Japan - Shikoku 2023

Day 3 – Rest Day in Kyoto

Never trust a hotel alarm clock. Foolishly I’d set it, to be awakened by Jill at 09:15. ‘Where are you?’ as I answered the phone. Imagine in a polite culture trying to explain at reception that your clock is faulty and that you need to take goods out of the dining area as everyone was ready to go.
Plans made we headed to the station for the train to Inari, but not before trying to buy 9 tickets from a machine in Japanese. Notes fed, coins spat out, tickets in hand we caught the train two stops to Inara, with seemingly half of Kyoto.
A feast of orange greeted us as well as a fox leaping with a corn husk in its mouth. More of a hike than a temple, thousands of vermilion torii snaked up the hill in front of us. Painted bright orange, their wooden legs held a span, carved into the legs were Japanese script on the downhill side.
The initial part was tortuous, camera phones aplenty, hundreds shuffled along the stone pathway whilst a herd of about 40 wild boar hurtled past us to the left in the woods. Fortunately the general rule of tourism rang true that 5% go further than 500metres, so the next 3km to the summit was far quieter.
At intervals shrines and small teahouse diverted attention decorated in smaller orange gates and foxes smiling at us with red cloaks. It’s quite earie in the dark, so I’ve read.
Top reached marked by a Cherry Tree in full bloom and down, down, down, finishing a loop and then headed right through a number of temples, in effect a figure of eight.
We took the train the subway to the middle of Kyoto to the Imperial Palace Gardens, not that impressive, then had an excellent coffee and cake stop before heading along a blossom festooned street with a stream to finish at a subway station. Most walked back, a few trained, and all back at 16:30 to be greeted by Ken and the gang with a bunch of immaculate bikes.
Pedals and saddles added, we had drinks and ice cream then a Plum Wine at the hotel, before heading out to….. yes the same restaurant as the night before. 3rd floor this time for a series of Japanese dishes. Fish Tempura, soup with shellfish, tuna with rice, and Ken bought the drinks, very kind.

Day 4 Cycling Kyoto to Nara

The first days riding saw us assemble outside the hotel. Final checks and Ken our trusty guide led us out of the city in two groups with Issy taking the second bunch. It took a while as no-one even thinks about running a red light in Japan or crossing a pedestrian crossing either.
We were heading for the Keinama Cycle Road that runs along the edge of the Katsura River for further than we were going today. Bright sunshine, smooth surface, views, what’s not to like? It was so well engineered that the drops to pass under roads were gentle switchbacks.
Every ride has a morning coffee stop. Nuts, freshly brewed coffee, fruit and a few proper bars thrown in. Under flowering Cherry Tree, it as perfect. Close by an undercover seating area had fresh flowers and two functioning clocks, what a place. Continuing on was much the safe before leaving close to Nara for a brief climb, before dropping into town and arriving early at the hotel. Checked in, we set of to explore Nara armed with a hotel map and Our target was Tōdai-ji within which was an enormous bronze Buddha. On the way we passed Starbucks, a pagoda, a whole herd of rather mangy looking Sika Deer as well as a pretty impressive set of statues guarding Nandaimon Gate.
For 600 YEN, you could join the queue and head around the Buddha which was indeed pretty impressive. A one way system was in force with lots of instructions, no loitering to take pictures on the steps etc.
We finished the day in various restaurants

