Ako to Akashi – Tuesday 30 April

Sue: ‘There’s some castle ruins in this town – do you want to go before we leave today’

John: No! it’s a bit wet!

(That may have been the most exciting thing of the day)

Crossing the river first up before a nice hill climb. It is still drizzling; on with the raincoat. I suspect that it rained all night; the prediction was for 48ml.

The river is flowing well, we cycle up the hill through tiny streams of water that are running down the shoulder of the road. Flowing water can be heard, we catch glimpses of the valley below – all sodden from the rain, lovely views.

There are a lot of road signage asking not to litter – sadly today is the worst rubbish I’ve seen in Japan, while climbing the hill. Cans and bottle everywhere.

Today’s ride is full of river crossings and cycling along rivers and canals. Sadly again there is more rubbish to be seen in the rivers. It’s a bit of a lack lustre ride – maybe the damp weather hasn’t helped.

I thought that there would have been some nice coastal views, however, the coast is industry driven with large smoke stacks for many kilometres.

The rain finished about midday then later we got a mist – enough to keep coats on. We were amused by train spotting as we rode near train tracks – the fast trains hardly make a noise so you have to be alert.

Before arriving in Akashi we cycled through a spaghetti bowl of roads and expressways. The landscape changed rapidly from rural to a concrete jungle. We are in West Akashi, high rise hotels/apartments and buildings precinct.

I ask reception “where is ‘the bridge’?” … “very far from here” is her reply.

Our hotel window looks out at the railway station and we see the trains wizz by … exciting.

Looks like tomorrow will be a bit more sightseeing …

Update on John’s calamities:

He ran into a boom gate yesterday when the golf man lead us out of the park … He said follow me which I did… John some way behind… I couldn’t quite work out why he was lagging so far back… He went under a boom gate and hit his nose … he caught up and asked ‘Is my nose bleeding?’ I say, ‘No, why?’
‘There was a height restriction gate and I rode into it.’

Ummm 🙄


Okayama to Ako – Monday 29 April

Booking.com got it wrong

A wonderful ride this morning – we meandered through back alleys of communities. Some paths were on a levee; we were able to have a birds’ eye view of the lovely gardens and healthy vegie patches; the rural areas with ploughed fields separated by irrigation canals and the river on our other side.

‘This must be Japan’s answer to Venice’, I say.

During our travels this morning we pass by and had to stop by a recycling plant … bikes were stacked in several piles and some were being loaded onto a truck – it blew our minds how many bike must have been there – a bike graveyard :-(.

Following canals for the best part of the morning and passing though the lovely town of Imbe – the hometown of Bizen Pottery – people were walking with maps, the streets were immaculately tidy – and full of galleries and we rode by oblivious of it’s fame.

‘We wouldn’t have seen this without Komoot!’ I say – John agrees.

We head inland to Kamigori near our accommodation and for lunch. We had been expecting rain today around lunchtime and thankful we weren’t far from our digs. Our guesthouse was near a Golf Country Club and no meals included – better stock up at the shops.

It just started to rain as we headed about 7km to our destination. The country club was very attractive with late flowering cherry blossoms even in the wet they look great – as we rode along we were chased by a lady in a golf cart – we weren’t to be there …

long story short – the location of our digs on booking.com was incorrect – we were a 4hr car drive away … a lot of confusion and google translate. The country club staff kindly phoned the guesthouse – we had to cancel … they arranged accommodation at a town 18km away in Ako.

On we go … despite the rain, the ride along the river and weaving through the hills was beautiful – all is good nothing that a shower, washing machine and dryer won’t fix.

We have 2 single rooms – it’s Golden Week – rooms are hard to get. We have stayed in hotels on this trip with small ‘double size’ beds smaller than what we have today but the staff wouldn’t budge … oh well it would be tough wild camping in the rain under a bridge …

Only in Japan …

Trying to get out of a love hotel … there is a money machine at the door no English… a phone in the room. Trying to pay by card – google translate working to the max but credit card won’t accept… okay ring reception … no English on phone … we find a menu in the room … a phone number for reception #9 try that… after several attempts of hang ups we finally get someone at the door and he helps us pay cash … but breakfast is included – okay ‘Western?’ yes please … sit here and it will be 30 minutes … we sit and then the power goes out as we are officially checked out. We sit in darkness – thankfully I found a window which lets some light in and we wait. It was worth the wait.

Takamatsu to Okayama – Sun 28 April

A late morning as we only need to get a 65 minute ferry and a 17km ride.

My first mission accomplished … I got a smile and conversation from the ladies at reception and complimented the breakfast ladies on their good job … one said ‘thank you’ she must have understood.

John said to me they were a bit noisy … memories of Coles Cafeteria in the old days in Brisbane with my work mates having fish and chips and cheesecake (the biggest piece of course) on payday.

