(12,000 steps)

Thursday 26th October


Clouds above the Hill

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.  Nowadays most of the rooms are empty though there seemed to be an art exhibition in the Room of Audience and Dining Room. The most impressive feature was the grand staircase with a stained glass window on the landing depicting a sailing ship that symbolises Bansuiso.  The chateau has featured in a number of films including the Japanese version of the Hound of the Baskerville which was released in mid 2022.

As we were also right next to the Saka No Ue No Kumo Museum we decided we should visit it as well.  Inspired by the novel of the same name, meaning “Clouds above the Hill” and written by Ryotaro Shiba, the museum was built in a triangular shape by renowned architect Tadao Ando. We were particularly impressed with the floating staircase. Fortunately we were able to purchase an English audio guide as it would have been impossible to rely on Google Translate.  There were displays about the novel’s plot, characters and locations which helped bring to life the changes that occurred during the Meiji period.

With a whole day off his trusty steed, Simon was relieved to find an alternative as we moved to the second exhibition. This celebrated the 50th anniversary of the novel which was originally published as a series in a newspaper.  This exhibition explained the opening of Japan during the Meiji period, its westernisation and the tactics behind the Russo-Japanese war.    

Being located across from the Okarito shopping street, we decided it would be a good place to buy some sunscreen and find a place for lunch.  We found a place that advertised beef in a noodle broth with lots of vegetables in the picture.  We were in need of some veggies so opted for a bowl each.  It came with rice and a raw egg that we mixed through the hot pot on a little burner. 

Next stop was Matsuyama castle.  This was our third castle on Shikoku and meant to be one of the most complex and interesting castles in Japan. Built on Mount Katsuyama, it was constructed in the 1600s.  One of the access options was a single-chair lift that resembled an old school chair attached to a cable without any safety features, though there was a net underneath if you happened to fall off.  There was also a cable car that appeared to be used by tour groups. We elected to walk up via the Shinonome Shrine which was built as a talisman against bad luck and houses a number of historical artefacts.

The castle is famous for being one of the 12 original castle keeps that have survived from the Edo era in Japan though parts were rebuilt after it was damaged by lightening and then later by arson.  It was built on impressive stone walls with lots of sturdy wooden gates, some reinforced with metal.  The complex was massive and the views from the top spectacular. Simon was able to identify the hills we had cycled through the day before.

We returned via the Ninomaru Garden where the palace building housing the lord’s residence and offices were once located.  It is now a park which preserves the floor plan and layout of the former palace. 

Always keen to try the local specialities we returned to a restaurant we had passed on our way to the castle, Matsuyama Taimeshi Aka Honten, with Taimeshi being the local specialty of fish served on rice.  We ordered Somen noodles served with grilled northern red snapper and special sauce.  It was accompanied by tempura and pickled vegetables and most delicious.

It was only 8pm so we decided to head back to the Jazz in Gretsch Bar for some Brazilian music.  We were greeted warmly by the Master (barman) and it was a similar scene to the night before though a much more subdued atmosphere.  There was a group playing on a mix of guitars and drums with a lady playing the ukulele.  She finished her session and then a guy played on an electric violin which was most extraordinary.

Simon ordered a Suntory whisky whilst I ordered an oolong tea.  There were many options to choose from and the Master selected one for me - the Ashuya Proud, a blend of Sri Lanka’s Nuwara Eliya and Uva seasonal (Darjeeling).  There was a ritual to the tea making which included warming the pot, the cup and the milk, and allowing the tea to rest for the appropriate time.  I was instructed to drink it black first, then add milk.  I did so but it was a little strong so I added the milk early hoping it wouldn’t cause offence.  Interestingly, the second cup from the pot was no stronger than the first and, with a little dash of milk, it was just perfect.   

I was sitting next to a young guy who was a master builder of ukuleles, and he showed me photos of the many different ukuleles he had made, both alto and tenor.  After the electric violinist completed his session, he came over to show us his impressive instrument.

We had been chatting to another man at the bar, and it was his turn next. He started with Bye Bye Blackbird which he dedicated to me to give me a memory to take on my travels.  He was very impressed that we were cycling around Shikoku and enjoyed practising his English which he had studied some 30 years ago.  He played another couple of songs, accompanied by a guy on double bass and a drummer that joined towards the end.  Apparently the drummer had never played with him before. It seemed that the musicians really appreciated having us there as an audience. As we were leaving the ukulele master builder gave me his card.