Sunday, 18 March 2018

Onomichi: Senkoji Ropeway, Neko No Hosomichi, Sakura Chaya

Since we arrived early in Onomichi, we cycled around and were greeted with a pleasant surprise Kawazuzakura full blooms. I chatted with an old lady who was also admiring the blooms and she was so kind to give me a badge with a pair of cute kitties riding bicycles.

Senkoji Ropeway 千光寺ロープウェイロープウェイ
You can go up the ropeway for a bird’s eye view of the area. The ropeway departs every 15 mins at 00, 15, 30, 45. This will be a great Sakura viewing spot during the Sakura season. There is a restaurant with great view selling simple curry rice lunch sets and parfaits.

Neko No Hosomichi 猫の細道
Right beside the ropeway station at the bottom is the Neko No Hosomichi 猫の細道 a narrow cat alley where you can spot free roaming cats and if you have time, visit the Manekineko (招财猫) museum.

Manekineko Museum

Sakura Chaya さくら茶や
Finish off your tour with a Neko parfait at Sakura Chaya.

Shotengai 商店街 (The Red Bicycles Onomichi)
Take a nostalgic leisurely stroll or ride along the Shotengai 商店街 and you will find The Red Bicycles Onomichi. Chris had deflated our tires a bit for the flight but when we arrived, he could only inflate mine but not his using the small pump he brought (cos he changed to Kojak tires). We were very troubled by this so we just walked into a bike shop and asked for help. We were thinking worse case scenario Chris has to rent a bike. The shop owner Imanashi San helped Chris to pump the tires and even checked that mine were ok. He advised us to ride around for a while to ensure that the tires have no leakage. When we asked how much it costs, he replied, “Air is free!”. We were really touched by his gesture so when we completed the course and returned to Onomichi, we prepared a thank you speech in Japanese and got him a small imabari towel with mikyan mascot as a souvenir. He was very touched too.

The world is a much better place when people help one another and appreciate the help received. We could not have done this trip on our bikes (at least for Chris) if not for him.

Our speech:

We finally did the shimanami kaido!
We were actually very worried about our bike problem but because of your help, we felt relieved and are really thankful. Really thank you very much.

Chris with Imanashi san

Shimanami Kaido: Accommodations

We stayed at Hotel Cycle located in U2 building, about 600m from the station, which looks like a refurbished warehouse. They did an excellent job making the interior very modern and hip.

The facade

Kog Bar

Although the toilet in our room had no heating, there was a huge bathtub which we enjoyed using. Toilet seat is also heated so no issue.

Bath tub big enough for two medium-sized adults

There is a hook for a bike but we didn't use it

The hotel provided complimentary welcome drinks at the bar (including alcoholic drinks) and breakfast. There was an excellent variety of breads for breakfast which I love.

Perfectly-done eggs

It's cute how they mix English and Japanese

From the hotel, it’s a short ride to the ferry point opposite the train station, the start point of the shimanami kaido.

Cost: 36,000 yen per night for two pax including breakfast

We booked a small family-run ryokan Seto Ryokan in Hakatajima, about 2/3 along the way because we wanted to take it slow and steady in order to enjoy the sights along the way. This gave us more time to stop and take photos, sit down and enjoy the scenery or grab a snack from the many convenience stores along the way.

Our room had excellent sea view and the meals was satisfying. They had a family bath (hot spring) which we really appreciated after the long ride.

Shocked by the sashimi platter

Very nice soft shell crabs

Simple breakfast

Cost: 30,240 yen per night for two pax including dinner and breakfast

Chris booked Imabari Kokusai Hotel which has a nice hot spring public bath with full amenities such as make up cleanser, cleanser, toner, moisturizer and hair water (tonic). The effect of the hot spring bath is simply amazing! After soaking for about 5 mins, I felt my tiredness and soreness being drained away. The hotel is about 1 km from JR Imabari station but if you have your own bike, that's just a couple of minutes ride away.


Spa shower in the room

Imabari is famous for towels so be sure to get one as a souvenir!

I got myself a mikyan badge as a reward
Mikyan on a bike

Cost: 22,000 yen per night for two pax including breakfast

Shimanami Kaido Cycling Experience (11-12 March 2018)

What we packed:
  1. Big hard case luggage for non-cycling clothes, shopping and brompton bags
  2. Two hard case bike carriers containing two foldable bikes
  3. 1 backpack each (with helmet strapped to backpack)

We flew in to Fukuoka international airport, took the shuttle bus to domestic terminal and got on the train to Hakata (total about 15-20 min) where we deposited our hard case luggage and bike cases with the hotel and made our way to Onomichi station with only our bikes, brompton bags and backpacks. There is also a direct bus from the international airport to Hakata station and we took that when going back home.

