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.
20 Aug, 2009: In Japan the countless outdoors groups of one kind or another had gained in strength in recent years. I had lost count of the many groups of elderly, and not so elderly, hiking and nature-loving enthusiasts on my own long ‘hike’ down along the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) coastline. The average group member had become much more knowledgeable than previously on areas of prospective interest. Perhaps the increased audiences and subscriptions for specialty outdoor magazines, which had grown in publication throughout Japan, noted this. There was now a nationwide reporting on historical places to visit, with countless sketches and stories on adventures written by likeminded people, who of course had been there and done it. The magazines often included many reviews on the local cuisine to be enjoyed. Most of the magazines were printed on glossy pages with colorful flashy layouts containing advertisements on the latest outdoor fashion or gear to wear or have. The colorful magazines targeted the public education aspect, to wage war on the couch potato to get them to move their fat arses, to get outside and miles away from their television sets. After all, the magazines told us, it was a way for people to maintain health and enjoy their life more.
It was clear that the outdoor magazines were an educational tool, and a travel guide for the consumer, with the added objective of generating even greater interest in the great outdoors. Therefore, I believed there really was a niche for outdoor keep fit kind of magazines, but as to lasting survival or living longer, I was not so sure. Nothing lived or lasted forever anyway! On a positive note, the magazines gave their readers clear and informative descriptions of places to visit, with timely updates on outdoor activities and on various events going on in different regions of the country. It went without saying, the magazines proved a sure barometer for the increasing number of outdoor enthusiasts. In my own case, trying to read up on a good number of the places before I passed through them proved somewhat worthwhile.
It was in Aomori Prefecture where the Hakkoda Mountains, Hirosaki Castle, and the Sannai-Muruyama site were to be found. Concerning the Sannai-Muruyama site in particular, excavations had been underway since 1992. The remains of pit-dwellings, including long shaped houses, and even the graves of both adults and young children had been uncovered. In addition, the mounds of debris and the remains of pillar-supported structures, storage pits, clay mining pits, and disposal pits used for refuge were unearthed. Even early roads had been found, all of which gave some insight into the characteristics of the settlement and the natural environment of the Jomon period. The find included clay figurines, clay and stone ornaments, wooden digging sticks, woven bags and fabrics, lacquered and bone items. A large number of pottery items, stone tools were now unearthed for the early history buffs to see. In November of 2000 the Sannai-Muruyama site was finally designated as a National Historical Site.
Seikan was the longest and deepest operational rail tunnel found anywhere in the world. The tracks ran for almost 54 kilometers, 23 kilometers of which ran under the seabed. The level of the track was about 140 meters below the seabed, or 240 meters below sea level. (The Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland would be the longest undersea tunnel set to open in 2016).
There were two stations located in the tunnel, Tappi-Kaitei Station and Yoshioka-Kaitei Station, and were the first railway stations to be built under the sea. At first both stations had museums that detailed both the history and function of the tunnel. However, now only the one at Tappi-Kaitei Station on the Honshu side remained. It was on a train on the Tsugaru Kaikyo Line that carried my weary self and battered belongings through the Seikan Tunnel beneath the Tsugaru Strait bound for the town of Kanita, with an economy dominated by commercial fishing. The Seikan Tunnel joined both the main islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. And when I got there it was in the town of Kanita in Aomori where I camped the night. It was also there that the greatest lose so far on my entire tramp down along the coastal roads happened. It was the second of three completed notebooks now gone, but never forgotten. Even with the following newspaper article that appeared in the Kanita area proved unfruitful:
大きさ： 横１５センチ 縦２１センチ位。表紙の色: 灰色 （使い古した感じのノートです）場所： キャンプ場からデーリーヤマザキ（コンビニ）の路上日時： ８月１９日夕方から８月２０日昼
私は、アイルランド人です。今年の夏は、色々の願いを込めて、徒歩で北海道（宗谷岬）から、秋田（能代）まで歩きました。 蟹田で、８月１９&２０日にテントect背負い歩いていた私を見た方もいると思います。蟹田に着いた日（８月１９日）から８月２０日の間に大切なノートを無くしました。と ても疲れていたので、２冊のノートが落ちたのは気がつきませんでした。１冊は英語でびっしりと書いてあります。もう一冊は、未使用です。北海道の宗谷岬を７月１４日に出てから、毎日出来事を書きとめた大切なノートです。素晴らしい日本の自然と、優しい日本の人々、、、出版予定の大切な物です。毎夏、日本の海岸線を全て歩き続編を出版予定です。お心当たりの方は、親切な蟹田警察署（(遺失物係)：０１７４－２２－２２１１又は、日本人の友人（Aさん）の携帯 xxx-xxxx-xxxx に御連絡ください。宜しくお願い致します。マイケル クロッシー
(Translation: The size of my lost notebook was about 148 X 210 mm. It was not in good condition as it was well used. I had been walking along the coastal roads from Cape Soya bound for Noshiro, the first stage of my long walk. While walking along these roads I took many photos and wrote lots of notes. When I arrived in Kanita I was very tired. In the early evening somewhere on the road from the campsite to the convenience store (Daily Yamazaki) two notebooks fell out of my bag. One was completed and the other was new and unused. Size: 15 cm X 21 cm. Color: gray (well used and old one & new one). Place: Somewhere between the campsite and the Daily Yamazaki convenience store. Date/time: Between 19 August 2009 (evening) to 20 August 2009 (noon). If you find the notebooks, please call the Kanita police station on 0174-22-2211 or me at xxx-xxxx-xxxx in Tokyo. Thank you very much! Michael Crossey)
Honshu was the largest of the main islands, which consisted of 60 percent of the landmass. What mattered more to me now was the prospect of reaching Noshiro in Akita Prefecture seemed to grow more remote with every ensuing hour. When I felt that way on other occasions I would still push on. However, the unsuccessful search for my notebook only resulted to delay my departure from Kanita by a day and a half, or in other words, 50 kilometers of tramping the road, at least. This delay, of sorts, forced my hand to make some changes to my plans. Without an early start it was pointless to begin the Aomori section of my long tramp from Kanita as I had hoped. Because of the lack of time left for me to reach my planned goal to Noshiro, I was forced to choose a new place from where to start from. This meant that I would need to take a train to a new starting point if I was to conclude the first stage of my destination in Noshiro as planned.
