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Osaka Castle

I look like a local!

There was one day left in Japan and I was determined not to let it go to waste!  I woke up early and headed to the subway where I definitely ran into the rush hour commute.  A few wrong turns later I ended up at Osaka castle.

The current twoer was built in 1931.  It was originally built in 1583 as the center of a unified Japan under Toyotomi.  It was then destroyed in 1615, rebuilt in 1620, stuck by lightening in 1665 and there you have the brief but tumultous history.

I walked the eight stories to the top of the castle (whoa my leggies were burning).  It was also hot and jammed packed with school children so I decided to not spend that much time there.  I wandered through the adjacent plum garden and the grounds before heading back into Osaka.

I decided (not sure why) to take a different route back to Yuka’s house.  By the time I arrived, I was tired and hungry.  Her parents own an adjacent restaurant and, even though it was closed, generously offered to cook Okonomiyaki which Yuka’s husband explained is “soul food” for people in that area.  It is a very thick pancake full of all kinds of ingredients with an egg cooked on top.  One had leeks and vegetables and the other had oysters.  The batter has flour, nagaimo, dashi, eggs, cabbage in it.  The batter with the ingredients were pan fried and topped with okonomiyaki sauce (which is sweet), anori (seaweed flakes), Japanese mayonnaise, and katsubushi (bonito flakes). It was absolutely delicious.  Just when I thought I was full Yuka’s parents cooked some udon noodles to finish.

We said our goodbyes and I made my way to the train to get to the airport.  Hard to believe the trip is coming to an end but it’s time to come home.  I have learned so much and had so many great experiences.

Until next trip,

Pookie

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Local train

Today was a full day of travel and sightseeing.  Sarah and I headed out of the hotel and aimlessly wandered to the Onimichi train station.  We took the local train to Fukayama where we changed over to the Shinkansen, or bullet train.  The trains travel 150-200 mph.  I quickly fell asleep and woke up approximately an hour later in Osaka.  From there Sarah and I parted ways as she headed to the Kansai airport and I headed toward the subway.  I took two different lines and by the grace of googlemaps ended up at Yuka’s house (a friend of Libby’s friend).

Shinkansen

Subway

Yuka has traveled and lived all over the world and is originally from Osaka.  Of course one of the first things she (hesitantly) asked was what I thought of Trump (aye).  Her mother came home and Yuka and her mother cooked a traditional Japanese lunch with beef (first beef I’ve had since arriving).  It was delicious.

Yuka and I headed to the famous shopping district in Osaka which is packed with people and stores.  When we parked Yuka pulled her car in and then the car was whisked away in an elevator to be parked- I was the googly-eyed tourist!  We also stopped at a Toys R Us to pick up some auntie gifts- a rarity since none are left back home.  After walking around for a bit we picked up Yuka’s son and then headed to a Sushi restaurant for dinner with her mother and husband.

Shopping

Me and Yuka

The sashimi and sushi were absolutely fantastic!  The fish was like butter and they explained to me how everything should be eaten.  We enjoyed some cold sake which is intentionally poured overflowing into the class to represent overflowing good luck- I’ll take it!  We drove back through Osaka on the way home- the city is full of lights and high end designer stores.

 

Dinner

It has been another jam packed day in Japan and I am sure to sleep well tonight.

-Pookie

 

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Bridge 1

Bridge 2

Setouchi Shimanami Kaido connects Onomichi city and Imbari and has a bicycle route that is separate for most of the bridges.  The route is 96 km with 6 major bridges.  Time to get over my fear of heights!  The first bridge Kurushima-Kaikyo was a suspension bridge that spans 4,105 meters.  There was a winding route separate from traffic just for bikes that snakes it’s way to the top at about a 3% grade.    The second bridge, Hakata-Oshima is a 1,165 meter suspension bridge as well.  The asphalt was incredibly smooth and it was fun to look out from the bridges.

The bridge connecting Hakatjima Island to Omishima Island was a relatively short 328 meter Arch bridge.

 

 

Bridge 3

 

The weather was absolutely perfect for the ride and I stopped for a cone of green tea ice cream which hit the spot.