Day 5 – Cycling Nara to Koyasan

An early start and seemingly everyone else in the Comfort Hotel were early risers in a packed breakfast area.
Issy walked us the 5 minutes to Nara station to catch the local train, 9 stops to Sakurai station where Ken and Kiyoshi were waiting. Whilst Ken pumped the tyres, Kiyoshi limbered up, looking as fit as Ken, as it was his turn to lead out today.
We threaded our way through the town, before heading left and onto the first climb over the Imoge Toge Pass. This wasn’t too bad, started through wooded area. Over the top and our first coffee stop in an attractive valley. Afterwards the descent continued to the Yoshima River. We followed this wide valley along its right bank for quite some time. This was easier cycling, with little traffic and plenty of places processing wood.
Lunch consisted of sushi. Ken popped into a specialist shop to buy pieces of rice and mackerel wrapped in leaves. Taken to the park we acquired some chairs and sat munching away to the sounds of school children playing in the park.
Finishing off the valley, we headed left for the last and biggest climb of the day, the dual peaked Toge Pass. Steeper than the last, it was a structural marvel with concrete holding the hillside in and metal cages the rocks and branches from the road. It was steep enough for me that walking was as quick as cycling for some.
Over the top and our last banana/bar stop before finishing the descent. Built in 1920, there was a memorial to those that had funded it.
The last climb was longer, but the start was easier and pretty scenic along the Hye River. The last part for me was walked as Issy kept a watchful eye.
Through the last tunnel and into Koyasan where 10 of us stayed in one temple, 3 in another. Quite an experience, hot shared bath and brilliant food. However, a TV in the spartan room and the ability to buy beer was an unusual addition

Day 6 – Cycling Koyasan to Tokushima

Buddhist service at 06:30, breakfast at 07:15 was the start to the day. Bikes ready we headed back the way we came to explore Okunoin Cemetery. At the end is Oku-no-In Temple, but first we must pass and check out 1200 years of graves under the tall trees. The start is opulent and modern. A rocket containers workers of a satellite launching company. A man on a chair and his wife next to an enormous coffee cup representing UCC (coffee company) Further in there are Samurai, statues and small statues bedecked with wooly hats and bibs. In the sacred area where no pictures are permitted a single monk plays with fire in a darkened temple, quite surreal.
We leave from the west and descend switchbacks losing the height we gained yesterday. A morning coffee stop, a further descent and a pretty route to avoid a tunnel with a bit of a climb. Back on the main road, the descending continues following the Makuni River. Pink Blossom appears, not Cherry trees but peaches and we lunch in a hall used by locals to process the fruit when in season.
Another of Japans fine cycle paths beckons. This one goes all the way to Wakayama, along the right bank of the Kinokawa River which gets wider as it approaches the Pacific Ocean. That’s not the only thing increasing as the wind signaling a change in the weather makes things a little more difficult as we approach the port and 3 big bridges. All three have cycle paths as we loop under the last one, to load the bikes and board the ferry for the journey to Tokushima taking two hours. Arriving at 19:00, we are driven to the hotel and a Japanese restaurant where we try to get to grips with a Japanese menu and an ordering tablet which has all the pictures and to be honest is a little easier.
Day 7 – Cycling Tokushima to Hiwasa

Rain was forecasted, so we delayed the start till 10:30 to give everyone a more relaxed start. Typically, at 10:30 it started and didn’t stop all day.
We transferred 8km to the edge of town, munched a kit kat as after all it was Easter Friday and set off into the gloom. ‘Watch out for the cars’ we were warned, but compared to the UK, all were positively polite.
The Katsura River and Naka rivers were to be our company for most of the day as it cut a path northwards. There were no weirs to stop it and with the rain it made quite a noise but not as great as all the frogs in the flooded paddy fields all around us in perfect ½ acre plots.
The cloud hung heavy, giving the day an ethereal glow, but the roads were super quiet, helped by the road reducing to one lane as it clung to the heights above the river.
Our morning coffee stop was at Tairyuji Ropeway, linking the café to a temple by a cable car. As the rain beat down, nobody fancied the cable car, but the bananas and fresh coffee went down well.
After this, we simply made a run for the hotel all at different speeds. Waterfalls cascaded around us, the traffic remained quiet and the views were still good, despite the gloom. The highpoint came suddenly for a descent to Hiwasa, where I found a cake shop enjoying a strawberry cheesecake.
The hotel was at the far end, perched above the cliffs and beach, it housed 32 cats that seemed to rule the place. The evening meal was an 8 course bonanza of portions of raw fish, meats and vegetables as we listened to the crashing surf below

Day 8 - Rest Day in Hiwasa

Ken had arranged a local guide to steer us around the town, so at 11:00 we met a very polite local who guided us through the backstreets. Highlights included, an enormous Tsunami tower where locals could flea if the water got high, old wooden buildings, those more than 80 years old were rare due to typhoons and earthquakes and the artistic works of a French resident intent on cats.
Finishing close to the temple, it seemed rude not to explore, but coffee/cake beckoned, after which we climbed the two staircases, passing red lanterns for a view over the town.
Walking back the Chelonian Museum by the seashore beckoned to be greeted by a building full of stuffed turtles and 5 tanks outside with various aged turtles, the oldest having hatched from an egg, 70 years ago.

