We're riding the island of Shikoku today. The plan is to simply follow the coastline south-west from Tokushima and just check out what's along the way.
So no plan really...
A little shortcut through the mountains. Virtually no traffic once we're outside of Tokushima! We like that.
Quick photo break! The bikes are handling nicely and I think I'm finally starting to get used to the sporty seating position
It's still pretty cold and overcast as we break through the heavily forested mountains. The twisty road we're on quickly descends down to Shikoku island's shores. We're greeted by the sight of sandy beaches along the coastal route.
Along the coast, we pass by several groups of hikers on the road dressed in the same white jackets we saw in Koya the other day
These hikers are actually on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. There are 88 temples scattered all around the island of Shikoku. Pilgrims have to visit all of them in order, traveling a total of 1,200 kms! To show your progress, you get your Temple Stamp Book marked with a red stamp found at each temple. So it's like a religious scavenger hunt!
People from outside Japan may not be aware, but there is a bit of fad going on with these Goshuin (temple stamp books) in Japan these days. Temple stamps can be found all over the country, not just on Shikoku. We're on a lot of Japanese Facebook groups, and we've seen so many posts of people's goshuin showing off rare stamps from hard-to-reach temples. For a lot of young people here, if you're going on vacation or on a business trip to a different part of Japan, you must always make time to visit one of the temples in the area to get your goshuin stamped there, so you can post a picture of it on Facebook, to the envy of everyone else!
Back to the pilgrims though. There is a traditional pilgrim's outfit that consists of a white coat, purple scarf, conical hat and a wooden walking stick
Most of the pilgrims today undertake the pilgrimage by tour bus, but a small number still do it on foot, which typically takes six months to complete. This is something I can totally see Neda doing...
Despite all this preparation, many pilgrims don't actually complete the full 88-temple, 1,200km pilgrimage. They say most give up around Temple #30, in Kochi, because of its hot temperatures, frequent rains and it's distance from civilization. I guess at that point they hop on the tour bus with the rest of the other pilgrims...
Since the pilgrimage can be done any time of the year, early spring is probably the best time to undertake it, as the weather hasn't gotten too hot yet on the island, and the snow is already disappearing from the mountains.
On our southern route down the east coast of the island, we pass throgh Minami, where we spot a large temple from the road. This turns out to be Yakuoji temple. It's #23 on the Shikoku 88. We stop to investigate.
At the temple in Minami, we see the cartoon sign for food, the mascot with the noodle bowl on his head. Must be a restaurant inside?
No restaurant. And embarassingly, I find out that it's not a sign for food at all. The cartoon figure is actually Koya-Kun, a monk who is the mascot for the town of Koya, which we visited a day earlier. The reason the Shikoku 88 pilgrims were in Koya, was because that is where everyone traditionally goes to prepare for the trek.
So I guess that's not a noodle bowl on his head... Oops...
Some more ema cards with wishes written on them. So cold, someone gave the statue of the monk a knitted cap... not a noodle bowl...
Orange and white koi fish swim in little channels
and pools found around the temple
Koi is Japanese for carp. Typically carp is grey in colour, but when it was first brought over to Japan, breeders brought out various bright colours in the fish. The koi fish are a symbol for love and friendship because "koi" also sounds like the word for "love" in Japanese.
Aha, we spy the first Cherry Blossoms! Neda is sooo happy we are finally seeing them start to bloom!
Our elation is short-lived though. There is a chart on the Internet which shows when the cherry blossoms bloom in each part of the country. However, we've just heard that Tokyo has had a bout of unusually warm weather lately. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom right now where we just left! Dammit! We traveled for a week and a half just to catch the beginnings of the bloom in the south and it's already well underway back in the north!
Back on the road, heading further south. I love the Japanese writing on the tarmac
I have no idea what it says, but it's a constant reminder that we are in Japan!
We pass by many of these huge ramps that led to nothing in particular
Japan has a long history of earthquakes and tsunamis. The last big earthquake/tsunami was in 2011, and that one caused the Fukushima reactor meltdown. During that disaster, a 30-meter tidal wave of black water slammed the north-east coast, killing 18,000 people.
Since then, many countermeasures have been put in place to prepare for the next big earthquake and/or tsunami. Vast underground tunnels have been carved beneath Tokyo to allow the flood waters to drain. In the coastal areas, these ramped tsunami evacuation towers allow people to climb high enough to avoid killer tidal waves and being drowned in the resulting floods.
There were about 4 or 5 of these mega structures in each town we passed through. Crazy!