 

 

 

Bridge 4 was perhaps one of my favorites- a cable stayed bridge (Tatara bridge) spanning 1,480 meters. About 62 kilometers into the ride for lunch.  The area is famous for a type of fried chicken called Senzanki which I had to try.  It was delicious but a little heavy before hoping back on the bike.

Senzanki Chicken

Bridge 5 was another cable stay bridge, Ikuchi Bridge.  Shortly after the bridge we ran into a fellow cyclist who was visiting from Singapore and suffering from a punctured tire.  I stopped and quickly changed the tire and he asked if Sarah and I were professional cyclists- perhaps the highlight of the trip!!!

 

 

Guy with flat tire (who thought I was a pro cyclist)

Bridge 6

We headed toward the Northern part of Mukaishima Island before crossing the final suspension bridge Innoshima Bridge before taking a short ferry to our final destination in Onimichi city.

Bridge 7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was bittersweet riding into the hotel and knowing that the trip was coming to an end.  The cycling, landscapes, food, and people have all been so amazing.  Dylan brought Thor for me to ride, a titanium Linskey bike that I rode on for the 3 Islands tour.  It was like seeing an old friend again!

Thor

 

 

Post ride celebration with Sarah and Howard

 

 

 

 

Dylan and Me

 

 

After a long day on the bike Sarah, Howard and I headed to share a few cold brewskies to celebrate arriving at Onomichi city.  After showering we all walked to a restaurant for dinner.  It was traditional Japanese which meant sitting on the floor.  The food was hot and delicious but I was completely exhausted by the time we made it back to the hotel.

There’s always a sense of accomplishment when you get to the end of an epic ride.

431 miles, 27,747 feet of climbing!

-Pookie

 

 

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Really tired, will post tomorrow.

-Pookie

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Day 10: To Imbari

Imnbari Castle

This morning’s breakfast was very similar to the other day’s.  I’ve included a picture of the fish so you can see how it’s served.  A waiter usually comes by and lights the fire and then you place the fish on to grill.  The other manner it’s served is whole and you are supposed to just eat the entire thing (I couldn’t get myself to eat the head).

 

 

 

This morning started off pretty foggy as we rolled out of the hotel but cleared up in no time.  The route was mostly undulating but there was a little bit of a 9% grade pincher in the morning.  Sarah’s rear tire flatted and as it’s a tubeless tire there was a lot of mess trying to fix the puncture with a plug but Ben was able to clean everything out and get a spare tube in.  Dylan, Sarah, and I headed out for the rest of the day and keep a pretty steady tempo.  We decided to do the extra loop for the day with a total of 41 miles and 1,800 feet of climbing.

I discovered new kit kat flavor today- chestnut, and it was pretty delicious.  After arriving in Uwajimi I changed into regular clothes and headed to the train station to get my tickets to Osaka for Wednesday.  I am very glad Remy was there to translate and it was more difficult than anticipated (isn’t that life?).

After meandering around town for a bit we loaded up the van for the two hour drive to Imbari.  It’s crazy the amount of infrastructure in Japan.  There are tunnels through the mountains, endless bridges, and pristine asphalt pavement.  We drove through Matsuyama on the way which is the largest city on Shikoku Island.  A giant elevated roadway way it easy to travel through the city without getting stuck in traffic.

After arriving in Imbari I took the 10 minute walk to Imbari castle.  It was built in the 17th century and was impressive on all fronts.  I have including the pictures and will include more details after a restful night’s sleep.  We had a full dinner including a perfectly cooked snapper and a glass (or two) of hot sake.

-Pookie

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Day 9: Ashizuri to Ekawasaki

The weather has significantly improved since arriving near the coast- only a jersey and

Tsunami evacuation area

shorts needed!  We headed a little west along the coast before heading north back into the main part of the island.  Sarah and I stopped at the John Mung, also known as akahama Manjir?,  museum shortly into ride.  There was a tsunami statue outside as well as an area where people go to avoid the tsunami.

About 25 km in I stopped to dip my toes in the Pacific ocean before heading into the bit of climbing for the day.  Lunch was about 60 km into the ride and I couldn’t help but order another serving of rice with curry and tempura shrimp with ice cream for desert.  Interestingly enough a lot of Japanese are lactose intolerant so all of the ice cream we have encountered is lactose free.

