Japan - Shikoku 2024

Daily Diary

Day 2 Kyoto to Nara

Bikes assembled, guides introduced and away we go with Ken and Kevin leading 2 groups out of Kyoto heading east. After 5km we reached the Keinwara Cycling path on which we would stay for most of the ride. The gradient was easy, though the weather was cloudy. The Spring Blossom had just started, but the tree that we stopped under for our morning coffee hadn’t obliged as we grazed on brewed coffee, strawberries and nuts.
The final part into Nara was a short climb, passing an enormous net to catch golf balls, but if anyone could drive them that far from the ravine below, they deserve to be called Tiger.
Into Nara and I had my first accident in 20 years, clipping a curve. With the help of an ice pack, ibuprofen and paracetamol; I was able to limp through Nara to escort everyone to the biggest indoor Buddha in the world at Todai-Ji. Everyone seemed to enjoy this as they returned to the hotel. Most of us had eaten out for lunch, for me it was a trip to the 7-11 for some sushi and a coffee which I enjoyed in the hotel’s small library café full of Japanese language books.

Day 3 Sakurai to Koyasan

What a lot of early risers the Japanese are as we juggled breakfast at the Choice Hotel at 06:30.
A short train ride from Nara took to the bikes at Sakurai from where we headed south and out of town for the first climb of the day over the Imoga Pass at 490 metres. The climb was a delight, a narrow road took us through a village with a stream running through it before we were confronted by an enormous Shinto fertility symbol strung across the road above the river. A second female one would appear 2kn m further up that involved more wheat and an orange in the centre. The final part of the climb was through the trees as the road narrowed further. The top was marked in chalk in Japanese (Toga) followed by a fast twisty descent to the first break of the day. Ken’s café featured flapjacks made by a friend with wrapping that needed a gladiator to open, but were delicious.
Downwards through pretty countryside and narrow roads to cross the Yoshino River, along which we would spend the next 29km. These roads are quiet because at one stage they are 2 lanes, but will narrow to one laned affairs, often a little rutted, so nothing large or fast along here. Judging by the roadside, we were in a forestry area where small timber yards abounded.
The cherry blossom is just starting, a full tree at the temple, plenty of buds at Shibasaki Park where Ken bought 4 small but delicious sushi rolls (needed the ginger) Realising though that we had 2 passes ahead, more bars and nuts appeared from the van.
We waved the river goodbye for a hike (for me at times) over the first pass. Through trees it weaved, pretty steep in places. Over the top and a snack stop halfway down opposite a memorial to the men who had built this vertiginous road. Along the Kiyo River that dropped steeply and noisily through the trees, finished by a final hard section into Koyasan. One vending machine of route that wouldn’t take coins, drat.
Our day finished split between three temples. Ours at Koyasan Koumyouin was founded in 1183 by Emperor Goshirekawa’s fourth son. The food was great, the onsen relaxing, but did the room really need a TV?

Day 4 Koyasan to Wakayama

We’d been separated into three groups for the temple experience and Christine had definitely taken advantage of everything on offer. Meditation the night before, now morning prayers with a drum followed by a breakfast seated in an individual wooden partitioned room surrounded by painted murals.
We started the day with a short ride to the Okunoin cemetery That may not sound interesting, but it was full of graves from over 1000 years and is the place to get interred after life. The first part is the corporate part, where companies have paid to have their patrons placed, Nissan, CUU and even a rocket were immortalised in stone. Head left and it gets older as in amongst the trees were Samurai, children’s graves and monuments overseen by small characters in red bibs and hats.
The inner temple contained a priest burning wishes on a spiralling fire and priests writing wishes all for a small fee.
The start of the ride headed gently uphill through Koyasan past the main temple and to the main road. There then followed an almighty drop as we descended the bends through the trees with views better at the start that went a long way. Coffee and Lindt Easter Bunnies presented at the coffee stop we carried on downhill with a short climb to avoid the tunnel.
The ride continued downwards through narrow roads with hardly any traffic before a lunch stop at a Peach Pickers Hall where we munched through rice balls and sandwiches.
Through a small town where peach selling was the obvious attraction to cross the river Kinokawa and follow its right bank all the way to the ferry port. It wasn’t a particularly interesting ride, but it was fast and got us there in good time for the 16:30 ferry at Wakayama.
Bikes packed on the vans we took the 2:20 hour ferry ride to Tokushima for the final drive to the hotel.
The hotel restaurant beckoned, pasta and pizza night which went down very well.

