Irishman Walking (Stage 1 Chapter 17)

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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.


By Michael Denis Crossey


22 Aug, 2009: It was a bright sunny morning when I finally stepped out on to the road to make a start. The minute hand of my pocket watch read eight-thirty. The traffic on the road was sparse, but began to build up as the morning wore on. A dip in the sea earlier had done me good. Without the salty sea waters I feared that ultimate recovery from so severe a muscle pain would have been tediously slow. Breakfast still wanting, it would have to wait for I wanted to get away while the fresh feeling to do so lasted. I could feel the traces of sand inside of my boots. Perhaps it had got there this morning when I kicked the sand over what remained of the campfire from last night. It was still too early for business hours when I stopped at a quaint little seaside restaurant in the hope that something might be had. “We open at ten-thirty,” the proprietress told me. It was nearly two hours short of then, and I did not want to hang around. “Well, thank you anyway.” I said mustering a smile and turned back onto the road. Now thoughts of food replaced those of the sand in my boots.

A kilometer further along the road I stopped by at a little store. There I bought an ice cream cone or ‘poke’ as it used to be called growing up on the streets of west Belfast. A most elderly chap ran the little place, and he was keen to learn in what direction I came from that day. “From Tappi Zaki?” he asked, leaning over the counter with his eyes keenly fixed on me. “No, from Cape Soya.” The usual gauntlet of questions followed, which did not bother me one bit. Everything I said was then quickly translated by the elderly proprietor to his little grandson whose nose and eyes barely cleared the counter. The child stood there behind the counter with his eyes wide open and fixed on me like I had just stepped out of a spacecraft.

Soon the ice cream poke was finished and it was time to move on once more. As I turned to make my way out the door the old fellow wished me all the best, which I thought was nice of him. The morning sun felt hotter than yesterday. A tour coach with Konan printed on its side passed by me at a fair speed, and the rush of air as it sped along felt good. Up ahead I could see a road sign, which were proved quite helpful in giving me an idea exactly where I was and how good I was doing. It was never easy to know where exactly I was with only my maps without a good clear road sign to put me right. Besides, the maps were fairly tattered with some of the place names hard to make out. Once more the road parted. It was there that I would leave Route 339 in favor of Route 12 heading to Ajigasawa and past Lake Jusanko. The main reason was to stay, as near to the sea as possible, though maps could be so confusing. One of my maps spelt Ajigasawa, ‘Azi Ga Sawa’. A stop at a little roadside stall netted me six juicy tomatoes for just one hundred yen, which would have been unheard of in Tokyo. There was no one at the stall, only an empty cup to drop the money into. "Trust was a many splendored thing,” I mumbled to myself as I dropped the appropriate coin into the cup.

On the whole, I missed Hokkaido and the kindness from the many people I stopped to talk to along my way. For different reasons people fell in love with that great northern island and returned again and again. The unyielding beauty of the place had smote them, like the haze along the mountaintops, and the fuchsia on the hills. The bears, too, tended to reside far in the interior, whilst snakes existed just about everywhere. Of course, the nature and its beauty was not peculiar to Hokkaido, but existed it did all the same across much of Japan. Now, of course, Hokkaido was very much in my past, for the Aomori coastline, with the occasional half a meter long snake slithering across my path, was very much a part of the present and near future. The seagulls and the crows above seemed less at odds together, than I was with myself.

A road sign told me that Ajigasawa, Shamiki, and Lake Jusanko, were now forty-four, fifteen, and two kilometers from where I stood. With a glance at the tiny red tomatoes that I had carried with me told me I could see that none of them were broken However, it was best to eat them sooner rather than later. "Perhaps I should hold on to the tomatoes until I got to the lake," I thought as I turned my attention to idea of enjoying a nice hot cup of tea when I got there. Just beyond a paddy field the sudden bark of three large dogs startled me. If that was not enough the dogs made a rush at me as I passed. "Fuck off!" I called out as I stood still for a moment to let them know who was in charge. The dogs slowly backed away in the direction they had come. They had got the message no doubt, that this lady was not for turning, to paraphrase those pathetic words once spoken by Thatcher, and with that I slowly continued my way south along the road.

