Friday 4 January 2019

My Shimanami Kaido Adventure in October 2018

Today I received some photos from my Imabari Airbnb hosts, Tsuneto and Akiko, which evoked such happy memories when I saw their smiling faces once again. This was just the motivation I needed to inspire me to write of my 2 day cycle adventure on the Shimanami Kaido from Imabari, Shikoku to Onomichi, Honshu in mid-October last year.

Picture with hosts Tsuneto and Akiko

This came towards the end of a 3 week trip to Japan with the Frankston sister city delegation to Susono, Shizuoka to participate in their Australian Fair and a range of other activities and functions organised for our 4 night visit. I then traveled to Tokyo and then Kyoto with friends Peter, Margaret, Warwick and Jenny where we enjoyed the amazing sights, sounds, smells and tastes of what is the unique country of Japan! Tokyo, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Nara, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Hiroshima, Miyajima ...

Aboard the Toden Arakawa Streetcar in Tokyo

Kyoto dinner friends!

After our farewells the previous night, I was awake early and very much looking forward to this part of my Japan holiday; let's call it nervous anticipation! This was my 5th trip to Japan - mostly with delegation groups, school groups or family, but I have ventured off on my own a couple of times and there has always been a sense of "can I do this on my own?". After a short walk to Kyoto Station I was aboard the Hikari Shinkansen heading to Okayama, which takes just over an hour, and then changing to a limited express train for the journey to Imabari which took a little over 2 hours. Crossing the amazing Seto-Ohashi Bridge (Great Seto Bridge) at just over 13 kilometers long and crosses a series of 5 small islands in the Seto Inland Sea, connecting the main island of Honshu to Shikoku. The bridge is considered one of Japan's most spectacular and important bridges and was opened in 1988 after 10 years construction.

The Seto-Ohashi Bridge stretches back for many kilometers!

I arrived at Imabari Station mid-morning where my host Tsuneto was waiting to collect me. We had messaged each other regarding my arrival time but I had expected to make my own way to their home with Google maps guiding me and photos of the route saved on my phone. This was to be the first of many kind acts extended to me during my very brief stay in Imabari.

On previous trips I have experienced home stays, hotels, ryokans, minshuku and even a capsule hotel in Kanda but this was my first Airbnb in a private home - we had a 3 storey apartment in Shin-Okubo during our week in Tokyo. I had searched Airbnb in Imabari and found these SUPER HOSTS for an unbelievable price (more of that later!) but wondered "what's the catch?" Could this be too good to be true? - but all the reviews were glowing so I went ahead and booked it!

Tsuneto took me to the GIANT bike shop where I would collect my rental bike the following morning and I dropped off my pedals to be fitted to the rental. We then drove to their home and I met Tsuneto's lovely wife Akiko. My bedroom had tatami mats with the futon already prepared and an adjoining private lounge room with a huge TV. Tea and cake was provided as we chatted and relaxed in their wonderful home. I soon learnt that Tsuneto was a retired cardiologist and his hobby was Airbnb! I also discovered that I was their 900th visitor since starting in 2014, with guests from 60 countries.

Lounge room looking into tatami bedroom

I was keen to see a little of Imabari and get my bearings for tomorrow's ride so I set out on a walk and discovery tour. I headed back to the station and bike shop area and then followed the Shimanami Kaido cycling route out of town, which is marked by a thick blue line on the left side of the road. I found a supermarket and bought some lunch before continuing on and finding some men harvesting rice. Before long, one of the men went to his truck and came over with a can of coffee and a cake - insisting that I take them. I spent around an hour watching the harvesting and talking when they weren't busy - he was 60 and his 80 year old father was driving the harvester! The other fella was the land owner. My generous new friend had 3 grandchildren so I was able to present him with some small toy kangaroos I had taken with me for just such an occasion.

