Irishman Walking (Stage 1 Chapter 15)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Travel  |  House: Booksie Classic
Irishman Walking is about my walking the coastal roads of Japan through a series of summer, winter, spring, and autumn stages. 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 started at Shibushi Port in Kagoshima Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, and ended in the city of Fukuoka six weeks after setting off. Stage 9 is planned to start from Fukuoka City this winter and will end at Hiroshima in January 2013. The stage is planned to last for five weeks.

Submitted: July 17, 2013

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Submitted: July 17, 2013

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By Michael Denis Crossey

 

August 8, 2009: Across from where I camped stood a rest house called 'Minshuku Tanaka'. Last night I ventured over to see if food and beer of some kind could be served to a lonesome tramp like myself. Unfortunately for me, service was reserved only for guests. They saw no reason, however, why I should not be able to have a large bottle of nice cool Asahi beer at a fair price, ¥400 yen. So thirsty was I that the beer was finished in less then ten minutes. After that I set by my tent taking in the calm evening scenery around me. But it was not long before I made a return visit to the minshuku, for the very same purpose.

After a short, but friendly chat with the proprietor of the place who was busy preparing the evening meal for the guests, I retraced my steps back over to where my tent stood alone by the waterfront. Just as I reached my tent with the opened bottle in hand, it dawned on me that the second bottle of beer had not been paid for. Perhaps the proprietor had been caught up in my little stories on my tramp down along the hard roads that the he had totally forgot to ask me for the money. Or so I wanted to believe. Regardless, the situation needed to be corrected at once, so I pushed the opened bottle of beer deep into the sand so that the breeze coming in from the sea would not blow it over. It had happened before, and I did not want to be the one this time around to be out of pocket. For luck was not often on my side, especially as far as the elements were concerned.

The sand was warm and I knew that the timing could not have come at a worse time. I was tired, it had been a long day, and now I longed this time to enjoy the cool beer, not to hurry it like the first beer. It had been a long time since I last had a warm beer. When I was a child growing up in Belfast the beers sold in my father's pubs were right off the shelves at room temperature, not the cold shelf. Today, people had this thing about cool drinks. Long before the 1970s, and the Beatles, the public house cliental preferred their bottled beers that way. The only cool beer was served on draft. Perhaps a few pubs, if I was not mistaken, had a single ice shelf with no great variety of bottled beers on it. The cold temperature killed the taste! Then again, times had changed! The way I felt now was that even a nice cool bottle of beer was what I wanted. Of course, I still believed that not all drinks were best served cool, like real ale or Guinness, for the accentuated full body and rich tastes.

The front doors were not shut fast and I could hear people in the kitchen hard at work. Through one of the kitchen windows I could make out two figures moving about, whom I took to be the proprietor and his wife, who turned out to be a very attractive woman. As far as I could tell, from the food being prepared, there was only one guest stopping at the place that evening. And it looked like they had just prepared the last of the evening dishes for whomever it was stopping there. They now sat down at the kitchen table to have their own dinner, when the sound of my tapping at the window momentarily started them both. "I forgot to pay for the beer!" I called out to them through a mosquito screen that covered the open window. I could hear a burst of laughter from the wife within. I was unsure if it was my unexpected visit, or the boyish look on the man's face that she was laughing at.

Realizing it was none other than the lone camper, the man stood up from the table and came over to the window and opened the mosquito screen. There was a broad smile on his wife's beautiful face, as she too got up from the table and went over to the sideboard to get something. "I'm sorry for troubling you, but I forgot to pay for the last bottle of beer" I said, this time in Japanese, as I dropped the four silver coins into his extended hand. "I had forgot all about it,” he said with a broad smile, as he clasped the money in his hand. "Thank you for remembering" he said. "I was sorry, too, to have disturbed you at the table." The smell of the food did not help my hunger pings any. And with that, I turned away to make my way back over to where my liquid evening meal awaited me. "God! I wish I had not seen them eating" I thought to myself, as my eyes focused on the bottle poking out from the sand.

Not much later that evening, as I sat still enjoying the remains of the second beer and still winding down from my long day on the road and the gauntlet of massive tunnels, the front door of the minshuku opened. It was no other than the wife walking over the parking area towards in my direction. I could see that she was carrying something in her hands. "These are for you", she said to me in Japanese, as she dropped six tiny tomatoes into my open hands. "Thank you very much!" I said as I placed the welcomed gift into an empty cup on the ground beside me.

