While Japan is a fantastic country to visit, it’s easy to get burnt out of touring temples, castles and shrines. After a while, for some people they all start to blur together and are far less enchanting and far more boring. As someone who has lived in the country for over 3 years, my sightseeing preferences have changed from wanting to SEE things to wanting to DO things.
I want to practice writing Japanese calligraphy. I don’t want to see an exhibition of it. I want to climb a mountain. I don’t want to take a picture of it from 1000 yards away. I want to meditate with the monks. I don’t want to look at temples. You get the idea right? This is how I prefer to be a tourist. Doing rather than seeing.
If you are nodding your head in agreement as you read this, then I recommend you spend a few days in southern Japan cycling the Shimanami Kaido to Shikoku.
The Shimanami Kaido is 78-kilometer cycling route that starts in Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture and ends in Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture. The cycling route covers numerous small islands off the coast of Japan and crosses over many beautiful suspension bridges. One of the bridges on the course is THE LONGEST suspension bridge in the world. It’s a beautiful route and offers stunning views of the Japanese coast and countryside.
This experience is one of my absolute favorite things that I have done during my four years of living here in Japan. If you have a few extra days and want to get some good physical activity in, this is a great way to do it! Below you can see the pictures of the trip that my group and I took as well as some pro-tips of how to have a good experience cycling the Shimanami Kaido.
PRO-TIP 1: Rent Your Bike
My group and I settled for renting our bikes from the company located next to the ferry of the start point. It’s located under a bridge and costs 1100 yen for the day. The forms were all in Japanese but they were simple enough to figure out. You write your name, phone number, address, and the bike number down. These bikes were pretty standard bikes. They had about 6 gears on them and a basket to keep your stuff in. Recently a new bike rental shop for the shimanami kaido opened that rents more serious cycling road bikes. It is called The Giant Store These surely would have made the trip easier, but they were also far more expensive. If you are interested in them, the information is in the link above.
PRO-TIP 2: Send Your Luggage Ahead via Post
carrying the luggage for our trip in our bicycle baskets the entire 78 kilometers was the biggest mistake we made. While we were able to complete the entire journey with our luggage, there was no need to make it so difficult. In Japan, it is so easy to send things via post. If you do it from the airport or arrange it with your previous hotel you can even choose a time frame for your luggage to arrive. The services are so convenient and efficient. Only at lunch, halfway through our ride, did we realize we could have easily sent our luggage to our hotel directly rather than carry it with us. It was a face-palm moment for sure.
PRO-TIP 3: EAT A GOOD BREAKFAST
I did this cycling trip with my friends Niki and David. David, being the nearly 6 ft tall man-child that he is, bought about 1000 yen worth of food at the 7/11 and scarfed it down before we started riding. For some reason, Niki and I were morons and bought a chocolate bread (sugar and carbs) and coffee (dehydrating). That is all we had for breakfast. We both felt sick about 30 km into the ride. Wonder why… Don’t be like Niki and me, use your brain and eat a proper breakfast.
PRO-TIP 4: Don’t Underestimate the Challenge
You’ll read online that anyone of an average level of fitness can complete the shimanami kaido. I believe that is true, however, 78 km is a long day of cycling and there are some challenging climbs uphill to the suspension bridges throughout the route. It’s no walk in the park!
Before our trip, I hadn’t ridden a bike in nearly 3 years. I thought because I was in the middle of training for my 2nd half marathon that I’d be totally fine and didn’t train at all. Stupid me! Cycling is a completely different from running! You use your legs in a different way! I would have greatly benefited from getting on a bike a few times in the weeks leading up to the trip and doing some 1-2 hr re-familiarization rides. Make sure you are prepared for the challenge!
PRO-TIP 5: Thoughtfully Book Your Accommodation
I know your budget is probably super tight, however, you should really think about what kind of accommodation you want to stay in and where it is after your ride. Yes, budget friendly hostels sound nice now, but after 78 kilometers, spending 10 dollars more for a room with a bed and a bath might be worth it. We stayed in Komecho Ryokan. It was an nice but budget friendly ryokan. It was about a 10-15minute walk from the station where we returned our bikes and it was fairly comfortable. I originally wanted to stay in the more expensive Sunrise Itoyama, however, by the time I started booking things it was already full. Sunrise Itoyama is actually right off the cycling path about 10 km before the finish. It’s on the coast rather than in the city so you get to finish the ride early and they return your bike for you to the station.
PRO-TIP 6: DONT GET LOST
David was in beast mode towards the end of the ride. It must have been all that extra breakfast. He went ahead of Niki and I finishing about 40 minutes earlier than us. It would have been closer but Niki and I got lost in the city on the way to the station. I should say that it isn’t easy to get lost on this route. From the very beginning of the ride you follow a blue line painted on the roads all the way to the finish line at the station. Niki and I must have missed a turn somewhere. By the time we realized we were no longer following the blue line, we couldn’t find it anywhere. We pulled out google maps to help us get the rest of the way to the station. This added an additional 5 kilometers to the ride. NOTE: You should ALWAYS be following the blue line. It will take you straight to the end point at the station. Don’t be like us. Pay attention to the blue line.
PRO-TIP 7: Take Your Time
It’s a beautiful route! No need to rush through it. Stop and take photos, eat soft cream, and enjoy the experience. I recommend the orange soft serve ice cream! It was so delicious and that area of Japan is famous for citrus fruits. I wish I had taken more photos on the Shimanami Kaido!
I really loved this experience in Japan. It was hard, it was long, and it was so rewarding. I hope this post encourages you to do something a bit different during your time in Japan. If you are planning to cycle the shimanami kaido, I hope you were able to learn something useful. I linked some websites down below that I found useful when I was planning my trip on the shimanami kaido.
If you are looking for other active things to do during a vacation in Japan check out some of my other active posts.
Hiking Mt. Tateyama (Coming Soon!)
Canyoning in Japan (Coming Soon!)