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Up in advance of me a tiny army of elementary school young adults approached from the reverse direction, with the eldest of them leading the way in which. It felt strange to me how the young adults all looked down at the bottom as they made their way along. A penny for your thoughts, I wanted to claim, to use the term penned by the playwright John Haywood. Not one of the young adults looked up at me as we drew near. Then as we drew close passable I called out to them in a jovial voice could muster. Good morning! I said in English, as they glided by. With this, they all raised their little heads and looked in my direction. The little faces looked more startled than merry. Shit! I thought to myself, What was it that awaited these kids at school? For that was where they were all headed. To me they looked like they were being marched away to meet their firing squad. How bothered their sweet little faces looked, perhaps it was that time of the year when school exams awaited them. Much had been written about the rigors of the Japanese schooling system, with the feared rote learning a fundamental teaching software.
It had gone one-twenty and the sun took up where it left of, attempting to cook me beyond belief. The information on a road sign told me that I had already gotten twenty kilometers under my belt. Noshiro City was less than twos way at 40-four kilometers. My mind raced at the thought of my goal being so near. Surely I could at leas get some other ten kilometers done before I call it a day. Not a long way from the road sign I stopped to take a photo of a pretty old house with a thatched roof. Where have all the good architects gone, long time ago? Wasnt there a song that went one thing like that? My thoughts needed no answers, and it felt good to truely feel happy at last, for a sense of achievement was flowing through my body.
Now my eyes felt heavy, and I wanted to sleep for the one-hour journey, but was not able to do so. For whatever the rationale, I neither cared to look at the roads that I would tramp along in the coming winter months. For the moment my work was done, and that was the end of it. There was nothing else to be done, but just to sit there and let the bus driver do his work. For the total journey the sky was still heavy and overcast, and at last we arrived at Akita JR train station.
Japan was a rustic of festivals or matsuri, which were held throughout the year. The precept Matsuri were Shogatsu, which was held over the New Year. This was soon adopted by the Setsubun matsuri, which was held at the start of February to usurer in spring. Then at the beginning of March came the Hina matsuri, the Doll festival for ladies. Three main festival where held thought the month of July! The Tanabata matsuri was when people visited temples where they wrote their wishes on tiny pieces of paper and then fasten them to the branches of trees. The largest festival in Japan for the people it attracted was the Gion matsuri, held in Kyoko in mid-July, and famous for its thirty-two floats. Last, but not least was the Shichigosan matsuri held on 15 November of each year. Shichi-go-san meant, seven-five-three in English. The numbers symbolized the age of the young adults at the time of the festival. For example, boys were aged seven or five, and girls were aged seven or three. It was a time when young young adults were donned in traditional kimono accompanied by their folks to a local Shinto shrine in order to pray for a healthy affluent life.
The sanka, or who might better be referred to as mountain gypsies, was also a word that literally meant mountain cave. However, the sanka often camped along side mountain streams and rivers. They scratched out a living by the fish they caught and sold, and by the bamboo wares they made, like brooms and baskets, etc. The sanka sold these things in the towns and villages they walked to in the mountains. Especially following the Second World War, the sanka melted into the smooth way of living and settled down. The island of Kyushu was one of the puts many of them came to live a more sedentary life in.
For some ungodly reason the traffic picked up along the road making it impossible for me to crossover to the other side. I picked up my pace even more! It was the only way to put distance between myself, and the fumes. On a elevated slope a couple of meters up above, a local train rattled past. Away to my right the sea rolled freely onto the sand, unmolested by the hand of man. Another touristy looking sign told me that Tsubakiyama beach lay six kilometers further along the road. And soon I found myself climbing up the first steep incline of the day. At the same time my insides were bursting to pay a visit to an outhouse somewhere, as nature was calling in more ways than one. A tree would just have to do. I mumbled, as I fiddled about to unfasten my little army spade.
After a couple of seconds of coming to terms with the unexpected intrusion, he stood up and approached the window and opened it. Of course, I profusely apologized for taking the fellow away from his work, which he looked so absorbed in. It only took a couple of seconds to explain to him the rationale for my intrusion. Oh! You mean the Hataku Onsen! Or so I was told. Its a fair two or three kilometers further along the road in that direction, he said pointing in the direction that I was already headed. Another two or three kilometers? I answered him not quite wanting to believe my ears. Well! I guess there will be no warm bath and hot food tonight, I said to the smiling fellow, half wondering if he understood what I was rambling on about. With that, I turned and made my way back towards the campground where my tent and sound asleep bag waited to welcome me in to some other global.
So it was on this hot day in past due summer that I set down to rest on some cold dusty steps, in the gray shade so as to make a hot cup of tea. The cobwebs hung from the top right hand corner or the torii. The lower half of the torii had turn into overgrown by moss, which told me that the ecosystem were not as dry as they appeared. Separated by the rooftops of the Kurosaki homes and Route 101 was my old buddy, the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea). From the steps where I sat, I was given a most delightful, thanks to the torii gateway, a framed image of the blue-green calm waters of the sea. How inviting it all looked to me! Mmm! I began thinking about taking a dip in whenever I made camp later on. Still, my body was saturated with sweat! Yes, I needed to swim. Then again, I was never one for counting my chickens before they were hatched, as the fable reminded me.
I stopped exterior a place called Dry Valley Restaurant, dropping my backpack down at a vending machine near the door. The sweat on my hands made the pocket smartphone cover all shiny. It was twelve oclock and I was expecting a call at any moment from my buddy about our planned meeting in Noshiro. The sun was beating down on top of me, so I handled myself to a cool can of Fanta from the vending there while I waited for the smartphone to ring. Not for from where I set, a fellow was drinking a great bottle of Kirin beer. Didnt I see that guy getting out of a car a couple of minutes earlier? I wondered to myself. He kept glancing over at me, or in the direction where I was sitting and, as my mind was occupied with my own concerns, I prayed that he would not try to strike up a conversation with me just then. Then again, I heard it said in that great movie, How Green Was My Valley, that prayer was some other good, speedy, clear direct thinking.
The relentless heat from the sun had by now seeped into my mind and made me rather antisocial. Besides, the fellow had just lit up a second cigarette in the space of five minutes, whilst the fumes from the first one already polluted the air around where I set. Smoking, drinking, and maybe driving! Something was troubling this fellow, I thought to myself. The only thing to do was to grab my things and move to some other place a little further away. This time I decided to discover a spot up wind, a course that led me past where the fellow was sitting. Not a word was spoken by either of us when I surpassed him by, which was just as well. Then again, perhaps he too was lost in his own thoughts.
