Until now, longer ferry passages had always brought with them a major change of scenery. This time, after a three-hour crossing, we were still in Japan and that was a good thing… because there is so much more to see in this country, like the island of Shikoku, for example.

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The morning after our arrival, we wanted to see a special whirlpool near Naruto. Unfortunately, the water is swirling depending on the tides and was just taking a break when we were there. Apart from the restless sea under the highway bridge, there was nothing to see. Whatever, we pedalled back through the metropolitan area, stopping at traffic lights every few hundred meters.

Our differing ideas about the route to follow resolved itself when persistent rain set in. The precipitation and cold made it clear that we had to cross the mountains as quickly as possible to reach the south coast. Fortunately, there was a Michi-No-Eki nearby, one of over 1000 sensational rest stops consisting of a local market, toilet, restaurant and a cold but windless waiting room with WiFi😊. There we were able to let the rain front pass and recharge our batteries for the upcoming (cold) ascent. Fortunately, our photo session for reaching the 40,000 km mark lasted so long that we didn’t make it to the 1450 m high pass that day. The following morning, when we arrived at the top, there was snow and it was -3°C cold. The descent was no fun at all, even in our warmest clothes – our hands and feet were freezing cold!

We stopped at the first village, although apart from the heated toilet ring (what a relief😊) there was no place warm. But Nagoro was one of the reasons for our choice of route through the mountains: like many Japanese mountain villages, Nagoro is suffering from emigration and an ageing population. When the school had to close in 2012 due to a lack of children, an artist decided to animate the village with human-sized dolls. In the gym, at the bus stop and in the fields, the puppets mime real life. We were able to walk around the village, all the buildings were open. The cold, cloudy weather provided the perfect backdrop for visiting this ghostly place, in which we were almost the only living people.

A little later, completely clammy with cold, we reached the visitor center of a historic bridge made of vines. Nowadays, the bridge is spanned by steel cables and is only wrapped in vines for decoration. Nevertheless, it attracts an astonishing number of visitors. We were much more interested in the warm soup right next to the heating stove. The unpleasant thing about the cold in Japan is that there is nowhere to shelter us from it. Although the houses are built to be earthquake-proof, they have no insulation, double glazing or central heating. The only warm place in a building is directly under the air conditioning (=heating) or right next to the radiant heater. The mini-markets are usually well sheltered from the wind and warm, but unfortunately do not offer any seating. It is noticeable that the only people who linger longer in these stores are the many men in front of the magazine rack at the back … the sparsely dressed women in the magazines seem to be a good source of entertainment😉

The temperatures did not become more pleasant until we reached the coast near Kochi. We were careful not to venture higher inland again and followed the Buddhist pilgrimage route along the coast of Shikoku for many kilometers. It is thanks to the pilgrims that there is even more infrastructure such as public toilets and rest stops on this route than usual. This also included the picnic hut at the harbor of a small fishing village. It served as a wonderful campsite until, in the middle of the night, a friendly voice suddenly sounded from the loudspeakers. This was not particularly surprising, because at certain times of the day and evening, melodies are heard all over the country (e.g. a wake-up melody at 6:00, school starts at 8:00, lunchtime at 12:00, end of work at 17:00 or test alarm at 20:00). Of course, we didn’t understand a word of the announcement that night… except “tsunami”. Hmmm? … David wasn’t particularly worried and went straight back to sleep. The excitement in the village also seemed to be limited. I had fallen asleep again when suddenly the police “knocked” on the tent. They apologized a thousand times for the disturbance, said something about earthquakes in another country and about a 1m tsunami expected for 03:00. Thanks to the police’s good translation app, we realized that they wanted to recommend another campsite near the tsunami evacuation site. So we packed up, drove a few kilometers further at 02:30, set up the tent again and slept until the next morning. Only in Japan do you get treated this courteously when wild camping😊!

We really enjoyed the coastal drive along the east of Shikoku with its small fishing villages and terraced tangerine plantations! In Sukumo we would have loved to take the ferry to the island of Kyushu. On the ferry company’s website, we found the timetable and price list, but the ship had been auctioned off in 2019 due to unpaid bills. As a crossing by fishing boat was unthinkable in the land of correctness, we had no choice but to pedal two days up north to Yawatahama. We are now sitting here in the cold harbor building, deliberately waiting for the later ferry to Beppu so that we can work on the blog for as long as possible with electricity and internet.

This post was published on December 20, 2023