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. 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 later. Stage 9 started at 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 two weeks.

26 March, 2010: The rain had at last stopped when I pulled myself from a restless slumber. My pocket watch read eight-fifteen, which surprised me. In the cold wet night I longed for the rain to stop, and for the morning to come quickly so as to hit the road extra early before it fell again. For the weather and me it was like a cat and mouse game. Even when the rain stopped, packing away the wet camping gear was no game. From experience I knew that it would not be before an hour when I got back up on to the road. Whenever I did finally shoulder the drenched backpack with its equally soaked contents, a light flurry of snowflakes began to fall. The young man working at the lodge and who gave me a tiny bottle of sake (rice wine),told me that there was a fifty-fifty chance of snow and rain today. News of the rain did not surprise me, but the snow did.

Of course, I was always glad for whatever news on the weather I got, still I somehow did not want to believe the young man. Or rather, I hoped he was wrong. Much of the weather forecasts I had received to date had been wrong, so changeable was it. The snow did not bother me much as it just bounced off. It was a cold and merciless downpour that really bit into me when it did fall. Rain was the assassin of all tramps! Because of the weather, now I began to question my stupidity at visiting this barren place at all. When the rain did let up at times, my mind too would change, and everything would seem so very different. In the case of Sado, it really was a very fertile and productive island, even if I just I just felt so miserable at being there in the bad weather.

The population of Sado was estimated to be around 65,000, which was quite a dip from 1950 when it was a little over 25,000. This was not only with Sado, but similar trends were common in other remote places of Japan. Ever since World War Two the younger generations found work easier to find in urban areas. As of October 1, 2008, according to Wikipedia, 36.3% of the island population was over 65 years old, and was a larger ratio than the national average, and now even less populated than it was in the eighteenth, and nineteenth century. With no universities or employment on Sado there was little to keep the young people from leaving when the time came. Agriculture and Fishing were major sources of income, but even this was not enough to entice the young people to remain. The Fishing industry was mainly based in Ryotsu and Aikawa.

Apart form frequent ferries, transportation links between the island and the mainland came at a tremendous economic price. Kyokushin Airways, which operated flights between Sado and Niigata Airports, ceased operations in late-2008. Currently, New Japan Aviation operated three to four propeller planes daily to Sado Airport. Though tourism peaked in the early-1990s with well over a million visitors each year, this number decreased over time. Around the mid-2000s, the number of visitors to Sado was around 650,000 each year. With a rich history of temples and historical ruins and relaxed, not to mention the islands rural atmosphere and local fresh food, Sado was a major tourist destination in Niigata Prefecture. For the more adventurous visitors, there were various other outdoor activities to make the most of, like, diving, hiking, and climbing, etc.

Earlier on in my tramp the narrow road wound up the sides of a small isolated mountain. A couple of cars passed in the opposite direction, perhaps bound for Ryotsu Port. Where else? For once on Sato I did not bother myself to look at the motorist’s faces. I had seen enough ugly long faces all the way down the costal roads along the mainland to last me a lifetime. Soon a great rock caught my eye and I stopped to take a photo. Faded by the elements through time, I could just make out some flowing kanji script on the face of it. It looked like a haiku poem or something of that nature. Of course, I really had no idea what the faded writing meant, or why the rock was there, nor did I seem to care.

Beyond the rock I stood to look at the powerful Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) smashing into the mountainous coastline far below. For a tiny moment the sight and sound of the rolling sea reminded me of my travels around my own country. But unlike that summer in Ireland long ago, now light snow graced the mountain slopes. Here, too, a photo was snapped! Further along the way as I tramped through one of the many tiny wooden housed towns and villages, a van stopped. The driver, an elderly chap called out to me from the open window if I wanted a lift. "No! I'm walking! Thank you all the same" I told him, with my usual lazy smile.

An hour further along I stepped into a disused hut on an abandoned wreckers yard. Long overgrown with weeds and brambles, the yard was near to the roadside, which was good. I knew that I was not so far from the town of Seki, and did not feel in any hurry to notch up any great distances, as it had been a late start on the island. “Mmm!” The hut would be a good dry place to get down some of my thoughts into my notebook before they passed out from my head all together, I thought. My entry into the place could not have been better timed. Already the snow had gently fallen for much of my tramp! Now, long after leaving the retired French language teacher, it was my reckoning the weather conditions had become upgraded to a mini snowstorm.

