In Hiroshima I was staying with an old friend from back when I was an English teacher in the area. He very generously put me up for two nights and made sure I was amused while I was visiting with good food and perhaps more beer than I was now used to.
On the day I was leaving we did not bounce out of bed bright and early but clawed our way to wakefulness out from under the effects of the prior night. Today I would be heading up out of Hiroshima city into the countryside to the north where I had lived for a year in 2010.
My friend rode the first couple of kilometres with me as it was on the way to a student of his and after that I was making my way alone again.
I was soon on the edge of the city and it wasn’t long before I was given a reminder of what an unfriendly country Japan can be to its inhabitants. As I rode I saw a man taking a photo seemingly at random and as I looked where his camera pointed I realised I was going straight past where the recent landslides had been. I hadn’t realised that they had happened so close to the area I had been in.
Only the day before they had found the body of the final missing victim.
Continuing on there was thankfully less evidence of the torrential rain that had beset the country over the summer and I was reminded of what a beautiful place I had lived in.
It didn’t take long for me to reach the town of Yoshida, home of Hiroshima’s football team: Sanfrecce and not much else but it was good to be back, if a little strange. In the almost four years I had been away very little had changed. There was still the New King Pachinko parlour looming over where I lived with its nightmare inducing sign and the YouMe Town supermarket where I used to get most of my food, it was almost as if I had never been away.
That evening I had arranged to meet the guys from the badminton club I had played at when I lived there. The badminton club had been a big part of my life in the town as joining a club in Japan is normally a much bigger deal than in the UK. The club members had all been very kind to me and had made me feel a part of something while I was there, in spite of only one regular attendee speaking English. I was thus looking forward to seeing some of them again.
In the end a lot more were able to come than I had expected as I’d let them know I was coming on relatively short notice. It was a lot of fun as we went out first for dinner and then ended up in a darts bar. This bar had been opened up recently by one of the players from the club and was about a hundred metres from where I used to live – it is probably lucky that it wasn’t there when I was!
Without even having to ask I was told I could stay at the club captains apartment with another of the guys who was driving and was generally made to feel incredibly welcome again even though I had not seen any of them for nearly four years.
The next morning I was sad all over again to be leaving Yoshida.
I was riding further up into the countryside in order to have a look at a few of the schools I had taught at for a bit of nostalgia. As it was a Sunday I expected it to be quiet so I wouldn’t cause a bother. The day was lovely and so was the area as all my schools were further up in the mountains in quite rural villages.
I drove past the failed New Zealand Farm a sort of theme park based on, you guessed it, a New Zealand farm. I can’t think why it didn’t take off.
While up there I visited an onsen, or Japanese hot spring, with another of my friends amongst the foreign English teachers who were still there from when I was. That was pretty relaxing and helped get some knots out of my muscles.
Then it was time to ride off over some mountains and head off on the next stage of my trip in Japan.
After another night sleeping in the bushes by the side of a Japanese road.
I was now heading towards the island of Shikoku where I was planning on riding the 88 Temples Pilgrimage. This pilgrimage is said to be 1200 years old and circumnavigates the island of Shikoku visiting 88 temples on the way.
First though I had to get there and as the day went on I realised that I might be able to do the 150km to Imabari, the town I would start the pilgrimage at in one day so I contacted a Warmshowers.org host I’d been in touch with to see if it was OK to stay that night with him in the town. As it was I started to ride with a bit more urgency.
This didn’t stop me appreciating the beautiful scenery as I rode out of the mountains in the north of Hiroshima and down to the coast
To get to Shikoku I would be riding across the Shimanami Kaido an incredible series of bridges linking the two main island of Honshu and Shikoku by crossing some smaller islands in between. The route had been planned out for cyclists and as such was a fantastic example of how it should be done. Much like in Korea there had been a lot of dedicated infrastructure built for those travelling by bicycle and it felt very safe and the sights were absolutely incredible.
Here is my first attempt at a video on this trip, which was not easy to make with just my tablet…
Riding across the bridges was truly spectacular .
Especially as I got to see the sun go down while I was on there.
When I started on the last bridge the sun was just setting but by the time I got to the other side it was pitch black as the bridge was so long. Luckily I managed to work my way into Imabari, the town I would be staying in and to find my warmshowers.org host without too much trouble.
I was very glad I had messaged in order to see if it was OK for me to stay as I had a really nice time staying with the family who hosted me. They were all extremely kind and interested in my trip and showed me unfailing hospitality including a delicious home cooked dinner.
And a comfortable Japanese futon sleeping arrangement.
The next day they all gave me a send off as I set off to visit the 88 Temples of Shikoku.