With the storm having passed, it’s time to get riding again and leaving Kyushu for Honshu. The plan is to up my daily distance and make it to Hiroshima over the course of four days. Pushing onwards from Fukuoka, the first day’s ride to Kitakyushu is uneventful. No sightseeing or special dishes. Just pedalling along heavily trafficked highways and eating convenience store sandwiches.
Arriving in Kitakyushu late in the day, my campsite for the night is in a neighborhood park. As I get there, others are leaving, clearing some space. It’s not uncommon for Japanese people to do daytime camping only, putting up a tent and having a barbecue, before packing up and going home at dusk. However, as it’s a Saturday it’s still a busy site. A large noisy family is also set up nearby, their screaming kids running around until late. One of them almost brings my tent down after tripping over the guylines. Cue the father bowing and apologising several times over in the most painfully Japanese way possible. I wave it off with a smile and collapse to sleep soon after, shattered from riding in the heat.
Kyushu bananas and curry-rice
The next morning, I get up early to dry off the groundsheet and set off. Kitakyushu has a few interesting attractions, including a toilet museum, a reconstructed castle and a manga museum. It mainly has a reputation as an industrial port town, and there’s evidence of this all around, from old steel works to chimneys and pipelines. It’s a nice city, but I’m itching to move on so there’s a very transitory feeling to the place. As the last city before the mainland, a lot of the traffic seems to be funneling in the same direction.
Cycling further along the coast, I arrive in Moji, followed by Mojiko. This waterfront area has a lot of old brick storehouses converted to museums and cafes. The local specialty is a kind of curry rice, along with banana-flavored goods (the port being the primary one in Japan for bananas long ago). It seems to be very popular with the weekend tourists and I have to queue for a while to get to try any of it. The streets are thronging with people, so it feels like a bit of a tourist trap. Still, the sun’s out and everyone’s in a good mood. There are even some cosplayers taking advantage of the quaint architecture and seaside views to snap some photos.
Crossing the strait to Honshu
After lunch, I head across the strait through an underwater pedestrian tunnel. There’s a clear marker to let me know as I cross from one landmass to the next. Once on the other side to Shimonoseki, I breathe a sigh of relief. It took longer than expected but I’ve made it to Honshu, the Japanese mainland. This strait was the site of two famous engagements in Japanese history – the first from the Genpei War, and the second from when the western powers bombarded it in the 19th century (the British did the same in Kagoshima… we invented gunboat diplomacy after all). Waving goodbye to Kyushu and the fun memories there, I begin the cycle northeast to tonight’s campsite in Ube.
On the way, I have a tumble on a narrow sidewalk and smash into a telephone pole. Luckily there’s a soily field right next to it, and it’s more of a controlled crash so that I fly off and land on my butt. Unluckily, I do bang my knee and it bruises pretty badly, swelling and bleeding. On the bright side, I guess this is a chance to break into the unused first aid kit! I clean and patch myself up, and the bike is basically unscathed (lucky to have such a sturdy machine), so I pedal on. Eventually, I reach the campsite at dusk. It’s a pretty spot near to a lake and, other than some students having a dinnertime barbecue, I have the place to myself.
The long and winding road
The next day I have little planned other than solid cycling. It’s another long session of highways, bridges, tunnels and access roads. I have some mild knee pain but it comes and goes. The highlight of the day (if it can be called that) is a hamburger-steak dinner at Bikkuri Donki (literally Surprise Donkey), a family restaurant. It’s a bit plain, but a relief to have some simple food with fries and a coke while listening to The Beatles on loop over the PA. It wakes me up a little and staves off the exhaustion anyway.
An hour prior to arriving at my chosen campsite, it begins to rain on and off. The drizzle just adds to the general aching and noise from the heavy traffic, and my spirits are dampened again. Luckily the weather improves shortly before I arrive and the ground is relatively dry as I set up camp. I’m camping near to a beach in a grove of pine trees, in a town called Hikari. The nearby toilets are run down and lacking working taps or privacy, and so I have a sweaty, uncomfortable night’s sleep. A few days of heavy cycling, without even a proper sink wash… well it starts to get to me.
A lousy night camping
Throughout the night I’m bitten constantly by bugs. When dawn rolls around, I want to escape my tent and pack up as soon as possible. Heading over to the beach, my mood improves as I enjoy the blue skies and white sand, munching on yet another melonpan. Aside from a fierce suzumebachi (Japanese hornet) pestering me, I have a peaceful breakfast and make small talk with a local before setting off, the day seeming a little brighter.
Tonight, I plan to be in central Hiroshima for a hotel break and some sightseeing. But first, I have some stops to make…