The Shimanami Kaido (aka Nishiseto Expressway) is one of the best destinations in Japan if you love cycling or maybe an amazing scenic trek along a popular route.
The rest of this article is going to give a little history about the Shimanami Kaido, what the route is like, and everything you need to know if you want to explore this incredible bicycling route.
What Is The Shimanami Kaido?
The Shimanami Kaido is a cycling route that is also called the Nishiseto Expressway. It was established in 1999 so it has a modern design that attracts tourists locally and internationally.
The route includes a cycling trail as well as a roadway that connects the Japanese Islands Honshu and Shikoku. The roadway follows the same route but the cycling trail has areas of cycling-only paths.
There are many small towns you will encounter along the way as well as scenic views of the beaches, rivers, and the Seto Inland Sea. The locals are generally very friendly and accommodating to riders.
The Shimanami Kaido route goes through six small islands between Honshu and Shikoku.
Beginning in Onomichi with a ferry ride to Mukaishima, then riding through the islands of Innoshima, Ikuchijima, Omishima, Hakatajima, and Oshima before finally making it to Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku Island.
End to end the journey clocks in at about 70 km or 43.4 miles. For more experienced and serious cyclists, the ride can be done in one day.
If you want to be able to take in the sights, the best experience is making it a two-day trip, staying overnight on one of the islands, and starting again in the morning.
Small tolls must be paid that total around 500 yen ( approx. US$4.37) when crossing the bridges between the islands.
This does not include the one from Honshu to Mukaishima Island where it is better to take the ferry that only sets you back 110 yen (US 96¢).
However, the tolls have been waived for cyclists temporarily until March 31st, 2022 to promote tourism. The tolls of the route is taken by car total up to 5,000 yen.
You can also have your luggage delivered with Sagawa Express which offers same-day delivery to certain hotels between Onomichi and Imabari
At the beginning of the route, and along the way, you can rent bikes to use on the route. Be aware of the rental shops and their policies.
The private rental shops will generally want you to bring the bike back to the same location, which could mean cycling the route twice just to get it back to that shop’s location.
The best bets are the rental shops that have multiple terminals along the route with a pick-up/drop-off system. Shimanami Japan and Giant are the shops that offer the pick-up/ drop-off system along the route.
Shimanami Japan is the cheapest of the two options offering bikes for 2,000 yen (about US$17.50), electric bikes for 3,000 yen (about US $26) with an 1100 yen deposit (US$9.62), that is paid back to you once you return the bike at the end of your use of it, unless you drop your bike off at a terminal on a different island.
The second option Giant is a little more on the pricey side with a similar pick-up/ drop-off system. Bikes here cost about 4,000-15,000 yen per day (US $35-$130).
The use of their drop-off system is only available if you rent a road bike and a reservation is required with a fee of 3,300 yen added on.
Both of these options are easy to use and English-friendly for international tourists.
When Is The Best Time To Go?
The climate in this area is warm all year round, but the best time would be in Spring or Autumn since the summer would be the hottest season.
The better option in the summer is by car if you’re already going to be in the area and want to travel the route. Late June and early July are the least recommended months due to the rainy season.
The Islands and Their Charms
Follow the blue lines on the road and you will be on your way along the Simanami Kaido’s first island.
The route on this island runs along the coast of Tachibana with popular pit stops like an artisanal chocolate shop and some cafes.
If you need food and fuel, this is the place to go at the beginning of your journey.
Your journey through this island will only be about 8 km (4.9 miles) but there is much more to see than there is distance. The sights on this island are best seen if you take a bit of a detour off the main path.
You will find Innoshimaohashi Memorial Park to see an unexplained statue of a dinosaur, as well as rest facilities including vending machines, and public restrooms. This park is close to Shimanami Beach.
If you want more of a challenge, head to Mount Shirotaki where you will find a beautiful view of the Innoshima Bridge and 700 Buddhist statues. A wonderful scenic detour before going back on your way.
This island lies in the middle of your journey and is a great stopping point if you need a nice break or want to spend the night and finish the route in the morning.
On Ikuchijima you will find accommodations such as the newly opened Soil Setoda Cafe and Hostel.
Behind it lies the Hill of Hope, an immersive sculpture built by the artist Kazuto Kutani. If you want a nice treat, there is an ice cream/gelato shop called Setoda Dolce just across from the temple.
This island is another short part of the route, about 5km (3.1 miles) but it is the largest island on the journey. The route of the Shimanami Kaido runs along the east coast of this island with wonderful sights to see.
This island is also a great option to stay the night with Tomarigi Hostel as a popular accommodation. There are also shrines, nature spots, and modern museums scattered along the large island.
If you’re looking for another detour, this island is a great opportunity to do so.
If you stick to the main cycling route you will be riding along the island’s western coast, which is sparsely covered and offers a lot of sunlight.
If you were looking for a longer time on the island, you could ride the circumference of the island which comes in at about 20km (12 miles).
If you’re looking for a more challenging area, you could climb the Hirakiyama mountain at 488 feet high. In the spring there are stunning cherry blossoms blanketing the island in the spectacular views.
Finally reaching the end of the Shimanami Kaido, you will need to ride through this island to finally get to Shikoku island. But don’t forget to take in the vistas around you while you ride.
Take the Island Explorer route and enjoy the west coast of the island. Sandy beaches, small fishing ports, and amazing shipyards are found on this island route.
The big stand out of this island is the view of the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge, the most iconic of the route.
There are many hotels at the beginning and end of the Shimanami Kaido cycling route.
Some hotels in Onomichi and Imbari are bicycle-friendly and allow you to rent bikes at the hotels as well as stay the night before or after your journey on the route.
In Onomichi at the beginning of the route, there is Onomichi Kokusai Hotel and Hotel Cycle(Onomichi U2). Once you get to Imbari City you have a few more options with Daichoso, Hotel Kikusui Imabari, Hotel Hichifuku, and Hotel Crown Hills Imabari.
All these hotels offer bicycle rentals that are mostly free but be sure to check if they are or if you must pay a fee.
These are the two main accommodations on the route.
Soil Setoda Cafe and Hostel
This hostel has a design that pays homage to the history of the area and is modeled after a salt storehouse in the area.
There is a stylish cafe on the first floor called Minatoya and rooms on the second floor that show off a gorgeous view of the Shiomachi port.
This hostel is a family-run business with tatami rooms with futon bedding that are private and perfect for groups. There are communal bathrooms and a kitchen available for use as well.
This hostel is a short walk from the center of town where you will find stunning ocean views, bars, and great restaurants.