Japan Trip 2023

We were up and out at 5:30 with an easy run to the airport.  Georgia came with us so she could have the car whilst we were away. She had a few plans for how to make use of it, including taking great pleasure in ensuring her flatmate couldn’t park across two spots.  There was no issue in checking the bikes in, with our bikes and bags weighing around 30kgs all up.

We had arranged to meet our friends, Julie and Andrew at 10am so we had a couple of hours to relax.  We boiled water in a mini pump urn, that looked like a rice cooker to make our morning coffee, then wandered out to find yoghurt to have with our muesli fore breakfast.  The day was overcast but fine, and we enjoyed watching the ferries depart to the islands from our window whilst having breakfast

Julie and Andrew had recommended a place for dinner which they had visited the night before and thoroughly enjoyed.  Julie led us there via a rather circuitous route which took us through some of the backstreets of Takamatsu.  She stopped to pick up some pre-ordered flowers which she presented to the restaurant’s owner in thanks for their previous night’s dinner. 

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the sunny backyard of our little cottage before heading off around 9am.  We stopped at the Tsunami Evacuation Area to admire the well-constructed concert structure and the views across the Hiwasa hilltops and up to the castle perched above the town 

We agreed to meet for breakfast at 8am and most of the pilgrims had departed by then.  It had been a full house, and the owners were delighted.  She was from Tokyo and had been on a pilgrimage when she stayed at Minshuku Tokumasu and met her now husband.  That was 7 years ago, and they appeared to have built up a thriving business.  One of the reasons we had chosen to stay was the advertising that his grandmother was cooking the meals at aged 88.  She had died recently aged 102 so the advertising was a little out of date.....

We met for breakfast at 7:30 and had the same private dining room.  A Japanese breakfast was laid out before us and we were invited to help ourselves to Yuzu juice, Japanese tea and coffee.  Simon and I had already had our morning coffee, so decided to give it a miss.  We are not big fans of Japanese coffee. We stirred our gently poached eggs through rice topped with Bonito flakes and steamed fish.  We each had a little pot of mushrooms, lettuce and tofu simmering away - the mushroom looked good, so I added that to the rice as well.  There was also a bowl of salad, some pickled veggies and delicious miso soup. Certainly plenty of food for another big day’s ride. 

We had a leisurely start which meant time for two coffees before meeting Julie and Andrew at 9:30.  First stop was Kochi castle which was clearly visible above the town.  Whilst Julie and Andrew were getting some cash, Simon and I noticed the nearby shrine with its resident chickens and waved to the young children out with their day care teachers calmly watching the world from their little trolley.  

We met downstairs at 8:30 in slightly overcast weather - which we hope might mean a cooler day.  We soon picked up the river as we cycled out of Kochi. The river route was busy with school kids and others cycling into the city and we soon reached the city outskirts.

Simon had identified a detour to keep us off the main road but it turned out to be incredibly steep with lots of trucks travelling in both directions....

It was a cooler morning but the sun was shining. Simon and I enjoyed our coffee on the deck with views over the town before making our way down to the main building for breakfast. We had the same private room, but now we could see the incredible view through windows that were so clean you wouldn’t know they were there.  

We were given two possible times for breakfast and opted for the later option at 7:30.  Breakfast consisted of more sweet fish (this time cut into small pieces), various pickled vegetables, as much rice as we could eat and the best miso soup we had tasted to date.  When I shared this with the lady running the hotel via google translate, she was absolutely delighted.

With only 40kms to cover today, we decided we could enjoy a leisurely start which meant two coffees over breakfast in our rooms before we checked out at 10am.  We left the bags with the hotel whilst we cycled to Uwajima castle.  We parked the bikes at the base of stone stairs and then climbed through a forest past impressive stone walls.  

We awoke to a foggy morning - not quite the sunshine we were used to. We left our panniers at reception and by the time we left the hotel the skies had cleared to another beautiful day. 

We headed back across the river, following the same route we had cycled in on the day before.  Somehow we had missed spotting Ozu castle, clearly perched above the town. It was demolished in 1888 due to deterioration but faithfully reconstructed in timber and completed in 2004. 

We both slept well in our little hobbit house and were delighted to see breakfast included the town’s local speciality sausage and frittata as well as salad, miso soup, rice and pickled veggies.  It was our favourite Japanese breakfast so far.  I totally recommend staying at Kokuri Farm Inn if you are ever visiting Uchiko.  We chatted to the other guest, a visiting university lecturer who had previously spent time working in Uchiko and had returned to spend time with some of his students.  He lived in Tokyo and lectured on environmental policy.  

It was a leisurely 2-coffee start to the day and late morning by the time we ventured out.  First stop was to check on the bikes and we found we were right next to Bansuiso Villa, a French Renaissance-style chateau built in 1922.  It seemed most incongruous in a Japanese city and had been the second residence for Count Hisamatsu Sadakoto, the descendent of a funeral lord of the Matsuyama Domain.  He hosted social gatherings for celebrities and was visited by members of the royal family with one such visit requiring the rushed completion of the chateau. 

