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Saturday, September 29, 2018

dispatch from Japan: Shimanami Kaido

I’ve been traveling solo in Asia since the end of August and it’s been amazing. I have so many sketches to share with you, but I’ll start with a small but particularly great part of my journey: biking the Shimanami Kaido cycling route in Hiroshima prefecture in Japan. It’s a 70km / ~45 mile cycling path crossing through 6 islands in the Seto Inland Sea. 

I started in Onomichi and went south, and the bridges spanning across the water got longer and more stunning each time. I was struck by how similar the landscape looked to the Puget Sound (a Japanese Seattlite I met there agreed with me). I wish we could have such a nice bike path in the San Juans - or please advise me if it exists already! The route was so easy to navigate, you just had to follow a blue line painted on the side of the road, and all the hills up to the bridges were graded so it was a very accessible ride for all levels. I saw hardcore cycling groups decked out in spandex, as well as people in day clothes casually riding.

The weather wasn’t the best for plein air, but I managed to fit in several sketches during the 3 days I took to explore the area. I feel like I just skimmed the surface here, even though I ended up biking 200 km (125 miles)!
The bridge between Innoshima and Ikuchi Islands. This was maybe 1.5 hours of cycling from Onomichi, so I had a snack and sat on a retaining wall. I liked the contrast of the town cluster below the bridge, and the distant island hills. 

Takara Bridge: this is maybe the most famous one, or at least the one I knew from watching anime. I wanted to show how BIG it is! There were rain clouds looming, so I was going fast with the knowledge I might have to stop at any moment. These islands grow a lot of citrus, so I drank some fresh local orange juice as I painted this, and made sure to include the distant orchards on the farther island. 

Ōshima Bridge: I stayed on this island for 3 nights, so I definitely have a soft spot for this view. Ōshima Island’s main industry is a granite quarry, so I watched boats leaving the stone yards as I sketched, as well as men fishing off the docks in the early morning. The small neighborhood shown here was really charming, with lots of old wooden Japanese houses clustered at the water’s edge. 

Takara Bridge, take 2: I wasn’t that happy with my first painting of this scene, so I found an observatory above the bridge to do a really fast sketch on my way back to Onomichi. it was raining a lot this day, and I needed to catch a ferry a few islands away, so I timed myself to finish in 25 minutes. You can see where it rained on my ink lines.
I was pretty happy with this one because the fast drawing has a lot of energy! But I still think it doesn’t show the scale of the bridge that well…it’s SO big, and really exhilarating to cycle on! 

I’d love to come back to these islands for even longer - you could easily spend a whole month in this area. There are many “island explorer” bike trails branching off the main Shimanami Kaido route with small charming towns and clean, empty beaches. I was constantly torn between wanting to stop to sketch and document where I was, and wanting to continue to see what was ahead.

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