We leave our luggage at the hotel and venture to Ritsurin Garden. It’s Sunday and the streets are very quiet at 10am. The garden lived up to expectation – lovely and manicured as the Japanese do best. Signs were in English … a bit of history associated here … it opened in 1857. There are plants that have been donated by various countries.

It’s a large area and a hill is the perfect backdrop … hard to believe you are in a big city.

More motorcycles than cars today boarding the ferry; of course Golden Week … the motorcycles are packed with camping gear – the ferry was indeed not the ‘fast’ one … a nice relaxing trip then onto the bikes … Komoot took us down through the houses on walkways – it’s a nice touch to do the tourist route. A very small incline and a tunnel of 1088m the longest so far with our own path and guard rail to add to feeling at least safe while we hear the roar and echo of cars in both direction. I love exiting long tunnels – we were confronted with semi rural and close hills while descending then followed the estuary.

A great Indian dinner then to the ‘love hotel’ early arrival not permitted unless you pay ¥1000 per half hour. We chose to stay in the ‘waiting room’ within minutes they let us in our room. Lovely king sized bed and spa bath … even a massage chair – I soon put that to use.

Good night …

Miyoshi (Ikeda) to Takamatsu- Sat 27 April

Another mountain …

6am … searching for accommodation …

It’s the first day of ‘Golden Week’ … I’m sorry but I can’t share the love – every spare wifi minute has been seeking accommodation.

John: ‘we could stay in a Love Hotel’

Sue: ‘yeah – book it!’

John: ‘it has breakfast, spa and sauna’

(My mind wanders … a love hotel with breakfastumm … at least it is sort of affordable)

Our day starts with very threatening clouds thankfully they were going away from us. A tottle down by the river with mountains around, then a lefty towards a big mountain – did I forget to refresh the profile on Komoot?

‘Hey, John I don’t mind these hills, just a steady grind … look at the hills around we are getting really high.’

I’m on a hill high, soaking up the surrounds and loving it! Meanwhile John is very quiet behind me … perhaps he’s suffering – we’ve had no breakfast or coffee this morning.

Nearing the top of the climbing with brilliant views of the valley and the township we had left, we go through a series of tunnels.

After an hour of climbing, the last tunnel was 800m then the landscape changed – we were through the pass and the temperature plummeted to 9°C and we enjoyed farming areas. Rice paddies were being worked, green houses and fields of onions.

A Family Mart sign … the good thing about hills … a custard pastry and a coffee scroll washed down with coffee and seats available inside.

‘I thought it was going to be a flat ride today!’, said John

We passed small neat townships then bigger cities before heading to Takamatsu.

What an impressive city, the railway station precinct is thriving with very modern buildings and hotels.

The covered arcade area also modern with international shops and eateries.

We take our time as check in is 4pm … it’s 3:35pm – it looks like a tour group is in the foyer … the receptionist looks sour and officious shouting out orders as she hands out keys. Meanwhile Miss 2nd in charge receptionist equally as sour has trouble finding our booking – all good but you have to wait until 4pm unless you want to join our Hotel Club for about $20 and your check in is 3pm at our hotels …

‘no thanks we will wait in the foyer for 30 minutes, thank you anyway’

Oboke Gorge to Miyoshi through Iya Valley – Friday 26 April

Lovely to wake up with the hills in close view, a blue sky with a small amount of clouds, no fog … perfect. The sun gave a sparkle on the river below and iridescence to the foliage on the hills.

A few kms then onto Route 45 and 5km of switchbacks. The climb took just under 1 hour, most about 7% however I did see 11%. Just a steady grind and we were soon entering a 967m tunnel that took us through a hill. From there it was smooth sailing down the other side. We were able to enjoy the views as we wove gently towards the Iya River, from there we headed south for a few kms to see the Iya-no-Kazura Bashi – a suspension bridge made of vine.

Back on track; the Iya Valley extends along the old route 35 road for 20km. We were way high in the mountains with the river quite minuscule deep in the valley – we follow the road that weaves along the side of the mountains and are hidden by the thick forest. We get glimpses of the river as the road nears the edge. It is very silent, only the sound of birds and the trickling of water as it seeps from the ground above and finds its long way down to the river. There is the occasional small waterfall, however it would be a sight in the wet season.

We see very few cars – it is Friday and not a school/work route – very peaceful. The only movement on the bikes is applying the brakes around the corners and effortless pedaling as we gradually descend. The river is closer and opens up as we exit the valley, a little township with quaint housing.

John yawns … I follow … that was just too relaxing.

Back on route 32 and we are alert – trucks and cars to contend with and I have to concentrate on Garmin for directions as we reach our accommodation at Miyoshi, an attractive little town nestled in the hills.