"This is not the best of places to camp", she said looking me in the eyes, whilst pointing straight at some signs that hung from a make shift fence just a meter from my tent stood. It had been said in knowledgeable circles that eye-to-eye contact was a sign of trust and honesty. Of course, such unfounded views have long since been debunked, for politicians, business people and bankers were masters of deception, and they did it with a smile. For my own part I never mastered the art or technique of looking right into a person's eyes when talking to them. Instead, I tended to look at just about everything else, moving or stationary. The Japanese were not masters of this either, but when one of them looked you right in the eyes, it had to be serious. "There were poisonous snakes there, not to mention falling rocks." She informed me.

When I made camp a few hours earlier I looked at the signs just to the side, but I never bothered to find out what they said exactly. Perhaps it would have been obvious to a less tired mind, but to me it failed to register. She must have noticed the puzzled expression on my face, and pointed towards the rocks and boulders, which lay scattered about the tarmac where they had come to rest. The tarmac covered pavement ran the length of the small coastal front where I camped. "Many of them had come crashing down a couple of days ago. That's why this fence is here”, she informed me, "Mainly to keep the children away". "Oh, I see!" I answered looking out over the hundreds of rocks the size of human heads. "Thank you again!" The warning reminded me of last night when I had heard some strange rumbling sounds of something heavy falling, and the man who called out to me this morning, which I now believe was something similar to what the woman had just told me. "Danger lurked in every corner along these pasts, especially from above", I thought to myself, as I left my washing where it was across the fence, and dragged my tent a few meters away to what I hoped to be a safer spot.

At around eight o'clock a loud tune was sounded across the campsite speakers. A few quick steps over towards the giant rock jutting out from the sea seemed as good a place as any to spend my final hour in this beautiful little gem of a spot. From the top of the rock I had a good view of the surrounding area. Down the road where I would soon be tramping a tunnel awaited me. It was not the sort of thing I wanted to set eyes on so early in the morning, and hoped that it was nothing very long. Or that it did not mark the beginning of yet another long battle with the massive tunnels. Fortunately, it was only 210 meters long.

The main winding road that ran through Tomori felt as if it was going to go on forever. "Or did I just feel bored?" There was nothing useful in sight, like a convenience store or cafe to call in at to pick something up for breakfast. At last I came to a prosperous looking little grocery store that looked as if they could break a ¥10,000 yen bill without any trouble. The little store was well stocked with all kinds of food items, although no one was about the place, staff or customers, whenever I entered. Until my eyes fell upon an elderly sitting slightly at the rear of the store out of sight from the door as you entered. For the last couple of kilometers, my mind was preoccupied with picking up something to eat. "A few light provisions, too, for whenever I stopped on the road to make a cup of tea or coffee later on would not be a bad idea." I wondered. Here I bought a 170-gram carton of Bulgaria yogurt by the dairy products company, Meiji. It cost ¥100 yen, which did not take me long to dispose of. Also a 500-milliliter soft drink, 'Guarand' by Kirin for¥120 yen, helped to quench my thirst. To me, Kirin was better known for its beers, but it was too early in the morning to think about such things. That could wait!

For as long as I could remember, I was unable to resist the urge to buy a bar of chocolate. Nothing was better than tucking into a calorie loaded bar of Morinaga milk chocolate while it was till hard before hitting the long hot road. The label on the chocolate bar proudly showed that the company or the chocolate had been in business since 1918. If that was not enough, I picked up a box of 'Moonlight' biscuits, or so it read on the label. The biscuits were also produced by Morinaga, and set me back the pricy sum of 180 yen. If the chocolate and biscuits were not enough to treat myself with on the road, I rounded things of with a packet of sweet bread, 'Sugar Margarine Raisin' by Yamesaki at ¥105 yen. In the case of the bread, how was it that prices for the same item could be so different? Just yesterday at a little out of the way shop I bought the exact same brand of bread for ¥126 yen. I guess it all had something to do with that horrible thing known as Capitalism, get the most for the least. Regardless, the healthy yogurt, and the sugar saturated beverage, sweet bread and chocolate were enough to set me on my way in a positive mind. Moonlight biscuits! The moon did not actually produce light on its own; rather, we saw from the Earth was light reflected off the moon from the sun, kind of like a mirror image. Because of the position of the moon to the Earth, only parts of it were visible when the evening sky was clear.

The first long tunnel of the day did not take long to present itself. The tunnel was exactly 1,075 meters long, and took three years to complete it from March 2003 to March 2006. In some little way I was torn between two minds. I found myself becoming more acceptable of the long tunnels for the cool shelter they offered me from the scorching sun. On the other hand, I felt guilty about allowing these damp gray monsters influence me in such a way.
The term, 'No Surrender' was something I knew very well from growing up in Belfast, and the long hours on the road needed a positive mind.

