Irishman Walking (Stage 1 Chapter 4)

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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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21 July, 2009: Earlier on in the day I stopped off at a museum in Teshio for a little look about. It was there that I learnt that Teshio had two sister cities. The following is a letter to the people of Teshio from the mayor of Homer in Alaska:

'To the people of Teshio. Hello, I am John Calhoun, the Mayor of Homer Alaska, U.S.A. On behalf of the people of Homer I wish to thank you for joining hands with us across many miles of ocean to share in the sister city experience.

Those of us who have visited back and forth have enjoyed the differences in language, culture, and diet. Seeing these differences is always exciting, but it is the similarities that form a lasting bond between us. It's these similarities that cause the tears when leaving and that form the deep memories and bond of love through the years.

No matter how small or how large of a manner that we participate in the Sister City Program, it is a part of a movement toward world understanding to our ancestors to leave this a better world than when we entered.

Thank you for allowing the people of Homer to share the responsibility with you.

Sincerely,

John F. Calhoun, Mayor'

Reading further along I found that the sistership program between the two cities started on 7 April 1984; and that the Mayor of Homer at that time was Wayne L. Ressler.

It was good the dryer was much newer than the washing machine, for it looked easier to use. Soon I could see the dull colors of my clothes through the glass door of the dryer, tumbling, tumbling, and tumbling away in the drum to a wearable state, I hoped. As it turned out, it was less thorough in doing its job than the old washing machine. My clothes were just as wet when it finished as when I put them in. “I must be a glutton for punishment”, I mumbled to my self as I pulled out another ¥100 yen coin from my pocket. After the coin was safely placed into the slot, I sat myself down on the bench again, this time to wait the thirty minutes it took to finish. As I expected, the washing was still damp when the dryer drum finally came to a stop. This was not good since the air was too damp to hang them out overnight. Another coin was inserted and the procedure begun, again. I spent this segment of the waiting time back in my tent focusing on writing out the second array of postcards to family, friends, and colleagues:

"I finally left Cape Soya on 17 July, and walked to Wakkanai. Some ways past there I camped in the grounds of an old disused government building. My body was in great pain and in bad need of rest. On the 18 July I walked past Yukamanai. No food to be had anywhere. Hungry! I stopped the evening in my tent overlooking Rishiri Suido (Channel). I could see the majestic volcano rising out of the sea as if to keep watch on those who pass by. Really impressive!" I ate almond nuts and raisins, and needless to say, every night I fall asleep to the sound of the wind and the waves. Some mornings I took a nude plunge in the cold sea, which never failed to ease my pains. I had hoped to reach Teshio, but the heavy rain and cross wind forced me to call it a day early and seek shelter in my trusty little tent. I pitched my tent on a bluff overlooking Musashi Kei. I lay in the sleeping bag eating the nuts and raisins as yesterday. Ha! On 20 July I finally tramped into Teshio. I had decided to stop there for two days to rest and see if some better looking food could be had. I treated myself to stopping at a campsite, and take a hot bath at a hotel complex (Yubae) that overlooked the campsite, and needless to say, some cold Sapporo beer. In morning of 21 July I took a stroll about the town of Teshio. Everything seemed so spread out that a bicycle would have been useful. I was supposed to be resting and did not plan or want to do so much walking today. Bad!"

It was not until my return to Tokyo almost two months later that I learnt of the difficulty just about everyone had in making out my very tiny writing. My washing was not long folded and packed away when that same lady approached my tent to enquire if I had eaten dinner. “Yushoku tabemashitaka?” “Iie! Mada desu!”(No! Not yet!) I promptly replied with a smile knowing that something good was about to happen. At least I hoped so, for I was absolutely famished. “Tempura wa suki desuka?” (Do you like tempura?) Tempura was deep fried vegetables, fish and fish of various kinds. Thanks to my old friend, Okano san, I first tried it at a famous tempura restaurant called Tsunahachi in Shinjuku in 1980, and absolutely fell in love with it. In later years I stopped eating it for healthier forms of food. "Mochiron! Mochiron!” (Sure!) I answer again this time smiling from ear to ear like a cat about to punch on its prey. “De wa mate kimasho!” (Good! I'll bring you some), she said. And with that see was gone. The idea of getting cooked homemade-like food was like a dream in a dream. Certainly it was an improvement on what I had grown used to. Even in Tokyo in recent months, my eating time was spent in restaurants.

Our short conversation had been carried out in Japanese. Therefore, misunderstandings were very common, especially on my part. It was here that I forgot if she would bring the food to me, or invited me to go and fetch it. After waiting about ten minutes, I decided to make my way barefooted across the short distance that separated their large Colman dome shaped tents from my little battered Dunlop job. There were not many campers on the site, but at a glance it was easy to see that their tents stood out above the others. I once heard it said that camping was a poor mans holiday, but I was not so sure about that.

