Often acknowledged as the best cycling route in Japan, the Shimanami Kaido won't disappoint. For cyclists heading there from Osaka, the journey just got a whole lot easier.
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The Shimanami Kaido is arguably the most famous, and most visited cycling route in Japan, and rightfully so. The ride is at times nothing short of spectacular.
Getting to the area, from Osaka and other areas of Japan was usually on the train - Shinkansen to Fukuyama or Okayama, then get the local train to Onomichi. However, there is a relatively new ferry running from Osaka to an area south of Imabari called Saijo.
The ferry is cheaper, more comfortable and probably easier than the train making it a great alternative for cyclists looking to tackle the route.
The ferry lands on the Shikoku side, which means you would start the ride from Imabari and finish in Onomichi. If you were planning on heading into Shikoku for more cycling after the Shmanami Kaido, you would need to head to Onomichi and back again. Depending on time, you could do this over two or three days and really explore the islands and towns in the area.
For cyclists starting in Onomichi that are going to Osaka after the ride, the ferry is a great option to get back to Osaka.
The Ferry Service
The Osaka to Shikoku ferry launched in April 2018 and is still relatively unknown to travelers in Japan.
The company that runs the ferry is called Orange Ferry and the website can be found below:
The boat is very new with nice trimmings and a decent interior making for a comfortable environment on board. It's relatively large with a passenger capacity of 519 people. There is enough free space located around the boat with tables and chairs to relax at on the different levels.
The ferry also has wifi, but I sometimes had trouble connecting. Also, when you do get connected, you are only able to connect for 20 or 30 minute blocks.
The ferry goes from the Osaka Nanko port to the Toyo Port in Ehime.
Osaka Nanko Port
Toyo Port (Ehime)
Getting to Osaka Nanko Ferry Terminal
The ferry terminal is in the south of Osaka in the harbor area of Suminoe-ku.
Cycling there is pretty easy. If you are coming from Umeda or the city centre, I would ride south down the Uemachi-suji past Osaka Castle and Shin-Tennoji temple in Tennoji.
The Uemachi-suji has less traffic and less parked cars in general making for a more relaxed ride compared to the Tanimachi-suji, which is a more direct route but the traffic can be pretty heavy.
Keep going south past Tennoji station and Harukas (tallest building in Japan, can't miss it) and into Abeno-ku. You want to turn right onto the Nanko-dori which takes you west just about all the way to the ferry terminal.
You’ll turn right at the end of the Nanko-dori and then the ferry terminal will be almost immediately on your left. There is a train station at the ferry terminal, which is called “Ferry Terminal” in English and “フェリーターミナル駅” in Japanese.
If you are coming by public transport the train is probably the best option. It’s about a 5 minute walk from the ferry terminal ticket counter and loading bay.
The ferry terminal train station is on the New Tram line (the line is actually called New Tram) which you can change onto from the Chuo and Yotsubashi lines.
Road Bike Rental Japan to Nanko ferry terminal Route
View on Strava >
Departure and Arrival Timetable
The ferry leaves in the evening and arrives in the morning.
- Departure time: 22:00pm
- Arrival time: 6:00am
After you arrive in the morning you can stay on the boat until 7am if you like. This gives you a bit of time to get organized, have some breakfast and also wait for first light depending on the time of year.
Bookings and Reservations
Bookings can be made online, by telephone or at the ticket counter. Of course if the ferry if fully booked and you arrive without a reservation, you won’t be able to get on the boat.
Not speaking Japanese could pose a problem as I’m not sure how much English assistance there would be over the phone or via email. I called and made the reservation in Japanese but when I arrived at the ticket counter they did have an English reservation form to fill in.
On the website there is an Online Booking button but it's only in Japanese at the moment. You can see the orange button on the homepage from the image below.
Then on the next screen you need to select the Shikoku orange ferry which is the green button on the left.
You can try in English on the phone or via email but be aware that the level of English in Japan isn't very high a lot of the time and it can be difficult to get things done in English.
Classes and Price
There are a fair few different classes of rooms you can book and the price of the ticket also changes depending on the date.
I booked the single room for one person (there is a single room for two people) and it was fine.
There is just a bed, hanger and small desk but it was comfortable enough and the boat has some general areas to hang out and explore so you’re not stuck in the room the whole time.
My ticket was:
- Single room - 6,750 yen
- Bike fee - 1,700 yen
The bike fee applies if you don't bag your bike up. If you want to save a bit of cash and you have a bike bag you can always pack up the bike.
Click the below link to see a PDF with all the prices, classes and some other information about the ferry. The PDF is actually provided by Orange Ferry.
