Friday, January 29, 2010

Shikoku Tour Part III 四国ツアーその3「南国」

A map of our Shikoku cycling trip. The cycle route is shown in yellow and ferry sections are in magenta. We cycled some 1100km in 12 days.


After a heady descent from the mountains, we suddenly find ourselves on the wide but nearly empty coastal highway heading to Cape Muroto, a pointed promontory that defines the south-east coast of the island. The warm Kuroshio Current impinges on Muroto like no other part of the Japanese mainland, influencing the local climate. It is significantly warmer than the inland areas, and subtropical vegetation such as palms abound on this coastline. As we did in the mountains, we have some trouble finding nourishment along this surprisingly barren stretch of road. It's mid-afternoon by the time we dig into our first meal of the day.



Overlooking the numerous tourist traps scattered around Muroto, we take a stroll in the rock gardens along the apex of the legendary cape. It is one of the stormiest and windiest places in Japan, but today the sea is calm as a mirror and there is almost no wind. Only the wave-swept gravel and pointed rocks scubbed bare by the ocean bear witness to the usual conditions.



Muroto is a turning point of sorts on our journey: from here we head more or less back west, shrinking the distance to our destination point daily.
In the small city of Aki along the way, we meet Mr. Ito, his family and friends. He is a Buddhist priest. Leanne teaches English at a kindergarten in Amakusa that is adjunct to a temple, where she must be in the head priest's good books, because he gave her contact information for this disciple of his in Shikoku. We only intended to stop for tea, but upon a cordial invitation to stay, we decide to spend the night. We spend the afternoon and evening talking to Mr. Ito and his wife, who are first-rate hosts and warm, kind human beings. Then Mr. Ito takes us out for delicious Italian dinner, inviting two other interesting friends, including Hama-san (here on left), an erstwhile policeman and cyclist. He accompanied us half-way on our way the following day, glad for a reason to take his fancy road bike for a spin.



A cold but pleasant sunny day awaited us as we made our way along the great arc of Pacific beach on the Kochi coast in the south of Shikoku. The ocean stretched to the horizon on our left, framed by the distant Capes Muroto and Ashizuri; this grand scenery remained ever static, giving the illusion of cycling on a treadmill.



Traditional boats dotted the beach here and there, giving some perspective to the vast landscape. The absence of ports for long stretches here meant that fishing boats had to be designed to be beached when not in use.



Taking advantage of the sea's warmth, we camped at the point where we would turn inland. The next morning's cold air created mirages as it met the warm sea among the rocks and islands of the coast.


We were unprepared for the dramatic transition to inland climate. Atop a 300 meter hill, we took a break in the sunshine still facing the ocean, enjoying what was probably the warmest outdoor moment of the whole tour. Then crossing a short tunnel to the plateau on the other side, we suddenly felt like we entered Siberia. A cold, biting wind hindered our progress and the water standing on the rice paddies became a sheet of ice. The wind and cold continued as we entered the valley of the scenic Shimanto River, where icicles hung from the ubiquitous water wheels at roadside tourist traps. Resting at a bank of jidohanbaiki, Leanne comforts herself with a can of hot drink while she checks the map wondering how much more headwind we'll have to endure.


Even as we struggled on we were not oblivious to the quaint scenery of the Shimanto. This clear-running river is well known as one of the only un-dammed and generally undisturbed rivers in the country, so much so that it may be the only attraction in Shikoku Japanese know about. Here, Leanne crosses a typical one-lane, guardrail-less bridge across the pristine-looking water.


Here's another view of one of these bridges. A railroad also snakes along the river valley. Rail tours of the Shimanto are undoubtedly popular in season with Japan's multitude of train enthusiasts.

The end of a long day brought us to the town of Ekawasaki on the lower stretches on the river, where we soaked our tired bodies in a hot spring and even enjoyed a coin operated massage chair. These facilities were built for tourists, but winter is off season and we had them to ourselves. Similarly, we installed our tent on a comfortable wooden deck at the riverside campground, free of charge as usual.

The weather, which had held wonderfully until now, began to destabilize somewhat, so from the Shimanto we made a one day run back to our car. We were once more on the track of the o-henro; this happy Buddha sits at one of the pilgrimage temples on the way. Beyond a final mountain pass awaited us, and then we descended once more to the ocean.



Construction machinery and hillsides covered with mandarin orange groves dominate the scenery at the port town of Yawatahama, from where the ferry would take us to Kyushu and our parked car. On the ferry and the drive home, we reflected on this trip. It has taken us through many landscapes, some beautiful, some dreary, and we had to patiently endure the cold, day after day. Perhaps the trip's greatest value was its subtle meditative quality; the endurance required strenghtening our spirirs, and reawakening in us an appreciation of the beauty of southwest Japan during its relatively mild but persistent winter season.




  • i love Mrs. Ito

    By Blogger lubo, at 3:36 pm  

  • 二人の走った道のりを地図で眺めると、


    By Blogger kazumi, at 11:48 am  

  • Hello Brother and Kazumi, glad you liked our trip and report!

    We loved Mrs. Ito too. But don't be fooled by her diminutive stature! She likely runs the household with an iron hand and certainly delivered a sermon or two to Leanne during our stay. They are such lovely people, and we are lucky to have met them.

    About the trip route: we probably spent as long planning it and researching it as we did running it on the bike. There were so many factors that influenced our decisions and final choices. For us that's an integral part of the adventure. We are pleased you can appreciate the esthetics of it too!

    By Blogger Leanne and Rik Brezina, at 1:35 pm  

  • Hi there,

    my name is brian from hong kong, we are planning to cycle shikoku island as well.
    not easy to find info on the internet.
    would you like to share you tips
    please email me at
    thanks so much

    By Anonymous brian Fu, at 3:58 pm  

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