The hut measured about one and a half meters by two meters, or about three tatami mats. Of course, there was no such luxury like a tatami mat, but for its tiny size the hut supported two large windows, which offered a good light under a dull sky. The wooden door needed to be prized open for the weeds and bramble that had grown around the bottom. On the positive side, the overgrowth may have added to the warmth by blocking out any draft coming in. Still, it did not help me any trying to prize the damn thing open. However, once inside it was incredibly warm, though very dusty.

House breaking had a number of interpretations, like, training a puppy or dog, domesticated or wild, in order to live in the house, and urinate and defecate in a designated area. A kind of potty training for infants! However, the crime of housebreaking, also called burglary, which meant breaking and entering a property unlawfully would be deemed a crime just about anywhere and at anytime. In short, it was an illegal entry into a building with the intention of committing an offence of some sort, such as damaging or stealing something. My intention was simply to seek shelter and rest from the miserable weather, and baring the weeds and brambles, the door turned out to be unlocked. Still, if the Japanese police were to show up just then, which was what they were good at, I would surely have been carted off in a police car to some distant police station for questioning. Like in any country, entering an abandoned building was considered housebreaking in Japan. Without trying to make an excuse, taking chances was all part of being on the road.

A sturdy wooden wall shelf was fixed just below the larger of the two windows. On top of the shelf and over the floor lay the dried remains of hundreds of flies, spiders, and all kinds of other insects beyond my limited knowledge to name. Only for the hundreds of years between us, I would have sworn that Basho-sama was looking over my shoulders. "There was such a pile of dead bees, butterflies, and other insects, that the real color of the ground was hardly discernible."(Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)/Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa). Fortunately the window was easily slid open, and with a couple of good deeps blows, the insects were led to rest on the snow below.

Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa was born in Ueno, in Iga Province, in todays Mei Prefecture. He grew to become the most famous, if not the greatest haiku poet of the Edo period. He was so famous for his works and teaching on his travels about the country, which greatly influenced his writings, people knew him affectionately as Basho-sama. “Mmm!” For a moment I wondered how alike our lives were. Like myself, Basho-sama had made much of his living as a teacher, and to some extent I too had renounced the social and urban life to wander the roads. In his time, Basho-sama had traveled throughout much of the country on foot, which was the only real way for a humble man like him. He had wandered “far into the northern wilderness to gain inspiration for his writing. His poems were influenced by his firsthand experience of the world around him, often encapsulating the feeling of a scene in a few simple elements.” (Wikipedia).

“Mmm!” I also wondered how my own gallivanting about the country influenced my own writing. From the open window I could see a couple of wracked cars and vans, all rusted and partly hidden with over grown grass, weeds and bramble. By one van set a plastic bin. With nothing but the dry dusty floor covered in dead insects to sit down on, I went back outside into the snow to retrieve the bin. With the hut now as comfortable as I could make it, so as to free my mind from the unstable weather outside, I set down on the bin to write. Glancing up from my notes, after thirty minutes or so, I could see that the snow now carpeted the ground. It continued to fall gently once more. "Perhaps it was time to hit the road again now that the snow had let up somewhat" I said to myself as I got to my feet.

Before getting to Seki Town I had to tramp through the not so long Tsubamine Tunnel, all 222.6-meters of it. It was just the right sort of length as far as tunnels went, too short to get bored in .Just before the mouth of the tunnel stood a clean and comfortable looking bus stop hut. A sturdy and lengthy bench that was positioned by the back wall looked so inviting. However, I did not stop, but tramped past. “Mmm! That was how luck went.” I thought to myself. "If only I had some means of knowing that the fucking bus stop hut was there.” How much more comfortable it would have been to shelter in for a while, to get my road-notes down on paper without attracting unwanted attention. Perhaps even to boil some water at too, for a nice hot cup of tea or coffee would have done just dandy. Little useless discoveries and thoughts like that told me just how uncertain making plans for the future really were. Sadly, and somewhat to my anger, a good few of the bus stop huts down along the coastal roads were not only few and far apart, but in deplorably horrible conditions, smelly, damp, and dirty. Many had been used for other unsightly purposes, too, than simply waiting at for the bus to arrive.