As I approached their tents, my nose was met by a smell, a taint of dried fish pervaded the surrounding early evening air. Nothing was more irritating to me than the smell of fish. It felt evident to me that I would soon be given something along those lines. And with a frown, if not a heavy heart, mumbled under my breath. "What was the good to think about it now? It won't all be bad!" Inside one of the tents I could hear the merry chattering and laughter of children's voices. Then there was the subdued sound of steps drawing nearer.

Just as I was about to announce my presence, in as grateful a voice I could muster my lungs to do, the woman appeared, just a tone of surprise in her eyes at seeing me. She was carrying two small paper bowls, one in each hand. In one of the bowls I could see what looked like, nikujaga, a kind of Irish stew, but of course with the Japanese ingredients for taste. I could see that the other one had had tempura in it. My heart fell a little when I saw that small fish made up more than half of the contents, an assortment of tempura, in the bowl. Of course, I was very hungry and very glad to be given anything; Still, I had through time come to loath cooked fish dishes of any sort. Once again I thanked her for her kindness and bowed umpteen times in her direction as I made my way barefooted and backwards across the cold grass to my tent. Once out of sight from my kind benefactor, the tiny fish were quickly donated to some lingering crows nearby. Needles to say, the rest of the food soon found a warm home in the empty parlor of my stomach. Now with one thing less to worry about, I would sleep well tonight.

It also felt good to get something for nothing, for a lot of my money went towards buying food. Since leaving Tokyo I had been stuffing my greedy face at restaurants upon the main road bound for Keimei, Enbetsu, Utakosh, and no doubt the other towns I was to tramp through. The food at one restaurant in particular was so good; in fact, that I even visited it three times before upping camp and hitting the road again; twice for lunch and once in the early evening for a final meal of the day. On the visits, I had ordered and soon devoured, ‘katsu curry’ (deep fried pork cutlet on top of a plate of rice and curry), ‘hanbagu’ (hamburger), and a dish I did not know the name of. It would be easy for some to say that it was a lot of food in such a short time. Perhaps it too much food in normal circumstances, but that was what hours on the road had done to the body. It made you hungry big time. On the road all day, I could literally feel the energy being drained out of me, and usually before the day was over. Like I said earlier, there were those times when nothing in the form of food or drinking water could be found, so I tended to load up on it when it was there.

22 July, 2009: At last my stuff was packed away in the proper place. Then there was a hearty farewell to the friendly woman who gave me the food and helped me with my washing last night, who wished me good luck. Similar parting words were exchanged with the lady in the reception office, also a couple of workmen who set there chatting away together for much of the morning, wished me good luck, too. Soon I was on my way at last. I suppose it was the light drizzle that kept the workmen from doing their work about the campsite, and the hour hand on the clock was nearing twelve. Whatever their reasons, it was worse weather than a mere drizzle that I blamed for my late departure from Cape Soya. Then again, it was a bad workman who blamed his problems on his tools, or so the saying went.

Before hitting the road proper, I paid my forth visit to the restaurant in question. The place was busy when I entered. The lunchtime crowd of salary men and office ladies were enjoying the food, chat, cigarettes, and no doubt their short time away from the office. Looking through a window the drizzle continued to make tiny ripples in a coupe of tiny puddles. A large red Coca Cola truck pulled into the parking area to replenish the vending machine, and no doubt, the Seicomart convenience store by which the vending machine stood. A few minutes after looking at the truck, my lunch arrived, a bowl of miso ramen (noodles) and, what the Japanese call, 'biru jugi’ (a mug of Sapporo beer). Soon I would be on the road again tramping south, in the light rain, and thanked my lucky stars that it was not heavier. The rain was no tramps friend!

From time to time I stopped in at one of the bus stop shelters to rest. The shelters were often dirty, but a good place to escape the miserable dam weather for a little while. With no lull in the drizzle, which soon was upgraded to a downpour. Therefore, even stopping seemed pointless, for I needed to get some kilometers under my belt. Then why should I complain at all? I passed numerous gangs of workmen along my way who were hard at work, and quite unperturbed by the pouring rain. Some of the workmen dangled dangerously on ropes from cliff top edges. High above the road the sound of power drills boring into the hard soil and rocks could be head a couple of kilometers away.

Thanks to the help of fungi and bacteria, the decaying of plants and animals, and the erosion of rocks, the outermost layer of Earth, 'soil' was formed. Even through the digging work of animals and organic matter from insects, which was turned into nutrients, helped to form what we called soil today. This whole process, according to my research, could talk more than five-hundred years to form as little as 2.54 centimeters (or one inch) of useful topsoil. It was also interesting to learn that the soil I tramped over was made up of about five percent organic matter, twenty-five percent water, twenty-five percent air, and forth-five percent minerals. “Mmm!” I wondered to myself if the workmen thought about the soil and rocks that they drilled into, and which crashed down on the sides of the road far below them? In some ways, it was the soil and rocks that gave them their livelihood? Did they respect the complicated ground they worked on?

