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One if by Land, Three if by Sea, Part Two: Island Hopping from Mihara Port

Previously, on One if by Land, Three if by Sea, I checked out the Yassa Festival in Mihara on Saturday, the 12th of August, and ogled at fireworks by the banks of the Numata River on the night of the 13th. However, during the day of the 13th, I had lots of spare time in little old Mihara, and since my ryokan was close to Mihara Port, I took it upon myself to take a day trip by ferry. Even one day spent at sea would be a fun summer break getaway, but the Habu Merchant Ship Group, which operates several ferry lines from Mihara Port, was offering a steal of a deal: a set of ten tickets at a seabed-level price!

These ten tickets let passengers ride on four different lines that traverse the Seto Inland Sea near Mihara, and have a combined value of ¥12,280. With the High-Speed Boat and Passenger Ferry 3-Day Excursion Ticket set, which is sold at a special price of ¥3,500, tourists can save up to ¥8,780 when using all ten tickets, provided that passengers use these tickets over three consecutive days (including the day the ticket was purchased). As I bought my excursion ticket set on Sunday, the 13th, I would have that day and the two following days to hop all over the Setouchi islands at my own leisure. For my first excursion, I decided to take the boats on the purple route printed above, which would take me to the islands of Sagishima, Innoshima, and Ikinajima.

Sagishima Chilling

Sagishima (佐木島) is an island located right off the coast of mainland Mihara and is still within Mihara’s city limits. It has an even more rural feel than small-town Mihara as there are barely any businesses operating on the island, even in the vicinity of the island’s numerous ports. That said, though, Sagishima still boasts that it is the closest inhabited outlying island to any Shinkansen station in all of Japan, and what little shops and restaurants exist are strongly advocated. I tore off one of my ten tickets as I got off the ferry and stepped onto Sagi Port on the island’s north side, then sought to rent a bicycle from Minato Chaya for ease of exploration, as public transport is nonexistent here.

Alas, the café was closed (probably on account of the Obon holiday period), but it was a minor setback as some of the island’s sites could still be reached on foot. With the digital magic of a smartphone map app, I was able to make my way to the next point of interest, weaving past fields of flowers and even saying hi to a crab crossing the road. Finally, at the top of an inclined street, I arrived at my destination: Café Chitoku, where I would have my second breakfast for the day.

While this is indeed a real café, the facility is basically an old couple’s house with a sign tacked on, run by the wife and staffed by a cat. Upon arriving, I opened the screen door, but as no one was there to greet me, I called out to the woman inside, and when she came, I told her I was here for the morning special. She invited me into the dining room of the house where I placed my order and had a staring contest with this kitty while the owner whipped up breakfast.

I had ordered an iced milk tea as my beverage, but the meal was a mystery to me until the lady brought it out to me. On my plate were two pieces of buttered toast with honey, a hardboiled egg with salt, a small dish of yogurt with blueberry compote, and a garden salad with a tangy dressing and pickled onions. To the side was a tray filled with pairs of chopsticks in various colors that made them look like a set of colored pencils.

After the woman was done cooking, she sat at my table to chat me up as I chowed down. This lady was originally from Aichi Prefecture, but since her husband was from Fukuyama, she moved to Hiroshima Prefecture where they bought a house on Sagishima and opened up a café, just for kicks. She then inquired about my origins and cordially invited me to return to the island in the fall, when tangerines were ripe for picking. Unfortunately, I knew I was fully booked for that season, but it was something to keep in mind in subsequent years.

Moment of Joy: Insular Hospitality

I was at that café for over an hour chatting with the lady who made my morning meal, and the conversation was so lively I could have stayed until lunch time if I had nothing else to do with my day. Café Chitoku has a homey atmosphere (naturally, because it’s literally somebody’s house) and I didn’t really want to leave, but I had an island to explore before catching my next ferry. The woman informed me that the locals on Sagishima are extremely friendly, and would give me a ride in their car if I asked nicely, but also let me borrow her bicycle for exploring the island. The adventure I thought was out of my reach that morning suddenly became possible, so I gave my thanks for quickly got to pedaling!

Sagishima Cycling

Of course, I did the responsible things of putting on my helmet (which I brought from home, hoping to rent a bike from Minato Chaya) and checking the air pressure of the tires, and once everything checked out, I took the bike down the slope and headed for Sagishima’s open roads. I cycled down the east coast of the island in the direction of one of the most renowned (and only) bakeries on Sagishima, all the while admiring the deep, blue Seto Inland Sea to my left. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, the bakery had sold out of all its bread and closed, but all was not for naught, as I still had plenty of photogenic views of the sea and quirky architecture.

I stopped to take a few breaks as I was searching for said bakery and taking photos like the ones shown here, but I was melting under the summer sun and had a strong desire to head back. Before returning the bicycle, however, I took a detour to the beach on the north end of the island, just west of Sagi Port. I was so tempted to join the families here by running into the water, but of all the things I had brought on my three-night, four-day summer vacation in Mihara, I forgot my swimsuit. I instead had to make due with this breathtaking vista before riding back to Café Chitoku to give back the bike and seek shelter.

Back at Café Chitoku, the lady took her bike back and invited me into the dining room to cool off with fans and air conditioning. She had recommended hiking Mount Taihei as a popular activity on Sagishima, but obviously in any other season but now. Once again, it was tempting to linger until lunch time, but I needed to make it to my ferry bound for the next island. I was treated to some iced tea and salt candies for the road (to replenish nutrients lost by sweat), and after I was sufficiently cooled down, I thanked her again and made a run for the pier.