Along the way I stopped in at a local post office to ask if there might be something in the shape of a restaurant to pick up something that might help to keep me from starving? "No! Not in this town!" One of the workers behind the counter replied. Perhaps he saw something in my face, which told him that death was imminent. "In the next town, Ishigi, you surely would find something open." He also said that Ishigi Town was just five kilometers away. I had come to loath the words, ‘just' and 'only'. There was nothing just or only when it came to tramping along the coastal roads to where ever it was that I was headed, hour after hour, day after day. “Mmm!” Five kilometers meant an hour, I thought as I thanked the man and headed back out onto the road.

Like the postal worker had told me, I did find a restaurant, two in fact. One was a ramin or noodles place, and the other was a Japanese inn that specialized in fish dishes, but not exclusively. The only problem I could make out about the restaurants as I drew near, was that they were closed. My pocket watch read one thirty-five. "Shite!” I mumbled under my breath, as I looked through a window. The unwashed bowls, dishes, etc., on the tables told me that the lunchtime crowd had left a little while earlier. The open for business curtain called ‘noren’ in Japanese, which normally hung above the entrances to indicate ‘open for business’ were not there.

When I first came to Japan many years ago I used to think that this traditional Japanese fabric curtain was a great idea, and rather attractive. And they were not bad as souvenirs to bring back to the West either. A noren was not just hung at the entrance of shops and restaurants to show that they were open, but also could be hung between rooms as dividers, or to decorate walls and windows. Usually a noren was rectangular in shape, but not as a rule. Also, they had one or more vertical slits cut at the bottom to near the top. Of course, the slits allowed easier excess to the place it hung from. Noren that was traditionally used at shops and restaurants had other uses, such as, blocking out the sun, wind, and dust. Printed on them in kanji or hiragana to show the kind of establishment, or food or item sold there.

Instead of turning on to the road again, I slid the door open to try my luck. The lights were all switched off! There was not a sole to be seen anywhere. Even after a number of attempts at venting my lungs in all directions including at the ceiling in the hope my voice could be heard by someone upstairs, it was useless. “Fucking hell!” Not knowing which I felt the most, rage or hunger and badly. Of course, I needed fuel for the road. Fortunately for me, a small local store was open a couple of buildings away, however, unlike at the convenience stores, there was no hot food. That did not matter. Anything would do. I came away with two packets of bread rolls, one lot with resins. A packet of sliced cheese, three small cans of tuna, a packet of chocolate biscuits, a small tub of margarine, and for an added treat, a small pudding. The pudding was devoured seconds after leaving the shop, with the rest safely fastened to the outside of the backpack. The pocket watch read four o’clock, as I turned and made my way on to the road once again.

Once on the road the snow began to fall with gusto. The snow bounced off the moment it hit me. At least my clothes did not become damp while it fell or lasted. Up ahead I could see another tunnel. When I drew near to it I was able to see that it was one of those massively long buggers, like the ones that wracked my nerves when I tramped down along the coastal roads of Hokkaido. All the same, it was not quite as long as the monsters I experienced in Hokkaido. There the tunnels went on and on and on, often for more than 3,000-meters. Now from the metal nameplate at the entrance I could see that this one ran for 1,910-meters, which was long enough. Too long!

If the weather had of been more favorable I most certainly would have attempted the tiny abandoned road away to the right, which the tunnel was built in 1992 to replace. Of course, the island of Sado was not to be compared to Hokkaido. Both islands processed beautiful coastal and inland spots for sure. Still, an island the size of Sado to have so much of its coastline taken away in the name of progress, a massive tunnel, was unforgiveable to say the least. Madness! The power of nature is one thing, but when the hand of man intruded on a stunning coastline, by building factories and industrial complexes, which I could be seen here and there from were I stood, was a sin.

Tramping past such unsightly places dotted along a good stretch of the coastline, especially on the outskirts of the larger urban areas, really took the meaning away from my mission. I strongly believed that any infrastructural progress prevented people from fully experiencing and enjoying nature along vast stretches of the coastline not to be progress a tall. There can be no justification for a tiny and beautiful island like Sado to have such massive tunnels blasted into it at all. Tramping through tunnels of mammoth proportion on Hokkaido was not the answer to falling rocks, landslides, or whatever coastline problems existed on Sado.

