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Shimanami Kaido is an expressway considered to be one of the most beautiful routes in Japan with its breathtaking scenery of the sea and islands of the Seto Inland Sea. It is a roughly 70 km route beginning in Onomichi and continuing all the way through to Imabari in Shikoku.
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Shimanami Kaido, also called Nishiseto (West Seto) Expressway, is a route that passes through six islands, namely Mukaishima, Innoshima, Ikuchijima, Omishima, Hakatajima and Oshima, on the way connected by several modern and unique bridges including the world’s fourth longest cable-stayed bridge. Travellers are drawn here because they can see the Seto Inland Sea the entire way during their travels, no matter which method they choose to travel by.
There are various means to travel through Shimanami Kaido. It can be crossed by bicycles, mopeds, pedestrians, buses and even cars. You can even travel the distance by ferry. However, cycling is the most popular mode of transportation especially for people who love adventure and are interested in enjoying the view on the way. But first, let's look more specifically at the different options for travelling along Shimanani Kaido, starting at the Onomichi end:
By bus - If you are departing from Onomichi Station, you should take a local bus to Innoshima Ohashi on Innoshima. There you can transfer to a highway bus that will take you all the way to Imabari Station. These buses take anywhere between 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs and will cost you about 2300 yen. However, if you want to skip Onomichi Station, you can also take the highway bus starting at Hiroshima or Fukuyama towards Imabari and not have to change buses.
By Ferry - Because the routes are along with islands, there are also ferries that go to the islands as well. It’s a great way to explore one or several nearby islands (including islands not directly on the Shimanami Kaido). However, there’s no direct ferry from Onomichi to Imabari and back, so you have to make connecting transfers to other methods of transportation. You could either:
(i) Get on the ferry starting at Onomichi Ekimae Port passing through Shige Higashi Port, Sawa Port and finally Setoda Port. It takes approximately 50 minutes and costs 1300 yen. From there, you could cycle the rest of the way to Imabari or take the highway bus.
(ii) You could also take a local bus from Onomichi Station to Habu Port which takes a little less than an hour and costs under 1000 yen. Then you could take the ferry from Habu Port to Imabari Port, passing through Tomoura Port and Kinoura Port. It takes approximately 75 minutes and costs you 1780 yen.
Just in case you are planning to take bicycles, remember that not all ferries will allow them on plus you need to pay extra charges for bicycles on the ferry! Also, check departure times very carefully as some are only available once every one or two hours. And of course, both routes mentioned also work when departing from Imabari.
You can even plan to walk on Shimanami Kaido - there are four separate paths for pedestrians. However, summers might not be the best time for these walks because of the hot and humid weather. Most people don’t walk the whole thing though but travel to certain spots by other methods first before taking hikes.
Traveling is also possible by car - you just have to pay the tolls.
Now comes the most popular means of transportation - cycling.
Shimanami Kaido has a bicycle lane that starts from the Onomichi Station area in Hiroshima Prefecture and goes all the way to Imabari in Ehime Prefecture. The cycling path connects the six islands in the Seto Inland Sea.
The best part about cycling is the journey, as on the way one can witness the gorgeous view of the Seto islands and sea at your own pace. People choose to cycle Shimanami Kaido because they can travel more freely, including off the road and without rushing. They can stop and enjoy the relaxing scenic view, achieve that incredible sense of accomplishment, and get a good workout too!
Just a tip: you can of course customize your cycling plan. If you are not a cycling enthusiast or are traveling with people who may have trouble making the entire trip, you can choose to cycle in small parts of the 70 kilometer path and then take the nearest ferry or bus.
There are 14 bike rental stations on each of the islands. For renting these bicycles, you do not need a deposit in advance - but you do need to pay a deposit that you only get back if returning the bike to the exact same rental spot, and you can book online which is recommended for peak tourism seasons. The charge for a regular bicycle is 1,100 yen per day and for electric bicycles, it’s 1,600 yen per day.
For a limited time until March 31, 2022, toll charges are exempt for cyclists. Otherwise, it costs abouts 500 yen one way from Onomichi to Imabari or vice-versa, so have a little extra cash on you for that.
※Onomichi City, “Please tell us the transportation cost to use Shimanami Kaido”
It may take only one day to complete the ride or you can also choose to spend a night or two on one of the islands to explore the area more. There are various locations for cyclists to rest along the way, called Cycle Oasis. Many campsites and hotels are also available on each island. Of course, professionals can complete the ride much earlier if they so wish.
Like mentioned earlier, this expressway crosses six islands and each of them has attractions for its visitors. While you won’t be able to see much of each if just passing through in a single day, we do recommend stopping and checking out the sights as well as exploring a little off the main course to get the full experience. And if you have the time, staying a night on one of the islands is a great way to get more time to explore leisurely as well as eat more of the exclusive island food!
