Irishman Walking (Stage 1 Chapter 3)

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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




20 July 2009 continued: Along the road, stood a long line of giant windmills. The first time I saw a windmill years earlier; I thought it resembled a beautiful white bird gliding down from above, its great wings slicing through the air as it went. It was such a graceful thing just to stand and look up at the massive sails or blades move! And here the massive structures stood at ease, the odd one seemed to turn gently in the light breeze. "Mmm! Moshimo karera ga hanashi ga dekitanara, kono nonbirishita toritachi wa nanteiudaro?”(If they could communicate with me now, what would these slow moving birds say?) I wondered out loud in Japanese.

Windmills came into use around 600 A.D., and resembled merry-go-rounds as they turned to grind grain into flour. It was not for another 500 or 600 hundred years after that in 1100s that the more powerful horizontal design came into common use. They were used to pump water from one place to another, the Dutch windmills were a case in point. It was not until the 1970s when high tech windmills, called turbines, came into use. Since then, the turbines on wind farms proved their worth above and beyond the call of duty by bringing power to cities. If only they could produce drinking water for me now!

My water bottles were empty, and had been that way for quite some hours. When I stopped by at a rest area to see if any drinking water could be had, a car pulled up and stopped. As I approached, a girl seat motionless in the passenger seat, whilst the driver, perhaps her boyfriend, took a leek (urinated) over the top of some bushes. The bushes were lowly cut and well kept, and made up the outer surroundings to a public toilet where I was headed to do the same, but with a bit more dignity.

A little ways further along the road another car set in the parking area. The color and markings on its side told me that it belonged to the local government office. Not far away from the car a public official was inspecting some drainpipes on the other side of the building that housed toilets. “Hmmm, if only he had seen the young man pissing over the bushes” I mumbled under my breath as I approached him. “Toire no mizu wa nome masu ka?” (Is the tap water in the toilet drinkable?) I asked him. The man looked started. Perhaps he did not expect to see a bedraggled foreigner standing there looking down at him. “Kono mizu wa nomemasen!” (No! Never!) He said getting to his feet in firmly spoken Japanese.

“Mizu wa dokode teni hairi masu ka?” (Where can I get drinking water), I asked, more out of desperation than not. I had not drunk a single mouthful in more than three hours, and even though the weather was dull, the temperature was, in the eyes of this walker, still hot and humid. The sweat was already rolling down my dirty face as I looked at him. Perhaps he noticed some kind of stress in my words or on my face. Indeed, I was beginning to feel tired. “Korekara doko e ikimasuka?” (Which way are you headed?) “Teshio no hou e.” (Towards Teshio), I answered. He told me that there was no drinking water for perhaps another ten kilometers or so.

With the unfortunate information securely packed away in my brain, I thanked the man, re-shouldered my backpack, and the tiny bag that contained my road-notes, and other odds-and-ends, I made my way back onto the road once more. The road lay open in front of me, with little traffic, which meant fewer unhappy looking faces to look at in the cars as they passed. I could not have been on the road more than ten minutes when the public official's car came to a stop beside me at the side of the road. As it turned out, the public official too was headed towards Teshio City. “Dozo norinasai!” (Come, I'll give you a lift), he called out to me. It was the first offer for a ride that I had had for quite a while. “Arigato demo daijobu desu” (Thank you, but no thank you!) I called back, “Arukana kereba ikemasen!” (I needed to walk!) “Gumbate!" (Do your best!). He shouted back at me. Soon his car was gone.

Some ways further along my trail I stopped momentarily to look at some workmen doing working on one of the giant windmills. “Mmm! Perhaps it got damaged by the strong cross wind that blew for much of yesterday?” I thought. Of course, I had no idea what they were doing to the windmill, and could not be bothered to ask them. Then again, it was only one of a long line of the beautiful white birds in need of attention, I guessed.

