Nature & Scenic Views

Japan Travel Inspiration 04: Embark on an Epic Cycling Journey on the Shimanami Kaido, Japan's Famous Biking Route

LAST UPDATED May 31, 2024

That's it, I'm converted. I am now an electric assist bike enthusiast. I quickly ascended the circular ramp up to one of the towering suspension bridges that span the Seto Inland Sea, where I glided with the power of an Olympic cyclist on my bike. This is the Shimanami Kaido, a series of bridges connecting the small islands between Honshu and Shikoku islands, also known as a cyclist's dream. But as someone who is not a regular cyclist, it wasn’t the physical exertion of biking or the triumph of completing the entire 70-kilometer length of the Shimanami Kaido that called to me; it was the allure of seeing glimpses of island life, taking in views of the ocean on all sides of me, and the gastronomical feast in roadside cafes and stations, that enticed me.

  • My journey began in Onomichi City, in Hiroshima, which marks the start of my 70-kilometer-long Shimanami Kaido road. One of the other ends of this long journey is Imabari City in Ehime. As I crossed the cycling road, the quiet whir of my bike propelled me over one of the many hills on this island-hopping journey. Along the Shimanami Kaido, epic observatory viewpoints made me feel like I was standing at the world's edge, stunning accommodations designed for cyclists await, and a peaceful glimpse into island life in Japan is my adventure's main attraction and highlight.

  • Starting My Scenic Cycling Journey into Japan’s Charming Island Life at Onomichi

    Onomichi is where I picked up my much-hyped-about bicycle to begin my cycling expedition over the islands that have made this destination such a talked-about adventure. Many others start their cycling journey here, just less than 2 hours away by train from the Atomic Bomb Dome, as evidenced by the bike motifs near restaurants and shops around the station.

    After a brisk five-minute walk from the station, I arrived at Onomichi Port. I was excited to browse through the different bike rental options available here. Although there were cross and city bikes, my heart was set on the electric assist bike that I had been dreaming of since riding one for the first time a year ago. After experiencing its almost-flying sensation, I knew this was the one I wanted.

  • With my bike's electricity engaged and helmet on, I stepped on the pedal for a quick start to my biking journey. First, I headed up the hills towards my first bridge to test my bike. When my foot touched the pedal, the quiet motor turned on, and I effortlessly sailed up the bike path. Perfect. Eventually, I reached the first bridge of my Shimanami Kaido cycling route — the Innoshima Bridge. Capped with two towering pillars, this suspension bridge was the first of many I would cross, its giant shadow created a perfect and unmistakable silhouette against the turquoise-blue ocean waters on this autumn day.

  • While I had many plans for this day trip, I couldn't resist stopping a few times to peer over the edge of the bridge and take in the stunning views before me. Along the way, I saw various cyclists passing by on bikes in a wide variety of types — all exchanging greetings as they rode past. There seems to be an unspoken rule here that people greet each other, and I quickly learned I could count on the friendly atmosphere shared by all cyclists on this epic cycling route.

  • An Intimate Island Life Experience and Relaxation After a Day Cycling Trip at WAKKA

    Rest is an absolute must for all cyclists, and fortunately, accommodations catering to their cycling clientele can be found all along the Shimanami Kaido. One such place is WAKKA, a facility I toured but did not stay at on my 70 kilometer trip.

  • Nestled on Omishima Island, about halfway along my lengthy Shimanami Kaido route, this serene facility functions as an all-inclusive biking center, offering bike repair services, showers, BBQ facilities, private cabins, and yurts.

  • What truly stood out were WAKKA’s offerings of a deeper and more intimate experience of island life and the local nature. The quaint island life is a significant draw for many who cycle the Shimanami Kaido. While I could catch glimpses of it during my cycling trip, a stay at WAKKA, with their curated excursions, like their lemon picking, making aroma goods with 100% Omishima citrus fruits, and yoga sessions by the sea, would have been the icing on the cake.