Thoughts of the two dogs that charged at me remained for a while. “It was a good thing that the beasts were on leashes for fear that they would have had me for lunch,” I thought. “Even if the fucking restraints were a bit on the long side,” I felt. The last thing I needed now was to get bitten. Some years ago when I tried to separate my dog and another dog from fighting I got bit just above the right ankle. I did not think much of the wound at the time, except run it under a cold water tap a few times to keep it clean. After about four months the wound still had not healed, and following some persuasion from friends, I visited Saint Luke’s Hospital in the Tsukiji area of Tokyo. I remembered the doctor giving me a stern ticking off for not coming sooner, and that if I had of waited any longer I might even have lost my leg, if not my life. The wound was so bad, that the doctor needed to cut the surrounding tissue, or rotten meat, away from the damaged area with a scalpel. There were a couple of further visits after that, and gradually things went back to normal. Even with my insurance, the procedure proved financially costly into the bargain.

At the time of the bite I was not sure where Japan stood on rabies, although I was concerned to find out when the wound in my right leg failed to heal. After some research on the Internet I learned that rabies was a viral disease, which caused acute encephalitis; or in layman’s terms, an inflammation of the brain in warm-blooded animals. Once upon a time, all human related cases of rabies were fatal, or up until Louis Pasteur and Émile Roux finally developed a vaccine in 1885. The rabies virus attacked the central nervous system, leading to disease in the brain then death within days of the bite. Being a dog owner, I knew that all domesticated animals in Japan were required to be vaccinated, a procedure that cost close to 4,000 yen. However, the way the economic situation was with people, and cash being short everywhere, I would not at all have been surprised if some dog owners chanced not to have their animals inoculated. At the time of the bite I was not sure where Japan stood on rabies, although I was concerned to find out when the wound in my right leg failed to heal. After some research on the Internet I learned that rabies was a viral disease, which caused acute encephalitis; or in layman’s terms, an inflammation of the brain in warm-blooded animals. Once upon a time, all human related cases of rabies were fatal, or up until Louis Pasteur and Émile Roux finally developed a vaccine in 1885. The rabies virus attacked the central nervous system, leading to disease in the brain then death within days of the bite.

I also knew that rabies could be transmitted from one species to another, and infected dogs to humans were one example of this. Roughly 97 percent of human related rabies cases were the result of dog bits. And around 55,000 people died each year from rabies, with most cases in Asia and Africa. In America, animal control and vaccination programs had effectively eliminated the fear of rabies as far as domestic animals were concerned. Likewise, thanks to the strict animal control and vaccination programs in Japan, rabies among animals had become entirely eliminated. Up ahead a building, which looked a bit like a hotel, could be seen. As I drew nearer, the name read `Hotel Hamanatsu`. The design of the building reminded me very much of the many love hotels that I had passed on the roads. There was also a usual high wall around it to shade the guests from prying eyes. A bit further along the road a sign told me that Sannobo Fukushima Castle was off to the left. Unfortunately, I had to push on without the pleasure of stopping to visit the place.

A restaurant stood at the side of the lake, and which I was happy to see it was open for business. An elderly man entered just before me, and held the door open for me. I dropped my backpack on the floor by the table I set down at. As far as I could make out the food on the menu looked pretty much fish based. Luckily for me, I spotted another dish that I could easily stomach. Katsudon was deep fried pork, placed on top of a large bowl of piping hot rice and a partly cooked egg led over the top of it. As I waited for my order to arrive, I thought about the day’s journey. It had been a pleasant tramp thus far, and Route 12 was a good road as roads went. There were few cars on the road to consider, which was just as well considering that it was a narrow road with two single lanes for traffic.

It was easy to see from the windows that the sun continued to bake down and that the shadow cast out from the nearby trees and rough by the roadside offered little protection. By the time I reached the restaurant all those rules to good walking had evaporated. Ten thirty in the morning or not, a cool bottle of beer of any brand was wanting. Ever since leaving Cape Soya I had done my best to dispense with my conservative attitudetowards food and stomach just about any dish available to me. Or such was the warning I had been given by a friend in Tokyo before setting off. This seemed reasonable advice considering the enormity of my undertaking. Of course, there were just too many times when food, or even water for that matter, was not easy to come by. That said, I failed miserably, in that fish based dishes had been a real obstacle for me. There was the odd time when I choose to go hungry rather than indulge my inners with such stuff.

