The Gadigal of the Eora Nation are the traditional custodians of the place now called Sydney
What a privilege it has been to travel and cycle in South Korea and Japan, if only to barely touch the surface of these ancient, fascinating and gracious countries. Having a family connection to Korea added a wonderful new dimension to our experience, for which we are so grateful. We look forward to returning, perhaps with our grandchildren?
A taxi van took us and our repacked bikes the 97 kms to Kansai airport, where again we had to go through a challenging check-in! Never before have the bike bags been measured and weighed, resulting in overweight charges. We were able to reduce the extra fees in part by carrying on Lois’ panniers, after frantically transferring various liquids and other toiletries to one of the bike bags. Fortunately, the Asiana staff person was very accommodating. At the last moment, she came running after us asking if we had any lithium batteries in our checked baggage. The answer was yes, which required a bit more un- and re-packing! The transfer in Seoul was tight, but OK, and we settled in for the overnight flight across the Pacific Ocean and Papua New Guinea to Sydney, the farthest south we will have been in the Southern Hemisphere. Our plan is to use Sydney as a base for a few weeks while we wait for our friends Helen and Wayne to arrive from Canada. Wayne will cycle the Sydney to Brisbane leg with us.
We arrived on a beautiful sunny morning, easing the transition from northern summer to southern winter. After our bikes were checked by quarantine officers to make sure we were not bringing in any soil on our tires, we went in search of Aussie espressos. At our VRBO on Karraba Point, we were welcomed by some Sulphur-crested Cockatoos perched on the balcony railing!
While the apartment was bright and modern, with a good view of Sydney Harbour, we soon realized it was quite a hike through hilly residential North Sydney to get to the ferry terminals or any cafes or restaurants. It was also draughty and cold, particularly when the weather suddenly turned decidedly more wintry, with the wind whipping up the sea and the rain streaming down across the water. After several days of returning to a chilly apartment, we cut our losses and moved to a (much warmer) boutique hotel in Paddington.
We did discover good espresso at Thelma and Louise, next to the ferry at Neutral Bay, our way over to the city. We got our first sighting of the iconic Sydney Opera and the Sydney Harbour Bridge when the ferry rounded Kirribilli. We saw people on the climb up over the bridge, but decided that the view from below was good enough.
We were pleased to find that our friend, Isabel, whom we had met in New Zealand, would be in town for a few more days before leaving for an extended trip to London and Geneva. We were able to catch up over a couple of afternoons, enjoying a long walk around Rozelle and Blackwattle Bays and dinner in Annandale. Isabel was very gracious in inviting us to stay at her apartment after we return from the Northern Territory and for allowing our bikes to be stored on her balcony.
Counted as one of the world’s great international cities, Sydney has stunning natural beauty with its famous harbour views, great architecture, superb restaurants, world class galleries and shopping and interesting walkable neighbourhoods. The older gentrified neighbourhoods have preserved attractive Victorian or Edwardian terraced houses, many of which have decorative cast iron railings and ornament, built in the “Filigree” style.
A tour of the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art gave us a very good introduction to some prominent Australian artists. A very knowledgeable guide concentrated the tour on indigenous art. Her interpretation of the pieces, together with the context of the history of colonization was important to hear.
While the food everywhere has been excellent, two restaurants deserving of particular mention are Tequila Mockingbird and Mejico, offering a sophisticated new twist on Latin American cuisine.
Espresso notes: Good espresso is not hard to come by in Sydney, but of special mention is Campos, served at Thelma and Louise, which was exceptional: 9.0/ 10 & Paddington Grind Raging Bull: 8.9/ 10.
The prevalence of PD in Asian countries was assessed as being slightly lower than in “Western countries “ but, with considerable variation in the reported prevalence and incidence of PD, this difference may not be real.
Systematic Review of the Prevalence and Incidence of Parkinson’s Disease in Asia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/6830454/
In a study in Japan it was concluded that the prevalence of PD had increased but primarily because the population had aged. Differences in prevalence between adjacent areas of the country may have resulted from differences in the methods of investigation.
Changes in prevalence and incidence of Parkinson’s disease in Japan during a quarter of a century https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/19209006/
In relation to physical activity, in one study Public Health Nurses visited, and followed up for more than one year, 438 patients with Parkinson’s disease living in Osaka. The follow-up period averaged 4.1 years, during which 71 deaths were observed. Compared with the exercising group, the non-exercising patients had a hazard ratio of 1.83. That is, in this time frame the mortality experience of those not exercising was much greater.