Immense Innoshima

I tore off my second ticket when I got on the boat bound for Innoshima, which is in the city limits of Onomichi and the second island on the Shimanami Kaido (when going southbound). Innoshima is a rather large island compared to its neighbors, and thus, this ferry line stopped at numerous ports, but I skipped the stop at Shigei Port (I had been there before and there is truly nothing of interest to tourists) and disembarked at Innoshima Mall. This port was relatively quiet as it caters to commuting locals, and besides the man fishing close to where boats dock, I was also greeted by a crane flying above me.

This place is called Innoshima Mall because of the abundance of large stores in the area, but I wasn’t there for any of them. My real objective lay a 23-minute walk north of the mall, where I would take my lunch break and a flurry of remarkable pictures. It might have been the heat, or maybe my poor sense of direction, but it took me over half an hour to reach Café Terrace Nanohana, a locally famous eatery situated at the base of the Ikuchi Bridge.

I was lucky there was an indoor table for me when I entered the restaurant, and when I was seated, I immediately ordered their daily lunch special. My plate came with slices of chicken breast drizzled with a mentaiko mayonnaise sauce, a green salad with sesame dressing, one scoop of potato salad, and two slices of takuan (yellow, pickled Japanese radish), served with a bowl of rice and miso soup. It was both delicious and nutritious, and though the portion was on the small side, I suppose that’s what dessert is for, right?

Innoshima was the island where I wanted to spend the most time, and considering the sweltering heat outside, I caved in to one of the café’s gorgeous bowls of shaved ice, available only during the summer. They had so many flavors on the menu, I was at first dumbfounded as to which one to get, but ultimately decided on the melon flavor, which utilized real melon juice and came topped with two pieces of honeydew melon. I took my sweet time eating both my lunch and dessert, making sure to appreciate the view of the Ikuchi Bridge from the window between bites. Shaved ice is great for quenching thirst and giving people brain freeze, but the real cooldown came from the restaurant’s air conditioner and hand-powered fans available at every table. When I finished my dessert and got my fill of pictures from the window, it was high time to leave (business was getting busier as time went on) and get a better view of the Ikuchi Bridge from higher up.

The shaved ice gave me temporary resistance to the piercing rays of the sun, but when I got to the slope that leads to the Ikuchi Bridge, my heat shield wore off. Both pedestrians and cyclists use this spiraling slope when tackling the Shimanami Kaido, so as I was walking, I encountered lots of tourists on bikes overtaking me with ease.

Life seemed to go into slow motion as I was climbing this hill; I’m used to ascending on a bicycle, so I underestimated the time it takes to go up on one pair of legs. The grassy areas on the side of the road and at the lookout point were teeming with dragonflies, which were a welcome distraction from the monotonous hike. I stared blankly at the maritime vista, which shimmered from the blinding sunlight, until I checked the time and realized I had to hurry back to Innoshima Mall (at this point, pretty far away, but still the nearest port) to catch my ferry to the next island on my journey.

Lonely Ikinajima

The ferry made a stop at Habu Port in southern Innoshima (once again, not much in the way of tourist sites) before calling at the final port on the line, Tateishi Port on the island of Ikinajima. Ikinajima is actually in Ehime Prefecture, and one of four islands that comprise the town of Kamijima. I thought Sagishima was barren this morning, but when I stepped onto Ikinajima, I got an even better idea of what a quiet, small island town is really like. Right outside the rest area adjacent to the pier was a stone statue commemorating Kamijima Town represented by four cute creatures, with Ikinajima in the foreground.

From here it was a 24-minute walk to Sound Hakanda Campsite, a noteworthy natural site on the northwestern end of the island. When I entered the campgrounds, I saw dozens of families had pitched their tents and were playing, relaxing, and cooking in the sunshine, which was now waning and more tolerable. I wasn’t here to camp, and the snack stands had closed for the day, so I left and wandered around, looking for other places to see the seascape.

Opposite the entrance to the campsite was a slope leading up to a scenic outpost, the Sound Hakanda Observation Deck. I didn’t have time to hike all the way to the top, so I made it to the first checkpoint that had a lookout area and called it a day. From this vantage point, I was overlooking a fountain and benches, which in turn overlooked the Seto Inland Sea in the direction of Innoshima, from whence I had come. This vista was fantastic as it was, especially in peaceful solitude, and had the fountain been gushing that day this photo would have been picture-perfect!

I descended down the hill and started walking back to Tateishi Port before stopping at one last attraction: Everybody’s Whales. This is a local mural featuring whales that’s loved especially by the kids on this island; people are encouraged to climb on top of it for photos and pretend to be riding the whales. This was the last photo I took on Ikinajima before dashing back to the ferry that would take me back to Mihara Port, where I would rest up and find dinner before seeing the Yassa fireworks at night.

Indeed, Obon—and especially the Yassa Festival weekend—is the best time to invest in the excursion ticket set and take day trips in succession. Picking accommodation so close to the ferry terminal justifies the trips all the more, even if you’re not taking the boats to see a certain something. Hopping across three Setouchi islands—and three different municipalities in two prefectures—was a whale of a time, and I fell asleep at my ryokan that night getting pumped up for the next two excursions to come.

To be continued…

Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team