Day 5 Tokushima to Hiwasa

We were now on Shishoku, Kens introduction and we were away. The start was from the town and after a few km we were into open countryside having cycled through the main shopping mall that was practically deserted. It was overcast, but better than the previous year when driving rain was the order of the day.
We were also on the Temple trail, 1500km of walking trail linking over 200 temples, borne witness by pilgrims dressed in white, with big sticks, though pulling their luggage on wheels was an optional extra.
Everyone was enjoying the cycling, progressing as a pretty fast moving peleton, a little different to myself, so I tended to set out slightly earlier, set up for a couple of pictures then catch up at breaks.
We were to meet the Shimanto River today, famed as a river reasonably untouched by Japanese hands. I this it meant no dams or artificial waterfalls, but it didn’t stretch to the tonnes of concrete used to protect the waters edge and road that clung to the edge above it. In fact, it was quite remarkable the lengths that engineers went to, to protect the road above, however small the road was it was protected. However, times are a changing, following an earthquake in the north and a declining rural population where roads were damaged, some will be left now.
Our lunch stop was slated as a temple, but with a difference. To get to this one required a gondola ride over the forest. Kevin came with us and on checking the return timetable announced that 40 minutes would do. Well, it was nearly 2 before we would return as it was a beautiful area. The temples had beautiful intricate carvings in wood, the cherry blossom was in full bloom and to cap it all there was a Buddha on an overlook somewhere. The search was steep as we were watched by smaller Buddhas at regular intervals. To be fair to others, it was only by chance that we found him atop his mountain overlooking the sea in the distance.
Back by the river we lunched at the café before breaking into 3 groups for the final stretch to Hiwasa, passing paddy fields, cherry blossom and croaking frogs.
Our seaside overnight was a bit like marmite. A wonderful location, friendly staff but the cats, oh the cats. Nowhere else would the prime sitting area be dedicated to so many felines as they looked up smugly from their baskets.

Day 7 Hiwasa to Muroto

Rain was definitely in the air as we breakfasted under a glowering sky watching the waves at Omaha Beach. Ken had come up with a plan of van, train and bike leaving at 12:00 but an aquarium beckoned so we set out at 10:30 to take the single carriage train part of the way.
Driven by an immaculate driver in hat, uniform and white gloves, you could see out the front through a mass of tunnels and shrubbery which Jim particularly enjoyed.
Then a world first, a bus that ran on the rails. A sumptuous wooden waiting area, promotional videos and a driver all kitted out in gloves, hat and uniform, what more could you want? So, most of the group clambered into the green bus to be whisked away on the rails for a tour of the ‘tunnels of Japan’ Three of us took the vans as space was at a premium and met up again for lunch by the coast in a break from the rain.
45km left, down the coast for an at times soggy, but enjoyable ride. The waves crashed against the rocks and concrete to our left whilst to our right the steeply forested hills hung in low cloud, all very atmospheric.
Our journey was broken by a trip to the aquarium. Inside this old school, old classrooms had been converted to fish tanks featuring endemic species from turtles, Morey Eels to lobsters. Outside in the former pool, small shoals of fish swam where children once swam.
The final stretch was to our Ryokan for the night. Misaki Kanko was a traditional wooden place where everyone dressed for dinner, and we feasted on quite some spread washed down with Saki that Ken kindly bought.

