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Hiroshima tailors bike tours to tourists

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Satoshi Ishitobi, right, guides foreign tourists in Naka Ward, Hiroshima.

By Sayaka Watanabe / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterHIROSHIMA — Tailored cycling tours are gaining popularity in Hiroshima city amid the rising number of foreign visitors.

Aimed at foreign tourists, the tours were launched by a planning firm in Higashi Ward, Hiroshima. The program is titled “sokoiko!” and provided under the motto of proposing “unique trips that cannot be found in guidebooks.”

More and more foreign tourists are posting comments online about the tours, praising them with words like “exciting” and “friendly.”

“We don’t just provide a trip around famous sightseeing spots,” said Satoshi Ishitobi, 38, president of the planning company. “We want to offer trips that thoroughly take in local areas, through exchanges with people and first-hand experiences.”

On May 15, an eight-member family on a 10-day trip to Japan from Hawaii joined the sokoiko! tour on a beautiful day. It was their first visit to Hiroshima, and they asked for sightseeing that was “a bit different from the norm.”

In response, the tour not only took them to famous spots such as Hiroshima Castle and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, but also included a nearby shrine, riverbank and shopping arcades.

At the shrine, the family members drew omikuji fortunes and tied them to the branches of a tree. They ran along a river and guessed at the answers to questions about a related bridge. They were very happy when they came across a dog on a walk.

Asayama Kuga said the tour was interesting because they could enter narrow streets on the bikes and see various sights.

“Sokoiko!” tours were launched two years ago by the “mint” planning company of which Ishitobi is president. The program was inspired by the fact that about half of the foreign tourists who visit Hiroshima are day-trippers. “I thought if we could introduce the charms of Hiroshima that are known only by local residents, visitors would stay longer and spend more money in the city,” Ishitobi said.

The company uses the city’s tourism bicycle rental service, and plans tour routes in accordance with customers’ requests. For example, on one day, the firm took visitors on a tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and atomic-bombed buildings and trees under the theme of “peace.”

Another time, participants visited shopping streets and viewed scenery along a river under the theme “strolling around the city.”

Participants can decide their routes, choosing from and/or blending three categories of experience: scenery, shopping and community. With the support of local shops, participants in some tours make savory okonomiyaki pancakes or wear samurai armor and helmets. Some enjoy river cruises.

The company solicits applicants via travel websites for foreigners, Facebook and other tools. Positive feedback posted online has also helped the program gain popularity — about 200 tourists, many of them from such nations as Australia, France and the United States, have joined the tours over the past year.

“One of the advantages of cycling is that people can experience the whole local area, not just sightseeing spots. We want to develop various tour routes,” Ishitobi said.

Each tour lasts three hours and costs ¥5,000 per person when there are two participants. The total travel distance is about 20 kilometers. An English-speaking guide accompanies the tours. For more information, call mint at (082) 576-7915.Speech

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