I’d slept well yet again in my $36 tent a coastal town-park in south Shikoku. It seems you can camp anywhere in Japan, as long as you’re respectful and don’t make a mess.
After a leisurely travelling biker’s breakfast of hard boiled eggs, bread and ham, and bit of blog writing on my iPhone (I have a charger on my bike), I set off exploring the far SW coast of Shikoku around 8am before heading up the west coast.
Along the road I saw signs for whale watching trips. This made me chuckle a little; do you think when they spot a whale all the Japanese tourists let out a battle cry and produce harpoons to try and spear it? As one of few remaining whaling nations (along with Norway and a couple of other nations), I haven’t found much evidence of whale meat in the shops. In fact all the people I’ve asked here do not eat it or agree with it. Good news, I say.
As soon as the road rejoined the coast, I came across a beautiful deserted beach which would have been ideal to camp on, if only I’d found it in time last night.
I’m very impressed with Japan – it’s the kind of country I like; friendly, respectful people, great food, very scenic with lots of places you can ‘escape’ to, and spotlessly clean. They are also very big on recycling, and people are encouraged to take their litter home and recycle it. Sometimes even finding a bin can be a difficult task, and I have carried around a bag of trash all day before I found a trash can.
Thirty minutes further down the road I came across a HUGE sandy beach, still with no one around, which really would have been ideal for camping – I will get to camp on a deserted beach one of these days!
Like the coast further north I saw the day before, this beach was hidden by pine forests, making it even more serene.
I’d read on someone else’s blog that Ohki Beach was beautiful and a good place to camp, but I didn’t have a clue where it was (and neither did the blog writer, by all accounts). I came across it on the way to the very southern tip of Shikoku in the bay north of Tosashimizu (in case anyone else is looking). And yes, it was beautiful, and would have been a great place to camp, like so many of Shikoku’s beaches. In fact Ohki was a close contender for the most beautiful beach I’d seen yet in Japan.
Recently quite a few friendly Japanese bikers have stopped for a chat when they see me pulled over taking a rest or photo stop. Shame I can’t speak Japanese, but we always have a few laughs with a few basic words and a lot of pointing at our bikes. One even complimented me on my riding (good job he didn’t see fall down that cliff).
Soon after Ohki beach I reached the unspoilt Ashizuri-Uwaki National Park on the southern tip of Shikoku, which ends at Cape Ahizuri – the most southerly point on the island.
The coastline here is pretty spectacular – rocky headlands and islands jutting out into the ocean, interspersed with quaint fishing villages and white sandy beaches. The water too is clear, and supposedly colourful coral lies beneath.
I took my time and darted off down some woodland paths to explore. I love being able to ride just about anywhere!
Then I found a great place for lunch and sat outside eating a delicious dish of fresh sashimi and miso soup against the gorgeous coastal backdrop.
The weather was great and I wanted to camp again, but this time in a proper park with hot showers, and this area had lots of campsites advertised. However, all the ones I went to were boarded up for the winter. Hmm, I seem to be the only one who wants to camp at this time of year! Shame though, as it was a gorgeous day and some of the camp grounds looked really good.
I came across an old Buddhist Temple called Kongofukuji (number 38 on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage) and wondered in for a closer look. It had various beautiful Buddha meditating in a line beneath some awesome calcite stalactites that had been chopped off and stood on end (posing as stalagmites).
By now it was 4pm, and with no campsites open, and a distinct lack of cheap hotels in the area, I decided to ride 200km north to Matsuyama, Shikuko’s second city, to find a shower and proper bed for the night.
I didn’t hang about, and two and a half hours later I was checking into a traditional Ryokan (Japanese Inn) called ‘Spa Ryokan Dougoy’ directly in the city centre, complete with traditional tatami-matted rooms and (even better) its very own hot spa – as the one thing I really needed after three nights camping rough was a nice long, hot soak. If you ever go to Matsuyama (lost or something), I highly recommend it; 30 USD for a futon in a small dormitory, very friendly owner and also near the city castle.
