Japan ?�Shimanami, Shikoku and Kyoto Cycling

Trip Length 11 Days
Group Size 4?14
Difficulty
Starting from
$7,599 for REI Members
$8,359 for non-members
Departures Mar 2020-Oct 2020

Spend 11 days road cycling between islands and exploring the quiet forest pathways of Japan?s lesser traveled but hugely rewarding Shikoku Island.

Japan is a vast network of islands, large and small, each with their own unique beauty and character. This cycling adventure follows the newly constructed Shimanami Kaido, or Island Road, crossing 6 separate islands before delving deep into the mountains of the Shikoku. Famous for its 88-temple Buddhist pilgrimage route, Shikoku is a low-traffic gem of Japan with stunning interior mountains, valleys and rugged coastline. It?s the perfect location for cyclists looking to experience authentic Japanese culture while putting some seriously scenic miles under their wheels. We cycle up small mountain roadways and along peaceful ocean stretches, discovering small towns and countless bucolic landscapes. Each day we discover a new aspect of Japanese life, and each night we soak our legs in steamy onsens (hot springs) and sample fresh local fare. This trip is a rewarding challenge for both the avid cyclist and those who might appreciate the extra assistance of an e-bike.

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Trip Highlights

  • Cycle or e-bike across islands, mountain passes and stunning coastal waters
  • Island hop across the Seto Sea on Japan?s famous Shimanami Kaido cycling route
  • Pedal through the lush mountains and valleys of Shikoku and the Iya Valley
  • Experience traditional Kaiseki dining and soak your muscles in onsens
  • Visit one of the 88 temples of Shikoku?s Henro Pilgrimage route

Activities

This trip is rated Moderate Plus [3?4]. Participants should have cycling experience and be comfortable in the saddle for 4?7 hours per day. Participants should be comfortable riding on a variety of surfaces besides paved roads, including gravel roads, city streets with vehicle traffic, and narrow roads.

Rides range from 20?45 miles, with climbs on several days. The terrain is flat to rolling hills with a few long ascents and descents. On most days, total elevation gains and losses range from 2,500'?4,000'. Most hill gradients average 4?6% and a few short sections can reach up to 10% grades. Vehicle support is available intermittently. An E-bike is an available option at no additional charge.

  • Cycling

What's Included

Double-occupancy accommodation and meals as noted in the daily itinerary; bikes (including E-bikes), ground transportation from the hotel on Day 2 to the hotel on Day 11; sake tasting, skilled English-speaking trip leader.

Accommodations

Hotels, 5 nights; Traditional Guesthouses, 5 nights

Your wheels for the journey

Every great tour begins with a great bike, and our top-flight fleet has been carefully curated for your cycling adventure.

Want to bring your own bike?  You can do that too.

Your Adventure Itinerary

Day 1

Nihon e Y?koso! Arrive in Osaka and sample fresh Osaka-style sushi.

Railways express line two stops to Shin-?saka Station. We check into our nearby hotel and meet our fellow travelers and guide later that evening. Dinner is a short walk away at one of our favorite local sushi restaurants, where everything is meticulously prepared by sushi masters with years of practice. Overnight in a hotel. Dinner included.

Day 2

Island hop via the Shimanami Kaido Cycleway

Dressed for the ride ahead, we follow the Seto Inland Sea southwards by train to Onomichi. After prepping our bikes, we embark on a short bike ferry to our first island ride. The Shimanami Kaido cycleway is a Japanese favorite for its scenic network of bridges, linking six smaller islands to the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku. Our custom route takes us into a shaded bamboo forest, then down through orchards, vegetable gardens and along the tranquil coastline. A gently rising circular cycling path leads us up to the first bridge, crossing over to Innoshima Island. Nearby we break for a sit-down lunch, choosing from fresh udon, sushi or tempura. Next, we cross over to Ikuchi Island, riding a coastal route until we reach our ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) in the late afternoon. You can relax in the onsen until dinner or go for a stroll to the nearby Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art. All meals included.

