Shikoku Island

To get over to Shikoku Island from Awaji Island I had to jump back onto the toll highway across another very impressive suspension bridge over the Naruto Strait.  Here water rushes between the Pacific Ocean and the Seto Inland Sea between high to low tide at 11 knots (20 km/h), making it the 4th fastest tide in the world and creates impressive whirlpools.


The bridge over the Naruto Strait from Awaji to Shikoku


The 4th fastest tide in the world, creating impressive whirlpools.

Just south of the bridge on the east coast there were some great bridge views and good beaches.  I kept riding south heading for the pronounced Muroto peninsula I’d heard was nice and sparsely populated.  Most of Shikoku’s 4.5 million people live on the north coast, so that was something I was keen to avoid.


Just south of the bridge on the east coast there are some great bridge views and good beaches


Naruto Beach

I couldn’t have really asked for much more – the sun was out and it was hot for the first time since I’d arrived in Japan.  The bike was running like a dream and I was really enjoying cruising along the coastal road, stopping off at anything interesting I saw along the way.  It felt great to be truly free; to be able to go anywhere and do anything.  The only thing I had to worry about was what I was going to have for lunch.  I just wasn’t sure!




Life’s a beach…

After a couple of hours I reached the small coastal town of Hiwasa and dropped in to see the Yakuoji Temple to ward off all my evil spirits, especially as I’m 41.  In Japan, Yakudoshi (Unlucky Years) are years of misfortune or calamity throughout a persons life, and it is generally agreed that for men the ages of 41, 42 & 61 are the most dangerous.  Interestingly for women it is 32, 33 & 61.  Every year hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over Japan (and me) visit this temple due to its reputation as a good place to pray for protection from these ‘unlucky years’.  I’ll let you know if it works.


Yakuoji Temple – a place to ward off all your evil spirits


If this guy didn’t ward off my evil spirits, I don’t know who could!


The top temple of Yakuoji


The view from the top of the temple was great


Blue skies above – the best day so far


The best things about all these old temples are the roofs.

During my ride south I’d seen many people walking along the road wearing sedge hats (sugegasa), white jackets (hakui) and staffs (kongotsue).  I later found out they were on the ‘Shikoku O-Henro’, or Shikoku Pilgrimage, a religious pilgrimage around the island visiting the 88 temples associated with 8th century Japanese Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi Kukai – ‘The Grand Master Who Propagated the Buddhist Teaching’.

The total distance of the pilgrimage is approximately 1,200 km and takes anything from 30 to 60 days to complete – no mean feat.  As many as 500 thousand people from all over the world make this pilgrimage every year, and I saw some of them at Yakuoji Temple, which is temple number 23 on The List.  I imagine after 88 temples one may have seen enough temples for one year.

From Hiwasa I followed the coastal road south again, hitting more beautiful, empty, clean, sandy beaches and scenic views along the way.  The further south I rode, the less traffic there was, until there was hardly any at all.  It was a good choice choosing the south coast I thought, and proved there were still some places in Japan you could ‘get away from it all’ quite quickly and easily.


Nesting site for Logger Head Turtles

The speed limit in Japan on almost all roads is a slow 50 km/h (70 to 100 km/h on toll expressways), but as no one was around, I was becoming more and more relaxed with the throttle, and really enjoying myself.


Another lovely, isolated beach

True to my usual ‘loose planning’ strategy, I hadn’t really figured out a route, or where I was actually going, so I thought I’d better sort out somewhere to head for and sleep for the night.


The southern coastal highway – Great!

Inland Shikoku is basically covered in mountains, and I’d heard that road 193 cut through them from north to south and offered amazing views.  A fancied a bit of mountain riding after my week in Osaka, and I’d found several campsites there online, so sleeping shouldn’t be a problem.  So when I reached the 193 turn-off, I took it without thinking too much, leaving the gorgeous south coast beaches in my rear view mirror.


As I started climbing the 193 mountain road, the views got better

I targeted a campsite into GPS and started climbing a very steep, twisty mountain road.  It was great!  It was late afternoon, but the campsite didn’t look that far on the map, and the online photos looked awesome.  I was surprised there was absolutely no traffic whatsoever – perhaps that should have told me something.