My new starting point in Honshu was at a place called Imabetsu, some stations further along the line. In fact, Kanita was served by three stations on the Tsugaru Line of JR East, as well as by Route 260, which I would have to give a miss this time around. It was important that I began from Imabetsu if I was to keep my rendezvous with a friend who I had planned to meet in Noshiro. Earlier my friend was kind enough to telephone the local police station in Kanita for me to explain about the loss of my notebook, and ask if they had some ideas on how I might be able to recover my loss.
Regardless of the loss of the notebook, and the many reasons for setting out on my mission in the first place, not to mention the countless risks and backbreaking hardships involved along the way, certain attractiveness urged me on. It all had little to do with the beautiful nature I encountered along the way or the sense of freedom and place that I felt, but the powerful rush of adrenaline I got as I got nearer the conclusion of the various stages. Somehow this rush in question made it all worthwhile, for it was quite on par to my first ever climax with the opposite sex, the sort of thing one wished could happen every time.
When I arrived at Imabetsu, I made my way to Route 339 bound for Tappisaki. A light rain had begun to fall by then. Up a head I could see a local bus waiting at a bus stop to pick up some school children. The bus started off as I approached and the children waved to me from the windows as it passed. As I turned to wave back at them, I could see a 'Tunnel Museum' advertisement on the side. Another signpost told me that 'Yoshitsune-Seaside-Park was not so far. Once there, another sign told me that I could park, swim, use the toilets; drink coffee, and camp, and with little more than my backpack and butt to park, everything on offer suited me just dandy.
It would be good to drop the backpack somewhere for the straps had begun to dig into my shoulders. Soon it was propped up against one of the cafe tables I set down at for a while to rest and to see what they had to eat. From the menu I ordered a bowl of miso ramen or noodles, and a nice cool bottle of beer. As it turned out, the place did not have bottles and I had to make do with a 500 milliliter can of Kirin lager that cost ¥400 yen a pop.
There must have been something wrong with the ticket machine when I pressed the appropriate button to pay for my bowl of noodles. No sooner had I put in the coins, ¥600 yen, and was about to press the one of the buttons when a workman showed up out of nowhere and wheeled the machine away. Of course, a tiny commotion resulted for me to get my coins back, as the guy seemed startled at what I was rambling on about, but got them back I was determined to do. A little later the workman came and apologized and assured me that everything would be put right very soon, if I would kindly wait. True to his word; a new and much smaller machine was soon wheeled in and placed one the same spot where the old one in question stood.
The new machine was set up and ready very quickly, and just inches away from the only vacant table in the place, and where I now turned. The other tables were lined up in a way that made an 'L' shape, three tables ran horizontally with one table placed to the right of them. There was a good meter length of space between each of the tables. So the restaurant did not feel crowded, even though all the other tables were taken up with salary men and women. It was lunchtime and everyone seemed to be trying to talk at the same time. I was in no mood for noise, and besides, the hunger pings had left me now anyway! Looking over to where my backpack now set propped against a wall near the door where I had just moved so as not to get in the way of the new machine as it was wheeled in, I now toyed with the idea of just hitting the road. Just then a young family entered, with three young children on tow. They stood around the entrance area waiting for a table. They were lively children and more than willing and able to contribute their part to the already lively background noise. This I took to be a message from above that it was time to get a move on; besides, they would be happy get quickly seated, for nobody liked waiting.