  • During my tour of the WAKKA facilities, I noticed that the dormitory and private cabin styles cater to different types of travelers. However, my attention was drawn to the yurts, mainly because of the stunning views of the sea and bridge right outside the front door!

  • WAKKA provides a fresh BBQ experience with locally sourced ingredients that that vary depending on the season. Imagine cooking under the open sky, without shelter or obstructions, surrounded by friends and family on this biking adventure! Finally, waking up to the ocean view and morning sun must offer a spectacular welcome to your biking trip. I was sorry that I could not experience it for myself!

    If you decide to come here from Hiroshima, traveling by bike is the most direct and rewarding way to get to these islands. Remember that you will need to rent a bike that offers multiple-day rentals, and an electric assist bike is not an option.

  • Take a Dessert Break with Cake and Coffee with a view of the Ocean at Patisserie Tamaya

    It's almost a shame to stop cycling; my electric assist bike really makes me want to push much further because it's so easy, but a craving for dessert and coffee was grumbling in my stomach. At Hakatajima Island, I took a coffee break along the coast at Patisserie Tamaya. The ocean scenery doesn’t stop here, as I find entering this small cafe by the sea, with its stunning scenery unfolding before me through the large sliding glass doors, framing the view like a beautiful painting.

  • In the mood for cake, I found the perfect spot indoors by the window and ordered a few cakes to replenish the sugar lost during my trip. The business owner sat down with me for a quick chat, where I learned that the cake maker honed his craft in Hakata City, Fukuoka, and Osaka before opening this dessert cafe seventeen years ago.

    The cafe has recently gained popularity thanks to people posting about it on Instagram. Seeing the fabulous ocean views, with an outdoor terrace just feet from the edge of the water, it was easy to see why it has found Instagram popularity, though these desserts are certainly worth the hype on their own.

  • A BBQ Seafood Feast and Ocean Whirlpools at Michi-no-Eki (roadside station) Yoshiumi Ikiikikan

    After riding about 50 kilometers past tiny houses with vegetable gardens and orange groves, I happened upon a BBQ lunch stop at Yoshiumi Michi no Eki. The small sheltered tables near the water's edge were the first to catch my eye as I walked towards the roadside station. Known for its outdoor barbecue space, its location next to the water speaks volumes about its abundant access to fresh seafood, so I was almost guaranteed a regional seafood feast.

  • Inside, the air was filled with the enticing aroma of roasting seafood as a bustling crowd gathered for their late lunch. Rows of tables were lined with trays of seafood and clay pots filled with burning charcoal, where diners sat grilling noble scallops in their bright purple and red shells, skewered squid, and plumb shrimp simmering on top. Short on time, I checked out the rest of the station to explore quick-to-eat alternative food options, such as curry rice, fish burgers, hot dogs, French fries, and ice cream.

  • Although I didn’t have enough time to explore, there are also sightseeing boats that can take you to one of the three fastest whirlpool currents swirling across the Seto Inland Sea strait. Before leaving, I quickly stopped at the gift shop and browsed their range of local products, including citrus gifts and local sea salt sprinkled over caramels — a delightful sweet treat I took for the road.

  • Stand Before One of Shimanami Kaido’s Most Stunning Ocean Views from the Kirosan Observatory

    Just a short bike ride away from the Yoshiumi Michi no Eki, I arrived at the foot of the mountain on top of which Kirosan Observatory is perched. I will say this right now— the views from Kirosan Observatory are truly worth it. Situated on Oshima Island, Kirosan Observatory Park provides one of the most spectacular ocean views of my trip, showcasing the impressive triple suspension bridge, Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge. However, reaching this spot involves a challenging climb up a mountain.

  • Years ago, I visited this spot by car. I remember driving up the hillside and feeling empathy for cyclists who braved the steep ascent for the views at the top. Now, here I was, looking up at the bottom of the hill with my bike. Thankfully, I had the power of my electric-assist gods on my side. Switching my bike power to full, I pressed on the pedal and felt the full force of my bike under my feet as the views below me gradually receded while I pedaled onward.

