A spin through
Away from cars, big town noises and
concrete, the Kibi Plain offers one of
the most historical and beautiful paved
bicycle paths through the flourishing
countryside of Okayama Prefecture.
On a recent trip to Okayama, my partner and I decided to see
what the Kibi Plain Bicycle Trail had to offer. We encountered
the legend of Momotaro and the imaginary Oni monsters,
ancient tombs, a magnificent five-story pagoda, stunning
temples and shrines and lots of smiles, while enjoying a gentle
breeze on our faces and the warm sun on our backs.
As far back as AD 400, the narrow Kibi Plain was a significant
cultural region. This prosperous area is rich with legends and
ancient sites; many of which are located on the well-marked 15
kilometre long trail or close to it. The Kibi Plain Bicycle Route is
one of many bicycle paths constructed by the government since
the 1970s. An easy ride over rolling hills and through the plains,
the trail officially begins and ends at either Soja Station or Bizen-
We arrived at Soja Station just before 9am and swiftly picked
out our bikes for the day at the shop beside the station main
exit. After hiring two bikes and reviewing the complimentary
trail map with the shop owner, we cycled through the quiet
streets of Soja, past the massive sports complex and headed into
Within a couple of kilometres, after passing the Sumotoriyama
Burial Mound, we came across one of the most remarkable
landmarks and the symbol of the Kibiji District: Bitchu Kokobunji,
an 8th century Buddhist temple that was commissioned to
bring peace in the provinces and the awe-inspiring five-story
17th century pagoda. Nearby, we found the foundation stones
of Bitchu Kokubunniji Convent, the excavated Komorizuka Burial
Mound, which can be entered to view an ancient stone coffin
and the Kibiji Archaeological Museum.
At this point, an optional detour three kilometres north off the
trail will lead to the birthplace of the famous artist Sesshu (1420-
1506). Once a novice monk, he was renowned for his famous
Japanese style paintings and practising asceticism in Iyama
Hohukuji, a zen Temple. Legend states that he drew a rat with
his tears there. As we continued our easy ride over rolling hills
and through the plains along the official route, we passed the
enormous 5th century Tsukuriyama-kofun Burial Mound that
rises from the surrounding plain. One of many ancient tombs
built in the area between AD 4 and AD 7, the 350-metre long
keyhole-shaped hill is the largest burial mound in Japan.
We followed the flowing waters of the Ashimori River and
stopped for a picnic lunch at a picnic table under the trees.
We enjoyed the silence and were entertained by the farmers
working in the fields and the birds that closely followed them,
hoping to find their squiggly lunches in the freshly turned soil.
Half an hour later, back on the trail, we pedalled past Koikui
Shrine, a shrine connected with the legendary figure Kibitsuhiko,
one of Japan’s most popular folk heroes.
A couple of kilometres further along the path, at the base
of Mt. Naka, we found Kibitsu Shrine, one of the biggest and
oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. We parked our bikes and climbed
a wide flight of steps to the hilltop where the main shrine and
sanctuary, built in 1425 and designated as National Treasures,
magnificently rest above the countryside.
Kibitsu Shrine is dedicated to Prince Kibitsuhiko, the model for
the legendary Momotaro (Peach Boy). According to historical
accounts, the Imperial Court of Yamato dispatched Kibitsuhiko
to conquer Kibi Province. Shrine lore states that his expedition
was commissioned to eliminate a troublesome ogre named Ura.
Kibitsuhiko camped where Kibitsu Shrine now stands. The
Prince shot menacing arrows, which Ura struck down with
mountains of rocks. Then, Kibitsuhiko cleverly shot two arrows
at once and hit Ura in the eye. Ura transfigured into a carp and
swam away in a gushing river of blood. Today, in Koikui Shrine,
speckled yellow, orange, white and red carp swim lazy circles
in the beautiful pond surrounded by manicured gardens.
We pedalled another 10 minutes to Kibitsuhiko Shrine, a large
Shinto Shrine, circled its beautiful pond surrounded with large red
lanterns and headed back along the route we came.
We easily completed the round trip trail within a few hours and
passed a dozen or two other cyclists on the trail. There are a
handful of vending machines along the path and occasionally the
route passes close enough to a main road to sidetrack for food.
The trail is paved and well-marked with big blue signs. Accessing
fifteen ancient sites, the extensive Kibi Plain Bicycle Trail network
represents just one of many cycling possibilities in Japan.
If you still find yourself with some time and energy after completing
the trail, then the Kibiji Local Museum, with its collection
of excavated goods and occasional archaeological lecture or the
Soja Town Museum are interesting visits.
From Kurashiki, take the JR Hakubi
Line two stops to Soja Station. From
Okayama, take the JR Kibi Line three stops
to Bizen-Ichinomiya Station. The bike trail can
be accessed from either station. Bicycle rentals
are available at both stations (9am – 6pm daily,
¥400/2 hours or ¥1,000/day). Bikes can be
returned at either station as some people
choose to ride the trail one-way and
others complete the round trip.