Bridges, Islands and Gorges

Shikoku is famous for its natural beauty and we certainly experienced it as we travelled around. The morning we arrived in Tokushima after our night bus, we went up to Naruto to visit the Onaruto bridge that connects Shikoku to Awaji Island. This area is famous for the whirlpools that form in the narrow strait between the two islands. It wasn`t yet a full moon when we were there so the whirlpools weren`t at their strongest, unfortunately. There are a few ways of seeing the whirlpools – from viewpoints up on a hill, from boats that can sail by them, and from a viewing deck underneath the bridge.

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This is what the whirlpools can look like.

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In my last post I wrote about the art of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea, but here are some pictures of the setting. Below is the island of Inujima with its old copper refinery. Walking through the brick ruins reminded me of Ostia Antica in Rome.

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Above is the jetty extending from the beach at our guesthouse in Teshima. We were the only ones staying at the holiday camp that looked like its heyday had passed.

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Teshima and its bigger neighbour Shodoshima are famous for their olive groves, and as we were touring the island it was easy to think we were in the Mediterranean. We were able to appreciate the beautiful views with ease thanks to our motorized bicycles.

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The day we left Takamatsu was wet with a light but constant rain, and before we travelled down to Kochi, we visited Ritsurin Koen park, which is Takamatsu`s top attraction. I think it`s even nicer than Kenrokuen in Kanazawa. I love visiting Japanese gardens in the rain, especially when there are traditional teahouses you can sit in and look out onto the glistening vegetation and droplet-patterned ponds. It`s very peaceful and there tend to be fewer visitors around.

When we were planning our trip first, we had wanted to spend a day exploring the Iya Valley in the centre of Shikoku, but it proved to be quite difficult to arrange, as the best way to explore it is by car and neither of us can drive. Plus it was raining the day we were going through there so we satisfied ourselves with seeing it from the comfort of our train. The train hugged the side of the valley so we could see the steep hills fall away, and because of the rainy weather, the clouds rested on the hills, giving the impression that the sky was touching the earth and there was no space in between.

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The next day instead was a perfect summer`s day in Kochi and we went to the Botanical Gardens beside the Chikurinji temple.

Getting the train up from Kochi to Matsuyama was also a highlight, because we spent several hours travelling through mountains and snaking alongside gorges in a one-carriage local train that stopped at every tiny one-platform station along the way, as we looked out at cherrry-blossom-lined hills bathed in afternoon sun that gradually faded to dusk.

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Our final nature adventure was the Shimanami Kaido, a road that goes from Imabari in Shikoku to Onomichi in Honshu and goes through several small islands on the way. The road is 70km long and is the only bridge connecting Shikoku and Honshu that can be traversed by foot or bicycle. We were determined to do it by bicycle even though we were pressed for time because we had gone to Ishiteji in Matsuyama in the morning and then had to get the train to Imabari. We had already sent off our large backpacks by delivery service to our guesthouse in Onomichi. There are bicycle rental depots on each island, but it was difficult to to get to the one in Imabari because it would mean taking an infrequent bus or another train and a thirty minute walk to the depot. We decided to take the ferry from Imabari to Oshima and rent a bicycle there because the depot was close to the port. Unfortunately I had no way to check the ferry timetable in advance so we were waiting in Imabari for an hour, trying to avoid the crazy old people that like to hang out in ports.

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When we finally got to Oshima it was already midday and the woman at the depot was a little reluctant to rent us bicycles because she was worried that we wouldn`t make it across before the other depot closed. We didn`t mind not making it all the way to Onomichi by bicycle but we were sure that we would be able to make it to the one in Innoshima before the depot closed at 6. Then we would be able to take a ferry or a bus the rest of the way. I could tell the woman still had her doubts but she gave us bicycles and we thought we were so lucky to get the last two mountain bikes in her shop. However, it soon became apparent that these bikes were terrible. Each bike had 18 gears but none of them made it any easier to go up and down hills. Before long my back was aching from leaning over the handlebars. And Jenny`s seat was broken which made her wobble as she was pedalling.

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We barely made it to the other side of the island, cycling really slowly and concentrating on the road and on pedalling. We decided to give them back at the next depot, see if they had any other bikes or else we would just get a ferry the rest of the way. This depot only had three-gear mama charis (just your regular kind of town bike) but seen as we had yet to cycle across one of the bridges we thought we`d give them a go and we could return them at the depot on the next island if they turned out to be worse than the mountain bikes. As soon as we cycled away we knew this was a million times better. Three gears were all we needed and because we were sitting upright we could actually enjoy the scenery that was the reason for us doing this cycle.

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It was a glorious day and the cycle wasn`t very strenuous as the only steep hills were the ones leading up to the entry to the bridges, for some of which we got off and walked up to stretch our legs. On the islands the cycle lane diverges from the expressway to go through the little villages and the way is marked with a blue line on the road. It took us a while to find our terminal bicycle depot however because it was off the cycle path, but thanks to google maps and asking the locals we were able to find it. We got the feeling that not many people finished their cycle at this depot because the people working there had to think for a while to tell us how to get to Onomichi, but in the end we got a taxi to take us to the bus stop where not long after we got on a bus to Onomichi, feeling very tired but satisfied that we had completed our journey even if we didn`t make it the whole way by bicycle.

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