Friday 20 January 2023
There are three ways to reach the main island of Honshu from Shikoku, the Shimanami Kaido is one of them.
This series of 7 bridges across 6 islands spans a total distance of 70 km, most of which has cycle paths. Only the final bridge is a road bridge and cyclists must take a ferry.
The plan today is to hire bikes and cycle a chunk of The Shimanami Kaido.
Working out how to get to the start is problematic. There is a cycle hire shop right at the start of the route. This cannot, however, be reached by public transport. There is also cycle hire available at Imabari Station, but this is 4 miles from the start. I would be knackered before we we even reach the beginning of the trail.
We come up with a Plan C; to catch the train to Imabari then a bus to one of the islands, starting further along the trail at Hakatajima.
First, breakfast. This morning’s offering of food to put in your plastic compartmentalised tray even includes jelly. Now I really do feel like I’m back in primary school!
After breakfast, we attempt to catch a tram to the station. The tram passes our hotel, then turns and performs a circuit of the city with the station three stops in a clockwise direction. So we are somewhat disappointed when we reach the turn and the tram heads anti-clockwise.
We must disembark and catch a different tram. First, we need to pay. On Japanese public transport you must have the correct change. If you don’t don’t, you must put money into the change box in order to obtain sufficient change. We have the correct money, but the old man mistakes the change box for the ticket machine and throws in his money. He now still has the correct change only in far more coins.
We catch the correct tram, which is running late. Even with the old man’s contingency, we miss the hourly direct train to Imabari. We end up instead on the local train which takes so long that it arrives just 4 minutes before the rapid train which departs an hour later. Also, unlike the rapid train, there is no wifi, which makes the journey seem even longer. And it is also running late.
By the time we reach Imabari, it’s almost midday. Catching the bus is more complicated than we thought as it’s 16 minutes late. During which time three other buses arrive. There’s nothing written in English anywhere so we erroneously board the wrong bus. Several times.
Finally, we catch the correct bus and set off along The Shimanami Kaido. First up, Kurushima-Kaiko Bridge. At over 4 km long, this is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.
Then onto Oshima Island. It doesn’t look anything like I’d imagined ; it appears to be a hill encircled by heavy industry.
Then onto the 840 metre long Oshima Bridge.
This brings us to the small island of Hakatajima, where the guide I picked up in Tourist Information says you can rent a bike from Hakata SC Park, a four minute walk from the bus stop.
I have read plenty about cycling the Shimanami Kaido and seen numerous photos. They are all of happy, smiling people amongst parks and by the seaside or admiring public art.
We haven’t seen anywhere remotely resembling a park and we haven’t seen one single cyclist on our journey across the first two islands.
We disembark in Hakatajima, which doesn’t seem to have anything going for it at all. The guide said it was famous for its salt production and you could buy salt flavour ice cream in little stands along the road. There are no stands and there are no signs showing the way to Hakata SC Park.
We think we spot a park in the distance and wander across to take some photos of the bridge. It turns out to be a school playground – oops!
We set off in search of Hakata SC Park and walk until we finally spot a sign indicating it was in the opposite direction.
Hakata SC Park is like a ghost town. There’s certainly no sign of any bikes. Which is kind of a relief because it’s blowing a gale and I’ve gone off the whole cycling idea now.
Hakata SC Park toilet report; the privacy noise is birdsong – mainly cuckoos.
We walk towards the bridge hoping the path will take us up onto it. But it’s just a dead end. At this point, we decide we’ve had enough, purchase some sandwiches at the 7-11 and eat them at the bus stop waiting for the bus back to Imabari, which is also late. My image of the efficiency of Japanese public transport is shattered.
On the way back, we still don’t spot a single cyclist. Which is hardly surprising as the wind is so fierce on the bridges that the bus sways violently from side to side.
But we do get quite a nice view of the whirlpools as we sway across the bridge. When the tide changes in the Seto Inland Sea, the proximity of the islands causes the water to swirl, forming whirlpools.
Then it’s back to Matsuyama on the train. Total time of trip; over 6 hours. Point of trip; nothing really.
To make matters worse, we somehow manage to get on the tram going in the wrong direction (again!). This time, instead of waiting for another tram and paying for another ticket, we stay on for almost a full circuit, finally reaching our destination, Matsuyama City Station, 40 minutes later.
Matsuyama City Station
Matsuyama City Station is not only a station. Above it is a nine storey department store. On the roof of that is a ferris wheel.
Kururin Ferris Wheel
The ferris wheel offers a 15 minute ride with a bird’s eye view of the city for Y800 per person (Y1300 if you choose the one see-through pod).
It’s taken us so long to get here that the sun sets as we rotate high above the city.
Dinner at Goichi
From the 9th floor, we descend to the basement food alley and end up in a restaurant called Goichi. To make ordering dinner even harder, not only do they have no English menu, but there’s are also no photos, only drawings of unidentifiable brown blobs, which we assume are some sort of chicken.
I end up with fried chicken coated in cheese, which was OK. It could have done with a few chips, rather than a bowl of bland, congealed rice.
If my ramblings about my rubbish day haven’t put you off cycling The Shimanami Kaido, below are my notes on our planned route:
- Kurushima-Kaiko Bridge
- Length 4045 m (across 3 bridges)
- Oshima Island
- Cycle Route 13 km
- Oshima Bridge
- Length 840 m
- Hakatajima Island
- Cycle Route 3 km
- Omishima Bridge
- Length 328 m
- Omishima Island
- Cycle Route 5 km
- Tatara Bridge
- Length 1480 m
- Ikujima Island
- Cycle Route 12 km
- Ikuchi Bridge
- Length 790 m
- Innoshima Island
- Cycle Route 10 km
- Innoshima Bridge
- Length 1270 m
- Total Cycle Distance 52 km