5:26AM, we are disembarking from the ferry in Yawatahama, Shikoku from Beppu, Kyushu.
The road to Matsuyama is squeezed between the turquoise waters of the Seto Inland Sea dotted by fisherman’s small boats and lush mountains, offering breath-taking views on Kyushu, Honchu and many small islands. This early morning drive is a perfect introduction to both faces of Shikoku: the coastal one and the inland one.
Like on traditional Japanese prints, the inland is composed of layers of steep mountains covered in ever-green forests often playing hide and seek with the clouds.
Steep and winding mountain roads unravel an uncountable number of waterfalls being continuously fed by the summer rains.
At first, we were surprised when the national road we were driving turned into a single lane with a mirror in each curve to check on the occasional car that might come from the opposite direction. It quickly became the norm.
Gaining confidence on these daunting roads, we wandered on even smaller and steeper ones, merely 40-cm wider than the car to discover one of the many shrines and temples, an 800-year-old cedar tree and a former Samurai house in the very scenic Iya valley along roaring rivers.
The abundant flow rate of rivers and gorges are a visible trace of typhoon Nangka, as are the streams of water and branches that would sometimes stop us to clear the road.
Driving through the mountains of Shikoku is not for the faint of heart: more than once I had to reverse the car in a bend to let another car pass or to be able to take an extremely sharp curve along a never-ending ravine.
Coming down from the mountains with its poor villages consisting of a few houses and occasionally planted with rice as soon as allowed by the terrain, to arrive on the coast feels like a travel through time: multiple lane roads, traffic lights, large rice fields, prosperous towns with modern buildings, industrial harbours, shops, restaurants, trattorias and French bakeries. In fact, the staff of our hotel in Takamatsu on the north shore must have thought we were indeed time travellers when we started shooting a movie of the automatic parking mechanism of the building that we were discovering for the first time!
Driving back to the ferry along the Inland Sea about a week later, we are overlooking the suspension bridges connecting Shikoku to the Hiroshima prefecture on Honchu. These impressive pieces of civil engineering are in such a big contrast with the inland vine bridges that we feel we have discovered two worlds and times on the very same island, both equally interesting.
Marcella & Claire
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