The Shimanami Kaido cycling route is Japan’s most famous cycling route.
It’s a 280 kilometre asphalt cycling route that runs through the Setouchi Inland Sea, connecting the islands to one another. The most popular section is the 70 kilometres between Imabari City and Onomichi City, which passes over six small islands.
The route is on a well-marked cycling path, that’s closed to cars. It makes a spectacular setting for riders of all levels.
In this article Rob, from Bike Tour Japan, tells us what to expect.
1. Overview of the Shimanami Kaido cycling route
The Shimanami Kaido is a cycling route across Japan’s Setouchi (Seto) Inland Sea. Connecting the main island of Honshu with the southern island of Shikoku, the route is famous for its teal waters, stunning bridges, fresh seafood and citrus groves. It’s also famous for the Naruto whirlpools that form in the current.
It’s an easy DIY bike trip while you’re in Japan because it’s very well signposted (more on that below).
2. Highlights of the Shimanami Kaido bike route
Three big highlights of the route are the Senkoji Temple, the Kosanji Temple Complex and the Kurushima Kaikyo Ohashi Bridge.
The Senkoji Temple rests on the hill behind the town of Onomichi where the Shimanami Kaido begins. It’s a beautiful walk or bike up the backside of the hill. It takes you to a beautiful Buddhist temple nestled in the rocks. Just above the temple is a large observation deck with sweeping views of the Onomichi Strait and the many islands of the Seto Inland Sea.
Kosanji Temple Complex
The Kosanji Temple Complex is one of a kind. More a museum than a temple, the Kosanji offers visitors a chance to go on a journey of redemption. Weave through the dark caves of hell, and come out to the marble stairs to heaven. Be sure to visit with a guide or read up on this before arriving to really get the most out of this unique experience.
Kurushima Kaikyo Ohashi
Last, the Kurushima Kaikyo Ohashi (Ohashi means big bridge) is the second longest suspension bridge in Japan. Besides having a dedicated cycling lane separate from the cars, this bridge also offers amazing views of the ocean below where Naruto whirlpools regularly form. Being the final bridge, there is a great observation deck just after you cross where you can soak in the views of your accomplishments.
3. Information on the Shimanami Kaido bikeway
The main route of the Shimanami Kaido cycling road is designated by blue arrows painted on the ground. At approximately 70km in length, this is the shortest and easiest route of the Kaido.
Beyond the main “blue line route” there are many additional routes you can take by weaving around the different islands you cross; the whole route actually consists of more than 250 kilometres of cycle routes. These maps might be useful.
How long does it take?
While the main route takes most amateur cyclists one full day, more seasoned cyclists will complete it in around four hours, assuming minimal stopping.
That said, the main route is mostly on roads with bike arrows or adjacent lanes, and much of the route has pylons that stop cars from entering areas for cyclists only. Experienced cyclists used to riding at speeds in excess of 25kph, should keep an eye out for road furniture as it is very prevalent here.
While you can ride the Kaido either way, our favourite way to ride the route is from North to South, from Onomichi to Imabari. This is because you can end your ride by crossing the longest bridge: the Kurushima Kaikyo Oohashi. Plus, this is the perfect spot for a glorious view and photo op of all you’ve accomplished from the adjacent observation deck.
Getting back to the start
Once in Imabari, you can take the bus back from Imabari station; hop on a train back towards Osaka. Alternatively, turn around and cycle back!
4. Things to do along the Shimanami Kaido cycle route
Besides the highlights above, those interested in more temples and Japanese history should check out the Oyamazumi Shrine and Museum.
The local delicacy is Okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake of noodles, cabbage and seafood. There are plenty of great shops on each island serving okonomiyaki, and you can also find it in Onomichi and Imabari.
For those who love ice cream, Dolce Ice Cream on Ikuchijima Island has great local citrus gelato!
5. Best bikes to ride the Shimanami Kaido
Really any bike can handle the main route – take your pick from road bikes, mountain bikes or electric bikes. Most of the climbs up to the bridges are very gentle, thanks to the dedicated bike paths.
That said, if you want to explore off the main route I would recommend a bike with good climbing gears. While the main routes are very flat, the Shimanami islands have tons of short steep climbs on the auxiliary routes.
6. Shimanami Kaido bike rental
For bicycle rentals, both Onomichi and Imabari have various options for rental stations with everything from hybrid to road, and even some e-bikes.
Most Shimanami rental bikes are low to mid range, so if you want something nicer you are best of bringing your bike from home, joining a group tour, or renting from Tokyo/Osaka and bringing it down yourself.
Onomichi Bike Rental Shops
Imabari Bike Rental Shops
7. Shimanami Kaido accommodation for cyclists
For those looking to do the ride in one day, the Onomichi U2 Hotel is a great choice. It’s a cycling themed hotel with Japanese flair and western amenities, located by the start of the route in Onomichi. It’s also not far from the bus station.
Those who want to spend more time on the scenic islands can find a full range of stays: hostels, guesthouses, hotels, and ryokans are available.
For those specifically seeking traditional ryokan experiences, about half way across the Kaido is Fujimien Ryokan, with local seafood kaiseki meals and ocean views from the rooms.
For a bike-themed stay, the I-Link Hostel & Cafe Shimanami is a great place to meet fellow cyclists and rest after a long day of cycling.
8. Practicalities to help plan your Shimanami Kaido trip
There are plenty of cycling stations throughout the main route, though riders should be comfortable with basic mechanics such as changing a flat or swapping brake pads. Bike shops are few and far between once you are on the islands.