I was not long out off the door when the light drizzle started to fall again. The rain proved too much for one middle-aged chap to venture outside the house to take in the two birdcages. The two colorful birds were clearly exposed to the elements, which now began to beat down hard on the road and trees. I could see two beautifully colored birds of a feather, each one parched on tiny twigs that were placed across the wooded cages that held them. Both of the tiny occupants appeared unperturbed by the raindrops that entered the cage. Clearly, their landlord of sorts who continued to look out the window at me as I now passed by the house, was unconcerned. The wooden cages were rather attractive and the design looked like they were of a past era, perhaps late Tokugawa or early Meiji. When I glanced back I could still make out the he guy standing in his living room looking out through the window in my direction as I made my way south along the road in the rain.
For a while I continued to think about the man at the window. There were a couple of dated scars on his face, quite similar to those on my own face, thanks to a motorbike crash I had in London so many years ago. "Had the man been involved in some serious road accident years ago?" I wondered, doing my best not to notice the rain. Now I thought about some Irish friends whom I had not seen in years. Some years ago over a few pints of Harp lager at a pub in Belfast I remembered telling them about the motorbike crash and how it left me in a coma. Just then one of them asked me when was I thinking of coming out of it. Everyone laughed!
Further along the road I passed an elderly fellow sitting on tiny stones that covered much of his garden. Unperturbed by the falling rain, the man plucked away contentedly at the weeds that grow in between the stones. "Perhaps the rain made it easier for him to perform such a monotonous task." I thought as I passed him. Up on a rocky slope high above the road some workmen dangled from long ropes. They appeared to be poking away at the soil with long spear like poles. What exactly they were up to I had not the slightest idea. Much of the high slope had recently been covered with pine trees, for now only the freshly cut tree stomps remained as sad reminders of changing times. Further down the road thing I could think of was that the workmen dangling from the ropes were checking for loose rocks and stones.
About three weeks or so back I also passed by workmen dangling from ropes on a rock face high above the road (Route 231). Then it had something to do with a landslide. Whatever they were up to, it looked dangerous work. "Mmm!" Now only the sad looking stumps remained, but what would be there in the future? The planting of more trees? Concrete? More than likely, another manmade structure to reduce the chances of landslides and falling rocks, no doubt. Soon a sign by the road tells me that there a 'Comfortable parking Area lay just four hundred meters up ahead. A road sign points to the town of Goshogaiwaru and Kodomari. Both thirty-one kilometers further along, with Tappi only six kilometers. Usually towns meant food!
Somewhere along the line I stopped by at a dimly lit and sparsely stocked little shop that sold cigarettes, beer and not many other things. It could only be imagined that the little place had seen better days. Perhaps like many places business went down with the bursting of the Bubble Economy and the loss of jobs in the area. Inside, a fat elderly woman got up from the tatami floor where she had been sitting when I entered. "Nan de sho?" (What do you want?) She asked in a tone of voice that I took to have an unfriendly air about it. "A bottle of beer would be nice." "Nani mo nai!" (Nothing!) This answer surprised me since I could see a number of bottles of beer through the class doors of an ancient looking cooler. Clearly she was not interested in serving me, a foreigner, which surprised me again as I thought money was money regardless whose hands it came from. Then again, it did not matter either way, for a racist was a racist.
For my part, I did not know whether to laugh or say something rude back to her, instead I just cringed my teeth as I slid the door shut behind me and turned back on to the hot road once more. "That was a waist of time," I told myself. "What a rude cow!" Once more I found my mind was working overtime. "How could people like that exist, as if life was not hard enough already? What kind of person could be rude to someone they did not know?" I thought, while also wondering if I should have said something to her. She was an enormous woman, and on in her years, she looked around 70 I felt. The was she dragged herself off the tatami to see who had entered the shop told me that she was not what I would have called healthy either. "Fuck it!" I thought again, as I fought with myself to stop thinking about the unwanted encounter. Besides, I needed to keep my wits about me, for the last thing I wanted was to have an accident. The first bridge and tunnel that I came to on this segment of my Honshu tramp, I was pleased to see, were both short. The Kinbanpaku Tunnel ran for only 85 meters. I was in no mood to face anything longer.
Just as I poured a little of the red wine into the plastic cup that had served me well since leaving Cape Soya, a light drizzle began to fall. "Fuck it! It didn't matter, for the rain made things pleasantly cool. "Bull’s-eye!” I thought, as I looked at the tiny ripples in the wine when a lone drop of rain hit home. "Mmm!” That little cup had served me very well indeed! It had held all kinds of liquid, from cold, warm, and hot. And now a drop of rain water, too. "Ha!" A certain smile came to my face at the thought! It was on more than one occasion during those heavy downpours when I could not be bothered to venture outside my tent to take a leak (urinate). My little plastic cup saw to that!
Then I remembered another time on the road when I tried to be somewhat scientific when I used the cup a few times, and not for tea or coffee. It was somewhere on one of the long tedious roads up in Hokkaido, when I pissed into it just to get a rough idea on the amount of urine I discharged in the course of a day.