 

It was a smooth and undulating ride along the Shimanto river before a steep pincher to the hotel in Ekawaski.  After 100 km I felt like riding a little more and headed out for the extra loop.  Unfortunately I hit a rock and blew out the side wall of my rear tire.  I changed it only to find the spare tube was also no good.  I searched for cell service with none to be found so Sarah headed back to the hotel and Remy picked my up in the van.  I think the roads were more terrifying in a van than a bike- we crossed a bridge and I had to close my eyes and say an inevitable hail Mary.

Back at the hotel it was a quick tire/tube change and time for the last onsen of the trip.  The idea of essentially bathing with strangers is foreign but after a long day riding it’s easy to get over.

Dinner was an endless amount of smoked fish, sashimi, ginger sauce, miso soup, and vegetables.  Afterward I spent the evening in the lobby chatting with Howard, Sarah, and Dick over some carafes of hot sake.

Another great day of riding and sight seeing!

-Goodnight, Pookie

 

 

 

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Day 8 Shimanto City to the Coast

Last night was perhaps the hardest mattress I have encountered.  An oddity about Japanese pillows is that they seem to be stuffed with buckwheat shells or beans or something very uncomfortable.  Regardless, after a quite uncomfortable night we headed out of the mountains and toward the coast.  The road quality was perfect and the temperature increased significantly over the course of the day.

Before viewing the Temple stop for the day I stopped for curry and shrimp tempura with a cup of hot green tea that was absolutely perfect.

Kongofuku Temple (temple number 38)- one of the southern most points of Shikoku island  at Cape Ashizuri and was constructed in 822.  There were a lot of different styles in the buildings, temples, and statues and was my favorite temple stop so far.

After leaving the temple my legs felt fresh and Sarah and I decided to head out for the extra loop which involved significant climbing.  The views were absolutely fantastic and made the climbing worth the effort.  It was fantastic to have someone to ride with and push me.  I left a lung by the side the road by the time we reached the top.  The descent was absolutely amazing- perhaps the best I have ever done.  The asphalt was perfect and the turns were just wide enough to allow quick descending without fear.  Total milage for the day: 48.61 miles with 4,311 feet of climbing.

We arrived at the hotel and they were nice enough to let me use the washing machine.  Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out the characters on the machine and somehow missed hitting the spin cycle on the machine.  I pulled out sopping clothes and the women working at the hotel scurried around to put my clothes back in the washing machine and turn on the spin cycle.

I enjoyed a beer with the others at the rooftop during sunset before heading down for dinner.  Dinner was an assortment of sashimi which hit the spot.  It will be an early bedtime for me as tomorrow’s ride will be long.

-Pookie

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The hotel we stayed at last night had by far the best dinner along with a gorgeous views of the trees in the mountains.  It was a brisk morning again as we set off South toward the coast.  We started with a gentle descent and then took a side road to weave around a tunnel.  The side road was more like a cyclocross path covered in leaves, sticks, and rocks and was a little bit hairy!  The smooth asphalt lasted a bit before traveling on very tortuous roads.  I took my time with the corners as to not take risks.

The morning stop was at a small bakery where I enjoyed a bun filled with sesame paste, a chocolate filled bun, and a rare cup of coffee.  It was perfect for the ride and I didn’t need to stop for lunch.

 

 

 

After what would have been the lunch stop was a steady climb- mostly 5% grade but occasionally kicking up t0 8% just to remind the legs it was still a climb.  The descent down was very technical and I took my sweet time.  Sarah and I found a temple on the side of the road and veered off.  I dropped my coin in the box and said a quick prayer from my Grandma Heine on what would be her birthday, my Aunt Judy- who loved to travel and passed away 6 years ago yesterday, and my mom- three strong, resilient women who I love dearly.  I will never forget when Aunt Judy returned from Japan and showed us round toothpicks, it seemed like such a novelty.

We headed the rest of the way in to Shimanto city passing rice fields and an increasing amount of civilization.   We stopped at yet another bakery on the way into town and I had a fantastic bun filled with blueberry curd and Duvel (one of my favorite Belgian brews). Total ride distance was 54 miles with 2,349 feet of climbing.

