Japan is a country of contraditions. The stereotypical image of Japan is a densly populated country with little room to move. This is true, but only because 50% of the population lives on 2% of Japan’s land. Japanese love nature, and most of the land is protected.
Except Sado Island, we spent most of the time so far in urban centers. And in fact, the space between Kyoto and Osaka is completely developed – it was impossible to tell in which city or town we were. But that changed after leaving Osaka (where we spent a night in a so-called Love Hotel – an establishment that didn’t allow us to check in before 10 pm, but provided one of the most luxorious environments we had on this trip so far at a decent price. It goes without saying that condoms were placed by the bedside, but the dildo vending machine was rather… unusual).
The ride from Osaka to Kobe was getting calmer – mainly because we rode along the water. Finally there were fewer traffic lights and fewer pedestrians – in Japan, bicycles are expected to ride on the sidewalk, although more often than not, we picked the road instead. Japanese drivers know how to share the road, and kept a safe distance when passing.
Things changed dramatically when we took the ferry from Honshu, Japan’s main island, to Shodo Shima, a very small island on the half way to Shikoku, where we wanted to continue our trip. Shodo Shima wasn’t rich, that was clear to see. Even though it was clearly a tourist destination with a few resorts, things looked a little run down everywhere, and Japanese tourists arrived by bus, implying that guests were mainly booking package deals. We stayed an extra day and stretched our legs. People were very friendly, but almost nobody spoke English. Even more surprising was the fact that (in contrast to western resorts) there were few restaurants, no waterfront bars or cafes. There were a few beaches, but not really adequate for bathing. Still, or Bed & Breakfast had a nice waterfront patio, and that’s were we were hanging out at night over a glass or two of sake.
A short ferry ride brought us to Shikoku. This is a big island – big enough to justify a train line. But here too it was obvious that people were poorer than on the main island. But riding was easier, and the landscape was beautiful.
Most of the time we were riding through farmland. In the East of the island, where we started, we saw mostly rice. And as the harvesting season had just started, we saw rice that was still green, rice that was golden, ready to be harvested, and empty fields with bundles of rice-hay on it. Surprisingly, most fields were rather small. Granted, we often saw several fields together that probably belonged to the same farmer, but the large-scale farming common especially in the USA didn’t seem to exist. Further west we encountered citrus fruit, Kiwi, and even figs.
With communication problems and sometimes depressingly poor towns, Shikoku still gave us a unique view of the country and maybe the most authentic glimpse on Japan.
Crossing ten bridges
But the most stunning experience was the crossing back to Honshu over the Nishiseto Expressway. Ten bridges connect the many islands between Honshu and Shikoku. Not only that, but all bridges have dedicated bicycle lanes, and almost all bikelanes on the islands are wide and accommodating. The bridges themselves were impressive, and some of them are record breakers. The Tatara Bridge, for example, is the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge. The islands had their share of sights to offer, and the rapid change between views made this ride truly exciting.
It felt like being back in civilization after crossing back to Honshu. Things got more urban again, and communication got easier. After what we have been through, the final 100 km to Hiroshima felt like a piece of cake. We still didn’t find a real Internet Cafe until arriving in Hiroshima, otherwise we would have told you about this great trip much earlier.