Come to think of it, I do not think I ever really found out the result, and gave the pseudo experiment up as a bad idea soon afterwards. Besides, during the times when it did not rain, I found that I drank much more water than when it did, because of the hot sun. Even on those hot days the amount of water I did consume was never the same quantity anyway. On those hot days, I also found that the urge to stop and take a leak did not enter my mind even once, for the sweat kept me permanently wet from morning to evening. It would have been an even hotter summer for sure if it were not for the incessant rain that fell.
A beat up old truck with 'Fuku Ito' printed on the doors slowed down and stopped a little ways up ahead of me. When I passed by I could hear a familiar voice call out to two women who were looking over the cans of food and vegetables for sale. "Oi!" (Hay!) I could feel their eyes looking at me as I passed them. Something told me that this shop on wheels and me would be sharing this section of the road for a while. Already it was not the first time we had passed one another. One of those local vote-for-me vans sped past, with the name 'Watanabe' colorfully spread out over its sides. Inside the van a number of white gloved hands waved frantically about, as if powered by a thousand volts of electricity. I guessed it was that time in the year when such notable dignitaries came out of their holes and cracks to show that they cared for ‘you’ and ‘your’ place in Japan, if not the world. "What or who on earth were they waving at?" I wondered, as I tried to close my brain to the noise of the loudspeaker fixed to the roof of the van. Besides myself and the sea, and the clowns in the van, there was not a sole in sight. Surely they could not be waving at me, for foreigners in Japan had no vote. Perhaps they were waving to the few fishing boats far out on the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea). It would not have surprised me!
A road sign told me that I was just a kilometer away from the town of Minmaya in Aoyama Prefecture. Progress was surprisingly good! That meant that I was heading in the right direction for Cape Tappi. "Good!" Even on the coastal roads it was easy to get lost if you did not keep your wits about you. Just then Route 339 divided, with Kodomari and Cape Tappi veering away to the left with Tappi Fishing Port straight on. "Which way suited my purpose?" I mumbled as I dug about for my maps. If I choose to go straight on I would come to a memorial dedicated to the Japanese writer Dazal Osamu (1909-48) was born Shuuji Tsushima in Kanagi in Aomori. Said to have been one of the foremost fiction writers of 20th-century Japan, some of his works became movies, The Whistler, The Fallen Angel, and Adventure of Kigan Castle.
There was also a section of steps that looked as if they would lead me back out on to Route 339, which seemed to make more sense to me. It turned out that I made the correct choice, for the road led to a place where food could be had, as well as a good place to make camp. Most importantly, there was also to be found the Tsugaru Kaikyo Sen Tunnel Museum, the reason for my detour in the first place. Unfortunately, the restaurant had just shut its doors to business for the evening. A glance at the business hours on a board through one of the door windows told me that it would not open up again until nine the following morning. My aim was to get away as soon as I finished visiting the tunnel museum. There was nothing else to do now, but find a place to pitch my tent at for the night. A study of my maps later on would at least set my mind at rest about tomorrow. There were a couple of directional things I needed to smooth out before hitting the road proper, like which roads went exactly where.
One good way of occupying the mind in the evenings was to think about the people I met along the way, particularly those whom I stopped and spoke to in the course of the day. On the whole since arriving in Hokkaido, just about everyone I crossed paths with had shown me much kindness, if not generosity in some little way. On the same note, almost everyone appeared interested in me or in what I was doing, which kind of felt good. "Mmm!" I thought at those times, "It was nice to be noticed! Well, sometimes anyway." Of course, it would be very wrong of me to speak with absolute authority paint everything with a brush. However, as far as I was concerned what seemed to be missing were the smiling faces. "Mmm!" I found my self even wondering if the people in Aomori were happy. Of course, with a completed notebook now lost, and which I had spent many hours writing stuff into, I was in no mood to smile either. It was not easy to put pencil to paper now, for the loss was still too fresh on my mind to concentrate on anything for very long. Therefore, I was not in a good mood at all, and found it hard to see things in a positive light. So depressed had I felt that I even toyed with the idea of giving my mission up and returning to Tokyo. Then again, what was the point of that, for I hated my live in Tokyo anyway, the most expensive city in the world!
If it was not for the sea and the fresh Aomori air, I would have sworn that I was already back in Tokyo, for the long faces, and unfriendliness I felt. Strangely, this unfriendly nature or atmosphere of sorts acted positively on me. Not so much to ease the bout of depression that I was feeling, but on my quick pace on the road. The kilometers were falling away like ten-pins, which suited me just fine, as the sooner I got my butt out of this place the better. At least it was the only way to calm my nerves, or so I felt. It was no secret that getting into a regular exercise routine was a great way to manage stress as well as relieve the symptoms that caused stress. I also knew that I needed to do something, as being cold or rude to others was very much against my nature of things. At least, I did not want to look like I was miserable even if I felt so. I even found myself absolutely refusing to look at the people I passed on the road, but to ignore them completely like they ere not there.