It’s also right near the famous Dōgo Onsen – one of the oldest hot spring communal bathes in Japan, with a history of over 1000 years.
One of my roommates turned out to be from Osaka and worked for Beverage Company selling Shochu (Japanese spirit usually distilled from rice or potatoes). He happened to have a few sample bottles and gave me one. A had a shot – it was good stuff, smooth and strong, and I could tell I wouldn’t need many of them to warm me up! (And I didn’t).
After a great long, hot soak in the spa I felt totally rejuvenated, and my first stop was the laundrette down the road as my clothes needed a proper wash too. While waiting for my clothes I popped next door to a great little restaurant making fresh Takoyaki (octopus balls in batter), so I took this opportunity to savour my first ones; not bad.
Watching the traffic pass by, I often find it amusing how almost all Japanese drive around in tiny ‘box cars’, despite Japan making some of the biggest cars & trucks on the planet. Of course most of these large cars are exported to places with cheap fuel and lots of space, like the USA and Middle East, leaving the small, efficient and easy to park small cars for countries with crowded cities with high fuel costs, like Japan and most of Europe.
Interesting fact: After peaking seven years ago at 128 million, Japan’s population has been falling due to low birth rates and an aging population, and is on a path to decline by about a million people a year if something is not done soon. By 2060, the government estimates, there will be just 87 million people in Japan, and nearly half of them will be over 65. Good news for the Bingo halls though!
Next morning I sat in the Ryokan communal kitchen and had the free breakfast of miso soup, fish cakes and rice. It was actually pretty good, although I would have swapped it for bacon and eggs, given the choice. I sat with another young Japanese traveller (as in young, like myself) who was doing a short week’s tour on his bicycle. Unfortunately he had a puncture he couldn’t fix, and had had to walk several miles in the rain the day before, pushing his bike along.
I offered to take a look and soon found the problem; he had forgotten to check the inside of the tyre, and the offending sharp piece of metal was still stuck inside, and had kept puncturing his repeatedly repaired inner tube. We fixed it in a jiffy, and he was very happy to be heading off riding again. Happy days!
In need of a bit of non-biking exercise, I walked up a nearby hill which I thought housed Matsuyama Castle. When I got to the top I soon discovered that it didn’t, and the real castle was on another hill 3km away. Oh well, it wasn’t raining (yet), so I put my walking boots back on.
It was quite a long 3km walk to the castle, mainly because it was more like 5km after I went the wrong way and ended up circling the bottom of the hill looking for the entrance. However, it was nice to get a good feel for the city from the pavements. Despite being the second largest city on Shikoku, Matsuyama has retained a calmer ‘sleepy feel’ compared to the much larger and busier cities on Honshu.
Many Japanese cities pride themselves on their centrepiece castle, but many are only reconstructions of the originals destroyed in one way or another. Matsuyama is one of Japan’s 12 original castles, and one of the best.
Constructed between 1602 and 1628 by the famous general Katō Yoshiaki, one of Seven Spears of Shizugatake and a Daimyo (which is only subordinate to a Shogun), the castle stands on 130m high Mount Katsuyama in the centre of the city. Inside was a pretty decent museum and it even housed Katō’s old suit of armour, which looked like it also needed a wash. If he’d had told me yesterday, I could have taken it down to the launderette for him.
I took a shortcut on the way back down as it started raining, and jumped on a chairlift (or ‘ropeway’) – really good fun, especially as people weren’t strapped in (strangely, in this modern world of health and safety craziness) which made it feel even more exciting. It also gave great views of the city below, and of people waving at me from the adjacent cable car, thinking I was mad because I was sat out in the rain. Yes – I was the only one (apart from one other really mental person).
Back at the Roykan it was rest time and an early night ready for the hop back across to the main island Honshu and my next destination, Hiroshima.