A tour bus roared by! The words ‘Blue Bus’ were printed on its side. "Yes! Exactly!" Or such was the way I felt. Blue and alone! Even my friends the giant white birds failed to keep up with me. Soon the last of the windmills was just about gone and out of sight. There was that last time, of course, when I turned to look back. Just one final wave, like a child might give his mother as the distance between them widened. The roads were lonely places for sure. I even found myself making friends with all sorts of things for the sake of it. So it did not seem overly strange to me personifying them by and by. It did not take me long to consider the sea as my companion. And like the sea as seen from near or afar, it did not matter, the giant windmills looked ever so majestic, so far away, yet so near. Just as I looked back, the thought entered my mind. “Ano fusha wa tada mawatteiru dakenano ka watashi ne sayonara wo itte irunoka?” (Were the windmills merely rotating, or were they waving at me, goodbye?) I wondered in Japanese.

There were so many windmills along the road that I even counted the time it took me to get from one to the other. Evenly spaced apart form one another, the beautiful structures stretched on and on and on. The things were massive and the distance between them was equally so. As it turned out, it took me a good one minute and ten seconds to cover the distance from one to the next. At least this was the case for me, weighed down with a heavy backpack full of damp and dirty necessities.

With but fifteen kilometers behind me, my body was beginning to feel the riggers of the day. Still, I had another ten or more kilometers to go before I could satisfactorily call it a day. “But what about drinking water?" The thoughts would not leave me alone. After all, it was priceless for the survival of the human body, and it helped to empower the body with energy, regulate body temperature, and expel waste. I once read somewhere that the average person could live without water for eight to ten days. Of course, such a dismal outcome depended on the weather conditions, how hot or cold it was. “Fuck it!” I thought, raising my arm to wipe some sweat of my forehead.

“Ano hito no iukoto wo kikunjo nakatta!" (Perhaps I should not have listened to that public worker fellow back at that public toilet) I said out loud in Japanese. "Perhaps I should have taken the time to boil some water instead”, I said again, this time in English. "God I must have gone mad!" I thought again. My mouth and throat felt so dry! I knew that in science (physiology), that ‘body water’ was the water contented in the human body. According to Arthur Guyton 's ‘Textbook of Medical Physiology’, the total water content in a man of average weight, 70 kilograms, was approximately 40 liters, or in other words, 60% percent of his total bodyweight. And even more for a newborn baby, 75 percent. When I started out on my mission I weighted 75 kilograms, but I did not feel like that now. How much body water was in me now was anybody’s guess, all that I knew was that I felt fucking miserable for lack of it. It was too late to complain now, for I had to keep positively focused.

In Yamomoto Chihiru I stopped at a house to ask an elderly man for water. “No mizu!" (No water) came the half English half Japanese answer. The man’s voice was unfriendly. Of course, I had never set eyes on the old fellow before now. Never done anything to him, bad or good. Yet, he was perfectly fiendish. His voice was harsh and dull, perhaps by age. “Fuck, all I wanted was water!” I mumbled under my breath, half surprised by the man’s behavior. I guessed that circumstances altered one’s feelings. “What had it been that made this poor old fellow behave in such a manner?” For the moment, my mind was no longer occupied with getting water. “Surely it could not have been my somewhat unexpected presence?” Just then a middle-aged women with a long hard face passed me on a bike. Without so much as a look at me, she got off the bike and entered the same house. “Perhaps she was the unfriendly man's wife,” I thought as I turned my eyes back in the direction I was headed.

The Irish War of Independence was a guerrilla-like war waged by the Irish Republican Army (or Old IRA) against British rule in Ireland. It began in January 1919, a result of the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. After countless deaths, both sides finally agreed a truce in July 1921. Previous talks had already led to the December 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, which ended British rule in most of the country. And, under a provisional government, the Irish Free State was established, and leaving six northern counties within the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland). The elderly man did not only look like old Paddy, but walked like him, too.