Cycling: 26 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +1,435'/-1,460'; Train transfer: 1.5 hours

Day 3

Shimanami Kaido cycling and Matsuyama sake tasting

Early risers can hike up a stone pathway to a nearby Shinto shrine before breakfast. After which we get back in the saddle, headed for our next series of islands. Following a spirited climb across Ikuchi Island, we descend and cross over to ride the Omishima coast. Our guide fills us in on the culture and history of this region as we pass quiet farmlands, citrus groves and small boatyards. A quick snack break and then we cut across the hills of Hakata Island before stopping for lunch on Omishima Island. Here?s your chance to order deliciously prepared food from those high-tech vending machines Japan is famous for. After seven more miles, we reach the massive Kurushima-Kaiky?, the world?s longest suspension bridge at 2.5 miles. From Imabari, we take a short train ride to the small city of Matsuyama, located in the idyllic Ehime prefecture. We enjoy a lovely dinner and a well-deserved sake (or craft-brew) tasting. Overnight in a hotel with optional onsen. All meals included.

Cycling: 40 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +2,600'/-2,600'; Train transfer: 40 mins

Day 4

Cycle into the misty mountains of Shikoku

Folded ribbons of schist, granite and limestone have been carved over millennia by the Shimanto and Yoshino river systems into a series of dramatic gorges and forested peaks. This is where ascetic monk K?b? Daishi began creating a temple network which would ultimately include 88 temples in total, encircling the island. Our route today follows the river until we peel off onto a cedar-lined stretch of pavement that seems way too good to have all to ourselves. Fortified by a bento box picnic lunch and a restful break, we have our first proper climb. Following a mountain road, we wind through small towns, riverways and farms until we begin our climb into the forest-lined mountainside, gaining 2,100' over 10 miles on a 6% grade. From the top, we cruise the remainder of ride down into the sleepy mountain town of Yusuhara. Overnight in a hotel. All meals included.

Cycling: 39 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +3,620'/-2,930'; Train transfer: 1 hour

Day 5

Rest day and the art of making washi paper

Yusuhara is the perfect little town to spend a rest day. Explore the nearby Mishima Shrine, walk by the whimsical whale-themed wind turbine or spend the afternoon at the onsen. In the morning we have the option to visit the home and backyard studio of master washi maker Rogier. The interactive activity is a wonderful blend of cultural history and creativity. We gather local ferns, flowers and leaves to create our own artwork. Then we return to town where the rest of the day is on our own. A traditional kaiseki-style dinner is included at the sister hotel of the onsen property. You could also head into town where more restaurant options are available. You?ll want to make time to visit the Kumo no Ue Community Library, an incredible structure designed by architectural savant Kengo Kuma. Overnight in a hotel. Breakfast and dinner included.

Day 6

Pedal along winding river gorges to the Pacific

With a day of rest for our legs, we?re ready for another day of mountain riding. Leaving out of Yusuhara, we follow one of the main tributaries of the Yoshino River before splitting off for another choice mountain ride. After a solid climb over 7 miles at a 4-6% grade, we run through a short 2.5 miles gravel section before an incredible descent through the river gorge, where the road snakes along steep sidewalls draped with ferns and forest mist. We break for a sit-down lunch at a local restaurant and hotel with a variety of food options. The rest of today?s ride, along the open highway with low traffic, is mostly flat, with a final descent to our lovely Japanese resort overlooking the Pacific. Don?t miss out on an onsen soak here, as it offers incredible views of the Kure harbor and the great Pacific Ocean. All meals included.

