Get Active on the Shimanami Kaido, Kick Back in One of Japan’s Oldest Onsen Resorts

Embark on a captivating four-day journey across Japan's Shimanami Kaido, a haven for cycling enthusiasts. The adventure includes a relaxing stay at one of Japan’s oldest onsen resorts, perfectly blending adventure with tranquility.
Get Active on the Shimanami Kaido, Kick Back in One of Japan’s Oldest Onsen Resorts

By now, many cyclists out there will have heard of the famed Shimanami Kaido. Comprising the chain of islands that stretch from eastern Hiroshima Prefecture to Imabari over on Japan’s island of Shikoku, the Shimanami Kaido has risen to immense popularity recently as something of a holy place for cycling enthusiasts.

Of course, Shimanami Kaido need not be only explored by bicycle. While the island-hopping route most commonly attracts travelers looking to challenge it in one go, the Shimanami Kaido can also be more leisurely explored via other means. What’s more, by taking it slow, you’ll have a chance to better take in the beauty of the Seto Inland Sea.

The following four-day itinerary will help you get a sense of how to explore many of the facets of the Shimanami Kaido. However, you’ll first need to get yourself to this part of Japan. While many people often elect to take the bullet train to Hiroshima City, the Shimanami Kaido is actually a lot closer to Hiroshima Airport meaning that a quick flight down on Japan Airlines is the easier way to travel.

Day One: Fukuyama & Onomichi

Fukuyama & Tomonoura

Fukuyama & Tomonoura

Before you get going on the Shimanami Kaido, you’d do well to first make a pit stop in the city of Fukuyama. Found on the eastern edge of Hiroshima Prefecture, Fukuyama is home to a recently-renovated castle that is right next to the train station. Seeing as you’ll need to catch a local line here to Onomichi anyway, it’s a simple add-on that you’d be silly to skip.

If you’d like to explore a little more, you might also want to consider budgeting some extra time for Tomonoura. Found around a half hour to the south of Fukuyama Station, this quaint port town will give you a great glimpse of what life would have been like on the Seto Inland Sea ages ago. For what it’s worth, it was also the inspiration for the town in Miyazaki Hayao’s animated film Ponyo as well where a few scenes from the 2013 film “The Wolverine” were shot.

The Town of Onomichi

The Town of Onomichi

After getting a train at Fukuyama Station, you’ll want to head down to Onomichi. This historic port is famous in Japan as a town of temples, cats, and bicycles. Whether you visit the many temples and cats that can be found in the nearby hills, stop by the retro shopping arcade or the stylish boutique hotels and restaurants, Onomichi has truly something for all types of travelers.

Even if you’re not a fan of cycling, you’ll want to visit Onomichi U2. This repurposed warehouse has been transformed into a must-visit destination and houses a posh cafe, chic shops, a restaurant, and even a full fledged hotel. Of course, seeing as it's Onomichi, the complex also conveniently rents out bicycles for people who are looking to ride the Shimanami Kaido.

You’ll want to plan on spending the night in Onomichi so that you can get an early start on the next day. There are a number of options for accommodations around the station as well as a boutique hotel or two to choose from. If you really want to treat yourself though, a stay at a fancy traditional inn like Ryokan Onomichi Nishiyama is sure to be a highlight of your trip.

Day Two: The 1st Half of the Shimanami Kaido

Setoda & the Island of Ikuchijima

Setoda & the Island of Ikuchijima

Assuming that you don’t make it there on the first day, you’ll want to begin your second day exploring the Shimanami Kaido by heading up Mt. Senkoji. Here you’ll find the temple complex that is the peak’s namesake as well as a fantastic observation deck. Should you rise early enough, you can catch the sun peeking over Shin-Onomichi Bridge and the hills in the east.

After Onomichi, your next stop is going to be Setoda on the island of Ikuchijima. Located in what could be considered the heart of the Shimanami Kaido, most people make their way here by bicycle. Rather than arrive all sweaty, instead board the CycleShip LazuLi or one of the other ferries. These will take you from Onomichi out to Ikuchijima in short order.

Once on Ikuchijima, there are ample walking trails and other miscellaneous attractions to explore. One spot you won’t want to miss though is Kosanji. Home to intricate sculptures, stunning gardens, and tranquil ponds, this opulent temple is one of the crowning jewels of the island. There’s also the Hill of Hope out back where you can see various sized monuments and plazas which sit in harmony with the surrounding landscape of the Seto Inland Sea.

As you might imagine, the real draw of Setoda and Ikuchijima in general is simply the vibe. Be sure to allow for ample time to explore this island on the Seto Inland Sea. Also, seeing as this is the slow way to savor the Shimanami Kaido, you’ll also want to spend the night on Ikuchijima at a facility like yubune, an accommodation that sits right next to one of the most unique public baths in the region.

Day Three: The 2nd Half of the Shimanami Kaido

Omishima, Oshima & Imabari

Omishima, Oshima & Imabari

No adventure on the Shimanami Kaido would be complete without traversing the network of highways that interlink the various islands. While most popularly done via bicycle, you can also take it easy and use a more modern form of transportation if you’d prefer. In either case, know that bike rentals and other means of getting around can be arranged through a property called WAKKA on the neighboring island of Omishima.

