Onomichi to Osakikamijima

(50 KMs)

Tuesday 31st October

Onomichi - Osakikamijima

Sake tasting and anniversary celebrations

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.

The lobby was full of a group of cyclists who were doing the Sazanami Kaido from Onomichi to Kure - we were doing part of that route, but only as far as Takehara before catching a ferry to Osakikamijima Island. 

The route out of town followed the channel for a while then headed slightly inland.  We detoured to find a bakery in Mihara which was unfortunately closed, so stopped at a nearby shopping centre bakery for morning tea supplies. The route improved after Mihara as we hugged the water and the traffic lessened.  The Sunami Inari Shrine was most impressive at high tide as the torii gate appeared to float in the sea.. The god of pregnancy and the god of the throat are enshrined here.

We stopped a little further on for our morning coffee and the beans from the Onomichi barista were a massive improvement on the supermarket coffee we had been drinking to date.  There were a group of elderly Japanese in the area and one of them gave us a stool to use for our morning tea - we weren’t quite sure what to do with it as we had perfectly comfortable benches. 

Our morning had been a little slower than planned, so Simon set the pace for a time trial into Takehara.  We are party peddlers normally but we moving at over 20kms an hour across the smooth road surface, enjoying the views all the way.  We had a quick stop at a lookout then continued past the port to the Takehara Old Town, known as the “Little Kyoto of Hiroshima”. The streets were largely deserted with just the odd tourist, mostly Japanese, as we wandered the streets of the merchant town which is famous for salt production and sake brewing.

The Main Street, Honmachi-dori, was lined with traditional wooden merchant houses that were well preserved, with latticework facades and fired clay roof tiles. These were designed to display the wealth of the local merchants.  There was some interesting street art and we also visited Shorenji temple, with its impressive entrance gate. Apparently the residents arrange flowers outside their homes as a sign of hospitality and we saw some beautiful garden arrangements.

It was lunchtime and we found a little restaurant serving seafood rice omelettes.  There were only two tables and we were the only customers until a group of four Japanese women arrived as we were finishing our delicious meal. We left the bikes parked in front of the restaurant and walked the short distance to the Fuji Shuzo Sake Brewery which was established in 1863 and had won many awards for its Ryusei brand of sake.  There was a lovely little gift shop and I purchased a small table runner as a souvenir.  We then tried 4 different sakes, and the best one was the award winning Ryusei Junmai Daiginjou Black label 2004.  The lady serving us was delighted at my efforts to communicate in Japanese and clapped each time my pronunciation was correct. She assured us that we could buy the sake at Hiroshima station or Haneda airport so we didn’t need to carry it with us on our bikes. 

It was time to head for the ferry to Osakikamijima Island and we arrived just in time to purchase our tickets and bicycle passes before the ferry started loading.  It was about 30 minutes across to the island and we had an hour to cycle the easy 11 kilometres to Kinoe Onsen Seifukan. We passed little hamlets and ghost shipyards, then passed a shipyard in full operation. We then had a super steep ascent to the hotel which justified the amazing views across the Seto Inland Sea and down to a slightly bizarre liner shaped restaurant. On checking in, one of the staff led us through the bowels of the hotel to store our bikes.

Our room was massive by Japanese standards and overlooked the sea,  We didn’t linger but headed straight to the baths, keen to experience the open-air bath with its spectacular views over the islands. Definitely a place to linger and enjoy the benefits of the minerals in the water that were meant to help relax muscles and smooth the skin.  I watched a lone freighter sail into the distance and could see the flashing lights and structure of the Kurushima Kailyo bridge, the first bridge we crossed on the Shimanimi Kaido.  After my bath, I enjoyed trying all the moisturising products including glucosamine cream for joints, horse oil moisturising cream and a special heel cream.  The baths open at 6am tomorrow so maybe there will be time for a second bath?

After a chat with Jonno, we headed for dinner in our own special room.  The table was already set with peach fruit wine, sashimi, and little dishes of eggplant, mushroom and tofu, and some pickled vegetables. After the success of our sake tasting we opted for a trio sample of local sake, which included the Night Emperor sake we had tasted in Takehara.  The next course was a taro golden bun whilst we watched the grilled abalone dance on its little cooker.  Rice with seafood cooked in a separate pot nearby.  We then had some wagyu beef, pumpkin, zucchini and mushrooms which we cooked on a hot plate.  This was followed by chawanmushi, a savoury egg custard dish, some tempura and miso soup. The final course was green tea and a delicious lemon blancmange.  There were so many interesting dishes and such a wide variety of delicious flavours, that we voted it as our best dinner in Japan so far.  A fitting way to celebrate our wedding anniversary.