Japan by Motorcycle

Day 22

August 19, 1999

Onomichi Surprise

Ehime, Hiroshima, Okayama, Kagawa and Tokushima Prefectures

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    Enjoyment of Beppu's various wonders would have to wait for another day.  Without having seen much more than the youth hostel, I left Beppu and Kyushu behind as I boarded the 7:20AM ferry heading for Shikoku.  The ferry deposited me near the tip of Japan's longest peninsula, Cape Sada, in a town called Misaki  at 9:30AM.  Yesterday's gloom was replaced by a beautiful, sunny morning.  The coastal roads, Route 197 and Route 278, through the cape and then towards Matsuyama was a stupendous drive.  At times I could see both the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean from the narrowest parts of the cape.  The scenery was beautiful, the shoreline was beautiful, and the morning was sunny and warm.
    I had to hand it to the Department of Transportation.  All the pump priming money dumped into the construction sector had kept Japan's roads in tip-top shape.  In thousands of kilometers, I had not seen one pothole.  Though I am used to the road markings, I still think they make more sense in America.  In Japan, it is common for both opposing directions of traffic and those going in the same direction to be separated by white dotted lines.  Orange lines are only used to indicate that one shouldn't change lanes or pass.  And there doesn't seem to be any real thought as to which areas are marked as okay to pass.  I had seen plenty of okay-to-pass markings around blind curves and hills.  Driver beware.

Matsuyama Castle

Matsuyama Castle

Matsuyama Castle

Matsuyama Castle

Samurai Armor    The drive along the long peninsula and then along the coast to Matsuyama went by quickly.  Samurai ArmorMaybe it was my imagination but the vegetation seemed more green and lush in Shikoku.  I made my way into Matsuyama and found the castle with relative ease -- it was the tallest thing around.  A handy cable car was there to take lazy people (me) to the top.  Matsuyama Castle afforded nice views and had a nice display of samurai armor inside.  It's intriguing to imagine the use of such gear in its heyday.
    After enjoying the views and displays at the castle, I went off in search of Dogo Onsen.  Dogo Onsen is a famous hot spring bathhouse dating from the late 1800's.  Although the interior has been somewhat modernized, it still retains its feel of days long ago.  Dogo OnsenDogo OnsenBeing a hot tourist destination, business was brisk even on this weekday morning.  It was a great value costing less than $3 for a dip.  Unlike any other baths that I had seen before, you buy an entrance ticket at a window kind of like those at movie theaters.  The "menu" of bath choices was listed above the window, also similar to movie theaters.  On the way out, as I was putting my shoes on and preparing to go out the side exit an elderly lady and her middle-aged companion were hesitantly preparing to come in.  I helpfully directed them towards the front to the ticket window.  It's always fun when the shoe is on the other foot and I can direct Japanese in their own country for a change.
    After that I headed north and back into Honshu on the Shimanami Expressway.  That expressway, although expensive, is a fun drive because it runs a good 30km alternating between long bridges and small islands -- essentially, island hopping.  I was attempting to fulfill a mission that I had been planning ever since the plan for my trip had started to materialize.  The home town of Kaori, one of my friends and former coworkers, was Onomichi and she had innocently told me that they ran a sushi shop.  The name was easy to remember because it was the family's last name.  So my goal was to stop in there, get some pictures -- preferably of me eating there -- and surprise the socks off her later when I was showing her my trip pictures.
    I made it into Onomichi around 4:00PM and snapped a picture of what looked to be a famous landmark of some sort.  I had a difficult time finding the exact neighborhood and stopped at several gas stations for directions.  OnomichiOne of them had a super close-up neighborhood map and was able to point out the location precisely.  Once I left, though, the precise directions was replaced by a vague image in my mind.  Nevertheless I managed to find the shop in relatively short order.  I arrived at the entrance to see a sign junbi-chu -- Oh, no!  They weren't open!
    I called my fiancé back in Tokyo to discuss the meaning of the sign.  It literally means "Preparing (to open)" but she confirmed that they probably use the same sign on their day off.  In Japan these kinds of businesses usually take one day a week off.  It can be any day although it is usually nearer to the beginning of the week.  I convinced her to call the shop and check their hours for me.  She called back with good news.  They would be opening at 5PM, about 45 minutes from then.
    I parked next to the building and walked up to the main street and found a vending machine from which I bought a drink.  I studied my maps for a little bit and, eventually, it was just after five o'clock.  Sure enough, the junbi-chu sign was flipped over to display eigyo-chu and I opened the sliding door and ducked inside under the noren (curtain hanging over the entrance).
    It was a cozy little restaurant with a two or three floor-height tables on elevated tatami and several seats at the counter.  There was a middle-aged couple minding the place so it looked like both Kaori's mother and father were there.  I was the only customer at that early hour and selected a seat at the counter.  I played dumb and just talked to them like we had nothing in common and ordered my meal after studying the menu.  Although they served sushi and sashimi, the menu included many other dishes such as donburi.  I ordered the sushi teishoku (set meal).
    Although I was thinking about playing dumb the entire time and just talking to them, I started feeling like maybe that would be a little disrespectful.  When the subject of their daughter came up because I was living in Tokyo as was she, I told them my secret.  "I know your daughter and wanted to surprise her with this visit."  They had actually heard of me because she had told them one of her coworkers was quitting.  But then the unexpected happened.  It should have been expected but I wasn't thinking that far ahead -- they insisted on feeding me on the house.  Doh!  I wanted to get back into Shikoku so I took my leave after taking some pictures and entreating them not to tell their daughter about my visit until after she saw the pictures.

