Last Updated on November 27, 2020 by queenie mak
Shimanami Kaido is Japan’s best bikeway and starts in Onomichi on the main island of Honshu and takes you all the way to Imabari on Shikoku Island. The entire cycle route is about 70km and connects six islands in the Seto Inland Sea.
Also known as Nishiseto Expressway, the dedicated bike route includes five bridges and the route around the perimeter of the islands for more of a leisure and scenic view. Along the well-marked trail, there are resting spots, toilets and other facilities.
Initially, I felt intimidated by the idea of cycling through Shimanami Kaido on my own because I have never done a solo bike trip before. I was nervous about finding my way or not able to navigate the route. But my nervousness quickly disappeared. All I had to do was follow the blue line on the ground. Plus, there are English signs everywhere. It is almost impossible to lose the path!
Ideally, you will need two days to bike from Onomichi to Imabari and back. But if you can only spare one day out of your itinerary, I would still recommend cycling Shimanami Kaido with my one day itinerary. Keep reading and I’ll show you all the details on how to cycle the best bikeway in Japan and see the best highlights along the way.
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What you need to know before starting Shimanami Kaido cycling route
Before you start your cycling journey, take a look at my post on everything you need to know before going to Japan. I included a lot of travel information including how to get around Japan and other travel tips.
Here are few additional tips for cycling Shimanami Kaido:
- The entire trail from Onomichi to Imabari is about 70km. If you are a beginner bike rider, it will take about eight to ten hours to complete.
- Check out the Shimanami Kaido cycling map and learn about the route before your trip.
- Very important: ride on the left side of the road.
- Bicycles are considered vehicles so please observe all traffic rules.
- You can cycle the bikeway even if you are a beginner at bike riding.
- The ramps leading up to a bridge is on an incline but not super difficult.
- For a day trip, start as early as you can. Preferably before 8:00 am.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes for a full day of cycling
- Also, bring sunscreen and a hat for sun protection.
How to see Shimanami Kaido cycle route
Ideally, you need two days to complete the entire bikeway i.e. cycle from Onomichi to Imabari and then back to Onomichi. But if you only have one day, you can do a combination of bicycle and ferry or cycle only half of the bikeway.
Here are several ways for any independent or solo travellers to see the Shimanami cycle route:
- Two-day trip with a bicycle – rent a bicycle in Onomichi, cycle the entire length of the Shimanami Kaido bikeway to Imabari, stay overnight and bike back to Onomichi the following day
- Day trip with bicycle and ferry – rent a bicycle in Onomichi, cycle to Imabari, return the bicycle there and take a ferry back to Onomichi
- Day trip with a bicycle – rent a bicycle in Onomichi, cycle half of the bikeway to the third island, Ikuchi Island and bike back to Onomichi the same day
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Shimanami Kaido: cycling the best route in 1 day
If you only have one day to see Shimanami Kaido, I would highly recommend renting a bicycle and bike from Onomichi City to Ikuchi Island (third island along the bikeway. Along the way, see the colourful Kosanji Temple, Instagram-worthy spot, Miraishin no Oka and Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art before cycling back to Onomichi.
The day trip consists of a 3-hour cycle (30km) there, and another 3-hour cycle back. The bike route follows the dark blue line around the islands on this map.
I like this option because cycling is the best way to see Shimanami Kaido, and it is the most economical way to see the best attractions along the bikeway.
I pinned all the important places along the Shimanami cycle path for your reference. You can click on the individual pin on the Goolge Map for more information.
Start your journey in Onomichi Japan
Onomichi City is a small port town 40km east of Hiroshima in Hiroshima Prefecture. It is known for its temples, cats and cycling Shimanami Kaido bikeway. And if you are travelling during the cherry blossom season, visit Senko-ji Park as it is one of the best places to Japan to see sakura (cherry blossom).
Taking the train to Onomichi is easy whether you are coming from Hiroshima from the west or Osaka from the east. Check Hyperdia for train schedules and fares. Or you can refer to detailed directions in my Onomichi Japan Guide.
Ideally, stay in Onomichi the night before your 1-day tour of Shimanami Kaido so you can start your day bright and early. I would recommend staying at Onomichi U2 Hotel in Onomichi. It is a modern hotel in a refurbished warehouse near the bike rental. The hotel has a restaurant, cafe, bakery and Giant bike rental (if you prefer a road bike). It is Japan’s first hotel designed for cyclists. Check Agoda for current prices and reviews.
Rent a bicycle and take a ferry to Mukaishima Island
There are two Shimanami Kaido bike rentals in Onomichi City.
One of them is the bike rental at Ekimae-kowan Car Park at the harbour. You can rent a city bike for ¥1,100 a day (and ¥1,100 deposit which you will get back when you return it to the same terminal). You can reserve a city bike here or rent it when you get there. This is the most economical option for independent solo travellers.
The second bike rental option is the Giant bike rental in Onomichi U2 Hotel. You can rent a premium road bike for a lot more. Click here for more information.