Memories of old Paddy had sent my mind flowing. By and by, I still sometimes thought of him with much fondness, especially when I looked back over my early days in Belfast in an attempt to recall something. I remembered him once telling us that the only place he wanted to die in was in a pub. Old Paddy got his wish in 1972. The ‘Troubles’ were at the worst that year throughout Belfast and Derry, with Bloody Sunday a case in point. At that time I was in Belfast on a visit there from London where I was going to school. My father, whom every one called Johnny, went to a local pub with him that day, now so long ago. What I would give now for just an hour in an Irish pub now, to flavor the taste of a nice cool pint of Harp lager. Or any place for that matter that had that good black stuff, Guinness, on tap.

As learned, they had just ordered two pints of Guinness and set down on a bench by the wall to enjoy it. After a couple of sips of the Guinness, old Paddy said that he was not feeling very well. He stood up and went to the public toilet. After a while he returned and set down on the bench again next to my father. They chatted for a while, but soon other people whom my father knew came and set down at the table to join them. After a short while, then old Paddy rested his head on my father's shoulder. My father, nor the other people at the table, thought anything of it. My father told me later that he thought old Paddy was just tired. Well, like I said earlier, old paddy got his wish. In my case, I certainly had no wish to die in a pub or on the road, if I could help it, but enough of this tittle-tattle of the past on when I was a youth.

Without sounding too scientifically technical, it was no secret the area between the ears was involved in the experience of pain and emotions. In my case, when a blister began to form in my foot, for example, it hurt like hell. This was because my brain told me so. The damage-detection sensory neurons in my brain sent a message to the spinal cord. Then, the spinal cord neurons sent the message to my brain. It was at this point when the brain analyzed the damage and drew up plans to fix it. For example, the brain realized that damage occurred, where it occurred (foot), and what needed to be done. As a result, I limped like an old man, and which was a form of protection, thanks to the brain. Finally, when the pain got too much, I set down, raised my foot and set about working on the damaged area.

The muscle pains in my legs had replaced the worries of blisters on my feet. The pain made hour after hour of tramping, tramping, tramping, and no end in sight, all the more harder. The surroundings, too, became boring, boring, boring, tedious, tedious, and tedious. But like I said earlier, complaining was not going to get me anywhere quickly either. It was too early to camp, so I had to push on! Besides, it all was a mater of mind over body, or so I had to keep on telling myself. Even to paraphrase from a serious of dictionaries, 'mind over matter' made positive minded sense to me: An instance where there were intellectual powers that overrode threats, difficulties, or problems. You needed to concentrate harder. Pay no attention to your surroundings. This was a case of mind over matter (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs). Also, the power of the mind to control and influence the body and the physical world generally I'm sure you could talk yourself into believing that you're well. It's a case of mind over matter (Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd edition). Last but not least, thought was stronger than physical things. Curing cancer may not be a question of mind over matter, but your attitude was important (Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms).

How I bragged about my big walk to friends and acquaintances during the weeks leading up to my departure. I bragged that I was going to start at Cape Soya and get down through the coastal roads of Hokkaido as quickly as my legs would carry me. “No problem!” I told them, “It was all a matter of mind over body!” I bragged to them that I would get as far along the coastal roads of Honshu as I could get, before wrapping; and that I would return to my daily life in Tokyo, triumphantly. I even bragged to then about the next stage, winter, after this one, and how it would begin at which ever point this stage ended at. Now I felt so depressed, and that the boastful talk was worse that the bite or fight in me

“God help me, for what the fuck had I embarked on?” I wondered to myself. “If only I had not picked up that book by Alan Booth ‘The Roads to Sata’ to read. More then likely I would not be in the mess I was in. I could be sitting in the warmth of my Tokyo apartment watching one of my many DVDs, 'Love is a Many Splendored Thing', or 'Roman Holiday', or 'African Queen', or whatever. And with a can of a nice cool beer, or a glass of red wine in my hand.” But here I was, on the frontline of coming down with all sorts of aches and pains, and aliments of one kind or another. Even food and water shortages and dismal weather conditions, and all the rest of those things that came with living under the stars, waited to pounce on me. Again, it did no good to complain! I only had myself to blame for putting myself in this hardship, a self-imposed starvation of sorts. The Roman Catholic Church called it ‘fasting’ or something like that. It really was a form of self-abuse. God I was unhappy! My friends in Belfast would have called me mad, if they could see me now.