It was said that understanding something was wrong was half the cure. Perhaps the quick pace had helped to burn off some of the stress. I did not know for sure, but something was not quite right. "God! What was happening to me?" I wanted to shout. Yes, something was wrong, but what? I knew that I should not be speaking or even thinking in such a negative way about anyone. Especially about people I did not know or knew nothing about, for to do so was a sign of weakness and I did not want to be seen as being that kind of man. The loss of my notebook was still burning into me big time, and I was furious with myself for being so careless. Being tired was no excuse! Yes, the changing weather conditions had played a big part on my mind, too, but that was no excuse either. On those miserable rainy days up in Hokkaido I found it easy to switch off from the people about, or to pretend that they were not there. All that I had to do was to keep my eyes fixed straight ahead of me and to try and think about old friends, the places we went to, or the things that we did together.
I thought about my early days in Japan and how I used to feel so comfortable in the company of the opposite sex and the relationships that formed. But soon, I found myself beginning to recall the dark sides of these, too. Down through the years there had been just too many negative experiences in my dealings with Japanese women, lovers or colleagues alike. Whether those days could be seen as experiences in my life, or a fucking waste of time, the jury was still out. Breaking up with the few women I had become close to kind of poured water on an already flickering interest in the Japanese female. The partings always left me with so many unanswered questions. I wondered if the cultural differences between us were just too wide to begin with, like, the personality conflicts that were created, like, the differences in values, attitudes, and behaviors, and so forth.
When people went so far as to get married, many more differences would soon appear out of nowhere. There were more than 30,000 'kokusai kekkon' or international marriages each year in Japan between Japanese women marrying foreign men. For such marriages discrimination in the economic and business front were often experienced, like the difficulties of finding suitable employment and holding on to it, not to mention, the near impossible mobility and career aspirations. Strain on these relationships could also arise through social ostracism from relatives and friends who cut off ties. Of course, there were a host of other problems resulting from divorce or separation, which my own experience would not allow me to go into here.
Like I said earlier, being in such a negative chain of thought could be beneficial in more ways than one. For one, it helped me to increase my pace on the roads; so much so, I even felt that I could literally sprint along without even noticing it. That was good too, because my mind was so pre-occupied with other things to feel tired or to even notice the kilometers falling away. Only in the evenings when I went over my maps would I notice how good the day had been, distance-wise, if nothing else. Last but not least, when the mornings came, my mind always felt so stress-free, which was the best way to start off on the road again, with or without breakfast.
Along the way I tended to pick up as many useful looking touristy pamphlets and brochures telling of the areas I was passing though or headed towards. The downside of this was that my backpack soon became heavier as a result. After a sizeable amount of this stuff had been collected, it was only a matter of time before I would need to call into a local post office somewhere to send them back to Tokyo for future reference.
Sitting next to me on the train to my coastal road starting point, was a young American woman who was part of the JET program. In the course of our talk, my loss of my notebooks undoubtedly came up. It raised my sprites when she told me that something so important would likely be handed into a local police station somewhere. However, such feelings were short lived, as I knew well that the chances were slim, or god forbid, zero they fell into the hands of the village idiot. There was no escaping the fact, it was a great personal loss, and this much had already been made clear at the Kanita Police Station hours earlier when I was there to report the loss. If I was to rate my luck since arriving in Aomori on a scale from one to ten, then I would give it the lowest mark, one. The weather had been miserably wet and windy all the way to Akita Prefecture. Even most of the people I passed looked miserable, too.
Last night when I was pitching my tent, a strong wind started to pick up making the task rather difficult. Only when I finished hammering the last of the tent pegs into the soil did the wind cease. It was not long after that when I lost the notebook. Before the loss I remembered feeling hungry, which was not a good thing since all the restaurants and shops were closed. Even the wine in the little flask I carried with me was just about empty. The evening meal consisted of two cups of hot tea, a broken biscuit, and the smell of meat being cooked on a barbecue by three young men not ten meters way. Sadly for me, there was no invitation to join them, and it looked like I was just going to have to make do with an empty stomach.
I remembered sitting by my tent adding to my notebook when I heard the sound of laughter. Five young college aged girls appeared to be having fun preparing the evenings meal, whatever that might be. If only it was possible to join them, but again there was no invitation, and did my best not to watch them. The only good thing to look forward to, besides what was left of my red wine, was a hot shower, which I badly needed. The shower lasted longer than I had expected, five minutes in all for ¥100 yen. Soon I was back at my trusty little tent overlooking the Nihon Kai. All my writing had been done and as I did not feel like reading any more, there was little else to do but hope that tomorrow would be more fruitful.
It was not what the clouds harbored or how hard the sun beat down on me that bothered me, for I had grown accustomed to expect nothing and accept all. Being on the road all day long was no holiday. All sorts of weather had to be put up with, so it did no good moaning. The evenings around camp, was a time to wind down. Only then could I look at the course of the day in a more favorable light and sense of accomplishment. This was all the more made easy when the weather was calm with the moon and stars high up in the clear sky. This was one such evening, windless and pleasantly warm.
