25 Mile Bike Ride and One Strange Beach

It’s Chad’s first time in a hostel, and I can’t say he’s thrilled about it. I loved it, hidden in a small cove of Onomichi downtown area, we slept on futons on the floor and heard whispers of travelers through the thin walls. There was a magical garden in the back near the outhouse toilet and cats hidden in the trees. There was even a vintage closet full of great Japanese souvenirs you could buy at the front restaurant. We arrived in Onomichi last night, a port city in between Osaka and Hiroshima. We had researched great beachy things to do, and this bike ride is all the rage online.

Japan is a beautiful island with hot, tropical weather, but does that mean that they enjoy the beach and that they have a beach culture? Absolutely - not. Everything I’ve learned about Japanese culture leans conservative, and laying out in a bikini while tanning isn’t the most desirable thing to do despite the fact they have crystal clear waters and sunshine. I did a bit a research, and it turns out they have a few reasons for not beaching it; they work a lot, they follow strict seasonal rules so after summer months beaches close down despite the weather being hot into October, and they don’t love being tan so if they do head to the beach they really cover up.

I decided to see for myself. Shimanami Kaido is a bike path that goes from one Japanese island to another. We planned to bike from Onomichi to Setoda Sunset Beach, considering we’d be hot from biking around 25 miles. From there, we’d take the ferry back to Onomichi and head onto Hiroshima. Sounds like a plan! Beautiful islands, bridges, views, and then jumping into water at the end.

Too good to be true. It was one of the strangest, hottest, bike rides we’ve ever completed. We started off at 8am, getting on a ferry to the first island with a bunch of school kids and their bikes. We ferried through the port, which is industrial to say the least, and I figured once we got into the other islands the industrial vibe would change. That wasn’t the case at all.

As we rode our bike off the ferry onto the Shimanami Kaido path blue line trail, we rode past factories and ship making facilities and strip malls. Large cranes stood overhead as was shifted gears going up inclines. The landscape was pretty, but the industrial vibe threw me off.

The water taunted me the entire way, beautiful crystal clear but no beaches in sight. Barricades more like it, alongside the pretty lapping waves. We climbed a 3% incline up to the first bridge, which was a great view, and hoped the next island would be more nature, less industrial.

Wrong again, we ride through more factories, empty village towns, with overall an extremely lonely vibe. You know that feeling of lonely you get, when human spirit isn’t felt and you’re kind of left with just empty machinery? No? I didn’t know it until this bike ride.

With temperatures reaching 95 degrees I really, truly though the beach would have people on it and in the water swimming. I couldn’t help but think it cannot be empty though only a few weeks into off-season, people must want to cool down. We rode our bikes down a pretty bike lane that had palm trees lining the way and small staircases down to the water, but no people. I compared this to the US or Europe, where people would be down the steps swimming and sun bathing in the crystal clear water to matter what season, as long as it’s hot.

We were just about to the beach when we saw a line of stuffed people. Yes - you heard this right - stuffed people sitting on benches. The beach was deserted.. except for these stuffed people. It felt fitting. It felt like a scary movie, actually a scary movie could easily be filmed on these islands for sure, that sounds like a really good screenplay ready to be written. It looked like beach-goers were there one minute, and the next they all grabbed their things and made a run for it. Leftover cafe chairs were knocked over, flags were ripped and hanging up, a few people walked along the beach. I was determined to swim so I went in and dunked my head but the water was filled with plastic and luke warm. Weird art sculptures are scattered around. Occasionally a biker will pull over and walk out onto the beach to have a look and then quickly get back on their bike to keep on going (you can ride this route all the way through to Imbari). I have a feeling that if we continued onward, the best was yet to come, but we were ill-prepared for a 50 mile bike ride. Oh well. We sat in the shade to cool down and rest, and then showered off to get back to the port much earlier than expected.

The ferry brought us by the islands we just biked, giant industrial ships in the port, a Honda cargo ship, cranes and concrete docks.

