After a world first inaugural showing of blue and white ceramic SCRUNCH ware at Blue & White
its creator, my BFF, Jill Harken Hall, and I departed for a largely unplanned bike trip over the bridges of the Inland Sea, on a route invitingly described by the Japan Times’ peripatetic writer, Amy Chavez who lives on Shiraishi, one of the many Inland Sea Islands. We asked a Japan-loving and Japan-curious English friend, Becky Wells, an artist from the UK, to join us and flew to Matsuyama on Shikoku Island where we started our journey with an abbreviated, and mostly motorized pilgrimage to 6 of the 88 famous temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Surely we needed prayer first! Our kind taxi driver was concerned with our total lack of hotel accommodations at this very busy time of year, and brought us to a hotel to book the first night anyway, and leave our bags.
After driving us to 4 temples, he proceeded to take us to a Ramen restaurant – it was late and we were all very hungry. His wife was worried because he usually went home for lunch but he stayed with us instead and insisted on paying for our delicious lunch and then we parted ways. He to go home because he was way overdue and we proceeded on foot to two more temples, winding up invited by a handsome young gardener to a luxurious foot bath in the garden where he had been working. We got to sit, enjoy the chatter of two young families, and treat ourselves to a hot spring for the feet! A good beginning for a bike trip!
In the morning after viewing the charismatic Dogo Onsen, a late 19th century massive wooden bathhouse, more a temple really – cleanliness is next to godliness in Japan
We arrived at our starting point, Kurushima Kaikyo bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge, 4015 meters long, a high, high bridge over the Inland Sea – the view was spectacular and breath stopping on many levels.
Yikes! Were we really planning to bike across that?
and at this hour?
Somehow we did – and 6 more.
These are serious bridges! High and long, extending over 11? Islands of the Inland Sea.
The saving grace for bikers, even cowards like us, was the beautiful blue and white line indicating the enclosed lane dedicated to bikers, while serious heavy traffic for trucks and buses and cars whizzed by on the other side of the divider. It was often hard to keep our eyes on the road.
Bridges of staggering engineering and grace!
The beauty of a bicycle is that with the possible exception of bridge crossing, you can stop whenever something catches your eye.
There was much on this trip to stop for, and one unforgettable site was a simple wooden Shikoku style house, somewhat reminiscent of Isamu Noguchi’s house in Takamatsu, with a curious signboard of eyeglass testing charts in front.
We swerved into the driveway and found lots of other curiosities. Large rocks drilled and tracked with mysterious paths of color.
and bottles and objects of experimentation and education, stopped in a moment of time.
Mysterious colorful petrographs were incised in large blocks of granite.
What did they mean? What were they saying?
A fascinating house of science and mysterious intelligence.
Spider webs of wires in front of the windows. Test tubes, and other signs of intellectual activity. Who lived here we wondered? What were they doing in this house where time seemed to have stopped. Fascinated, we asked a farmer passing by who told us that it had been a classroom for children that a teacher had organized, but he was in hospital now, and not expected to return. How sad, we thought, we who would return there often in our dreams. It was a small scientific paradise.
Pink sakura and brilliant yellow rape flowers and every other blossom imaginable were putting on a spring spectacular. Our eyes were filled with the technicolor of nature, as well as man made curiosities that we felt compelled to explore. 6 eyes were simply not enough!
After more bridges, more exquisite nature and dreamy deep Setouchi blue green waters and islands, we came to our own Paradiso, in the form of a b&b in Setoda named Koune Paradiso. On the way, we happened upon a bizarre scene of a lady covered in a voluminous red cape, having her hair cut. She looked like a female Jizo saint. Animated and filled with life, she told us she was 100 years old! and her daughter was cutting her hair.
A kindred spirit was in the water as we biked by.
People stopped to help us find our way. This lovely farm couple was filled with smiles as they set us straight, we who had been going in exactly the opposite direction from our destination for some time.
And this dapper fellow cyclist was cutting cherry blossoms for his party that he invited us to that evening, promising karaoke and sake.
Our b&b hosts firmly advised that we not go. Who knew how the party would turn out, they warned !
We finally made our way to our own Paradiso a charming b&b run by an industrious couple – fabulous cooks – and their small son
We were happy to get off of our bikes to walk with our inn’s wife and toddler to a small beach — a beach combers’ delight!
We dined on perfect lemon pasta, lemons and other citrus being a great specialty throughout the area. The citrus trees on all of the islands gave the air a sweet lemony fragrance throughout our ride. The b&b was out of their featured wild boar sausages when we asked but they couldn’t have been better than what we were served.
Her article was what inspired us to take this trip in the first place, we skipped the last two bridges over two more industrialized islands, and took a small yellow ferry to Onomichi.
The pilot stepped away from his steering wheel to welcome us and give us a box of chocolate covered almonds. We ferried from Setoda, where the inspiring museum, (handsome architecture, impressive collection) of the paintings of native born Hirayama Ikuo enchanted us with his work, to Onomichi. We left our bikes at the U2 Cycle drop off to explore the trend-setting and confident restaurant and shop complex – a spectacular transformed warehouse – replete with a Cycle Hotel where we were sorry not to have the time to spend the night,. It is the last word in cool travel in Japan.
Rain on the last day did nothing whatsoever to dampen our spirits or discourage me from getting out of the taxi for closer inspection of the curious monuments of amassed plastic discards we found in Onomichi on our way to the station.
a hoarder’s art
Fortunately the artist was sitting in his bedecked car, smiling at our delighted reaction to his creations.
Somehow we made it! With the help of our deep pink bike tenugui from Todaya Shoten dyers – the tenugui were made for the Tokyo Bike ride going on at the same time but we were on our own adventure.
From start to finish, our blue & white journey on the Shimanami Kaido was one of the most exciting, beautiful and surprising experiences I have EVER had in Japan.
And I have had a few !
We simply followed the BLUE & WHITE LINE.
There was much to see and do and eat on this exciting trip. The lemon cake near the base of the Tatara bridge was delicious, the Imabari towels were world class, the delicious lemon pasta for at the b&b Koune Paradiso was from the heart, and our beach combing there was fruitful. In my heart I will go back there often, and if I hurry and not get too much older, I will return to bike again and take my time riding over those graceful bridges, the lemony air, and the luminous lazuline paradise that is the Inland Sea and the Shimanami Kaido that arches over it.