I am back from a wonderful bike ride on the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido. I was a bit reluctant at first
“A magnificent Shimanami bike ride”
I am back from a wonderful bike ride on the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido. I was a bit reluctant at first because I imagined it as flat and boring concrete, but it's none of that. The trail is a great way to discover the cultural richness and beauty of a part of the Seto Inland Sea.
Shimanami Kaido is very diverse — sometimes running along the shoreline at or above it, sometimes crossing villages and flying over the sea between the islands — it's an extraordinary gateway that opens onto a local concentration of Japan. The islands have specific productions, a local history linked to national history, a daily life still marked by insular isolation even after the construction of bridges, which are very interesting to discover.
Once we arrived at Onomichi Station, we sorted our bags and shipped them to our final destination at a reasonable price in order to travel light.* The bike rental terminal is located close to the station and is quite easy to find.
The Ojisan (man of respectable age) in charge was busy doing things on the other side and we had to call him. You can choose between ten bike models, some of which are designed and manufactured in the region, children's bikes (up to 20 kg), children's bikes and tandems at some rental points. Overall, Shimanami Kaido has around 1,500 bikes that can be rented as Norisute (one way rental), which doesn't require you to return them to where they were rented.
That was the option we took. In this case, the 1,000 yen deposit becomes a base fee and the rental fee is 500 yen per bike per day during business hours. If you're leaving for work, take a set of 10 500 yen coupons covering all tolls on the bridge, which you'll remove according to each toll and leave in a box at the entrance or exit of each bridge.
*From JR Onomichi Station, you can send luggage to your destination via a delivery service. Please note that luggage may not arrive on the same day. Contact the tourist information center at the train station for more details: +81- (0) 848-20-0005
So let's go! First, we cross the canal by ferry from the dock next to the rental terminal (70-110 yen) to reach the opposite island of Mukaijima and start the journey. After exiting the ferry, simply follow the blue marks on the side (on the left, of course) of the road to get back on your way.
In Japan, riding a bike on the sidewalk is tolerated by parents accompanied by children and elderly people, so we rode to the side of the road.
The houses shrink as we reach the seaside, which we follow for a while before the first bridge shows its impressive shape. The slope of the access ramp is well designed to provide a slight slope. We climb it eager to know the impression of the view from the height of a bridge.
The Innoshima Bridge is the only 2-story bridge on the Shimanami Kaido and the view could be better, but as the first bridge of the day, it's very impressive.
the other side of the bridge, halfway up the slope is Hassaku-ya, a store that specializes in Daifuku fruit (mochi rice pastry). The most typical Daifuku is made with Hassaku, as revealed by the name of the shop, a citrus fruit with a lemon orange flavor.
In general, Daifuku are stuffed with red bean paste which gives a slight feeling of heaviness, but here, using the fruit itself in an envelope made of Mochi rice flour provides its specific texture and freshness. The fruit juice mixes with the fruit paste pad; it's delicious!
This is not a surprise because the creator's passion and desire to share it are obvious. You just have to look at it to know that it will be good!
On the road, many shops and restaurants have bike racks and provide free water for cyclists. To let runners know, they use a specific sign. Some hostels welcome passengers with the same idea.
Another advantage of Shimanami Kaido is that it alternates between “terrestrial” phases in villages, along beaches, and “aerial” phases on bridges in the midst of immense panoramas. But what's also great is getting away with it and walking the streets that run between houses to capture a bit of people's daily lives.
Mr. Miyawaki's ice cream
At the end of the afternoon, we stopped at “Setoda Dolce”, a Setoda glacier located by the sea. Mr. Miyawaki, a passionate man, uses local fruits and ingredients from the island and carefully picks them to prepare aromatic and refreshing Japanese-style ice creams with a good balance of sugar. It is served in a cone specially designed for Setoda Dolce and divided into cells that hold the fondant material for longer “natural” pleasure.
This melts quite quickly compared to the others because neither gelling agents nor other non-natural agents are used in the preparation. It offers delicious ice cream that is freshly made every day. I could not resist tasting a lemon, a pure aromatic experience: an exquisite balance between sweetness and acidity. Lightly salted milk ice cream contains locally produced salt that enhances its flavor and provides mineral freshness at the end.
Do not hesitate to talk to him because he loves it: there are Japanese people who become ice cream makers because they cannot become Italian.
