Irishman Walking is about my walking the coastal roads of Japan through a series of summer, winter, spring, and autumn stages. Stage 2 began in the city of Noshiro, Akita Prefecture in the winter of 2009, and ended in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata four weeks later in January 2010. Last 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. Then in winter Stage 9 started from Fukuoka and ended in Hiroshima City on the island of Honshu. The stage lasted for three weeks. Stage 10 is planned to start from Hiroshima this coming spring and will end in the city of Okayama in late-March 2013. The stage is planned to last for about two to three weeks.

Much of December (2009) was taken up with making preparations for the first winter of my mission. Stage 2 was scheduled to start from Noshiro in Akita, where Stage 1 ended! It was towards the end of autumn with the dust and cobwebs from my coastal tramp last summer still lingering strong in my mind. Yet, no sooner had the school holidays begun to draw near that thoughts of embarking on the next stage of my mission began to creep in. So much so in fact that I longed to be on the long hard roads once more with my old friend the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) for company in the cold winter winds. However, it was not until long after I was on the long hard roads during Stage 1 that I learned just how much my preparation then had been a near total waste of time. This time I needed to put more thought into my planning!

Whenever I was a child growing up on the streets of Belfast donkey's years ago, and like many of my friends in those days, there was an endless dream about great adventures. We were all fans of the television program series ‘Ivanhoe’, and had watched the 1960 film ‘Spartacus’ that stared such greats as Kirk Douglas, Laurence Oliver, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons, and others. I could not recall a more inspiring film plot for our young minds than an army of freed slaves, led by Spartacus, and their revolt against the mighty Roman Empire. Even for me during those youthful days, it was a moving and compelling story of epic proportions. So it did not matter any if the historical accuracies were placed on the shelf to get the storyline across.

Now all of these years later, I was very much a mature adult, a man of two minds -- afraid of a good venture and unafraid of a good venture. Ever since those childhood days I plunged into all kinds of challenges and dares, big and small. Of course, this 'plunge' was often done without planning or thinking things through properly. I did not reason much at all, or think I needed to. As long as my actions did not hurt others, then why should I? So long as no one else was involved in any shape or form, or laws broken, then I saw no problem in living my life, my way. Needless to say, however, I suffered the consequences for my selfishness on a good number of occasions. And was usually left with the scars to remind me.

When preparing for his winter journey, the noted seventeenth-century poet and diarist, Matsuo Basho, spoke of being given poems and letters of farewell. Basho was even sent money for straw sandals, which helped spare him the trouble of preparing for his journey, which he said took as long as three months. “In fact, everything I needed for my journey - the paper raincoat, the cotton-stuffed mantle, the hat, the stockings, etc., to keep me warm in the dead of winter - was given me by my friends, and as I was invited to parties on a boat, at my friends' houses, or even at my own hermitage, I became used to the pomp and splendor of feasting unawares and almost fell a victim of the illusion that a man of importance was leaving on a journey" (Basho: translation by Nobuyuki Yuasa).

What was there to worry about when I had a handful of vitamin pills, a few hot patches to keep me warm, and a couple of bags of resins and various kinds of nuts donated by a caring friend. Like Basho, even with the least of efforts, I found from experience things always fell into place without much effort on my part, for friendship was a many splendored thing. With some odds and ends of old clothing and camping stuff crammed into my well-used backpack, I ploughed southwards into the freezing snowcapped coastal roads that ran the length of Akita Prefecture. The tramp from Cape Soya at the top of Hokkaido to Noshiro City, not far from the northern boundary of Akita was different in more ways than one. Now there was no haste, for I knew I could never cover anywhere near the same distance that I was able to notch up during those summer months in Hokkaido, for the snow, the wind, and the cold rain would see to that.

There were plenty of all kinds of so-called normal outdoor activities done in the wintertime; snowboarding, skiing, ice-skating, all of which I simply absolutely loathed to a tee. Conversely, dear to my heart at anytime in the year was that thing called camping. There was no better recreational activity than camping. Its low cost made it a favorite among families and young people all over the world. With the price of a hotel room it certainly was my first cost-effective option! Unlike a lot of vacations a lot of people set out on, camping required a lot less prior planning, though I might argue against camping being the simplified way of life.

There was no single good thing that could be said about camping, but multifarious in width and depth. Every camper’s experience was so different! One important long-term benefit of a camp experience among young people was that it built confidence within groups. What was clearer was that the experience of being in the wilderness, out under the stars, or surrounded by the natural world of mountains, plants, rivers, and seas had a positive effect on those who did it. It was also true that the camping experience created great memories, not to mention helping to foster those outdoor skills that lasted forever.

One thing about camping in the snow, apart from the soft cushion it offered, was the absence of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes had plagued me no ends during the summer months all the way from Cape Soya to Noshiro in Akita Prefecture where the first stage concluded. Actually, it was the female mosquitoes that caused all the trouble, or sucked as much of my blood as they could hold! The little buggers needed protein for their eggs, which they appeared contented to get from my blood! The male mosquitoes were much less trouble, as they only focused their attention on the flowers and plants that were rich in nectar and other important juices for them. I read somewhere that the males and females of some species of mosquitoes did this; whilst however, the female mosquitoes still sought blood for their eggs.

Experienced tramper of the roads as I was, dressing for the freezing weather was something that I always liked to read up on. It was no secret that layers of clothing allowed for better insulation when it came to camping out on the snow. Wool and synthetic clothing was preferred over cotton for winter conditions. It was breathable in that it allowed the body moisture to escape instead of trapping it as cotton tended to do when it became wet by sweat or rain. The layers of clothing could be easily adjusted so as to regulate any body moisture and temperature. However, this was something that I did not like to do for the smell of sweat lingered. So I hoped it would not be too cold once I started walking. “Our boots are pretty well worn out, and we have to halt at times to pick the snow out of the soles” (Ernest Shackleton).

In the end I decided to stick to the smelly old battered walking boots that had served me reasonably well on the Cape Soya to Noshiro tramp through the summer. Following my previous experience of record levels of rainfall in Hokkaido, this time I decided to waterproof my boots the best I could for what it was worth. There was a time when I never put much thought into walking boots, and that boots were boots and far as I was concerned, they either fitted or they did not. How wrong I was! These days there were different kinds of walking boots on the market, such as, low level and approach walking boots (or shoes), which provided adequate grip and support for easier uneven terrain. Hill walking and trekking boots with their waterproof liner came with an aggressive tread pattern. Last but not least, four season walking boots, for longer backpacking trips when heavy backpacks would be carried.