What makes me happy is a sense of achievement in all things I set out to accomplish. I wonder if this also contains that thing we call 'love'? What makes me Upset or Frustrated? Stupid people — racists, bigots, and warmongers, and even the blood and gore in war movies. On the other hand, I have so many favourite movies, or two that are evoked: 'Love is a Many Splendored Thing' (1955), staring Jennifer Jones and William Holden; and 'Roman Holiday' (1953), with the great Audrey Hepburn, not to overlook Gregory Peck. Why I like this film so much is that the film is about prejudice and overcoming it regardless of the consequences. Of course, I think, why one likes a film so much is truely in the eyes of the beholder.
26 Aug, 2009: In the morning I was much wiser about Noshiro, the end of my final stretch on this long hard tramp. A smartphone call from a buddy had planned to meet me in the lobby of the Dormy Inn. The plan was to have a couple of days together, chiefly to celebrate the successful completion of Stage One of my mission. And, if at all possible, to relax the perfect I could before returning to a so-called normal lifestyle in Tokyo. There was only thirty kilometers left to Noshiro and I had two days to do it in. It was not often on the road that I could say that the last stretch was going to be a piece of cake. There was humorous feeling in my stomach. It probably had one thing to do with this being the closing of a chapter. In a while the humorous feeling lessoned, for a half of me looked forward to the next chapters to come, too.
Across the road stood a coin laundry called Toritodon. If only such a place was around all the times I camped when I truely needed one. Fuck it! My dirty clothes would now just have to wait. Outside of the Noshiro JR train station all that I could see were taxis lined up everywhere. Where the fuck was the Shihoku bus stop? I wondered. All that a young chap working the desk at the ticket office, could tell me that it was out there somewhere. In Tokyo, if people did not know where someplace was they would shake their heads and more or less leave you to your own gadgets. This was not the case here as I first expected. Perhaps he saw signs of disappointment on my face. For no had the young chap ended his sentence when he stood up and walked exterior the station motioning for me to apply.
It also felt good to have anything inside of me regardless. Baring the fish-founded dishes, of course! Whatever my thoughts were about the flavor, or customs, the food did the trick. And, true to its name, I felt more than ready for the road again. Just as I left the restaurant, a motorcyclist out in the car park was stepping out of his riding apparatus. As I glided by the motorbike, the rider was about to enter the restaurant. With a broad smile on my face and with my best Japanese, I called over to the fellow by the door, Riding a motorbike was easy, try tramping the roads from morning to evening. In an equivalent and jovial mood he called back to me as I stepped out onto the hot tarmac, Gombate kudasai! (Do your best!)
After two kilometers of tramping in the direction I was given, there was still nothing that looked anything like an onsen. The road was flanked on both sides by pine trees, through which an occasional glimpse of a glittering sea could be seen under the darkening sky. The odd car sped past, but other than tat, there was not a sole insight to get information from. Finally, and as luck would have it, I stopped at an office building. Through a ground floor window I could see a young man sitting behind a desktop computer, unaware of my looking at him. With a delicate tap at the window, the fellow briskly turned, his face showing an component of surprise. How I must have looked to him as I stood there, I could only but imagine.
Then again, was this trampers function for being on the road as pleasing to him as it was to me? What were the reasons why people like this man wandered the roads? Undoubtedly in the past, war and famine and a host of other natural and unnatural materials were reason passable for people to move. If anything, my own country, Ireland rubbed shoulders with Japan when it came to famine and unrest of one kind or some other. Of course, none of these reasons mattered much to me, than my own. Especially now with the end of this stage of my mission was so near at hand. Such were my thoughts as I got to my feet and grabbed hold of my backpack. Even when I stepped back out onto the road my mind raced on about the Japanese tramper.
"Consciously or unconsciously, men are proud of their firmness, steadfastness of function, directness of aim. They go straight towards their desire, to the accomplishments of virtue – often times of crime – in an uplifting persuasion of their firmness. They walk the road of life, the road fenced in by their tastes, prejudices, disdains or enthusiasms, generally honest, invariably stupid, and are proud of never losing their way. If they stop, it is to look for a moment over the hedges to make them safe, to look at the misty valleys, at the distant peaks, at cliff and morasses, at the dark forests and the hazy plains where other human beings grope their days painfully away, stumbling over the bones of the wise, over the unburied remains of their predecessors who died alone, in gloom or in sunshine, halfway from anywhere. The man of function does not understand and goes on stuffed with contempt. He never loses his way. He knows where he goes and what he wants. Travelling on, he achieves great length without any breadth, and battered, besmirched, and weary, he touches the goal at last; he grasps the reward of his perseverance, of his virtue, of his healthy optimism: an untruthful tombstone over a dark and shortly forgotten grave." (Joseph Conrad, 'An Outcast of the islands').
That was until my eyes fell on a giant waterwheel. Gazing at this massive wooden structure was one thing different indeed. There it stood, turning, turning, turning as if alive and in a global of its own; this powerful thing seemed to beacon me on. Come and look, but dont stop! For like me, you must not stop. Soon I reached the top of the steep incline, and it was, the giant waterwheel in all its magnificence. The waterwheel stood at least five stories high. There was nothing new or latest about the ecosystem in which it moved, and for a moment I felt that I had walked back time.
Soon a road sign told me that the little town of Omegoshi was away to the precise. There were so many beautiful little summer homes dotted along this segment of Route 101 that ran along a fair portion of the coastline. I counted three Japanese soft porn magazines scattered by the roadside, too. The tattered magazines must have been discarded by somebody who stopped their car, for there was also a small pile of cigarette butts next to one of the magazines. In the good times, Japan had turn into known as home to a throwaway culture, which I guess spoke more about a wide range of discarded items to be found on the local rubbish dumps in useable, working, mint condition.
