One of the main tourist attractions in our country town of Imabari is the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido, an impressive 60km long highway linking Shikoku to Honshu, the main island of Japan. It crosses the many islands of the Seto Inland Sea by a series of bridges, and is especially unique in that not only does the expressway cater to vehicles, the entire length has been designed for cyclists and pedestrians. Boasting spectacular ocean views of the Setonaikai National Park, any way you chose to travel on the Shimanami Kaido you will be rewarded with some of the best scenery in Japan.
A cyclist’s paradise
Referred to as a cyclist’s paradise, a particularly popular activity for tourists is to hire bikes and traverse some or all of the islands. There is cycle hire available for very cheap prices at both ends and various terminals along the way. The cycling route opened in 1999; it is simple to follow and is excellently maintained. There are ramps leading off and on the expressway at various points, and despite climbing to rather a high elevation the gradual slope of the ramps caters to all kinds of levels of fitness and cycling ability.
For example, my fiancé and myself took our bikes we use to get around town, and while they are not exactly lightweight and we have very little cycling experience we found it surprisingly easy to get to the start of the Kurushima-Kaikyo suspension bridges, the first part of the Shimanami Kaido beginning in Imabari. We had driven over the bridge before but it was so much nicer doing it by bike so we could better admire the scenery and stop to take photos whenever we wanted.
Oshima, the first main island from Imabari
While there is the option of cycling the full length of the Shimanami Kaido, either in a day for the speedy cyclist or by staying overnight at the islands on the way to Onomichi, we decided to just go as far as the first main island, Oshima. The trip over the bridge was long but with the fresh sea breeze and amazing views on the way it seemed like in no time we were cruising down the ramp to Oshima, only slightly put off by the knowledge that we would shortly have to bike back up the same way!
On Oshima there is a lot of beautiful scenery, parks, shrines, temples, cafes and museums. There is also a number of stone quarries. The island itself is quite mountainous so biking in some areas can be a workout.
Yoshiumi Rose Garden
We decided to go to Yoshiumi Rose Garden, a park on the west coast of the island that has 400 varieties of roses. We were a bit early in the season but we were lucky to see many were already in bloom and avoid the summer crowds.
The park itself has an open sports field and a playground for the kids. There were a couple of cafes and an ice-cream stall next to a souvenir shop selling a number of local handmade goods.
The garden itself was expansive and well maintained, with many cobbled pathways, low brick fences, trellises, arches and a raised fountain that offered a great view over the whole area. The range of rose colors was absolutely stunning and much better than we had expected at that time of year.
There is a series of glasshouses where you can purchase many sizes and varieties of roses. There were so many unusual colors that we had never seen before and at great prices; the only reason we didn’t buy any was the unfortunate absence of a garden at our apartment.
My advice: Check the wind forecast
On the way back from the Yoshiumi Rose Garden we went via the port where there were many tourists embarking on the boat tours they offer and enjoying lunch at the several waterfront restaurants that specialize in fresh seafood. The view from these restaurants looks back over the Shimanami Kaido and is worth stopping for.
Finally we found a peaceful spot on one of the beautiful beaches to rest for a while before tackling the bike back across the bridge. The wind was getting up now it was later in the afternoon so we knew we were in for a mission to get back to Imabari. I would recommend checking the wind forecast before scheduling your own cycling trip as they can be very strong.
We arrived home tired but happy with our cycling efforts and all the new things we had seen that day. We are not cyclists by any means but we really enjoyed pushing ourselves and making the most of this epic tourist attraction we are lucky enough to have right on our doorstep.