By Michael Denis Crossey
Whoe’er has travell’d life’s dull round,
Where’er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
The warmest welcome, at an inn.
(William Shenstone, “At An Inn At Henley” 1714-1763).
30 July, 2009: Overhead, the massed clouds appeared solid and steady as if held in place by some god. There were a few times when a faint reflection of the sun shown through. However, a fresh damp feel of falling rain was at hand. Perhaps this was the discourse of an angry god. Whatever the weather was to be, this atheist of the roads had grown more than accustomed to vertical downpours upon the stunned earth beneath me. Often too, there was no refuge from the heavy downpours when they did come, not even the shelter of an overhanging eave. Still, I liked Atsuta and decided to rest up somewhere for a couple of days.
When I reached Atsuta Country Park Campground thoughts of cool beer, red wine and pure relaxation entered my mind. First, however, a nice hot cup of tea was a good thing to begin things with. There were three other tents scattered about the grassy grounds. Outside one of the tents, a large Colman job, a young family set cooking over a barbeque gas range. Every thing about them seemed so organized, everything that I was not. Fortunately, the light breeze kept the smell of the food from reaching me. Two large motorbikes stood parked near to the other two tents; the engines cooling. The two-riders set at the tent nearest to mine. They were drinking some concoction from plastic cups, a large plastic bottle of what looked to me like shochu in it set on the grass nearby. Shochu was a strong Japanese distilled beverage made from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice. It could also be made from other ingredients, like, brown sugar, buckwheat or chestnut. Usually shochu had a 25 percent alcohol content volume. Though weaker than whiskey or vodka, it was much stronger kick to it than sake or wine, which I loved. Many Japanese people preferred to use it in mixed drinks, and when it contained up to 35% alcohol by volume. Shochu first originated in Kyushu, but was now widely produced throughout the country.
From what I could make out from the talking, they were exchanging information about their travels. They stopped momentarily to take a sip from plastic mugs. There was something in their manner that told me they did not know each other, and that they had more than likely just met at the campground. Though I was unsure which they enjoyed the most, talking and exchanging information, or at last finding the time to sit down and drink a few mugs of shochu after a hard day on the road. Of course, I knew well how hard and tiring it could be riding a large motorbike all day long. If their travels were anything like my own now, then a nice cool beer would have been my first choice.
In Japan, the mass marketing or beers, rather, of lager, seemed insipid. This I found sad since it was the most social of drinks. Beer was something personal, and made all the more so by the atmosphere in which it was consumed. All the more, this made the drinking of beer or ale or stout, like, Guinness, special and significant. That said, my own healthy thirst for a glass of beer was far from satisfied. Back in Tokyo, beer (and red wine) was considered an essential item in my apartment. It was kind of on par with a good friend or a good book near at hand. Especially in the hot humid summers, and in moderation, it had the powers to help me cope with the everyday rigors of city life. For winter, a glass or two of red wine did the trick, just as well. “Mmm!” A bottle of red wine was not a bad thing to have around during one of those climatic moments of adulterous romance, which sometimes came my way, or as the thought entered my mind. But this was not one of those times!
As if first waiting for me to finish making camp, one of the fellows raised the bottle for me to see, while the other motioned with his hand for me to come over to join them. Actually, I was in no mood for any company just now, and the smell of shochu I absolutely loathed with a capital 'L'. On the other hand, I wanted to hear what they knew about the road that lay ahead of me, if anything. All information would be welcome! I knew that I had some red wine left, but was pleasantly surprised to discover two warm 500-milliliter cans of Sapporo beer deep in my backpack. “Fuck! I must be getting old!” I said to myself as I pulled them out.
What better way to cement a new friendship than over a drink? Preferably beer! Who among us could refuse such a friendly gesture to join them? (That said a couple of pints of beer was a good way to fortify old friendships, too). Indeed, it meant that I was obligated to return the compliment. With my mind now made up, I grabbed what was left of the red wine, and the cans of beer that I had picked up at a Seven-Eleven convenience store yesterday and sauntered over to where my two camping companions sat.