Effect of physical exercise on mortality in patients with Parkinson’s disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/1519475/?i=213&from=parkinson%27s%20disease%20japan%20rehabilitation
An interesting rehabilitation approach involved “mental singing” where patients suffering from mild to moderate PD underwent a structured music therapy session in which they were trained to walk while singing in their heads. The patients were trained in 7 progressive tasks, with a final goal of walking while mentally singing. Follow-up interviews with the patients indicated that the persons studied, effectively utilized mental singing while walking in their daily lives. The authors noted that the tasks were simple, required no special tools, and could be utilized anytime and anyplace.
Training in mental singing while walking improves gait disturbance in Parkinson’s disease patients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4242936/#!po=71.5909
The effectiveness of exercise at home was evaluated in another publication. A 2-month home exercise intervention consisting of self-administered exercise by patients (self-exercise), and home visit exercise therapy guided by a physical therapist (home visit exercise), was conducted in 10 home care patients with PD to compare changes in physical function, activities of daily living, and postural status between before and after the intervention. The researchers concluded that guidance in home exercise in home care patients with PD can be effective in making self-exercise a habit, improving range of motion and muscle strength, and reducing the time spent in a supine position.
Effects of Home Exercise on Physical Function and Activity in Home Care Patients with Parkinson’s Disease https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5248606/#__ffn_sectitle
Inpatient rehabilitation was assessed in another piece of work. The conclusion reached was that intensive inpatient rehabilitation was effective even in advanced Parkinson’s disease and that intensive inpatient rehabilitation, together with home and day‐care exercise, might counteract the progressive motor decline in Parkinson’s disease.
Therapeutic effects of intensive inpatient rehabilitation in advanced Parkinson’s disease Yumiko Kaseda, Junko Ikeda, […], and Masayasu Matsumoto https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5248606/#__ffn_sectitle
We could only review articles in English. In looking at the literature on PD in Japan and news reports, the greatest effort seems to be related to drug therapy and surgery.
Earthquake: two days after we left Kyoto and flew from Osaka, a 6.1 earthquake hit Osaka, killing 3 people and injuring more than 100, damaging buildings and infrastructure. The quake was felt in Kyoto.
One of Japan’s best preserved cities, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan for over 1000 years until 1869 and continues to display a stately and elegant calm. Described in the Lonely Planet as “old Japan writ large: quiet temples, sublime gardens, colourful shrines and geisha scurrying to secret liaisons”, Kyoto is surpassed only by Rome in its number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (17), with more than 1000 Buddhist temples and over 400 Shintō shrines. It is also a highly walkable city, with no end of interesting streets, shops, restaurants and cafes.
The city suffered extensive destruction in the Ōnin War of 1467–1477, and did not really recover until the mid-16th century. In the late 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (to whom we referred previously in relation to the Bunraku performance) reconstructed the city by building new streets to double the number of north-south streets in central Kyoto, creating rectangle blocks superseding ancient square blocks. Throughout the Edo period, the economy of the city flourished as one of three major cities in Japan, the others being Osaka and Edo. It is now part of the huge Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto metropolis of 20 million people.
Three days was too short a time in this historic city and certainly not long enough to see more than a fraction of its cultural riches. With the aid of our trusty Lonely Planet guide, we narrowed the choice to a manageable number, interspersed with ice-cream and tea breaks and browsing in high end shops selling traditional crafts such as Kyoto pottery, lacquerware, folding fans, jewelry, kimonos, dolls and wood block prints. A number of shops offer kimono rental for the day, for those who wish to visit the temples or simply stroll around the city in traditional clothing.
Our first visit was to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a famous landmark of the city. Said to represent the “favoured expression of faith in Japan”, Kiyomizu-dera Temple was first built in 798, but the present buildings are reconstructions dating from 1633. As an affiliate of the Hossō school of Buddhism, which originated in Nara, the temple has successfully survived the many intrigues of local Kyoto schools of Buddhism through the centuries. The Main Hall (Hondō), which is under renovation, has a huge verandah jutting out over the hillside, supported by pillars. Just below this hall is the waterfall Otowa-no-taki, where visitors drink sacred waters believed to bestow health and longevity. Before we explored the actual temple precincts, we experienced the Tainai-meguri, a space representing the womb of a female Bodhisattva. Holding onto a rope, you walk down a passage in absolute darkness, symbolically entering the “womb”. In the middle you arrive at a source of faint light drawing your attention to a stone engraved with a sacred symbol. Touching the stone is meant to give you good luck. As you emerge back into the sunshine outside, the Tainai-meguri is supposed to give you a feeling of being reborn. Although we didn’t necessarily feel reborn, it was a rather moving experience, a surprise for normally claustrophobic Lois!