Near the mouth of the tunnel some tents were erected and I could hear the voices of people before I could see them. As I drew near I could see adults and children alike enjoying the warm inviting tidal waters of the sea. Ha, ha, ha! Splash, splash, splash! How I envied them! There was nothing better than a happy family enjoying their time together. Some workmen were also busy about the road, and, like the people on the beach, they took no notice of me as I slowly past them. Compared to everyone, I felt like a tramp loaded to the hilt with my only positions strapped to my back. What a sight I would have looked to them, had they noticed me. My clothes were tattered and soaked with sweat, and the dust from the road was everywhere on my face, arms and legs. Then again, on second thoughts I did not envy them, my mission was work enough, and honorable work at that. There was nothing to be a shamed of, I was really living my live and there were some people out there who envied me for it.

I little further along I stopped to jot down some information and dates into my notebook. And before continuing along the road proper, I took some photos of the sights about me, with the pocket phone camera a friend in Tokyo lent to me. The phone was a lifesaver! Not for any need to use it to call somewhere in the case of an emergency, more for the camera function. After about ten minutes I got to my feet, and with my stuff safely stored away, and the backpack firmly strapped in the correct places it was time to head off again. Just then as I was about to set one foot in front of the other to head off, I noticed that the workmen had put down their tools and sat down. "Were the lazy buggers about to have a tea break?" Or so I jokingly mumbled to myself with a smile in their direction. Just as I was about to enter the cool shade of a long tunnel, I could not help but notice them all looking back at me. The Japanese had that great ability of making you feel uncomfortable, like I was guilty of some crime, or about to perform some unforgivable act. Or was I just feeling paranoid with being out under the sun too long? "A penny for their thoughts!" I wondered, trying to redirect me mind on the road ahead. In seconds, I was swallowed up into the long gray dungeon and out of sight, and soon I was once more lost in my own arrangement useless of thoughts.

"Mmm!" Some tunnels were cleaner than others, I thought. Here and there, however, I could see the usual bits and pieces of discarded junk about the sides of the tunnel. There were the usual empty cigarette cartons, soft drink cans, and printed with various unreadable stuff. One thing I noticed about most of the discarded rubbish about the roads at large was just how undamaged most if not all of it appeared. The discarded cans were shiny clean and free of dents. The cigarette packets appeared fresh and crisp as though, like the cans they had just been purchased, or tossed away only minutes earlier. One thing I remembered from the classic films I liked to watch at my apartment back in Tokyo in the evenings, with a glass or two of red wine, was the way the characters in the film plots rolled up their empty packets in their clinched fists before tossing them away. In the good old days, smoking a cigarette or tossing things away was deemed a manly thing to do, or that was how it came across to me from my Saturday morning trips to the Broadway Cinema as a child growing up in Belfast. Well, at least until I once watched 'Blazing Saddles' staring Lee Marvin, when the cowboys around the campfire expressed their manliness by eating beans and farting afterwards. One useful little discarded item, which caught my eye as I neared the exit of the tunnel, was a little cloth pouch. It was not often you found something useful on the roads, however this little cloth pouch looked in mint condition and could be fastened to a belt, my belt. It had a set of blue, gray, and yellow lines horizontally arranged along the bottom. Any number of things could be put into it, so I knew then and there that it was worth keeping, until I thought about how to use it.

At eleven-thirty I stopped in at a roadside restaurant called 'Umirari Menu'. I was surprised to see so many customers, as it was still short of lunchtime by a good thirty minutes. All the best window seats were occupied. Usually whenever I did stop by at a restaurant, I preferred to sit next to a window, for the natural light it gave me a chance to write or read. Being indoors at any place in recent years, the old eyes were not what they once were. Even with the aid of my reading glasses, there was nothing like the natural light coming in through a window for the difference to be noticed.

Some heavy wooden stools lined the counter, and the only unoccupied table and chairs waited in a windowless corner for some willing butts to polish them. "What the fuck!" I was hungry. I dropped the backpack by the table in the corner, and set down. Perhaps it was not so bad after all, for the privacy it offered, which was often an impossible task to achieve in Japan. After a quick glance over the menu I decided on a bowl of noodles, or shio ramen to use the proper name. Needless to say, this was accompanied by a badly needed glass of cool beer, in this case, Asahi "Dry" as if I was not dry enough. Previous experience had taught me that it was better to eat whenever possible, even when the hunger pings were not there. Tramping the long hard roads for hours on end on an empty stomach in the hope of finding a place to eat at open, more often than not meant going to sleep on a hungry stomach. For the most part, too, tramping from one town to the next, through tunnel after tunnel and over bridge after bridge with a positive mindset, was just as important as the food and water.

