When some of the 130 women staying in the basement capsule hotel woke me, I vowed never to stay in a capsule hotel again. I met my father in the smoky breakfast room and he described his experience, of his first public bath and wearing the given beige night-clothes, as ‘being stripped of all his identity’. On that note, we escaped the prison-like hotel and stepped into the bright sunlight of a usual morning in Osaka.
At Shin-Osaka Station, we found that we’d have to wait a couple of hours because we hadn’t booked our Shinkansen seats. We decided to enjoy the sun and walked to the river bank to watch some baseball, a sport that seems more popular in Japan than America.
Back at the station we left plenty of time to scout out the easiest way to the platform and then carry our heavy bikes to the platform. This is a slow operation and one that takes great team. I’d find the route, with elevators, not stairs or escalators, then one of us would go through the ticket gate, and the other would pass the bikes and the panniers through afterwards. At some points we’d have to leave the luggage unattended. Thankfully in Japan, you don’t need to worry about anyone stealing your stuff, and I doubt any thief in the world would try to steal a dismantled bike in a bag, not when they weigh as much as ours did!
This was our first time putting our bikes on a bullet train and we were a little nervous. Yet it turned out it was no problem. The doors of the train open about three minutes before it ‘takes off’ and we were able to wedge the bikes behind the last seats in the carriage. After that, we took our seats and relaxed at 247km/h the Shinkansen whisked us through Kansai to Hiroshima Prefecture.
In less than two hours we were at our destination, Onomichi. A small fishing town that is the start of the Shimanami Kaido, a cycling route that crosses bridges and islands on the Inland Sea all the way to Shikoku.
Once off the train, we didn’t know where we could put together our bikes, so we choose the quiet station platform to assemble them. This took longer than usual, as the derailleur hanger had bent on my bike and Dad’s bike had a twisted chain. After forty minutes, a station guard came over to us and in true Japanese style, he apologised that we shouldn’t be setting up there. Then we apologised, then he apologised again and he walked away content; mission accomplished and no loss of face breached in the process. When we did exit the station we found a ‘Bike Set-Up Area’ just outside where many other cyclists were disassembling their bikes. Well, the station guard could’ve just told us that!
That afternoon we got our bearings by cycling round the quaint town that feels like you’re in a set for a 1960’s soap opera. The covered walkway looks like it hasn’t changed for decades, and like a story book fishing town, there are cats everywhere! And there is a house that is covered in brightly coloured toys. Eccentric Japan.
We warmed up our muscles by cycling to the viewpoint of Senkoji Park and watched the sunset over the Setouchi (Seto Inland Sea). The islands we’d be crossing the next day melted into the horizon and we hoped there wouldn’t be any hills like the one we’d just
walked up slowly cycled up the whole way.
That night we stayed in Anago no Nedoko (eel’s bed) because the building shares the same long and narrow shape as the bed of an eel. The corridors are only half a meter wide! This unique guest house is a restored townhouse that is decorated in a rustic-retro style down to the door knobs and the cutlery. It also has a cosy common area.
Adjoined to the front of the guest house is the Akubi Café, renovated as an old elementary school classroom. It has used lockers with the names of students still showing, black boards with the day’s menu on it and traditional Japanese school games to play. One grey-haired woman was obviously enjoying the nostalgic as she sat in a velvet-covered chair with her eyes closed and listened to the scratchy jazz playing. Best of all, the food was delicious; classic curry and rice, washed down with a classic Kirin beer and finished off with a blueberry crumble dessert.
Thankfully the beds of the eel’s house were wider than the corridors, and we both got a good night’s sleep before the cycle ride that awaited us the next day!