Okubo's Eatery


Kaori's Parents

The Okubo's

    In order to save time, I took the Sanyo Expressway up to Kurashiki where I veered onto the Seto Chuo Expressway.  This took me across the Seto Ohashi bridge which consists of six long spans altogether measuring over 10km.  The longest span held some sort of world record for bridges and may still do so.  By the time I reached Sakaide in Kagawa Prefecture (Shikoku) it was dark.  I decided to push on and try to go as far as I could.  Somewhere near Hanzan I ran into a building illuminated with something that looked like a projected black light painting.  Strange.
    I took Route 32 south towards Kochi and decided to go as far as I could before stopping for the night.  For most of the route I was following the Yoshino River Gorge.  The terrain was mountainous and the road very curvy.  I could tell the drop off was very steep most of the way.  The view must have been spectacular -- and so the guidebook confirms -- but I couldn't see it.  By driving it at night, though, I made good time.  It's definitely a route I'd like to do again but next time in the day and, perhaps, by train or car (so I have more opportunity to look at the scenery).
    I wanted to push on but I was feeling sleepy so I stopped for a rest at a road side rest area.  Shikoku is known for its 88 temple pilgrimage where die-hard pilgrims walk the 1000km to all 88 temples and other pilgrims take a bus or drive.  Anyway this rest stop had an electronic board depicting all the temples and the distance to each.  It was a pretty interesting use of technology to further an ancient activity.
    It had started raining and I hoped I might find a love hotel or something in which to crash but I was too far out in the boonies.  At one point I saw a campground sign and followed it up a mountain side only for the road to dead end into a locked entrance.  Either the place was closed or under construction.  By that time it was sleeting and cold enough to get hypothermia so I retraced my tracks.  Otherwise, I'd have just parked on the side of the road and camped right there.  I pushed on and on, feeling like a road zombie.  The rain didn't let up.  Eventually I made my way out of the gorge and the temperature was warmer at the lower altitude.  I was near a town called Nankoku.  When I saw a row of trucks parked on level stretch of road where  they were bedded down for the night, I decided to join them.  There was a road or rail bridge and I parked on the sidewalk underneath its dubious shelter.  I unrolled my sleeping pad and laid down but the rain intensity had increased and was blowing in on me.  I pulled out a tarp, tied it to my bike and then brought it over me, anchoring it with my body.  That kept my face dry.  I wasn't so concerned about the rest of me because I was still fully clothed and in my rain gear.  I promptly fell asleep.  It was about 1:00AM.


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Just The Stats

Day 22



Place Weather
Start: 50380 6:30 Beppu, Oita Pref. Ptly Sunny/Hot
Finish: 50860 22:30 near Nankoku, Kochi Pref. Rainy/Cool
Totals: 480km 16 hrs


Gas: ¥1,500 Food: ¥1,600
Ferry Fees: ¥2,900 Highway Fees: ¥4,200
Attractions: ¥750 Onsen: ¥300

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Created: Feb 22, 2001
Last Updated: Jan 8, 2004

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