Cycling the Shimanami Kaido

I just got back from a trip to Shikoku, one of Japan’s four main islands. In a moment of extreme foolishness I decided to bike from Honshu across the inland sea, a distance of ~75km.

The bike ride is a popular one for Japanese tourists and biking enthusiasts and crosses six islands and offers beautiful views. Unfortunately there are also 7 bridges. 7 bridges which have to be at some distance above the water. Which means hills….

Having read online that ‘there were no large inclines’ and carrying everything I needed for a weekend with me, I choose a Mama-Chari with three gears and a basket over the mountain bike with no basket at the bicycle rental station. Big mistake. I knew it as soon as I saw this guy.

He had a speedometer, a GPS, a light, sweat bands, four water bottles, 21 gears and spandax. I had this:

An old lady’s bike, flip flops, and a weekend’s worth of stuff in a backpack.

Needless to say, he soon left me behind, but as he took detours for scenic outlooks and museums and I chugged along the main route, we ran into each other several times. He was very nice, stopping to make sure I was on route and even helping me successfully return the bike.

The route was well marked, with painted road signs every kilometer and larger directional signs at every turn. Unfortunately, at the beginning, the route signs were more discouraging than anything. After biking for what seemed like forever (actually 13km) I saw the sign that said 62 km left, and knew I had to stop for some sunscreen.

In true Japanese tradition, there were stamping stations at each bridge. I managed to find one.

I almost gave up at km 50 when I looked at the elevation map and saw two gigantic hills ahead of me, but I’m glad I persevered. The views at the end were definitely worth it.

In summary, if you do this bike ride, get a bike with more than three gears and leave your backpack at home. Also, make sure to try the gelato on island three.

How to: Take the train to Onomichi station in Hiroshima Prefecture. Across the street from the station and three blocks to the right you can rent a bicycle for 500 yen, with an additional 1000 yen if you want to return it on the other side. Tolls on the bridges cost about 500 yen total. There are many restaurants and convenience stores on the route. At the other end you can bicycle right to Itoshima city, or if you’re a little lazier like me, drop the bicycle off right away and walk to the closest train station Hashihama.


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My Personal Paradise

Found in Shikoku: Citrus island –  the place I would live forever.

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Nokonoshima Island

Fukuoka city is located in Hakata Bay and has many different islands to explore. On the weekend we went to Nokonoshima island, a ten minute ferry ride from the mainland. A small island, it’s most famous for a flower park and the view of Fukuoka city.

We ate a decicious burger, had a wonderful strawberry shake and then rented bikes to go to the park. The park is on the top of island’s hill, and so we got super cool racing bikes. Well… some of us did.

I got this bike.

The park was beautiful. Full of nice flowers and playground equipment. Also, for some strange reason, goats and bunny rabbits!

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How not to use your Mama-Chari: Bicycling in Japan

When I arrived at my apartment in August, there were three abandoned bikes lying in the yard. It turns out there are a lot of abandoned bikes in Japan, because they are so cheap. A decent bike is only about $80 at our local store. Of course, these bikes are pretty basic, with no gears, but they come with a light, a lock and a sweet basket. It’s the basket that gives them their name, Mama-Chari, or Grandma’s bicycle.

I, at one time, owned three bikes, one I purchased, one from the yard and one from my school. However, it seems that bikes are the only thing people in Japan will steal, and my school bike was stolen from the train station that I had one described as ‘so remote, you don’t need to lock your bike’.

My major bike mishap was a little more serious though. The mama-charis come with a light attached to the front wheel that uses the wheels motion to power the light. You can flick it off during the day to reduce resistance. A month ago, I was riding to the station in the dark when I decided to flick on the light, with my foot. Whoops.

Of course, my shoe immediately got stuck in the spokes and I had one of those transcendental, slow-moving time moments where I knew what was going to happen and I couldn’t stop it. Up over the handle bars I went, as I did a face plant on the ground and my bike landed on top of me. In a little shock, I tried to get up and I noticed a small child staring at me from his parents lawn. His eyes were gigantic and he ran away as soon as I said hi. Picking up my stuff, I decided I could still make it to the train station on time. I was obviously delusional. My bike was barely functional, having lost the light, the bell, some spokes, and most of the basket to the fall. I made the train but after getting on I looked in the mirror and noticed a huge bruise already forming on my face and then at my hand to see that it was covered in blood. I got off at the next station and turned around.

A week after the incident!

Scott met me, and as soon as we made it home I discovered massive bruises on my thighs from the handlebars, the beginnings of a black eye, and a killer headache. I spent the rest of the weekend in bed catching up on Mad Men, so at least one positive thing came out of my idiocy. And I’ll definitely never stick my foot in the spokes again.

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