Just like that we were on a train to Hiroshima, tired, sore and ready to shower.

Cheating A Traffic Death

Our exploratory bike ride started off really wonderful. We had scouted out our ride to the park the day before and knew the back roads were mellow and flat. It took a turn for the worst when we decided to keep going past Ueno Park to try and get to Chiyoda Park. We were using Google Maps, which usually has biking directions, but this time there weren’t (red flag?) so we were navigating with walking directions. I failed to remember that when you walk, you can take stairs and shortcuts, but that’s not really the case with bikes. We soon found ourselves lifting our bikes up stairs and in the middle of traffic of an extremely busy and un-bike-able road. We pushed closer and closer to our goal, but I eventually had to call it. Not only were were constantly riding down one way streets the opposite way, but we kept forgetting the backwards roads. We didn’t make it to our goal park of Chiyoda, but we end up back in Ueno Park dehydrated from the humidity and hills, and decided to stop and get a refreshing juice drink. These drinks ended up costing us $18.00 (I mean, they were delicious coconut drinks, but $18?!?!?) In total we biked around 5 miles. Our morning Frogger biking experience prepared us for our next traffic activity that day, go-karting throughout the streets of Shibuya.

MariCAR in Tokyo is a very touristy thing you can do Tokyo, mostly foreigners participate, and I was somewhat dreading it. To be honest, I was really nervous about driving a go-kart through road traffic dressed as Pikachu.. (I mean honestly who wouldn’t be?? Oh, Chad). It only took me around 5 minutes to get into it, and soon the adrenaline ignited my need for speed and soon enough I was flying around corners trying to keep up with our guide. It was such an insane, terrifying experience. We sped through Shibuya crossing twice, speeding at 50mph (or what felt like 50mph). When we got back to the garage and parked our go-karts, our guide said happily, “No one died!”

The interesting thing about the traffic here is that the back roads are mostly small roads that you can walk freely on. There are no sidewalks but suggested painted lines in the asphalt. The back streets built for pedestrians and small cars, which is a really nice feeling compared to cities in the US where the card dominates all of the time. There is less noise pollution once off main roads, it’s safe for bicycles and there is an overall calm to the back roads of Tokyo. But yesterday Chad and I decided to jump into oncoming traffic.

10 Miles In Tokyo

A four-year-old whizzes past me on a little bike while we walk to Ueno Park. Where are his parents? No where, and they don’t need to be, since the streets of Tokyo are so incredibly safe and clean. We are on mile 7 of the day, after waking up at 4am, exploring the neighborhood and closest temple, and signing up for a free walking tour (which unfortunately I had to leave early because I got an extreme migraine and had to lay down in a dark room). Luckily, Chad’s energy is contagious (or is it incessant?) and pretty soon after my headache went away we were on our way to get our first taste of sushi and then another long walk.

We make our way now to Ueno Park, the weather a perfect temperature with the sun setting. I take in the architecture of Tokyo, a light, modern feeling, and a surprising amount brick. As we enter the park, there are a group of Japanese men dressed like Elvis dancing to his music, in a circle, with no one cheering or watching. Curious. We meander throughout Ueno Park as the sun set a cotton candy color. There are food stalls and we eat our fifth fried food of the day. Americans are not the only ones who love fried food. A child starts to scream bloody hell as Ed Sheeran’s song, Perfect, is played by a street musician. The child’s shirt says “Peace”. I’ve noticed that so many children’s clothes are have adorable English phrases on them. I noted one that said “Cute Fun Great”. I love it.

We walk a giant loop around the park, before we head back to the hotel. Mileage is clocking in at 10 miles for the fist day. We end up back to the hotel around 7:30pm, my feet with 5 new bandaids. Just like the energizer bunny, once the battery is drained, Chad’s head hits the pillow, he’s out cold. Day one in Japan, 14 hours of walking, a total of 10.2 miles and a crash onto a pillow.