The correct types of boots were essential regardless of the activity, hiking, mountaineering, or a Sunday stroll in a park. It was important to protect the feet with the right support, so as to get as much comfort and enjoyment out of the outdoor adventure from beginning to end. As I had already complained in my road-notes about the blisters and sore toes I suffered at various times on the roads last summer. And so painful had my feet and legs become that I even toyed with the idea of packing everything up and getting my sorrowful butt back to the warmth and comfort of my apartment in Tokyo. Besides the blisters and sore feet, wearing inadequate footwear could result in getting twisted ankles if you did not keep your wits about you, which would almost certainly mean an end to continuing. Fortunately in the end, that did not happen, and things began to improve enough for me to continue on my mission.

To help lessen the chances of any negative happenings, I needed to do some research. For the record, only around 70 percent of the roads in Japan were paved, as to 100 percent in Europe. Therefore, this time not quite knowing what to expect, I needed to try and match the type of boots to the type of walking I planned to do, as well as the distance I hoped to cover on the roads each day. And therefore, with a range of possible mixed conditions in mind, I saw no reason to replace my battered old boots just now, for they were will broken in on all sorts of conditions, and they still had a good few kilometers left in them. Besides the snow and ice that I expected to deal with, the asphalt-covered roads were mostly at a sea level style of walking with no mountainous ranges along the way to deal with. Or so I hoped!There were a good few times when I had to clamber over and around landslides on a number of old abandoned roads, segments of which that had completely fallen into the sea. Still, I did not need to worry about packing mountaineering boots, which were much too stiff and inflexible anyway for tramping the roads comfortably. Besides, it was just as well since I loathed the idea of carrying anything I would not really use or need.

Consequently, it was not an easy task to buy the correct pair of walking boots at anytime of the year since. Besides the time involved, so much had to be taken into consideration. For example, what kind of support-cum protection would I need? What were the roads and terrain conditions like? How heavy did I expect my backpack to be, which would increase and decrease as I went? Of course consideration had to be given to the season and temperature and all that this entailed in the areas I passed along, too. Last, but not lease was the foot-size of the boot, which had to fit correctly. That meant the boots needed to be a bit larger that normal! This was vital since the walking socks used made the feet larger, and which also increased in size through the course of the day on the road. Taking all of this in to consideration, I felt confident that my old high cut boots still had plenty of support in them, and therefore would do well enough in winter walking conditions.

With the extreme record-breaking weather conditions experienced around the world in recent times, I was not really sure what kind of weather to expect on this winter stage. Although the summer stage was hard enough, I could only surmise the weather to be freezing much of the time. Therefore, I picked up a pair of outer waterproof fabric shells in case the heavy rains fell. Getting into a pair of frozen boots in the morning could be a real headache. One good way to counter this problem was to open the boots as wide as possible when I took them off in the evenings, which would help to keep them from freezing in the closed position if the weather did really take a dive. The insulated booties, which had closed cell foam insoles, would keep my feet warmer about camp than if I wore walking boots. There was a saying that I once heard and went something like this: 'If your feet felt cold, then wear a hat.' This made sense since more than half of a person’s body heat could be lost through the head. To prevent heat loss through my head, I did not bother buying a toboggan or a balaclava, but decided to use an old down-hood that I had been laying in a cupboard for a long time. This together with a woolen scarf would be sufficient enough to protect my head, face and neck from cold westerly winds.

I planned to bring a load of old socks with me on this winter stage and bury or burn them each morning or night when their job was up. I knew that wearing more than two pairs of socks would be of no help. It was important for me not to constrict the blood flow to my feet if they were kept to snug in my boots. Also, the constricted flow of blood in the feet would cause them to become uncomfortably cold regardless of how many pairs of socks were worn. Therefore, one or two pairs should be sufficient enough. For the same reason my bootlaces should not be tied too tightly as doing so would constrict the blood flow as well. In addition to the socks and tight bootlaces, gloves (and glove liners) could constrict the blood flow to the hands, preventing them from being warm, if they were too tight. For the summer stage I recall buying a pair of gaiters to protect my boots and the sides of my legs against the heavy rain, which kind of surprised me since I loathed the idea of carrying things deemed nonessential. Unfortunately, then my boots and more often than not my feet, too, got wet regardless. In the end, the new gaiters had been useless and a waist of money, ¥6,000 yen.

With the waterproofing heavily applied to my boots this time around, I hoped the garters would fair better in the snow, and not entirely keep the rain out. And therefore help to keep my feet drier-cum warmer for much of the day. A good few extra pairs of gloves and socks were crammed into my backpack. One reason for this was I had a great knack for loosing stuff somewhere along the road. Also, it was inevitable that the socks and gloves I wore would get wet at some stage in the course of the day, and need changing. It was also advisable to put on a pair of dry socks soon after I made camp. The wet socks from tramping all day would not keep my feet warm for long once I did stop. I learned from experience that the wet gloves and socks could be dried out overnight in the confines of my sleeping bag, providing they were not saturated in the first place to begin with. Usually when I did crawl into my sleeping bag I was so tired that I suspected even my wet dreams got dried out, too.

Food and water was something that took up much of my thinking. Acquiring something to eat in the course of a days tramping was to be sought out at whichever place was open. In the summer months, when I tramped from Cape Soya to Noshiro, I became very reliant on the Seicomart chain of convenience stores and Coca Cola vending machines dotted about the coastal roads. Still, I learnt from my years of cycling and camping around the world that plenty of carbohydrates in the diet provided the fuel needed on those long journeys. The added energy was especially welcomed for tramping in the cold December and January weather. A carbohydrate intake was also useful in helping me to keep my body warm. Food did that! To me it seemed obvious that one-pot meals for supper that were easy to cook in the cold winter evenings, would do just dandy. Though I wondered just how tasty and appetizing easy to fix food could be. Still, it was better than ‘junk-food’ for sure!

It was no secret that drinking plenty of water was a must, even if I was not feeling very thirsty! Memories of how strange I used to think it looked to see collage students in Texas walking about campus carrying large flasks of water in one hand and their books in the other. Back then in the early 1990s, suffering from dehydration in the height of summer was a shared fear! The dry winter air tended to dehydrate the body just as quickly without even noticing it. Like the carbohydrates, the water was necessary for generating body heat. A look at the color of your urine was a good rule of thumb for checking hydration. For example, urine that was light in color or clear was a warning sign about being hydrated.