The 193 snaking its way up the Shikoku’s mountain ranges

Flying up the mountain side, the road gradually became narrower and narrower until soon it was just one lane, and sometimes half a lane.  The surface condition was still good, but it started to look like no-one had used it for a very long time.  Leaves, pine needles, moss and broken branches lay strewn all over the road, making the surface very slippery and braking too hard dangerous.  As the sides became steeper (with no barriers), I slowed down quite a bit, as I didn’t fancy skidding over the edge, for a change.


It didn’t look as though this road was used much! Was I on the right one?

Eventually I broke over the summit and descended into a valley to the junction with the east-west 195 road.  Somewhat relieved I’d made it over without incident, I stopped for a breather.  After a few minutes a Japanese biker pulled up on a Yamaha R6, heading the way I’d just come from.  He was about the only biker I’d seen that day, even though it was the weekend.

After a chat I set off again still on the 193, and began a second long climb over another mountain.

High in the mountains it gets dark before sunset, and the light & heat were fading fast.  As I climbed still higher, I began to notice the occasional patch of snow by the side of the road, and slowed down further in case ice was on the road.  Then I came across these cool icicles hanging over the north facing side of a mountain which looked like a stream had frozen on its way down.


You know it’s cold when you see these…


Yes, they were real. And it was getting real cold!

The road twisted on and on, and the campsite edged closer at a very slow rate.  I had realised earlier the OSM maps on my Garmin assumed I would be travelling everywhere at 100 km/h, and therefore the arrival times it gave were hugely inaccurate, particularly when crawling up a steep 2,000m (6,500ft) high mountain chain.  At this rate I was going to arrive around sunset, which wasn’t the end of the world.


The scenery was beautiful though, and well worth the ride

However, it was the end of the world when I reached the campsite turn-off to discover a barrier across the road, with a sign saying what I presumed was ‘Road Closed for the Winter’.  This left me with two choices:  carry on and hope to find another campsite, or go back.  As I hate going back, I voted for number one, and continued climbing.  I was hoping I’d reach the summit soon, and the road would drop into another valley, full of lush, green, flat camping ground.

Riding on higher still, soon there wasn’t just a bit of snow on the road, but lots of it, and ice had started to form as the temperature had dropped below freezing.


More snow appeared the higher I went; not really surprising is it?

Eventually at the summit, I emerged from a very icy and slippery tunnel to find the road completely snowed in.  Lush, green valley there may be down there somewhere, but there was no way I was going to risk riding my bike down a snowy slope (not even I’m that stupid!) That will teach me for not researching the weather properly at altitude and asking locals what the road conditions are like.


Time to turn round!

I had no choice but to turn back and find alternative sleeping arrangements.  However, I had to be quick because sunset had passed and it was quickly getting dark, and I didn’t fancy riding back down the freezing, icy slope in the dark.

I made my way back to the first valley at the junction of the 195 and rode west.  It was now dark and cold and camping was becoming less and less appealing the more time went on.  I saw a sign for a country spar and rolled up to take a look.  It looked posh and exclusive – very posh – but they had no rooms anyway, so I didn’t have to bother to ask how much.  No idea who the guests were though – I had hardly seen anyone all day.

So it looked as though I was camping rough again, which I didn’t mind at all; I just had to find somewhere suitable to pitch the tent that wasn’t at a 70 degree (or more) angle.

I found it mildly amusing I was in this situation again for the second night in a row, particularly after promising myself I’d get to a campsite much earlier today.  As I was searching for a pitch, I was trying to work out how I’d gone from sunbathing beach weather on a beautiful coast ideal for camping, to freezing my nuts off in the snow on near vertical slopes.

As with last night, the more time rolled on, the more I didn’t care where I pitched, and soon I pulled off the road and threw the tent up in a small pine forest clearing.


Somewhere to sleep at last! Right – get the stove on!

It was actually a good spot, and right next to a waterfall that I could wash in, although it was blooming cold!  On the menu again was…. Spag Bol and chunky bread!  However, this time I added a bag of spinach to add a green kick.  It’s amazing how quickly my gas stove cooks when there’s no wind!  It’s also amazing how quickly you eat something when you’re starving.