Loading the harvested rice

Rice owner (centre) and my generous new friend

After most of the crop was harvested I bid farewell and headed back towards the station, Tsuneto's home and then kept walking - Google maps was telling me there was a Starbucks some distance away in a large shopping centre! After many hours walking, and enjoying my large cappuccino, I arrived back at my home for the evening. Akiko's food was amazing - sushi, tempura, sashimi, chawanmushi, rice, miso soup, green tea, beer and the premium sake PM Abe served Barack Obama - WOW!!

And breakfast was just as delicious ...

After breakfast it was time to say farewell and head for the bike shop, but not before we exchanged gifts and I was presented with a certificate as their 900th guest. We then drove to the luggage transport depot to deposit my suitcase for delivery to Onomichi. Oh ... did I mention that my superior accommodation, transportation, 2 superb meals with drinks, certificate, gifts, etc. cost the princely sum of 1,200 yen (that's $17.13!!) and they donate the money to Doctors Without Borders! Can you believe that? Airbnb SUPER HOSTS.

My cycling journey began at the GIANT store in Imabari, through the carpark and turn left onto the main road heading towards the Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge which takes you onto Oshima Island.  Tsuneto and Akiko had asked whether I was planning to ride up Mount Kiro as the view was worth a look. Well it was tough going but the view of the bridge and surrounding islands was spectacular!

Panorama from Mount Kiro on Oshima Island with Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge on the right side

Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge

My original plan for the usual 76 km journey was to take the longer route on each of the islands and ride around 90 and 80 kilometers over the 2 days - with an overnight stay at the Setoda Tarumi Onsen on Ikuchijima. The riding, the views, the islands, the bridges - each a different design, and especially the weather were all memorable and made for an amazing 2 day journey.

Day 1 lunch at Bubuka on Omishima Island

The highlights included: Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge viewed from Mount Kiro, lunch at Bubuka on Omishima Island - duck, wild mushrooms and melted cheese on bread with an iced coffee, the relaxing and soothing onsen overlooking the beach at Setoda, Shiratakiyama Gohyaku Rakan (500+ statues of Buddha's disciples) with stunning 360 degree views, visiting the Shinto Shrine on Iwashi Island, and the swim under Innoshima Bridge near the end of Day 2.

My room at the Setoda Tarumi Onsen

Ikuchi Bridge linking Ikuchi and Innoshima Islands

Shiratakiyama Gohyaku Rakan (500+ statues of Buddha's disciples)

Spectacular view of Innoshima Bridge from Shiratakiyama

A refreshing dip under Innoshima Bridge on Mukoujima

My 181 (99 + 82) kilometre adventure was everything I had hoped for and more. Even the ferry ride into Onomichi at the very end of my ride was a memorable one. I also rode down to the Onomichi and Shin-Onomichi Bridges which are a no-go for bicycles - hence the ferry ride.

The ferry ride across to Onomichi

Finding my Airbnb accommodation in the Sangenyacho neighborhood proved far too difficult so I had to ring Yoko who came to the station to collect me. We walked the narrow streets and stairways to her home - I had got within 30 or so metres! I was also somewhat surprised that my suitcase was waiting in the entrance as all the "streets" were so narrow - perhaps they managed to strap it to a motorcycle?

View of Sangenyacho neighbourhood

My upstairs room was very comfortable with tatami matting, futon bedding and view of the Sangenyacho neighborhood. No meals were provided so I found a restaurant in the town and enjoyed a delicious bowl of ramen, with karaage and washed down with a refreshing ale! Back at Yoko's house we enjoyed conversation with the other guests and permanent residents, a few more drinks and showing them the Virtual Reality goggles we had used at the Australian Fair in Susono.

Shimanami Kaido route map - the yellow shows the 76 km cycle route with Imabari to the left and Onomichi to the right

After a restful night's sleep (it's amazing how well you sleep after riding over 180 kms!) and it was up early, finish packing and off to the station for the trip back to Tokyo and the final days of my exciting Japan holiday. Hopefully, I will return to Japan within a few years and I would like to take my regular cycling group back to ride the Shimanami Kaido over 3 or 4 days.