I had already commented on how long a person could be expected to survive without water (ten days at the most). To some extent, my water bottles had to be kept from freezing, and this I did by putting them in a woolen sock or insulated bottle cover. Even the satellites that orbited outside the Earth’s atmosphere had a thermal blanket covering to keep them from freezing up, and over heating in temperatures that ranged from -120 degrees to + 280 degrees; without which they would become just about useless. If necessary I was prepared to melt snow for water, such was my intake of this clear gold. It would not have been the first time that I needed to do so. On one trekking trip in Canada many years ago I could still recall putting a small amount of water into the pot with the snow beforehand to keep from scorching the pot. The coffee filters that I planned to take with me would also be useful for straining away the dirt and bugs from the water melted from the snow, should the need arise. To help counter the freezing of the full water bottles I would take with me, they would be placed upside down in the evenings to prevent ice forming at the opening.

It had been said years before that walking was an inexpensive form of travel, and I think I even agreed with the statement at that time. If anyone ever told me that now, or that hiking and camping was a poor man's way to travel, I would consider that person either naive or a fool. The three-season sleeping bag, and a bevy bag to cover it with, not to mention, improve its temperature rating, set me back a pretty penny. My trusty little one-man tent was getting on in years, and this was the first time it would be used in the snow. Just how insolating the tent would be for me in a freezing evening breeze blowing in from the sea remained to be seen. Whether or not it would be able to support the weight of snow that had fallen in the night was one of the many worries that flowed through my mind. Perhaps it is steep enough to let the snow slide off or not build up, or so I hoped. I really had no idea how the tent would perform. Among the stuff I bought was a blue tarp to set up the tent on, and for added insulation every little bit counted. My shopping list also included a set of snow pegs to support the tent flysheet firmly, since regular tent pegs usually failed to work well even in soggy ground.

Fearing a strong wind-com snowstorm or blizzard starting up unexpectedly, I planned to get into the habit of attaching lengthy cord to each of the tent fly sheet corners when I made camp. It would to use rocks or logs for anchors. Often the ground around could be frozen, which made it difficult to drive the pegs firmly into the ground. And if the rain or wet snow made it too soft to hold the pegs, then the rocks would do nicely. If there were absolutely no roads or logs to be had, then additional information had to be considered, especially when camping on deep snow. Packing a few one-gallon size freezer bags might prove had when filled with snow to tie the stakeout cords to. On a previous venture they once served as suitable anchors instead of using stakes.

One did not have to possess a high Intelligence Quotient or IQ to know that tramping over the ice and snow was much slower and therefore less ambitious in terms of kilometers covered than in more favorable weather conditions. This was also in part because the daylight hours, which were precious for tramping the busy roads in particular, were less in the wintertime. This also meant that the time spent tramping the icy roads would be limited so as to allow me more time for making camp and preparing something hot to eat and drink. Or so it was hoped! The chores done around camp, such as putting up the tent and lighting a fire, would take me longer in the cold weather, too. That was how it was, so there was no point in bitching about it. Like I said, it remained to be seen if my tent would be sturdy enough to deal with the high winds and snow drifts buildup that could accompany the winter storms. Of course, I felt confident about my tent in mild winter conditions, but how to be ready for something more severe? To get as comfortable a sleep as possible it was important to select a camping site well sheltered from the wind. I already knew to avoid any vegetation and set my tent up on the snow if possible. I read somewhere that snow was the ultimate ‘No Trace’ campsite, because all signs of your camp would disappear when the snow melted in the spring.

Of course, my biggest fear were blizzards, those massive snowstorms that reeked havoc on people’s lives in more ways than one. In fact, the amount of snow that fell in a certain amount of time was one of the ways to measure severity of a blizzard. The force of the winds and the distance in front of your nose were other indicators. For example, a blizzard could be defined as a snowstorm as having winds more than 55 kilometers per hour, and with a visibility of less than 400 meters. There was a time factor, too! The snowstorm needed to last for more than three hours for it to be even considered a blizzard. Akita and Niigata prefectures were famous for the heavy snowfall and blizzard-like winds that blow in from the sea. For of the coastline was flanked by pine tree barriers to protect against such elements. Therefore, I needed to show some precaution of the possibility arising. When I did make camp I knew that it helped to pack down the snow firmly first before setting up my tent. At least for the comfort it offered! Otherwise, my body could form a deformation in the loose snow, which could easily freeze making sleeping uncomfortable. In addition, if the area in the snow I choose to make camp was overly exposed to the wind, it was advisable to dig a hole, about a meter deep to set up my tent in. This should help reduce the force of wind that blasted at my tent, as well as go some ways to easing the tension placed on the tent poles.

Having to deal with what to wear was an on going issue from start to finish, too. No thinks to the wet weather conditions in Hokkaido last summer my stock of clean clothing was often exhausted. Often I had to use the same smelly, sweat stained rags day after day. But now this was winter! The right kind of clothing often involved adjusting and readjusting the layers by putting on or removing accordingly. By keeping in touch with the different layers, it would help prevent heat building up and to reduce the sweating, which was just as bad even in winter. I knew, too, to avoid cotton clothing! It was still fresh in my mind the way that cotton clothes stuck to my back from perspiration. Fleece jackets were the best at venting the heat and moisture. Also, when the moisture buildup in my clothes on previous ventures, it tended to make me uncomfortably cold each time it evaporated.

Whenever I did stop to a rest for any length of time, or to make camp at the end of a long day on the road, it was necessary to put on additional layers of insulation. It was also important not to cool down, too, quickly, since it took a good bit of effort just to warm back up again. Therefore, I tried not to stop so long out in the open when eating. It helped to snack on pieces of food, nuts or chocolate through the course of the day only taking short breaks from walking. I found that the little hip belt pouches made it easier to carry small snacks to bite on without needing to stop along the way. The plan was simply not to cool down too much, or stop to adjust the layers of clothing too many times. Even the five minute rests could soon ad up to an hour, or four or five kilometers in terms of distance. Wasting valuable time because of one happening or another tended to leave me feeling depressed for the rest of the evening.