It was easy to see from the windows that the sun continued to bake down and that the shadow cast out from the nearby trees and rough by the roadside offered little protection. By the time I reached the restaurant any rules for good walking had evaporated. Ten thirty in the morning or not, a cool bottle of beer of any brand was wanting. Ever since leaving Cape Soya I had done my best to dispense with my conservative attitudetowards food and stomach just about any dish available to me. Or such was the warning I had been given by a friend in Tokyo before setting off. This seemed reasonable advice considering the enormity of my undertaking. Of course, there were just too many times when food, or even water for that matter, was not easy to come by. That said, I failed miserably, in that fish based dishes had been a real obstacle for me. There was the odd time when I choose to go hungry rather than indulge my inners with such stuff.

My hardship was not only with the fish-based food that I found hard even to look at, but also with my equipment either lost through carelessness or damaged by the elements. This included my trusty little one-man tent, which took such a hammering two nights ago at Cape Tappi, when one hell of a powerful wind bent the tent poles beyond repair. It was just as well that it happened when it did on the final days of this stage of my mission. "Perhaps I could make Noshiro my final stop," I thought, while doing my best to straighten the poles by hand the best I could. I glanced at one of my maps also told me that Noshiro was as good as any place to get transport back to Tokyo from. It was easy to see that the road, Route 12, headed via Shariki and then on to Ajigasawa. With the help of my maps I pondered another smaller road that ran in the same direction, and nearer to the sea, which was what I needed most. "Surely this was the best way to go," I thought as I put the maps away to make room for the food that had just arrived.

Naturally the little coastal road was the way I needed to go if I was to be near to my old friend. The fresh smell of the seashore and the sound of the rolling waves was a great medicine for a tired mind. After only a kilometer or so along the narrow coastal road I stopped to chat to an elderly lady who was working in her garden. After a little while she went into the house to get something, motioning with her hand for me to wait. A few minutes later she reemerged carrying a tray with a large slice of watermelon on it, as well as a glass of ice coffee and some biscuits. "Wow! Thank you! How kind of you! What a nice surprise," I said to the lady as she placed the tray down on the wooden bench next to me. It was a hot day and the cool juicy watermelon melted in my mouth with every bite. It did not take me long to finish what was on the tray, as well as to answer the usual gauntlet of questions that I anticipated coming. Of course, I did not mind the lady’s questions one bit, and found our short time together under the shade to be a most pleasant rest, before hitting the road again proper. When I did finally shoulder my backpack to take my leave to south along Route 12, it was not until the lady presented me with a one-liter plastic bottle of frozen water.

A sign pointed at a building away to my right, which read 'Jusan Area Puritication Center' "What?” I said to myself as I looked up at the sign. “Shouldn’t that be ‘Purification?" I was not the best of spellers since as long as I could remember, but even to me it was a clear spelling mistake that surely went unnoticed all the way from the keyboard to the printers to the road where it now could be seen by everyone who cared to notice. Not long after I left Route 12 I came to another road sign. It told me that Ajigasawa was thirty-three kilometers away, with Hamano Myojin Shrine just two kilometers further along. Back in Tokyo I knew of a shrine with a similar name, the Kanda Myojin Shrine as it was called, was originally built in 730 AD. The shrine was also was called Kanda Shrine, and was home to three major Shinto gods, two of which belonged to the Seven Gods of Fortune. So it was easy to see why vast numbers of business people and entrepreneurs visited the shrine to pray for their success and prosperity. In some ways I was no different, for I needed good fortune to shine my way, although being the atheist that I was, I could not see myself going so far as to pray. Ajigasawa was a town with a population of around 10,000, located in the Nishitsugaru district on the southwestern corner of Aomori Prefecture. Weather wise, the coastline had short cool summers and long cold winters with heavy snowfall.

