5. Falling Down

4 Apr

Idoji, just outside of Tokushima, on a beautiful day

The previous day’s marathon effort had me hankering for an easier day, so I treated myself to a lazy, late start, enjoying another great Japanese breakfast at the Station Hotel and then jumping on the bike to mop up the three remaining temples west of Tokushima that I hadn’t managed to reach yesterday in my exhausted state.

The weather was bright and sunny as I veered off the choked main roads of start-stop traffic lights and onto the quiet, maze-like streets that make up suburban Japan, following the northern side of Mount Bizan past houses, paddy fields and tiny shrines.  Once clear of the mountain, I turned south to shadow the river, passing the bespectacled monk I’d met whilst huddled around the gas heater at Shōzanji yesterday, to whom I gave a 20mph “Konnichwa!”, scaring the crap out of him in the process.

It was an easy day’s cycling until I approached the third and final temple of the day, Idoji, at which I took my first spill.  Seeing a road bike-damaging pothole ahead at the last minute, I turned suddenly and overbalanced, resulting in the pedal scuffing the road, my front wheel going sideways and the whole bike doing a cartwheel, launching me off into the air and finishing my gymnastic manoeuvre with an impromptu forward roll onto the concrete.  Luckily, apart from a few grazes and bruises to both me and the bike, there was no serious damage done, but it shook me up enough to take greater care on the way back to Tokushima and the sanctity of the hotel.

I needed to press on after a lacklustre day so early into my trip, and so I visited the TOPIA tourist information centre on the 6th floor of the station building to ask the staff to help book my next night’s accommodation, some forty miles further south.  The dour-faced sourpuss behind the desk was reluctantly helpful, instructing her softer, younger and far more smiley assistant to phone the Japanese inn in Naka I had earmarked, to secure a room for me for the following night.

Later I decided to check out a Japanese curry restaurant I had seen the previous day.  Japanese curry is a more homogenised and sanitised version of Indian curry; typically in the fast food curry houses you get a standard meal of half a plate of mildly-spiced brown gloop, half a plate of rice and a breaded pork or chicken cutlet as topping.  So I was interested to stumble across a chain restaurant called Coco Ichibanya which allowed you to customise your curry.  You could choose from beef or pork, state the amount of rice you wanted and choose from various toppings, but best of all you could dictate the level of spiciness, from a chilli-less 1 to a supposedly ring-burning 10.  The menu warned that the spice levels above 5 were not for the faint-hearted, and only those who had finished an entire plate of level 5 curry could order them.  Weeks of conditioning in Japan had turned this system-bucking Brit into a full-fledged social conformist, so I stuck with the “rules”, ordering a plate of level 5 curry.  It certainly had a bit of a kick to it, but it was no match for a seasoned British curryhead.  I decided there and then that a secondary challenge for this trip would be to work my way as far up through the spice levels as I could get.

Preferably without filling my cycling shorts the next day.

20 miles


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