Having logged a quality nine hours of sleep, I was up in time for the 7:30 breakfast knock on my door. This marked the second time that I have been served french fries for breakfast. Luckily there was plenty of other substantial foods on my tray to fill me up for a day full of biking.
I folded up my futon bedding, thanked the owner and his family for their hospitality, and was on the road at nine. Setoda Private Hostel is a little gem, located half way through on the bike trail.
It was a gorgeous morning. With the sun shining over orange orchards and temperatures rising, I soon had to take a pit stop on the side of the road to change into shorts and lather up some sun screen on my face.
The first stop on the day was a samurai museum in Omishima, one of the islands on the bike route. Omishima is nationally recognized for housing eighty percent of the samurai armor and weaponry that have been designated by the government as national treasures and important cultural properties.
I was in awe of the ancient artifacts on display before my eyes. I was starring at a samurai sword from the year 950 AD! In other display case, lay the armor and sword of Yoritomo Minamoto, the founder of the Kamakura period (1192-1333). Proudly showcased down the hall stood the full body armor that belonged to Yoshikata Ochi, who is known for suppressing Sumitomo Fujiwara’s revolt. Michinobou Kono’s armor and sword were also on display. To think that this was the very armor worn by Michinobou when he helped Minamoto at the Battle of Gempei. All this history coming to life was hard to comprehend. The Omishima samurai museum is definitely a must see place for any fan of Japanese history, or just anyone interest in incredible samurai artifacts.
Next to the museum sits Oyamazumi Shrine. The main building called, Gohonden was originally built in the early 1200’s, and took nearly a century to complete. It was reconstructed in 1378 after a fire. And in 1953 it was dismantle and repaired to its present condition.
Oyamazumi exhibits a wave like style of architecture called, sangensha nagare-zukuri, found in many Shinto shrines. (Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan). In Japan’s oldest forest of camphor trees, the roof of the shrine is comprised of beautiful cypress bark.
Oyamazumi is the deity of the shrine. He is the older brother of the Sun-Goddess, Amaterasu-omikami, so he played a pretty important role in the development of Japan. It is said that Oyamazumi is the god of seafarers, the land, and a guardian for all of Japan. Today, Oyamazumi is the only grand shrine in Shikoku. It is definitely worthy of this title, as its beauty is second to none. Even compared to all the shrines found in Kyoto, Oyamazumi stands out among the rest.
While I visited I witness a priest perform morning prayers to the sound of a slow drumbeat resonating within the hall. Later, I watched a family have their newborn baby undergo a special ceremony by the priest. I don’t know any details about this. Maybe this procedure would be like a baptism in Christianity. Nonetheless, it was an interesting ceremony to watch, as the family lay kneeled inside the shrine across from a priest, decked out in all his Shinto garb.
Exploring the hallowed grounds and staring into hundreds of years of history worked up quite an appetite in me. I found a sushi restaurant not far from the shrine, and treated myself to a big sushi set. The owners’ elementary school kids were fascinated with having a foreigner in town. They even came outside to wave me goodbye.
The rest of the day was filled with a scenic bike ride alongside calm ocean coastlines, across bridges, and past loud industrial port factories. Before I knew it, I reached my final destination, Imabari city on Shikoku Island. I snapped a few quick photos of the cherry blossoms at Imabari Castle, then returned my bicycle and boarded the one and a half hour long train ride to Matsuyama city. At just over half a million people, Matsuyama is the largest city in Shikoku.
I arrived as the sun set behind the Inland Seto Sea. My guesthouse was about a twenty-five minute streetcar ride from the main station. Fortunately, it was in a superb location, just minutes away from the most famous and oldest onsen in all of Japan, Dogo Onsen. This onsen was once exclusively reserved for only the emperor, as special healing powers were though to flow from the well.
Today, people stroll the shopping streets around the onsen in their yukata bathrobes and shower baskets. It was quite the scene. One, I’m almost positive you will only find in Matsuyama.
Upon checking in at the guesthouse, I met a guy from Australia and another visitor from Taiwan. The three of us made our way over to Dogo Onsen. We bought our ¥800 ticket to use the 125 year-old bath house, and soak in water from a 3,000 year old hot spring. The ticket also included tea, Japanese crackers, and a yukata to relax in. Sipping on green tea and wearing a yukata inside a beautiful tatami mat room, with a taiko drumming performance serenading the streets outside the open-air windows, was an unforgettable experience.
