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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chūgoku Trip: Day 6 4月23日

Day 5

Breakfast at the Hostel Setoda Tarumi Onsen. My love of Japanese cuisine usually doesn't extend to the first meals of the mornings as I'm not a big fan of sitting down to grilled fish and pickled vegetables soon after getting up, but for a couple of times out of the year I'm OK with the above.

Back in 1971, Donald Richie wrote a book about his travels through the Inland Sea 瀬戸内海, titled, appropriately enough, The Inland Sea. It was a nostalgic look at a less-developed part of Japan that was already at that time feeling the effects of the country's rapid economic growth. Still, the islands have remained a relative backwater compared with the rest of the archipelago. I passed through these parts briefly back in the summer of 1990 when I took a ferry from Imabari 今治 on the island of Shikoku 四国 to Hiroshima 広島 on the main island of Honshū 本州. On this day, the sixth day of my visit, I intended to explore at least one of them, Ōmishima 大三島, on the seat of a rented bicycle.

The initiates in the cult of the Taiwan Cyclists, who should get out of the island more often (see Tip #9), would enjoy the possibilities (not to mention the infrastructure) waiting to be explored in Japan. For the Inland Sea, it's possible to ride along the Shimanami Highway しまなみ海道. The distance isn't very long (the whole route could probably be done in 7-8 hours just on a normal bicycle), but there are numerous possibilities for detours to the various islands that are passed along the way. There's nothing in Taiwan that even begins to compare with the Shimanami HIghway. 

In my case, I only followed the highway route long enough to cross the waters from Ikuchi-jima Island 生口島, where I was staying, to Ōmishima. My journey began around 9am, with the short walk from my hostel to Sunset Beach サンセットビーチ, site of the nearest rental facility. The system is simple, and well-organized. Daylong rentals are ¥500 ($6.25), plus a ¥1000 ($12.50) deposit. If you return your bike to where you rented it from, the deposit is refunded to you. If you choose to drop off the bicycle at another station along the route, the deposit covers the relocation charges. The cycles themselves are hardly performance bikes, being what the Japanese call Mamachari ママチャリ, or a "Mother's chariot", meaning those two-wheelers with the metal basket in front used by homemakers on their daily shopping rounds. But here being in Japan, the bikes are in excellent condition, and the only problems I had were due to my physical limitations and not those of my chariot.

So by 9:20 I was off on the road to Ōmishima. It wasn't long before the Tatara Bridge 多々羅大橋 came into view:

What you need to watch out for in these parts of the woods:

Getting ready to cross to the other side. For cyclists, it was a mere ¥100 ($1.25) to ride across:

The view from the Ōmishima side:

The main reason for choosing to visit Ōmishima (other than the obvious fact it was the closest island to where I was staying) was to pay my respects at the Ōyamazumi-jinja Shintō shrine 大山祇神社. The shrine's origins date back to the 12th century, when it began to be used as a place of worship for Japanese pirates 倭寇, until they were brought to heel by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣秀吉 in the 16th century:

On the shrine grounds is a 2600 year-old camphor tree:

The main hall dates from the Muromachi period 室町時代 (1338-1573):

There is always time to do a bit of shopping. Pictured below are an ema 絵馬, a wooden plaque used to write requests to the gods; an amulet お守り for protection from traffic accidents (an absolute necessity in Taiwan!); and an entrance ticket to three on-site museums:

The three museums were the Shiyōden 紫陽殿, Kokuhōkan 国宝館 and Kaiji Hakubutsu-kan 海事博物館. The first two contain what is probably Japan's largest collection of armor and swords from the feudal period (photography wasn't allowed, but the picture on the entrance ticket gives a good idea of what is on display). Most guidebooks describe the displays as being rather dry, but they do bring out the inner samurai 侍 in all of us. The latter museum showcases both a research vessel called the Hayama-maru 葉山丸 and many of the animal and plant specimens it collected on its voyages through the Inland Sea. The ship was commissioned by none other than Emperor Hirohito 裕仁, who probably wished he could have been a marine biologist instead of a cloistered monarch:

Bidding farewell to the kamisama 神様, I left the shrine and walked across the street to a restaurant, where I eagerly dug into a tonkatsu teishoku set meal 豚カツ定食, washed down with the absolutely necessary bottle of beer. That's how this cyclist watches his protein intake!:

After Ōyamazumi-jinja, there was nothing more to do on Ōmishima except explore the southwestern part of the island at a leisurely pace for the remainder of the afternoon. Which is exactly what I did. 

The quiet port town (hell, the whole island is quiet) of Miyaura 宮浦:

I couldn't have asked for better weather, though less wind and fewer hills would've been appreciated:

Koinobori 鯉幟 flutter in said breeze:

At one point, I stopped off at the Tokoro Museum ところミュージアム大三島 to see the sculpture on display, and to take a toilet break. This day being a Monday, however, the museum was closed (most are in Japan on Mondays, unless the Monday is a national holiday, in which case the museums will not be open on the following Tuesday). The staffer manning the desk did unlock the bathroom so that I could use it, however, and she also let me walk around to the back of the building to check the great ocean views. If I keep hearing how uniquely kind the Taiwanese are...:

Just down the road from the Tokoro Museum was another museum, this one dedicated to the architect Toyō Itō 伊東豊雄, known in Taiwan for Kaohsiung's 高雄 World Games Stadium 國家體育場, as well as the design for the mayor of Taichung's 台中 vainglorious opera house project. This place was also closed, but commanded a scenic viewpoint:

Had it been summer, I would've stopped off at some of the small deserted beaches along the road to have a swim and to check out the underwater sea life with my prescription diving mask. Not in April, however:

A ship passes by, with the world's longest suspension bridge, the Kurushima-kaikyō 来島海峡大橋, looming in the far distance. It marks one end of the Shimanami Highway:

The generally balmy weather of the Inland Sea is ripe for fruit cultivation:

OK, I admit it - I got lucky with this shot. I was expecting the bird to hold still while I took the picture:

One of the numerous small islands of the Inland Sea:

Eventually, I came full circle back to the Tatara Bridge, completing the loop around the southwestern half of the island. Before crossing back to Ikuchi-jima, I walked up a steep staircase to an observatory for one final look:

At this point, the panorama function on my camera started to act up for some mysterious reason, so I made a short video instead:

I had the bike back to its Sunset Beach rental outlet before 4:30pm, making for a ride of about seven hours in total (and getting my ¥1000 refunded to me by doing so). With time to kill before dinner back at the hostel, I took a walk around. This is the view looking back at Sunset Beach - the white building in the center was the place where I rented the bicycle, while the yellow sculpture is one of a series of art installations located around Ikuchi-jima:

It ain't called "Sunset Beach" for nothin':

Monday night's dinner. I shared the table with a retired couple from Fukuyama 福山 in Hiroshima Prefecture 広島県 who were on a brief fishing swing through the area. The husband had been involved in "fish propagation" during his career, which saw him and his wife living in Papua New Guinea and Malawi. I may end up in either place myself at some point in the future:

Needless to say, the bath felt great:

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