The usual introductory greetings were exchanged, and soon we were all sitting down on the dry grass exchanging stories of our adventures on the roads. Kei, was from Mie Prefecture, part of the Kansai region on the island of Honshu. The second fellow was called Yuichi from Miyagi Prefecture, part of the Tohoku region also on Honshu. It did not take me long to see that Kei was a chain smoker, and as a result, the smoke was just about everywhere. “Mmm!” Just then, during one of the little lulls in the stories, and exchange of information about the road ahead, the smoke was so bad that thoughts of sitting by a wigwam and the smoking a peace pipes. Unfortunately, too much liquor was consumed through the course of things.
Soon the beer, the wine and the shochu were gone. Kei ducked into his tent and produced yet another large plastic bottle of shochu. By then, the consumption of beer, wine and shochu, not to mention, the friendly and somewhat unexpected encounter with my new best friends had softened me up enough to try a cup of this dreaded concoction. For liquids, it was usually the smell, rather than the look that dictated if I would try it or not. The taste would influence my feelings one way or another later! I had hated the smell and look of Shochu and sake (rice wine) ever since I could remember. Besides, I was not keen on any form of alcoholic or beverage that had the color of water. Then again, beer did have the color of piss (urine).
Up until then, I had tried sake only once in my life entire. That was in Kobe in 1980, long before the Great Kanto Earthquake that hit the area killing thousands of people. In January of 1980, I hitchhiked from Tokyo to Kobe with a female friend, Toshi H. Actually, her real name was Toshiko, and she worked as a nurse at the famous Keio University Hospital in Shinanomachi in Tokyo. She was one of my English conversation students, which was how we met. The two of us stopped at her younger sister’s home, an attractive woman not long married. The sister's husband was a big muscular Japanese man very much into rugby, and needless to say, into sake, too.
That night we downed (drank) two large bottles of grade-one Japanese sake between us. Thought, even to this day I suspect I consumed the most of that foul stuff. It was tat kind of drink, easy to lose track of how much you dumped into you belly. In today’s shrinking world, many people had tried sake (or shochu) at sometime in their live. Getting sick, for whatever the reasons, was very much a part of life. That night after consuming so much sake was the sickest I had ever been. Even to this day I could not recall being sicker. I was happy to say that not a drop of that foul drink had ever passed my lips since Kobe. Likewise, Shochu I held in the same light!
They had arrived in Hokkaido onboard different ferries to ride their motorbikes around the island. Unlike me, they were more interested in visiting the interior of the island, and as fate had it, we all ended up camping at the same place, the Atsuta Country Park Camp Ground. Although for them, it was in the final days of their venture that we met. The elderly caretaker who oversaw the running of the campground had shut up shop and gone home an hour before I arrived at seven in the evening. There were a few lighthearted gestures over the campfire last night about my hitting the road early in the morning without paying. When the morning did arrive I would be a liar if I said that a momentary thought of doing just that had not ran through my mind.
In the morning Yuichi-san was strapping the last of this camping gear to the back of his motorbike when I crawled out from under my tent. He mentioned to me in the evening that he would make his was back in the direction of the ferry port early this morning. “Myfamily and boss were waiting for me back in Miyagi” he said with a smile as I greeted my. The flaps of Kei’s tent were wide open for the mosquitoes to enter. I could see that Kei-san was still very much asleep. He had stayed up long after Yoich-san and I had gone to our respective tents. Last night the mosquitoes were about, but did not bother us, perhaps because they too had it with Kei’s chain smoking. There were a good few mosquitoes hovering about the grass nearby. Perhaps they were planning some kind of revenge attack on poor Kei’s half naked body, for he was still fairly out of it (fast asleep) and helpless to notice anything amiss. When I thought about it later, his tent stunk of stale tobacco related smoke that I surmised the mosquitoes had given up on him as a lost cause.
Most summer-suitable tents produced today were equipped with mosquito net-like entrances and sidings. It never failed to amaze me the way some happy campers, so to speak, could sleep and leave them open. Even with the percussions I would take when making camp, there were a number of times when a lone mosquito somehow got into my tent. The damn thing would cause havoc for the remainder of the night. Of course, outside the tent, when building a campfire or doing some chores, for example, I was a staunch advocate for using, what the Japanese called, ‘kateresenko’, a green coil that worked quite well at repelling mosquitos.
