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Cyclists looking for adventure in Asia have their pick of exotic and exhilarating bike trips. However, few are as idyllic as Japan's famed Shimanami Kaido.
Between the main Japanese island of Honshu and its small cousin Shikoku are six tiny isles, cast like skipping stones across the Seto Inland Sea. The series of bridges that connects them to the larger isles comprise the Shimanami Sea Route, a highway path with stunning views and charming detours. While the highway may be traversed by car, bus or foot, cycling is considered the highlight attraction by the Japan National Tourism Organization. For travelers who tire of Tokyo's bustle, quiet Shikoku - the nation's least visited major island - is just beyond and beckoning to cyclists.
Temples, bridges and orchards
The Shimanami Sea Route is approximately 40 miles long, leading from the mainland Hiroshima city of Onomichi to the town of Imabari across the water. Though the trip can be done in a matter of hours by bike, there are rental bicycle stations on every island along the way, so that travelers may cycle as much or as little as they like along their journey. In fact, the trek can be made as leisurely as possible thanks to the presence of inns and campsites at the islands - all the better to drink up the seaside panorama.
There are viewing platforms at various points along the route, but some of the best places to take in the view are the impressive bridges that span between islands. The Tatara Ohashi Bridge is one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world, according to the JNTO, and the Kurushima-kaikyo-ohashi Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the world. They themselves are best seen either from the observation platform on Omi-shima or atop Mt. Kiro-san on O-shima.
More modest attractions are found throughout the isles. Apart from the many flowers in bloom, there is also the welcome sight and smell of citrus. Many groves can be found on the first island stop of Mukaishima, though the town of Setoda on Ikuchijima is Japan's top producer of lemons, according to CNN Travel. Other fruits, such as tangerines and oranges, can be found on the islands, as well as the sweet confectionery concoctions that are made with them, including, cakes, jams and juices. At the end of the road on Shikoku is the Orchard of Japan: the Ehime Prefecture.
Numerous temples, museums and shrines also line the road to Shikoku. The Buttsuji Temple on Mihara is a wooded retreat over 600 years old. The nearly as old Kojoji Temple is deemed a national treasure, according to the JNTO. The Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art is dedicated to the world famous Japanese painter from Setoda.
Beyond the sea
Many travelers are drawn south from Tokyo for the Shimanami Kaido. Fewer come for the final destination of that road, which does not boast a teeming metropolis or a Mt. Fuji. Yet, Shikoku is by no means lacking in beauty. In the past half-decade, a group of cyclists who embark on long famed journeys around the world set out to bring attention to the bucolic island. They invited cyclists from around the world to join in a bike trip around the island to raise awareness of its natural charms as part of the Cog-way Shikoku Cycling Project, according Tourism Shikoku.
There are 88 sacred Buddhist temples on Shikoku alone. According to Frommer's, it is a lifetime goal to follow in the footsteps of Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi by embarking on a pilgrimage to all of the the temples. Taking that route would give cyclists more than enough to do. Mt. Konpira is a single destination on the isle that can also prove challenging and rewarding. However, one of the largest attractions is the Shimanto-gawa, known as Japan's last pristine river, according to the JNTO. Forests occupy it headwaters and there are no dams to be found along its course. Fishing and swimming are popular pastimes. Even just riding along the bridges on the river can be exciting. As the JNTO notes, these bridges do not have guardrails so as to reduce resistance during floods and mitigate the potential for the bridge to be carried away.
As your small motorboat slides onto the sandy bank of a deserted beach and your attentive guides set up a gourmet seaside picnic, all that’s left to do is allow the turquoise waters of this remote paradise wash away your stresses.
This is Japan for the intrepid explorer. Enjoy the insight of a local guide, but make use of Japan's efficient train networks to ensure maximum experience for your money.
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