  • After 20 minutes of climbing, I made it to the observatory point and understood what those past cyclists must have felt on their bike rides up. While I could have driven, I wouldn't have been able to achieve the same sense of satisfaction that comes from biking all the way to the top.

  • I parked my bike and walked to the observatory stairs leading to the top platform. Designed by Kengo Kuma, this observatory showcases his talent for using materials meant to create spaces that harmonize with the surroundings. Made of elegant, clean cement, the top vantage point extends from the hilltop. Standing at the edge, it felt like I was standing at the world's edge, gazing down at the ocean views and islands.

  • From this high vantage point, the distant drifts of clouds make the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge even more stunning, as if it were a watercolor painting. Considered one of the most beautiful spots for viewing the islands dotting the Seto Inland Sea, it is a popular spot for photography, especially during sunset. Photographers come here to capture the sunset dipping beyond the ocean horizon and then waiting for the bridge lights to come on — creating a twinkling light show that is also worth capturing. Next time I come here, I will be ready with my own tripod and camera to capture this sight.

  • A Stunning Glamping Site with a Suspension Bridge View at Glamprook

    Right before I got off the final bridge to Ehime, I would like to suggest another unique accommodation option for you. Glamprook is another stunning spot where you can enjoy the peaceful island life from the luxury of their glamping accommodations. But what sets it apart is its exclusive access — located on Umashima island, this island can only be reached by bike, ferry, or on foot via the last suspension bridge of the Shimanami Kaido. Even car access is limited to the island’s residents, meaning that access to this exquisite glamping experience is only available to those traveling by bike, on foot, or by boat.

  • After dismounting at the elevator entrance, located in the middle of the Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge, I took the elevator down with my bike to the ground level to Umashima Island. During this visit, I was given a tour of Glamprook and welcomed by the manager, who provided a quick guide. I was informed that there isn't even a vending machine, creating a distraction-free environment for guests to focus on relaxation, serenity, and immersing themselves in the beauty of the surroundings.

  • From the windows of the rooms, including the restaurant and glamping sites, I could see the uninterrupted view of the ocean and the striking suspension bridge. The glamping sites, affectionately referred to as "cocoon rooms," are cozy and comfortable. They have soft chairs and a hammock that creates a cocooning effect, making you feel like you are being enveloped by a soft envelope of down pillows and blankets.

  • With the peaceful island view right outside your window, it’s the gentle reminder I think we could all use, to take a break from work, breathe in the ocean air, and bask in the glory of the ocean scenery.

  • Concluding my Shimanami Kaido Cycling Adventure at Sunrise Itoyama

    After a full day of biking and exploring some of the islands along the Shimanami Kaido, I finally reached the end of my journey in Imabari City. I dropped off my bike at Sunrise Itoyama, where the iconic Shimanami sign is located. One of the great things about biking along the Shimanami Kaido is that there are more than 10 rental locations that also serve as drop-off points.

    Of course, a picture of the sign is in order, marking the end of my epic cycling journey, one I wish I could have spent a bit more time exploring. But more adventure calls! This is just one of the many routes we have curated for you, including the following Ehime travel ideas:

    Route 1: Extend Your Golden Journey With this Easy Trip from Hiroshima to Ehime’s Ancient Hot Spring Town
    Route 2: Hop onto a Retro Sightseeing Train from Matsuyama to the Charming Old Castle Town of Ozu
    Route 3: A Walking Tour Through the Charming Old Town of Ozu & Interact with the Locals
    Route 5: Experience a Walk Through Serene Landscapes & Warmth of this Ancient Pilgrimage Route

    As I prepare for my next adventure, I find myself wishing I could spend more time on the epic Shimanami Kaido route. Next time, a nighttime visit to Kirosan Observatory, an overnight stay, and BBQing under the starry night sky are all on the docket for my next visit!

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Eastern Ehime (Toyo)

Cycle the Shimanami Kaido, explore the islands and whirlpools of the Seto Inland Sea, and delve into the Toyo region’s industrial heritage.