Then there was the pain! Blisters and muscle pain! Yes, I understood that some level of damage would befall me. What else could you expect tramping on the hard roads all day long? But I felt it would be something that a little ointment and bandaging would fix. How naive I was! The agony I found myself in for much of the time on the roads did not seem normal, like, on the service, easy to get at. Rather, it was often coming from deep inside my muscles, which nothing but a good long rest could remedy. It did not take me long to realize, too, that a good splash about in the salty waters of Japan Sea worked wonders on me. This was especially true on the tired muscles, let alone the blisters, which I had already operated on with the blade of my knife. When mornings came, after a good sleep, if sleeping rough could be called that, I would be ready for the days challenge once more.

Then the next day after no more than ten kilometers or so, the pain would begin to reappear. It was never quite in the same area. It was not easy to tell which part of my legs or feet or hip, or back, or wherever, would hurt first. Each time I felt something coming on, I would try to moderate my pace, or adjust my backpack to help lesson the strain on the target area. By the close of day, I literally collapsed down beside my backpack on the ground where I decided to make camp at. By then, every part of my feet and legs felt like in need of immediate medical attention. Even the muscle pain in my legs seemed to be competing with one another to be attended to first, or so my tired brain kept telling me. It was not easy to say how my body felt after thirty-five kilometers of tramping along the hard asphalt roads; or simply to say that I was ‘worn out’, seemed too shallow a term.

At last I reached the coastal town of Teishio, and stopped in at the first convenience store I came to buy a nice cool can of Sapporo beer. Teishio was famous for the Kawaguchi Ruins that many tourists were keen to visit. As of 2008, the town had an estimated population of 3,782. And was the sister city to Homer in Alaska since 1984, and to Tomari in Russia since 1992.

Besides the welcomed beer to quench my thirst, I needed to find out where the nearest campsite was located. I had never been a keep advocate of stopping at campsites on previous hikes, for being difficult to find. Often, too, it meant having to take a detour away from my planned route. Also, the beaches along the coastline that I tramped by were great places to pitch my tent on. So it seemed somewhat strange to pay for a place to camp at. After all, I had the whole seafront stretched out before me, with countless place to make camp at, and for free. However, there were so many times when I arrived at a good place to make camp, my timing was all wrong. It was either too early in the day, when a good few hours of daylight still remained, or too late. Still, many of the campsites were good places to stop at, they had hot showers, and sinks to wash my camping gear at, clean toilets with soap and toilet paper, and washing machines and dryers that saved me the elbow power and time. Most of all, they were often all at an inexpensive price, which suited me just dandy.

Seeking out the local campsite was more to have a badly needed hot shower at, and to wash my clothes and dried by morning. I passed many campsites down the coastal roads here and there, and even stopped momentarily at some of them to fill my water bottles. Hundreds of campsites had been built during the Bubble economy years, not only in Hokkaido, for a camping boom that never really happened. Therefore, many of the campsites attracted few happy campers, whilst others went unattended. There were some campsites I passed by with the facilities boarded up and abandoned altogether. Whatever the predicament of the campsite industry was, I thought it was time to treat myself with a little luxury by stopping the night at one. "What the hell!" I thought, "My tired and sweaty body had earned it. Right?"

As luck would have it, the campsite had three washing machines and one dryer. One wash cost ¥100 yen, and the dryer the same. As it later turned out, the dryer did not live up to its name and consumed another ¥100 yen before I was satisfied that my clothes were properly dry. The washing machines ranged in age from new, old, and very old. Unfortunately, coins were not inserted directly into the machines like the ones in coin Laundromats. Instead, I had to tramp across the grass to the reception office and pay, and get a tiny key.

