Forgive me for the cheesy overture, but there have been a few moments on this trip where we have felt inordinately blessed to be experiencing something incredibly special that we would likely not have fitted in to a regular holiday. Cycling the Shimanami Kaido is high, if not top of that list.
Shimanami Kaido is a 79 KM expressway, designed with cyclists in mind. The majority of the route offers bespoke bike paths: super safe and swathed in clean sea air.
It was in fact SO safe that Bella decreed hands to be entirely superfluous!
This spectacular road-and-bridge network connects Japan’s main island of Honshu with Shikoku (4th largest) and along the way you pass over 6 of the smaller islands scattered across the Seto inland sea.
The vistas were sublime, and there were seemingly unlimited opportunities to stop or detour along the way to investigate lighthouses, shrines or natural wonders.
Fun times were had investigating interesting roadside diversions:
Even better, our timing allowed us to enjoy Sakura (flowering of the cherry blossoms) all along the way. A few ecstatic moments freewheeling down spiralling paths from the high bridges through showers of petals was hard to beat as a sensation of joy, beauty and freedom.
As you breeze across the magnificent bridges (seven of them), a labyrinth of islands unfolds below. A procession of trawlers, tugs and speedboats glides in and out of the channels. The islands are an appealing mix of natural beauty and industrial might. We passed dozens of shipyards building or repairing vessels on a vast scale.
And it was great to cruise past the daily life, homes and shrines of the local people:
As for the bridges, their exquisite state of the art forms make them an attraction in their own right.
Overall we experienced smooth cycling, except for Bella’s puncture on day 2 (saved by the most efficient and polite rescue service EVER) and Milly’s accident on day 4 (bike spun out from under her resulting in a bash on the road followed by double elbow/wrist x-ray action – thankfully no fractures).
The bikes weren’t the best…. When we were testing out what was available for hire, the only bike which had a frame remotely big enough for James to ride wasn’t quite set up for success. There was a hilarious moment when we saw him using Google translate to explain that “this bike has a seat that sticks upwards and it hurts my testicles” and the 3 of us girls got uncontrollable giggles.
On the accommodation front, we stayed in ryokans all the way, each both special and challenging in their own right. Frankly the bedding for me is tough regardless: prolapsed disks and sleeping on glorified rollmats is not a great combo. What IS lovely though is the family ‘camping’ style arrangement of us all sharing a room, with easy access hugathons.
Gastronomy was taken to a whole new level. Dinners followed a pattern, all very fancy, with some adding uber-elaborate features involving such delicacies as fish heads or raw whelks. Basic dinner consists of a tray of various pickles, followed by delicious sashimi, followed by a cooked fish course, followed by some kind of meat course, followed by a rice dish, followed by miso soup, followed by desert (usually (thankfully by this time!) a tiny portion of tasty fruit).
And we did it all over again at breakfast…..
Luckily we also discovered Hawaiian Blue Shaved Ice which took the edge off our pescatarian overload:
Ikuchijima Setoda island was famous for growing lemons and offered lots of lemony fun for all:
The girls were a bit ‘templed out’ by the time we arrived at Ikuchijima island, and I had managed to load up their Kindles with such unputdownable pony stories that when James and I went out exploring, they stayed behind at the Ryokan enjoying a read in their sun-warmed bedroom balcony/conservatory. We fortuitously stumbled across the Kosanji Temple which was a relief since it turned out to be one of the most stunning temples we’ve yet explored. Built in 1936 by Buddhist priest Koso Kosanji in memory of his mother, this wonderland of temples, pagodas and natural beauty took more than 30 years to complete. Each building is modelled on famous temple buildings in Kyoto, Nikko and elsewhere, so visiting is like taking a stroll through Japanese history.
Crowning the crest of the hill above Kosanji Temple was the ‘Hill of Hope’ sculptural garden. Designed and created over a period of 16 years by Itto Kuetani (a sculptor who is active in Italy), its filled with marble monuments that represent “Familial Ties” and is dedicated to a peaceful world that is filled with hope for the future. This felt like the perfect place to give thanks for the blessings of our trip, and make a few wishes for our own future.