My weather app had forecast showers and winds up to 50kms an hour.  Simon was relying on Google’s default weather app which had a much more optimistic forecast. It looked like Google was right as the day dawned clear and sunny and there was only a slight breeze as we headed off around 9am.  We made our way through a park where food vans were setting up for some kind of event and then through the backstreets of Matsuyama. It was largely flat until it wasn’t. 

Edi served us a lovely little breakfast at 8am including melted cheese on salad and bread, a milky, cinnamon pumpkin dish, persimmons, yoghurt and fig jam.  It was light and delicious.  The night before she and Yoshi had suggested that we cycle up the observatory and we had dismissed it as being too steep for our bikes with panniers.  However, given that it was a beautiful sunny morning, we decided to leave our panniers at the guesthouse and make the climb.

Farmor served us a light breakfast a little before 8am.  We didn’t rush to leave so our washing was dry before packing it away.  It was another glorious day and we were soon approaching our first bridge, the cable-stayed Tatara Bridge.  As we climbed towards it, I noticed two Japanese guys lift their bikes over a fence and take a side road. We then spotted the Tatara Observatory Deck and decided to do the same, though we parked our bikes near the same fence and walked to the top.  The views were amazing and we could see the cycling infrastructure that made the bridges so accessible.  

We may have had a beautiful view across the Onomichi channel but the rising sun shone directly in our window, so despite the closed curtains we were awake by 7am. Even with a leisurely start, we were too early to visit our barista so decided to explore some of the old temples of Onomichi. The port town is built on the steep hillside of Mt Senkoji  and the Temple Walk led us through a maze of narrow laneways and steep stairways, passing houses and many closed cafes.  

We started the day with a bit of a mild panic as we had booked a special dinner, bed and breakfast at a remote hot springs resort for our 26th wedding anniversary and I discovered that the restaurant was closed on Tuesdays.  There was nothing for miles around so we were well into contingency planning when the hotel responded to my email message to say they would provide dinner as planned.  Big sighs of relief all round. 

My morning visit to the baths was beautiful.  There were three women there when I arrived but they soon departed and I enjoyed the morning view in the outdoor bath as the sun was rising. Totally refreshed and relaxed, we had a morning coffee then ventured to breakfast which was a buffet style with lovely views from the large (perfectly clean) windows.  We filled up on scrambled eggs and bacon, yoghurt and fruit and various cuts of bread and jam.  

Despite the signs requesting guests to not make noise after midnight, the hostel was quiet and we slept reasonably well,  As always, I had added an extra futon but Simon slept on one and he found this one particularly firm. 

I managed a visit to the baths before breakfast and had the bath and sauna to myself - bliss!  We had ordered a western breakfast for 7:30 and it was waiting for us when we arrived a few minutes late. We had a view over the sea, and enjoyed our cold scrambled eggs, bacon, muffins, croissants, fruit, salad and yoghurt.  

We weren’t out quite as quickly as we had hoped and there was a 60 minute wait for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum by the time we parked our bikes.  Whilst Simon queued for the museum, I queued to visit the Hiroshima Victims Memorial Cenotaph, which we had seen yesterday but there were too many people waiting to really appreciate the solemnity of the memorial.  It is shaped like a roof to shelter the souls of those who died as a result of the bombing and is engraved with the words “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil” 

We had reserved two spots on the 9:30 ferry to Miyajima which departed from the Grand Prince Hotel ferry wharf - so close we could see it from our room.  However, the bikes needed to be packed into Rinko bags and on balance, we decided it would take about the same amount of time to cycle the 21kms to the car ferry as it would to pack up the bikes for travel.  

It was to be our longest day - 87 kilometres and over 1500 metres of climbing.  It was also forecast to be our wettest, with afternoon storms and winds gusting over 60kph.  However, it was a calm though overcast day that dawned and we were on our bikes by 7:30am to make the most of it.  That was until I realised that I had two big climbs including a category 2 climb, with an average gradient of 8% over 5km towards the end of the day which was around the time the storms were forecast. 

The rain had cleared though it was a cool and windy morning. We enjoyed another interesting Japanese breakfast with the standout being a Japanese omelet and the surprise success being tofu simmered in pot with a separate broth that were both then added to some vegetables.  I am not a fan of tofu but this tasted surprisingly good.  

We were up and out by 7:30 to another glorious day though it was a little windy as we cycled out of Hagi particularly when crossing the long bridges.  It was tedious riding uphill along a main road.  We passed a little rest stop with statues of samurai and other famous local people.  Emerging from a tunnel, the scenery was a little more interesting with the cloud still low on the hillsides.  Finally we turned off the main road and took some lovely back streets along a river passing through little hamlets.  

With minimal plans for the day, we were able to have a relaxing two-coffee morning.  We finally managed to nab a vacant washing machine which meant that I no longer had to watch the facility congestion information on the television which provides up-to-the-minute information on time remaining on the washing cycles.

Last day on the bikes and we woke to rain.  It was forecast to rain on and off over the day, increasing in the afternoon.  We dressed in our wet weather gear for the 25 kilometre cycle to Uno Port and the ferry to Naoshima.

Knowing it can be slow cycling through the cities, given the lengthy wait for traffic light changes, we factored in plenty of time.  The canal area was deserted with just the occasional student cycling to school.