Komoot was my hero today … the planned 1010m climbing today actually resulted in 640m – I guess the tunnel was not factored in. All in all a lovely day on the bike and the climb was not too bad.

Only in Japan … Accommodation

In the background, John is busy arranging accommodation that has been fantastic to now … Golden Week is something that I can’t quite grasp … I had been warned but this is ridiculous … prices are so inflated and everything is booked out …

Shikokuchou to Oboke Gorge – 25 April

What a Gorg’eous’ ride today …

Komoot was on the money from the beginning today … taking us away from the noisy road I’d heard all night and into the small housing communities as the kids were all riding to school … we had fun saying ‘hello’ and they responded with a ‘hello’ well – the boys anyway – most girls were a little coy.

We had an early start, quite a few puddles from the overnight rain and the mountains were covered in fog.

Within a half hour we were climbing in the valley of the mountains the fog made it quite mystic… I’d had dreams/nightmares all night of how horrendously hard the hill would be … a tunnel knocked the top off and then down we went.

Within 90 minutes we had finished all the climbing … bliss! We had the river below, mountains either side and housing communities nestled in there too.

The river opened up and deepened into the gorge. Spectacular views, I don’t think we’ve ever been so close to the mountains on either side like this. In places there were small rapids … I can only imagine what it would be like in winter.

To finish off this magical day – the accommodation is wonderful with an onsen, so I indulged in the hot pool inside, the sauna and outside pool enjoying the mountain views.

Imabari to Shikokuchou – 24 April

That was such a climb … OMG look here!

We were in luck today in several ways … accommodation was difficult to find for next couple of days … I was ready to abort the idea of Shikoku Island however an early visit to the tourist office and the sweet lady had us booked into a hotel for tonight.

A lovely ride once out of the city – the threat of rain was upon us for the day … very overcast and cloudy.

We are in rice country; very flat with the hills safely tucked away on my right – I’ll deal with that challenge tomorrow. A rice farmer is sloshing around in ankle deep water in his gum boots as he tends to his new crop; we stop and watch another farmer ploughing the slosh in preparation for planting – a few herrons are following the plough for a feed.

A nice pic of the rice paddies and reflection of the clouds.

‘John, that would make a great jigsaw puzzle!’

The paths today were predominantly great; wide and smooth – the kms were easily ticking over. The little towns were attractively presented with flowers and hedges along the roadside.

Away from the rice paddies and towns we were by the coast, it was not attractive – a lot of industry and ports.

Closer towards our destination a big hill – it was not possible to bypass it. 2km of 8-10% gradient – we were climbing a hill that dropped into the sea – a couple of great views then the climax as I turn the corner – ahead was the most amazing view of the township before us. It felt crazy how high we were and looking down. Ultimately the best part of the day.

12km more to go past more industry on both sides of the road – it was a paper mill – Shikokuchūō is the leading producer of paper and paper products in Japan, I’ve never seen such a tangle of large steel piping on both sides of the road. It was nice to get out of it.

We just got to our rather ‘tired’ hotel when the heavens opened with thunder and rain – we are thankful for a roof over our heads.

Onomichi to Imabari – 23 April

Meeting and greeting – common denominator – cycling!

Today we left our hilltop accommodation – John counted 270 steps plus there was the sloping paths.

The views were amazing of the islands and boat activity. We were part of that this morning.

Firstly a bakery breakfast alongside an American couple day tripping the islands.

We leave Onomichi, Honshu, a quick 5 min ferry ride then on our way cycling the Shimanami Kaidu bikeway to Imabari. Coined as one of Japan’s top cycling experiences. Admittedly it definitely attracts all cycling levels. Just follow the blue line and venture through the 6 islands in the Seto Sea.

We see roadies out for a bit of fun, day trippers and several tourers. The only climbing was to get around the forest covered hills to the level of the magnificent bridges – average 3% gradient. This is citrus country – orange and lemon groves decorate the hills – not to mention the late blooming cherry blossoms, wisteria is out and growing wild in the forest along with the rainbow of coloured azaleas.

There are some lovely beaches, Sunset Beach in Setoda looks to be very popular however today all the cafes are shut – the high season starts next week with the beginning of ‘Golden Week’ a 10 day holiday period.

It’s very overcast today however no wind – very pleasant. Views of the islands from the bridges were spectacular.

My highlight was meeting a league of nations. In particular a lady who double backed and chased us down – Kat from Melbourne who lives in London, she recognised us from my blog and knew it was Sue & John, what a lovely experience and chat.

