On Yer Bike!

Posted by on Nov 16, 2011 in Ehime, Travel Volunteer Journey | 2 Comments
On Yer Bike!

There isn’t too much we’d change about Japanese society, but we’d definitely have more hand driers in public toilets. We’d improve the woeful lack of bins too: we’ve walked around for hours at a time desperately searching for somewhere to dump our litter (although that at least has some mitigating circumstances). Natto would go, obviously. And cyclists would be banned from pavements.
It’s been really great to see just how popular cycling is in Japan. Add that to the number of hybrid cars and most city centres are near silent and smog free. Brilliant stuff, except some cyclists are as swift and stealthy as a ninja – and twice as deadly. Far too many times since arriving we’ve nearly been taken out by these two-wheeled menaces, but today in Ehime prefecture – our final stop on the frankly brilliant island of Shikoku – we had a chance to turn the tables and saddle-up ourselves.
We picked up a couple of bikes from the Sunrise Itoyama on the south side of the Kurushima-Kaikyo bridge and rode out into the sunshine. As usually happens when Katy and I get on bikes, we immediately began to race each other. Unfortunately for me, this particular contest was fixed from the very start.

When we picked up the bikes, I looked at mine with pride: a fully fledged mountain bike with more gears than I could possibly use, shock absorbers and a seat already perfectly adjusted to my height. When they wheeled out Katy’s old beater, it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. This would be a walk over…
And it would have been, had Katy been doing all the peddling. But with her Yamaha Terminator T1000 model, Lafferty-Killer edition, she blended man and machine, or, more accurately, woman and electric bike. This was Robocop vs a slab of ham, where I was the dead pig.
Worse: the first part of our race was up a steep incline, following a long corkscrewing path that led us onto the bridge. I was too far behind to be sure, but I’m sure some of Katy’s laugher carried down to me on the wind. Once or twice she’d let me catch up, before zooming off again. It was cruel and unusual.

But when I finally arrived at the top of the gigantic suspension bridge, thoughts of competition were blown away from my sweaty head altogether. Every time we feel we know what to expect from Japan, it changes again. We thought we had it down: mountains stretching across most of the place, innumerable trees and the occasional mega city. Easy. Except today, looking across the Inland Sea towards Honshu, Japan was looking decidedly Greek with islands tossed into the middle of a deep azure ocean, like breadcrumbs for a Titanic carp. In between them boats of all sizes shuffled around, while around the bay from where we stood, brand new ships were being finished in the local boatyard.

We continued on, Katy immediately eviscerating me again, leaving me plodding along with the power of my feeble chicken legs. This stretch might run over the world’s longest suspension bridge, but it’s just the first small segment of a a brutal 70km track that island hops its way all the way to Hiroshima, back on the mainland. Today, though, we were happy just to get out and feel the sun on our faces. And the less said about the result of the race, the better.


日本での旅を続けてきて、“日本のここを変えて欲しい”と思ったものは正直あまりない。
あえて言うならば、お手洗いのハンド・ドライヤーを増やして欲しい。あとは、ある時1時間近くもゴミ箱を探し続けたぐらいなので、街中のごみ箱を増やしてもらえると便利だと思う。それからもちろん納豆は消えてなくなって欲しい(冗談です)あとは・・・歩道を走る自転車、これもできれば禁止にして欲しい。

日本に来て、自転車がこれほどまでに多い事に正直びっくりした。
更に日本にはハイブリッドカーもたくさん走っていて、これらが静かで空気のきれいな日本の都市を作っているのだと痛感する。とは言え歩道を走る自転車は、忍者のように素早く危険で、ハラハラした事は1度や2度ではなかった。だが今日、ここ数日素晴らしい時間を過ごさせてもらっている四国で最後の県、愛媛県今治市で、その自転車に乗る事になったのだ。

来島海峡大橋の南側にあるサンライズ糸山で自転車をピックアップし、サイクリングに出発する事になったのだが、私達は自転車に乗ると自然と競争をしてしまう。だが今日は自転車を選んだ時点で勝負が決まってしまった・・・。

自転車をピックアップした時、私は自分の自転車を誇らしげに眺めた。フル装備のマウンテンバイクで、サドルの高さも完璧だった。そしてケイティの自転車が運ばれて来た時、私はおもわず吹き出してしまいそうになるほど、それは“古めかしい”デザインのものだった。だから私は勝利を確信したのだが・・・

なんとケイティにはヤマハの最新型電動自転車が用意されていたのだ!そう、もしこの“古めかしい”デザインの自転車をケイティが自力で漕がなければならないのであれば、私の勝ちだっただのだが・・・。レースの“しょっぱな”は橋に続く急な坂道・・・。その差はぐんぐんと開いていき、でもケイティが笑っている声が時折風に乗って聞こえてくる。1-2度、彼女はスピードを緩めて追いつかせてくれたが、またしゅーっと差をつけていなくなってしまう。悔しい!!!

が、橋の上まで到達したところで、競争をしていたことなどふっとんでしまった。
いつも日本について“もう分かってきた”と思うたびに、その思いが間違っている事に気づかされる。
今回もまさにそうだった。私達は日本の豊かな山間部、美しい自然、そして大都会の街並みなど、全てを見た気になっていたが、今日更に新たな美しさを知ることになった。瀬戸内海とそこに浮かぶ島々の美しい景色。それは地中海のリゾート・ギリシャを彷彿とさせるほどのもので、島々の間を大小様々な船が行きかっていた。

レースを再開すると、ケイティは一瞬にしていなくなってしまい、私は一人息を切らしながらペダルをこぎ続けた。サイクリングをしたのは世界最長のつり橋だったのだが、それはほんの最初の70キロの部分で、橋は島々をつなぎ、本州・広島まで通じているそうだ。
・・・・・私は喜んで引き返すことにした。

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Bidders
    November 17, 2011

    Katy and Jamie

    Thanks for the entertaining blog/Tweets and for the fantastic photos.

    I’ve really enjoyed following your progress to date and look forward to future updates. As a former resident in Japan, it’s been a pleasure to share your impressions of the places I know as well as the places I wished I’d been to. I think you’re doing a wonderful job of showcasing Japan’s many and varied delights. Nice one!

    Also, I wanted to compliment Jamie on his eloquent turn of phrase. Really like the flow and wit of your writing along with your skilfully crafted descriptions. If you’re ever in Manchester and fancy sharing some travel writing tips, the pints are on me.

    Keep on keeping on.

    Arigato

  2. Rod Walters
    October 1, 2012

    Some great photos of the Shimanami Kaido. Readers who fancy doing the route themselves may be interested in these articles;
    http://japantourist.jp/view/shimanami-kaido-highway
    http://japantourist.jp/view/sunrise-itoyama-tourist-center