13. Cape Crusader

12 Apr

Cape AshizuriSuper, man: Cape Ashizuri’s wild and rugged coastline

It was a long, long way down to Ashizuri Cape, so I set off early from Sukumo, pointing The Revenge southwards away from the highways and the country roads. Not long into my journey I saw two pilgrims up ahead, and at the last minute caught their faces mirroring the same shocked-but-delighted expression as mine as I noticed they were foreigners: a svelte young lady accompanied by a much older man who was either a relative or an extremely lucky chap indeed. I gave them an enthusiastic greeting as I sailed past, grateful once again for my efficient choice of transport for this trip.

As I pedalled southwards towards the Cape I entered the most remote countryside I had seen so far on my trip; the ever present flow of cars that had dogged me on the highways dribbled out to a trickle, and at one stage it was down to about one every ten to fifteen minutes. I had found myself a little breathing space in one of the most densely populated countries on Earth, with only the burble of the tractors in the paddy fields to disturb the peace.

No matter how far you burrow into the depths of rural Japan, however, you will still be greeted by a familiar “friend” everywhere: concrete. Tonnes and tonnes of the bloody stuff. If you thought Coventry was bad, wait till you get a load of Japan; it makes Coventry city centre look positively organic. The Japanese won’t think twice about installing concrete walls, buttresses or steps absolutely anywhere, from this dainty little rural featurette to a dirty great set of steps I saw leading all the way down to an otherwise pristine and untouched beach. Of course, I appreciate the practical reasoning for using so much of the horrible stuff – Japan is a small nation, so land is precious and needs to be guarded against the earthquakes, typhoons and inclement weather all looking to erode, swamp, shake and/or bury the Land of the Rising Sun – but you can’t help but come away with the impression that they’ve been every so slightly overzealous in its usage, at the vast expense of their beautiful country.

The journey dragged, and a heavy shower encouraged me to dive into a little shop for a grinning mime conversation with a friendly lady shopkeeper during an isotonic drink transaction. With no end to the rain in sight, I trailed a little further down the road to pay the unsmiling purveyor of a noodle restaurant a visit. When the rain had finally abated a little I pressed on for the Cape, breaking out onto the coast and passing a wide bay lined with houses and finally onto some tougher terrain as Cape Ashizuri’s thankfully unconcreted coastline came into view. It wasn’t all rugged charm, though; soon enough the concrete quota was fulfilled by the presence of dozens of concrete bollards. These pesky blighters line a great deal of the accessible parts of the coastline of Japan in their droves, including many otherwise delightful beaches. Presumably part of Japan’s tsunami defence, they are not a particularly endearing feature of the Land of the Rising Concrete.

Half a day’s cycling had led me to the temple finally, and I was there for all of ten minutes. It had a water feature, which set it apart from most other temples at least, but the temples had long since started to merge into one. The friendly monk signing my book with the temple calligraphy also passed me over a little bag charm, announcing with a smile “present-o!”.

I fuelled up for the return journey in one of the large and sparsely populated restaurants opposite, and with the most remote outpost of the Shikoku Pilgrimage achieved without ceremony, I got back in the saddle to travel all the way back. Rather than using the quicker cross-country route I’d taken on the way, I decided to plump for a longer journey further around the coastline, partly for variety and partly to avoid a particularly nasty hill that had surprised me en-route. I was drizzled on as I made it inexorably slowly back towards Sukumo, willing my GPS to jump further than it had appeared to at every stop. Finally after eight long hours in the saddle, and with an aching lower back and arsebone for my efforts, I limped back into Sukumo.

I was almost pleased to see the place.

I collapsed for an hour in the bed of my yellowing seventies-style business hotel room, exhausted, and celebrated the day’s achievements in a low-key style with a takeaway tonkatsu (pork cutlet) meal. I had survived Kochi, the Pilgrim’s testing ground, and would we heading back into civilisation tomorrow into Ehime, the third of Shikoku’s four prefectures.

It was all downhill from here.
Sadly, only figuratively speaking.

77 miles

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