It was nice crawling into my lovely, warm sleeping bag with a full belly and the sound of the waterfall in the background.

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Shikoku – Part 2

I slept pretty well again in my tent, camped in a forest on the side of a mountain, and woke early around 5am as the birds started singing.  However, it was freezing and I didn’t want to move out of my nice, warm sleeping bag.

I hate getting up in the mornings anyway, but especially when it’s dark and freezing outside. The cold certainly accentuates all my bodily defects, of which I have many; knees, back, ankle, wrist, neck, brain etc. My pyrocarbon finger also doesn’t work very well in the cold.  Actually, it doesn’t work very well in the warm either.  It was the product of an old high-diving injury from my younger days serving as a Clearance Diver in the British Royal Navy, when I thought I could dive from the top of a ship through a floating lifebuoy.  Turned out I couldn’t, and in the attempt I left one of my fingers behind as a reminder.

After a good breakfast of the recently usual bread and sliced roast beef, I packed up a dry tent and hit the road back to the coast in order to ride to Muroto point, a ride recommended by one of the ‘Gaijin Riders’ (the Japanese word for foreigner) I’d been chatting to on the web.  It would have to be good to be better than parts of the ‘193’ and coastal road I rode yesterday.

In the daylight the valley I had camped in was actually very beautiful, and it was even better when the sun came out and started to warm things up.


My camp valley, South Shikoku, Japan

Random observation:  There are absolutely no bugs on my helmet!  I suspect this is something to do with the time of year – still too cold for most insects.  However, today is forecast to be a real scorcher in the 60s (16 C) – heaven compared to the freezing black ice last night.

A couple of hours later back down more twisty, mountain roads, I went from the snowline to the heavenly warm sand of Ozuna Beach on the southeast Shikoku coast, famed as one of the best beaches in Japan.  The sun and surroundings felt so good I almost pitched the tent again and stayed there for the day.  It was serenely quiet and tranquil, and still no-one else seemed to be around.  Where was everybody?


Ozuna Beach – one of the best in Japan

Actually, Ozuna Beach has a superb purpose built camp park with showers and everything!  However, it was shut.  It was also only 11am and far too early to settle down for the night.

Having not been too successful in the ‘luxury camping department’ the past couple of nights, I did double promise myself I would find somewhere beautiful and warm to camp nice and early; after all, there must be loads of equally gorgeous beaches further along the coast – right?

After a while a couple of cars did roll up and from one of them out popped a middle-aged man to start his morning exercises.  I have noticed many Japanese people exercise frequently out in the open, and think it’s a great way-of-life to have developed.  However, I wasn’t sure this gentleman’s method was quite right, as his running on the spot looked more like a drunken shuffle on the dance floor.  But at least he was giving it a good go.

Sitting on that beautiful beach, I really couldn’t have been further away from the noise, traffic, lights and bustle of Osaka, and I loved it.  Eventually, when I had completely thawed out from my night in the mountains, I forced myself to tear away from this scene of beauty and continue down the road.

Along the way, the coast was frequently dotted with numerous temples (as is the whole of Japan) and occasionally I’d stop to look at one of the more interesting looking ones.


One of the many interesting temples along the way

The wetland area around Kainan, southeast Shikoku, is a bird watchers paradise, so I stopped for a break.  I’m not a twitcher (well, not yet at least), but the place reminded me of Whitlingham Broad, a lake back home near Norwich (UK) – a great place for boating, picnics, walking the dog and jogging.


Kainan, southeast Shikoku – a bird watchers paradise

A guy parked next to me in a car was listening to a ‘Learn English’ CD.  He got out and was clearly surprised when I greeted him in English and complimented him on his fine efforts.  However, he couldn’t formulate an answer, and so I had no choice but to mark him ‘must try harder’.

I continued through several small villages – all pleasantly immaculate in design, cleanliness and order, as is the Japanese standard.  I think Japan is probably the cleanest country I have ever been to, and it’s very rare you see a speck of litter anywhere.  They are also very efficient at recycling their waste, and in place of every dustbin you see, there are actually 3 recycling dustbins for you to separate your rubbish into cans, plastics and burnables.  This is, of course, something the whole world should do, and Japan seems to be ahead on many counts.