Last night at the campfire, Kei-san had consumed a lot of shochu, much more than the average Japanese was able to hold, I thought. Good or bad, most of the Japanese I had drunk with over the years, were not strong drinkers. Or like I knew my Irish friends to be when it came to drinking. One noticeable difference between them, I felt, was that the Japanese drank a greater variety of alcoholic drinks. They would start the meeting of with a few beers, then move on to sake, and then shochu. My Irish friends usually stayed with what they started with, like, Guinness or, perhaps Harp lager, or whatever.
Soon Yuichi was gone on motorbike and on his way. The elderly caretaker had just arrived and opened up the windows and doors of the office. From where I sat one the grass sipping a cup of hot tea, I could see him looking out across the campsite area. Through the warm morning breeze I could hear Kei-san moving about inside his tent. "I would be surprised if he did not have one hell of a heavy head this morning," I thought to myself. Then I could hear footsteps on the tiny gravel path that cut though the campground to the car park area. It was Kei-san! "Oh haiyo gozai masu!" (Good morning!), he said smiling, a cigarette sticking out from the corner of his mouth. "Yo ku ne mashita ka?" (Did you sleep well?) I asked him, expecting to get some negative reply. "Hai! Totemo yo ku ne mashita!"(Yes! Very well!). Clearly, Kei looked high in spirits and non-the worse for the shochu. He had said nothing about there being one absent tent, and was not sure if he even noticed, yet.
“Yuichi-san wa sukoshimae ni demashita” (Yuichi left a little while ago). I continued, “Korewa anatawo okushitakunakatta.” (He did not want to wake you up). Now he spun his head around in the direction where Yuichi’s tent had been, and looked a little disappointed to have missed him. “Dewa atode denwa shitemimasu,” (I’ll give him a call a little later on), he said, lighting up another cigarette.
Kei-san then asked me what my plans were, to which I told him that I was heading for Otaru to meet up with a friend there for a few days. “Basically, just to relax and have a good scrubbing down,” I told him. I also added that I was trying to reach my friend on the pocket phone that I had been had lent, but the batteries had up and died on me at a crucial time. "Dozo! Dozo!" he said taking his own phone from his pocket and pushing it towards me. "Thank you very much!” I said, as I took it from him. "My friend lives in Tokyo, and I needed to confirm our meeting place and time in Otaru." Because of his most welcomed act of kindness I was able to sort things out things with my friend in a matter of a few minutes. Kei told me that he planned to stop for one more day in Atsuta so as to look about the town properly. "If you were not pressed to be aware in a hurry soon, why don't we have a look at the town area together?” “We could perhaps catch a spot of lunch, too?" I proposed with an agreeing nod of my head.
Already my distance and time on the road had been good, beyond complaint. I also knew that I would regret it later on in the future if I did not spend some more time with Kei-san. From previous experience, it was not often a Japanese man was willing to spend more time than necessary with me. So I answered him with my usual smile, "Yes! Why not? Let's do it!" The town was quite a hike from the campsite, so Kei-san proposed I hop on to the back of his motorbike, which I quickly, but politely informed him did not quite fit into my overall plan of walking the coastal roads in the land of the rising sun. “But you walked to the campsite”, came his reply. “So it’s from this exact spot that you would start on your way again, tomorrow. Right?" There was no argument worth pursuing on the matter, for I traveled from Tokyo to Cape Soya by airplane and by bus to begin my mission. Likewise, I would need to us some from of transportation back to Tokyo at the end of this stage. In some ways, I supposed, the campsite was my new starting point.
Besides, I was now taking a short rest from the hard walk on the hard roads, and a trip into Atsuta on the back of Kei's motorbike would in no way interfere with my plans. "It sounds good!" I said. Within ten minutes we were both speeding down the windy road towards the seaside town on Kei’s motorbike. With me holding on for dear life and wondering if I had made the right decision after all!