During the Edo period (1603 to1868), the Nambu clan controlled much of the area around Ajigasawa. In 1491, the samurai and founder of the Tsugaru clan, Oura Mitsunobu (1460-1526), resided in the village of Tanesato, now part of Ajigasawa. Economically, Ajigasawa was very dependent on agriculture, such as, rice and horticulture, as well as on commercial fishing. The sea around Ajigasawa were abundant in many kinds of fish, for example, red snapper, Atka mackerel, horse mackerel, flat-fish, angler fish, salmon, cod, octopus, and shark. Also, Ajigasawa Beach was only a ten-minute walk from the train station offered a breathtaking view of the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea).The beautiful Kurokuma no taki, or Black bear falls in English, which got its name from its appearance, was also listed seventh on the list of Japan’s top 100 waterfalls.

Soon I passed by a tiny lake with no name located between the sea and the road I tramped along. Beyond I could see a small range of hills and a comb shaped mountain or volcano that pointed majestically to the sky. It would not be long now before I past the Myojin Marshes. How the marshland sparked memories of my youthful days of growing up in west Belfast. The bog meadows could be seen from the front window of our little redbrick house on Saint Katherine's Road.How I still could recall the countless rows of tall bulrushes, a common name for a variety of wetland plants. Even thought the bulrush stems were far from being strong and broke rather easily, we used them as swords to fence with, or as spears to hurl at one another, and even just to lose ourselves in for the fun of it. It was all part of our hind-and-seek fun and banter, and tomfoolery of a long gone past, but for me those were happy days to look back on and to dream about in myaging years. Looking back now, I guess we should have been taught to look more kindly on the bog meadows. In the wintertime the pond in the center of bog meadows froze over and people would come from all around to skate on it. In the milder weather the swans could be seen stopping there. Even as children we knew of a famous story that told of an ark made from bulrushes, in which the infant Moses was placed.

The tall trees stood proud by the side of the road I now tramped along, and the shade from them was comfortable. In a field to my left a lone cow stood mowing away contentedly. Up ahead I could make out another road sign, a van was parked a little ways beyond it with its parking lights blinking away. "Aha!" I said, as I drew close to the sign. "Something on Noshiro at last! Good!" Now I could see that I still had one hundred and thirty-two kilometers to go to get to Noshiro, not to mention the end of this stage of my mission, too. With almost seven weeks on the road, it felt good to have some idea of my destination. As I passed the van I thought of Ajigasawa again, now twenty-six kilometers behind me. Everything seemed to be coming together nicely, and it all felt so good, not even the loss of my notebook mattered much to me now. That could all be dealt with later!

Just as I was lost in my little old self of feeling good about my progress and achievementon the roads a car shot past almost hitting me as it went. "Fucking hell!" I mumbled under my breath, while stepping quickly off the road altogether to collect my senses. With a look at the right side of my backpack that the car had brushed against, I was happy to see that there was no damage done beyond its already grubby appearance. Then I realized that another car heading in the opposite direction had made it impossible for the driver who nearly hit me to move wider out of my way. Even if the driver had his foot pressed down a bit too firmly on the pedal I felt. "How would it have changed things had I been completely daydreaming?" I wondered to myself, as I tried to switch my mind away from the near miss.

A sign told me that Takayama Inari Shrine was located in Goshogawara City, with Ushigata Town off to the left. Parts of Goshogawara City, with a population of around 55,000, came under the limits of the Tsugaru-Quasi-National Park. Goshogawara occupied two separate sections of landmass, the larger being landlocked in the middle of the peninsula, and the smaller located along the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) where I now stood. Similarly, the economy was divided between agricultural products, such as, rice and apples, as well as, commercial fishing of clams, etc. Also, the electronic giants Toshiba were a main employer and producer of HD and DVD drives. The city had a cold maritime climate with cool summers, although today was rather on the hot side. The winters were very cold with heavy snowfall, so I considered myself lucky that I was not in Aomori at that time.

The Tachi Neputa Festival in Goshogawara city had become quite famous for the illuminated three dimensional elaborately painted paper floats. Though similar to the Nebuta Festival in Aomori, the floats at the Tachi Neputa Festival were much larger in size with some towering higher than 20 meters. The Tachi Neputa was held every year from the fourth of August to the eighth of August, so I had missed it by around two weeks. It was perhaps another example of my bad timing, although it was not among my plans to be on time either. That said, I preferred to avoid all kinds of places where people congregated for one reason or another, even office parties, weddings, and funerals, to name a few. The last day of the festival was the most popular of all, since all of the floats could be seen standing together. In addition, the popular Japanese singer, Yoshi Ikuzo, who came from Goshogawara, was sure to make an appearance. Because of the large crowds who came to the festival, it was not always easy to get a good spot to enjoy the festival atmosphere. Besides, the floats were so large that they could not be missed. The festival closed with a fireworks display, which lasted for two hours.

