14. Quirky Japan

13 Apr

Japanese CombOnly in Japan: a comb with job satisfaction

I awoke yet again to the dreaded pitter-patter of Sukumo rain, and my heart sank.  Still, on the bright side I was leaving this arsehole of a city today, never to return. I allowed myself a slow, late start, given that my goal today – northwards to the town of Uwajima – was a breeze compared to yesterday’s efforts, whilst also secretly hoping that the rain might subside.  No such luck.

I couldn’t escape quite yet, though, as I needed to travel eastwards a few miles to mop up temple number 39. On the way I passed the foreign henros again, although looking a little less cheery than yesterday, being as they were wrapped up in wet weather gear and brandishing umbrellas. Poor buggers.

Finally I was able to point the steed out of Sukumo once and for all and set off north-westwards. After not long at all I was greeted with a most welcome sign outside a tunnel that indicated I was entering the third of Shikoku’s four prefectures, Ehime. And no word of a lie: when I emerged out of the other side of the long tunnel, the persistent rain had dried up.

With rainy Kochi behind me, I pressed on along the Sukumo Highway. Twelve days in to my journey, I was pleased to discover that my legs were not the limiting factor any more when cycling; as long as I kept eating like a horse, they kept powering on.  The problem was more being saddlesore and suffering from lower back pain from the seven hours or so a day in the saddle.

I took in Temple 40, and then broke out onto the coastal road for some steady cycling northwards, stopping mid-afternoon at a rest stop especially for pilgrims. I took in water and some snacks and watched the elderly workers ambling about and tending to the gardens.

Turning inland for the final stint, I arrived at my destination of Uwajima at four o’clock. Uwajima would be just another nondescript Shikoku town if it were not for the Taga Shrine, an ancient Shinto fertility site that also houses a sex museum as well as its star exhibit, an ornate nine foot-long phallus that gets carted around the streets on special occasions and is a real draw for foreign and domestic tourists alike. I had neither the time or inclination to visit the Shrine, preferring to get my fix of Japan’s quirkiness in more everyday ways, such as checking in to my concrete business hotel to find a deferential comb in the bathroom emblazoned with the beautifully comical words: “Thank you for using me. It is my pleasure to serve you. I hope to be used by you again”. A disposable inanimate object with a personality? Only in Japan!

Later that evening I swung by the Lawson convenience store to stock up on supplies and popped into a ramen restaurant run by an inquisitive couple for a bowl of noodles and another trademark awkward-but-friendly exchange by way of single Japanese keywords and expansive mimes. Uwajima was dark, cold and deserted, and yet again I was craving a more populous city; luckily Matsuyama, the prefectural capital city of Ehime and a place familiar to me as I had visited it back in 2005, was within striking distance tomorrow.

38 miles

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