Iwakuni to Tsuwano

(10 KMs)

Monday 6th November

Iwakuni - Tsuwano

Plan B

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.

Still, we were optimistic that we could make good time before the rain hit, but we were only 10 minutes down the road when it started to rain and we had to put on our wet weather gear.  I was keen to see Iwakuni’s famous landmark, the Kintaikyo Bridge, and fortunately it was on our way.  The wooden bridge consists of five big arches set on massive stone pillars across the Nishiki river. Completed in 1673, it was designed to keep the bridge from washing away during floods but was washed away by a flood the following year.  It was rebuilt periodically and remained in place for almost 300 years until it was destroyed by a typhoon in 1950. It was rebuilt and the stone piers were raised and reinforced with steel and concrete.

I was increasingly concerned about the forecast storms and whether we would be able to make Tsuwano in daylight given the climbing involved.  Another look at the forecast and the rain heading towards Tsuwano on the radar, convinced us that it was time for plan B.  We had already checked that it was possible to get to Tsuwano by train but when I went online to confirm the times, some trains had been cancelled due to forecast strong winds.  Fortunately, one train appeared to be still running from Shin-Yamaguchi to Tsuwano, departing at 13:20 so that was the one we had to catch.  We were only 5 kilometres from Shin-Iwakuni station which was on a direct line to Shin-Yamaguchi.

As we had the bicycles, we needed to reserve a seat with the oversized baggage space.  The next train didn’t have these seats available, and we were relieved that the next train, an hour later, had two seats available. We read our books for a while then dismantled the bikes and packed them in their Rinko bags.  Ready for the train, we made a cup of coffee and waited until 20 minutes before the train was due to shift our bike and bags to the platform.  The attendant helpfully held the elevator doors open for us. 

Two Shinkansens sped through whilst we waited, looking very sleek as they thundered past.  We were on the slower Kodama bullet train which stops at all stations but still managed to reach a speed of 250kmh between stops. It was only a 30 minute trip to Shin-Yamaguchi station and then we had to lug our bikes and panniers a few hundred metres to the Yagamuchi line.  There was conveniently-located 7-11 store so we were able to pick up some lunch supplies that we ate near the ticket gates. 

20 minutes before the train was due to depart we lugged our gear down to the platform to find the little two-carriage train already waiting.  We were relieved to find that there was space for our bikes and that the conductor didn’t raise any concerns.  This trip was meant to take an hour, but progress must have been slow through the pouring rain as we arrived around 15 minutes late.  Given the downpour, we were now convinced that Plan B was the right choice. 

Once the bikes were back together, Simon couldn’t resist the opportunity to drive another train. Though the rain had eased, I changed back into my wet weather cycling gear just in case, We still had 30 minutes before check-in so we decided to wander through the town and visit some of the little shops. it started to pour rain after we visited the first shop so we headed straight to our accommodation at Noren Yado Meigetsu ryokan, The name “Noren Yado” means that it has passed down through generations, and it has been operating as an inn for over a century. They helped us dry our gear and showed us to our room, before lending us umbrellas so we could resume our exploration of the town.

We wandered into a couple of shops and then found a sake shop where we tasted some more sake, this time buying a little bottle of their delicious Uijin Junmai Daiginjo. Made from locally produced sakanishi and gohyakumangoku rices and using spring water from Mt Anao, it was the most delicious sake we had tried to date, and perfect for a pre-dinner aperitif.

Many of the shops were closed and those that were open were mainly confectionary shops selling the Genji-maki sponge cake which is a rolled cake with red bean paste filling and a sponge cake roll baked together.  Apparently there are more than 10 confectioners making this in Tsuwano, each with its own special version.   

It was getting dark by the time we reached Tonomachi Street, with its large number of historic sites, remnants of samurai residences and canal filled with carp. Apparently there are more koi in the canal than people living in the town. 

Back at our accommodation we had a bath and our pre-dinner sake before heading to the dining room for a lovely dinner which included its local specialty of stone heart - a mixture of pickled fish and vegetables in a gorgeous dish topped with a lid and a stone.  As we were finishing, one of the diners approached us and asked if we were teachers.  He couldn’t understand why we were visiting such an out-of-the-way town if we weren’t teachers or students of Japanese history.