Before you rent your bike, pick up any snacks and drinks at Lawson, a convenience store located north of the bike rental. You will need energy for your 60km bike ride!
Once you have your bicycle, lock and helmet, bike one minute over to Onomichi Port and take the ferry over to Mukaishima Island. It costs ¥110 for you to take the ferry with your bicycle.
Once you are in Mukaishima Island, find the blue line on the ground. Make sure to always follow the blue line so you know you are on the right path. It tells you which direction you are going and the distance you travelled.
Innoshima Bridge: between Mukaishima Island and Innoshima Island
Once you are on Mukaishima Island (first island along Shimanami Kaido), the blue line will take you around the perimeter of the island until you reach the first bridge, Innoshima Bridge. The bridge has two levels where the top one is for vehicles and the bottom one is for bicycles and pedestrians.
At the beginning of the bridge, there is a toll booth. It has written instructions and automated audio instructions (but it is in Japanese) about paying. I was told that if you are travelling on a bicycle or walking across, you don’t have to pay. I believe they waived the fee until 2022.
Ikuchi Bridge: between Innoshima Island and Ikuchi Island
The bike path will continue to bring you around the perimeter of Innoshima Island until you reach the second bridge, Ikuchi Bridge. The bridge has several lanes where a few are for cars and the lane on the outside is for bicycles and pedestrians.
Again, there is a toll booth at the beginning of the bridge. You don’t have to pay if you are riding a bicycle.
After you passed the bridge, the bike path will take you around the north side of Ikuchi Island. Continue cycling on marked path and follow the signs for Kosanji Temple.
After about 30km of cycling, you will reach Kosanji Temple. You can park your bike just outside of the temple entrance.
For an entrance fee of ¥1,400, you can see many colourful temples, pagodas and statues in various Buddhist architecture from different periods. Many of these structures are modelled after other well-known structures in Japan.
Besides admiring the architecture, Kosanji Museum is on the premise as well and it displays handicrafts, paintings and sculptures.
And if you are visiting during spring or autumn, you might even get a glimpse of cherry blossom or fall foliage.
Miraishin no Oka (The Hill of Hope)
At the back of Kosanji Temple, look for Miraishin no Oka, or also known as The Hill of Hope, where you will find 3,000 tons of Italian Cararra marble covering 5,000 square meters.
Miraishin no Oka was designed by an Italian sculptor where white marble is stacked in different ways to create a giant platform on top of a hill. And in the middle of all the abstract statues, there is a main structure called the Tower of Light. The entire composition is based on a familial theme where it represents peace on earth and being hopeful for the future.
Make sure to visit this quirky spot for fun Instagram photos and an aerial view of the surrounding area.
Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art & Shiomachi Shopping Alleys
After visiting Kosanji Temple and Miraishin no Oka, walk one minute to Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art and see paintings by one of Japan’s most famous painter, Ikuo Hirayama.
Painted in traditional Japanese Nihonga style, the contemporary painter is known for his work on the Silk Road where he explored cultural concepts within the Orient.
The modern art museum has three spacious exhibit halls, a tea lounge and a museum shop. It costs ¥920 to see all the exhibits.
Before leaving the area, cycle around the area just west of Kosanji Temple and see what rural Japan looks like. There are little shops and cafes along Setodacho Setoda (street) and all the way to Shiomachi Shopping Alleys.
Dolce Ice Cream
After seeing the best cultural highlights along Shimanami Kaido, get a citrus flavour gelato at Dolce Ice Cream before cycling back to Onomichi. They have many different flavours but you should try something citrus-y as the area is famous for Setouchi lemons.
The ice-cream parlour has an outdoor and indoor seating area. Park your bicycle at the bike rack and enjoy a well-deserving break before heading back to Onomichi.
Cross Ikuchi Bridge and Innoshima Bridge again
The route going back to Onomichi is the exact same path you cycled. You will bike across Ikuchi Bridge and Innoshima Bridge again. Remember, you don’t have to pay a toll.
At any point of your journey, feel free to stop for breaks or to take photos. And when you are ready to get back on the trail, look for the blue line on the road as it will lead you back to Onomichi City.
Take a ferry from Mukaishima Island to Onomichi Port
Cycle all the way back to Mukaishima Island and take the ferry back to Onomichi Port. The ferry costs ¥110 when you bring your bike with you.
Make sure to return your bicycle before the bike rental closes so you can get your ¥1,100 deposit back. The bike rental closes either at 6:00 pm (December to February) or 7:00 pm (March to November).
After a long and an exhilarating day, enjoy the evening in Onomichi or continue onto your journey.
Are you ready to experience the Shimanami cycle route?
I did a lot of research for different ways of seeing Shimanami Kaido. But ultimately, the best way is to cycle the famous bikeway. It didn’t matter that I only had one day, I was able to have a fun day of biking and seeing the best highlights along the bike path.
I love exploring off the beaten path and hope you find this post informative so you can plan your itinerary and bike Shimanami Kaido bikeway. Let me know in the comments how you will see Japan’s best bikeway.