A set of five majestic islands linked by bridges to the mainland, the Tobishima Kaido is known for its beaches, history and citrus fruits. But, it is also the destination of choice for many cyclists who prefer a quieter and more rustic cycle course than the popular Shimanami Kaido.
“It feels like art,” says Hideshito Kajioka, who runs the Fans of Tobishima Cycling Group. “The views of the sea and the islands continually shift in front of your eyes depending on the light, the weather and the speed you cycle.”
Kajioka first experienced the joys of cycling on these islands three years ago. He moved back to his hometown on Osaki Shimojima Island after 50 years of working on the mainland and decided to give cycling a try. After his first ride past orange groves and the calm waters of the inland sea, he was hooked. Now he spends his free time actively promoting cycling in the area.
“There are less cars on the roads here compared to the Shimanami,” says Kajioka referring to the popular cycle route farther east. “Especially if you go off the designated course, the roads almost feel like private cycle lanes. It’s less developed than Shimanami, but a lot of cyclists like it this way.”
His sentiments are echoed by Hitoshi Ishikawa. A cycle enthusiast and fan of the Tobishima cycle route, Ishikawa has cycled these islands ever since the bridge to the mainland opened in 2000.
“The blue cycle lanes only appeared a few years ago,” explains Ishikawa. “What I like to do is go on the unmarked farm roads that snake up into the mountains. It’s an adventure every time because you don’t really know where it’ll lead.”
Ishikawa also makes it a point to cycle to the Kenmin no Hama beach on Kami Kamagari Island – a long open expanse of pristine golden sand. Apart from peak weekends in the middle of summer, most of the time this stunning beach is deserted. Ishikawa uses the opportunity to practice his ocarina flute in the open air, backed by the sound of the ocean.
The Kenmin no Hama beach is just one of a number of discoveries you will make by crossing the islands. On the eastern edge of Osaki Shimojima, the town of Mitarai attracts visitors all year round looking for an authentic encounter with old Japan.
Designated as a historical heritage site, the majority of buildings in Mitarai date back to the Taisho, Meiji and Edo periods. The town flourished during the Edo period as a harbor for trade ships navigating to Osaka or out to the Sea of Japan. Here, prices were set and goods were exchanged, while gossip was also traded in the teahouses and geisha rooms. The alliances forged in these Mitarai teahouses would later sow the seeds of revolution that overthrew the Tokugawa government in 1868 and ended Japan’s 200 years of isolation.
Harukichi Nakamura was also born in Mitarai. Still mostly an unknown figure in Japan let alone abroad, Nakamura is considered to be the first Japanese man to cycle around the world – and do it on a shoestring. The original cycling backpacker, he made his improvised journey at the beginning of the 20th century. Cyclists in the know make sure to pay their respects to Nakamura in Mitarai’s Tenman Shrine, especially those embarking on or completing their own round-the-world cycling expeditions.
Unlike the Shimanami Kaido that connects the mainland to Shikoku, the Tobishima Kaido cycling route runs for 31km and comes to an end at Okamura Island. From here, ferries connect to Imabari on Shikoku and Omishima Island to the east – both on the Shimanami route.
At the moment the lack of bike rental shops on the Tobishima islands make this course a challenge for visitors without their own bikes. But with its ferry connections, this is an accessible extension for cyclists who still crave a little bit extra after tackling the Shimanami Kaido.
“It’s like a miniature version of the Shimanami. The bridges are smaller and quaint, the roads are quieter and the sea feels closer to the road,” says Kajioka. “It’s just how we like it. If people can, I recommend staying overnight on the islands so you can cycle in the sunset. Now that has to be experienced to be believed.”
If you find an extra day or two in your travel itinerary, it would be hard to think of a better way than to spend it exploring the Tobishima Kaido.
Address：Tobishima Kaido. Bridges link the following islands to the mainland: Shimo Kamagari Island, Kami Kamagari Island, Toyoshima Island, Osaki Shimojima Island, Okamura Island.
Express buses leave from Hiroshima and call at Kure before continuing through the islands, finishing at Osaki Shimojima. Please check the following schedule for details:
Enter the following into the search options:
1) Hiroshima Express Bus 2) Kamagari/Toyohama/Yutaka 3) Your departure location 4) Your desired destination.
Local buses regularly run from JR Hiro Station and cross the islands, finishing at Osaki Shimojima.
A variety of ferry routes connect to the Tobishima Kaido islands. There are ferries that connect Okamura Island to Imabari and Omishima – a good option if you want to connect to the Shimanami Kaido. The Takehara to Osaki Shimojima route is recommended if you arrive at Hiroshima Airport. Please note ferry times are subject to the weather and sometimes stop in bad weather or strong winds.
Main ferry routes:
Osaki Shimojima – Osaki Kamijima – Takehara
Okamura – Imabari
Okamura – Omishima
Words and Photography by Tom Miyagawa Coulton
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