I was surprised at first to see baseball fields in many schools and recreational parks, but then learned it was introduced by visiting Americans in the 19th century.  Although Sumo Wrestling is Japan’s National Sport, The Nippon Professional Baseball league is actually Japan’s largest professional sports competition in terms of television ratings and spectators.

During a bit of reflection on the bike, I realised the past two nights camping and exploring with minimal (no) planning has been good for me.  For the first week in Osaka, although I enjoyed it, I got too enthralled studying guide articles on where I should go and what I should do that I lost my way a little, and ended up not doing half the things I could have done.  Now I’ve reverted back to my default travelling philosophy of ‘just get out there and explore’, and I feel much more comfortable with that.  It may mean I have missed a few things, but I have also been lost on some of the greatest roads I’ve ever ridden and found some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen that aren’t in the guide books.  Of course, like everything in life, there is a balance to be made; it is not good to walk around in complete ignorance (or have nowhere to sleep in the middle of nowhere!), and so some research is useful.

Just south of the wetland area I found my favourite beach so far – Keino Matsubara Beach.  The beach was huge and remotely sandwiched between the ocean and a large stretch of pine forest.


The Pine Forest bordering Keino Matsubara Beach

I sat on the seawall and enjoyed complete solitude.  If I could meditate, I would have done, but I can’t (‘things to do’ list), so instead I just pretended to meditate and got leg cramp.


Attempting to meditate (unsuccessfully), but it was nice all the same

I stayed on the wall for a long time, enjoying the view, and then wondered down to the ocean.  I almost went for a swim, but thought I’d find somewhere nearby to camp first, and then go.


Keino Matsubara Beach – my favourite beach so far

Now approaching Muroto point, the huge speared headland grew rocky, as you would expect, and the ocean grew clearer.  Numerous rocky bays peppered the coast, and I felt like jumping into each one with my diving kit and exploring, maybe catching a few lobsters for lunch, but unfortunately I didn’t have my diving equipment (and OK, it was cold and I wimped out!).


One of the many rocky bays on the south coast of Shikoku


And another…


The clearest water I’ve seen for a long time – a great place for a dive, I bet! Shame it was so coooold…….. (and I am a wimp)

I must have passed hundreds of little fishing harbours on my journey round Japan so far – no wonder they eat so much seafood.  Each one is clean and tidy, and the small fishing boats all look the same with white hulls and green decks.  I rolled into one around lunchtime, so sat on the dock and ate the picnic I’d bought from the grocers earlier, and fed the seagulls.


Lunch time on the dock of the bay

An hour later I arrived at Muroto Point and headed north up famed Muroto Skyline drive.  For the first time I saw other bikers, enjoying the lovely weather and great, twisty roads on a lovely sunny Sunday.  The bike was riding like a dream (as usual) I couldn’t help but grin as I raced through the turns, catching glimpses of the coastline far below.  Somewhere down there was the beach I was going to camp on.


View from Muroto Skyline Drive

‘Well I’d better hurry up and find one’ I thought, as the afternoon was already rolling on.

I headed back down to the main road and followed it west towards Kochi.  I thought Kochi might be a little, quaint town by the water, but boy was I wrong.

As I approached Kochi the traffic slowly started building, and I saw no sign of the quaint little town in my imagination – only a huge, sprawling mass of industrial estates and heavy traffic.  Soon I was bogged down, and the road had diverted inland away from the coast.  I soon scrapped the idea of trying to battle through to the other side of town, and bailed out, turning south to try and rejoin the coast.


Not so small and quaint Kochi

After a couple of wasted hours, I eventually fought my way through to the outskirts of this not-so-small city of 350,000 people and found a road leading back to the coast.  Unfortunately first I had to climb a huge mountain which had suddenly appeared between me and my camping beach.  Once again I found myself twisting up familiar narrow mountain roads, but this time I was surrounded by bamboo forest.  In places the bamboo was so thick, you would find it hard to walk through.  It was beautiful, and just about worth the 2 hours of traffic nightmare preceding it.


Thick Bamboo Forest


Gorgeous ride through the bamboo forest roads

By the time I made my way back down to the coast, all the sandy beaches had evaporated, and all that remained were rocky headlands, rocky bays and fishing ports.