It was also a good thing, I felt, to have some hot water at the ready. A sturdy insulated thermos flask was a valuable piece of equipment to have with me for making a cup of tea, coffee, or soup. Not to mention regurgitate some life back into me whenever I felt myself getting cold. Still, I would need to be aware of the signals that my body was trying to send me, like, cold fingers or toes. Cold fingers, or cold toes, or both, indicated that I needed to make a rest stop somewhere to address the problem. For example, the bootlaces being too tight could cause cold toes. A little before I setout to begin Stage 2 from Noshiro (where Stage 1 ended), a friend presented me with a few pairs of insoles that became warm when they were placed inside mu boots. The same friend also gave me a tube of hand cream that does the same, and which I just knew would come in useful. Besides a lightweight thermos flask that I picked up for this trip, a large insulated mug to keep my drinks hot longer would work a treat. Certainly, I had to carry a regular water bottle on my hip belt, too, to make it easier to drink from when on the road.

Like a couch potato, it was not easy to gage just what the weather conditions would be like when sitting in front of my television in Tokyo. Apart from some educated guesses, I had no idea how much rain would fall, or how deep the snow would be, or how strong the winds would blow, or how cold the temperature would be. I would just have to wait and find out. In Tokyo the weather dawned in near perfection, fresh, sunny, clear and bright. “Fuck it! Surely it would stay that was when I got to Noshiro? Fuck it! Why should I worry?” Swearing could become habitual, if I was not careful, and I had crossed paths with a few shady characters on my travels in other countries that could not open their mouths without swearing. Venting my frustration or not, I could only hope that the weather would remain mild whenever I did get back out on to the road again. “My little army shovel was a must!” I thought, as I strapped it to my backpack. It would be useful for digging a space in the snow for my tent, and a little kitchen trench when necessary. Besides the shovel, a foam pad to sit on, on the frozen ground in camp was a must. It would help to prevent any loss in body heat, especially through my rear end.

As with a few snacks to nibble on as I made my way along the roads, it was also useful to have something hot to drink, like, soup available when sitting around camp in the evening. Being out in the open, the extra fluids and heat was welcome. Unfortunately for me, this meant that I had to limit any alcohol intake. Alcohol thinned the blood and would only inhibited the ability to keep warm. In the mornings I liked to boil water for tea or coffee, but caffeinated drinks were best avoided before climbing into the sleeping bag. Besides making sleep difficult, drinking before you slept tended to send you to the john (toilet) in the middle of the night, which was something I would prefer to avoid. As to food, I used to think it was not good to eat before going to bed, but somehow such concerns went out the window when it came to camping in the snow. A snack before hitting the sack (sleeping bag) was a good thing, in that; it helped the body to generate heat and fuel during the long winter nights. It was also good to exercise for a while before thinking about sleep. After all, a warm body meant a warm sleeping bag.

Not knowing what weather conditions or temperatures to expect, I even invested in a bevy sack. “With the sleeping bag placed inside the bevy sack surely the comfort range would be increased.” I remembered thinking as I made my way along Yasukuni Dori (Avenue) in the Kanda area of Tokyo when I went to buy one a few days ago. There were a few other less expensive options open to me, such as, using cloth liners, vapor barrier liners or space blanket bags, which were a must for any survival kit. Even doubling up on sleeping bags, was something that I considered doing. I all ready had a summer sleeping bag with weighed next to nothing. But how much stuff I was prepared to carry had to be considered. I knew that vapor barrier liners should only be used in temperatures that were well below freezing; or that doubling up on sleeping bags should only be done if there was enough room in the main sleeping bag to be comfortable. In all weather conditions from summer through winter, I liked to place a foam pad or mat under my sleeping bag. For camping on the snow, some friends of mine had suggested two pads, for insulation from the ground was more important than insulating myself from the cold air. Moving the body (walking) on the road got the blood going and the body temperature rising, but in the evenings things weren’t quite the same.

When sleep did come on the very cold nights, it was more comfortable, I found, to wear something on the head, like, a woolen stocking cap, or toboggan, or a balaclava. “Perhaps the old down feather hood would do!” I thought, not wishing to spend unnecessarily. Wearing something on the head helped keep in the body heat. Remember, if your feet felt cold then wear a hat! Another way to hold in the heat was to cinch up the sleeping bag so that only the eyes, nose, and mouth were exposed. Because of the possible accumulation in moisture, breathing inside the sleeping bag at night was not a good idea. Breathing through a stocking cap or whatever on those really cold nights, was all right. Besides, a damp sleeping bag would only reduce its insulating ability. One little trick I learned on those cold evenings in the tent was placing a well-sealed plastic bottle containing warm water inside the foot of my sleeping bag. Of course, this helped to keep my feet warm through much of the night, or until I went to sleep. Another useful trick to keep my boots from freezing in the night was to place a bottle of warm water in them. It also helped to keep them covered over with something, or from being left outside in the evenings.

When it came to washing, the smaller articles of clothing, like, socks and underwear could be dried inside my sleeping bag. However, I had to make sure that I did not even attempt to dry large articles of clothing like a pair of trousers or a sweater in my sleeping bag overnight. The sleeping bag had to be kept dry at all costs! As with breathing inside the sleeping bag, the moisture from the wet clothes would only affect insulation, thus becoming cold, which kind of defeated its purpose. To counter any condensation building up, it helped to vent the tent as much as possible at night. Also, well-sealed water bottles placed inside my sleeping bag would help keep them from freezing overnight, which made it easier to boil for tea or coffee in the mornings.

The winter mornings were not to be taken lightly! In the warmer months I would be up and about camp early preparing hot water for tea or coffee, and to get ready to make an early start. The cold weather, however, had its own way of slowing things down somewhat. To help keep warmer longer about camp in the mornings I preferred to stay in my sleeping bag as long as the time allowed, even while preparing my simple breakfast of nuts, dried fruit. And a cup of hot tea or coffee! Likewise, when packing up my camp things, my sleeping bag was one of the last items to be put away. The sleeping bag helped to keep the morning's clothing warmer, the socks, T-shirts, underwear, or whatever in the mornings before putting them on. Even the insoles from my boots could be kept warm in this way. Another thing to be careful about was that in the winter months, it was important not to overdress, for fear of overheating when tramping along the roads.

It was advisable to remove the unnecessary insulation layers needed when at camp. Tramping the roads will produce heat that is not there when standing in one place or in camp. Perhaps uncomfortably cold at first when discarding unnecessary layers of insulation before hitting the road, but in my case on the road, I usually warmed up very soon afterwards. On this winter stage of my mission I planned to use my old 'Camp 7' down jacket, a gift given to me donkeys years ago by my dear Korean friend, Sabina Kim, the most generous of ladies I have ever met in my entire life. As expected, of course, the jacket was now just that bit on the small side, but as experience on the roads had told me again and again, the old down jacket would fit me true and proper very soon. Just how well the jacket would serve me when tramping the roads in this winter stage of my mission remained to be seen.