The Takayama Inari Shrine history could be traced back to the tenth century, and was one of the most famous Shinto shrines in northern Japan. The shrine gave homage to the Inari god, which presided over good harvests and wealth, perhaps similar to why business people and entrepreneurs visited the Kanda Myojin Shrine in Tokyo forprosperity. The Takayama Inari Shrine was also known for the spectacular row of red torii gates in its large garden. Alas, I had no time to stop and visit the shrine. The main thing for me was to make more ground before my day on the road was over. It would not be easy going now, for the sole of my right foot was hurting something bad. It was another of the many blisters to deal with later on, no doubt.

23 Aug, 2009: An open stall at the roadside sold watermelons for 500 yen. After the business of paying for a small watermelon was done, the attractive middle-aged women standing behind a makeshift table spoke glowingly of a campsite nearby, as if it was a Butler’s Holiday Camp newly opened in the area. Along the way two elderly men stopped the van they were in to offer me a lift, which I politely declined. They must have realized that I was heading in the direction of the campsite, as they hit on the topic before I even told them. “It’s one hell of a windy a windy place,” one of them said, whilst the other nodded his gray haired head in agreement. “No one camped there anymore,” the other man at the wheel said, looking right at me, as if trying to read something in my face. It was true, I was tired and I was disappointed to hear them speaking so about the campsite. I had hoped to make camp there early to enjoy a good proper swim in the sea, and just rest the best I could. “Well! Thank you for the information.” I replied, “But I’ll give it a look over anyway. Besides, I heard it had a shower.” “A shower?” The man in the passenger seat said. “I’m not sure about that. Anyway, good luck with your walking.” The van drove off down the road, leaving me alone with my own thoughts once more. “Perhaps they were right.” I felt them more knowledgeable about the area than the woman selling the fruit. “Perhaps I should just keep right on walking a while longer.”

A little earlier I had stopped by at another shop to pick up a couple of cans of beer, as I felt sure that I would make camp soon. However, the young woman who served me there knew nothing about any campsite. I could also hear the sound of shower–water running. “That’s my son!” the woman said with a smile. “He’s a lucky guy,” I thought to myself, as I grabbed my backpack up from the floor and re-shouldered it in one sweeping movement. “Not only for the shower, but to have such an attractive mother.” Back out on the road a small lorry passed me by. It was loaded up with tomatoes and watermelons. A couple of the tomatoes fell off the back as it went over a bump in the road. When I drew near I saw that the tomatoes had smashed all over the asphalt. “Not my loss!” I thought, as I stepped over the mess. I had already had my fair share of tomatoes this last couple of days they were literally coming out of my ears. Tomatoes were a good food source for those worried about their metabolism, the digestion of food and elimination of waste. I had burned off so much body fat on the roads already that there was very little left of me as it was. Thanks to the long distance walking from morning to sunset, I was one of those with a lower body fat percentage with a high Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR); therefore, a higher calorie requirement than average to sustain this rigorous lifestyle out on the roads. Then again, that all soon changed between stages, during the lengthy rest periods back in Tokyo, no thanks to the beer and eating at countless restaurants.

Soon one quarter of the watermelon that I had bought was cut and eaten, but I felt it best to keep the rest until the evening. “Mmm! Perhaps I should hold on to some of it until the morning.” There was nothing else by way of food on me! Well, there was still a can of 'Dydo Demitasse’ coffee that someone had given me, and I had almost forgotten about. Yet, so much for my thoughts! Soon the coffee too was gone, and another quarter of the watermelon followed it into the same dark dungeon of my stomach. Up ahead a road sign told me that I was seventy kilometers away from Lake Juniko, which was a good two and a half days tramp. Then there was the town of Senjojiki, some twenty-seven kilometers from where I stood, but that did not matter any, as I was still thinking about the last piece of watermelon. My water bottles were low, and the sun always seemed hottest a couple of hours before it set. If all went well then I should be tramping through there by this time tomorrow. It had gone five! It was by this road sign that I set down to rest awhile. “Fuck it!” I said, thinking about my shoulders, which began to hurt. Looking at my backpack on the ground by my feet, I knew that I needed to lighten its load. “What better way was there than by tucking into the remainder of the last of the watermelon?” This did not take me long!