Rocky Bays southwest of Kochi – no room for a tent!

I explored every nook and cranny south of Kochi hoping to find some space big enough to put up a tent and park my bike nearby to no avail.  I saw sunset over a tiny fishing port and continued further down the coast.  I couldn’t believe it was happening again!  I thought to myself it was a good job I was on my own, as I knew any pillion or partner would by now be hysterical and demand I pull over immediately into the first hotel we came across.


Still no place for a tent, and the sun had set…

In contrast, I thought to myself “it isn’t so bad”.  I had my bike & my health, and the freedom to do whatever I wanted ahead of me.  However, I did need a shower.

As if my prayers had been answered, around 7pm I found a shower in some public loos on the coast and didn’t waste this rare occurrence. My first shower after 2 nights and 3 days travelling & camping rough felt like being reborn. However, the water was incredibly cold and almost froze me to the floor.

After my shower I gave up looking for a beach to camp on (as I no longer needed to wash in the sea) and started to look for anywhere suitable to throw a tent up. Whenever I camp rough I always try and be as discrete as I can by finding somewhere off road I’m not easily visible.

Following the coast south, I twisted and turned up over more mountains, and once had to backtrack at Okitsu when the road came to a dead end.  It was another dark, cold night, and I started dreaming of my warm sleeping bag and a hot meal.

Being an island (or several islands), Japan is of course hugely reliant on shipping, and therefore ports and ship building dockyards are a common sight.  However, I was fairly surprised to find this road that ran right through the middle of a port. Usually they are well away from public roads due to safety and security concerns – but not in Japan obviously.


Eventually the rocky coast came to end an end and I found a perfect camping spot at Sagakoen Park around 9.30pm, somewhat layer than I intended.  I climbed off the bike and lay on the floor – my back stiff with the full day’s ride.  Pending starvation stopped me falling asleep there and then, and I fired up the stove and knocked together another delicious one pot-meal of curry beef and pasta.  Soon after that the tent was up and I was soundly asleep, dreaming of another exciting day tomorrow as I turned to head up the west coast of Shikoku.

The only ones up before me were the fishermen, who’d probably been up all night, and one mad person walking his dog at 5:30am right past my tent.  Why is there always one?  And why do they always find me?


One good thing about getting up so early is you get to see great sunrises like this one.


IMG_2126 - Copy

Some sunrises are worth getting up for, like this one


Another good thing is you really do have the whole day ahead of you to explore.



Sagakoen Park – my lovely ‘rough’ camping spot

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Shikoku – Part 3

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.


Whale Watching (and eating) – Japan’s favourite pass-time

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.


Ideal deserted camping beach. Unfortunately I didn’t find it in time the previous night!


No wonder Tokyo is the world’s largest city – elsewhere in Japan is deserted!

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!


Surprise, surprise – another huge deserted sandy beach!

Like the coast further north I saw the day before, this beach was hidden by pine forests, making it even more serene.


Shikoku’s beautiful southern coast


Lovely coastal path (that I wasn’t really supposed to be riding down)

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.


Ohki Beach – One of the best I’ve ever seen

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.


Ashizuri-Uwaki National Park – unspoilt nature at its best

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.


Ashizuri-Uwaki National Park


No traffic and gorgeous views like this on every bend – a biker’s heaven!

I took my time and darted off down some woodland paths to explore.  I love being able to ride just about anywhere!


The woodland colours were beautiful in the afternoon sun


Hansel and Gretel’s spooky wood…


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.


Lunch doesn’t get much better than this!

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).


Kongofukuji Temple and the beautiful Buddhas


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.


Dōgo Onsen – one of the oldest hot spring communal bathes in Japan

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!


My huge bed space in the tradition Japanese Ryokan

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!


Another happy biker (with slightly less cubic capacity)


Outside Spa Ryokan Dougoy

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.


The park across the road from my Ryokan

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.


Matsuyama Castle – one of only 12 originals in Japan


The walls are the most impressive things to me – all made without any cement

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.


Katō Yoshiaki’s old suit of armour


Great view of the city from the turrets

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.

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