On the long hard roads, being organized was an important rule of thumb. Although my sleeping bag was often one of the last items to be put away before setting off on the road, it was advisable to have those little nick-knacks that may be needed at anytime, at hand. For me it was important to arrange the little things in and about my backpack where they could be got at easily and at anytime. These could be anything from tea bags, coffee, snacks, spare gloves and socks, a flashlight, and of course, batteries, or whatever. Doing this saved time, which was a most valuable thing that had to be respected! Or to paraphrase the American motivational speaker and author, Earl Nightingale (1921-89), who said, ‘don’t let the fear of the time it would take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time would pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.

On the miscellaneous front, I did not have to care whether my water bottles had loops on the caps, or cord tied around the bottlenecks to make carrying them easier. Among my camping gear was a small shoulder pouch that I never really had little use for before. It was only when thinking about this wintry stage of my mission that I discovered how two 500-milliliter plastic water bottles fitted snuggly into it, and so its importance was increased. One thing that I was sure would be useful though was to tie loops of cord to the zipper pulls on my backpack and jacket so as to make them easier to operate should my fingers suffer the cold. To combat these problems chemical heat pack, which should last several hours, would be kept handy to warm the feet and hands when necessary.

Someone once told me that keeping extra batteries close to your body or in the sleeping bag at night would help to keep them warm. It was true that I never thought about the cold reducing the life of batteries until it was brought to my attention. I all ready knew from experience that the batteries of my little shortwave radio had a much shorter life span when used at higher volume, as opposed to being used at lower volume. This problem was solved altogether when I decided not to pack my radio anymore, including a few other items, to reduce the weight I needed to carry with me. It fact, a couple of sets of batteries were rather heavy, so the ones I did take pack into my backpack were a lot fewer than on previous trips. I wondered the Italian, Alessandro Volta, who produced the first ever battery in 1800 would have agreed?

A similar problem popped up on the road with my digital camera, when it did not seem to work properly in the really cold days. Although Japan could not be compared to the Antarctic, it was a problem that the Ernest Shackleton expedition (1907 to 1909) had when it came to taking photos. “There was considerable difficulty in taking photographs owing to the focal plane shutter having become jammed by frost.” What was more, it did not help any to keep the camera too close to for warmth, for the sweat from my body also caused the thing to malfunction at a number of times when I really needed it. In the end, I just put the camera in a plastic bag, which helped prevent body moisture from wetting it. There was enough to carry as it was, so I had no intention of using walking sticks or ski poles to help me keep balance on the ice or snow covered roads. Instep crampons, too, were more a hindrance than help. Not to down play the hazards of my mission, I was tramping along the coastal roads most of the time, not tracking up the sides of steep mountain ranges. If I was to slip while tramping on the icy roads with my heavy backpack, it seemed logical to try and land on my back if at all possible. So I saw nothing wrong with allowing my backpack to take the brunt of the fall should I take a tumble. Of course, just how easy it was to maneuver a falling loaded up body remained to be seen.

21 Dec, 2009: Once again anxiousness and apprehension knocked at my door and my unfortunate friend was there to receive a few verbal bites of my short fuse. She had kindly come to accompany me as far as Tokyo JR Station where I was to pick up an Orion Tours coach bound for Noshiro in Akita Prefecture. Last summer she took me to Haneda Airport where I caught a flight to Cape Soya to begin the first stage of my big tramp around the coastline of Japan. My short fuse blew then, too. It was around nine in the evening when we got off the train at Tokyo JR Station. My friend was always a confident sort of person, I felt, and as sure-footed in life as a mountain goat. Unfortunately, for my nerves the station area was not as plain and straightforward as it looked on the map. When the exact place to get the coach was comfortably cemented in our brains once and for all, only then did we make our way along to a British bar, which had also been located on the Internet some hours earlier.

The staff at 'Coopers' seemed kind and professional about their work. One of them kindly took my large backpack to store in a safe out of the way place for me. Perhaps it was more for the safety of some drunken customers falling over it and breaking something in the form of bones. Our drinks soon arrived! My friend was not her usual cheerful self! There was no need in asking why, as I knew she was taken aback by my little bursts of anger. This was not my character either in almost all circumstances, but it was how I tended to get on the eve of an adventure. Perhaps it was better if no one saw me off at such times, and I departed quietly. But my friend insisted on seeing me to the coach, so what could I do. As I sipped my pint of Guinness and she her whiskey sour, I wondered if she would ever see me off again?

22 Dec, 2009: The bus ride was long and uncomfortable, and miserable to say the least. I could not sleep a wink, or idle away the endless hours by reading a book. Or even look out the window as the bus sped along the highway, for there was noting but yellow lights that looked as if they were flashing past like tracer bullets. For some reason the reading lights did function, and the curtains remained drawn for the entire journey. And even the final hours before the arrival at our stop in Noshiro when the sun rose, the curtains remained drawn. Still, I looked forward eagerly to my coming mission, for I felt my body ready for the strenuous effort required. Of course, I was also still fraught with a good bit of anxiety, but I felt that would soon be burnt off once I got started on my way.

The coach pulled up outside Noshiro JR Train Station at nine twenty-five in the morning, twenty-five minutes earlier than schedule. The snow was heavy on the ground when I stepped down from the coach to wait patiently for one of the two drivers on the journey to retrieve my backpack from the baggage compartment. Almost immediately Eiji-san appeared out of nowhere to welcome me with a hearty handshake. He was accompanied by on of his employees, a friendly young chap called Kouki. They both helped me to carry my things over the snow and slush covered road to their place of work. From the look on their faces I could see that they were surprised at how heavy my backpack was. In an earlier e-mail, Eiji-san had warned me about carrying too much. Now I was beginning to think that, perhaps he was right, I had taken too much stuff with me. It was not easy to wash and dry clothes on the road in the wintertime, unless you had the time to do so, which I did not. Among my things were old clothes, mainly worn-out T-shirts that I planned to wear only once before burying or burning them along the way. My plan was to get the weight of the backpack down to a respectable level by the end of the first week on the road.

