Monday, 27 May 2019
Onomichi, Hiroshima, Japan
We had arrived in Tokyo on Sunday afternoon to stay with our friends who had a house swap in Bunkyō. Given the timings we could only go for the half term holiday so it was going to be a fairly packed trip. After recovering from the flight we got an early morning bullet train bound for the South. We had a nice surprise in that, unlike our 2005 trip, Mount Fuji was clearly visible as we sped through Chubu. We had lunch on the train and changed to a local train to Onomichi at Fukuyama. In all it took around four and a half hours to cover the 800km.
Once in Onomichi we checked into our hotel, arranged our bikes for the next day and went for a walk. It was fairly overcast so we took the Senkōji ropeway up to Senkō-ji a temple on a hill overlooking the city. We had come to Onomichi to cycle across the inland sea to Shikoku. Fortunately this was not as watery a proposition as it sounds, the Shimanami Kaidō providing a cycling route over five islands and six bridges. Senkō-ji park provided an excellent view of what was ahead of us. We could see over a narrow channel to the first island Mukaishima island and beyond that the first of the six suspension bridges we would cycle across to get to Shikoku.
Apart from the view there are a few things to visit at the top of the park but they were mostly closed. So we worked our way down the hill past the castle back to the city and the hotel. Dinner was a fairly unsuccessful affair, we knew that Onomichi was famous for its ramen, what we did not know was that all the best restaurants shut at 1800, so after a bit of disappointment we settled into a very low key restaurant and had a passable but not great bowl of ramen in an oily soup. We concluded that Onomichi's night life might have been even harder to find so we retreated to our hotel's bar which had some atmosphere.
Tuesday, 28 May 2019
Omishima, Ehime, Japan
We set off relatively early catching the ferry across the narrow channel to Mukaishima. Yes this is cheating but it saves a half hour boring ride back along the mainland to find the bridge. From Mukaishima docks we then cycled inland up into the hills. The Shimanami Kaido crosses using the bridges of the expressway to Shikoku (in a completely separate lane) but it takes minor routes across all of the islands. Each island typically has a hard and an easy route across it. So generally you are cycling through bucolic scenery, very pleasant if it is sunny, which it was not.
The islands were once the base of the Murakami Kazioku, a powerful clan of maritime gangsters who used to charge protection money to ships trying to navigate the channels of the inland sea. Nowadays Mukaishima is home to a large ship building yard and more or less an extension of Onomichi. The trip across the island was about 8 km and we soon found ourselves at the on ramp for the Ikuchi bridge and crossed to Innoshima island .
At this point it is worth dwelling on the bikes. There were two companies renting bikes for one way travel along the Kaido. One rented posh looking mountain bikes, we went with the other one. Moreover we knew we had to go food shopping so our main selection criteria was that the bikes should have bike racks. All other considerations became secondary so we ended up with what might be charitably called "clunkers". A good range of gears would have been useful but these vehicles were only a little more blessed than a Boris bike in this regard. Suffice to say it was a grunt getting up hills.
Fortunately the easy route on Innoshima was six kilometres along the coastline. I remember it being a series of little towns and shipyards. After this we climbed the dedicated cycling ramp to get up to the bridge and cross to Ikuchi island where we would once again hug the coastline. We soon found ourselves in the town of Setoda where our mission was to stock up on food for the night as the AirBnB we were staying at on the neighbouring island had no restaurants within walking/cycling distance.
This was easy enough as there was a big supermarket, but first we needed some lunch and we were a bit stumped when we found the only restaurant on our recommendation website closed for lunch. We cycled around a bit and Anna spotted a small roadside restaurant which turned put to be a real find. They did the most amazing pork tonkatsu bento boxes. We all sat around a table sunk into the floor and tucked in. It started raining which meant we stayed for more beers than were strictly necessary.
Despite the beers it still had not stopped so we got wet going to the supermarket. We then bought some food and amazingly a wine box which turned out to be the most practical form of drink as it strapped very easily to my bike rack. We then cycled across the Tatara bridge, the fourth longest cable stayed bridge in the world.
