The Shimanami Kaido is a toll expressway connecting six islands together with incredibly engineered suspension bridges, allowing for easy and quick access to and from the islands between Shikoku to Honshu, the main island of Japan.
Because these bridges are such an achievement, they’ve become star attractions and the main draw for tourists to this part of the country. To further encourage visitors, the Shimanami Kaido trail was established. Each bridge consists of a pedestrian walkway, as well as a designated path for cyclists, honestly the entire trail actually seems more catered for cyclists than motorists. There are cycle sanctuary bike lanes that take bikers safely away from busy traffic, easy and hard routes, scenic routes, etc, and all these routes are clearly marked on the street, so if a cyclist doesn’t want to read a map once, they don’t have to!
Cycling the Shimanami Kaido wasn’t originally on my to do list, but once I stumbled upon it, I had to do it.
The trail is advertised to be 60 km one way, but I found from Imabari Station to Onomichi Station was closer to 80 km. Most people also said it was mostly flat, with the exception of bridge ramps, but I found it was actually predominately uphill from Imabari Station. While most of it wasn’t steep, it was definitely a steady, thigh burning incline.
From what I heard and read, most people completed this trail in one day, about 8 hours long. But knowing myself, that looked like a tall order and I wanted to enjoy myself on the way. So I decided to split it up into 2 nights and 3 days. If you want to do it in a day, you can arrange with, Takuhaibin delivery service to have your luggage delivered to your final destination.
As for renting bikes, there are several bike rental spots along the way and bikes only cost 1000 yen per day. It’s a great program because you can rent your bike and return it at any of the rental spots along the way. If you get too tired mid-way, just return your bike to the nearest bike rental shop and hop on the bus to get to your final destination.
The only need-to-know about returning your bike to any bike rental shop is that you don’t get your 1000 yen deposit back. You only get that back when you return to your original shop. But really, that’s not a big monetary deterrence.
Where to Stay
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of accommodation options available online, but I did find Setoda Private Hostel on Ikuchi Island, which is almost halfway through the trail. It’s a great spot on the beach, with it’s private onsen too!
The second night I found an Airbnb accommodation on Oshima island, which turned out to be a lovely island cottage right on the water. The owners were so sweet and kind, I’d highly recommend staying with them if you have the chance!
Most of these accommodations are located pretty far from town centres, so make sure to stop by a shop to pick up food and drinks beforehand. Setoda Private Hostel does provide the option of meals for an extra charge.
I started my journey from Imabari Station. Some sources said I couldn’t rent bicycles from the station and had to go to a resort called Sunrise Itoyama. But that wasn’t the case at all. I got to Imabari Station right when it opened at 9am and there were loads of bikes to pick from.
Kurushima-Kaikyo was the first set of bridges I encountered. Completed in 1999, this bridge is the world’s longest suspension bridge. Separated into three sections, this bridge even had access ways for pedestrians to walk down to the small islands below!
By the time I got to Kurushima-Kaikyo, the realization of how utterly unfit for this challenge I was started to sink in. And when the option of cycling up more winding hills to get to the entrance of the Kurushima-Kaikyo or taking cheat stairs and rolling my bike up the pathway came, I obviously chose the cheat stairs.
Accepting that I was completely ill prepared for this journey, I took no shame in regularly taking breaks and walking my bike. Who am I kidding?! Most of the other cyclists looked like professional cyclists training for a tour!
Of all the bridges, (Hakata-Oshima, Omishima, Tatara, Ikuchi and Innoshima) Tatara Bridge was my favourite. At 1,480 metres long, this bridge is beautifully set between two mountainous islands. If you’re coming from Imabari’s side, the trail winds along the coast and the bridge only shows itself after a long sweeping turn around a hillside. That’s when it hits you how momentous this bridge is.
As amazing as the bridges are, I didn’t want my entire journey to be just biking to and from bridges. I decided to stop at Okunoshima, a small island a short ferry ride away from Omishima Island.
One of the best decisions of my life, Okunoshima is also known as Rabbit Island. As in this is the island where hundreds of wild, fluffy, adorable rabbits roam freely, following you for food and snacks. They’re also immaculately well-mannered and gentle, so don’t worry about having your fingers nibbled off!
I didn’t stay on the island, but you can camp there or stay at Holiday Village, the island’s only accommodation option.
The Shimanami Kaido was an amazing journey that isn’t completely touristy like many other attractions in Japan. It’s also a great way to check out island life on this side of the world.
Unfortunately, English is not widely spoken in this area and finding someone to help you can be a pretty tall order. I’d highly recommend having an idea and doing some preparation before setting out.