Soon I was sitting at a table in a place, which was a mix between a local community center and a coffee shop. After being welcomed to Noshiro, Eiji rushed off to do some pressing business, which I was assured, would not take long. Kouki set about making me a cup of hot coffee, which I was happy to have. While both were away, I set about getting some ideas down in my notebook. The silence was broken only by a most hideous sound. It was the turning of a large drum, inside of which hundreds of tiny balls, mostly of the same color, were placed. As I was to learn later on, residents with a certain number of stamps for shopping in the locality were illegible to turn at the drum. The least number of balls of a certain color constituted first prize, the next second prize, and so forth. For a second prize colored ball the lucky person could receive a ¥10,000 yen bill, which was not to be laughed at. For the first prize you could receive as much as, ¥100,000 yen. For the most commonly colored balls there were numerous conciliatory prizes, such as, boxes of washing up powder, and many other little household items.

Twenty minutes later Eiji-san returned and set down beside me at the table. "The reporter from the local newspaper will be here soon". He said in English, which of course I was not overly happy about. He also told me that his wife Emiko would prepare dinner for us, and that she looked forward to meeting me, which I was happy to know. I also leant that two of the numerous local people who stopped by while I was there had won second prizes. I was happy for them, since the area, or what I saw of it during a short walk about the streets looked very rundown with empty or closed up shops and businesses. Eiji-san spoke in very concise and fluent English! Which did not surprise me since he and his family had lived for more than twenty years in America, where he worked in the media and in translation. Now he had found himself in the mighty task of promoting the city of Noshiro, where he was born. The stroll about the place told me that Eiji-san certainly had his work cutout for him. Like I said, there were many closed up shops and businesses, and many empty houses where families once lived. During my visit, Eiji-san told me that the Noshiro area had the highest rate of suicides in the country. It was not easy for me to verify the information even on the Internet, but I did know that suicide was frightfully high in Japan

Suicide was a significant national social-issue throughout the country. According to 2006 suicide rates, Japan had the ninth highest in the world, mostly male (71%) between the ages of twenty to the mid-forties, with depression, unemployment, and social pressures being the main factors. Depression remained the number one cause! Japan had a long history of so-called ‘honorable suicides’, like, the ritual suicide of the Samurai to avoid capture, or the shame of his family name. This form of suicide was called ‘seppuku’ a form of disembowelment when they cut open their stomachs with a short shape blade. Then we must not forget the Kamikaze who flew their airplanes into the warships during the War in the Pacific, as the Second World War was called in Japan. Currently one common method of committing suicide was leaping in front of incoming trains. However, railway companies place the cost on the families of those who leaped to their deaths, an action that depended on the severity of the disruption. Since the Bubble Economy burst there had been a rapid increase in suicides since the 1990s.

There were a couple of very large general stores that seemed good meeting spots, but I was not sure just how good business was, and I did not bother to go in and look around. Noshiro was a city without even a single Starbucks coffee shop to its name, at least when I was there. Nor did I notice any other famous chain store names located around the center of town I guess was food for thought? The town center just did not look busy at all! Eiji-san’s wife, Emiko, was perhaps one of the busiest of women I had ever met in my life. Besides helping her husband in promoting Noshiro City and the surrounding area, Emiko was kept busy with different volunteer related activities. She also was involved in translating a book of some sort, which was done with the help of her English teacher whom she studied with once a week. The English teacher had moved to Noshiro to live with her Japanese husband who taught English at a local public school. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance or time to meet them, as it would have been nice to talk for a while with a foreigner residing in the area, and to exchange information.

I feared for Eiji-san for the mighty task he had undertaken to rejuvenate life back into the local economy in someway, somehow. In some ways he was like me, an adventurer at heart. He saw this massive task in terms of it being an adventure! I had much respect for them both, to return to Japan after such a long absence away, to reestablish their lives. Even though in all honesty, I did not really know them very well, I could only wish the top of the morning to them both, and that the wind would forever be behind them, as the Irish say. What I did know was that one did not need to have an MBA from Harvard to understand that Eiji-san’s challenge was one that would have its ups and its downs. However, something told me that in the absence of big name shops in the area, there were going to be more downs than ups. But then again, what did I know, as I sometimes had trouble even counting my change.

Coming across people like Eiji-san tended to make my mind work overtime. “Could promoting a city be seen in such simple terms, like, an adventure?” I remembered thinking, as I stopped over some slush onto the hard snow again that coated much of the pavement. An adventure for me was something like sailing around the world single handedly, or climbing to the top of one of the fourteen great mountains in the world, or even roughing it along the coastal roads of Japan in all seasons, or roughing it anywhere for that matter. Only time would tell how things turned out for Eiji-san, which I did not have much of in any one place. When I left their home I did wish him all the best in his efforts to rekindle a flame into the Noshiro economy. Regardless of any success or failure, I felt honored that our paths crossed, and that both Eiji and his wife Emiko were two people on a mission, and one that I did not envy.

23-24 Dec, 2009: In the morning my clothes were finally dry. I now knew I had too much stuff with me, and was beginning to feel a bit embarrassed as Emiko helped me to fold them. Like I said, they were mainly old things that I hoped to wear once and get rid of them along the way. This did not mean to simply dump them along the roadside, but to burn or bury them whenever I could. God forbid I had seen all sorts of stuff dumped by the roadside, as well as down beautiful hillsides as I made my way along the coastal roads last summer. Therefore, I certainly did not wish to become part of that team of thoughtless minded people. There were even countless bits and pieces of trash in space currently orbiting the Earth. For example, there were many abandoned rocket stages, and dead satellites, and so on. In time the space junk would reenter the Earth atmosphere and burn up. In the meantime, down here on the roads nature loving people like myself had to be witness to the careless acts of a despicable minority. Fortunately, Voyager 1 that was launched on 5 September 1977 was not part of this junk. And according to one report I read, recently it was said to be nearing the ‘threshold of forever’. “Mmm! What a mission!” I thought as I cramped the some of the clothes deep into my backpack.

A breakfast of fried eggs, toast and coffee was soon ready, and hurried devoured! Eiji had said his goodbyes to me earlier on that morning as he left for work. My short stay had come to an end all too quickly. There was so much I wanted to talk more about, but alas, all good things ended too soon. The plan was for Emiko to drive me to the same spot the police picked me up and drove me all the way back to the main police station in Noshiro for questioning last night. While placing my backpack into the car, I could not help but notice out of the side of my eyes an elderly neighbor looking down at me from his upstairs window. I suspected the man was the same fellow who Eiji-san told me about who was addicted to watching porno films. How Eiji-san knew such a thing was any ones guess, but like I said before, people living in such close-knit places knew everything about everybody. Or that was how it was in Belfast when I was a child! I even remembered once spitting in the street and the news of it finding its way back to my grandmother. It was the last time I spat anywhere for many years!

