On the way to Hiroshima I pulled off the highway onto Oshima Island, one of six small islands the ‘317’ toll expressway crosses with an impressive set of suspension bridges from Shikoku back to the main island of Honshu. And I’m glad I did. After the (relatively sleepy) metropolis sprawl of Matsuyama, the tiny quiet fishing island was a real treat.
All around the coast were quaint Japanese houses with immaculate bonsai-like sculptured tree gardens, lovely clean sandy beaches and crystal clear water.
I would have liked to have gone diving, as the underwater visibility looked amazing. Tropical island Okinawa is supposed to have Japan’s best diving, and so if I do any I thought I might as well do it there. However, being several days away on a ferry, I’m saving that one for another holiday.
There was virtually no traffic on the island, although there was another port/dockyard which must have employed the whole tiny island.
When I entered Hiroshima a couple of hours later, I went from one extreme to another. The traffic, noise and pollution seemed immense – I was certainly back on Honshu alright.
Not wanting to fight my way through any more traffic than necessary, I set a course straight for the hostel I had found online down by the ferry port, and entered filtering mode. I had lollygagged along the 200km trip and it was now dark.
On arrival the hostel I was invited to join a table of drinkers, including incredibly helpful Yoshi (who worked there) to discuss British slang, of all things. Being the only Brit there I rolled off a list of the usual Cockney Rhyming Slang which they were bound to find useful should they ever be approached by a Londoner in Japan. As usual, one beer wasn’t quite enough, so I despatched myself to the 7-Eleven across the road and topped-up the beer fridge (and then un-topped-up it).
I was put in a large dormitory and slept next to 2 really smelly people (does that make me smelly-ist?) and someone nearby who kept banging something repeatedly. I felt like banging their head repeatedly, but instead took a deep, calming breath, deployed my eye mask and ear plugs and slept soundly until morning. However, it did remind me of how much I hate staying in dorms, and I promised myself I’d get back to camping ASAP. If only rough camping offered nice hot showers in the morning! Actually, in truth, I have a love-hate relationship with hostels, as most people you meet there are great (and not smelly), and they are a good source of local info and ‘instant socialising’.
After a 7-Eleven breakfast (what would I do without them?!) I jumped on the early morning ferry across to the small island of Itsukushima, unofficially known as Miyajima or “shrine island” due to its famous Itsukushima Shrine and iconic Torii Gate.
The ferry to Miyajima was cheaper than the toll on a bridge – weird – and was a nice, relaxing way to travel. I was determined find and camp on a deserted beach on the island, once and for all, particularly after my several previous attempts had ended up not on deserted beaches. Miyajima is also one of the top 3 scenic sights in Japan, according famed scholar Hayashi Gahō (in 1643), and so I was very interested to see what all the fuss was about (it must have changed a lot in 400 years?)
I was not disappointed. Every aspect of the island was perfect (or very nearly perfect), as if every plant, tree, building and beach had been hand-sculptured to look immaculate.
There were even ‘wild’ deer on the island that had become so accustomed to human interaction that they could be approached and petted like domestic pets. This, of course, is largely due to the fact they are frequently fed by humans, although they weren’t supposed to be. One of them found my lunch tied to the back of my bike, which was great because I’d been looking for it for ages. Or maybe it’s just that female deer find me irresistibly attractive? I hope not, as I do not find them particularly attractive (it’s the deer ticks that does it), and hate to keep hurting their feelings.
It was still early and I was there before the mass-loaded tourist buses arrived, and also there before the pedestrian city centre roads closed to vehicles. This allowed me to ride right up to Itsukushima Shrine’s famous Torii Gate (or as far as you could get to it on road).
For a couple of pieces of wood standing on a mudflat, the Torii Gate is pretty spectacular, and beautiful even. Weighing 60 tons and 16m high, it stands under its own weight (with the help of some rocks buried within), and appears to be ‘floating’ at high tide. It’s one of Japan’s most visited tourist sites.
Miyajima is famous for its huge, succulent oysters, and I was there in season – Yippee! I LOVE oysters, and couldn’t resist buying some directly from a hot grill, served by the side of the road.
Then it was time to bid the small, perfect town farewell and head up into the hills to find my perfect beach.
It was apparent no-one else had his idea, as there was no-one else on the tiny, narrow road that led around the south-eastern coast. Goodness knows why, as the views of the beaches and bays along the way were beautiful.
Then I arrived; the perfect camping beach. I knew it as soon as I saw it, and knew exactly where my tent was going to end up. It was in a sheltered bay with not another living soul around.
Soon afterwards my camp was set and I stripped off for a 30 minute jog along the sand, ending in a very refreshing (but freezing) swim. The sun had even kindly made an appearance, and I basked in complete bliss in the early afternoon.
There I lay until dinner, at which time I started a fire (below the high tide mark) and cooked up an incredible pasta dish, if I do say so myself. The fire saved my camping gas, and of course it’s always nice to sit round a fire on a beach.
I could have stayed there for days, but the forecast was rain from early morning, so I planned on getting up early and heading out of Dodge towards Nagasaki on the southern island, Kyushu.
I turned in full and very satisfied after the sun went down, although I wasn’t looking forward to the morning as the forecast said 100% chance of rain from 4am, continuing most of the day. I hate packing away a wet tent, but a night under the silent stars on an empty beach was well worth the pending pain.
I slept soundly until 5am, when I awoke to…. no rain! To my pleasant surprise the forecast was wrong and the tent was bone dry in the coastal breeze (normally there’s at least some condensation to dry off in the morning). With joy (and a little skip) I packed away the tent, had breakfast and rode back into town to see the Torii Gate standing in the sand flats at low tide – perfect timing Mr Bowen. Why thank you Mr Bowen!
Sometimes I get the feeling I’m talking to myself, you know. Maybe all this recent isolation hasn’t been too healthy for me?
Then the rain started.
It was one of those days when it looked like it was 6pm at midday – dark, windy and peeing it down. I wrapped myself up with an extra layer- my Gortex raincoat – over the top of my biker jacket. It worked, and I was pretty snug, and even stayed dry. I can’t believe I have never used this combination before – doh!
The only thing that didn’t stay warm and dry was my ass, but that’s why the Japanese invented their heated toilet seats, and I spent many a fuel/tea stop defrosting my behind on their heavenly loo seats. Yes, if there is a heaven, it must surely be full of these things, and everybody must be happy.