At points along the coastline the sea was hard at work reclaiming land, and here and there disused roads had collapsed into it. High up on some steep hills to side of the road workmen seemed to be doing the same, reclaiming pine covered forest land for building. It was like a race of some sort between nature and man. The cows on the milk farms I tramped past were unperturbed, too, by the rain, by the noise of the power drills, and by the roar of the sea. Many of the houses that I saw had beautiful flower gardens, and quite western in design. My legs were holding up well against the pain that plagued me no end on previous days.

Some kilometers back a ways, a road sign pointed towards Central Ebetsu. For the life of me, it must have been meant for the road to nowhere. After passing numerous farmhouses and tedious kilometer after tedious kilometer, Route 232 at last bore fruit. While pausing for a few moments outside of a stone factory to catch my breath, not the most enlightening of places to stop even for a moment at, I could make out a cluster of buildings away off in the distance. The scenery was quite breath taking, baring the ugliness of the factory by which I stood. Just as I was about to re-shoulder my backpack and kick up some more dust, a lone cyclist came into view, and soon she was gone. Although the encounter of sorts was quick, the cyclist was a plain elderly lady with a hard-set face that expressed little emotion, not even one hint of recognition of my presence. On the road for much of the day I had not encountered a single sole. "Konichi wa" (Good afternoon!), I called out to her with a smile on my face as she neared, but to no avail. Was it not the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, who once said: "This lady was not for turning!” Perhaps it was just as well that the cyclist passed me by in the way she did, for we both had more pressing issues to deal with on out plates.

At long last my tedious tramping took me to the makings of what looked like the outskirts of a town. As before, the buildings appeared empty even though they were clearly not. Also, as I had noticed earlier on my long tramp, the space between the buildings, including the streets, was noticeably wide. Often I would stop by a road sign just to take a photo of it, more as a reminder of something else later on, than not. Just across the way stood an Enos gas station. I could see that three people were attending to the motorists pulling in. One was a middle-aged lady who greeted me with a smile, and which was something just about unheard of back in Tokyo. The others were a middle aged man, who I took to be her husband, and a handsome young chap in his late teens or early twenties, who was perhaps their son. The Enos gas station might have been one of those franchises, in this case run by a family.

More often than not, when I tramped into a town, it was usually either too late or too early. Businesses tended to close up shop at such early hours way out here in the sticks. This surprised me, sine the convenience stores seemed to be doing a roaring business at all hours. The stores were tiny goldmines to the owners. I never thought much about food, except when I had not eaten for a couple of days, like now. During a lull in the cars pulling in for gas, the middle aged couple were kindly hard at work drawing up directions on a piece of paper to a restaurant that they were sure was still open. Within a short while, I headed off in the directions they gave me, crudely drawn map in hand. Along the way I learnt about the presence of a nearby campsite from another smiling lady who ran a little shop (the type of which escaped my mind). The psychological power of two beautiful smiling female faces in such a short time, made my hunger pings appear less bothersome.

After passing numerous tiny businesses my eyes finally set upon a coffee shop and restaurant establishment. As I drew nearer I could see that it looked shut for business, but then again, everything looked that way down through Hokkaido, even when open. On entering I was greeted by the sound of jazz music that was churned out from a CD player behind the counter. The restaurant was empty of other customers, which made me feel once more if it was open or not. That was until a smiling face belonging to middle aged lady with dyed brown hair popped out from behind a curtain and assured me it was indeed open. Like the jazz, her words were music to my ears. I set down at a table by a window. Looking out of the window, the early evening sky looked dull and depressing. The lighting in the restaurant was turned down low, perhaps to save on electricity or to make it more romantic. But it was not easy to feel that way when you were alone. Either way, my mind momentarily toyed with the idea of which was the dullest place, inside or outside. The delicious taste of the katsu curry (deep fried pork, on top of curry and rice), and mug of cool beer soon led my mind on ease on that issue.

The northern horizon was hard to see on most nights for the immense clouds. The night sky appeared darker than usual, or at least it was the first time in days the coastline slept completely unseen. A black veil of motionless clouds hid also the stars. If it was not raining, it looked to threaten so. “Mmm!” I could feel my mind was about to work overtime again. “Strange!” I thought as I looked up at the heavy sky. Water, or rain, was just about devoid of color! “Why were the rain clouds not bright, for they were full of water?” Clouds and water were a team of nature, kind of like, leaves to a tree. In some way, they were shades from the sun! I recalled a science teacher once hammering into us, donkey’s year ago, that the tiny particles of water reflected light and only appeared to be white, hence the fluffy white clouds we often saw in the sky above. When the particles increased, he told us, rainclouds formed. In turn, the larger particles absorbed the light from the sun and once again only appeared dark when viewed from below. I was never good at science, or math, at school, but even now it never failed to amaze me. Perhaps if daydreaming had of been a science subject, then my grades might had been better. Still, I was not overly dismayed at the miserable weather. After all, it was high summer and good weather seemed only a matter of time. "Perhaps tomorrow", I told myself.

 


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