Back at the hotel it was time to hit the onsen, which was essentially an oversized tub.  I headed into town to exchange money and found three ATMs which didn’t take Visa.  A job for tomorrow.  This is the biggest city we have been in since leaving Osaka.  I love seeing how many people use bicycles as their primary method of transportation.

Shimanto City

Dinner was a variation of the theme but the sashimi was very, very good.  I had a warm sake with dinner and afterwards the group headed into the city for a round of brewskies before calling it a night.

I will definitely sleep well tonight,

Pookie

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Samari

This morning was very cold- 0 degrees Celsius to be exact.  Thankfully I dressed accordingly and set off with a pair of sore legs.  The ride started off with a nice descent, a small climb and a big descent before the real climbing started.  A 9 miles climb is something that would be hard to find back home and one of the reasons I love cycling abroad.  It sounds like endless torture but there’s a feeling of accomplishment when you reach the top, look down and see how far you’ve ridden.  At 37 miles in and the top of the climbing, I enjoyed my new favorite- coke and coffee.

I rode most of the day with Christine, a former professional mountain biker and an amazing athlete.  We had a great day riding and laughing. There are lots of tunnels through the mountain side we rode through and some we were able to ride around.

Near the end we stopped at a small ice cream stand by the side of the road.  The guy running it spoke minimal English and we, obviously, speak no Japanese but were able to order and he showed us pictures of his cows where he gets the milk for the ice cream.  A perfect stop (even though it was still a little chilly).

After a long, hard day in the saddle it was a relief to reach the inn for the night.  This one is more modern and nicer than the previous day.  I made my way to the onsen and soaked in the hot water outside while overlooking the mountains- a perfect way to end the day.

Most of the food is essentially the same- rice and variations of pickled veggies and smoked fish.  One interesting tidbit is that the Japanese love their kit-kats which can be in about every flavor.  I have enjoyed the different varieties and am on the look out for new flavors.

One thing I absolutely love about Japan is how animated the signs are.  There are cartoons for about everything to explain what is acceptable and not and how things work.  This was perhaps my favorite road sign for today warning people not to litter.

 

 

 

I’ll include more photos when I get them!

-Pookie

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Day 5 The Hike

Temple 45

Yesterday’s mountain was mount Ischizuchi and the plan for today had been a hike to the top of the peak; however, the weather was supposed to 1 degrees Celsius and just as windy

Guarding the temple

as the previous day.  Thankfully the tour guides decided on a plan B route which was an approximately 5 km hike described as “moderate” to temple 45 on the Shikoku pilgrimage.  The pilgrimage includes 88 temples and is traditionally completed by hoofing it although some take tour buses.  The pilgrims wear distinctive white jacket (called a hakui), a traditional Japanese hat (sugegasa), and a staff (kongozue).  The staff is supposed to embody Kobo Daishi who was a Buddhist monk and the founder of the pilgrimage.

The hike was pretty difficult and we seemed to climb and climb and climb.  I was pretty sweaty by the time we reached the first stop.  I thought it was the temple and started snapping photos until I learned it is a Hindu god that is there to ward out evil spirits from the temple which was still a little bit of a hike away.  The effort was worth it.  The temple was unlike anything I have seen before.

Temple 45 is called Iwaya-ji, the Temple of the Rocky cave.  The temple is built against a stunning cliff and a large wooden ladder enables you to climb to a small hole in the side of the cliff (I skipped that part!).  The story is that Kobo Daishi was traveling through the area and met a woman named Kuma.  Kobo Daishi produced a river which allowed crops to grow.  Every temple in the pilgrimage has an area called the Daishi-do which is a tribute to Kobo Daishi.

Pilgrim

 

 

 

 

I dropped a little coin in the box and said my prayers for dad and mom.  The way out from the temple wound through the woods past a lot of small statues.  A lady gave us all hot, sweet ginger tea which was perfect.  From there we loaded the van and headed about 20 km away to another short hike along a river gorge before heading in a restaurant for hot Udon noodles.  Afterward I couldn’t resist trying green tea ice cream- delicious.  It was a drive back to the inn and after warming up in the Onsen I took an epic nap.

I have a lot more photos but am having technical difficulties getting them off my camera.

Goodnight!

Pookie

 

 

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