A group of young girls had just cycled into the campsite grounds, and soon set about erecting four large dome-shaped tents. To my surprise, none of the tents were Colman's, which seemed to be just about everywhere. There was little else to do, so I spread my old army cape out over the ground beside my own little tent and lay down on it to rest. It was one of those lazy evenings and I did not care if the morning was slow in coming, or not. Rest was always something that I looked forward to, especially in the evenings when I looked out over the sea or stared blankly into an open campfire. Now however, I lay on my back and looked up into the not so dark sky above. I could feel a light breeze sweep across the campground and the fabric of my tent bend under its strain. "What the hell!" I mumbled to myself. Without looking, I stretched out my left arm and felt about the entrance of the tent for the wine bottle. Some would say the wine bottle was three-quarters empty, whilst others would see at as being one-quarter full. Me! I just thought that I was damn unlucky not to have thought about picking up another bottle when I had the chance earlier on. "Fuck it! I might as well finish it properly this time."
Just as I poured a drop of red wine into the old plastic cup that had served me well since Cape Soya, a light drizzle started to fall. "Fuck it!" As I watched a couple of drops of rain make tiny circles in the wine. That little cup had served me well indeed, and it had held all kinds of liquid, cold and hot tea and coffee, soup, juice, drinking water, beer, red wine, and now rain water. "Ha!" Just then I remembered using my trusty cup for one other purpose. It was somewhere on the roads up in Hokkaido, where I once pissed in it just to get some kind of mathematical idea on the amount of urine I discharged in a day.
The young girls, who had also been lying out beside the tents chatting away, soon sprang to their feet. In no time at all, everything that had been scattered about their camp area was grabbed up from the ground and tossed inside of the tents. Then they made their way over to the cooking area to start preparing the evening meal. I placed the cup of wine inside one of my boots to keep it from falling over. Then I made my way over to the shower rooms to have my first hot scrub down in what seemed like forever. As I made my way from the shower rooms and back over towards my tent a light shower was now falling over the campsite. As I made my way past the cooking area, I could see the girls’ heads through the steamy windows. "What were they cooking?" I wondered. "Perhaps I should have helped them putting up their tents, then they might have invited me to dine with them." God I felt hungry!
21 August, 2009: Nakadomai Town had a population of around 12,000 and was located in the Kitatsugaru district of northeastern Aomori Prefecture. On the outskirts of Nakadomai Town a road sign told me that Lake Jusanko was thirty-three kilometers away, and a good days walk when I put my mind to it. Perhaps at Chokandai, just five kilometers from where I stood now, I could to pick up some food and water. Last night I could have choked someone for want of something to eat and drink. On the road as I now was, the past somehow did not matter anymore, for soon my mind would be occupied with other things. And what a nice way it was to begin the day with. The sight of a beautifully proportioned female cyclist passed me by at great speed. She was clad in her tight fitting cycling gear and gave me a brisk wave as she went by. "If only I had my bicycle with me now" I mumbled to myself as I returned the wave, which I do not think she saw, Of course, I did not have a bicycle, and anyway she was quickly gone from view and from my life. My thoughts about the cyclist lingered in my head for a good while longer. I wondered where she had come from and where she headed?
Another sign told me that Chokandai Parking Area was only 300 meters further along. There, I could use the toilets, and look at the beautiful scenery, so the sign inferred. The parking area was indeed located on a beautiful point overlooking the sea. "A prime location too good just to park cars at," I thought as I turned off the road and made my way for the toilets. Unfortunately, a clear view was not possible because of a mist that had built up some ways out over the water. There seemed no shortage of signs along the way, which in some ways was good, I felt. One sign told me that Nanatsutaki Falls was just two kilometers from where I stood. Another sign reminded me that with every step I was getting nearer to Lake Jusanko, now twenty-two kilometers further on. Another female cyclist passed. Perhaps she and the cyclist who passed me earlier belonged to a female cycling club.
At last I came to Nanatsutaki, which meant Seven Water Falls in English. There were 517 waterfalls in Japan that had names. Perhaps most of them were located in remote mountainous areas. With a growing interest in hiking groups and tourism in recent times, the number of visitors to the waterfalls had increased. However came with at a price, as the increased number of visitors had placed significant pressure on the surrounding environment. It was at the waterfalls that I decided to sit down and boil some water for a cup of tea and to get a bit of my washing done, for it was a hot day and I knew that my clothes would soon be dry.
A little later as the water was about to boil and the clothes were spread out on the hot ground to dry, two coaches filled to the brim with tourists stopped momentarily for the tourists to get a look at the waterfall through the windows. From where I set, the cool breeze that came off the gushing waterfall felt more than pleasant upon my naked chest and shoulders. There was no better way to experience nature than to feel it gently touching you. That said, the passengers on the coaches appeared more interested in looking at me and at my T-shirts, underwear and soaks, all spread out before them, than on the beautiful waterfall. The two coaches did not stop for long, and soon they were gone. It was so hot that everything was dry by the time I was ready to hit the road once more. The day could not have been better and it felt good after the rest.
