Shikoku is the smallest of the 4 main islands of Japan. You've got Hokkaido, where it is cold. Kyushu, where it is warm. Honshu, where all the people and cities and jobs are. And then... Shikoku.
I told you it was small!
At first glance, Shikoku is very... country. After riding around the island for 4 days, I have to say Shikoku is very... country. It's a good thing. Sometimes we need long mountain roads, and nice old people, and whatever the opposite of high fashion is... low fashion I guess. Sometimes we need all that.
My trip began with a trip over the Shimanami route. Dozens of small islands have recently been connected by shiny new bridges. You get to cross them. It costs a lot. But it's super pretty! Yeah!
I highly recommend riding a bicycle! There is a separate bike lane along this whole route, and it's really cheap to do so. You can rent one at one end and drop it off at the next. Seriously, if I had any friends out here who enjoyed riding bicycles, I would do this in the future. Unfortunately I'm all hitori when it comes to that sort of thing. Hitori means alone. It sounds better in Japanese.
About $40 in tolls and $10 in ice cream later (the white one is flavored with local Ehime salt) and it's time to head into the mountains. Don't want ice cream? Have a nice bottle of fish. Only $10! (Most omiyage is $10... all part of the omiyage conspiracy in Japan)
Once on Shikoku, you are met with... OMG... could it be... it is! MORMONS!!!!! Fuck yes!
Do whatever it is you do when you see members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Personally, I get really excited; giggling and jumping up and down. They remind me of those cheesy "do unto others" commercials that were all over the TV in the 80s. Also my childhood friend Eric was a Mormon, and he totally had real ninja stars at his house when we were like 10.
Since it's autumn now, everything is all red and brown and orange. Take pictures of it, apparently thats what all the locals do.
I camped under some ancient vine bridges in the Iya Valley area. I was totally hitori that night. I wonder why...
Because it was fucking cold! Holy shit it sucked that night. I awoke the next day in the fetal position, nay the frozen fetal position, and immediately decided to skip my planned hiking adventures and head to the coast, where various sources say it is a lot warmer. Various sources would be random Japanese motorcycle riders.
For lunch, found a little shack on the top of a mountain crest. Their specialty?
Udon noodles with boar meat. Hook it up!
So anyways it was off to Kochi to me.
The bike lot at the beach was filled with Kawasaki Ninjas. I had to park like 200m away all by my hitori self. I wanna be part of the cool club too!
Spent the day sitting on the beach.
Spent the night at a campground next to the beach. This was a weird campground. First, I noticed it was free. By free, I mean there was a massive homeless camp there. But also families out for a weekend of s'mores and Frisbee. After setting up the tent, I made friends with the 20 or so feral cats that were living there.
How was the sleep? Warmer, but every 15 minutes a Bosozoku group would come by and wake me up. And at one point I heard some rustling outside my tent. I grabbed my knife, ready to go into battle with whoever was trying to murder me. Then I heard peeing on a nearby tree. So I assume either a dog or a drunk businessman lost on his way home.
So there is this whole deal with Shikoku. There are 88 temples. You go on a pilgrimage to all 88. You are supposed to walk it, and it's 1200km and takes a couple months. Or you can take a tour bus, stay in hotels, and leave the walking for the suckers! Take that ancient, meaningful spiritual journey.
This is number 32.
Number 31 is pretty massive. Lots of moss and statues and what not. Is it just like every other temple you've seen in Japan? Pretty much. But these things never get old, they are all amazing.
After visiting 2 of the 3 local temples, I went back to the campsite to pack up and head out. I wasn't 100% on where to go, but had an idea.
That's when I met the cultists.
The religious cultists.
I don't know what to say. I will write something in the next few days... this deserves it's own post. Let's just say that an hour later I was in a small room, I'm not exactly sure where, and I was holding beads and chanting the same thing "Nam-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo" for 20 minutes. Must... research... somehow.
Took the roads inland a bit, into the mountains. I saw that there was a rider's inn not far away. Rider's inns are usually family owned restaurants with cheap accommodation for motorcycle riders. Along the way I stopped at a rest stop to check the map. By the light of the vending machine, I found my way. When I looked up another rider had parked. We exchanged formalities, "Good evening, it's cold, where are you going." Turns out he was heading to another rider's in. He suggested issho. No longer hitori, I was now issho with my new friend Kensei.
The place was covered with motorcycle club stickers and photos of past guests. The owner was a fun little old guy who didn't seem to get that I didn't understand his speeches in Japanese. None the less we all spoke the international language of beer.
Here he is pointing to an old black and white photo of himself with his old '47 Honda motorcycle, which is now in a museum on Kyushu.
A closer shot of a younger rider. I gotta stop smiling in my motorcycle photos, the pissed off scowl is so much more bad ass.
I perused through about 15 years of guest's writings in a stack of notebooks. Then I had a hot bath and slept in a real bed.
Kensei and I are seated. The inn master is on the right. Not sure who is in the center. The guy on the left in the off road riding gear said he was a monk. They could have been fucking with me.
Woke up and said goodbye to the inn master, his grand daughter with the mullet hairdo, and Kensei. Kensei was off for another week or so of riding, but I was headed home. But first a quick tour of Matsuyama. I say quick because it was starting to rain, and I didn't have any rain gear. It fell off my bike a couple months ago. Sho ga nai. That's life.
Dogo Onsen is the oldest onsen in Japan.
Ok, I saw the sight, now time to get back home. A few minutes to the ferry, and pretty much door to door service back to my place in Kure. It was essential to get back to my computer, since Kensei had emailed my phone with a bunch of Kanji and I need the internets to help me decipher that stuff. His important message... "I'm drinking beer."
Hey people, check this shit out!
Japanese lesson for the day. Ni ni ni ni ni ni!!!! (2 2 2 2 2 2)