Mukaishima (or as some say, Mukaijima) is first on the Shimanami Kaido Expressway when starting from the Onomichi side. It’s so close to Onomichi that it’s often featured in photos of the Onomichi coastline. You could take the bridge from Onomichi to Mukaishima or take the ferry instead (most people prefer to take the ferry as it’s easiest). Flowers are very popular on this island and there’s even an Orchid Center. Other spots to check out include Tachibana Seaside Park, and if you have time, a detour to Iwashijima. Make sure to check out USHIO CHOCOLATL, a highly rated Mukaishima chocolate factory!
You would then find yourself crossing the impressive Innoshima Bridge (the bike path is under the road for the cars!) to Innoshima.
The main attraction on Innoshima is the Innoshima Suigun Castle, which was built fairly recently in 1983 as dedication to the pirate clan, the Murakami, who used to use the island as a base. There’s even a museum showcasing the Murakami clan’s life and legacy.
Visitors can try on samurai armor as well. And the view from the castle is amazing, so don’t miss out on a visit. Please note that it costs 330 yen for adults and is closed on Thursdays with some exceptions. Please check the opening dates and times here.
Other than the castle, it is also famous for Innoshima Flower Center and while you are here you must try Hassaku orange rice cakes, as the island is known for the Hassaku citrus fruit.
Cross over to Ikuchijima via the Ikuchibashi Bridge.
One of the huge draws of the island is Kosanji Temple, which was built by a man named Kozo Kosanji in 1936 who dedicated the temple to his mother. On the same grounds is Choseikaku Villa which is designated as a Registered National Tangible Cultural Property. There’s also Miraishin no Oka, a white marble garden with an amazing lookout point.
Hours: 9:00 - 17:00 (Choseikaku: 10:00 - 16:00)
Cost: 1400 yen for adults and an additional 200 yen for Choseikaku Villa
Apart from the Kosanji Temple there are a number of other attractions on the island which includes the Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art Museum which houses the work of Hirayama Ikuo who is renowned for his Nihonga (Japanese traditional style) work and his depictions of the Silk Road.
Hours: 9:00 - 17:00
Cost: 920 yen for adults
And make sure to try lemons or products made with lemons on the island as it’s Japan’s top producer for the yellow fruit!
Omishima is the largest island of the Shimanami Kaido so there’s lots to do and explore.
Oyamazumi Shrine is on the must-visit list of most people who come to this island, usually for its large collection of samurai weapons and armor. If you are fascinated by that particular side of Japanese culture, the collection is sure to impress you. Not only that but parts of the shrine are designated Important Cultural Properties, whether nationally or prefecturally.
Hours: From sunrise to 17:00
Cost: Free for the shrine; 1000 yen for the museum
There are also various other museums on the island to check out, as well as cafes, and even a waterfall! This island also has some highly recommended seafood restaurants, where you can get fresh seafood from the Seto Inland Sea!
Hakatajima is the 5th island in the route from Onomichi. Like the other islands it has amazing views of the sea and beautiful beaches as well. One of them is Hakata Beach, which has an area for people to swim and another section called Dolphin Farm where visitors can camp and also see and swim with dolphins! There’s various courses to see, touch and swim with the dolphins with different price packaging. Reservations are required.
Another thing you should know about the island is that it has a salt factory. Thus you can try out various types of food that the island is famous for using salt, including salted vanilla ice cream and salt-based ramen.
Also another place to remember is Hirayama Park which has a fantastic view to begin with, but it is especially gorgeous in spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
Not to be mixed up with Oshima in Tokyo, Oshima is the very last island before reaching the mainland of Ehime Prefecture in Shikoku. It has quite a bit of steep slopes so save your energy for this island (or of course, you could come from Imabari instead and make it your first island).
While we’ve been raving about the views from various islands, Kirosan Observatory Park has one of the best views of all.
Murakami Suigun Museum is an entire museum dedicated to the pirates we first mentioned in Innoshima. You can even overlook ruins of a fort they used to have.
Cost: 300 yen for adults
Hours: 9:00 - 17:00; closed on Mondays
There's also a free Rose Park on the island where you can see approximately 3,500 roses of 400 types in spring, summer and autumn. There are times in the summer that it’s closed one day a week so check the website for that information.
If you were in a dilemma whether to visit Shimanami Kaido or not, then we say don't think twice! Just book your tickets and head to this magnificent expressway. Even better, if you could stop by on some, if not all!, of the islands along the way, you’d have an experience that many Japanese people haven’t even had. If you have the time and energy, this is a great and beautiful place that you shouldn’t miss.
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