The Shimanami Kaido, an expressway that links Onomichi City of Hiroshima Prefecture with Imabari City of Ehime Prefecture, was opened in its entirety in May 1999. The route, which comprises ten individual bridges, required a total investment of approximately 746.4 billion yen.
An 80km “Bicycle Route”
Each bridge on the route has its own feature. Tatara Bridge, which stands above the border of Hiroshima Prefecture and Ehime Prefecture, opened in 1999 as one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world (as of the time of its construction). Its strikingly beautiful form, which resembles a bird with its wings open, attracts visitors from around the world. Additionally, Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge was constructed through the combined use of all modern construction technologies to become the world’s first triple-suspension bridge.
The route through the main island starts at Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture, which is well known nationwide as a city of movies, slopes, temples and literature. Onomichi ramen and seafood dishes made with fresh fish caught in Setouchi (Seto Inland Sea) exemplify the region’s much-loved cuisine.
Imabari City, the starting point at Shikoku Island, has a rich historical heritage that includes Imabari Castle and Oyamazumi Shrine, the latter of which is known as a Japanese tutelary deity. Moreover, one of the area’s industries is Imabari Towel, which is famous for its excellent quality. Various shipbuilding companies are also based in the area.
Because the route allows cyclists to ride approximately 80 kilometers, it has become a favorite domestically and internationally. The Setonaikai-Crossing Bicycle Route is the first channel crossing in Japan that allows bicycle traffic.
Increased Attention on Setouchi Cycling
The exhilaration of cycling along the seashore draws cyclists from all over, and each year more enthusiasts visit the area. There is also a well-organized system to accommodate them. The Onomichi U2, a complex designed for cyclists located west of JR Onomichi Station, opened in March 2014 as a renovation of the former Prefectural Warehouse No. 2. The facility includes Hotel Cycle, a specialized lodging for cyclists, the Giant Store, a bicycle shop, a cafe and souvenir shops.
Together with the enhancement of the facilities, cycling events are held regularly. For example, The Third Setouchi Shimanami Kaido Cycling Ride 2014 will be held on May 25, 2014. Two courses will be offered: the Ikuchijima 70 course (around the three islands from the Mukaishima district of Onomichi City to Ikuchijima) for beginning and intermediate riders, and Omishima 100 course (around the four islands from Onomichi City’s Mukaishima district to Omishima) for intermediate and advanced riders. The event appears to be quite popular, as all the available applications have been filled and there is a waiting list of riders seeking to fill cancellations.
This year the area celebrates the eightieth anniversary of its designation as Setonaikai National Park, and the fifteenth anniversary of the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido. Thus one of the biggest international cycling events–known as Cycling Shimanami, or the Setouchi Shimanami Kaido International Cycling Event–will be held on October 25. While approximately 8,000 participants are called for domestically and internationally, the event gains added attention not only for the unique bridges but also for the opportunity to cycle the expressway, which offers beautiful views of Setonaikai’s islands.
Hiroshima Prefecture strives to lure cyclists not only to the Shimanami Kaido but also to the wider area of Setonaikai by placing the guiding lines through a route called Sazanami Kaido, which lies between Mihara City and Kure City–mainly along National Highway Route 185–as well as through the Kakishima Kaido between Kure City and Etajima, being linked by National Highway Route 487 and city roads.