Up ahead I could see the road begin to slope upwards, and I was certainly not looking forward to that. Still, the upward slog was there and there was noting to do but muster up some energy and get on with it. When I got to the top of the slope a shut up long abandoned café also came into view. In the grounds where the café stood, a giant rock set in the center of what must have been a once beautiful garden. Fighting through the overgrown bramble to take a peek through one of the café windows was not the easiest of tasks to achieve. A number of stools lined the counter, the color of the cushion covers on each of them now changed by dust and time. Just about everything else I could make out looked as if it was waiting to be used. Upturned cups and glasses were neatly placed beside the coffee making equipment on the counter. A neat stack of cups and saucers were placed on top of one another on large shelves on the wall behind the counter. A faded calendar hung from the wall. It displayed the month that the place must have closed its doors, 'July 1996'. Below the calendar a faded menu stood in its holder by the side of the cups and saucers. A price of yesteryear for a bowl of ramen (noodles) was 400 yen.

Soon after leaving the abandoned café the overgrown grounds where it stood, I arrived back at the crossroads. A road sign told me that Hirosaki was straight on, whilst Route 101 went left towards Goshogawara. Ajigasawa was away to the right, and it was there that I was headed. It was also at the crossroads that I would at last take my leave of this picturesque little road, which ran for quite a distance along the coastline and the much busier Route 12. It was now along Route 101 that Ajigasawa lay though just how long it would take me to get there, I did not have the foggiest idea. For just as I turned onto Route 101 a slight happening occurred that almost brought my mission on the coastal roads to an abrupt end. Of course, it was completely my own fault. I was so engrossed in my maps, while walking that I failed to see the hazard ahead of me. And when I did finally notice it was too late to stop myself from falling or to step back.

The hole was the size and length of a grave, though fortunately for me it was by no means as deep. It was deep enough, however, to hammer home the point of my stupidity. “That’s what happened when you don’t pay attention!” I remembered thinking, as I lay in the hole on top of my backpack. Such was the tumble into the hole that I went head over heels that my backpack broke the fall. It was a strange feeling looking up at the blue sky from where I lay. "Was this what it looked like from the inside of a grave?" I wondered. Then, pulling myself to my senses again, I was pleased that things seemed all right, thanks to my backpack. Just as I set up in an effort to get to my feet, I began to wonder how the perishable items that I had picked up at a shop earlier faired from the tumble.

The main thing was to climb carefully out off the hole, which I was able to do without removing the backpack, and to get back onto the road again as if nothing had happened. A little ways down the road I stopped at a local restaurant to replenish my weary body with food and drink, and to clean myself up a bit. But soon it was back on the road again to kick up some dirt proper. However, I had not gone very far when the short burst from a car horn caused me to stop in my tracks and look around. A handsome young foreign chap set behind the steering wheel of a van, grinning from ear to ear. As I moved to the side of the van the young man leaned out of the window and offered me a life. This I sadly had to decline, even though it would have been nice to talk to someone in English for a while. Travis, the name he gave me, came from Boston, and was currently living in that part of Japan.

Why or where he was headed to then, I did not ask, or even if he was married for that matter, though I suspected he was. There was something settled in his nature, and he seemed very knowledgeable about the area. On a parting note Travis took a banana from a bag that lay on the passenger seat and offered it to me. “Well, thank you,” I said taking it from him. Gifts of food were the best of all, and I knew the banana would do nicely to kill the hunger pings, for a while anyway. For I only had drinking water left and if he was correct, there were no shops to be had for the next ten kilometers at least. After our short chat, and with the banana now safely packed away, the fighting spirit was once again aroused in me. Even with all of my own selfish shortcomings, it somehow felt really good to be free on the roads, free from the shackles of commitment to anything or anybody. “Won’t all that change when I got back to Tokyo?” I wondered, not really caring until I did get back there.

