Coast to Coast in West Japan:
The Iwa Iwa Ride from Iwakuni to Iwami
October 23, 2019 – October 25, 2019
written by A-1
Iwakuni City is located in southeastern Yamaguchi Prefecture and was one of the feudal domains of Japan during the Edo period. One of Iwakuni’s main attractions, Iwakuni Castle, was home to Lord Hiroie Kikkawa after he was banished there for supporting a defeated shogun. The famous Iwakuni Castle, located on top of Mount Shiroyama, was destroyed shortly after its construction, but was rebuilt in the 1960s.
We stayed at Iwakuni Kokusai Kanko Hotel in front of Nishiki River and Kintaikyo Bridge, which is another one of Iwakuni’s most distinguished landmarks and has been a subject of admiration for hundreds of years. The historical and elegant wooden bridge consists of a series of five arches and massive stone pillars crossing the Nishiki River. The Iwakuni Kokusai Kanko Hotel offers beautiful views from the onsen (hot spring) at the top of the hotel.
The cycling route from Iwakuni (Yamaguchi Prefecture) to Iwami (Shimane Prefecture) – or the Iwa Iwa ride – is about 130KM, or 80 miles total. An advanced cyclist could finish the route in one day, but to ensure we captured all of the beauty each area had to offer, we chose to break up the course into three days. On the way to Iwami, we stayed in two small towns, visiting beautiful sightseeing spots, sampling delicious delicacies, and interacting with friendly locals.
Day 1 (October 23, 2019)
start: iwakuni | finish: yoshika
On the first day, we rode from Iwakuni to Muikaichi Onsen on a 50KM (30 miles) route. The cycling course runs along the Nishiki River and consists of many hills. There was a lot of traffic heading out of town, but the traffic decreased as we got to the countryside. It was our first challenging uphill ride of the trip, with some tunnels along the way, but it was very scenic and not too steep.
We made a couple stops along the way at small unknown stations and bridges to take pictures. One station had no staff, passengers, or any entrance/exit gate. We simply left our bikes to the side and snapped some pictures. There wasn’t much around, but the views were spectacular. I later discovered the station was Naguwa Station, about 22KM from Iwakuni. This tran station is so secluded that the train only runs once every two hours!
This vintage (but fully functional!) handwritten map shows where the post office, cigarette store, liquor store, electric store, gas station, doctor’s office, temple, junior high school, and koban (small police station) are located. There are no convenience stores, like Seven Eleven.
But it was okay! We didn’t need it!
Once we arrived at the Muikaichi Onsen around noon, we met Kasuya-san, the local guide from Yoshika town. He and his crew led us by car to the special Suigen Park, full of ponds that flow to Takatsu River and out to the Japan Sea.
Fun Fact: The Nishiki River flows to the Seto Inland Sea.
At the Suigen Park (water source park), there was a beautiful pond called “Big Snake Pond” (or Big Dragon Pond). This pond is one of nearly 100 clear water sources running through Shimane Prefecture. There is also a huge ipponsugi, a big cedar tree more than 20 meters in height and over 1,000 years old, surrounded by grass as tall as 5 meters. Unfortunately however, this particular ipponsugi is broken.
For lunch, we visited Irori Sanzoku, an old-fashioned, Japanese-style restaurant inspired by old bandit homes. Particularly among locals in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the restaurant is popular for its old-fashioned hearty meals, including large rice balls and savory local chicken dishes.
To learn more about Irori Sanzoku and view their menu, click here (Japanese only).
As we traveled along the road, we came across many small shrines among the rice fields. Each shrine carries great importance for the residence in the area, as the shrines have been there for generations and continues to serve as a source of prayer. We also heard about many festivals that take place throughout the year and celebrate different events during the harvest season.
Unexpectedly, we were invited to the Yoshika City Hall to meet the Mayor of Yoshika. We had a fun conversation and we were so appreciative of the kindness Yoshika city showed us.
It must have been a funny sight to see a bunch of American cyclists dressed in cycling clothes in a meeting with the Mayor! We also met a local wasabi farmer who gifted us of big bottle of sake and fresh wasabi.
We finally made it to our hotel, the Muikamachi Onsen Yurara. It was built in 2010 and has a very modern design. There are public baths, restaurants, meeting rooms, and guest rooms. The rooms were very big and extremely nice.
We had an amazing meal consisting of fresh seafood catches and local farm to table foods. For many of us, it was our first time trying fresh wasabi. During dinner we were able to taste and rate the freshness and true flavor of wasabi root. It was oishi! And of course, we finished off the meal with some sake.
Day 2 (October 24, 2019)
start: yoshika | finish: tsuwano (ride cancelled due to rain)
We were supposed to ride from Yoshika to Tsuwano, about 30KM (20 miles) but unfortunately, it was raining and the terrain was downhill, so safety became an issue.
Sometimes, during these trips, things don’t go exactly as planned, but that is what makes it an adventure! We decided to make the best of it and enjoyed a leisurely day indoors. We had another amazing Japanese style breakfast at the hotel and relaxed in the onsen (hot spring) again.