Cycling: 45.3 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +2,510'/-3,755'

Day 7

Coastal cycling and the Temple of the Green Dragon

Our route today begins with a stunning section of coastal riding. Hear the waves crash below as we follow the headlands north to Susaki, a port town famous for its loveable mascot Shinjo-kun. From here, our route follows the coastline out along the Meitoku peninsula. Riding up to a tabletop summit, we lean into graceful bends with beautiful ocean views. After a restaurant lunch, a short ride away lies Shoryu-ji, temple number 36 of the 88-Temple Henro Pilgrimage. Steep stone steps lead past a meditative waterfall to the main temple plaza. Our guide will provide insights into the history of K?b? Daishi and the Shingon school of Buddhism he introduced in the 9th century. Afterward, our ride is mostly flat with a few short climbs until our final descent into the lively port city of Kochi. Overnight at a hotel. Dinner is on our own, with many restaurant options near the hotel. Breakfast and Lunch included.

Cycling: 41 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +2,760'/-2,835'

Day 8

The green mountains and blue rivers of the Iya Valley

Today we tackle a substantial climb with a huge payoff. A short train ride out of Kochi takes us to our starting point for the day's ride. After a short distance, we break off the main road and begin a long ascent into the mountain valley. Below us, cool blue waters rush over white limestone, and every few miles we pass through another bucolic farm. Villagers are often spotted walking their Akita dogs, which are very popular in this area. From the summit we can see Mt. Tsurugi, the second-highest peak in western Japan. Depending on the weather, we either have a bento lunch here or descend into the valley for lunch. The descending road is a bit rough for a few miles, so we take our time and exercise caution. Once we reach the Iya Valley, though, we have 10 miles of smooth sailing along winding river bends to our accommodations. Overnight in a Ryokan with optional onsen. All meals included.

Cycling: 34 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +3,545'/-3,135'

Day 9

Descend the Iya Valley and take a bullet train to Kyoto

We finish up our mountain riding with a scenic ride out of the Iya Valley. A short climb is followed by a nice, long descent with multiple viewpoints. We?ll have access to a few day-use hotel rooms near the station for changing into leisurewear for lunch and the 2.5-hour bullet train to Kyoto, the capital of Japan from 794?1869. Dinner is on our own this evening, with lots of options within a short walk from our hotel. Overnight in a hotel. Breakfast and lunch included.

Cycling: 18 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +877'/-1,750'

Day 10

Kyoto by bike: Arashiyama, Golden Pavilion and the Imperial Palace

On the final ride of this tour we visit some of Kyoto?s iconic sites on a wide loop through town. Setting off from the hotel, we head to the Katsura River, riding alongside it to the famed bamboo groves of Arashiyama. Continuing on, we then visit Kinkakuji, called the Golden Pavilion because its top two stories are covered in glinting gold leaf. Along the way, our guide will highlight other points of interest which we can return to in our free time later this afternoon. Lunch today is a fun one, as we visit one of Kyoto?s unique ?sushi train? restaurants. Our final stop is the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which has a series of gravel cycling paths that wind through the grounds. We wrap up our riding back at the hotel in the early afternoon and meet up for a farewell dinner in the evening. Overnight at a hotel. All meals included.

Cycling: 19.3 miles, Elevation gain/loss: +770'/-770'

Day 11

Sayonara! Say goodbye to Japan, or stay a little longer

We bid our fellow travelers and guide goodbye this morning. Checkout time is at 10am and our guide will be on-hand to help with your travels back to the Kansai International Airport or other destinations. Breakfast included.

Gear List

This gear list has been created to help you choose the best equipment for the trip. Try to bring only what is necessary, as this will help you and the field staff. The weather and other conditions at the time of your arrival will dictate what clothing and equipment you will be required to use each day and what (if anything) can be left behind. It may be a necessary precaution that you bring certain items on the list, even if it is uncertain whether or not they will be needed.

Collection of selected R E I Co-op cycling merchandise and snacks laid out to pack for a bike tour

What to pack

You might also consider

Travel documents

  • Airline Tickets (Confirmation and Itinerary)
  • Copy of Passport (2 Copies, First Page Only)
  • Final Bulletin (Emailed Prior to Departure Date)
  • Valid Passport

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 800-622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (800-426-4840) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.