Hunger came over us both quicker than we had expected it to, but where to eat was the new question to be settled? I told him that I had passed an interesting little eating-house called, 'Country Kitchen An' on my way on foot to the campsite yesterday, but it had just closed. "Perhaps it will be opened for lunchtime?" I hoped it would be open for business, as I had not been eating properly lately, and it would be nice to get something close to homemade cooking into me. As luck had it, the restaurant was indeed open. Not only that, the proprietress, who was called, Aji-san, which meant 'flower' spoke English, too. She greeted both of us as we entered, with a big hearty smile. Looking at the menu, we both settled on having the katsu lunch, followed by two cups of coffee.
During the hour we were at the restaurant no other customers had entered. Which surprised me somewhat since the food was simply delicious. Then again, it was the tail end of the summer holiday period. Not only was it delicious, but Aji-san's company was delightfully entertaining, too. From her, I was able to get a good grasp of life in Atsuta, as well as about the countries she had visited, and those she would like to visit. Atsuta Village was situated along Route 231 on the Western coastline of the Atsuta District in Ishikari. According to recent records, the village had a population of around 2,500, and a total land area of 292.84 kilometers. The main industries in the area were fishing and farming.
Not only was it delicious, but Aji-san's company was delightfully entertaining, too. From her, I was able to get a good grasp of life in Atsuta, as well as about the countries she had visited, and those she would like to visit. Atsuta Village was situated along Route 231 on the Western coastline of the Atsuta District in Ishikari. According to recent records, the village had a population of around 2,500, and a total land area of 292.84 kilometers. The main industries in the area were fishing and farming.
She also told me that she was getting English lessons from a foreign girl living in the town and who taught English at a local school. Before our leaving, I asked Aji-san what time she closed the restaurant in the evening. "It depended on the number of customers I had in, but usually around five-thirty." Earlier Kei and me had agreed to return in the evening for dinner, if at all possible. "Good! If it is all right with you, we would like to come back here around four-thirty for dinner." "No problem!" came her quick reply. "Would you have something in the form of 'curry'?" I asked. "No problem!" she said with a smile. We paid our bills and turned for the door. Outside, Kei-san decided to leave the motorbike where it was, in the tiny parking lot of the restaurant, and with that we headed out onto the road to explore the town together.
It was four-thirty sharp when we returned to the restaurant, and like before the place was empty. Kei told me that such places relied heavily on the tourist trade, and this was off-season, which explained the lack of customers and tourists. This time we sat down at the counter and ordered katsu curry, which we had really already decided on having on our last visit. The curry dishes soon arrived, which told me that Aji-san had been preparing them before we returned. Again the food was simply delicious, as our lunches had been hears earlier. As Kei-san was riding his motorbike, we did not bother with anything stronger to drink than some iced water and cups of hot coffee. Besides, my brain was still recovering from the affects of the revolting sake and shochu that I had drunk last night.
Aji-san was an attractive middle-aged women and excellent company with her different little stories and happenings about her own travels about the world. Somewhere in the corridors of our talks she learnt that I was keen on red wine. I told her that even my e-mail address included the words 'red wine' in it. And that most evenings I loved to sit on my verandah in Tokyo in all kinds of weather conditions sipping a glass or two of red wine, whilst listening to the BBC Radio off the Internet. “That was my way of winding down!” I told her. To my pleasant surprise, as we were getting ready to pay the bills and head back to our tents at the campground, Aji-san produced a bottle of red wine from a back room and gave it to me. “For you! A present from Atsuta and from me.” Some snapshots were taken, e-mail addresses exchanged, and soon I was once again on the back of Kei's motorbike speeding back to where we started. Of course, with the bottle of red wine securely in my tiny shoulder bag for safe keeping, for I needed both hands to hold on for dear life for fear of falling off.
When we arrived back at the campsite the elderly caretaker had shut up shop and was gone. The campground now looked so deserted and lonely. There was little to do but to check up on my washing, which was still far from dry. “Fuck it!” I hoped that the things would be dry by morning, for there was nothing worse than not having a clean dry pair of underwear and socks to put on, but I was not so sure about even this. The evening's air felt damp and was cooler than usual. It was decided that we go back to our respective tents to take a nap and meet up again later on for a chat and a drink. Earlier I was able to pick up an inexpensive bottle of red wine and a convenience store, whilst Kei-san decided on replenishing his stock of shochu.