Day 8 Muroto to Kochi

Traditional multi bowled breakfast, sake bills paid, and we rounded Cape Muroto in overcast weather. Our first stop was a quick visit to Shinshoji Temple. Designated as temple 25, it’s the temple where you go to stay safe at sea which is hardly surprising as this town was built on whaling. One amazing fact is that earthquakes here lifted the ground by up to 4 metres, so the harbour had to be dug deeper.
Along the coast we rode, the sea to our left. Our morning coffee stop was in a covered area, well chosen as next to another pristine toilet. To get the sea view required climbing the concrete wall though. Many houses in Japan are less than 90 years old, but this place had a few of them and a handy map attached to the wall and partially in English. Our language is gradually creeping in, an effort by the Japanese to become more international. 4 of us set of to find some ‘old stuff’ but to be honest the old and the new look very similar, just different hues of grey, but with beautifully manicured gardens. At the temple we met an English guy, walking all the temples over 2 months accompanied by a lady he had met on route.
On we went along the narrow strip of land between forested hillsides and sea. Nothing went to waste, every area was stuffed with roads, fields or mile upon mile of greenhouses.
Ken had booked a restaurant at Norei Dokei park which was substantial and delicious.
The next stretch was along a disused railway path transformed into a cycle path along the coast. Lots of sea views where once again a considerable amount of coast was protected by concrete. This ended in a park where numerous ice creams were consumed along with the goodies that Kevin and Issey had laid on.
The final part weaved its way through fields filled with small paddy fields and green houses, however the most striking thing were the multiple polished grey granite family graves within the fields.
Our day finished at Sanyoso after a half hour vehicle transfer which wasn’t a bad idea as the roads were getting busier near Kochi and we had to go over another enormous bridge with little protection. Another fishy and crockery dense feast finished the day.

Day 9 Kochi to Kubokawa

The most Japanese breakfast yet, no bread, fruit, anything recognisable. 5 small pots, a bowel of salad and a buffet of omelette and fish. Rice and miso on the side.
Seiryuji Temple was the first stop of the day, only a kilometre from the hotel, it was 298 steps upwards and incredibly peaceful.
The first 16km was along the coast, over the bridge and around the inlets. Still lots of concrete but the heights were lower so you could see over the top. Morning snack next to the last inlet for a short climb and a tunnel to descend through agricultural fields heading for the enormous factory at Susaki. It was here that we were to buy lunch in an enormous hypermarket that had, well…everything. Ken thought it would take 15 minutes, I wasn’t so sure as we scanned the shelves and freezers for anything recognisable. Comedically, many of us bought the same things even with a zillion products to choose from.
Out of Susaki, we were surrounded by a flat plain full of rice paddies and poly tunnels. A left turn led to a pretty gradual uphill climb through the woods. Lunch was at an old school surrounded by Cherry Trees.
We then started the climb, along a single-track road, steep in places, steady climbs zig zagged up the hillside, tough at times with a smattering of steeper sections. Over the top to a lovely sign drawn by the team followed by the inevitable descent that would continue for the rest of the day.
Everyone was moving quite quickly now as we descended past paddy fields.
We joined the Shimanto river which we would be following for the next 3 days. A wild untamed river that wound its way through a wooded valley. The road was amazing, it varied from 2 laned to sections of single track that although short was often windy narrow and either climbing or descending. What this did was to filter out all the traffic except the occasional small van. Towards the end of the day the valley widened, more agricultural landscape, but to the right appeared many small shrines and a couple of temples.
Our destination was Shimanto, a larger town where we stayed in a lovely Ryokan either in the old of new part. The latter was lovely very Scandinavian.

