Kochi On Two Wheels: Bucket List Cycle Touring

The All Round Shikoku circuit is a bucket list ride for cyclists looking for an off-the-beaten-track adventure on two wheels. With close to half of the 1000km route passing through Kochi Prefecture (including what we humbly believe to be some of its most spectacular sections), it’s safe to say that Kochi is a strong contender for those considering a multi-day bike trip in Japan.

Muroto: Riding Kochi’s Wild Pacific Coast (Toyo - Kochi 130km)

Easily identifiable on any map of Kochi thanks to its sharp tip, the sparsely populated Muroto Peninsula offers long, straight roads that run along a dramatic coastline featuring impressive rock formations and pebbled beaches. It can be a wild ride depending on the weather, with Pacific seas shifting from deep, dark blue to clouds of crashing white water. This 130km ride from the town of Toyo to Kochi City is great for both roadies looking to put their heads down and tourers stopping along the way. Stopping to soak in the ocean views and exploring along the way can make doing the whole route in one day a challenge, so overnighting near Cape Muroto or the well preserved settlement of Kiragawa is recommended.

Consider staying in the popular surf spot of Toyo the night before you start your ride so you can get an early start. As well as the beach, definitely try the local delicacy kokera sushi, a yuzu-infused layered sushi dish. Traditionally eaten at times of celebration, it also serves as great fuel for your ride ahead. Look for it at the beachfront Umi no Eki at Shirahama Beach.

On the way to Cape Muroto, the Kabuka-meoto-iwa “husband and wife” rocks, which are connected by a Shinto shimenawa rope, are a must see and the Muroto Schoolhouse Aquarium is a unique example of the repurposing of a disused elementary school. The Muroto UNESCO Global Geopark visitor center provides background information to enhance appreciation of the forces that created the geological features around Cape Muroto.

A huge white statue of Kukai, who initiated the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, stands on the roadside as you approach the cape. It is in Muroto that Kukai is believed to have attained enlightenment and he is said to have adopted his name, which is made up of the characters for sea and air, during ascetic training in caves that still stand today. Three of the temples on the pilgrimage (24 to 26), known as the Muroto Sanzan, can be visited on the peninsula, though getting to two of them, Hotsumisaki-ji and Kongocho-ji, involves steep climbs.

The western edge of the peninsula offers more wide ocean views and passes by the lovingly preserved townscape of Kiragawa, a good place for a cafe break or an overnight stay in one of its distinctive restored white-walled properties. Further north, a short side trip takes you to the beautiful Monet's Garden Marmottan in Kitagawa. The lush Ioki Cave, just a few meters from the main road, is as surprising as it is accessible. Road traffic does increase as you get closer to Kochi City, so be sure to take advantage of the 28km Konan coastal cycle path.

Shimanto River Source to Sea

The 100km ride down the Shimanto River, known as Japan’s “last free-flowing river,” from near its source in the mountains of Tsuno Town to Nakamura where it meets the sea, is a classic for Japanese cyclists. The changing nature of the river, from white water tumbling over rocky outcrops to wide meandering curves as you journey from the source to the Pacific, ensures surprises around every corner. The continuous, almost imperceptible, descent along this part of the 196km-long river gives the cyclist a delicious feeling of ease. As the kilometers pass quickly, you have time to leave the main road and follow beautiful, traffic-free byways which hug the river loops and avoid some of the long tunnels which can make even experienced cyclists nervous.

However, the cyclist's first decision is how to get to the upper reaches of the Shimanto River. There are two options. The first, which takes you closest to the actual source of the river, involves a 7.5km climb from the quaint fishing town of Tosa Kure to the Nanako Pass which sits at a height of 294m above sea level. It’s one of the toughest climbs on the All Round Shikoku Circuit, but provides some memorable views and great sense of achievement. The other option is to bypass the climb (and the river source) and join the river in Shimanto Town by taking the train (with your bike packed in a bike bag) to Kubokawa Station. The area around Kubowkawa Station is worthy of a stop in its own right; “art temple” Iwamoto-ji is one of the most interesting temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage and Hanpei one of the most delightful cafes on the entire island. From here, you can start the approximately 70km cruise down the river, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Beyond the sights, the Shimanto River Valley is all about glorious vistas and glimpses of rural life. Do take the time to dismount and check out some of the chinkabashi submersible bridges that provide (often precariously narrow) river crossings, and have become the symbol of the Shimanto River Valley. There are few towns along the way, but the route is punctuated by several excellent roadside markets where you can find all kinds of local produce and tasty snacks to keep you going. Michi-no-eki Shimanto Taisho is a gathering spot for locals and has excellent river access, while the larger Michi-no-eki Shimanto Towa offers a great view of the river and even a zipline experience.

For those without the time or energy to do the full source to sea experience, or who are not traveling with their own bikes, the Shimanto River Rental Cycle Service offered between Nakamura Station and Ekawasaki Station is an excellent option for exploring the lower reaches of the Shimanto River.

Ashizuri Peninsular Loop: A Ride For All Abilities

Ashizuri is the southernmost, and perhaps the most remote, part of Kochi. The scenery, fauna and flora as well as the laid back nature of the people may well give you relaxed, island vibes. The coastal rock formations in this region are a geology buff’s dream and their sand-colored tones provide a visual contrast to those of Muroto. The azure hues of the sea will tempt you to hop off your bike and go for a swim.

A loop of the peninsula is a very manageable 40km. If you stay in the Cape Ashizuri area near Kongofuku-ji (temple 38 on the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage) you will have plenty of time to explore natural wonders such as the Hakusan Domon rock arch and Ryugu Shrine at Usubae, and of course get that all important souvenir snapshot at the cape itself. You will also be likely to see and exchange greetings with pilgrims in traditional garb making their way around the peninsula on foot.

Leave your bikes near the main road and walk down through the narrow streets of Matsuo that cling to the cliff above the small fishing port to get a sense of life along the coast here. Seek out the “stone grabbing” Akou tree which hugs boulders with its roots high above the beach and meet the locals at Cafe 69 Log run by a friendly surfing couple.

Beyond the peninsula, the incredible rock formations of Tatsukushi and its retro Bond villain-worthy underwater observation tower and the quite simply astounding crystal clear waters of snorkeling paradise Kashiwa Island in Otsuki make for awesome excursions, both on and off your bike.