I swallowed the last gulp of green tea and returned my yukata before heading back to the guesthouse for that night’s roof top yakiniku party, a Japanese style barbeque. The smell of grilled chicken, pork, and vegetables filled the air, as a very international group of travelers shared stories over delicious food. Around the table sat visitors from France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Japan, Singapore, and the United States. I felt fortunate to be surrounded with people from such unique backgrounds. There was so much all of us can learn from each other.
After dinner, conversation continued and I learned a lot about business practices in Shanghai. Discussing culture and politics in both Japan and China, always fascinates me. With a full belly and weary legs from biking all day, I crawled into my futon bedding.
I arose rose early in the morning to the sound of light rain outside my window. Although it was seven, I got up and quietly lugged my bag to the lounge room downstairs, making sure not to wake anyone in the shared dormitory room. First on the agenda for the day was a trip back to Dogo Onsen to retrieve my cell phone, which I left there the night before.
I couldn’t find it in the tearoom of the onsen the night before when I went back look for it. But, the “Find My Phone” app indicated that my phone was still at the onsen. Fortunately the morning’s trip was successful as the security guard in the office presented me with my phone after filling out some paper work. Throughout the whole time without my phone, I was never nervous about losing it for good. After all, almost nothing in Japan is ever stolen. This can be seen by all the unlocked bicycles lining the street.
With my iphone in hand, I checked out by mid morning. The Sen Guesthouses’ owners were extremely friendly. They told me the best bus to take for my return trip, and gave me directions to the station. They even gave me an umbrella. Alongside a guy from Poland and another visitor from Spain (I was able to brush up on my limited Spanish!), I was en route to Matsuyama Castle.
Despite the raindrops, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom on the castle grounds. Originally completed in 1627 (Just seven years after the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth), it was later struck by lightening and burned to the ground in 1784. I guess that’s one of the downsides of building a five-story tower on a hill. Reconstruction of the present structure began in 1820 and everything remains in the original style, only two-stories shorter.
Matsuyama Castle is a magnificent sight to behold as the castle is perched on a 430-foot hill in the center of the city. Beautiful stonewalls with exceptional masonry are on display, alongside intricate family crests chiseled throughout the grounds. Two dolphin like fish sit on the pinnacles of the roof. These fish on castle roofs are called, “shachihoko”, and they are believed to help ward off evil. I guess they were sleeping on the job when that lightening bolt struck.
There is a moat surrounding the base of the hill, and there are multiple wings within the barricaded walls. The city of Matsuyama prides itself in boasting a castle that is one of only three multiple-wing castles to remain on a hilltop in the middle of a plain. Only Wakayama and Himeji Castle share this rare characteristic.
After castle touring, I ate a sushi lunch with a great guy from Poland that I met at the guesthouse. The food was delicious and some other guests were so interested in use because we were foreigners, that they busted out some sake and told us to join them. It was a nice gesture, but I had to decline the invitation; I had a busy schedule ahead of me.
Since it was raining, I decided not to walk around Matsuyama for too long, and I boarded the 2:30 bus to Fukuyama, two and a half hours away. As the bus roared across the bridges that I had biked the previous day, I had plenty of time reflect on my stay in Matsuyama. The city exuberated traditional Japanese charm while also blending common western elements. For example, you could bathe in a 3,000 year-old onsen, then walk down the street to Starbucks. You could ride on a vintage stream train or a retro tram down historic streets, while gauging your location on your iphone’s map. For me it was the perfect blend. Combined with meeting and learning from travelers from across the globe, my stay in Matsuyama was wonderful. I recommend the city for anyone visiting Japan. After reflecting and a nap I arrived at the station.
Once at Fukuyama, I had a decision to make: take a series of regular trains for three hours, or hop on a bullet train for forty five minutes. I chose pay twenty-five extra dollars for the bullet train. It was an easy decision. Plus, who doesn’t want to zip through Japan at 180 MPH?
Just as the rain let up, I was able to stop at Himeji castle to view the cherry blossoms at night. I also thought it would be fun to stop in Himeji just so I could say I went to three castle in one day; Matsuyama, Fukuyama, and Himeji.
After Himeji I took a forty-five minute train to my bus stop, rode the bus for twenty-five minutes, then biked fifteen minutes home. What a full vacation. I’m glad I left Sunday fee to rest before returning to school on Monday.
The map below labels all the major stops. Included are the exact addresses for the ramen shop (B), and both guesthouses. Setoda (C) and Matsuyama (D).