For the train ride to Onomichi, we used the JR setouchi pass which we purchased from JTB in Singapore at 17,000 yen per pax. The pass is good for unlimited rides on UNRESERVED SEATS on all JR trains (including Nozomi Shinkansen) in the marked region for 5 consecutive days.

Bikes need to be covered for the train journey

If possible, sit at the last row in the carriage so you can put your bikes behind your seat

Bike rentals:
If you are not bringing your own bikes, do rent the good Giant brand bikes available from U2 at Onomichi and Imabari station. The Red Bicycles Onomichi at the shotengai has a good range of pro bikes too. Do check them out. The boss can speak English and is extremely helpful.

We rented bikes from Sunrise Itoyama at Imabari 7 years ago and the bikes were so lousy that we couldn’t even complete one bridge!

The weather was between 5-15 deg C with strong winds at some sections. A good windbreaker is essential. I strongly recommend North Face Windwall series as it’s very lightweight, packs compactly yet is very effective even against the head winds.

I get cold very easily and I wore:

1 merino wool camisole

2 long sleeved merino wool base layers

1 base layer tights

1 set of normal short-sleeved cycling jersey and exercise shorts

1 north face windwall windbreaker shell

1 Cashmere scarf (no picture)

It started off a little chilly but I warmed up and had to remove one of my merino wool base layers halfway through. The next day I just wore one base layer and it was fine.

Sunblock is a must and I had a bottle of spray on sunblock which I sprayed generously when we stopped for a break or at traffic junctions.

We stayed in Onomichi the day before the first half of the ride, Hakatajima on the second night and Imabari at the end of the ride.

Read more about it here.

Our route
There are 6 recommended courses from beginner to advanced. We took the blue course (I think it’s intermediate) which is the easiest to follow because you can’t get lost if you follow the blue line on the road.

Clearly-marked route. Just follow the blue line which goes from Onomichi to Imabari

There are plenty of toilets and convenience stores (Lawson, 7-11, Family Mart) along the way so if you feel thirsty or hungry, you can just stop by one of the many stores to grab a snack.

Ice cream and mochi (since we're cycling, we can afford to eat desserts!)

There is a total of 7 bridges connecting 6 islands between Onomichi and Imabari. The first bridge connecting Onomichi to Mukaishima (Onomichi Ohashi) is not made for cyclists or pedestrians so you need to take a ferry to the start point of the cycling route. The ferry terminal is opposite the JR Onomichi station and it’s a short 5 min ferry to the start point of the shimanami kaido. The cost is 100 yen per pax and 10 yen per bike.

To get to each of the other bridges, there is an elevation of about 3-4 deg for about 1-1.2km (except kurushima kaikyo which has a longer and spiral ascent) which means there’s an equal distance of descent for you to enjoy after crossing each bridge.

We read mixed reviews about starting from Onomichi or Imabari and after the experience, we felt that we have made the right choice to start from Onomichi. Although some reviews mentioned that there’s more down slope and less head wind if you start from Imabari, we felt that the scenery was nicer as we traversed and coming from Onomichi, the first bridge is not made for cyclists and pedestrians so you need to take a ferry to get to the route. The second bridge which is the first you cycle on was the most letdown as we were cycling under the bridge rather than on it while the last bridge Kurushima Kaikyo was the most spectacular with the most breathtaking views and spiraling down to complete your route was really exhilarating. If it had been the other way around, it would have been rather anti-climax in my opinion. Imagine ending your route with a ferry ride... haha so I’ll strongly recommend going from Onomichi to Imabari if your priority is to enjoy the ride rather than speed.

Manhole at Onomichi

Second Bridge: Innoshima Bridge

Third Bridge: Ikuchi Bridge

Lovely blooms along the way

Fourth Bridge: Tatara Bridge

Fifth Bridge: Omishima Bridge

Crossing from Hiroshima to Ehime!

Sixth Bridge: Hakata-Oshima Bridge

Gearing up for last bridge: Kurushima Kaikyo

The spiral climb up to reach Kurushima Kaikyo

Kawazuzakura at the end of Kurushima Kaikyo

Lunch at Kaze no resutoran at Sunrise Itoyama

Although the Japanese pamphlet says the course takes 5 hours, the English pamphlet says 8-10 hours. I guess if you factor in time to take photos and stopping for breaks, that's about right. Depending on your fitness level and priority (speed or enjoying the sights), decide on whether you want to complete it in one day or spread it out into 2 days.