It did not take me long to fall asleep. When I awoke it was around ten o'clock and the fluffy clouds in the night sky were all but gone. The moon looked low and the stars were having a party. Kei-san was awake and sitting outside his tent drinking shochu when I approached. He filled a small paper cup and gave it to me. I sat down on the grass a little ways from his tent with the bottle of inexpensive red wine at my feet.
I wondered what had become of Yuichi. "Do you think he would be on the furry back home now?" I asked. "He phoned me an hour ago!" Kei replied, in Japanese. Kei could not speak a word of English. "A policeman had pulled him over." He continued. "He got a ticket, but I'm not exactly sure what for. Perhaps for speeding!" I was sorry to hear the news. "It was not the nicest of ways for him to round off his little holiday," I said, as I picked up the wine bottle to open it.
31 July, 2009: Fortunately for me last night, Kei-san shunned the red wine as I did the shochu. As on the previous night, Kei-san puffed away like there was no tomorrow. We talked into the early hours about our plans for the road tomorrow, not to mention my over all mission of walking around Japan. Also, we talked about our walk about Atsuta today, Yuichi-san being stopped and given a ticket, our general love for large motorbikes and past journeys on them, our families, life and work in Sendai, and in Tokyo, and so forth. It was just as well I had not opened the gift-bottle of red wine that Aji-san at the restaurant had given me. When we did call it a day and return to our respective tents to sleep what hours remained, two empty bottles lay on the grass. Aji-san’s gift was safely stuffed into my backpack to keep it for Otaru. There it would be a nice treat to share with my friend when we met up. The meeting place was set in the lobby of the Dormy Inn in Otaru. Kei was contented with his plastic containers full of shochu. We both picked up a few cans of beer from a convenience store when we left the port town of Atsuta.
It was exactly eight-thirty in the morning when I finally left the campground to tramp back down to the main road. A Seicomart convenience store stood near to the corner just where the two roads joined. There I dumped my backpack beside the door and went inside to see about picking up something to eat before hitting the road proper. I did not feel overly hungry, for the druggy feeling tat still hung over me from last night. Still, I was unsure when another eating-place along the road would next appear. Therefore, it was a good idea to get some kind of calorie-carbo loaded fuel into my tank before starting off. Not fueling right was a no, no! On the whole, I was impressed with the ready-made lunches sold at Seicomart, and at the wide selection to choose from on its shelves. The quality and quantity of the food I bought along the roads was second to none. I settled on a hamburger and rice obento (lunchbox), and a 500-milliliter carton of milk. Fortunately, the road was not busy with traffic, as I set outside the store to tuck into the food.
Kei-san had not even begun packing up his camping gear when I left the campsite almost an hour earlier. No sooner had I consumed the last of the food than he rode into the parking lot on his motorbike. The camping gear on the motorbike was roughly arranged, and needed attention. “Good morning Kei-san! You were fast asleep and I didn’t want to wake you up,” when I left. "I forgot to get some photos," he said in his Sendai Japanese accent, "If you don't mind?” "No! Not at all!" The snapshots in the car park by the store were soon taken, and with a hearty shake of hands, I was finally on my way down the road. His face appeared gloomy and thoughtful, when we said our goodbyes. Looking back over my shoulder in the direction where Kei-san stood, he was still taking photos. On my final glance back in his direction, I could make out a tiny dot riding away in the opposite direction. He too was gone! Shakespeare was right when he wrote that 'parting was such sweet sorrow'. Kei-san was a really nice guy. He was a very gentle and down to earth genuine sort of man, whereby, under it all, he seemed somewhat lonely, too. He could not speak a word of English, and my own Japanese ability was at times shallow. Still, we both enjoyed the banter, the wine shochu, no women, and song. For a while I wondered if he stopped to secure the load on the back of his motorbike, for if he did not, some of his camping gear was likely to drop off, and which was something that I knew firsthand.