The exquisite Kodai-ji Temple was founded in 1605 by Kita-no-Mandokoro in memory of her late husband, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The extensive grounds include gardens designed by the famed landscape architect Kobori Enshū, and teahouses designed by the renowned master of the tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyū.
Kennin-ji was founded in 1202 by the monk Eisai, and is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. The highlight at Kennin-ji is the fine and expansive dry landscape (kare-sansui) The painting of the twin dragons on the roof of the Hōdō hall is also fantastic. Created by Koizumi Junsaku in 2002,the work commemorates the 800-year anniversary of Kenninji’s founding. The painting, which measures 11.4m by 15.7m (the size of 108 tatami mats), is drawn with the finest quality ink on thick traditional Japanese paper. It was created in the gymnasium of an elementary school in Hokkaido and took the artist just under two years to complete.
Kyoto’s famed ‘Golden Pavilion’, Kinkaku-ji is one of Japan’s best-known sights. The main hall, covered in brilliant gold leaf shining above its reflecting pond is truly spectacular.
The original building was built in 1397 as a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshim- itsu and later converted into a temple by his son. In 1950, a young monk consummated his obsession with the temple by burning it to the ground! The monk’s story was fictionalised in Mishima Yukio’s, The Golden Pavilion. In 1955, a full reconstruction was completed following the original design except that the gold-foil covering was extended to the lower floors.
We then walked to Ryoanji Temple and its Stone Garden, one of the symbols of Kyoto. Founded in 1450, Ryōan-ji belongs to the Rinzai school.The garden, an oblong of raked sand with an austere collection of 15 carefully placed rocks, apparently adrift in a sea of sand, is enclosed by an earthen wall. The designer, who remains unknown to this day, provided no explanation. Although many historians believe the garden was arranged by Sōami during the Muromachi period (1333–1568), some contend that it is a much later product of the Edo period. It is Japan’s most famous hira-niwa (a flat garden void of hills or ponds) and reveals the simplicity and harmony of the principles of Zen meditation.
Chiron-In Temple is “a collection of soaring buildings and spacious courtyards” which serves as the headquarters of the Jōdo sect, the largest school of Buddhism in Japan. Chion-in was established in 1234 on the site where Hōnen, one of the most famous figures in Japanese Buddhism, taught his brand of Buddhism (Jōdo, or Pure Land, Buddhism). He eventually fasted to death.
The oldest of the existing buildings date to the 17th century, with the two-storey Sanmon temple gate, the largest in Japan. A sanmon or sangedatsumon (lit. “gate of the three liberations) is the most important gate of a Japanese Zen Buddhist temple. Up a flight of steps southeast of the main hall is the temple’s giant bell, cast in 1633 and weighing 70 tonnes. It is the largest bell in Japan and is rung by the temple’s monks 108 times each New Year’s Eve.
We walked along the pleasantPath of Philosophy or Tetsugaku-no-Michi. Lined with a great variety of flowering plants, bushes and trees, it is a corridor of colour or intense greenery throughout most of the year.
At the entrance to Nanzenji Temple stands another massive Sanmon. Steps lead up to the 2nd storey, which has a great view over the city.
To round off our short stay in Kyoto, we attended an ancient tea ceremony at Camellia, an old Japanese house just off Ninen-zaka. The Japanese tea ceremony has many names in Japanese: Chanoyu, sado or ocha. It has a long history of a thousand years and has ties to the tea traders in China. Japanese monks first brought back tea leaves during the Chinese Tang dynasty (618 – 907 AD) and only used them in their temples for religious services. A priest called Myoan Eisai spread the belief that green tea could be used for medicine and by drinking it regularly you were ensured good health. Samurai in particular followed this practice and spread its popularity. Later, Sen no Rikyu, called the father of the tea ceremony, added more significance and rituals by making powdered tea (matcha) so others could enjoy it. His focus on aesthetics became well known and heavily influences the tea ceremony that we know today. The ceremony was explained in English and then performed simply and elegantly by the host. As the first guest to enter the room, Lois was presented with the ceremonial cup of matcha. We were then each given a cup and a bamboo whisk to make our own cups of frothy matcha.