One great thing about the boat is it’s geared for cyclists and offers a few nice services to make traveling by bike pretty easy.
Firstly, there is a bike stand and pump at the Osaka ferry terminal giving you a place to put your bike while you get your ticket organized.
Being able to take your bike on the ferry as it is means you can pretty much roll on and roll off. In the evening I walked it on but in the morning I clipped in and rolled off the boat onto the wharf which was a nice way to start the ride.
They also offer a bike stand for some of the deluxe rooms so you can actually take your bike into the room. I was in a single so this wasn’t available but I was happy enough to leave it below with the cars, trucks and motorbikes.
They prepare a pretty thick blanket on the ground so you can lay your bike down on the side.
There is a restaurant on board if you’re hungry which serves dinner and breakfast. The restaurant also serves alcohol. I didn’t have dinner on the boat so I’m not sure how the food is but generally the standard of even basic food in Japan is pretty good.
There are a fair few vending machines on board too which have water, soft drinks, ice creams and also some basic food items.
The ride is a wonderful experience. Visually stunning, easy to navigate and designed with cyclists in mind.
The route is well signed and there are also blue lines on the ground marking the standard route and also the Island explorer route which is a longer version of the ride.
Thanks to the signs and markings, you can easily do the ride without any navigation. The only place I checked GPS was at the end of the ride to make sure I was in the right spot to get the ferry to Onomichi.
The blue line on the ground periodically shows the kilometers remaining to your destination which is great (Onomichi or Imabari depending on which way you are riding).
It's nice to know how you are progressing meaning less time looking at your phone or GPS and more time taking in the views.
Adding on the 28km from Toyo Port to Imabari, the ride to Onomichi comes to 100km.
Access from Osaka city: Easy on the ferry
The Toyo port is in Saijo city in Ehime. The ferry arrives in the small harbour town of Imazaike and upon arrival you are greeted with a magnificent view of the mountains.
Mount Ishizuchi, the tallest mountain in Shikoku and western Japan, stands looming in the distance alongside the other large peaks in the range.
In front of the mountains there are farms and the smaller towns of Saijo and the scenery is a beautiful reminder that you have left the concrete expanses of Osaka behind.
Ride to Imabari
Imabari city is around 20km north of Saijo but the actual start of the Shimanami Kaido is about 28km. As you get off the boat, you want to turn right onto the main road (143) and cycle north following the road signs to Imabari.
The ride to Imabari is relatively straight-forward however you want to turn right onto route 38 and follow that into Imabari city.
Shimanami Kaido start
The Kurushima Kaikyou bridge is the start of the route and there is a cyclist entrance that takes you up onto the bridge to mark the beginning of the epic ride.
There are countless moments where everything clicks. Smooth descents, effortless pedal strokes, perfect bends, the sun shining - magic on the bike
The Shimanami Kaido cycling route and area. Experience one of the great cycling routes in Japan.
The ride actually finishes on Mukojima which is an island just over from Onomichi station. From here you take a small ferry over to the city centre on the north side of the water.
There are a couple of ferries leaving from different spots but the ferry I got was 70 yen including the bike. The wharf is located at the end of the route found in this post.
That marks the end of the cycling route. Time to sit down, relax and soak up the cycling and waterside atmosphere of Onomichi.
The Shimanami Kaido is one of those routes that if you get the chance, you should do it. Due to the ride being so famous there are discussions about whether the ride actually lives up to the hype. Well, I think it does and possibly even exceeds expectations.
The really exciting thing is the new ferry which gives cyclists another great option for getting to the ride. Yes, the train is fine, but we think the ferry has a few advantages that make it easier and less stressful for cyclists.
Below are the reasons we think the ferry is a better option than the train from Osaka.
- The ferry is overnight meaning that you get your traveling done while you sleep. Wake up and ride
- The ferry is cheaper
- You can take your bike on the train without having to take it apart and put it in a bag
- If you do want to bag it up your ticket gets even cheaper
- No fretting about whether you will get storage space for your bike. On the Shinkansen you might not get the storage behind the rear seats which means having the bike in front of you vertically
- Ferries are fun. Nothing like boarding ship and setting off for faraway lands (disclaimer - I love the Shinkansen. It's only with a bike it's not quite as fun)
- You can bath on the boat. Wind down after boarding with a nice soak in a hot bath
If you are planning on getting to the Shimanami Kaido from Osaka, we recommend checking out the ferry and checking out our own experience on YouTube - 'How to get to the Shimanami Kaido (Orange Ferry). We'll definitely be back.
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