A sign enlightened me of the presence of Juni-ko Ecological Museum and Conservation Area, which was not exactly nearby, but rather some sixty-one kilometers further down the road. Senjojiki was twenty kilometers, which if all went well enough I would surely pass by around lunchtime tomorrow. What I did pass by soon after the sign was, what I considered, a beautiful giant windmills. There was a short stop to gaze up at the powerful blades, a rotor of more than twenty meters in diameter, turned gently. Each of these giant windmills was more than capable of producing around a hundred kilowatts of electricity. “Wow!” How tiny I felt I was as I stood looking up at this beautiful monster. It was not made by a Japanese company, but ‘Fuhrlander’, a German firm, one of the growing numbers of independent manufacturers of wind energy worldwide. The windmill stood tall some distance off to my left with its great blades turning like there was no tomorrow. “The attendant who oiled it should have received an award for a job well done.” I thought, as I turned to continue my way south along the road. Surely it was only a matter of time before we would see this turning giants poking up out off the sea, which I thought to be a more suitable place to have them.

Another road sign that I passed told me that Fukaura and Senjojiki lay along Route 101, and Hirosaki was to the left on Route 31. Fukaura was located in the Nishitsugaru district of Aomori Prefecture and had a population of nearly 10,000. The Senjojiki coastline was a rock shelf that spread for some twelve kilometers, and because of their shapes, some of its majestic rocks were given names, like, ‘lion’ and ‘helmet’, and so forth. During the hot summer months the area was a magnet for sea loving enthusiasts. Hirosaki was a castle town with a long history stretching back as far as the Heian period (794-1185). Also with a population of over 180,000, Hirosaki was one of the larger cities in Hokkaido. Located on the southwest part of Aomori, the local government was bending over backwards in an effort to promote the city’s image with catchphrases, such as, ‘Apple Town’ and ‘Apple Colored Town’, and so forth. The city was a regional commercial center for much of the prefecture, with apples and rice being among the main agricultural products; in fact, twenty percent of the apples in Japan came from Hirosaki. Like most fruit, I loved apples, but never saw a single one in the time it took me to tramp through Aomori Prefecture.

The rain began to fall as I made my way through the town of Ajigosawa. Many young people, who were, I suspected, on holiday from college or university, or simply just enjoying the weekend together by the sea, ran to talk shelter under some trees. Taking shelter under a tree was not the most advisable ways to escape from the rain, for the thunder and lightning that often came with it. Others I could see appeared unperturbed by the falling rain, and stood where they where chatting away on the sandy beach. One small group of people continued to barbecue under a bridge a little ways further along. Height, and isolation were just two of a number of factors for why lightning bolts hit were they did. Standing alone under an isolated tree was sort of asking for trouble. Even rocky and stony mountain ranges were frequently struck by lightning in a single year, and many times in the same place. Even simply taking shelter in a doorway, or lean against the door could hold one hell of a hot surprise for the unsuspecting victims.

This was true even when the thunder and lightning was far away. Lightning often struck from as far away as five kilometers and more from the center of the thunderstorm. Should lightning threaten, it was better to take proper protective action, such as in a safe building or vehicle. As neither was immediately available to me, I was going to have to put up with it. Since there was little I could do to reduce the risk of being fried alive, it was better just to keep moving, or hope that a safe shelter presented itself. And which was exactly what I was doing anyway, even if I had no immediate plans to duck in anywhere soon. The rain came down heavily at times, with the odd crack of thunder away in the distance. Still, I was in no mood for stopping or taking shelter, for my pace was good and I did not want to stop when the going was good. My old tattered army cape kept most of my backpack things dry, but as expected, my poor boots continued to take another hammering.