Arabica Kyoto Higashiyama – Coffee (Macchiato 8.25/ 10)Onibus beans: blend of Brazil Guatemala Ethiopia at Cafe Len (9/ 10)
We took the cycle path described on the
Cyclekyoto.com website, which essentially follows the banks of the Yodo and Katsura rivers to Kyoto. While It was not that easy to follow in places and the dozen or so motorcycle barriers were tedious to get through, overall it was a pleasant, quiet and easy ride. When we lost the trail near Kyoto, we conveniently came across a bakery! We met another bicycle tourer repairing a puncture, a Ukrainian living in Germany who had been cycling around Japan for five weeks. He observed that the path that we were on was the best that he had come across. Even on secondary roads he had found the traffic very heavy, similar to our experience.
The Garmin surprised us by directing us to our hotel (Sunroute) through attractive narrow streets, which was a good introduction to the city! We had an excellent meal in a Lonely Planet recommended tofu restaurant, Tousuiro, one of the many dishes of which was their specialty, cold oboro tofu.
We had our morning espresso at Bogart’s, looking out on one of the canals and listening to recordings of familiar songs sung Hawaiian style, accompanied by a ukulele!
We spent the morning at the National Museum of Art, viewing an excellent exhibition, “The Myriad Forms of Visual Art”, comprising 196 works from the collection presented in 19 themes. In addition to many Japanese artists (almost all new to us), including Jiro Takamatsu, there were works by Moore, Warhol, Picasso, Ernst, Newman, Giacometti, and Lichtenstein (his “Water Lilies with Japanese Bridge” is wonderful), among others.
The afternoon was devoted to an introduction to Bunraku, a sophisticated form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre founded in Osaka in the beginning of 17th century. Bunraku, like Kabuki, often depict stories based on adaptations of scripts with similar themes. Classic tragic love stories, heroic legends and tales based on historical events are popular. The show at the National Bunraku Theatre was billed as a performance for beginners and included an introduction to the almost life-size puppets and the work of the puppeteers. All but the most minor characters require three puppeteers, who perform in full view of the audience, generally wearing black robes. In the National Bunraku Theatre, the main puppeteer, omozukai, is unhooded. Bunraku synchronizes narrative recitation, shamisen music and puppetry in performance. The chanter or “Tayu” and the shamisen player are off to one side. The Tayu chants and sings the story and also voices the puppet characters, changing his speech and intonation to express different genders, ages, and social ranking. The theatre had a revolving platform for the chanter and shamisen player, which rotated bringing replacement musicians for the next scene.
We had been informed that there would be no English audio guide, but the program précis helped enough for us to get a sense of the proceedings. The main performance dramatized an incident in the late 16th century in which the samurai and general Akechi Mitsuhide overthrew his lord, Oda Nobunaga, and then is himself struck down. The performances were incredible and the ranges of emotion expressed, astounding. The shamisen player complemented the narrator precisely. Surprisingly, you get pulled into the performance on stage and almost forget about the chanter.
In Osaka, regular performances in July and August start at 11am and are in three parts ending around 8:40 pm!
Kobe and Osaka are one large conurbation and the best route we could find was to follow National Route #2 all the way. This is a busy road, but because it goes through a built up area, sidewalks are continuous. Even though we were separated from the vehicular traffic, we still had to contend with multiple stop lights, pedestrians and other cyclists, which made progress slow and tiring. At one large intersection, there were no lights or crosswalks but there was a subway with elevators!
Leaving the route to look for a coffee/ pastry shop open on a Saturday morning, we instead found Caracol, a charming tea shop with great scones. Later, Paul pulled up on the sidewalk for a drink of water. Glancing at the shop beside him, he saw it was an optician and there in the display window were pairs of Clic reading glasses. Paul’s current pair, bought in France in 2014, and which had been repaired once already by Chris with glue, were now being held together by electrical tape: serendipity indeed!
A “breakfast set” which is frequently available in cafes includes one or two eggs, usually boiled, but occasionally poached, a thick slice of toasted white bread, a small salad and coffee (or, this morning, good espresso and latte.)
The first section of the route recommended by the Japan Cycling website, was primarily a sidewalk/ bike trail beneath the Sanyo Shinkansen tracks. Running near industrial sites along the shore, it was useful but not particularly pretty! Later, the route joined a much more scenic path along the seaside into Akashi. Light rain continued for much of the ride (the thunderstorm came later in the evening) and it was warm. After Akashi, we rode on sidewalks alongside National Route #2 into Hyogo, a suburb of Kobe.
