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
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.
The drive along the long peninsula and then along the coast to Matsuyama
went by quickly. Maybe
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
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. One
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.
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
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.