The sunset in front of the shop is magnificent, but it is getting dark and we have to go to the hostel we booked.
*Visited in November 2013.
*Please see the latest price information, etc.
*Learn more about the Setouchi Shimanami Cycling Course
After a night in the inn on Ikuchijima Island, we slowly start our second day with a visit to Kosanji Temple. It is an ancient temple whose particularity lies in its buildings built on the model of a famous religious building such as the Yomeimon Gate of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine.
It is also home to a large statue of the goddess Kannon, a cave symbolizing hell, and a hill whose summit is paved and covered with white Carrara marble statues symbolizing paradise.
It offers magnificent views of the sea and the surrounding islands. Except for one month during the cold season, the temple always has flowers, especially in August when the lotuses contained in 300 windows are blooming.
All temples in Japan have an access road called (Omote) Sandô.
We're taking this from Kosanji Temple. Decorated differently depending on the season, it includes shops selling traditional snacks that cyclists can enjoy while walking, the typical building of a former post office transformed into a rest room for cyclists, rich traditional salt producers' houses, and at the end of the street, in a former salt warehouse, a small free marine museum, open across the street, run by an old lady who doesn't speak a word of English but who will explain everything about the Life of an old boat. A nice encounter!
From there, we head to Tatara Bridge. Its access ramp meanders along slopes ideal for orchards where organically grown trees are covered with mikan (Japanese mandarin) and lemon trees, native to this island.
The Tatara Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge with pure lines, blends perfectly into the landscape. Pieces of wood have been placed under its pylons to allow passers-by to create sounds whose echo from the pylons resonates with a metallic effect.
Jako-ten fish burger
Across the bridge is Tatara Shimanami Michi no Eki Park, a direct sales market for local produce of fruits, vegetables, and other natural products, adjoining some restaurants. After a few hours of travel, it's really a good time for a sandwich break. I can't resist the famous local sea bream burger in a small fish burger shop: very tasty, melting in the mouth with a light, crispy crust in a soft, crispy bun. I also bought some tasty lemons and a jar of mikan honey. That's all, now we're ready to move on.
The island has some interesting art museums but we decide to drive along the coast with this breathtaking view of the surrounding islands under the morning sun. We climb into the green on the bike path to reach a height overlooking the bridge and the bay. The arched bridge is nothing special but the view from it is splendid.
Hakata Island is just a transit point for us. We have just passed a shipyard, one of the main local activities, and are heading to the foot of the Oshima Bridge. There is Marine Oasis, a small leisure complex where we stop to look at the palm trees on the beach and the bridge. I am trying out a very simple and surprising snack called Jako-ten. (You should try this very Japanese and local snack, a square of steamed and fried redfish paste).
Murakami Suigun Museum
Just energetic enough, we cross the bridge to take a very picturesque road along the seashore and finally reach the area of Noshima Island surrounded by strong currents, where the Murakami Fleet Fortress was located.
Further away, after the long, very typical fishing port with its small boats, is the Suigun restaurant where we rest and enjoy a delicious fish-based lunch in front of the Murakami Suigun Museum.
The numerous islands in the regions reinforce the tidal effect that results in strong currents. These were feared by ancient navigators who, for the most part, did not know how to swim. Locals naturally began guiding boats for pay, occasionally hijacking ships, and organized themselves at the regional level before being hired by fiefs as an additional battle fleet during wars, which could affect the results of battles.
The museum, new and clearly organized, explains their history and offers visitors the opportunity to try on associated armors and kimonos. It's simple and rewarding!
After the visit, we return to the center of the village to resume the Shimanami -Kaido which crosses the island in its middle and passes through two small hills to reach the impressive three successive bridges of Kurushima Kaikyo. It is a 4 km long masterpiece that extends over small islands. From here, there are breathtaking views of the islands, and we have a great time for the sunset, as well as a great show enjoyed by the locals while jogging or taking family walks.
The bridge rises with a false flat at its center and from there, simply let yourself go right to the Imabari cycling terminal located at the foot of the bridge where you can again enjoy the bridge you have crossed. We are exhausted because of the drift and the clean air but very satisfied!
*Visited in August 2013.
*Please see the latest price information, etc.
*Learn more about the Setouchi Shimanami Cycling Course