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Singaporean guy travels 2,300km from Okinawa to Ibaraki (Part 3)

Singaporean guy travels 2,300km from Okinawa to Ibaraki (Part 3)

Welcome to yet another episode of #WanderfulWednesday! We are now at Part 3 of my epic scooter journey across Japan. If you’ve just stumbled upon this page, I recommend you check out Part 1 and Part 2 to catch up on whatever you’ve missed.

 

Overview Map.png (542 KB)

 

Kyushu has been the absolute blast. I spent almost an entire week speeding past its lush greenery, gorgeous seas, and hilly terrain. Alas, it was now time to cross over into Honshu and make my way through the western part of the island in the regions of Chugoku and Kansai.

 

 

A tunnel runs through it

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

This is the Kanmon Bridge (関門橋 Kanmon-kyō): an impressive suspension bridge that spans the gap over the busy Straits of Shimonoseki, otherwise known as the Kanmon Straits (関門海峡 Kanmon-kaikyō) Strait. The road that runs over it is a tolled expressway, which unfortunately meant that I could not cross it on my 50cc scooter. This was no cause for worry though, as I knew of one other way to get across. I approached this unassuming building located behind Mekari Shrine (和布刈神社 Mekari-jinja) and rode a metal-lined elevator 60m down.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Deep below the waters of the Kanmon Straits lie the Kanmon Pedestrian Tunnel (関門トンネル人道). Stretching 780m from end to end, it is a leisurely way to commute between Fukuoka (福岡県 Fukuoka-ken) and Yamaguchi (山口県 Yamaguchi-ken) prefectures on foot. Bicycles and motorcycles are also allowed to pass through but riding is strictly forbidden inside the tunnel.

 

At 780m long, the tunnel is twice as long as the height of the Empire State Building in New York! (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Anyway, it looked like I would have to push my scooter and baggage all the way through. Nothing to it but to do it.

 

If only crossing into Johor Bahru from Singapore was as easy as just walking past this line between Yamaguchi and Fukuoka… (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

The tunnel first slopes downwards, making things a little easier. It sinks to its lowest point somewhere in the middle, where the exact border between two prefectures is demarcated, before rising back up again.

 

Made it to the other side at last, phew! (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

The second half of the haul was no slouch, and after a good 15 minutes or so I finally emerged at the lift lobby on the side of Yamaguchi fairly exhausted. An elevator brought me back up to ground level, where I paid the princely sum of the ¥20 for the vehicle toll (walking through it is free).

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Across the road right in front of me was a cluster of monuments depicting historical events that took place at this very location. The bronze statues represented the Minamoto and Taira clans, belligerents of the Genpei War (源平合戦 Genpei-kassen) which took place in the 12th century. The final battle of that conflict was decided at Dan no Ura (壇ノ浦), the waters within the strait. Not too far away were replicas of western-designed cannons pointing out to sea. These emplacements depict the last engagement of the Shimonoseki Campaign which took place in 1864 between Yamaguchi, then known as Choshu Domain (長州藩 Chōshū-han), and Britain, the Netherlands, France and the United States.

 

Kanmon Pedestrian Tunnel (関門トンネル人道)
Address: Fukuoka, Kitakyushu, Moji-ku, Moji, 801-0855
Nearest station: Kanmonkaikyō Mekari Station (関門海峡めかり駅) / Shimonoseki Station (下関駅) (From Shimonoseki Station, take the bus to Mimosusogawa Bus Station)
Opening hours: 6am10pm
Admission fee: Free (¥20 for bicycles and scooters)
Tel: +81 832-22-3738

 

Dan no Ura Battlefield Mark (壇ノ浦古戦場)
Address: 21-1 Mimosusogawacho, Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi 751-0813
Nearest station: Shimonoseki Station (下関駅) (From Shimonoseki Station, take the bus to Mimosusogawa Bus Station)
Opening hours: 24 hours
Admission fee: Free
Tel: +81 832-31-1350

 

A bridge not too far

I spent the rest of the day negotiating busy traffic on Japan’s National Route 2 (国道2号 Kokudō Ni-gō). This stretch of highway was considerably flatter than the mountainous roads of Kyushu, which I was thankful for, but I also had to contend with a considerably larger volume of traffic passing by me. Being a relatively tiny motorist on an underpowered machine meant having to keep to the left lane, sometimes even the shoulder, to allow faster cars to pass by. Being sandwiched between massive cargo trucks and concrete barricades while moving at high speed is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

 

It’s important to take breaks from time to time too. Thank god for 7-11! (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

After another 1.5 hours on the road, I had finally arrived at my stop for the night: a seemingly innocuous rocky riverbank. I set up my tent in near pitch-darkness and tried to get comfortable lying on the bumpy ground.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

The next morning I woke up and emerged from my tent to a marvellous view.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Kintai Bridge (錦帯橋 Kintai-kyō) is one of Chugoku region’s best-kept secrets, a wonder of Edo-era architecture. Crossing the Nishiki River (錦川 Nishiki-gawa) between the main city of Iwakuni (岩国) and Iwakuni Castle (岩国城 Iwakuni-jō), its sophisticated structure blends perfectly with the surrounding nature and lends a rustic appeal in an otherwise modern landscape.

 

I continued on my way eastwards, eventually crossing the border and arriving at the eponymous city of Hiroshima Prefecture (広島県 Hiroshima-ken).