The heat from the sun was beginning to make me pay for embarking on my long lonesome mission around the coastal roads of Japan. For a moment I could not find a connected thought in my head. I did not know if it was the heat that replaced the damp air that kept my clothes from drying earlier. Or if it was a lingering hangover from the two lazy days spent on the campground with Kei-san (and Yuichi-san)? Or perhaps I was beginning to feel the effects of loneliness. Soon I found my head beginning to clear up, and like a fresh breeze, thoughts entered my mind. How would things be different had I been able to embark on my mission with a companion by my side? Good friends or companion were beyond measure, or so I believed. But even one of those close to my heart could not travel with me in this way. For this kind of journey that I was on, their presence would be a worry, a worry unobtrusive, and a constant warning of some possible danger waiting to happen. Or even the tremendous risk of an unwanted quarrel between us developing. “No! I was alone and that was that!” I found myself mumbling under my breath, as I tried not to think about it.
A fierce heat appeared to bounce off the sun-scorched asphalt that I found only by thinking about all sorts of things kept my mind off the pain and hardship. Besides, the periods of self-questioning, there was also a desire to escape, to wrap it all up and call it quits. “What else was there to do? What did I have to return to,” I thought. “For wasn’t it only my apartment, and job that awaited me in Tokyo?” Then again, here I was, I was as alone here on the road as I was in Tokyo. So escape from what? Clearly, such negative thoughts of escape, or giving up, were out of the question. I had to stay positive! What I needed to do was to make the long hours on the roads mine, to push on regardless of what lay ahead. "Fuck it! This was my mission and I could do it!"
The gentle breeze coming in from my old friend the sea offered momentary escapes from the heat, but only that. My black gore-tex full-rimmed hat proved a good buy. The dust from the dry road kicked up by the increasing traffic stuck to my face. There were fewer tour coaches on the road than usual. The road belonged to a good number of motorbike riders, but few were loaded up with camping gear. Almost none in fact! What powerful two-wheelers I did see roaring past were more than likely middle-aged Sunday riders, most of them clad in their spotlessly clean tight fitting black leather riding gear. Besides their age, spotless riding gear, and beautiful Harley's, one other thing they all seemed to have in common was the stern expression on their faces. To me their facial expressions resembled those on characters of the early Japanese drawings and paintings.
Soon the smell of freshly cut grass re-awakened me from my useless thoughts. A little further along my way a middle-aged woman was arranging fruit and vegetables on some shelves in a hut outside, what looked like her house. I waved as I passed, but she did not seem to notice me. A lone cyclist passed! We smiled and nodded at one another. A couple of quick encouragement words were exchanged in passing without either of us stopping: "Good luck! Do your best!” and so forth. In the distance I could see cars pulling into what looked like a store. “Lets hope so!” I thought to myself, as I wiped the sweat of my forehead. As I drew near, I could see the sign more clearly. "Good! Another Seicomart!" The convenience store was on the edges of Atsutamori Town where I would soon pass though. It had been an uncomfortably sweat-hot tramp. I entered the store with two intentions; one was to buy a 500-milliliter can of cool Sapporo beer. The young girl working at the store was unclear at just how far it was to the town of Ishikari. "Perhaps twenty or thirty kilometers" she told me. When you were tramping in the heat all day long, the difference between twenty kilometers and thirty kilometers was massive. This was especially true on one of those mindless times when I took a wrong turning somewhere, only to have to backtrack. I was not in the best of moods to think much about anything, for I had already made a couple of costly time consuming mistakes on my mission already.
Either way, I left the store knowing that I still had one hell of a long way to go. No matter what way I looked at it, 'the distance' was there to be covered, and that I should be grateful it was not raining. At least not now! One thing I needed to make sure of and that was to get beyond the town of Ishikari. If I could do that, it would make my chances of reaching Otaru City by early Saturday afternoon better. That was the agreed time for meeting up with my friend. Or so it had been arranged thanks to Kei-san for letting me use his pocket phone at the campground yesterday. Before I left Tokyo, my friend told me that she had always wanted to visit Otaru, and that it would be nice if she could meet up with me there. I guess the chance to do just that was now soon at hand. It was in Otaru we had planned to spend a few days looking about the historic city together, before heading off again in our different directions; my friend to Tokyo, and for me along the roads once more heading south. “Mmm!” To hell with looking about Otaru, I thought, for my own selfish desires could not stop thinking about a nice long soak in a hot bath.
