People come to Ehime from around the globe to take in the soaring views from the bridges of the Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route. But the world that exists on the islands in between is just as enchanting.

Sunrise Itoyama – Ehime’s gateway to an island adventure

Sunrise Itoyama Cycling Station sits at the northwest tip of Shikoku, where the land drops off into the ocean like it’s daring you to keep going. The women at the window smiled as they walked me through the bike rental process. Outside, a man showed me their fleet of bicycles and let me pick one out. “This is for you,” he said as he handed me a map detailing the route and the island sights along the way. “Follow the blue line, all the way!” The people here have a way of making you want to stay a little longer. But I had to start pedaling—a world of islands and bridges was waiting!
Address: 2-8-1 Sunaba-cho, Imabari City
Access: 15 minutes by car from JR Imabari Station
Open: 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Closed: No closed days
Phone: +81 898-41-3196
Email: info1@sunrise-itoyama.jp
Website: https://www.sunrise-itoyama.jp/archives/english/

Cycling the Shimanami Kaido – gliding between heaven and earth

From Sunrise Itoyama, it’s a short, gentle climb to the Kurushima Kaikyo, the three suspension bridges stretching high above the water toward Oshima Island. I looked down on the islands passing sixty-five meters below my wheels; gazed across at the mountains running off to the horizon in every direction; watched graceful snow-white birds glide inches above the surface of the water. Scattered along the bike path running the length of the bridge were other cyclists, all of us pedaling slowly, easily, taking in the bird’s-eye view of the Seto Inland Sea. Already, I felt like my day was complete.

Patisserie T’s Café – a sweet spot right on the water

On the island of Hakatajima, the cycling route only runs a few kilometers before leading up to the next bridge and onto the next island. Pedaling straight through, however, would be like having a layover in Tahiti and never leaving the airport. I veered away from the blue line to see what the island had to offer, and found myself in a cool café right on the water. Kunisada-san opened Patisserie T’s Café in 2007, creating a place, as he put it, for people to enjoy the breezes, the scents, the feeling of Hakatajima Island. A master patisserie chef, Kunisada-san is extremely choosy about the ingredients he uses, importing the best chocolate and nuts from overseas. The fruits he uses, on the other hand, are all local. He told me he loves sharing bits of the island’s history with the overseas guests that come in, speaking in his limited English of the ship-building and salt-making that was done here during the Edo period.
Address: 2328 Arozu-Kabuto, Hakata-cho, Imabari City
Access: 30 minutes by car from JR Imabari Station
Open: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Closed: Sundays 
Phone: +81 897-72-0343

The Cyclists’ Sanctuary – stumbling upon an international crowd

The views of the bridges linking these islands are as beautiful as the views from them. This is especially true of the Tatara Bridge between Omishima Island and Ikuchijima Island, best viewed from a grassy park on Omishima Island called the "Cyclists’ Sanctuary". A stone monument commemorates the establishment of a bond between Japan’s Shimanami Kaido and Taiwan's Ri Yue Tan Lake Cycling Course. For a sweet snack, the adjacent roadside station serves some exquisite soft-serve ice cream. But what surprised me the most about this place was the international flavor of the crowd that had gathered.

Oyamazumi Shrine – Shinto legend and samurai history

The shady grounds of Omishima Island’s Oyamazumi Shrine can arouse a sense of spirituality in the hardest of hearts. According to Mishima-san, the shrine’s head priest, people say that this Shinto shrine was founded before the accession of the legendary Emperor Jinmu, which would make it over 2,600 years old. Legend has it that the sacred camphor tree on the shrine grounds was also planted at that time. The people around here like to say that Oyamazumi Shrine is older than Japan itself.

As far back as before the Heian Period (794–1185), samurai headed to battle would stop here to pray for victory. Those whose prayers were answered returned and offered their swords and armor in thanks. These items, some of which have been designated National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties, are now held in a museum on the grounds of Oyamazumi Shrine. In fact, it’s estimated that about 80% of the country’s arms and armor so designated are housed here. Many are on display for visitors to see.
Address: 3327 Miyaura, Omishima-cho, Imabari City
Access: 35 minutes by car from JR Imabari Station
Open: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Closed: No closed days
Phone: +81 897-82-0032
Website: https://oomishimagu.jp/

Tairyo – fresh-caught lunch with a side of conversation

Across the street from Oyamazumi Shrine is Tairyo. The line at the door ran down the sidewalk, so I had to check it out. Over a satisfying (and very inexpensive!) bowl of rice and fresh local fish, I listened to Miyazaki-san talk about how he loves smartphones because their translation functions foster communication across linguistic boundaries. “Many foreigners come here,” he told me, “and I love to talk to them.” The shelf beside us was lined with bottles of shochu, hung with the names of the regulars for whom they were being saved. “I don’t like politics,” Miyazaki-san added. “I like people.”
Address: 5507-1 Miyaura, Omishima-cho, Imabari City
Access: 35 minutes by car from JR Imabari Station 
Open: From 11:30 a.m. until menu orders can no longer be fulfilled
Closed: Saturdays and Sundays
Phone: +81 897-82-1725

Omishima Brewery – small operation, growing community

There was a time when Takahashi-san thought he’d work at the Minoh Beer Company forever. But eventually he and his wife decided they wanted to live somewhere quiet, so they left Osaka, moved to Omishima Island, and opened up the Omishima Brewery. It’s a small operation—and Takahashi-san wants to keep it that way. “I want my beer to be a part of a greater experience for people visiting the island,” he told me as I sipped on a pint of white ale, brewed with a touch of in-season citrus. We sat on a tatami mat floor in his renovated 100-year-old building, looking through a large window at the silver vats of his brewing operation. “It’s like sitting in the past, looking at the future,” he said with a smile. Sipping my beer and watching neighbor after neighbor stop by for a few cans of his brew, it was easy to imagine him being here for years to come.
Address: 5589 Miyaura, Omishima-cho, Imabari City
Access: 40 minutes by car from JR Imabari Station
Open: 12:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Closed: Tuesdays and Wednesdays
Phone: +81 897-72-9248
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/omishimabrewery

WAKKA – this waterfront paradise isn’t just for cyclists

With cycling support vehicles, bikes for rent, bike racks in the rooms, and even a bicycle boat taxi docked out back, WAKKA seems geared for cyclists. But owner Murakami-san will tell you that 75% of his guests arrive by car. “I want this place to be for all people,” he said in perfect English as we sat out on the deck, the Tatara Bridge gleaming in the distance. Travelers from overseas, he explained, appreciate Omishima Island’s central location, and are drawn to the island’s abundant nature. I’d add that guests probably also love the luxurious vibe of WAKKA. I was served barbeque and breakfast on the spacious deck, in full view of the islands and the inland sea. The facilities are sparklingly clean. The staff are positively vibrant. Sinking into my bed at WAKKA, after a day of beautiful views and unforgettable food, I felt like I was already dreaming.
Address: 6691-1 Inokuchi, Kamiura-cho, Imabari City
Access: 30 minutes by car from JR Imabari Station
Open: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Closed: Tuesdays 
Phone: +81 897-72-8705
Email: info@wakka.site
Website: https://wakka.site/en/
(Please note that the dinner menu at WAKKA varies.)