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Cycling the scenic Seto Inland Sea

A fun and easy way to explore hidden Japan

If you're looking for a holiday in Japan which involves stunning scenery, great food and some moderate exercise then the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido Cycling route is for you. The cycling route runs for about 70 kilometres across 6 islands and bridges of the Seto Inland Sea, linking Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture with Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture.

The islands of the Seto Inland Sea come in all shapes and sizes - some rising straight out of the sea with pine trees clinging precariously to their cliffs, while others have lovely sheltered bays and beaches. The larger islands have typical country scenery with farmers working their rice paddies and vegetable fields. The water of the Seto Inland Sea is turquoise blue and the currents running between the islands make for some interesting rapids and whirlpool phenomena when the tides are running. There are many picturesque little fishing villages with terraced mikan (mandarin) fields surrounded by bamboo groves and pine forests. Also, you can expect to see plenty of shipbuilding and stone cutting factories, for which this part of Japan is famous. The huge bridges you cycle across, with dedicated cycle lanes, are not just engineering marvels but quite beautiful to gaze on as well.

There are plenty of interesting places to stop and visit on the ride, including the start and finish cities of Imabari and Onomichi. Looking for something historic then check out Imabari castle and Onomichi with its 25 Buddhist temples, many which are national treasures such as the Senkoji temple. At the Murakami Suigun Museum and Innoshima Suigun Castle you can learn all about Japanese pirates, that ruled the Seto Inland Sea in the 15th and 16th centuries. On Ikuchijima Island you can visit the Ikuo Hirayama Museum to see the best collection of one of Japan's most famous recent painters of the traditional hanga style, and the Kosanji Temple, an eclectic collection of buildings topped by a blinding white mountain of sculptures made of Italian marble.

The Seto Inland Sea is also well known for its seafood, and you wont be dissapointed. On Kurushima Island at the Yoshiumi Iki Iki Kan you can choose your fresh seafood and cook it on a charcoal barbeque at your table. Onomichi has some great seafood restaurants, including the trendy izakaya, Tamaganzo. Onomichi is also well known for its ramen and okonomiyaki which have their own local style. And to keep you cool on the ride make sure you have plenty of the local mikan juice, gelatos and ice creams, especially the Hakata Island salt ice cream which despite what you might think, tastes very good!

The cycling route is very popular with foreign tourists because the local tourism promotion bodies have done an excellent job of making it user friendly. The route itself is well marked with English signs and English guide maps are readily available so you wont get lost. Moreover, if you don't bring your own bicycle you can rent them for as little as Yen1,000 per day from 15 different locations along the way. What really impressed me was how easy to use and flexible the rental cycle system is and how good the bikes were. You can go one way the whole way, or just do sections of the route and finish the rest by bus or ferry. Moreover, the rental cycle company will arrange for your luggage to be delivered by takkyubin to your hotel and there are coin lockers located at or near the bike rental stations. Both Onomichi and Imabari are easily accessible from Tokyo or Osaka by air and train.

For more information see: http://www.go-shimanami.jp/global/english/

by Phil

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