Last night when I came out of the pinewood forest it was raining heavily. The rain pounded into the snow like there was no tomorrow, and a glance at the time told me that it was good idea to camp somewhere. This I finally did under an overhanging roof at the entrance of a disused building a little ways of the road I settled on taking in the morning. The roof offered some dry space to erect the tent, but there was one hell of a cold crosswind that would have froze the balls of a brass monkey. “Perhaps I could light a wee campfire of sorts?” I thought, as I looked about me for something dry to burn, for even the old clothes were much too wet to consider. Piled up next to the closed up entrance of the building were a stake of abandoned wooden packing crates. Upon investigation, they must have been there for years since the broke away in my hand when I touched them. Fortunately, too, the roof had kept one near the top of the pile mostly of them dry. “Good!” I mumbled to myself, as I set about forming my own little pile of broken wood to put lite to.

The heat from the tiny fire was comforting, but not warm enough to dry the wet clothes that lay draped over just about any dry place I could find. Even in the freezing cold I still found it head to keep my eyes open, as I was tired for tramping in the snow all day. Besides, the fire was almost out and trying to catch some shuteye was more important than rekindling the fire any. Across the road a white van turned right at the corner and stopped! It set there for a few minutes, but I gave it no heed, and set about spreading out the sleeping bag to crawl into. The next time I looked the van was gone! An hour or so later, I awoke to the sound of footsteps moving through the snow, across the road three police cats now set, the lights flashing as police cars did when out on emergency calls.

A European-style civil police force system had been in existence in Japan since 1874 to maintain order during the Meiji Restoration Era (1868 to 1889). To quote from Wikipedia, “by the 1880s, the police had developed into a nationwide instrument of government control, providing support for local leaders and enforcing public morality. They acted as general civil administrators, implementing official policies and thereby facilitating unification and modernization. In rural areas especially, the police had great authority and were accorded the same mixture of fear and respect as the village head. Their increasing involvement in political affairs was one of the foundations of the authoritarian state in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century.”

Today the National Police Agency in Japan consisted of a whole bunch of different bureaus, like, Police Administration Bureau, Security Bureau, Criminal Investigation Bureau, Traffic Bureau, Regional Public Safety Bureaus, and a whole load of Regional Police Bureaus in all the respective areas. Not to mention, the Prefectural Police Forces, and Police Communications Divisions, as well as the police assigned to the Imperial Guard. In Tokyo it was literally impossible not to see at least one policeman or policewoman, for the massive number of ‘koban’ (police boxes or substations) throughout the city. Or the many police on white bicycles, or in police cars on the roads, on any given day. Of course, I was no puritan and had fallen foul a number of times in my life in Tokyo when I was stopped for various reasons, both guilty and not guilty and given a ticket. More than once I had heard some foreign acquaintance refer to Tokyo, if not Japan, as a police state. They were located just about everywhere you looked or walked, close to major transportation hubs, in residential districts, and in or near big shopping areas.

Vigilance was the name of the game! From the tiny koban one or two police could stand watch over their area. The Japanese people had come to appreciate this for what it was really worth. “Mmm! Perhaps a false sense of security was better than nothing” I thought was I wondered why they bothered wasting their time on me. Funny enough, I never really found out what they were looking for, or why they spent so much time and trouble going though my damp stuff bit by bit at the police station. Or how funny we all must have appeared crammed into that tiny room upstairs. I remembered asking if I could take a photo of the whole thing, but they politely refused my request. By the time the whole searching process was over and everything was roughly crammed back inside my backpack it was too late to go anywhere. The police had offered to drive me back to the spot to where they had picked me up for questioning. They also offered to contact my friend Eiji-san and his wife if I wanted.

The thought of a hot fire to dry all my things out properly was too much to refuse and with that the call was placed. The police drove me back over to Eiji-san’s house, where I had set off from that morning. Eiji-san fought to conceal his anger with the police for “troubling me”, as he put it, by interrupting my mission around Japan. For my part, I guess they were just doing their job, though what I had to do with it, I still was not sure. When I thought about it later, I think the white van I saw parked earlier for a short while was behind it. Perhaps the owner of the disused building I camped next to was worried that my tiny campfire would have burned his property down.

Then again, I was not so sure just how well this koban structure enabled the police to respond immediately to the local resident wows, or incidents nearby. One of their tasks was counseling local citizens! A friend of mine once went to the police at a local koban to report a strange man who sometimes followed her. The policeman on duty told her that if the man killed her, then they would try and do something. It was true that the police received a lot of minor crime reports from the citizens, for you only had to fart loudly to receive a cautioning from the police. At large, the Japanese were mainly honest and handed in lost and found articles to the police at the local koban. Apart from receiving traffic tickets from time to time over the years, the police did give me a few directions on how to get to some place a few times, for which I was grateful. That night Emiko worked hard washing and drying my things for the morning, for which I will never forget.

It was morning and once again I was speeding towards my starting point, this time in Emiko’s car. Soon we arrived back at the same place I was taken from last night in a police car. After a heartfelt hug and a thank you to her fort her warm kindness, I was once again on my way down the cold icy road in the direction of the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea). Ironically, the same police who picked me up last night and drove me all the way back to Noshiro to the main police station there slowly passed me by in the police car. After a tiny wave and nod from all parties in the car, we went our different ways. Of course, I was glad to see the back of them, and I suspected they were glad to see the back of me, too. “Mmm!” I wondered if they had seen the article about me in this morning’s newspaper? If they had, they might have felt a little guilty about detaining me. Of course, it was never easy to know how the Japanese felt about anything. I did not care much about that now either, for I had a lot of catching up to do, not thanks to the unforeseen delay.

The road was not busy, which made the going good, and last nights rain had finally stopped, which I was glad to see. The weather was surprisingly not so cold either, and even the snow was beginning to melt before my very eyes. This was not as good as it sounded since I somehow managed to slip and fall over in the melted snow. Getting up from the wet ground, too, with a fully loaded backpack on your back was easier said than done. I tramped along as steadily as I could, whilst paying especial attention to the unevenness at the side of the road. After a good two hours I stopped at a vending machine, where I popped in ¥120 yen only to be greeted by a computerized female voice announcing, "Melly Kuresumasu". I had forgotten all about it being Christmas time already! “God, where had all the time gone?” I wondered, as I pushed the appreciate button and out popped my Christmas treat, a soft drink called 'Sporta'.