For while I thought about the tourists on the coaches and wondered how they felt. Perhaps if I was not there some of them might have got down from the coach to get a better look of the waterfall and perhaps taken some photos. Then again, that segment of the road was too dangerous for large vehicles to stop for any length of time. I thought about the roads I had tramped along all the way down the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) coastline and the distance I had covered until now. It was a good feeling to have done it, and it was good, too, that I did not feel so depressed like before. But there was no getting away from it, I had lost lots of stuff along the way. That was why if anyone told me that walking was a cheap way of traveling I would laugh in his or her face. Baring odd exception, nothing came for free, not even the air we breathed or the water we drank.
I had lost so many things in my life that I never even had the time to work out what value or worth the stuff meant to me. If only I could even recover all the stuff I had lost on the roads since leaving Cape Soya. "Mmm!" That was impossible, besides, the damage was done. They were gone forever. Losing stuff had become second nature! Being tired was no excuse either! I had been careless, to put it simply, with a lack of discipline into the bargain. On a positive note, these were things that I could work on improving., especially with the loss of the notebook to add to everything else.
I was expecting a phone call from a friend in Tokyo who was to give me some travel information, and I pondered the reason why I did not received it. It must have been after two kilometers of brisk walking when I suddenly realized that I had left the pocket phone behind by the river where I stopped at to fill my water bottle. “Fuck it!” I said as I dropped my backpack down by a tree and headed back in the direction I had just come to look for the phone. "Fuck it!" I swore again. For losing the phone that had been leant to me by the friend whom I was expecting the call from was almost as bad as losing my notebook.
Along Route 339 I passed a number of bus stop huts that were boarded up. Perhaps this was one of the many signs that I had seen that the times were changing. In Hokkaido just about every tiny out of the way town that I tramped through had at least one vending machine in place, but little else worth stopping for. Up ahead a road sign told me that Kodomari rest area was two kilometers away. As expected, there was the usual parking lot, a public phone box, and toilets with handicapped facilities. What interested me most of all, there was a restaurant. Another road sign pointed in the direction of Orikoshimai and Lake Jusan, where I was headed under the hot clear sky.
The sun was literally cooking me dry! The last of my water bottles was nearly empty, but it did not bother me any as I did not have much further to go I felt where drinking water could be had. A welcoming breeze made its presence felt as I passed under the arches of an overpass. Such was the chill from the breeze that I was tempted to pause to let it dance over my body a while longer, but decided to push on instead. Soon I was standing at Kodomari rest area, but unfortunately for me, the restaurant was closed. Away to my right a dead rabbit lay rotting by the roadside, which in someway told me that it was going to be one of those days. Another road sign pointed left for Kodomari Dam, one kilometers away, not that it meant anything to me. A police car slowly passed by, its lights flashing like mad. It was the same with the police cars that passed me up in Hokkaido, all lights and no sound.
Another road sign told me that Goshogawara was forty-eight kilometers away, Lake Junsanko thirteen kilometers, with Cape Gonzenzuki nine kilometers. When I reached the town of Kodomari I fixed my eyes on yet another sign, which pointed towards a monument of Tsugaru, where Matsuo Kinsaku (Basho) the most famous poet of the Edo period (1603-1868), was said to have composed some of his haiku when he traveled through the area. A bell announced that it was five o'clock. Soon I spotted a restaurant, and I wondered if it would be open for business. It was! The ramen (noodles) restaurant in Aomori did not seem to have the wide range of dishes on offer similar restaurants did in Hokkaido. Still, it was no good to complain, for progress on the roads had been good. Getting something to eat before finding a place to make camp could only be good.
I ordered a beer, not one of my favorite brands, but it did the trick regardless. The television sitting on a shelf by the wall was on, but the volume was so low I could not hear it. Moments later an elderly women and a young child entered the restaurant. They sat down on some cushions beside a low table over some tatami mats. The waitress went to their table first to take the order, even though I arrived before them. Not long afterwards my order, too, was taken. The feeling that the Aomori people were not as kind and generous as people were up in Hokkaido.
I pulled my notebook out off my bag, placed it on the table before me and opened it. Until a few days ago, it was usually easier to find my notebooks than my pencils. At last I found one and began to add continue where I left off last time, but I had not written much when I looked up to see the waitress return carrying a tray of food, but it was not for me. "Perhaps the katsu curry dish I ordered took longer to prepare", I thought to myself. It was not easy to concentrate, for my food intake today had been small and the hunger pings gripped me hard. Just as I tried to get back into my notes the waitress returned again, this time carrying what looked like my order. It was! Further entries into my notebook would just have to wait, and pushed it to the side to make room on the table for the katsu curry. For a while I had harbored the feeling that the food I had eaten recently was like the people I passed on the road, uninviting. Up until now I had eaten my frugal breakfasts and lunches, and had longed hoped for something more homemade. In this case, however, the food before me turned out to be the best katsu curry dish that I had ever eaten in my life. It was absolutely mouth watering, and which was a nice way to round of my long hard day on the road.
