Sea route to get cyclists to Awaji Island tested out in Kobe

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Cyclists carrying their bicycles get off the boat in Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture.

KOBE — The city of Kobe has experimented with a sea route to get cycling enthusiasts to nearby Awaji Island, which has emerged as a desired destination due to its cycling routes, most notably an outer perimeter course dubbed “Awaichi.”

Kobe launched a ferry service on a trial basis to transport cyclists between the city’s Suma Ward and Awaji Island, with one daily round trip plying the waters on Oct. 8, 9 and 15.

The city is looking to link cycling tourism with efforts to promote the waterfront ward that features an aquarium, hotels and other attractions.

The service has proved so popular among cyclists wanting to feel the autumn wind as they tour the island that there was even a waiting list for cancelations.

On the downside, while Awaji welcomes the visitors, island officials are expressing concern over a growing number of accidents involving cyclists.

The service operator uses a privately owned 100-seat pleasure boat that allows passengers to carry their bicycles on board. The first boat departed the Suma Yacht Harbour at about 9 a.m. on Oct. 8 and arrived at the island in about an hour.

Greeted by a wadaiko Japanese drum performance, passengers disembarked from the vessel carrying everything from road bikes to folding bicycles. Others arrived empty-handed and made use of the island’s rental bike shop.

One regular visitor to the island for cycling said he appreciated having another option for getting there. “Compared to the high-speed boat from Akashi that takes 15 minutes to get here, I can enjoy the boat voyage as well,” said the 56-year-old male company employee.

The trip costs ¥1,000 for junior high school students and older, with a fee of ¥300 for bringing a bicycle. Ahead of the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo, the Kobe municipal government is considering making the route permanent, which it hopes will also help attract foreign tourists.

Promoting bike safety

At the port, the cyclists were met by a group who are not there just to welcome them to the island.

Officers from Hyogo Prefecture’s Awaji police station and others distributed reflective materials for riding in the dark and encouraged the visitors to ride safely.

According to local police, there were 42 bike-related accidents on the island as of the end of August. While the figure includes those involving locals, it marks an increase of 19 from the same period a year earlier, and accidents involving visiting cyclists are on the rise.

In addition to collisions at intersections, what has stood out has been accidental contact and rear-end collisions between fellow cyclists. This is said to occur because cyclists tend to bike in groups without maintaining enough distance between each other or by riding side by side.

“Cyclists may admire the beautiful landscape, but I want them to watch where they are going and constantly be careful,” the head of the police station’s traffic department said.