Fixed to the wall above each of the washing machines were three crudely made tiny crudely made wooden boxes, each appropriately numbered, "1, 2, and 3". Each box possessed its very own little padlock for the right key to fit. Inside each box was an electricity socket and plug. The location of the coin operated hot showers and washing machines were fairly near to where I decided to make camp. Of the three washing machines, only the newest one looked straightforward to use, so I considered myself fortunate to have the key for it. This was good for me since I was nearly useless when it came to using anything that looked electrical or mechanical for the first time. The campsite had plenty of toilet paper in the toilets, which was good, but there was no soap powder to properly wash my clothes with. "It was good I had the foresight to bring some with me", I thought as I tumbled the washing into the drum of the washing machine. All that I needed to do now was to add the soap powder. Though, things did not proceed as smoothly as I had wished them to.

My little tent was pitched not far from the washing facilities. I thought that I would lie down to rest in the tent for a while, and listen to the dirty clothes tumbling away in the drum, and the splash of the cold soapy water about them. I thought I would leave the hot shower to the last, when the washing was hung. At least, that was how the order of things would be for me. Getting stuff done in a certain order was the discipline of the road. It was important for things to be the way I wanted them to be, for it brought with it a sense of self-respect. Then again, not everything panned out the way I wanted them to.

While pitching my tent and sorting out the things that needed sorting out when making camp, I realized that the tiny key for the washing machine was missing. I could not find it anywhere among my camping stuff. Combing over the grass around the tent, and retracing my steps the best I could about the campsite turned up nothing. There was not the slightest glimmer of anything sparkling from the grass like a key and its yellow key ring that caught my eye anywhere.

My hunt was not made any easier, for peppered about were thousands of tiny yellow flowers poking out of the grass, as if each one wanted to be noticed first. The middle-aged lady in the reception office was of a kindly nature, and soon another key was produce for me to use. Of course, not before another ¥100 yen was handed over. Once that was done, I promised her profusely that I would make a thorough search of the grounds, again, before I left in the morning. The new key turned out to be for the oldest of the washing machines. And which required more of a physical presence, compared with the two automatic ones. It was the first double drum, wash-spin, machines I had seen since my early days in Tokyo in the late 1970s. “Crank starting an old Ford-T car would have been easier”, I felt as I looked crammed my dirty clothes into its drum.

Fortunately for me, a woman was washing some dishes a couple of meters away from the washing machines. She was camped with her family in two large Colman tents, both pitched to the side of the washing facilities. One tent was to sleep in and the other to cook and eat in. It was easy to envy the family, who seemed so happy together. The woman sensed that I was having some difficulty with the old washing machine, and came over.

“All of the instructions on the thing were in Japanese,” I said smiling, as if trying to hide my incompetence. Of all my years in Japan, I still could not make heads or tails of kanji. Life on the road had no room for incompetence, and hoped that this would not foreshadow other annoying happenings. With the right teacher, and motivation, anything could be made to be a piece of cake. All that I could do was to look steadily on. When the difficult feat was accomplished, I gave a sigh of content, not that I had done anything. And thanks to her assistance, soon I was back in control of my washing. I then thanked the woman for the umpteenth time. And with the usual words, "Do e ta shimashite!" (Don't mention it!), she returned to washing up the dishes, no doubt from the evening meal. After the women went away, I remained sitting by the washing machine, looking gloomily out over a field of tiny yellow flowers at the heap of camping gear by my tent. "Where the fuck was that key?" I mumbled to myself. "Damn that key! I will find it yet."

Soon the sound of my clothes being washed took my mind away from the lost key and onto myself. The sweat, smell and dirt of the day upon my body were proving, psychologically, over bearing. "What the fuck!" I found myself saying out loud. "Didn't I stop at this place to treat myself to all its facilities?" Looking about me, I could see that the campsite was five-star to anything that I had grown used to on the road. "Why shouldn't I enjoy it?" And, "Shouldn’t I have that shower now? Fuck it! Why shouldn't I have two showers for two coins, and one more before hitting the road again tomorrow? Fuck it! To hell with hanging it." In little time at all, the completed washing was spinning away drying in the only dryer, I was standing under a well eared hot shower giving myself a good rubdown.


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