There was also a French couple who had been cycling for 14 months what an epic journey they were on; a UK couple who we leap frogged the whole way; the couple from New Zealand who were day tripping

We are staying in the old town of Imabari – covered arcades which in their heyday would have been a hive of activity; however today in mid afternoon most shutters are down which indicate the shop no longer exists; there are lots of tailors displaying lovely printed material which I suspect are for kimonos, a few dress and shoe shops for the more mature folk otherwise quite deserted … progression of supermarkets and department stores have taken over.

The expected rain has set in as we find a closeby restaurant and enjoy pork dumplings and ramen.

Hiroshima to Onomichi – 22 April

Not for the feint-heart today …

It’s a Monday morning and our getaway at 7:45am is joined by many other cyclists … workers dressed in suits, ladies in stilettos, school aged kids with full tie and jacket for the boys and skirt and blouse for the girls – all going about their business for the morning. At every crossing we have so many cyclists and pedestrians to manoeuvre through … no lycra here!! The gardens/parks are plentiful and spring flowers well maintained – signage says there is a Garden Festival in early May.

On the outskirts of town is the spaghetti of highways and byways we think with our heads and not Komoot – we are heading back to Hiroshima – 3km out of the way; we get back on track.

Komoot kindly lead us away from the busy road through housing communities, such a welcome relief to what was in store.

Back on route 2 we share the road with every truck in Japan today. We swap between road and cycle path; at times the cycle path bearly allows us room with our laden bikes. Scary stuff particularly when the cycle path is facing the oncoming traffic … one wrong move and we’re under the cab of a truck.

The climbs were not too bad the trucks were worse. Finally we descended down from the hills and time to appreciate our wonderful surrounds – approaching Mihara great hills either side and then the lovely coastal town – not far for Onomichi.

3km from Onomichi … oops … juggling between road and path – John makes a rash/wrong decision and catches the curb … over he goes … we won’t go into too much detail regarding the expletives – bark off his knee, elbow and hand, one finger appears dislocated but he’s in no pain – he’ll live.

Meanwhile back on the bike we read the fine details about our accommodation … up on a hill by a temple. We can walk our bikes up so far – too steep to ride … lock them by a fence and walk another 500m by steps with our gear. The receptionist was very welcoming offering iced water. Our room overlooks the town and start of the islands of the Shimanami Kaido cycle/pedestrian path – our route for tomorrow. We are kept entertained watching the river traffic from the comfort of our room. We have a lovely Thai meal at the hotel – equally impressive views from our window seats … all is good.

Iwakuni to Hiroshima via Miyajima

A quick start along the coastal road and within an hour we were boarding a ferry to Miyajima. It is Sunday morning – a fine hazy day. Perhaps the industry we pass with white stuff billowing out of the smoke stacks contributes to the haze?Miyajima is a small island and a short 5 minute ferry ride. On first impressions we see just offshore, the giant, orange Great Torii Gate is partially submerged at high tide. It marks the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine, which was first built in the 12th century. It is just after 9am and the tourists are out and about and leaders with their placards leading through the shrine areas. We do the obligatory pics with the Torii Gate along with many others – deer are another attraction here as they have the run of the island and congregate around the tourist precinct foraging for food.We refrain from doing the whole shrine and folklore buildings inside – I’m sure there are many treasures to be seen.The five storied pagoda is iconic and towers over the bay, no entry possible but have great views from the ground level.We venture through the gardens to the level of the ropewalk. Lovely bush settings with trees of various foliage from greens to red.We have been here for 2 hrs and it’s obvious that the visitors have increased – we turn into a street that is the first total touristy area I’ve seen in Japan – people everywhere and shops selling nick-nacks and food!!! This area is known for seafood, in particular oysters, indicative of the oyster farms that we have seen on the coastal road. It is 11am and the tourists are right into their 11’s – tempanyakis, oysters, icecreams, pork buns – you name it food is being consumed. I indulge in a tempanyaki octopus – 2 tentacles.As we leave we notice the throngs of people arriving – 2 ferry lines arriving at 15 minutes intervals.Back to the mainland and on our way to Hiroshima – we are bedded near the Peace Park – a nice open area – lots of people – we will not venture into the museum today – we saw one in Nagasaki- I’m sure it will be similar.Our dinner did not disappoint – 30m away is an Okonomiyaki restaurant – such a treat okonomiyaki is described as a savoury pancake … far from it … not only delicious but the whole experience was entertaining. Shoes off first then sit on bar stools at the long teppanyaki plate and kitchen and be entertained by the 2 young chefs as they prepare meals. It was hard to keep track of what was going on as the chefs exchanged ingredients. The end result was delicious.A warm night and walk the Peace Park by name and nature, budding photographers getting those mystic night shots, people just relaxing on the many benches watching the river reflections; meanwhile back in the shopping arcade the department stores are closing … it’s 8pm, plenty of activity coming from cafes and restaurants and the many pachinko parlors around.