Like a carrot dangling before a donkey, I could feel the pull on my nerves to continue my tramp further towards the city of Akita. It felt like Akita was attractive me to conclude this stage of my mission there, and not in Noshiro as planned. But what the hell, I was too tired to think straight about anything now! I can not reach you this time my dear Akita City-sama, for other plans had made themselves known to me. I found myself calling out, not caring who heard me. Next time! Yes! Next time for sure! Please wait! I called out again, as I surpassed under the umpteenth road sign. There was a lack of reserve strength left in me to call upon, still on the final kilometers to the city, I did not feel the want or need to sit down and rest. Each step I took felt so significant! It was on the 40-fifth day on the road that I finally reached Noshiro! And as expected, I was pretty much in a wretched state, worn out and worn down.
Juni-ko Ecological Museum and Conversation Center" as the sign read, was seventeen kilometers down the road. A main attraction for plenty of exterior fans most of the year round, were the various hiking trails that zigzagged through the forests that end in the waterfalls and lakes. The Ammon Falls was perhaps the most well liked among the falls. Most of the trails that end in the waterfalls had been paved, and although flat at the beginning of the hike, grew to turn into elevated and narrower the further you went into the valley. Also, the hiking trails led to Mount Shirakamidake, the tallest peak in the mountain range. The Juni-ko, or twelve lakes were located on the northwestern section of Shirakami Senchi. The area supplied a scenic day of hiking and camping, as well as, boating and fishing on and around the lakes and ponds.
25 Aug, 2009: A starless night came down on me and the last thing I remembered seeing before falling asleep were the tiny fishing boats growing fainter and fainter out on the restless sea. Every now and then the horizon, too, would appear to disappear behind some waves, larger and fiercer than the one before. A wind must have been blowing across the water. I thought to myself, as I lay propped up on one elbow looking out from the tent. Strong steady winds did that type of thing! Of course, Japan did not have the trade winds, and varieties of reefs and bays that caused those monster waves the surfers enjoyed in Hawaii and in Australia. Being a land lover at heart, I still had much respect for the rivers, seas and oceans, from the great Pacific to the Arctic, the smallest ocean in the global with its middle permanently covered with think ice, and where life was scarce. But this was the Japan Sea that mattered now! Surely the fishermen could see me, too? I wondered. For now the campfire that I had lit in the sand earlier, burned furiously, belching out volumes of orange sparks that mixed with the thick white smoke.
There once was a time when people did not throw away broken or old things, like they did during the bubble economy years when the throwaway culture was most visible. Just about everything would be used and reused until it grew to turn into useable. Then they would be sold to recycling merchants, who would amend, alter, or modify them in someway to be sold on. Now, too, throwing away useable things still went on, but on a much lesser scale. Money was scarce! Unlike now, a hundred years ago things were cheaper to repair. Not only in Japan, but in many countries, there have been also lots of itinerant repairmen who roomed from town to town fixing all varieties of stuff, pots and pans, sharpening knifes, mending umbrellas, and so forth. Some of them made quite a living at it, too!
I set down near to the giant waterwheel. There was better place to be just then to find out what could be done to relieve the pain in the little toe on my left foot. Splash, splash, splash, the water sounded when the wheel hit it. It was easy to find out the actual problem so to care for it. Perhaps it was a new blister forming, or was it a cut on a prior botched operation that had not quite healed? Either way, the pain was beginning to make it known to me. If only my old buddy the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) was near, how I felt sure its salty waters would work magic as it had done countless times before. Still, it was not the type of injury or pain to hold me up or sluggish me down any, or so I hoped. Being on the road once more would certainly answer my concerns a method or some other, I just needed to keep my wits about me for the traffic that sped by.
It had been a very long and hard tamp. Just how many cuts, and blisters, and muscle pain I had along the way in which seemed unimportant now, for the end smelt so good. I feel good with myself for getting as a long way as I did. For sure it was a fair opener to my mission, or to one thing that now seems much bigger than I formerly imagined. It was not cheap! There were many things, which I lost along the way in which, camping apparatus, clothes, even time. But what hurt most of all was losing one of my recently completed notebooks. That was in Kanita in Aomori. The loss of the three weeks of irreplaceable information, to claim the least, will perpetually linger in the back of my mind for a very long time to come. Regardless, my many hours on the roads required positive thinking. All that I could see now was the hot bath waiting for me at a hotel in Noshiro.
A van slowed down with two young Japanese men inside it. The fellow sitting in the passenger seat called out to me through the open window. Hay! Do you converse English? Do you need a lift? At first it did not register that I was the one being spoken to, as I continued on my way somewhat lost in my own thoughts. They almost out of the blue I could make out an American sounding accent. Then I grew to turn into aware that the van had slowed down to walking pace. But before I could answer the young fellows, the van sped off across a bridge, around a bend and out of sight. Perhaps they thought I was ignoring them on function? Or so I wondered. It was nearing the end of the holidays, and I know that overseas scholars learning in America would soon be returning to their colleges and universities. For a fair spell along the road I felt a little bothered at not stopping and speakme with the young fellows in the van about their time in that great country, the land of the free.
Sleep was just as significant as food, if not water! Sleep was that thing that relaxed the body and mind. The muscles and mind needed to rest after a long day of countless movement and thought. During sleep the respiratory slowed and the rate of the pulse decreased. Of course, there was much that was not known about sleep, like, why the brain continued to function in the type of dreams, of even of the importance of dreaming, etc. For me it did not matter a method or some other since I could never remember my dreams at all when I woke up. What I did know now was that I looked to hit the sake (sleep) with every step I took back towards my tent.
A lone cyclist surpassed me by heading south. Not a word was spoken nor a wave between us. Perhaps it was one thing in the air that made people in these parts so cold. What had turn into of that on the road brotherhood? Yet some other road sign showed that Akita getting nearer, sixty-five kilometers away, with Oga at 40-eight, and Ogata at twenty-nine. Perhaps that might be the last sign on this segment of my tramp, I thought. The road was now busy! People were on their way to work. Besides the heavy traffic, political posters remained a constant traveling associate for me. They were everywhere, pasted on walls, on boards caught into the soil, all of them smiling, waving, or pointing at me from every direction! How could such posters affect anyone? Or so I thought. If anyone of them got down from their high horse, and accompanied me on the coastal roads from top to bottom, surely that could have got them elected.