Day 9 – Cycling Hiwasa to Muroto

We left the 32 cats behind in the hotel to descend to the sea, through Hiwasa and onto a beautiful road. Climbing gave a series of viewpoints along the route we were to cycle today. Looking at the inlets and hills, I did wander how the majority could possibly be flat.
The cherry trees were in full bloom and one caught the eye, where pink paint had been sponged onto the ground to give a year round perspective of what we were seeing today.
Descending to the main road at Mugi, the road got busier, but the bike paths helped enormously as did detours through the towns on route.
There was quite a bit to see today, explore the fishing ports, watch the walkers doing the temple trail along this most scenic area or visit the aquarium in a local school where seemingly the whole school has been turned into a series of fish tanks housing eels, haddock and sea turtles in a larger pool outside.
Coastal defences were much in evidence. Beaches were littered with concrete mouldings, intertwined to protect villages (often below sea level) behind. Ken said there was some opposition which one wall at 12 metres attracting a lot of local bad feeling.
Our destination was a traditional Ryokan. Having survived Typhoons and Tsunamis, it had been taken over 4 years ago and with the help of his architect trained daughter was now an oasis of all things Japanese, culminating in a full Japanese dinner supervised by the lady of the house.

Day 10 – Cycling Muroto to Kochi

Breakfast was another low table event, so we squatted, knelt or used tiny chairs. The lady of the house taught us how to roll seaweed suchi and the rice floweth.
Group picture taken for their facebook page we headed out and round the southern most point Cape Muroto, not much to mark it except a smiling statue, staff in hand.
Taking the backroads past old houses, we ascended Temple 25, I wore my white tunic and all was well. Some had coffee at the stall at the base, whilst a few of us tried out the Cycling Japan skateboard.
The morning was spent dodging route 55. Either by taking parallel streets through villages or by taking the slightly bumpier cyclepath next to it, to share with the pilgrems doing the temple circuit. Concrete continued to reign especially round the harbours with their long thin fishing boats.
The sun was still shining as we had a coffee break then lunch was taken at Aki. A railway had been replaced by a cyclepath and it was pretty good, passing next to the beach, through woods and eventually through towns. The last part of the day was through agricultural fields full of rice paddies and graves.
We finished close to Kochi, where the traffic was heavier and the shoulderless bridge enormous, time for a transfer to a beachside hotel.

Day 11 – Cycling Kochi to Matsubagawa

Heading left for Temple 36, Seiryuji Temple had about 60 steps to climb. Lynne wore the pilgrim jacket and Ken lit a candle, all very peaceful.
Heading back past the hotel, we headed left for a lovely section following the coast as it’s many inlets passed us on the left. The concrete was still present, but was a better height, so unless you had a recumbent you could see all about.
Morning coffee quaffed, we passed through a small tunnel to descend to the large of Susaki, home of two notable things. A massive concrete works and an even bigger? Supermarket, yes we could have spent all day in there, trying buy familiar and unfamiliar items for lunch. Packed into the vans we set of again to start a pretty and gradual climb through the woods for our picnic lunch but not before Russ had spied a snake.
After lunch, the going got steeper as we zig zagged to the summit to the applause of those that had gone before. I was last, but then again I am to climbing what Marco Pantani was to home baking.
After a glorious long descent it was back to the farming fields to pass a naturel spring where people drove for hours to fill up to avoid paying for the same product at the local bottling plant.
We Came to the Shimanto River which we will now follow for a few days to finish at the Matsubagawa Onsen Hotel where the large public Onsen allowed us to steam off our tired limbs for the evening

