12. Way Down in Sukumo

11 Apr

Japanese RestaurantA Taste of Old Shikoku: a welcoming Japanese restaurant on the way home

I awoke early in my prison cell-sized hotel room and peered out of the window to see light rain covering the streets. Nevertheless, I felt remarkably chipper given not only that I needed to retrace the steps I had cheatingly taken yesterday by train, but also I likely had to do it in the wet – and for added insult my final destination for the day would be exactly back where I started from: the tumbleweed Shikoku “city” of Sukumo.

The train back to Kubokawa was painless enough, apart from the ache that was my body telling me I should have stayed in bed a couple of extra hours. I couldn’t allow myself that luxury, as I was determined not to let anything stop me from getting this troublesome leg of the journey out the way.

On arrival I re-assembled The Revenge in front of curious locals – frustratingly, bikes are only allowed on Japanese trains if they have their wheels taken off and are stuffed in bags – and I hit the streets. I took some time finding the temple at Kubokawa, but a few wrong turns later I arrived at the place and ticked it off the list, before pointing my GPS, whose LCD screen was slowly being eaten away by a black nothingness caused by my crash yesterday, towards my destination southwards.

Despite the constant light rain, I made excellent progress, steaming through the largely flat scenery that hugged the railway line I had just taken. A good morning’s cycling saw me break out onto the coast road, on which a charming local restaurant was located overlooking a lovely cliff sea view. The restaurant was the common Japanese type that had realistic plastic models of the food in the window. Plastic food in Japan is an art form in itself, with amazing care being taken by the designers to make it look super authentic and good enough to eat. In Tokyo there is even a whole street that is dedicated to selling plastic food and other restaurant goods, but it’s unfortunately it’s pretty pricey stuff just for a comedy souvenir.

The sight of plastic food made me sigh with relief: it meant I could pull my well-worn trick of taking a picture of the label next to the food I wanted, then go in and place my order by presenting them with the camera and saying the golden Japanese words of “this, please”. Ten minutes later I was tucking into a steaming bowl of eel on a bed of egg and rice with Shikoku udon and pickles – of which every bit was appreciated – whilst gazing out over a craggy ocean view as the rain petered out. For me, moments like this where everything comes together again so soon after adversity were what it was all about.

My eel-fuelled legs dispatched the rest of the journey with ease, as I cruised into Shimanto, the city I had preferred to base myself in, but for lack of accessible accommodation (there were no hotels I could find easily bookable through English language websites). Whilst far from a metropolis, it looked much more thriving than its poor old downtrodden western sister Sukumo.

Beyond Shimanto I managed to stumble onto a newly-paved elevated road on which I made superb progress until a lengthy car horn presumably directed at me made me rethink my location. Although it was only a two-lane highway, the signs were green, unlike the blue-signed roads I had taken so far, and I suddenly realised I might be on the Japanese equivalent of a motorway, on which cyclists were likely not allowed. I broke off at the forthcoming exit, and not a moment too soon, either; within a few minutes I heard the wail of sirens as a couple of police cars tore past on the elevated road. Having already been a fugitive in New Zealand for being caught speeding on the first ever day I drove my Nissan Bluebird, Ron, as well as for leaving the country without paying a ticket for “parking in the wrong direction on a one way street” (I mean really, what a nonsensical charge – that’s the sole reason why I refused to pay it) I didn’t want to attract any police entanglements in Japan.

I arrived back into Sukumo at a respectably early 2pm. Grey cloud still clung to its green mountain outcrops, scattering the ground as cold, light rain, and it looked as bland and uninviting as ever. A discovery of a McDonald’s and a Moss Burger fast food restaurant substantially brightened my day – when finding a McDonald’s is a highlight, you really have to start to worry – but I was still stranded in Sukumo, and would be for a little bit longer. Tomorrow I would be heading into the remote south western territory of Kochi province to visit the 38th temple of the Crazy 88 far out on the remote, weatherbeaten Cape Ashizuri, and then looping back to Hell, aka Sukumo.

Happy days.

45 miles

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