What little I possessed of any shape or kind, it was my skill to adjust to changing conditions. I should be proud, but I could not feel anything just now! My progress on the roads had been rapid, well most of the time, so I could not complain. I had done my best! Now on the home stretch towards my goal, the domesticated life vogue that I grew used to in Tokyo, or elsewhere for that matter, and which I had dispensed with in the early days of my mission, would soon return. Naturally it was not difficult to find out that I was once more in the midst of city life again. A whole host of various chain stores began to look when the bus crossed into the city limits, and increased in number, with all the famous names, the nearer the bus got to the city center. The last time I set in a Starbucks was in Kojimachi in Tokyo, but I knew that this would soon change. And so it was that I soon found myself sitting in one by the station in absolute idleness, contemplating the meaning of life. It was nearing the time when I would make my way down the road to meet my buddy in the lobby of the Dormy Inn. I wondered if I would be greeted with a smile and congratulations?
Just as I approached the tunnel a tourist coach, with North Japan printed on the sides, rushed past me heading in the same direction. Most of the tourist coaches that surpassed me were loaded up with elderly passengers. Mmm! I remembered thinking how nice it was for the elderly to be able to spend their pensions on such trips, and wondered how it would be for the new elderly who adopted in the years to come. The Japanese society was rapidly getting older. Currently, about one out of every four in the population was sixty-five years old or above. Caring for the elderly was one hell of a challenge for the government and society at great. The need for housing, caregivers, and facilities that helped to make the elderly more relaxed was one thing that needed careful thinking about. The rest of the global was watching to find out how the Japanese handled this growing problem, of sorts. According to some thinkers, already one in about ten people in the global was over sixty that was 810 million persons. By the year 2050 this ratio would jump to one in five. God forbid not only in Japan, but governments around the global would need to take immediate action to address that matter. After all, just about every body hoped to be able to enjoy their retirement in as relaxed a formulation as possible.
Soon two young girls around nine years old bypass me by, they too were wrapped up in their own childish discussion about what I had no concept. They took no notice of me as they went by. How everything seemed so very different to years ago, when little young adults would run after me pointing their fingers at me in their childish joy. Gaijin, gaijin (Alien, alien), or America jin, America jin. On an increase away to my left a lone train rolled past. Above the entrance to an condominium building reads the sign, Herb Garden, but for the life of me, I could see no herb garden anywhere in sight. A blue tourist coach with Tabe Bus printed on its side shot past at one hell of a speed. A convoy of cars adopted it closely behind. Even on my motorbike I would have trouble keeping up with it, dangerously bumper to bumper. I was able to find out some young adults in a number of the cars. I surmised they had been picked up at school by their mothers and were now on their way home.
Did not a home provide a base, a sense of place, or family, a sense of belonging? Or so I wondered to myself. After all, many trampers or wanderers had no homes to call their own. To me this was a type of crack or hole in life, one that I might well even have slotted my own situation into. As to the place I rented in Shinjuku Ward in Tokyo, and where I will of course be glad to return to, I found it difficult to review with it as my home. The same was true with just about every other place that I rented over the years, whether inside Japan, or overseas. Then again, how this looked in the sunshine of that noted expression: where a man hung his hat, was his home or one thing like that? It all by some means mattered little to me!
It was just before sunrise when I awoke from the sound sleep to the refreshing wind over my cheeks, and which bore a chill in off the sea. The wind and rain did not come as I had thought, but I had hammered down everything just in case. When I first got my trusty little Dunlap tent I had to admit that I was disappointed when I first examined it at the store in Kanda in Tokyo. It was about this tent that I committed the hopes and aspirations in all weather conditions, which hampered me much of the time so a long way on my mission. But I did not care much about it now! For an excitement built in my heart at the thoughts of the realization of this stage of my mission near at hand. When I did finally up camp, there was an unbounded joy in my heart as I set off along the road in a mood of fervor.
Not being one to hang about, I briskly grabbed my backpack and hurried after him. The young man clearly wanted to help me. Then, pointing beyond the line of taxies, he told me that my bus stop could be found over there beyond the taxies. With this he turned around and hurried back into the station and to his work that awaited him. Of course, I thanked the young chap for his help and made my way past the taxies where I was directed. Though grateful as I felt, I still could not help wondering why he had to head exterior the station to tell me where the bus stop was. Perhaps he thought I could not understand the Japanese language. Though, I learned it might be closer to the truth to claim that I could never completely understand the Japanese people. Then again, some people I knew had said the same about me, too.
After sometime I stopped at a restaurant by the side of the road to take a peek at the menu on an elegant little stand exterior by the entrance. The restaurant looked a little on the posh side, but I was not sure when the next one might appear. Beside, I was hungry, and it was quite clearly open for business as there have been a couple of shoppers sitting eating at a couple of tables. With that, I turned to make my way inside. However, the manager or owner of the place, who must have observed me from one of the big windows, had other ideas.
The tour coaches were truely about on the road in great numbers today. Another filled u with elderly Japanese tourists shot past at great speed, this time Shohoku Bus printed on its side. Soon I go past an Eneos gas station advertising a liter of normal gas at 123. A nagging muscle pain took its toll or slowed me notably down to a crawling pace. A touristy looking sign told me that Futatsui was away to my left on Route 63. There was also that dreaded word, Central before the word, Noshiro, which from experience told me that it would more than likely be a fair ten kilometers further on.
Just then a sporty looking American made van pulled in to the car park. It was a real home away from home, only on wheels. It even had two parabola dishes fastened to its rear window, which made me wonder why the guy driving it left home in the first place. There must have been a kitchen sink inside there somewhere. Just the type of thing for folks who love luxury on the road. I felt to myself as I turned towards the road. Just as I was pondering about the customized van as I surpassed it, my worst fears were realized. It began with a powerful slap on my right shoulder, adopted by a shellfish being shoved almost up my nose. A speedy shuffle of my feet brought me face to face with yours truly, the fellow I had hoped to circumvent a little while ago.
Another closed up roadside caf with its garden overgrown stood a little ways from the side of the road. A peek through one of the dirty window allowed me a glimpse into its past. A calendar on one of the wall read, July 1988. Wasnt that around the time when the Economic Bubble burst in Japan I wondered, as I looked about the interior from where I stood exterior. On some other wall I could see a Coca Cola poster. It showed the image of a pretty smiling young Asian girl holding a type of classic glass Coca Cola bottles, with the black stuff fizzing out at the neck. Mmm! The sight of the old bottle made me try to recall the time when I first drank a Coke. I began to feel thirsty at the thought! Back the early days the shoppers would have looked at that poster on the wall when they entered the caf.
