From Kadoma's photostream on Flickr
Japan offers breathtaking views and dramatic coastlines that equal those of any country. However, with Japan's size you can often miss out on nature's artistry, especially if there is a mountain between you and the sea. But not to worry, this can be remedied by a leisurely cycling trip crossing the Seto Inland Sea from Imabari, Ehime-ken (愛媛県今治) all the way to Omiti, Hiroshima-ken (広島県尾道).
In 1999, the Shimanami-Kaidou (しまなみ海道) was completed connecting Japan's largest island, Honshu, with the smallest of the main islands Shikoku. It connects six islands via seven bridges that span the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海), and is about 80 km in length. The highway was constructed with all types of tourism in mind, and includes lanes to keep cyclist away from vehicular traffic and let them cruise along while soaking up the views. Now, the idea of cycling the Inland Sea may sound great, but getting to Ehime-ken or Hiroshima-ken with your bike may sound like hell. Fair enough, but luckily at each end of the highway and on each island in between, fourteen bike rental terminals have been set up that provide cheap rentals. An adult and child can get a one day rental for ￥500 and ￥300, respectively. A small ￥1000 deposit is required that you can recoup by returning your bike to the same rental terminal. If you are willing to lose the deposit, it gives you some flexibility allowing you to cycle only one way or even halfway and use local transportation if you get too fatigued. Other costs to be aware of are the nominal entrance fees for using the highway that are collected at each island. They run from ￥200 to ￥50. You can buy a booklet for ￥500 that covers all the tolls.
From Kamoda's photosream on Flickr
The best way to enjoy the trip is to take your time and investigate hidden temples, sample the local soft cream, and take a dip in the ocean after basking in the sun. Luckily, minshyuku and beach camping facilities exist on many of the islands. I suggest Setoda Sunset Beach on Ikuti-jima(生口島). It provides all the facilities you could wish for: beach camping, tent rental, showers, grill and charcoal rentals, etc. Ikuti-jima is the fourth island on the route from Ehime-ken or the third from Hiroshima-ken.
Due to the fact that the route is only 80 km (one-way), you can choose how much or how little time you would like to spend on the trip. For a true cyclist it can be completed in one day, however, I would recommend stopping for 2 nights to really enjoy the views and beaches, because without a doubt this is one of the top short cycling trips in Japan.
Odds and Ends
Getting to Ehime from Kyushu:A ferry runs from the port in Usuki, Oita-ken (大分県臼杵市) to Yawahama City, Ehime-ken (愛媛県八幡浜市), ￥2250. There is also another ferry running from Beppu (別府), ￥3020. From there you can take a train to Imabari 今治駅 (the start of the course from Shikoku). A bus might be a cheaper option, but I don't have the details at the time of this writing.
Alternate Trip IdeaYou could also drive the Shimanami-kaidou too. There are plenty of parking options and even rental cars available
LinksRead a write up about cycling the Seto Inland Sea route in the Japan Times.
Another write up by a fellow cyclist.
A guide that has more detailed information on the bridges connecting the islands along the Shimanami-kaido and cultural/sightseeing opportunities.