Uchiko to Matsuyama

(50 KMs)

Wednesday 25th October

Uchiko - Matsuyama

Open Mic Night

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. 

The owners had asked us to check out by 9am as they had a meeting and as we were loading our bikes, the owner beckoned us over.  He had his camera set up on a tripod and once we had our bikes in frame, his wife stood with us and he hopped into the photo, arms spread wide.  He asked Simon to address an envelope so it will be interesting to see if we receive a copy of the photo some day.

It was a beautiful, crisp morning with a touch of Autumn in the air as we cycled back along the river to the Karari Farmers Market to stock up on some more of their delicious raisin loaves.  Unfortunately we were too early for them so I purchased what looked to be a type of muffin and a pastry with some kind of fruit in the middle (it turned out to be a chestnut)

Simon navigated us down some quieter country roads, including one that disappeared.  Fortunately the road we were on joined up with the main road and we cycled on that for a few kilometres before coming to a covered bridge.  These bridges were used by local farmers as shelters from the heat and bad weather and also used to store tools and produce.  This made sense as the bridge didn’t seem to lead anywhere,  It was the perfect place for morning tea and we enjoyed the river views.

From there it was uphill for the next 10 kilometres at a gentle 5% gradient.  It was largely on the footpath and along the river so was easier riding than expected.  We turned off through Nakayama which seemed to have thistles on its manhole cover, as well as beautifully decorated lamp posts and wound  our way to the Roadside station. 

The Nakayama Roadside station had the most beautiful flower arrangements in the restrooms.  We’ve found quite a few restrooms have fresh plants and flowers, and these were the most stunning yet.  This Roadside Station is also renowned for its handmade soba noodles - you can even take a class to make your own.  It was almost midday, so we agreed that a soba ramen lunch would be ideal.  We paid for our ticket and the cashier advised us that it was a bit of a wait so we joined the dozen or so people waiting on benches.  We were called to sit at the counter surrounding the kitchen and watched the noodles being tossed through boiling water and the broth added to our bowls.  The ramen was delicious.  The broth was more delicately flavoured than our previous ramens, and much less salty than the one we had in Kochi. We rated it as the best yet. Of course, we had to try the local ice cream.  This time we tried Yuzu and Marron.  The marron was actually chestnut ice cream and surprisingly delicious. 

There was another kilometre of so of hill climbing before we had to stop due to road works.  The Japanese certainly take their roles as traffic controllers very seriously, usually in smart uniforms and with red and white signalling flags.  No automated traffic lights here.  We were held back until all the traffic had moved past, then allowed to progress.  This meant that we had the road to ourselves as we sped downhill through the kilometre-long tunnel.  As we emerged into sunlight the oncoming traffic started to move and we were able to descend the long hill with no traffic to worry about.  Simon had planned to take a back road but we flew past the turnoff and were off the main road before the traffic caught up. 

We wound our way through more backroads, the local manhole cover indicating we were in fruit territory and there were lots of citrus trees, including some where the fruit was covered with little plastic bags.  Before long we had reached the coast and Simon skilfully navigated us along levee banks and through riverside parks to our destination at the Hotel Vista Matsuyama. 

We had to store our bikes behind the hotel - the least secure parking to date, so fingers crossed they will be safe.  The room was surprisingly nice with the toilet, bath and sink in separate rooms.  I’ve become quite a fan of baths in Japan, even in the hotels, as they are lovely and deep.  So we both had a bath before heading off to find a supermarket and stock up on coffee and breakfast provisions.  On the way back we passed a little bar advertising jazz and an open mic night, so we made a note to come back after dinner. 

We returned briefly to our room to unload our groceries and sort out our washing before heading out for dinner.  The kids messaged to see if we were free to chat and we stood in a doorway, opposite a large crab sign, to catch up on all their news.  Simon had spotted a Curry House that looked good dinner, but on closer review it didn’t look that appetising so we wandered into a nearby grill restaurant.  It was buzzing and we ordered some tempura squid and fried chicken that were both delicious, and another chicken dish that was chewy and hard to eat.  It was basically a Maryland cutlet but we weren’t sure where all the meat had gone.  Fortunately, we weren’t that hungry so left it.

Time for a nightcap, we wandered back to the bar we had spotted, Jazz in Gretch.  There was a young man smoking outside and there didn’t seem to be much happening inside but he encouraged us to go in for a drink.  He followed us in and advised that the Master would make us a good drink. We opted for single malt whisky and talked briefly to the young man before he said that he had to go and that the Master was the drummer.  We took our drinks into the small adjoining room where the group seated there made room for us.  And the music began.  There were six in the seated group and they took it in turns to share out sheet music with three musicians and then stand up to the microphone to sing.  There was a pianist, our young friend on double bass and the Master on drums.  The young man was absolutely mesmerising on the double bass and the pianist also amazing as was the Master on drums.  The songs varied but most were in English and they were all familiar.  We were the only non-singers in the audience.  They asked if we wanted to sing but we declined.  It was a fantastic performance and we felt so lucky to have stumbled across it.

After the music finished we chatted to those around us who wanted to know how we had found the bar.  The man sitting next to us who had sung Love is a Many Splendoured Thing, lived in Tokyo and came down once a month to catch up with this group. Naoki Takahashi, who played the double bass, was a professional jazz musician who played all around Shikoku.  He offered us a copy of his CD which we bought for 2000 yen - we will just have to find a way to play it when we return.  The pianist had performed at the Sydney Opera House and New York accompanying her mother who played a traditional Japanese instrument.  The Master was also a professional drummer.  We had another whisky whilst we chatted to Naoki and his girlfriend who arrived after the music had finished and was visiting from Hokkaido.  She had spent time living in Australian and New Zealand and spoke excellent English.  Apparently there is Brazilian music at the bar tomorrow, so we may have to return.