Day 10 Kubokawa to Shimanto River

A really enjoyable stay, a mix of Japanese and Scandinavian. I had a small cosey room in the new part. Others in the older part had a bedroom, dining room set with 8 chairs and a small garden!
Breakfast was traditional. I’m sure we eat all the toppings that should be placed on the rice freshly cooked in the cooker, akin to eating the chocolate sprinkles out of the tin, I guess.
We started the day at Iwamoto Temple, which is older than most. However, it’s been renovated recently, so the ceiling has over 600 small paintings on all sorts of subjects from cats to Marilyn Munroe. I bought my souvenir here, a plaque of the cat with the pearl earring.
Setting out it was overcast again, meaning more flat light for pictures, however this is a stunning ride along the river. A mixture of main roads with cycle paths through to narrow rutted single track as the river makes its way westwards, sharing the way with the railway.
The usual suspects were on show, shrines, paddy fields in various forms of disrepair and the odd small temple thrown in. Throughout the cherry trees shone with their pink blossom, some of which was on the turn like confetti in the air.
Two breaks today, the first for a comfort break, the second by the river as a raft floated by and weekend campers set up a few tents. The highlight though was a soft rice confectionary that Ken had found, delicious.
So the day ambled on, easy cycling criss crossing the Shimanto River, with a final short sharp climb near the end.
We finished at Shimanto River at about 14:00 for lunch at the shop by the River.

Day 12 Shimanto to River Cape Ashizuri

The Shimanto River greeted us as we continued along the left bank, progressing along a single-track road next to the river lined in places by enormous stems of bamboo.
I’d seen what for me was the major attraction of the day the year before and was interested to see if the decorated buoys were still there and glory be they were, with the added addition being that the maker was there. The small community hall had the usual suspects from last year, Mickey Mouse and family along with cases of Japanese Dolls dressed as Samurai. Outside lay more beautiful models including what seemed like the whole Nintendo gang including the bomb and piranha, so getting there first was an ideal opportunity to move things about a bit to the bemused look of everyone else.
Continuing down the super quiet road, our morning coffee stop was just past a turn for the river where a low concrete bridge was a natural photo opportunity which was clearly on the tourist trail as we passed a group of bus tourists on the next bridge.
The Shimanto River along which we had cycled was coming towards the sea as we passed through its namesake, Shimanto and over a striking red bridge, out of town and into the gloom, because as Ken told me this was one of the wettest parts of Japan.
Soon our lunch stop had arrived. Shimantoya restaurant was the place to try eels, and bless him, Jim indeed selected this local delicacy as we were ushered upstairs to sit cross legged at low tables surrounded by Ramens and other Japanese goodies.
The Shimanto River was much wider now as we pedalled towards the coast with drizzle in the air. We met the coast a few times, dipping in and out of the seashore as we headed for Shimonokae. Now much of the coast of Japan especially in these parts have been altered with tonnes of concrete, but Ohki Beach is an exception with rolling surf and small shrines overlooking the churning waves. After the beach we were to share the same path as the pilgrims heading along a delightful tree lined lane, after which it was a gradual climb practically all the way to Cape Ashizuri which boasts many attractions, a viewpoint, statues and the fabulous Kongoufukuji Temple that we would visit the next morning. We spent the night at the Ashizuri Kokusai Hotel where the Onsen was hot and a group of us met up on the big chairs in reception for a glass of beer from the vending machine with great views of the sea from the huge window.

Day 13 Cape Ashizuri to Ainan

Our last day of our linear journey across Shikoku would take us to Ainan, but not before returning to Kongōfukuji Temple. There had been a plot to get there early and then enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Two problems with that, firstly Kevin and I were the only ones to set an alarm and having arrived at 07:30, turns out it doesn’t open for an hour, ha ho, we took in the viewpoint instead.
The temple itself though was one of the best we had seen. Multiple seated Buddhas, statues from stalagmites and a pretty garden.
Setting off again we followed a narrow cliff road giving good views and as it climbed, we were able to admire the small fishing villages far below. Through Asahimachi where the fishing boats were displaying colourful tackle and there looked to be a surplus of large stone creatures, we passed the John Manjiro Museum (next time?) and along the Ashizuri Sunny Road and yes for once the sign was correct.
On paper or the map, the next section looked hilly as it cut across the headland, but it was beautifully graded as we followed the Soro River surrounded by paddy fields. A descent to Sukomo for lunch and the final stretch to Ainan which entailed quite a climb but with coastal views never far away for this too was a lovely road. The last 15 km took us through proper industrial fisheries. Lots of fishing boats, fish factories and nets in the sea to farm fish.
Our day ended at a Ryokan by the harbour where we had a fishy gastronomic feast surrounded by boards drawn by previous visitors and yes, the one, I did in 2023 was on the wall.