On Ōmishima island we quickly found our AirBnB, a traditional house with two tatami bedrooms and a large dining area. Anna, who had a bit more energy than the rest of us, went for a bathe at the local onsen. The other three of us just tucked into the wine box, watched stupid movies and got the dinner prepared. We slept well that night!
Wednesday, 29 May 2019
After breakfast we handed the keys back to the owner and saddled up. It was then a fairly leisurely ride down the coast of Ōmishima and then up a very winding cycle ramp to get onto the short Ōmishima bridge to Hakata island. It was then only a couple of kilometres to the next bridge and Ōshima island
Ōshima proved one island too many for me. We had a choice of a slightly tougher coastal road and a more direct route through the middle of the island. I could only summon up the energy for the later and our friends wanted to do the former so we agreed to meet up at the other end of the island. Even the easier route was a slog and it seemed like an eternity before we got to Yoshiumicho, our meeting point. Here we totally passed on visitng a rose garden and failed to find a cafe, so we had to keep going.
Fortunately the going was flat after that as we went along the coast through a series of shipyards and villages. We finally found a foodhall just below the start of the Kurushima-kaiykō bridge, apparently the worlds longest suspension bridge. We attempted to refuel but I really was on my last legs by this point. Going over the bridge every pedal stroke was a huge effort and it was with great relief when I got to the mid point on the second span after which it was all downhill to Shikoku.
We dropped the bikes at Imabari station and then looked for lunch. Apparently Imabari is known for its Yakitori but since none of the restaurants opened until the evening we had to settle for another ramen restaurant. Then we picked up a hire car and proceeded to drive all the way across the island.
Our idea was to visit the Iya valley in the centre of the island, but since it was exhorbitant to stay in the valley itself we had decided to stay in Kōchi on the island's southern coast. It was a pleasant drive up through the mountains and then down to the town. The car was then deposited in an automated stacking garage and we checked into our hotel.
That night we finally hit the gastronomic mother lode. Central Kōchi is blessed with Hirome food hall and market. You find a stand or two that you like, order some dishes and sit at a table and they deliver them. We first relaxed at a mini wine bar and then sat at a table and I had seared Bonito fish, a local speciality. After dinner we happened upon a saki bar which had hundreds of different bottles. Fortunately a businessman took us under his wing and recommended a few welcome night caps.
Thursday, 30 May 2019
Imabari, Ehime, Japan
We had a fairly leisurely last day on Shikoku ahead of us. First we picked the car up from its stack and then set off to have a look at the open Pacific ocean. We knew nothing about Kōchi and it turned out to be quite a trip to find a beach. Even then it was a slight disappointment being more like Hastings than a palm fringed tropical strand.
However once in the hills the Iya valley proved to be anything but disappointing. Crystal clear rivers have cut a series of gorges through the centre of Shikoku island and driving through you are blessed with miles of stunning scenery. In the days of the shoguns it was considered so remote that it was used as the hiding places of defeated clans. Generally very scenic the only real sights are the Kazurabashi or vine bridges, of which there are only two or three surviving.
We parked at the main bridge, paid the ticket then crossed gingerly. The bridges were originally built solely of vines, but their modern incarnations have reinforcing steel wires and are frequently rebuilt. Nevertheless it was still a bit scary looking through the slats down to the turquoise blue waters of the river far below. We then descended to the banks of the river and paddled our feet and generally chilled out at a small set of falls. There were a few other tourists but otherwise it was fairly idyllic.
From the bridge we took a small detour up a side valley to see the other "sight" the statue of the peeing boy high up on a cliff overlooking a gorge. Apparently the local boys would prove themselves through this activity although quite why this had to be immortalised in bronze we will never know! We did not get to see much of the local architecture which was a shame as the area has a unique style of Minka house.
After leaving the Iya valley we struggled to find a restaurant for lunch on the way back to Imambari. In the end we stopped at a seven eleven in a small village, bought some rice parcels and sat on the flood bank of a river watching the dragonflies dart around whilst eating. The locals must have thought we were crazy.
And that was it. After lunch we dropped off the hire car at Imabari, jumped on a train which took us via a bridge from the other end of the island back to the mainland and the Shinkansen. We got back to Tokyo late, spent another two days in Tokyo before flying back to the UK. A very short visit but enjoyable!