Day 12 – Cycling Matsubagawa to Shimanto

Rain was in the air as we left Matsubagawa Onsen hotel, having admired the red suspension bridge festooned with climbers and overlooking falling water.
A brief climb through narrow lanes to be followed by a day that would be gradually downhill all day. Agricultural fields growing rice and neat line of vegetables passed by as we headed for our morning stop at Iwamotoji Temple (number 37) Colin had the honor of wearing the shirt as a pilgrim on his 54th circuit of visiting all 88 temples, showed everyone around. Famous for its roof paintings it was a little different to others seen so far. Then the bad news, it started to rain and heavily and the Japanese patisserie was closed for the day.
Having hung about hoping the rain would go, we made a break for it at 11:10 when Kens APP thought it would stop.
Our day was to follow the Shimanto River the last untamed river in Japan. No weirs, dams or concrete. The road ran tight to the river all day, varying from swide to a narrow run clinging to the edge.
Lunch was by the river, where the noodles flowed like the rain. A recently retired Brit working in Singapore turned up. 2 weeks into a 60.000km tour, his bike and equipement were super clean, turns out he was riding this as had heard it was the best road in Japan.
More of the same after lunch, super views along the river with one small zig zag climb at the end. We finished at Hotel Seira Shimanto overlooking the river, ready for a day of rest

Day 14 – Cycling Shimanto to Cape Ashizuri

A full Japanese breakfast set us up for our last day along the Shimanto river. Overcast with rain in the air, we took another narrow road along the edge of this lovely river.
Passing a house decorated with cartoon creatures made from plastic balls was too good to miss as it revealed the Mickey Mouse family worshipping at a small shrine. Onwards along the left bank of the river, when I passed Lynne cycling the other way, muttering something about a ‘photo opportunity’ What she meant was a low concrete bridge crossing the river with no guard rails, good job the river wasn’t in flood. Subsequently crossing one of these revealed a narrow lane clinging to the edge, where flowers and huge bamboo plants proliferated.
In the UK, seagulls follow the plough. In this area Kites proliferated, probably looking for the many frogs croaking in the paddy fields, a wonderful sight.
We lunched at Nakamura, trying Octopus balls (good price according to Ken) fried in a streetside kiosk, followed by a proper coffee and cake shop, by which I mean a little Western. The weather had turned as we headed out of town across the red bridge to complete our trip along the river. The most southerly point in Shikoku beckoned at Cape Ashizuri, but first we had to get over the two climbs to get there. The reward though was a fabulous temple at the cape. Kongōfukuji Temple was by all accounts the best yet with statues aplenty. For me the view from the viewpoint was also rather lovely.
Our hotel for the night was the last climb of the day, very modern with a European twist, we ate with cutlery and were served a fusion dish of Japanese and Italy by attentive staff.

Day 15 Cycling Cape Ashizuri to Ainan

Quite some hotel this one, the attentive service, even by Japanese standards continued during a good breakfast. It’s architecture was modern with huge spacesand a modern ambience.
The weather forecast had been poor and so it proved, a plan was hatched to either make a break for it in the wind and rain or to be transferred to the town where we were having lunch. A hardy 5 decided to giv it a go, to be driven back by a gale. Things were no better an hour later, so at 11:00 we all clambered into the vans for an hours transfer over the big hill and to avoid the gusts coming down the valley’s
We were dropped at a café on the edge of Sukumo. Whilst Ken, Issy and Kiyoshi busied themselves soring the bikes, everyone else tucked into an early lunch.
The weather had improved a little by the time we set off, heading along the coast and then into a climb through the woods as the coast disappeared far below us. The rain though seemed to have driven the most amazing purple worms that slithered across the tarmac. To our left the sea was full of buoys and nets, heaven help any fish that ventured into Japanese waters. As Ken wryly noted, they live in the Russian side and a few years ago a few fishermen were shot for fishing there.
We were in an industrial fishing, not so much big boats but huge infrastructure, fish processing plants where vapour spewed out, big harbours and cranes to service the boats. We had an afternoon break before the last climb up and over to the small town of Ainan for here was the star of the day, our accommodation. The rooms were basic, but the food was amazing, 2 big grilled fish, lots of dishes, an attentive host and walls covered in pictures created by previous visitors