Dinner was excellent! We found a French restaurant with a young Japanese chef/owner trained in Orleans. He spoke little English, but some French, and so we managed well together. He was really accommodating and designed a meatless menu for us – marinaded salmon, green salad, potato soup, pan fried bream and café gourmand, with very good decaf espresso. As seems to be the custom, the owner waved goodbye to us from the doorway when we left.
In 1995, Hyogo, the prefecture of Kobe, suffered a 6.9 earthquake which caused 6400 deaths and a great deal of structural damage. High rise buildings constructed after new codes were introduced in the 1980’s survived intact, but older traditional wooden houses with heavy tiled roofs, built to withstand typhoons, collapsed. The UN Hyogo Framework for Action, which came out of a meeting in 2005, is designed to build resilience of nations and communities to disasters.
Soon after leaving Tonosho, we stopped at “Mother’s” again for brewed coffee, toast and that very good orange spread. The ride from there to Fukuda was great, although increasingly hilly around the coast (except for one long tunnel with a separate bike lane), which meant we would be cutting it close to make the planned 11:40 ferry. This wasn’t a problem, as the ferries run every two hours, but, of course, it became a challenge! A couple of kilometres from Fukuda, we decided that we had missed that sailing, but as we rounded the last corner and sped down towards the harbour, the boat was still there. We motioned that we wanted to board and Paul ran to get tickets, with 3 minutes to go before departure! After we cleared the ramp, it was raised and we left! It was a pleasant 1 hr 40min ride to Himeji and then an easy 6 km bike to our hotel.
The main reason for staying in Himeji was to see Himeji Castle. Himeji-jo, the largest and most visited castle in Japan, is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture. It was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. The castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō or Shirasagi-jō (“White Egret Castle” or “White Heron Castle”) because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.
The original castle was built in 1346, replacing an earlier fort built on Himeyama hill. Significantly remodelled as Himeji-Jo by the regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th C, the castle was an important part of a network of feudal fortresses created throughout Japan to ensure the kingdom’s continued unification. Between 1601 and 1609, Ikeda Terumas demolished and completely rebuilt and expanded the castle and added three moats. Unlike many other feudal castles in Japan, Himeji-jo was preserved to the present in its original form.
The most impressive aspect is the wooden construction, built on top of stone foundations. The castle was extensively restored in the 20th C, owing to some subsidence from the 6000 tonnes (6 million kg) structure. We climbed (carrying our shoes as required) five storeys to the top from where there is a commanding view of the city.
Wildlife Note: wild monkeys crossed our path and barked at us on the road near Fukuda.
Takakamatsu to Tonosho (Shodoshima)(15 km by bike & 26 km by ferry) (33 km by bike)
We had been encouraged to visit Shodoshima by Alix’s cousin, Andy, and it looked like it might be a fun place to cycle. It turned out to be a great choice (thanks, Andy!). Shodoshima is the second largest island in the Seto Inland Sea (and one of the first islands born to the gods in the creation myth of Japan). The name literally means “small bean island”, which apparently refers to the Azuki bean, but today would more fittingly refer to the soy bean as the island has traditionally been a producer of soy sauce. It is now is even better known for its olive plantations, introduced in 1910, the island’s Mediterranean climate making it an ideal place for growing olives.
Boarding the ferry for the hour long sailing to Shodoshima was a pleasure after our struggles on the trains. Our bikes were not only secured with wooden blocks behind the wheels, they were also carefully secured by ropes with protective cloths over the frames! This was all done for us, while we watched in admiration (and thoughts about frantically securing our bikes on BC ferries!)
We had booked a room at the ryokan Tanku Hotel Kairo, which we found perched on top of a hill. We appreciated the view later, if not the steep road up! The hotel was rigid about check-in time, so we dropped our bags and headed (back down) for lunch at a local ramen restaurant. The noodles and boiled egg were very good. We sat outside overlooking the sea and Angel Road, a string of small islands joined at low water by sand bars. After lunch, we walked along Angel Road just before the tide came in.
As the forecast for the next day was for rain, we decided to cycle a few kilometres out of Tonosho to Nakayama to visit the Lonely Planet recommended “thousand rice fields” – multiple terraced rice fields, irrigated by spring water and believed to have been built between the 14th and 17th centuries. There, we also discovered an active traditional thatched Kabuki theatre, one of only two surviving from the Edo era. Kabuki is classical stylized Japanese dance drama, but unlike major Kabuki shows, the actors, narrators, makeup artists and stage carpenters of the Shodoshima theatres are all local residents. In the costume storage house, 350 scripts and 720 costumes are stored and available for use.