The dark, low and heavy clouds had accompanied me for much of my tramping that day. I recalled the tiny patches of blue sky far off to one side and the rays from the sun breaking through. Further along my way I came to a little post office in Noishi. There I purchased eight ¥50-yen stamps for my postcards. The slim, well-mannered young man who served me, also assured me that the flower picture on the stamps was very representative of Akita Prefecture. With the stamps now safely secured away in my little hip bag, the young man asked me if I was driving? "No!” I answered. “I am walking”. And with that, his eyes opened up in great surprise. Soon a young lady working at the next window, as well as, a stocky fellow clad in a suit, which I took to be the manager, were all standing before me, each with an interested face. I could feel that I was about to be hit with a host of questions, which I could not possibly answer as satisfactorily as I would have liked, for I needed t getting going. I remembered the newspaper article, which I kept neatly, folded up in my bag. This was hastily produced for them to look at for their own contentment, which they did together.

If all things that I absolutely loathed, it was shouldering an overly heavy backpack for the umpteenth time. Then there were the numerous tiny plastic shopping bags, filled with the nick-necks I thought I needed, tied on to the outside of it. I must have looked like a walking Christmas tree to anyone who passed me by. I was not the only one who felt this way. Last night a policeman had commented on how much stuff I carried. This morning Eiji-san mentioned that I was more then welcome to leave some of my excess load with him to be sent to me in Tokyo later on. Of course, I declined the kind offer by assuring him that it was all part of my plan to dispose of most of the stuff little by little, and as soon as possible. “It would help to keep me warm digging the holes to bury the stuff each night,” I told him with my Steve McQueen smile. In my heart I knew that they were correct, for it had not been easy tramping carefully on the ice and stepping over the deep puddles that had been formed by the melted snow.

Yesterday whenever the police detained me for questioning, and a thorough search through all of my damp clothes, bags, and camping stuff, I had already burned an old T-shirt, a worn out pair of underwear, and long johns that were literally on their last legs. Then there was also the pair of socks with holes in the toes that met the same fate earlier on in the day when I stopped to change them for drier ones. Which I may add did not remain dry for long, for the rain got into just about everything. With my rain-saturated backpack being that way, it was not easy to notice any change in the weight. On a positive side I was confident it would become lighter in the very near future, even if I had to take stringent measures and dump everything once and for all. For the moment I was just going to have to tramp along even if my backpack was still not light enough for comfort.

I had just pitched my tent behind a tree on a dry patch of ground free from snow when a tiny police car passed me by. There was just one policeman in the car and he was heading northwards towards Hachiryu from whence I come. Last night just a brief time had elapsed between making camp and when the police showed up to inform me to dismantle everything and accompany them to the main police station in Noshiro. It was cold and raining they said and that I would be more comfortable to question me at the police station where it was nice and warm. “Mmm! More comfortable for who?” I remembered mumbling to myself as a rolled up the wet stuff, as the police stood around me shivering. That was how it was when you drove around all day in the warmth of an air-conditioned car. Now, I was more careful where I camped, this time on what appeared to be public ground, at just where Route 101 forked into two directions. The left fork headed towards the town of Oga, and the right to Toga Bay. It was along the branch to the right that I had set my mind upon tramping in the morning.

The police always had that gift of showing up just as the sun was going down! No sooner had I finished taking some snaps of the area from my tent when I caught sight of the tiny police car coming slowly up the road. “Mmm!” I wondered if it was the same one that passed me ten minutes ago. It was! The car stopped a few meters away from my tent, and out hopped a middle-aged police officer and greeted me with a smile and a few hearty words. As with the police the night before, the same kind of questions followed, my alien registration card was asked for. And, like the previous night, the details from the card were equally copied down in great detail by pen into a tiny notepad.

Unlike yesterday, this time my choice of place to make camp was not a problem, which I was happy to learn from a question of my own. In short, the policeman proved to be a pleasant fellow just out doing his job, though I felt some of his questions were somehow none of his business. He asked me about my health, how I washed, was it cold in the tent in the night, and if I had any money? It was the second time this evening that I had been stopped and asked the same questions, especially the question about having any money, which intrigued me somewhat. It was a question that was left until the other more predictable questions had been satisfactorily addressed and taken note of. Somewhat similar to last night at the main Noshiro police station where I had been carted away to so as to be questioned and searched in the comfort and warmth as the caring policemen saw it.

Then when they could not find the "lots of money" I told them that I had earlier when one of them asked me about having money. Then time one of them asked me if I was joking? To which I answered that I was not, for my money was in the form of a credit card, which seemed to satisfy him. I was not sure why the police asked such questions, or why they needed to know if I had money, or did not have money, or how much I had, or whatever. With the through going over of my things, I was surprised that they overlooked my post office, bank, and credit cards. Surely even a quick glance at my rather costly camping equipment, the focus of their search, might have offered some sort of satisfactory answer as to my wealth. Then again, perhaps they needed to know for sure from the horse's mouth how I stood financially. I wondered what the outcome might have been had I answered in the negative? Perhaps they might have passed a police hat around or raided the police piggy bank. Wishful thinking! As dark was fast falling, and I still had a few knots to tie up about camp, I was glad to see the back of the policeman as he drove out of sight.

Then when they could not find the "lots of money" I told them that I had earlier when one of them asked me about having money. Then time one of them asked me if I was joking? To which I answered that I was not, for my money was in the form of a credit card, which seemed to satisfy him. I was not sure why the police asked such questions, or why they needed to know if I had money, or did not have money, or how much I had, or whatever. With the through going over of my things, I was surprised that they overlooked my post office, bank, and credit cards. Surely even a quick glance at my rather costly camping equipment, the focus of their search, might have offered some sort of satisfactory answer as to my wealth. Then again, perhaps they needed to know for sure from the horse's mouth how I stood financially. I wondered what the outcome might have been had I answered in the negative? Perhaps they might have passed a police hat around or raided the police piggy bank. Wishful thinking! As dark was fast falling, and I still had a few knots to tie up about camp, I was glad to see the back of the policeman as he drove out of sight.

Author's Bio: 

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?