Not long after leaving the restaurant I came to a T-junction on the road. The arrow pointing to the right led to Shitamai and Cape Gongenzaki. The arrow pointing left, which was the way decided to head, went to Goshogawaru, past Lake Jusanko and Osamu Dazai Memorial Hall or "Shayokan". It was a magnificent, semi-western style house built by Dazai's father in 1907 during the Meiji period. The house had since been designated as an important national cultural property. Now it was home for much of what once belonged to Dazai, such as, his handwritten manuscripts and private letters, and writing utensils, as well as a favorite cloak he often wore. The memorial hall also gives visitors in rare insight into Dazai's youthful years.
Dazai Osamu was born on the nineteenth of June, 1909, two years after the house was built, and left this world on the thirteenth June, 1948. He was a Japanese author considered one of the foremost fiction writers in the country during the twentieth-century. Dazai Osamu was also noted for possessing an ironic and gloomy wit, with an obsession towards suicide. There still remained a question mark over his short life as to whether Dazai Osamu killed himself or was murdered. The rumors of the time were that he was murdered by Tomie Yamazaki who then took her own life after disposing of his body in a nearby canal. It may have been that Dazai took his on life since there was no proof whatsoever to back up any of the rumors.
What interested me was that his family had disowned him and, which led him to live a life of poverty almost overnight. It was a life on the streets where he was reduced to begging to stay alive from one day to the next. If that was not enough, Dazai Osamu was hit with a serious illness. It was only through the compassion of others was he able to pull himself up by the boot strings. "Though battling an illness that each and every night left my robe literally drenched with sweat, I had no choice but to press ahead with my work. The cold half pint of milk I drank each morning was the only thing that gave me a certain peculiar sense of the joy in life;" (Seascape with Figures in Gold (1939), Osamu Dazai).
The sun began to set fast as I continued to tramp along, in an attempt to get in a few more kilometers before calling it a day, so I quickened my pace. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had seen in quite a while, and right in Aomori, too, a place where I would be glad to see the back of. The redness from the sun reflected off a road sign that I stopped for a moment to look at for fear of missing something. "Hirosaki 70 KM, Goshogawara 44 KM, Lake Jusanko 9 KM". Much further on another road sign informed me that Lake Juniko was seventy-eight kilometers away, and that Bense Marsh was only one kilometer further along in the direction I was headed. The Tsugaru Peninsula included the wetlands of Jusanko and Juniko lakes and marshes, all of which were part of the Tsugaru Quasi-national Park, a protected landscape managed by the local prefectural government. I paused for a moment to look at my road maps to see what other roads went where. It did not take me long to reach the marshland where I continued along a road that ran through a pinewood forest.
Pine trees remained green throughout the year and were said to symbolize youth and longevity. From and artistic perspective pine tree branches were popularly used for bonsai and as decorative plants in Japanese gardens throughout the country. Almost two-thirds of Japan was covered by forest of different deciduous and evergreen species of trees. One of my favorite places was the Meiji Jingu Koen (Park), an oasis to escape to from the hectic concrete megalopolis of Tokyo life. In the park there were lush woods of broadleaf evergreen trees of oak, camphor, and chinquapin. The years had made the Meiji Jingu Koen appear ever so
I am a somewhat disorganized yet, coherent, tidy, clean, healthy and happy Irishman with few regrets. I have lived my life somewhat backwards (e.g. travelled, worked, educated, born, and reborn, etc, etc, etc). In general, my views and outlooks on life are quite open minded and liberal. I have a very good sense of humor and love the company of similar minded people. I am also a lover of hiking, long distance cycling, camping and large (American style) motorbikes, to name a few of my interests. These are all the more worthwhile when done with someone you are comfortable with. Right? When I have free time I just love getting away from Tokyo (on my bicycle or on my motorbike) to some relaxing and interesting place.
If that is not possible, then I love to talk to friends. I honestly don't know what friends say about me. I am sure they say so much, or at least they think about me, I hope so as I think about them. Ha! Or like Oscar Wilde once said: "The only thing worse in the world than being talked about is not being talked about". So true! On the whole, I think better of those people who talk directly to my face than behind my back.
What makes me happy is a sense of achievement in all things I set out to accomplish. I wonder if this also includes that thing we call 'love'? What makes me Upset or Frustrated? Stupid people -- racists, bigots, and warmongers, or even the blood and gore in war movies. On the other hand, I have so many favorite movies, or two that come to mind: 'Love is a Many Splendored Thing' (1955), staring Jennifer Jones and William Holden; and 'Roman Holiday' (1953), with the great Audrey Hepburn, not to forget Gregory Peck. Why I like this film so much is that the film is about prejudice and overcoming it regardless of the consequences. Of course, I think, why one likes a film so much is really in the eyes of the beholder.
My favorite music? I like many kinds of music. Perhaps classical is foremost among my favorites as it can be very relaxing and thought provoking. Also, movie theme music really brings memories flowing back to me -- times, people, places, etc. Oh how I long for those yesterdays again! As to my favorite animals, I like all animals, especially dogs. It is said that a man's best friend is his dog, right?