Shimanami Kaido luggage forwarding
For those doing a multi-day trip, you can either leave your luggage in storage at the train station and pick it up once you finish, or use Yamato shipping service to send it along to a future hotel. That said, shipping takes two days, so plan accordingly.
There are many restaurants and cafes along the main route thanks to the increasing popularity of the region for cycle tourism. However, we recommend keeping some snacks and water on hand, and convenience stores are a bit more sparse: approximately every 15-20km.
Where to start the Shimanami cycleway
You can start from either Onomichi City or Imabari City, but we recommend starting in Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture.
Getting to the start
9. Tips for getting the most out of your Shimanami cycling trip
You won’t have any tolls for the bridges, but the first ferry across the strait from Onomichi to the first island will cost you and your bike 110 yen to cross.
Do you need cash?
While the Japanese government has been pushing businesses to accept credit cards, the adaptation is not consistent across Japan and many businesses still only transact in cash.
Therefore, it is best, as always when traveling in Japan, to carry cash with you to any restaurant or hotel unless you have clarified ahead of time that they take cards.
The amount to carry each day will vary based on your expected budget, but in general it is good to carry around two to three days’ worth of cash in case you stumble upon a great souvenir.
Many shops and hotels will have bike racks along the Kaido. That said, if you do not immediately see one, always be sure to ask where it is best to park your trusty steed.
In Japan, parking, and space for that matter, is always very limited so you want to make sure you are not accidentally parking your bike on the neighbours’ lawn or storefront.
Best time of year
The weather is such that you can cycle the Kaido during any month of the year.
However, the best months to ride the Shimanami Kaido are mid- October through December, and March through May. The reason for that is that summer is the rainy season when most of the precipitation occurs.
The winter months of January and February are the driest months, often with warm sunny days, but very cold wind.
Our packing list for Japan that’s broken down by the time of year may be useful (here)!
National holidays and weekends
Japan is a country that has lots of National Holidays. In these periods, nearly everybody except restaurant owners has the day off, so travelling during these holidays can be very crowded.
Aside from that, you will certainly see more traffic and cyclists on the weekends, and more hotels booked up, but nothing like a week-long national holiday such as Golden Week. It’s also a popular place to see the cherry blossoms in spring.
Is it worth spending time in the towns at the start/end of the route?
I would definitely recommend spending time in Onomichi before you depart or after you get back. The town has undergone a massive transformation since I first visited back in 2016 and there are lots of great little cafes, restaurants and shops to check out in town.
For those looking to travel further once on Shikoku Island, I would recommend heading to Matsuyama City. Another day’s cycle from the finish of the Kaido Imabari, Matsuyama is home to the famous Dogo Onsen and a beautiful castle.
Do you need to do a Shimanami Kaido bike tour?
I don’t think anyone needs a tour to do the Shimanami Kaido. The route is very well labelled, resources are plentiful, and there is lots of support along the way.
That said, for those looking to explore beyond the blue line, see more off the beaten track, interact and converse more with the locals, and make a week-long adventure out of it, a guided tour is a great way to make the most of your time in Japan. Here’s our 8 day Shimanami Kaido tour for reference.
10. Things to be aware of
When you hear the route is through the islands of Japan’s inland sea, you might immediately think of sandy beaches. However, in reality most of the time it’s concrete shoreline and retaining walls rather than natural beaches. That’s because this part of Japan is in a battle with the elements and the concrete is needed as a defence against the sea. There are other parts of Japan that offer more natural beauty; read our guide here.
Do you need to be able to speak Japanese?
Certainly not, though it won’t hurt to know a few key phrases. The route is marked in English as well as Japanese so you will have no trouble navigating if you speak English.
However, not all restaurants, cafes, and hotels along the route will have English speakers. Many have the bare basics to help you order or check in, but you will certainly get some smiles if you know a few simple words like konnichiwa, arigatou gozaimasu, and sumimasen, (hello, thank you, and excuse me).
If you are coming from the UK, you will already be used to riding on the left side of the road.
Most of the signs, such as speed limit signs, and no parking signs will look very familiar.
The one big triangular exception is the Japanese stop sign. An upside-down red triangle with 止まれ (read To-ma-re, or stop), this sign is unique to Japan and an essential one to learn before hopping on a bike.
Besides that, it is expected of cyclists to keep to the left third of the lane when in traffic, and to pull off to let faster vehicles by when possible if they are causing a queue behind them.
Train track crossings are another unique experience in Japan. At crossings, you are expected to come to a complete stop, check both ways, make sure the vehicle in front of you has cleared the tracks and there is enough room for you to do so, then pass. You will see all the cars doing the same; so as with most things in Japan, do as the locals do.
Finally, when you come across a red light, you must stop and stay stopped until it is green. This means no Left on Red (or Right on Red for the right-side driving countries).
There’s more information on cycling rules in our guide to cycling in Japan.
There are plenty of rest stops along the route. Also, any convenience store will be happy to let you use their toilet with a simple purchase of an item. A great chance to load up on snacks!
Other transport along the Shimanami Kaido – walking/buses/cars/ferries
For those looking to really explore there are countless ferries that connect the many islands of the Seto inland Sea of Japan. You can find ferry routes and time tables online, but in general most ferries run about every hour to half hour depending on the distance.
Other than that, there is a bus that connects Onomichi to Imabari and stops at least once on each island. This is a great resource for those that need to end early or run out of daylight and need to get to their destination for the evening.
Most of Japan has a very wet climate, and the Seto Inland Sea is no exception. Due to being an island nation, on most days, weather can move in quickly in the area, so we always advise riders to be ready for rain.
There’s more information on the weather in Japan in our main guide.
Big thanks to Rob for sharing so much useful information on the Shimanami Kaido cycling route.
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