A road sign told me tat Iwasaki JR train station was nearby, not that it mattered to me. At first, I thought that I had also reached the town of Iwasaki, but as I surpassed the train station the name board above the entrance read, Mutu Iwasaki. A speedy look over the train time schedule on one of the walls told me only ten trains ran per day. The first morning train ran at 07:16AM and the last one at 8:45PM. On the road again I tramped along unperturbed and non-the wiser, and needless to claim still hungry for want of one thing to eat.
Another road sign told me of Matsukami JR train station was on Route 264 away to my right. Every time I surpassed a train station my mind would play video games with me. Come on, give up now. Take the train, nobody would know. I knew that I would know, and that was more than passable for me to keep going. Besides, I soon learnt in the first week on the road that this undertaking was not for the faint hearted, and it certainly had no room for cheaters either. Across the road, surround by a rice paddy, a lone building stood. It turned out to be the train station itself. By then the traffic on the road had greatly lessoned, but I still had to keep my wits about me crossing it. The motorcyclist whom I joked with exterior the restaurant earlier surpassed me on the road. A hearty wave, two hoots from the horn and shortly he was out of sight. To where he was headed I could only but imagine. Perhaps he too was nearing the end of a break away from the hassle and bustle of city life.
Just as I was about to loosen the straps on my backpack to take it off and enter, the fellow in question approached me and met me at the entrance. There was a silent phase for a moment, then he made a cross sign with his arms. This was a type of body language that symbolized No! or one thing along those lines. Not a word surpassed between us! The Japanese loved silence phases as a type of communication. And though I read somewhere that one should never apply them with a humorous story of a sharp remark, I was very tempted to demand a reason. I had experienced similar happenings a couple of times formerly on my long tramp down along the Aomori Prefecture coastline, so I was no stranger to encountering such monkeys. However, rather than let it get under my pores and skin, I simple turned around and headed back out onto the open road again.
Beyond hitting the sack, there was little else worth doing when I got back to my tent, but sleep. It was too dark to read or write, and the way in which I felt whenever I got back, I was in no mood to do anything anyway. A solitary tea bag lay on top of the rest of my junk that was pushed into a corner of the tiny tent. I poured some water from a flask into the pot and placed it on top of my little Capt. Stag burner to boil. Perhaps after a hot cup of tea, things might not seem so bad after all. I told myself, as I turned to make more space in the tent. Slowly I began to look on the bright side of life once more. Fuck it! I said to myself remembering that I still had some postcards to be got ready, written and posted before I tramped into Noshiro the next day. I will have to wrap things up at Noshiro and continue from there this coming winter.
Another road sign told me that I was doing just fine, for Noshiro was now only thirty-two kilometers away, or good hard day of tramping. Akita, the capital city of Akita Prefecture, with a population of nearly 325,000, was only ninety-one kilometers further along. The city had been devastated on 14 August 1945, when 134 B-29s targeted an oil refinery there. Some 137 people lost their lives in the raid. According to my analysis, it was believed to have been the final bombing of Japan in World War Two. However, all of this meant little to me now, as all that I could think about was getting to Noshiro in good time before my knees gave out altogether. It was also at this point in my mission that I said goodbye to Aomori Prefecture, as I stepped wearily over the boundary into the township of Happa in Akita Prefecture proper. Just as I did this I began to laugh. Why had the famous Marx Brothers enter my thoughts? I wondered. As I made my way, now limping along by the side of the road. Perhaps my little toe was trying to tell me that it had not fallen off yet, but would do so if I did not attend to it soon.
Deep in the pine forest away to my left I could hear the discharging of a shotgun. Mmm! For a moment I wondered if hunters still lived that wandering type of life that I spoke of earlier? After all, cowboys could still be found in America! A road sign told me that Kurosaki was away to my right. A Sagawa delivery truck wised past me heading north. How many kilometers did those fellows cover in a day? I wondered to myself. It felt strange how such little things reminded me of life in Tokyo. Soon I would be there and back into the common routine. A second shot was heard, but this time it was much more faint than formerly. After a while I decided to stop at a shrine to boil water to make a cup of tea. The rest, if not the tea, might rejuvenate some spirit into me. Or so I hoped as a tinge of boredom were creeping into my mind! The shrine grounds were usually quite secluded away from the roads and the traffic, including an abundance of quality trees that strong out magnificent shadows to rest under.
A tiny police car surpassed me by earlier. Unlike all the other police cars that I had seen here and there, its lights were not flashing. I never truely understood why the police needed to have the lights flashing perpetually, s It seemed a accomplished wast of time. Four middle-aged men peddled up the steep inline that I was descending. They looked quite a sight puffing away in their efforts to get to the top, their bikes loaded up with camping apparatus. One of these determined chaps well-known me with a nod and a smile. Something in his face told me that we understood and respected the problems of one anothers goals. Still there was no way he dared to take his hands off the handlebars to wave. For a brief time I wondered if they would stop at that racist guys restaurant, just two kilometers in the direction they were headed. Why shouldnt they stop there? I thought. It was the only place to be had for quite a distance afterwards.
My favourite music? I like many sorts of music. Perhaps classical is foremost among my favorites as it can be very stress-free and thought provoking. Also, movie theme music truely brings memories flowing back to me — times, people, puts, etc. Oh how I long for those yesterdays again! As to my favourite animals, I like all animals, especially dogs. It is said that a man's best buddy is his pet, right?
The extensive Shirakami Sanchi mountain range, which straddled the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures in the northern Tohoku region, was declared one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan in 1993. It was home to the last virgin beech forests in Japan. There was an excellent museum at some other visitors center in Fujisato in Akita that had much about the forests, and with information supplied in English, and some other one between Hirosaki and the Anmon Falls in Aomori that even had a theater showing a thirty-minute reel on the beech forests.
Still feeling hungry I stopped at a bakery, Fresh Bakery Boselcetto, by the side of Route 101. Already the absence of shops and restaurants away for the bigger towns told me that it was going to stay that way until I got near to Noshiro. In fact, there was little by the use of a fair shop, or restaurant since leaving Otaru in Hokkaido. Which was half of the rationale why that shop on wheels I surpassed a couple of times in Aomori was doing a thriving business with the local housewives and elderly. My last stop of eh day before selecting up pace on the homeward stretch was at a little roadside-eating place called, Papu. There I settled on having a hot bowl of shio ramen, or noodles. At the caf I had a little chat with the two very delightful proprietresses. Both of who were most helpful in supplying me with the essential information about where to get the bus to Akita City. Later on the road once more I wondered how the information could be of use, since I truely needed to get to the train station, where it was agreed to meet up with my buddy.