Day 16 Cycling Ainan to Omishima

The Ryokan dished up another fishy feast, before we loaded into a bus for the 3 hour trip north to the Islands
The start of the ride was a bit of a culture shock. Beneath the looming bridge, a big cycle event was taking place. Lots of Japanese dressed in all the gear were going to and fro over the 4km bridge that for us lay ahead. Accessed by a dedicated cycle track it gave great views over the water. The drop of was even better, best described as a descending carousel, we circled back to sea level from where the coast beckoned.
Less concrete, fewer fishing boats and sandy beaches, it was a contrast to views before. There were a few climbs but it was pretty relaxing admiring the scenery. Towards the end there were 3 museums. I failed unlike Rob and Lynne to spot the Industrial, stopped briefly at the mother and child, but we all convened for the Tokoro Modern Art Museum. For 320 Yen you could explore 5 small galleries that extended down to the coast a long way down. Modern art it certainly was, a mural of white witches, a man with his head opening as windows and a wood cut shop complete with phone. Was it worth it? Well yes as this was Japanese.
We descended to Ryokan Sawaki, a guesthouse in a small fishing village. Tucked away it looked like nothing and the rooms were pretty basic, but these are only for sleeping in. The thing that made this place special were the placards illustrated by guests on the walls and the host and family. Stepping into the kitchen (special shoes) I was guided to two big fish under a grill and two more that had met their doom in a pool of boiled soy sauce. At 19:00 we presented ourselves to the dining area for the full on Japanese dining experience. Bowls of fish/seaweed, in fact anything dredged from the depths were presented, whilst our host divided the fish into plates with his chopsticks, wonderful stuff.

Day 17 Cycling Omishima to Onomichi

Our last days cycling was heralded by our last Japanese fishy breakfast feast. Lots of small bowls consumed, packed and ready for the day. The wife of the grandson of the original owner busied herself with selfies whilst we admired the planting amidst huge boulders to hide the concrete hotel. Japanese buildings are like this, nothing from the outside, ornate within.
The first stop was the Shinto Temple 500 metres away. Ken follows this religion so it’s a sacred place. A new path built was precision was being laid after which we were greeted with a Royal Gate suitably decorated to reveal the temple itself where 2 attendants were chanting and banging a drum inside, very atmospheric. The highlight was the museum, why 80% of Samurai swords and armour are here is unsure. Maybe it’s because they were offered as offerings. About 20 swords, 20 suits of armour, some bows and a quiver of bamboo arrows were on display. Some over 1000 years old still looked razor sharp and with a pointy end must have been quite some sight.
We left to carry on circumnavigating the island. Beautifully signed and full of coastal views, we crossed another iconic bridge before a morning coffee stop at Sunset Beach, where the coffee flowed and bags of snacks just kept appearing.
Our lunch was a DIY affair, let loose in a Japanese supermarket, we chose things, some had gone native, others like me went straight for the bread section. The area builds ships, lots of them, though this is in decline, so the bay and shore were littered with massive vessels, serviced by cranes. Lunch was at Lookout Point. The clue was in the name as our last long climb took us up to a picnic overlook with tables and a toilet (of course) Descending again, we took our last major bridge, this time riding underneath it on a dedicated track. We waved good bye to the coast 4km from the end, manoeuvring through the traffic lights and a short ferry ride across the river. I thanked Ken for the trip to be jokingly reminded that we still had 200 metres to go, along the waterfront to the hotel.
Dinner was at a local pancake place. A well-nourished chef nursed a big hotplate, basically frying anything that came to hand, notably cabbage. To this was added a little pancake mix. Served on a hot platter we had a spatula to cut it. It sounds worse than it was, the oysters in butter were lovely. A final presentation of Saki and a tip to Ken and the gang followed by a slide show and all was done.
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