The shio ramen that I ordered turned out to be quite different to the shio ramen that I sometimes had back in Tokyo. Even thought I was quite hungry, the Uminnara Menu's version of this noodle dish was so fish-based that I could hardly enjoy it. Much of my time at the table was spent picking through all kinds of fish, to be deposited on a tiny tray on which the bowl of noodles rested. My battle with the bowl of shio ramen had caught the attention of a young girl sitting at a neighboring table. One thing that I found agreeable about the restaurant, baring the beer, was the choice of background music. The music was the soundtrack from a number of classic American westerns, like, 'Shane' that stared Allan Ladd. The soundtrack of ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ followed this. Perhaps if it had not been for my preoccupation with removing the fish from the bowl of noodles, I might even have stopped a bit longer and ordered another beer.

Lager for many people was a good summertime drink, but in wintertime I would not even look at it. The writer Mark Twain wrote about a conversation he once had with an Irishman: "The don't drink it, sit. Give an Irishman lager for a month, and he's a dead man." God forbid, I was well into my sixth week on the roads already, and a good few sips of that piss colored had passed my lips. The Japanese public taste had long centered on a lighter style of lager. If you wanted traditional ales, stout, or porter then you were wasting your time in Japan. Writing on American beer, Gregg Smith wrote that it was so light, that a person could almost drink enough to swim in. This could very much apply to the stuff sold here in the land of the Rising Sun. Give me a Guinness or an ale any day!

The coastline remained breathtakingly beautiful along the road. Even the cluster of tents here and there on the sandy beach, blended in nicely with the surroundings. The Colman Company would have been happy to learn that they produced most of the tents I passed. Some campers enjoyed themselves splashing about in the surf. A couple of salutary figures set on the rocky coastline and looked out across the water. "What secrets were they thinking about?" I wondered. For me, there was no need to stop, but to continue on. There was a lot of road to get behind me before I could sit down and go over my own thoughts.

My body had not gone very far from the restaurant when a four-wheel drive truck slowed down and stopped a little in front of me. As I drew up to the door of the car, the smiling face of its driver motioned with his hand for me to hop in. Just like the man had done with the movement of his hand for me to get in, I declined, indicating with my moving fingers that I preferred to walk. Just as he had stopped, the man waved, and with a bump of the horn, the truck was gone. Such was the power of the body language; it did not surprise me any that not a single spoken word left our lips. Not long after the truck drove away, a Seicomart convenience store came into view, but I decided not to stop. Besides, there was not a single shade about the place, under which I might sit and enjoy a nice cool can of Sapporo beer. As I passed the store, a lone motorcyclist set on a walkway next to his Ducati motorbike that was loaded up with camping gear. Unlike my usual self, I felt in no mood for idle chat, for the time seemed so much against me.

Soon another little tunnel showed its face, but there was little to complain about for it was just 105.5 meters long. Away to the right of the tunnel I could see a shrine of some considerable size, but did not bother to stop to investigate. It was the same with the Catholic churches; I hardly noticed them anymore when I passed by. Those youthful days of making the sign of the cross whenever I passed one were long gone. Now I sawreligion as one of those things for those who felt they needed a spiritual walking stick. A little beyond the shrine was a kind of enclosed swimming pool, which was the sort of thing I needed most of the time. The pool was fed by water from the sea. Though I somehow thought it was a questionably convenient place to have a pool, right next to the inviting sea. Perhaps it had some worth to the local community, perhaps to teach children how to swim or dive in seawater. It was not quite like the enclosed pool I had passed some ways back, which was used for diving practice and for teaching children how to swim in the sea.

Even after tramping through the tiny tunnel, something told me that it was only a matter of time when one of those monster tunnel jobs would show its ugly face. This came in the form of the Horikappu Tunnel, which ran for 1,453 meters. And a boring tramp no doubt had my mind not been preoccupied with other things. While tramping through the Horikappu Tunnel I could not help but think about two other tunnels I passed by earlier, but was unable to use them. On was a really ancient job of yesteryear that had been drilled through solid rock. Parts of an old and customary bridge that preceded most tunnels I passed through lay decaying beside the old tunnel. The other tunnel was for some reason under guard, and when I stopped to take a photo, I was told not to do so, but to move on. As with the shrine, I could not bother my arse to find out what it was all about. "Fuck it! I had better things to do like kicking up dust." I mumbled to myself wondering how far I should go until it was time to make camp somewhere.


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