Arriving back at the hotel, we discovered that dinner had to be reserved ahead of time. So, it was cheese and crackers again, plus some local green olives we had bought when we stopped for ice cream, which we ate on our tatami mat sitting area looking out over the sea.
It did rain the next day, but was limited to intermittent light showers so didn’t interfere with our sight-seeing. The Japanese rainy season, tsuyu, begins between the end of May and mid-June, depending on the region. On the way up to the Olive Garden another cycle tourer caught up with us. We had noticed him on the Shimanami Kaido, going in the other direction. He lives in Wellington, NZ and was on a two week vacation. Like us, he was taking advantage of ferries to avoid cycling on busy highways.
The Olive Garden is where the island’s olive growing activities are celebrated. Since the early 20th C Shodoshima has been a top producer of Japanese olives and olive oil, and has earned the nickname “Olive Island”. We left our bikes and wandered through the groves and took photos of play structures designed by Japanese American sculptor and landscape artist, Isamu Noguchi. The gift shop was replete with foods and other products made using olive oil. The olive chocolate was delicious!
On the way back, we stopped at The Style Shop Mother’s on another citrus fruit and olive farm. The restaurant served really wonderful freshly squeezed juice from local Hassaku oranges. It is a citrus hybrid, orange in colour but grapefruit in size. The taste was more bitter than an orange. In the shop, we sampled their olive oil, including a dressing blended with mandarin oranges. Unfortunately, they do not ship out of Japan!
In between the farm visits, we stopped in Sakate, where the air was heavy with the fragrance of soy sauce. At a small manufacturer, we sampled a local soy sauce on its own and one mixed with garlic olive oil. Then, we went on to the Marukin factory where there is an informative display about the 400 year-old history and production of soy sauce on the island. Finally, we had soft-served soy sauce ice cream, which is salty and surprisingly good. On the way back, we missed the turning where we had planned to also sample local plum ice cream!
Dinner at the hotel was another excellent multi-dish meal, served ryokan style, including rice with fish cooked in an iron pot at the table.
Paul is reading American anthropologist Ruth Benedict’s book, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (a recommendation by Rory). Benedict’s study was commissioned by the U.S. government after WWII to aid in understanding Japanese actions both during and after the war. While it has been criticized by some as being too narrow and definitive, it remains a useful introduction to Japanese culture. Benedict describes the ethical code requiring extreme repayment of obligations and drastic renunciations. However, she observes that the Japanese consider physical pleasure good and worth of cultivation. “One of the best loved minor pleasures… is the hot bath”. Soaking in our separate (male and female) outdoor onsen, with the rain gently falling, we would agree!
After the wonderful Shimanami Kaido, we were even more keen to avoid cycling on heavily trafficked roads, which ruled out riding across Shikoku or attempting to cycle to any of the 88 temples on the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Instead, we opted to take the train to Takamatsu, with a view to cycling on the island of Shodoshima. This, of course, meant spending a couple of hours at Imabari Station dismantling and packing up our bikes. We did a better job than last time fitting them into the Rinko bags, but still had to lug the bags and panniers into an elevator and onto the platform. Misunderstanding the instructions from the ticket collector, we were waiting at the wrong end of the platform and had to rush to the other end to get onto the right carriage after the conductor had blown the whistle to leave. While we jumped on with our bicycles and some panniers, the conductor loaded the other panniers on further down the train. After we departed, Lois went looking for the panniers and met the conductor bringing them to us. Paul was in the process of battling to get the bikes parked behind the back seats as instructed, but the conductor indicated he would put them in the corridor, much to our surprise. Obviously, on his train that was OK!
We spent a day in Takamatsu visiting what remains of the 16th C Takamatsu Castle and the Ritsurin-Kōen gardens. We chatted with our Victoria family on FaceTime while we were beside the castle’s surviving seawater moat, the site of an annual swimming race in honour of an age-old chivalrous tradition. The city’s light rail system took us to within 500 m of the Ritsurin-Kōen gardens, designed in the mid-1600’s as a strolling garden for the regional feudal lord. Said to be the among the most beautiful in all of Japan, the exquisite gardens feature lakes, bridges, islands, landscaped hills, tea rooms and pavilions, set amongst 1400 carefully trimmed black pine trees. We took tea in the Higurashi-tei which dates from 1898, sitting on tatami mats. (The 17th C Kikugetsu-tei tea house was closed). At the water source, two men were cleaning algae from the stones, in order maintain the pristine looking stream.