If that is not possible, then I love to seek the recommendation of associates. I in truth don't know what associates say about me. I am sure they say so much, or at least they give thought to me, I hope so as I think about them. Ha! Or like Oscar Wilde once said: "The only thing worse in the global than being talked about is not being talked about". So true! On the total, I think better of those folks who talk on to my face than behind my back.
I was not a contented man! Besides the thirty-five kilometers that I had already clocked up under my belt since morning, this evenings aborted venture had caused me four unnecessary kilometers. Fuck it! I called out not caring who heard me. I should have stayed in my tent and rested. Instead, I was now retracing my steps back in the direction of the campground. For a while I even wondered if the two girls, who had more than likely gone home to their own warm futons, or beds, understood that I was walking? I tried to laugh and put a positive spin on my little dilemma, but I could not. All varieties of useless things came in and out of my head, including the saying thought to have come from Benjamin Franklin (1706 to 1790), one of Americas founding fathers: Believe nothing of what you heard, and only half of what you saw. I felt foolish!
The sky broke and the rain began to fall soon after I decamped. It did not last long! Like yesterday, a cloudy blue sky replaced the rain for much of the day. The road ahead had its good share of morning traffic, cars mostly with just the driver in them, glided by. Then there was the occasional tourist coach with elderly Japanese tourists onboard. Out on the high sea I could also see a couple of great fishing boats heading to some place of importance, the perfect spot to fish. Once more the road crossed over the railroad tracks, but as I would learn in due course, they did not cross as repeatedly as yesterday.
I am a somewhat disorganized yet, coherent, tidy, easy, healthy and happy Irishman with few regrets. I have lived my life somewhat backwards (e.g. travelled, worked, educated, born, and reborn, etc, etc, etc). In general, my views and outlooks on life are quite open minded and liberal. I have a very good sense of humor and love the corporate of similar minded people. I am also a lover of hiking, long distance cycling, camping and great (American vogue) motorbikes, to name a couple of of my interests. These are all the more worthwhile when done with somebody you are relaxed with. Right? When I have free time I just love getting away from Tokyo (on my bicycle or on my motorbike) to some stress-free and engaging place.
Along the way in which I surpassed a group of elderly citizens engrossed in a game of gate ball, that they do not even look in my direction. Olympics? Hmm! I wondered if gate ball could ever turn into an Olympic sport? A Sagawa delivery truck surpassed as I emerged from a Lawson convenience store. The truck reminded me that the hassle and bustle of Tokyo was truely not so a long way away. The sight of the truck also caused me to remember the last of my postcards to family, associates, and acquaintances, which I had written out a couple of days earlier. These I now have just deposited into a postbox by the convenience store. In a field across the way in which a fire is burning. The amount of smoke told me that it was not a campers fire, but the work of a farmer burning grass and leafs. On closer observation, I could see that the fire was too small beyond its smoke. It was not easy to find out what was fueling the fire. Certainly I could not see grass or leafs on fire. For a while a long the road I wondered what was the function of the fire at all?
As luck would have it, a roadside restaurant stood across the road from the train station. Chucked up on a little sign exterior, I could see that both A lunch and B lunch, were fish-founded. Mmm! Not good! I mumbled to my self as I pushed open the door and entered, my backpack still strapped firmly to my back. I left the backpack by the entrance and made my way over to one of the tables. Mmm! I thought as my eyes scanned down the menu on the table. There were only three meat-founded dishes on offer, but I was too hungry now to care much. Two of the three meat-founded dishes, udon and katsudon I knew well and had tried both of them umpteen times at establishments elsewhere along the way in which. The other of the three was titled, Sutamina, which was a play on the English word, stamina. And which was promptly ordered, more from attention than not. When the dish was finally placed on the table before me, I could see that it looked very similar to the dish I had eaten last night, called gyorin, only this time the fried slices of pork were placed neatly on top of the rice. I ordered my second glass (jugi) of Asahi beer. One of the girls working in the kitchen placed a small plate of green peas on the table beside the beer. I never quite found out why the Japanese linked green peas with drinking beer. Once again, I did not care much either way.
To paraphrase the Irish-born author-cum logician, Iris Murdoch, Other varieties of transport grew daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remained pure in heart. Seven young male cyclists past me in the reverse direction, a couple of them waved to me as they went by. And not an effortless thing to do whilst negotiating the steep incline that the confronted. A useless cat lay on the road, its guts scattered about the asphalt. The flies that hovered around the remains clearly enjoyed their unexpected feast. Now the traffic on the road had turn into notably busier with the passing of time. A road sign that I surpassed just now told me that Sawabe JR train station was on Route 194, to the precise. An hour or so had gone because the cyclists surpassed me, the old hunger pings could be felt.
Irishman Walking is about my walking the coastal roads of Japan through a chain of summer, winter, spring, and autumn levels. Stage 1 began in Cape Soya in Hokkaido in the summer of 2009, and ended in Noshiro City in Akita Prefecture seven weeks later. This summer (2012), Stage 8 began at Shibushi Port in Kagoshima Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, and ended in the city of Fukuoka six weeks after hanging off. Stage 9 is planned to start from Fukuoka City this winter and can end at Hiroshima in January 2013. The stage is planned to last for five weeks.
The hardest times on the road were those days when the sun was at its strongest and there was not a single shade to conceal under. So the shrine grounds proved to be good puts to stop and rest at for a while. For the most half, it was a type of days when the sun beat down on top of me. If I did come to a little shop by the roadside I would step inside for a while to cool down, or perhaps sit exterior under a tiny shade to enjoy a cool beer before moving on once more. There was one thing about these little stops that I found a little hard to handle. For whatever the rationale, most of the proprietors of the department stores must have felt it their duty to stand exterior to keep me corporate until the last drop of beer was gone. It was not truely a question, since realistic information on the road ahead could often be picked up.