Day 14 Imabari – Omishima

Breakfast was another delicious fish fest before loading onto the bus for the 4 hour transfer with obligatory rest stop to the islands to complete the last part of our journey.
Multiple tunnels and it looked a bit lumpy were the thoughts of many as we arrived in the shadow of a towering suspension bridge that would take us across the bay. Built about 30 years ago this was now a Mecca for cyclists who came from all over the place to ride this route.
A perfect backdrop provided the photo opportunity to get the group together after which we headed up the spiral ramp and onto the bridge.
High up above the crystal blue water, it was breezy as groups of cyclists passed and large ships sailed beneath us. After 4km a circular ramp took us back down to sea level on a perfect gradient.
A massive ship yard appeared together with rousing museum signalling a return to work. A bow of a large black boat and cranes above it dominated the skyline.
There were a series of 3 museums that could be visited. The first, the mother and child was the retrospective works of a Japanese artist. Maybe 49 beautiful sculptures within an outdoor space with music recorded on site echoing around the curved walls. A museum dedicated to architecture and the last on art finished the trilogy.
Our destination was a Ryokan but there was no Onsen, therefore a group of us were whisked away to a large complex 10km away by charter bus to enjoy the public baths, swimming pool and view of one of the enormous bridges which we would cross in the morning.
Our evening meal was our final fish fest, a crockery sellers dream where small pieces of porcelain held small amounts of food, many of which we vaguely recognised, yet alone knew what to mix with what. However there are no real rules, just tuck in with the chop sticks and enjoy.

Day 15 Omishima to Onomichi

The last day of cycling would take us around the rest of the islands, but first a visit to the local temple. Ken had assured us the night before that this was very important as it was the premier temple to which others looked up to. First stop though was a swift cycle through the cherry blossom trees , where the blossom had started to fall like confetti. ‘I feel like paparazzi’ smiled Gillian as both Ken and I got out the big lenses.
The temple was super quiet, as we walked the path to the 2600 year old tree that I’d watched being laid the year before. A leaf sweeper raked the leaves in the morning light, yes it was immaculate. Though large open wooden doors and into before us lay the temple complete with big drum and priests scurrying around the area.
The museum was open to reveal Samurai swords and uniforms, which most visited. In my case as I had been the year before the vending machine with warm Boss coffee seemed more important.
So for the last time Ken went through the failing places to stop, snack and snack again. Being the last day, the friskiness of getting there had dissipated to a degree as we followed the cycle path along the coast.
The first bridge appeared with a promise of a coffee stop a few km after, the problem was with a view of the bridge and the offer of coffee, all scattered to find there own as for many this was a priority. Coffee quaffed it was over the bridge to cross into Hiroshima prefecture. Our final snack stop was at Sunset beach, where seemingly the snacks kept coming as Kevin frantically diced strawberries in a cane attempt to slow us up. Over Ikuchi Bridge , along more coast followed by a trip to the supermarket to purchase lunch. 15 minutes pleaded Ken, the trouble was we had that end of term feeling as one of the Sues had discovered fish flags in the adjoining store. 5 purchased and strapped to bikes with Ken’s never ending green tape and we were on our way to lookout point. Good word that, past another shipyard spraying a ferry white whilst thoughtfully covering all the parked cars with sheeting and up. Kevin soared past us as some of us laboured to the top whilst Sue ‘the diesel engine’ snapped her chain in an effort to make sure her sushi was still fresh at the top.
Lunch consumed it was a fast descent followed by a few shorter climbs and before we know it we were on a short ferry to Onomichi and our final destination
High fives all round, bikes dismantled all ready for pre dinner drinks on the 6th floor as the bar was shut
Our tour finished with a delicious meal where fresh courses kept arriving, tempura, fishy rice and tasters on a slate finished off with Cherry Blossom ice cream, a fitting end indeed.

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