 

Kintai Bridge (錦帯橋)
Address: Iwakuni, Yamaguchi 741-0062
Nearest station: Kawanishi Station (川西駅)
Opening hours: 24 hours
Admission fee: ¥310
Tel: +81-827-29-5116

 

The wide island of superior okonomiyaki

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Hiroshima Castle (広島城 Hiroshima-jō) once served as the power base of the Mori clan (毛利氏 Mōri-shi), who ruled over the region during the Warring States period (戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai). Its imposing castle keep has been meticulously restored and still stands proudly till the present day.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Hiroshima also happens to be the best place to enjoy my favourite type of okonomiyaki (お好み焼き), which is made using fried noodles instead of batter. Of all okonomiyaki places in Hiroshima, I consider Reichan (麗ちゃん) to be the best.

 

Appetite sated, it was time to move on. Further east in Hiroshima Prefecture, I rested for the night at Onomichi (尾道), a highly popular travel destination for cyclists thanks to its position at the head of the famous Shimanami Kaidō (しまなみ海道) route.

 

Hiroshima Castle (広島城)
Address: 21-1 Motomachi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima, 730-0011
Nearest station: Hiroshima Station (島原駅)
Nearest tram station: Shukkeien-Mae Station (縮景園前駅)
Opening hours: 9am–6pm (March to November), 9am–5pm (December to February)
Admission fee (castle grounds): Free
Admission fee (Tenshu): ¥370
Tel: +81-822-21-7512

 

Reichan (麗ちゃん)
Address: 1-2 Ekie 1F, Matsubaracho, Minami-ku, Hiroshima 732-082
Nearest station: Hiroshima Station (広島駅)
Opening hours: 11am–10pm
Tel: +81-822-86-2382

 

Special sights of Seto

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

The rainy season seemed just about ready to close in on me at this point and several weather reports were predicting heavy showers the next day. Thankfully, I woke up the next morning to yet another beautiful cloudless day so I made the most of it by exploring.

 

The Buddhist statues of Senkoji all practice proper mask wearing too. (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

Onomichi is a town full of Buddhist temples, with Senkō-ji (千光寺) perched on top of a hill overlooking the city being the most prominent. To get to Senkoji, one can either opt for a mild hike up Mount Senkoji (千光寺山 Senkōji-san) or enjoy a relaxing 3-minute cable car journey on the ropeway. Either option will grant you a scenic view of not just the city, but also the calm and serene Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海 Seto Naikai).

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

It was time to leave, but naturally, there was no way I was going to leave Onomichi without trying some of its namesake ramen (尾道ラーメン). I enjoyed this hearty bowl of Onomichi-style chuka-soba at Tsutafuji (つたふじ).

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

I pressed on, soon finding myself in Fukuyama City (福山市 Fukuyama-shi). Down by the coast, I found Tomonoura (鞆の浦), the sleepy fishing town that inspired the setting of the Studio Ghibli animation film, Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ).

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

In the late afternoon sun, I hiked up a brief distance to an observation deck overlooking the Seto Inland Sea, not wanting to pass up the chance to capture some beautiful island views.

 

Senkoji (千光寺)
Address: 15-1 Higashitsuchidocho, Onomichi, Hiroshima 722-0033
Nearest station: Onomichi Station (尾道駅)
Opening hours: 9am–5pm
Admission fee: Free
Admission fee (ropeway): ¥320 (Adult, one-way), ¥500 (Adult, return trip)
Tel: +81-848-23-2310 (Senkoji Temple) / +81 848-22-4900 (Mount Senkoji Ropeway)

 

TsutaFuji Head Branch (つたふじ本店)
Address: 2-10-17 Tsuchido, Onomichi, Hiroshima 722-0035
Nearest station: Onomichi Station (尾道駅)
Opening hours: 11am5pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
TEL: +81-848-22-5578

 

Tomonoura Port (鞆の浦)
Address: Tomo, Tomocho, Fukuyama-shi, Hiroshima 720-0201
Nearest station: Fukuyama Station (福山駅) (From Fukuyama Station, take the bus to Tomoko Bus Station)
Opening hours: 24 hours
Admission fee: Free
Tel: +81-849-28-1042

 

Woah, we’re halfway there

I pressed on, gradually transitioning back into urban surroundings and finally entering Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県 Hyōgo-ken) just before midnight.

 

Wild omiyage appears! (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

I took a bit of time off the next morning in Himeji (姫路) to settle my laundry at a coin-operated laundromat. There, I came across a nice old lady who noticed my sign and license plate and struck up a conversation with me. As it turned out, she too had once lived in Okinawa for some time. The chat was short and pleasant, and afterwards, I left to continue tending to my clothes. Later, when I walked out to my scooter, I was surprised to find a plastic bag of Okinawa-style mixed rice sitting inside my helmet. It was a gift from that nice old lady!

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

My joy at this unexpected kind deed was short-lived, as it was at this point that the sky finally decided to open up and start coming down hard with rain. The rainy season was finally upon me. My spirits were equally dampened, however, I had no choice but to carry on in spite of the inclement weather.

 

 (Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

The next stop along the way was Kobe (神戸), and we all know what that means: Kobe beef! I did not have the money to splurge on anything fancy, so I settled for a lower grade of wagyu served yakiniku-style at Kobe Tanryu Higashimon.

 

Kobe Tanryu Higashimon (戸牛焼肉八坐和東門店)
Address: 1-3-24 Shimoyamatedori, Chuo-ku, Kobe, Hyogo 650-0011
Nearest station: Sannomiya Station (三ノ宮駅)
Opening hours: 11am–3pm, 5pm–9:30pm
Tel: +81-783-91-0123

 

Arriving at Kansai proper marked the end of the Chugoku leg of my journey. At this point, I had already been on the road for a good ten days. I was at the halfway point of my trip, and it looked like rain clouds were set to accompany me the rest of the way, but little did I know then that despite the ominous conditions, the most breathtaking part of the trip was still yet to come…

 

Header image credit: Ananda Kang / JR Times

 

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