From a road sign I learned that Noshiro was sixty kilometers away, the final two days of tramping. Both Lake Juniko and Iwasaki Town were much nearer at fourteen and ten kilometers, a somewhat cheerful thought. Perhaps a pleasing hot breakfast somewhere in Iwasaki. Away to my right a rice farmer wore a mask as he sprayed the paddy field what I understood to be chemical compounds. Perhaps I should have done the same, for the strange smell in the air as I glided by. Why me! I thought, as I upped the pace. Thanks to the gentle morning breeze, the bad smell remained with me for quite a while.
A noodle shop sign read Ramen 101. An appropriate name, I thought, because the restaurant because it was located next to Route 101. There must be a god, I jokingly mumbled to myself as my eyes caught sight of a public toilet a little ways up ahead. What luck! I mumbled to myself as I dropped my backpack down on the hard sunbaked soil beside a wall. What horror! Oh no! The toilet was locked, and state of the building looked as though it had been that way for quite sometime. There was nothing to do but to move on and find a more isolated place away from the busy road.
Much about the people of the mountains had disappeared completely from postwar history. Perhaps historians might have been more kind to those distinct businesses of people. Perhaps if the history books had adequately documented to shed a brighter light on these long scattered and almost forgotten ancestors, how might Japanese people look back over the past? If only, if only, if only! Then it might have been shown that many of todays Japanese families could trace, at least half of their roots back to such distinct businesses of mountain people. For all that I had heard to date from people whom I talked to in and around Tokyo, and else where on my travels about the country, were their conceited words on ties to a Samurai past.
At last I settled to rest myself at a place called Hachimori, and to find out what could be done to the blisters in my feet. Fuck it! Bad timing! It had often been the case that when I arrived at a campsite ground the essentials of life, such as a waterhole, or a place to get one thing to eat at, had just closed up for the evening. As common, the public toilets tended to be well cared for, or spick and spam as my grandmother used to claim. But there was little else of use open. Neither were there the two or three minute coin operated hot showers, for one hundred or 200 yen a pop. Two very interesting young female staff members reassured me that not all was lost. They told me that if I continued along Route 101 for ten or fifteen minutes more, I would come to an onsen or spa where both a shower and food could be had. They also told me that the onsen was an within your means place, which was what I wanted to hear. My spirits were mush raised by this news, and with my trusty little one-man Dunlop tent now firmly pitched, with the camping things tossed inside to await my return, I headed down the road in the direction I was given; with of course, the remains of my soap and a couple of refreshing clothes to alter into afterwards stuffed under my arm.
Up ahead a tunnel came into view. How I hated those long tunnels south of Otaru up in Hokkaido. Every I sighted a tunnel I would think of those massive dark holes. Of course, I hoped that similar tunnels would not appear again. Fortunately, the tunnel was just 627.4 meters long. Not bad at all when compared with one of the monster tunnels in southern Hokkaido, some of which ran for more that three kilometers. What was interesting about this tunnel was the way in which it sloped downwards in the direction of Hishiro. Completed in February 1975, it was nowhere near as new as those massive jobs on the great northern island.
With the absence of food, I sat down by a vending machine to enjoy a cool can of Coca Cola. Thoughts of the Japanese tramper or wonder, who surpassed me a while back popped up again. In fact, we had been passing one some other on the road this last couple of hours. How did this fellow tramper of mine live? Did he have to rely on the sympathy of others? Had personal circumstances compelled this man to wander the roads, like, a lack of work, a broken relationship, or whatever? I also wondered if he was heading somewhere in precise, as I was? Or was he just following his nose to here and there, kind of where his fancy took him. This great nation of Japan was one hell of a very settled land, and whereby nobody should step out of line. After all, Japan owed much, if not all, of its past successes to stability and the settled state of its people. All that I could hope for at that moment was that the wind of fortune would change for the better, so as to permit my fellow counterpart on the roads, to settle down.
Across the way in which from where I sat a road sign knowledgeable me tat it was 40-eight kilometers to Noshiro City, with Hachimon and Lake Juniko twenty-eight and 6 kilometers away. Once on the road again the first tunnel in a fair while came into view. Fortunately, it was only two hundred and ninety meters long. Still, the cool breeze in opposition to my face was most welcomed on that hot day. A cool flow of sweat down my forehead, turned warm as I emerged into the piercing sunshine at the other end. Up ahead a train shunted out from a station and headed north, in the reverse direction. As the train surpassed me, I could see that the carriages were loaded up with people, young and old. Where was everyone off to? I wondered. Soon I tramped by Juniko JR train station, which told me that the lake of the same name was nearby. I had grown tired of seeing the name Lake Juniko on many road signs and felt good about getting past it. Just then a bus pulled away from a bus stop as I got near. I wondered how the driver of the bus knew that I did not want a ride? Or perhaps, like me, he did not care. I did not notice if it was full or empty. Once again a pain in my little toe was starting to occupy much of my mind.
For those wishing to be informed more, a small visitor center was located at the Juniko Eco-Museum Center Kokyokan, where information on the area's beech, among other things could be got. Juniko in English meant twelve lakes, yet no less than thirty-three lakes could be found in the area. One of the things of attention that drew many visitors to the lakes was the brilliant color within them. Aoike Lake, as an instance, had a rich blue color that poets saw as resembling a sky upon the bottom. It surprised me to be informed that a permit was required to enter into the core of the forest area, which was protected by the UNESCO World Heritage. This could only be obtained by mail at least a week in advance, although earlier was advisable. This was especially true if the permit had to be posted to some other country. It was of course better to head in consumer to any one of nine offices in the area during business hours from Monday to Friday, even up to the day of a planned visit. However, even this was not so easy since there have been only a couple of visitor centers in and around Shirakami Sanchi.
A touristy looking sign told me I would soon be coming near yet some other rest area up, and which went by the name of Shirakami-Sanchi Futatsumori. And that Kanoura Observatory was just three kilometers further along, not that it mattered to me. According to road sign, Noshiro was now only seventeen kilometers away. Akita City was still a fair hike at seventy-eight, whilst Minehama was only ten kilometers down the road. The road signs were welcomed sights for me since they helped me to plot a rough bearing. Time wise, they also give me some concept of how long it would take me to get to a precise place. And thanks to experience, it was one thing that I had turn into quite good at.
The police car that I seen earlier drove past me again, though this time in the reverse direction. How were the cyclists doing? I wondered, as the police car reached the top of a hill and disappeared out of sight. On the beach a little to my right I could see three great piles of broken logs and planks of wood. I was not quite sure why the wood was where it was. Even if it had been washed up by the tide, it looked as if some effort was being made to easy up the beach. It was not until I was well surpassed the piles of wood that it dawned on me that they were bonfires in ready for some festival.
