Monday, 7 October 2013

Cycling Shikoku Island

After abandoning the pilgrimage route at Kochi things looked up considerably. We spent a leisurely day looking around the famous Kochi Sunday market and Kochi castle and recovering from our ordeal. Ok, ordeal is probably over egging it - but only a bit! In Kochi market we met Rachel, a lovely woman from Sydney who is walking the route solo. I am immensely impressed. Kochi castle is lovely and even better, a volunteer English speaking guide took us around the castle for no extra charge. Like every single Japanese person we have met, she was kind and helpful, and her explanations made our visit much more enjoyable. It was gone two when we finally cycled out of Kochi and headed on south.

Kochi Market
Kochi Castle
Kochi Castle
Picture menus are helpful for breakfast
From here we headed down to Susaki, the first place we came to which looked uncared for, with grass uncut in the parks and weeds growing through the pavements. From here we went inland - we had decided to cross to the western side of the island and the easiest route, I figured, would be along the course of the Shimanto-gawa river. It was a fabulous route, first climbing through the mountains then winding westwards, until finally a long tunnel chucked us out right in the centre of Uwajima. No longer trying to chase temples, we had relaxed, and the temperature had eased slightly too.

Into the centre of Shikoku
Rice drying

Shimanto-gawa River
Uwajima is a lovely compact little city which slides up alongside the mountains which reach almost to the sea. Uwajima is famous for its pearls and its bullfighting - althoughI gather here the rule is that two bulls fight each other and the first bull to run away is the loser. It also has a lovely castle, small but perfectly formed, and some significant shrines, including the famous Warei shrine. We camped next to the shrine in the local park, nobody seemed to mind.
Uwajima Castle
Fertility Shrine, Uwajima
Fertility Shrine Uwajima
Uwajima Castle in pearls

The coast road from Uwajima north to Matsuyama was superb, twisting and turning through tiny fishing villages. We gathered plenty of looks as we went, hardly surprising really, we had seen no gaijins since meeting Rachel back in Kochi. The older women in particular seemed pleased to see us: they would stand and stare, and when I called out good morning - ohayo gozaimas - with a little bob of my head, they would respond with a nod and a wide smile.

Fish market near Susaki
Eating fish at the market
We had wondered what the large nets were that looked like rows of trampolines - here we saw them in use, laid out with lots of the little white fish you can by in tubs for a hundred yen or so, drying in the sun. And soon we passed orange groves, terraces laid out on the steep cliffs, some so steep they looked almost impossible to farm. We bought some from a little stall on the side of the road and they tasted delicious - sweet and juicy. Near Yawatahama a local farmer with perfect English came up to us and asked us about our trip. He gave us one of his nashi pears and we ate it for lunch, sharing it with some small boys who were hanging about nearby, curious to see some strangers in town.

Orange farming

Cycling through a mountain

We got as far as Honai a few kilometres on form Yawatahama when the rain started. It was the first of two typhoons due this week. The pear farmer had warned us about them so the rain was not a surprise. It was coming down in sheets. We huddled with a coffee under a canopy outside a Lawson store where a couple of chairs were set out for customers. Four hours and a game of scrabble later we were still there. Mick gamely decided to go and reconnoitre and strode off into the rain in his yellow cycling cape. He was gone for ages but returned looking triumphant. 'I've found a great park,' he said. 'It's got toilets and a water fountain and a little shelter as well.' So we made our way down there and put up the tent in the pouring rain before diving inside. Mick's expenditure on a Hilleberg tent was well appreciated that evening! They are made so that you put the whole thing up in one go rather than putting up the inner tent first which would have been hopeless in this weather. Mick went to sleep almost immediately while I lay there listening to the rain coming down for a couple of hours before dozing off. It was only seven thirty.
Fish drying

We woke at six to the sound of music - older people gather in the parks in the morning for exercises - sometimes the music is piped into the park - 'park radio' we dubbed it, but in this case someone had brought a huge ghetto blaster. Fifteen minutes of exercise and then everyone had gone.

So had the rain - the typhoon had blown through and the morning had dawned sunny and warm. We headed north, soon coming across the longest tunnel so far at 2.2 kilometres it was a monster. Better, I suppose, than cycling over the mountain. On the other side of the tunnel we were on the coast once more and the ride was enjoyable, wit a gentle breeze coming off the Pacific. Or actually, now the Seto Inland Sea. As we headed north the towns felt more affluent and cosmopolitan the nearer we got to Matsuyama, the largest city on Shikoku.  About twenty kilometres before Matsuyama we came across another fine michi-no-eki with a fish and fruit market and a nice grass area overlooking a golden sand beach. It was pretty obvious the beach had been artificially created but it was a pleasant spot all the same. We decided it would make a good camp spot. We spent the afternoon feasting on octopus dumplings (takoyaki) and squid in soy sauce and paddling in the sea.

Later we realised we were camping in the 'lover's sanctuary' at Futami Beach and as the sun set over the water, the promenade was packed with strolling couples while on the beach a wedding party were having photographs taken. Not sure what they thought of the two Brits that turned up, pitched a tent and sat there swigging a couple of cans of local lager, but no-one seemed to notice us let alone object so hopefully we didn't upset anybody. No doubt they were all too busy being in love.
Lover's Sanctuary

The next morning we were up at six and in Matsuyama by ten, having stopped for breakfast of rice topped with slivers of beef, chives and raw egg yolk. The chap in the tourist information office at the railway station was incredibly helpful and I left armed with maps and leaflets galore. He had recommended the Sen Guesthouse run by Matthew (an American) and Nori (Japanese). The hostel was immaculately decorated in Japanese style; we liked it very much. Matthew spent some time telling us the best places to visit, eat etc. 'Oh, do you two like beer?' he asked.
'Did we like beer?' What a question!
'Um yes, we do,' we responded.
Matthew told us about the Dogo Brewery and where we could get draught beer. Ok, it might not be St Austell's or Butcombe but once never knows. It had to be better than Asahi anyway. I'll let you know.

Sitting out a typhoon


  1. Hello. I am a Japanese woman living in Shikoku and have traveled the pilgrimage a few times. So, I can imagine how hard the way you took was. Roads are certainly bad and there aren't many English signs, which we might need to improve.
    I'd like to admire your bravery and hope that you will be able to try the pilrimage again someday, perhaps in spring!
    Enjoy the rest of your stay!! - Namu Daishi henjo kongo -

    1. Thank you very much for your comment on my blog.I actually found the signage ok and the road quality was much better than in the UK. But some of the roads were very busy! I would like to try the pilgrimage again one day - as you say, maybe in the spring and without a bicycle! Shikoku is a beautiful place and the people we met were just wonderful, incredibly friendly.

  2. great blog. I enjoyed it and thanks.

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