Returning to the hotel to reassemble our bikes, we then went for an early dinner at Ofukuro, a washofu (local eating house). Like a tapas bar, a number of prepared dishes were on the counter. We chose egg and tofu, deep-fried snapper, eggplant, and spinach, followed by rice and egg miso soup. Later, we relaxed (separately) in the hotel’s onsen and rotemburo (open-air bath) and (very hot) saunas.
Our friend Helen B sent us an article the other day from the May/June copy of I Fly Magazine, describing the Top 5 Bike Holidays. Two of them we had done: La Route Verte in Quebec (the section from Montreal to Rivière-du-Loup ) and Land’s End to John O’Groats in Britain. We can now tick off a third on the list, the Shimanami Kaido. It certainly ranks up there with the other two – the cycling was excellent, the scenery stunning, and the weather perfect.
The Shimanami Kaido is a 78 km bike route that winds across six islands in the Seto Inland Sea, between Honshu and Shikokū. The islands are connected by the Setouchi Shimanami, a chain of 7 enormous bridges (3 suspension bridges are among the longest in the world) linking Onomichi with Imabari. The recommended cycle route (there are other routes on the islands) is generally flat, apart from the long, gentle climbs up to the bridges, and can easily be done in a day. We decided to break it up and spend a night on the islands to extend the experience. There are also a number of interesting sites to visit along the route.
Cyclists are advised to avoid the first bridge, so after espressos and croissants at the Cycle Hotel, we boarded the small ferry that makes the 7 minute crossing between Onomichi and Mukouijima. The cycle route took us through quiet villages and larger industrial towns, past vistas of sandy beaches, islands, forested hills and citrus groves. The roads were quiet and usually had bikeable sidewalks. On the bridges, we cycled on dedicated cycle paths, although one of them was shared with motor scooters, which meant for one unnerving moment!
We stopped for a late morning ice cream (the sea salt and milk was very good) at Dolce, an obligatory stop for travellers, and then udon with shrimp in Setoda. In the afternoon, we visited the Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art. Ikuo was a local painter who travelled widely, exploring the influences brought to Japan via the Silk Road. The gallery had an attractive tea room where we had fresh lemonade from local lemons and Chrysanthemum tea, and bought some lemon cakes. We then climbed up to the Kousanji Temple, built in the 1940’s by an industrialist, in honour of his mother. He later also became a priest to further repay a debt of gratitude to his mother!
Our guest house, Setoda Private Hostel, was right on Sunset Beach. While somewhat rustic and with shared shower facilities, it had an onsen (indoor hot bath with water from geothermally heated springs), which we were able to use privately. The bath, beach and the sunset were all lovely. Over a dinner of fried fish we chatted with a couple from the Vaud region in Switzerland.
Breakfast at the hostel was traditional, with fish, rice, miso soup, egg and green tea. We did not find coffee until later, when Paul happened to notice a COFFEE sign along the seashore. Lois went in search of the proprietor of the guest house, who served us good brewed coffee on the patio, and, much to our surprise, cheese on toast! The 73-year old clearly enjoyed talking to her guests and sat with us, using Google Translate to ask us questions and tell us about her family and her various guests. We also shared information about Canada, our offspring and families and showed her photos. She was fascinated when Paul found an old photo of her guesthouse on Google Maps. We tried various ways to forward the photo to her, but without success. While we were sitting there, a Black Kite had perched on a sign across the road. Paul was intrigued when the proprietor tossed out some food for the bird which swooped down and swiftly retrieved it. We were a bit reluctant to leave that patio on the ocean and that very nice lady, who gave Lois a hug when we said goodbye!
Later in the day, at the top of one hill
we chatted with a group of cyclists from Singapore and Taiwan. Apparently, Singapore is working to improve cycling infrastructure on the island.