A lonely looking red colored torii looked down at me as I entered. All the shrines I stopped to rest at had at least one tori gateway. After all, what would a Shinto shrine be without a torii, a type of gateway by its entrance, its two upright supports and two trademark crosspieces! Certainly the most spectacular torii for its location, if not most famous, rose out from the Inland Sea at Itsukushima shrine, and where I was sure to visit during a future stage in my mission. Once upon a time, torii gateways were made from wood, and there have been still a fair few of them that remained, however, in latest times concrete appeared to have proved itself a worthy replacement for durability.
Up ahead a group of elementary school young adults waited at a bus stop for the bus take them to their school. They all turned to look at me as I made my way towards them. Good morning I called out in English in as joyful a voice as I could muster. All of the young adults giggle some call back at me with their smiling faces. Good moningu, good moningu, Amelikajin? Amelikajin? A little further along the road I drew near to a junior high school girl walking slowly in the same direction. As I surpassed her by I could that there was one thing in her facial expression, if not walking pace that told me she did not want to head to varsity. She did not answer my morning greetings to her as I surpassed.
Another distinct group of wandering folks who finally came settle down, were known as the matagi, or hunters. Like the sanka, the hunters were a mountain folks who applied their trade there seeking out game such as, wild boar, bear, etc. Then there have been the kijiga or woodworkers, who made out a living by felling trees to making tools, toys, accessories, and furniture, among host of other household goods. Also like the mountain gypsies and the hunters, the kijiki blended into the population at great and settled down to a more sedentary lifestyle. To quote from a book that I read recently, titled, The Forgotten Japanese, Wanderers of this sort most likely died out in one generation but were adopted by others who fell into similar circumstances.
A touristy looking sign by the roadside knowledgeable me that Mount Shirakamidake (Kurosaki) was twenty-four kilometers away, and found some six kilometers from the coastline I adopted. Mount Shirakamidake was half of a mountain range on the northern Tohoku region of Japan, stood 1,203 meters high. With gentle slopes of windswept grassland and shrubbery that served to moderate the seasonal winds that blow in over the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea). A dense beech forest covered the mountain; a pretty mountain range that straddled both Akita and Aomori Prefectures. I stopped momentary to look at its beauty and to speak a couple of snapshots. People did that, which was the rationale why it was called Tomaridake, the stopping mountain.
There it was, a lone bus stop, and which looked as though it catered to all the buses, local and long distance routes. Perhaps I was looking for one thing that looked more set aside for long distance buses, that I never imagined one bus stop for all of the buses. On second thoughts, perhaps I should have thanked the young man more profusely for his resource. I propped my backpack up in opposition to the bus stop and waited for the bus to arrive, which according to the schedule would not be very long. At nine-thirty in the morning my bus rolled in and stopped, the door opened and I got on dragging my backpack with me.
Even I hated the school test times when I was their age. Then again, I could not remember a single thing I learned worth mentioning due to my school days. Sad! In fact, it was not until I left secondary school, did my skill in the Three-Rs (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) improve. Unlike these young adults, how my associates and me literally ran all the way in which up the road to varsity. Or not to overlook those days when we would cut across the bog meadows so as to pluck apples, just to get chased away by the farmer. Mmm! Sweet memories! We would play tag with one some other all the way in which up the road towards Saint Kevins Primary on the Falls Road. Then after school was over, the total process would be repeated. We were happy kids!
There was nothing to do but to move on. It was going to be a type of days Some monkeys sat looking down at me from the trees. I wondered if they knew how I was feeling, or if they were the rationale why the toilet had turn into locked and abandoned. A road sign told me that Henashi JR train station was on Route 193 that went away to my right. "Fuck it." I did not want to take any detour now. Besides, a train was not what needed, but where there was a station, there was most certainly a toilet, too. "Perhaps somewhere off the road behind a tree, will do just as well, monkeys or no monkeys. " A giant windmill rose up before me like a white goddess. I had long believed them to be the most graceful and lovely of manmade inventions.
27 Aug, 2009: A giant thermometer above Route 101 read twenty-one degrees centigrade, which seemed just right. However, the overcast sky might have other ideas. According to a tiny sign by the side of the road, I was officially in Noshiro City and where the first stage of my long tramp officially ends. The town of Futatsui branches away to the left on Route 209. That dreadful word Central Noshiro City once again appeared on some other road sign that pointed ahead. How many kilometers there was left to get there was some other question. If it was not Central Noshiro on the road sign, it was Akita City!
Not so long ago for that matter, such as, in the early publish war years, people walked a lot more than they did today. Early mountain paths, once busy long before the turn of the century were reopened, if at all they had ever disappeared. Even along the mountain paths countless people tramped from town to town, and back again. In short, people back then simple had to walk, for it was the only way to survive or to make a living. For a while I was able to clear my mind and think about absolutely nothing. However, somewhere further down my mind turned more to people of the road. If wandering the roads could be considered a profession, rather than merely an essential half of one, surely it would out pace prostitution as being the oldest?
A road sign told me that Akita City was eighty-eight kilometers, and Noshiro was down now to just twenty-seven. From the sign I learned that Hashimori Yukko Land was four kilometers further along, thought at the time I had no concept what the place was all about, and although I had more time than I needed to achieve Noshiro City I was in no mood for taking a detour to discover out. Soon I found myself at Iwadate Beach where I stopped for a spell to rest. There were the common facilities at rest areas, parking, public toilets, and ramps by the entrances for handicapped people to use. High up in the sky the clouds were dispelling, which told me that the sun was going to have its way with me for the next twenty or so kilometers. It was not very long after leaving Iwadate Beach when I got to Hachimori Yukko Land. There was also a rest area, but fewer facilities than there have been at the beach.
There were many examples of wandering people, the Japanese fishermen, who sailed the seas a long way and beyond, where a settled people. Did not they have their families and houses to return to after a tough days work out on the heavy seas? Early records had told of fishermen who sailed great distances from their homes. In the fifteenth century, fishermen, who lived in and around the Osaka area, fished in the waters as a long way away as western Kyushu. The mountains were where the lesser orders lived, gypsies, hunters, woodworkers, and others. Clearly, too, the mountain regions were the sparse half of the country.