Saturday, January 16, 2010

Shikoku Bike Tour Part 1 - 四国の自転車旅その1

Over our winter holidays, we spent two weeks more or less circumnavigating Shikoku, the smallest of the four large Japanese islands, by bicycle.
Usually, we like to restrict our rambles to uninhabited, usually mountainous regions, especially in this country where the populated areas are truly not very interesting to look at. But on a trip like this, and especially because in the winter it is more difficult to pass through mountains unhindered by conditions, we elected to cycle through long stretches of urban, semi-urban, and industrial environment as well. Perhaps next time we'd better take our car to get through this and spend more time in the hills, but we did appreciate the holistic feeling of completing the whole tour (except ferries) on our own power. It was a kind of Zen exercise, pushing though the ramshackle scenery that is most of built-up Japan, all the while resisting the cold of the relatively mild but persistent winter conditions of western Japan. And the mountains and sea, as always, were peaceful and beautiful.



We began on the Sadamisaki Peninsula, a long narrow strip of hilly land that extends toward Kyushu, from where we arrived by a convenient ferry. For the first time in Japan, we strapped panniers to our bikes to take the load off our backs and behinds. This way we were able to bring more gear for warmth and spent nights in our tent in reasonable comfort. The Canadian-made Arkel panniers performed flawlessly throughout the trip.


Japan's surprisingly ramshackle habitations look much better if they are situated in the countryside, like this old house amidst the ubiquitous orange groves of the peninsula.


The first city we needed to traverse was Matsuyama, Shikoku's largest with a population of 510,000. We were surprised by the modern appearance and preponderance of large, brand-new-looking shopping malls of this town, as well as a huge sports and culture complex we happened upon. In an indication of where the Japanese society is heading, the malls were very crowded, whereas the culture complex was virtually deserted. We even visited a friendly MTB bike shop "Western Cycle House" which Leanne had geocoded in our GPSs before the trip. The staff greeted us with friendly chatter, freshly made rice cakes and green tea. We even appeared on their BLOG.

人口51万の四国に二番目大きいな市の松山市を漕いで圧倒的多数の新しそうで大きい時現代建築があったから驚きました。旅に出る前に万が一自転車に問題があるためにMTBの店を家のパソコンに調べて、GPSに入れ込んだ。松山市にサイクルハウス ウエスタンを訪れってやさしいスタッフから新年の御餅とお茶を頂いた。店のブログにも載っていました。


After Matsuyama we crossed a range of hills, camping off a small road circling a reservoir. That morning, like the rest of the trip, it was chilly and we balanced our effort climbing the hill to stay warm but to avoid sweating.


Here and there in the rural countryside, attractive semi-traditional houses are still to be seen. In the cities most have been replaced with cheap-looking, plastic sided habitations.


As we neared the top of the hill on the smooth, wide highway, we were passed by several cyclists. We met up at on the road's summit where everyone availed themselves of hot drinks from the vending machines. They were from the local track cycling club which explained their (relative) struggle climbing: their track bikes had no gears! Of course with our loads and clunky mountain bikes, we were still slower. After a nice chat, we forged on though a long tunnel underneath the mountain.



Our nourishment along the way consisted largely of ramen and udon noodles or karaage fried chicken at roadside restaurants such as this one, and assorted junk food from convenience stores. We ate prodigious quantities, for we needed energy not only for cycling but to stay warm throughout the day and night. It was perhaps not the best fuel, and somewhat expensive, but we did not have the option of carrying too much food with us as our bikes were already overloaded with warm clothes and camping gear. While stopped during the day we often tried to dry our damp gear as you can see here.



Descending again to the sea, we neared our first objective: the bridges of the Shimanami Highway, one of three massive bridge systems that link Shikoku to the Japanese mainland of Honshu. The Shimanami is the only one that is passable by bike and in fact a special bike route has been built that makes the crossings fun, exciting, and safe.



Climbing up to the bridges, one can enjoy views of Japan's Inland Sea and the industrial complexes that line much of its shores, like this ship-building yard in the city of Imabari.



The first set of bridges span the Kurushima Strait, a busy channel that is infamous among ship captains because it's narrow, crooked, and beset with strong tidal currents. On this morning, however, conditions were good and shipping relatively sparse.



Leanne descends the bicycle off-ramp on one of the bridges. We were delighted to see other cyclists, including families with small children, traversing the bridges. Most recreational facilities get little use in Japan, so it was nice to see an exception.



Although some of the many sizeable islands in the Inland Sea are now linked to the mainland by bridges, they still seem a little less 'modernized' than Japan's mainland. That's also evident in this modest house under construction, where a bamboo lattice will form the framework for a mud wall. In this day of drywall and plastic siding, such a traditional approach is rare indeed to see on a new house.


A gibbous moon rises behind the cables and pylons of a gigantic suspension bridge that spans the sea between Ehime and Hiroshima Prefectures. We had moonlight almost every night, which came in useful in the evenings as we compensated for the short daylight hours (and frigid mornings) by biking an hour or two into the evening darkness.


Wild boars are common in most parts of Japan, even on some of the outlying islands where, surprisingly, they are able to swim over considerable distances in the sea. The one on this sign somehow bears a striking resemblance to Leanne!


By the time we got to the final bridge of the 70km long Shimanami Kaido biking trail, it was dark but the bridge itself was nicely lit.




  • いつも、旅の報告を見るのを楽しみにしてます。


    By Blogger kazumi, at 1:22 pm  

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