We then headed over to our next spot which was lunch at a local restaurant/community center called Kawabe. They were supposed to be closed on that day, but made a special arrangement for us to come since we had travelled so far. The food was all local AND for the second time in two days, we met the Mayor of Tsuwano. He was so down to earth and we even taught him how to shaka!
Next, we decided to travel to Tsuwano by public bus. We asked our guide and driver to carry our bikes on the SAG wagon and meet us in Tsuwano. It was such a fun time, walking around with umbrellas and riding a local bus with small coins. They don’t accept big bills or credit card, so you have to have change to ride the bus. Even though it was raining, we enjoyed the scenic drive. It was a shame we couldn’t ride, but safety comes first!
Sometimes called little Kyoto, Tsuwano (津和野) is a relaxed town surrounded by hills and a pleasant atmosphere. At the town center, there are old samurai mansions lining the streets with white earthen walls, dark red roof tiles, and wooden grated windows. It feels like you’re traveling into the past, as the whole town portrayed scenes reminiscent of past centuries.
The streets were lined with gingko trees and the waterway, which flows by the main street, was filled with lively carp, adding some color and vibrance to the picturesque surroundings. Tsuwano is also home to the Taikodani Inari Shrine, one of the five greatest Inari Shrines.
Before checking into our hotel, we visited one of the oldest sake factories in Tsuwano. In fact, there are several sake factories in the area but we chose Uijin（初陣）established in 1878. The store manager took us on a factory tour and we saw the many big brewing tanks they use to make the sake. The best sake is kept at a stable cold temperature and made with the best rice and freshest water. We had a chance to taste all the varieties of sake they had and everybody bought some (or a lot) of sake to bring home.
In the late afternoon, we checked in to one or our best onsen ryokan (hot spring inn) yet, Meigetsu. When we checked in, the okamisan (innkeeper) offered yukata (casual kimono) for the ladies. The girls were so excited to pick out a yukata and matching obi (sash). For the unfamiliar, wearing a yukata can be a little complicated, so the okamisan helped dress each of the ladies. Take a look at the beautiful yukata ladies!
We then had another incredible traditional Japanese meal with so much food and sake, we ended up partying until midnight (but I can’t show you those pictures). The ambiance of the ryokan was like staying at a family member’s house. Very comfortable and cozy, and all the rooms were unique.
Day 3 (October 25, 2019)
start: tsuwano | finish: iwami
In the morning, our prayers were answered and it was finally sunny!
Before we got back on our bikes, we visited Taikodani Inari Shrine, one of the five greatest Inari Shrines. In 1773, the seventh feudal lord, Lord Norisada Kamei, invited the deity’s spirit from Fushimi Inari Shrine to Kyoto and built the shrine on the top of Taikodani, facing the kimon (literally “demon’s gate” in Japanese) of Tsuwano Castle. People come to the shrine to pray for peace, security, and happiness for Tsuwano’s citizens.
The walk up to the shrine is lined by red tunnels like torii gates and there is an enigmatic atmosphere as we visitors pass through. The number of the torii gates exceeds one thousand, and there are exactly 263 stone steps on the path. After about a 15-minute walk, visitors can enjoy the view of the entire city and river for a scenic overlook.
On our third day, ride took us from Tsuwano to Iwami, about 40KM or 25 miles.We started off slowly as we left Tsuwano town and passed through the countryside full of green fields. We stopped at a restaurant called Kate for lunch. The building we ate at once used to be a hospital and had been completely renovated into a restaurant.
Kate have their very own farm, and all the dishes used fresh ingredients from the farms in the neighborhood. Because it used to be a hospital, their style of cooking revolves around the concepts of homegrown, farm-to-table foods to keep you healthy. I loved it! It was almost as if you could taste the freshness of each ingredient and the care put into each dish. The presentation was even more beautiful.
The way to Iwami in Masuda City is almost all downhill and it was a quick trip past the Sea of Japan. On the way, we were joined by some local cyclists who guided us down to the sea. They even shared some of their Amino Vital nutritional supplements as we discussed our luck having had no flat tires the entire journey.
As we reached the coast, dark clouds were rolling in, so we tried to outrace the rain, but just as we were finishing, we were met with some rain showers. Fortunately, we had plans to stop at the onsen in the newly opened Mascos Hotel to clean up and get warm. It was a beautiful spa facility with every amenity! We could have stayed there for hours, but we had a flight to catch.
We made our way to the Hagi Iwami Airport and arrived with plenty of time to make our flight to Haneda Airport in Tokyo.
The Hagi Iwami Airport is uniquely outfitted to cater to cyclists. There is a cycle station with changing rooms free of charge, as well as an information booth in terminal 1 equipped with bike tools and a bicycle pump. A shop on the second floor also has three types of tubes, CO2 cartridges, water bottles, and pedals available for purchase.
It was such a fun cycling tour! I can’t wait till another year when we can do it again! Where should we explore next?
To learn more about our exploration of western Japan by bike and view our full 9-day cycling tour itinerary, click here.