Setouchi Islands, Japan

10-10 Holiday

Taiwan’s 10-10 holiday is similar to USA’s fourth of July. Families and friends gather to bbq and set off fireworks. It’s Taiwan’s National Day and Pickles got two days off of work. For us that means a good time to travel.

Inspired by #7 on NYT’s top 50 places to visit in 2019 we went to Japan with a focus on biking Shimanami Kaido (also known as The Nishiseto Expressway) in the Setouchi Region. This bike route ranks in the “Epic Bike Rides of the World” book by Lonely Planet, which sealed the deal for us.

If you like map visuals, here’s a goog map our route (1-10 pins).

We crafted a clock-wise itinerary that started and ended in Okayama (airport code OKJ). From Okayama we went to Naoshima, an island known for its art museums such as Benesse Art Site. From there we continued to Imabari which was the start for our 85k bike ride ending in Oniomichi, and a final stop in Hiroshima to visit the Peace Memorial Museum.


OKAYAMA

which is far more than just OKAY… in fact this city won us over BIG and made the list titled, ‘Places we’d happily retire’.

The popular hero of Japanese folklore in Okayama is Momotarō, aka Peach Boy, literally momo (peach) and tarō (eldest son). 🍑 He was born from a giant peach and then went on to fight ogres with a pheasant, talking dog and monkey.

Okayama is like the the Amsterdam of Japan. Even the population is similar at about 721,000 people. Everyone, from babies and parents to slow rolling elders are on bikes! It made for a nice vibe in the city and a strong sense of community as people could get everywhere they needed to be by bike. To us that’s a sign of a well planned city.

We only booked one night in Okayama thinking it was just a layover type of place to get us to the next place, but we managed to see two very beautiful sights: Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden. We wanted to stay here longer.

Korakuen Garden is one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan”, built in 1700 by green thumb Ikeda Tsunamasa, lord of Okayama. His castle (above) overlooks this green masterpiece (below) which sits on the other side of the river. It’s stunning and meticulously maintained. The profession of gardening in Japan is highly respected.

We then took a train to south, to the coast to catch a ferry to…

Naoshima Island (art island)

This is a small Island at 5.5 sq. miles, navigable by bike, that has become a hub of art galleries all thanks to an education and publishing conglomerate based in Okayama named Benesse Holdings. They have the Berlitz language brand and some famous pieces in their art collection by Claude Monet, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol just to name a few. Wanting a special place for all this art, Benesse bought land on this island and hired world-famous architect Tadao Ando to build museums (small and large).

The famous Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama lives here

Good Read: How Art Transformed A Remote Japanese Island

We spent 2 nights, 3 days and only scratched the surface of art viewing. Just glance at the Benesse Art Site website to get a sense of how robust this art scene is. We visited Chichu Art Museum plus many other ‘art houses’, but ChiChu was a highlight. TIP: Reserve/book your ticket and time slot online in advance.

Not only were the art exhibits stimulating, the architecture that houses them are design pieces blending old and new materials with the highest regard to aesthetics.

The space designed to house five Monet’s at Chichu is breathtakingly modern, with natural light and may have even been subterranean. I do know we had to wear soft white slippers to enter which made the room blissfully peaceful. These are spaces designed for a human to absorb and think about art – in peace! I’ve worked in and with museums and I have never experienced anything as thoughtful as some of these spaces. It’s safe to assume Benesse spared no expense.

Two artists that wowed us: James Turrell, particularly his ‘Backside of the Moon’ exhibit and Tadao Ando, the architect of many museums and galleries on the island.

All museums are PHONE & PHOTO FREE which makes one present with the present.

There is art all over and we love that TAIWAN got a shout out on this map.
Noashima East Side Ferry Port, art installation and bike shelter
Noren of Naoshima

The Naoshima Noren Project is a project for hanging colorful doorway curtains (Noren) throughout Naoshima. All of the Noren are created by dyer and weaver Yoko Kano. These were some of our favs seen on homes, businesses and galleries:

Japan and water are symbiotic forces of beauty. We were encouraged to cool our feet at this art house and we did.
We stayed here for 2 days in a tatami mat room. We’d recommend it but the owner has 7 cats.
Yayoi Kusama’s Red Pumpkin at the west side ferry dock.

We left Naoshima by ferry, going south to Takamatsu where we caught a train to …

Imabari

(The southern point of the Shimanami Kaido bike route)

This bike ride is a visual stunner and we think doable for most fitness levels. The route is on the flat side with gentle sloping pathways leading up and down to the bridges. It was DESIGNED with cyclists in mind – they were not an afterthought. Hallelujah!