From now until were to meet up in Otaru, I still had no idea of the kilometers that remained to be tramped. A circular shaped road sign a little ways back told me that Sapporo was twenty-six kilometers and that Hanagawa was twelve kilometers further on. My road maps made no mention of Hanagawa at all, but from them I felt sure I was somewhere in the Ishikari area. To confuse matters more, I had not seen anything in the shape of a town by that name, as yet. The only thing I could gage somewhat correctly from my maps, the distance from Atsuta Town to either Sapporo or to Otaru looked similar; or seventy kilometers at best.
After some hours on the road, a customer at a roadside restaurant told me that Otaru was nearer to fifty kilometers, which was the kind of news that I did not want to hear. “God forbid!” I thought. “Surely the guy was wrong?” The Japanese were the least helpful when it came to as about distances between places. Both of my fellow campers, Kei-san and Yuichi-san, were also unsure about the exact distance I had in front of me. By now I was beginning to regret stopping at the campground in Atsuta for two days. "Yes! I had lingered too long in Atsuta!" If only I could have been armed with the proper remaining distance-to-go information yesterday I would have made my push for Otaru then. “Fuck it! What was the point of bitching, besides, I enjoyed my stop in Atsuta.
Even the signs along the way could be confusing. A second road sign that I passed just two kilometers back indicated that Sapporo was twenty-six kilometers further on, whilst a much smaller sign above the pavement nearby showed the distance to be twenty kilometers. On foot, six kilometers of uncertainty was not very amusing. Just this minute I walked under a blue and white colored road sign that indicated Otaru was straight ahead, but it gave no mention of distance. Surely my mind was reading much too much into all of this, perhaps I was beginning to feel tired. What was the point of me complaining now? The damage had already been done! It was up to me to fix it even if that meant walking my butt off. I had to push on regardless, if I was to meet up with my friend at the stipulated time. “Fuck this heat!” If only the sun would back off, how much easier and less strenuous my tramping would become. Positive thinking was called for. I had eaten two hearty meals, so there was no reason to stop anymore.
Besides my frustration with the lack of appropriate guidance road signs, which clearly showed destination and distance, other things, needled me, too. Strange the way I let, what I called, those ugly iron Venetian blinds get to me. How I hated the sight of such eyesores every time I passed them. How could such things be erected for they blocked out vast stretches of the beautiful coastline? How glad I was to see then now! Tramping under the shadows cast out from these monstrosities, made my effort on the roads less uncomfortable. Sometimes under these shadows came a gentle breeze, and how I so very much appreciated the way it chilled my tired body.
The total length of the Japanese coastline was around thirty-five thousand kilometers, the second largest in the world. Most of the lowlands along the coastline were so intensively used that much of it needed to be artificially modified or protected. Therefore, finding ways to counter against several kinds of natural and man-induced hazards had become a serious and costly problem for the Japanese government. Along the many beaches that I passed along the way, there were many kinds of concrete blocks, breakwaters and dykes to protect the shores. According to my research, almost sixteen thousand kilometers of the Japanese coastline was badly in need of some kind of protection; whilst, ten thousand kilometers was already protected by one kind of artificial structure or another. Perhaps because of such a long coastline, no other nation had faced such a problem so extensively as Japan.
Up ahead I could see the outline of a giant bridge, of which I suspected would not be the last on this segment along Route 231. There were also a good number of guidance signs that with directions, but not one showed distances. Before and after the Ishikani Hosuiro Bridge four beautiful giant windmills came into view. Their massive arms rotated in the gentle breeze that blew in from the Ishikari Wan (Bay). There was a time when I wanted to believe that the windmills were waving to me. Now, however, the road had hardened me. Any childish aspect of my being had fallen off somewhere by the wayside. Only when I finally parted company with my old friends, Route 231, and turned onto Route 337 heading to Otaru and Zenibako did I finally learn that Otaru was thirty-two kilometers away, and with Zenibako fourteen kilometers further on. At least I was able to consider wrapping up things and calling it quits for the night. Something else inside of me urged me on a little bit more. “Just a few more kilometers would surely serve me well on the final slog tomorrow” I thought.
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