Too soon, we were on the last bridge onto Shikoku, at Imabari. At the recommendation of our hotel, we ate at Yuki restaurant, where we had another memorable meal. With the help of another customer, we settled on “no meat” and a price for the meal (we were asked our budget!) We then received a stream of delicious and interesting dishes. The first was raw octopus which was actually OK! The broad bean tempura was the highlight for Paul. Then came tuna and amberjack sashimi, abalone with rice, white fish tempura, eggplant, miso soup, lotus root, a whole Rock Fish each and then green tea sorbet. The sea cucumber we mostly left untouched! We were both drinking draft beer and Paul was treated to local Soju (made from lotus root) by another other diner. It was strong! On leaving, the proprietor and her son, who was the chef, came outside to say goodbye. The restaurant is named after her 88 year old mother, Myuki, whom we were told still rides around on a bicycle.
Coffee note: very good Brazilian/Ethiopian blend espresso (8.5/ 10) at the Hotel Cycle in Imabari.
The town of Takehara styles itself as the “Little Kyoto of Aki”, having a well preserved old town, including 120 buildings remaining from the late Edo period (17 to 19th centuries), when the city flourished as a centre of the salt industry. The Special Historical District of old warehouses was selected as one of Japan’s “100 Most Scenic Towns”. After an early breakfast in a charming cafe (egg set for Paul, waffles for Lois, and good siphon coffee), we cycled through the atmospheric old town before the shops opened.
The area is popular with makers of Samurai movies. Takehara is also known for a more infamous reason. An island just off the coast was the site of the Japanese Imperial Army’s poison gas factory during the Sino-Japanese war and WW2. It is now overrun by rabbits which, according to some sources, were used to test the poison gas and then set free at the end of the war.
The ride today was much better. There were sidewalks on most of the route (#185), few hills and the traffic was light, apart from a short stretch on National Highway #2. Most of the time we were by the sea. It was a misty day, but the forecasted rain held off.
Just cycling into Onomichi, we noticed a “brasserie” where the table d’hôte was a multi course meal with a white fish and shrimp option for the main course. Sitting there, sipping our Perrier, we could have been in a cafe in Paris (apart from the bowl of rice which came with the meal!) Supper was cheese and crackers in our room, looking out on the harbour and Mukoujima island. Just close to our hotel is the boutique Hotel Cycle. At $300 a night, it was beyond our budget, but we enjoyed wandering through the complex. There is a valet service for your bicycle and very chic surroundings. The coffee shop and bakery serve espresso and croissants, so that will be our first stop in the morning!
We had a brief panic this morning, when, just after starting out for the nearby Cafe di Espresso, Lois had a sharp, burning pain under her right kneecap when flexing her knee, virtually making it impossible to cycle. She had had occasional twinges in Korea after we had been pushing our bikes up very steep grades (or from cycling against the wind), but it had not been this intense. Lois, fearful of potentially derailing the cycle trip just after having restarted, decided (and Paul concurred) on a 3-pronged approach: ice, double strength Ibuprofen and a support bandage. To our surprise, this (plus a good latte) seemed to relieve the pain and we, also relieved, set off on National Route (highway) #2. Our plan was to follow the #2 and then the Prefecture Road #34 to Takehara, as per the route suggested by Japancycling.org. We were a little concerned that there were no details about the route on this website, nor had we found any blogs describing cycling in this area. However, it was going to take us where we wanted to go, i.e., Onomichi.
Cyclists in Japan use the sidewalks, many of which are pedestrian and cycle paths, and this morning they were crowded with cyclists, many of them students in school uniforms, racing to school. It was a bit unnerving, as no one seems to necessarily stick to one lane, or slow down significantly when coming towards you, and, as Japan has left-hand drive, this compounded our uncertainty. Lois decided that the best strategy was to adopt the Phnom Penh approach – don’t hesitate and keep moving! Once we were out of the city, the sidewalks disappeared and we soon found ourselves ascending on a narrow two-laned highway, with no, or very little, hard shoulder. Worse, the #34 turned out to be a heavily-used truck route. It was a scary and unpleasant couple of hours.
Our friend Alix had put us in touch with her cousin, Andy, who lives in Kumano, a suburban town in the hills just above Hiroshima. As Kumano was on the #34, we had arranged to meet Andy for a quick visit. Speeding downhill into the town we were surprised to see Andy (the only Caucasian) looking out for us on the highway, with his rescue dog, Charlie. Andy was clearly surprised to see us as well and that we had survived the highway! He invited us back to his home where we had an enjoyable visit, drinking tea and chatting, mostly about Japan, and meeting two of his children when they returned from school. When we suggested that it was time to get back on the road, Andy insisted on driving us and our bikes the rest of the way to Takehara in his minivan. He clearly did not think that the #34 was a safe cycle route. Having to agree with him, our protests were weak and we very gratefully accepted the ride.