other (尾道大橋, Onomichi Ōhashi) is a bit out of the way and has a very narrow bike lane. Apparently, as you leave the JR station and head down toward the water, you will see several different ferry services. These charge between ¥70 and ¥110 depending on route. If you do not read Japanese, look for the characters 渡船 (tosen) or フェリー (ferii), both of which mean “ferry”. Also, be certain the destination is “向島” (Mukaishima) as you don’t want to go to the wrong island!
If you rent a bicycle from one of the convenient サイクリングターミナル (saikuringu taaminaru, “Cycling Terminals”), you can “return” the bike to any terminal along the way, and then take a ferry or bus home. This service is called 乗り捨て (norisute, “ride and throw away”), but it is limited to non-electric assist bikes, and it does mean the forfeiture of your deposit. These terminals charge rental fees of ¥500 (about $4.87USD) per day for adults, and ¥300 ($2.92USD) for children – a great deal! Electric assist bikes (where available) are ¥800 (about $7.80 USD) for four hours. The deposit fee is ¥1000 (about $9.74), and is refundable if you return the bike in good condition to the same terminal you rented from.
At present, cyclists must pay small fees (¥50-200) to cross each of the six bridges (discount cards available at bike depots), although it looks like it will soon be free.
Some Links to Get You Started
SHIMAP しまなみ海道観光マップ – The official site (Japanese, with links to info in English, Chinese (simplified and traditional), and Korean.
観光パンフレットのダウンロード – A page from the above site which offers multiple maps and pamphlets in several languages.
しまなみ海道サイクリング：自転車でもっとたのしく – This is Imabari City’s Shimanami Kaidō site (Japanese only)
しまなみ海道ハーフ：盛豚の日記 – This is the blog entry of a cyclist who rode some of the trail on a folding bike. The pictures give you a great sense of the cyclist’s view of the ride. (Japanese only)
ONOMICHI CITY ENGLISH SITE – Shimanami Kaido – As the title suggests, this is Onomichi City’s English language trail info site
April 2014 Cycling Events in Japan – If you will be in Japan on the 19th and 20th of April, you might consider this official ride along the path! This link will take you to my blog entry with details.