Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shikoku Travels

Last month we took a road trip from Kagoshima to Shikoku (ignore the routes drawn on these maps). We drove from Kagoshima to a town near Oita and took the ferry to southern Shikoku. We hung out around southern Shikoku snorkeling and beach camping and then headed north along the coast until we hit Nasa, a beachy area with more surfers than I've seen since CA. From there we headed inland and over the mountains to Iya Valley, a winding river valley where the treeline ended right at steep river canyon cliffs.
One of the cool things about Shikoku is that is is home to the Henro Pilgrimage, which is a path that follows 88 temples in a loop around the island. People of all ages walk the path (it takes about a month and a half) in all conditions. The next time I have a month and a half free...
Taking the ferry from Kyushu to Shikoku.
Cars in a boat on the sea!

Our first night in Shikoku we set up the tent and swam out to an island in the bay where we were staying. There are enough small islands along coastal Japan to really awaken my childhood dreams of island survival skills and having an island all to myself...

This amazing 1960's futurist building happened to be around a cape from us. We were wondering what its deal was and I hoped that it led to a sea-floor viewing room at the bottom.

And it did!

An amazingly named pachinko parlour.
The rice fields ready to be harvested.
For quite a ways the highway followed the Henro Pilgrimage path and we could see the pilgrims in their uniforms walking alongside the road. We kept honking and cheering them on though I am not sure if you are supposed to do that for people on a spiritual journey.
I love how before people enter the sandy part of a beach, they take their shoes off in the same way as they would before entering a house.
Nasa beach surfers. We were there on a national holiday so it was packed!
For lack of surf board, Justin made a raft out of bamboo driftwood.
That didn't really hold up...
Wives of the surfers video them from the shores.
We headed inland, following a road that was barely big enough for our small car through mountain passes and villages that seemed like they were from another time. We would turn a corner and scare monkeys in the road and I started to get spooked by constantly being in dark forest.
We stopped along the road and cooked a riverside lunch of mabu-dofu, a sort of Chinese tofu dish.

We finally found ourselves in Iya Valley - a winding river valley that seemed like it was cut off from the rest of Japan where they grew their own buckwheat to make soba and once built bridge made out of vine to cross the steep river canyons.

Vine bridges!

The rivers were an incredible clear blue, but pretty frigid.
For the last few days of our trip we embarked on a mountaineering trip. With Lonely Planet's Hiking Guide to Japan as our main guide/map (never use this as your only map! What a shitty guide!), we managed to get ourselves thoroughly lost from morning til afternoon. Luckily our goal was the mountain ridge, so once we made it to the top we were able to followe the ridge to place where we planned to camp. However, hours of wading through steep hillside bamboo grass, and being bombarded by fierce monkey calling were demoralizing...

Our map made mention of a mountain "hut" near where we wanted to camp for the night, and we thought we'd check it out as there was a spring nearby. The "hut" turned out to be a deluxe cabin with loft and wood-burning stove that we had all to ourselves.
We heated a big pot of water over the stove with water from the spring and took showers outside.

After a day of uphill abuse, the fog rolled in and it felt so cozy and nice to be tucked away on top of a beautiful mountain range.
Mountain trail signpost.
Taking a gander in the fog.
Our hut.
The next morning we headed off again!

Houses along the river.
Narrow road.

On the way back to Kagoshima, we drove across a bridge from Shikoku, to Honshu, the main island of Japan and drove down through Hiroshima and back to Kyushu.

The bridge we crossed, like a great grey Golden Gate Bridge. Driving the eleven hours home, I marveled at how little the landscape changed - mountainous and foresty, with big cities coming up every half hour (because of all the mountains, driving on Japanese expressway most often means that you are spending a lot of time in tunnels). If I drove eleven hours in any direction from Ojai, the landscape would change really dramatically into high desert, or huge moutains, or redwood forest. I have really grown to love the Japanese mountains, bamboo forests and volcanoes.