This is our view from the Sunrise Itoyama Hotel in Imabari which sits under the first bridge. It’s a fantastic starting point for the ride and included an onsite restaurant, gender separated onsens and bike rentals! That checked all the boxes for us.

Reminded us of the Golden Gate Bridge x 4
GEAR

We rented average cross bikes for a one way ride. We would have preferred road bikes, but we didn’t plan far enough in advance. We felt lucky to get anything really. We wore regular sneakers (not clip-ins) and spandex for undercarriage comfort. We did this ride in one day, but you could stretch it out to many more and stay at ryokans along the way. TIP: If you’re picky about your bike (or really tall), reserve at least 3 months in advance. It’s not touristy, just quite popular among the Japanese.

To ride light, we had our backpacks sent to the end hotel via Yamato Transport (Japan’s #1 courier) for about $30 USD. This is very common and trusted in Japan and Taiwan. Hotels will manage it for you.

We hiked up to catch a higher vantage point of what we’d be starting out on.

The Shimanami Kaido route (aka Nishiseto Expressway) contains 55 bridges, including the Kurushima-Kaikyō Bridge (the world’s longest series of suspension bridges) and the Tatara Bridge (the world’s fourth longest cable-stayed bridge).

Our 85 k Route – South to North

Almost 3,000 islands are located in the Seto Inland Sea! Many of the smaller islands are uninhabited.

Japan is spot-on. This is a cyclists’ sanctuary and they are proud of it.

We loved the separated path for pedestrians and cyclists and the ENTIRE ROUTE has a BLUE PAINTED line so no need to refer to a map, ever. Japan is buttoned up! This made for one of the most relaxing bike rides we’ve ever done.

The French Mediterranean has competition! Japan grows lemon and olives trees? We had no idea. All the small towns we passed through had their local delicacy such as lemon ramen at さよ (translates to ‘goodbye’) restaurant and it was delicious!

Lunch and a stop to see Kousanji Temple. WOW!
Next to Kousanji Temple is this, 未来心の丘

ONWARD TO OUR FINAL DESTINATION…

Onomichi – THE FINISH LINE

7 hours later with 5.5 hours of saddle time we celebrated with local beer-lectrolytes in Onomichi.
The city of Onomichi is set up for cyclists with sparkling clean public showers and many if not all bike-friendly-focused hotels like this one, U2, combination hotel, cafe, restaurant, and shops.

After one night in Onomichi we took a local train west to Hiroshima

Hiroshima History

We came to Hiroshima to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It’s a sobering memorial and an important part of history. The museum is filled with artifacts and stories of those that survived which offers an empathetic education to those not familiar with the use of nuclear weapons. Not too many dry eyes in this museum.

Our Takeaways
  • In 1945, August 6, the USA dropped a nuclear weapon over Hiroshima (the first EVER used in war). Some 90% of the city was destroyed and 90,000 to 146,000 people killed.
  • Three days later the USA dropped a second nuclear weapon over Nagasaki, killing another 39,000 to 80,000 people.
  • These are the only 2 nuclear weapons EVER used in warfare. May they be the last.
  • The amount of uranium in the Hiroshima atomic bomb was about the size of a 2″ inch cube and weighted less than 1 kilogram. That is small compared to what is made today.
The A-bomb was dropped directly over this building, Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Due to its direct location underneath it was the only thing not obliterated.
1,000 Folded Cranes

We’ve seen folded cranes all over Japan and now we know the story’s origin. It’s from a young girl named Sadako Sasaki who was only two years old when Hiroshima was bombed. She lived, but was doused in black rain. She lived to be 12 years old but suffered greatly. While sick, she attempted to fold 1,000 origami cranes. She folded 644 before she died and it’s said that her friends completed the 1,000 and buried them all with her. There are thousands of paper cranes folded by visitors at this memorial.

I found this elegant natural leaf crane on the memorial grounds.

Hiroshima Present Day

Considering what happened only 74 years ago, it’s hard to fathom that a city could recover to be so vibrant, beautiful and kind … and delicious. We hunted down Hiroshima’s famous Okonomiyaki (a savory pancake), a thin layer of batter and a generous amount of cabbage on top of yakisoba noodles. Okonomi means “how you like” or “what you like”, and yaki means “cooked”.

Resilient & Forgiving

We leave you with the inscription from the cenotaph (arch shown above center):

This memorial expresses the spirit of Hiroshima – enduring grief, transcending hatred, pursuing harmony and prosperity for all, and yearning for genuine, lasting world peace.

pp
Pickles & Passionfruit

 


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9 thoughts on “Setouchi Islands, Japan

    1. Aw, thanks Mamamoomin. It’s only because of you I knew to stop and take in this great legend! He’s all over the city, from person hole covers on city streets to a massive stained glass window at the airport. I do hope you come back for another visit. XOXO

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