Most cyclists stick to the route that goes directly to Imabari but there is also so much else to see along the Shimanami Kaido. For example, on the island of Omishima, you’ll find Oyamazumi Shrine, a sacred site renowned for its impressive collection of samurai armor and weaponry. The ancient Shinto sanctuary has been considered to be an important pilgrimage destination for Japan’s warriors for more than 1,400 years.

Additionally, Oshima, an island a little to the south of Omishima, is home to the Murakami KAIZOKU Museum where you can learn all about the “pirates” of the Seto Inland Sea who went on to join the ranks of the samurai. You can also take a cruise to see up close the powerful, swirling currents that protected their island strongholds from rival groups as well as anyone trying to put a stop to their looting. 

Finally, look forward to the Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridges. It isn't just a passage, it's a spectacle in itself being the world's first triple suspension bridge. It forms the final part of the Shimanami Kaido and stretches over the tranquil waters and linking the picturesque islands. Cyclists and travelers often find themselves pausing here, captivated by the panoramic vistas it offers. 

The bridge stands as a testimony to architectural prowess, and a stop here is almost like a rite of passage for those exploring the Shimanami Kaido.

Imabari to Matsuyama

Imabari to Matsuyama

Once you arrive in Shikoku, there are a few more things to do like Imabari Castle. However, Shimanami Kaido will likely have taken up much of your day. Thus, you’ll want to start making your way over to Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama. Luckily, this leg of the journey can be done in a mere 40 minutes. Just take a limited express train from Imabari Station and you’ll be at Matsuyama Station swiftly.

You'll likely arrive in Matsuyama late in the day so you'll want to head straight to your accommodations for the night. There are a number of amazing ryokan in the area like Yamatoya Besso to choose from, all offering scrumptious meals made from locally sourced ingredients.

On the fourth day, there will be ample time to thoroughly explore Japan's oldest and most revered hot springs. For now, though, just enjoy your time and relax away in one of your ryokan of choice’s onsen baths.

Day Four: Matsuyama

Dogo Onsen

Dogo Onsen

Japan is blessed with many hot spring towns but none of them are as famed as Dogo Onsen. Here, everything is about relaxation and the art of bathing. At the core of this culture is the historic bathhouse of Dogo Onsen Honkan. The beautifully preserved facility has welcomed weary souls for centuries and continues to do so. When visiting, don’t pass up on the opportunity to embark on a guided tour where you’ll get the special chance to see the bath constructed exclusively for the imperial family’s private use.

Nearby, you’ll also find the eclectic temple compound of Ishite-ji. Considered to be one of the 88 temples that make up the famous Shikoku Ohenro Pilgrimage, Ishite-ji is easy to visit after Dogo Onsen Honkan. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a group of pilgrims with their distinctive straw hats, white robes, and walking stick trekking between 88 temples that ring the island of Shikoku.

Lastly, you might also want to catch the nostalgic Botchan Ressha over to Matsuyama Castle from Dogo Onsen. This little steam locomotive is named after the title of a locally set novel by one of Japan’s most famous authors. The Botchan Ressha will take you over to where you can catch an open air chair lift up to the bluff upon which Matsuyama Castle sits.

Matsuyama’s Food & Drink

Matsuyama’s Food & Drink

Matsuyama has a strong reputation for its delicious cuisine. Thus, you’re bound to enjoy just about anything you try in the city. Of all the things you could eat though, two of Matsuyama’s local dishes stand high above the rest—tai-meshi (sea bream rice) and goshiki somen noodles.

While you can have tai-meshi at a number of places in Japan, Matsuyama’s version is held in particularly high esteem. To prepare it, sea bream and kelp are slow-cooked with the rice, infusing the whole dish with umami-rich flavors. Before serving, some shops around Matsuyama arrange raw slices of sea bream on top while others mix carrot and fried tofu into the rice.

Matsuyama’s other famous dish, goshiki somen noodles, come in a set of five vibrant colors (brown, green, red, yellow, and white). The colors are the result of kneading various ingredients into the noodles such as matcha tea powder, mandarin oranges, ume plums, etc. If you’d like to try some as well as some tai-meshi, Goshiki is a popular place which is only 5 minutes south of Matsuyama.

In addition to its culinary traditions, Matsuyama is also quite well renowned for its local craft beer. There are a number of brewers that concoct rich and distinctive flavors in their breweries. Oftentimes, these craftsmen use local ingredients as the inspiration for new takes on beer. Though you can enjoy craft beer in a number of places in Matsuyama, one of the best sits right next to the Dogo Onsen Honkan facility.

Head Back Home on Japan Airlines

Despite taking the Shimanami Kaido journey over a number of days, the return trip from Matsuyama is extremely easy. Simply put, Matsuyama Airport is situated only a few minutes from the center of the city, meaning that you can spend the entirety of your fourth day exploring before catching a last-minute flight on Japan Airlines back.

To make your journey even more rewarding, take advantage of the JAL Japan Explorer Pass. It offers outstanding airfares to more than 30 destinations across our domestic network. Plan your journey with JAL today!

Alternatively, Matsuyama is also a great point for exploring more of Setouchi, the area surrounding Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Not only can you conveniently fly from Matsuyama Airport, there are also a number of options to travel via ferry too.

Getting There