The state of the weather could have one hell of a powerful affect over your nerves. If it was not bucketing down with rain, there were times when it was so hot tramping the roads that I could scarcely breathe. One thing I could be sure of regardless of the weather conditions was that I would soon become sweaty and dirty, and as the time drew on, hopelessly tired, too. It was not ‘much ado about nothing’, like all in my mind, or nothing to worry about. It was not that easy! Often I really needed to call on some inner strength from somewhere to curb the mental fatigue, or lingering depression, or negative self-questioning, which would show its ugly face. Quite a few times when the day wore on and the sun began to dip down over the sea, I would feel reluctant to take another step. My steps, slower and shorter feelings of no longer able, nor wanting to go on away further would enter my mind like a cancer. It was time to make camp I would tell myself, but this was not because my body was truly tired, or the blisters or muscle pain had become too much to tolerate any longer. Rather, the bouts of depression had seemed to win the battle! “Fuck it!” I would sometimes feel myself wanting to shout out at the top of my voice, but even on the isolated roads I was unable to do even that.

Night came on quickly because it did, not because I wished it to. The moon, too, reigned high up over the sea lighting my camp in an array of dull, gray and black shadows. Then, unannounced, just as the depression had come on to me, it would take its leave of me. Then the hollow it left in me would soon begin to fill up with light again. The darkness would be replaced by other more inviting colors, and positive thoughts. Already the nights were longer and the stars had become more familiar and beautifully perfect objects to me. But even such amazing sights could not keep me awake, for I knew that I needed to be as ready as I could be for the long hard road again when morning came. There was no giving up now or never, I was in this for the long haul, and that was that.

My main chores in the early evening were to secure camp and peg the tent firmly against any possible downpours and strong winds that could blow in from the sea unannounced. A couple of T-shirts that I washed earlier during one of my stops on the road now lay over a large bush poking out from the sand. “How ghostly white the washing looked in the moonlight, “ I thought, feeling glad with myself that everything seeded in order. When you were truly tired, it was never easy to focus the mind. And with the absence of old memories to call upon from out of the dark shadows in my brain, the dim somber twilight of the summer kept me company on the subdued sleepy beaches.

Even still, I did my best not to look at thing in terms of routine, which was easy to fall into back in Tokyo. Each morning I would awake to the rays of the rising sun, or make camp a little before it went down in the evenings. When timing went just right, I would sit and watch the sun go down over the sea. Other times I was too sore, tired and weary to care about it. On a good day when every thing on the road went right, the twilight lingered beyond its time as if it was waiting for me to complete camp, to sit down by my tent with a glass of red wine to enjoy its glory. When I woke in the morning the sun’s rays came streaming in through the flaps and right into my eyes. It was time to get up and back onto the road, again.

Often from morning to dusk my hours on the roads involved none other than boringly long stretches of asphalt coastal roads fenced in by insurmountable hills. Sometimes, too, there were inequalities of road surface. The new segments of roads were often one or two meters above the older, or disused roads they replaced, and which often went nowhere in particular. Often from morning to dusk my hours on the roads involved none other than boringly long stretches of asphalt coastal roads fenced in by insurmountable hills. Sometimes, too, there were inequalities of road surface. The new segments of roads were often one or two meters above the older, or disused roads they replaced, and which often went nowhere in particular. I had been caught out a few times taking the old and abandoned roads in an attempt to avoid one monster tunnel or another only to discover that they ran into the sea or a blocked up tunnel or an insurmountable hill. There was nothing for it but to retrace my way back to the new road, or else to try and find some other route.

It was not just the abandoned roads that caught my attention in one way or another, but other signs of life, too. The people lived along the coastline, or near enough to it, were inclined to fight the elements much more than the average Joe Public in the city. Many of the houses close to the coast I passed by had high and sturdy wooden fences, or barriers, build around them for protection. The people in this part of Japan did not live in fear of an expected massive earthquake or tsunami occurring anytime soon. That was more of a greater concern of the people did on the Pacific coastline. The fences and barriers were mainly a protection against the ferocious winds and snows that blew in from the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) during the winter months.

Still, along Japan Sea, the wind and the rain were such features, even in the summertime. I knew that from much firsthand experience. In the worst of times great gusts of wind had caused trees to blow down. Heavy rains led to landslides and great waves had inundated entire towns. These things hit home more when they happened at night. Perhaps because of some tragedy that happened in the past, the people who once lived along the coastline were long gone. Only the frames of deserted homes, and often with ruined furniture, too, the signs of a hasty getaway, remained here and there along my route. Each and every abandoned ruin with a hidden story to tell!


Submitted: July 17, 2013

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