It felt good to stop by at one of the better cared for bus stop huts so as to make a nice hot cup of tea and a some sandwiches, made from one of the cans of tuna that I had carted about on my back for too long. Whatever sort of trick on my stomach or mind the tuna sandwiches performed, the newly acquired protein helped to keep me from thinking about restaurants, and more on the road and scenery, which was good.

It was a little after six o’clock when I found a reasonable place to make camp at. A couple of meters away from Route 45 stood an abandoned old wooden building. It looked like it had been a factory of some sort in better days long gone. It seemed strange the way the old building remained standing, when large pine trees had long been shaped by very strong winds that regularly blew in from the sea. Also, the wooden planks and supporting beams broke easily in my hands. The wood was clearly rotted to the core, so I had to be careful how I walked. Perhaps it was just as strange that I choose to camp right in front of the building under the hanging roof. My tired mind thought that in the event of rain in the night the roof would give some shelter. There was nothing more troublesome than having to roll up wet camping equipment when morning came. Like I said earlier, being on the road was all about taking chances.

Looking about me I was able to find a number of fallen planks that could be used for added isolation from the damp concrete floor. Like floorboards, I placed the planks as firmly together as I could. Here the tent was then erected! From experience, any form of isolation meant the difference between sleeping soundly and a night of unrest. For me, a good sleep was as important as food and water. Especially on those cold and hungry evenings when there was no food to be had, and little else to do but sleep. When a good sleep did come, even the sound of the rolling sea, or heavy trucks rushing by in the night could not wake me.

The sound of my old friend the sea never bothered me anyway, and there was no better company I could wish for when I tramped along for hours on end. The evenings could be a lonely time if I was not careful. Whether the sea was a friend or a foe, depended much on how I dealt with the situation. The places I chose to make camp often played a part on the state of my mind one way or the other. Setting up camp was something to be enjoyed when all went well, or caused a lot of frustration if things were not carried properly, such as like that time last summer when I camped next to an anthill by mistake.

Once my trusty old tent was erected on the wooden base over the damp concrete floor, my work was still far from done. Even the times when I camped at more favorable places, it was always important to hammer the tent pegs deeply into the ground so as to firmly attach the support strings, for fear of a wind kicking up in the early hours. When it was not possible to use the tent pegs, like on the concrete where the tent now stood, finding an alternative place to fix the strings to hold the tent down was not easy. The strings were not long enough to reach what looked like a good place to fix them go. Whenever I did manage to secure the strings to what looked like a good place, the wood crumbled away under the strain. The rotten wood seemed to be all about the place. In the end, there was nothing for me to do, but to depend on a couple of rocks and weight of my body and camping gear. All that I could hope for was that the wind did not blow up in the night.

Like on the road could seem quite routine, which was not good. Once the tent was secure, the next task at hand was to heat up a little water to pour over a soaped up flannel to wash my body with the best I cold. Of course, this was far from being as thorough as a bed bath a sick person might get in a hospital, but it was good enough. For then I could feel the difference between feeling dirty and sweaty, to not feeling dirty and sweaty. With the wash of sorts out of the way, then the next thing to do was to prepare dinner for what it was. On this night would be in the form of a cup of hot tea, and a couple of cheese rolls, nothing extravagant. For dessert, the little jar of sake that the young fellow had given me at the lodge yesterday, along with the onigeri (rice balls) would have to do. “Mmm!” It might also help me to sleep more smoothly, I thought was I searched for it in the backpack!

There was even a sake and beer brewers on Sado, the Hokusetsu Brewing Co., Ltd. According to claims, sake from this company was the actor Robert DeNiro’s favorite, who indecently paid a visit to Sado Island (and to the brewers) some years ago. From my own standpoint, I absolutely hated the sight and smell of sake, and that other cloudy concoction, shochu. The first and last time sake ever passed my lips was on a short visit to the city of Kobe. That was just after the New Year and about two weeks before the Great Hanshin Earthquake in January1995. DeNero was very good a this job, and one of my favorites, still I could not help wonder if he bitched about stuff during making films, like I did about all kinds of stuff on the roads?

27 March, 2010: The moon and stars continued to rule the sky. And below this sparklingly sky I stood in the cool early morning air shaking hands with the unemployed (penis). I had just finished shaking off the last drops when the sound of a horn away in the distance nudged my mind awake proper. "What in the world was that for?" I wondered. It was not a horn sounded from a ship; rather somewhere from deep within the interior of the island. "Surely it was too early for factory workers to start work?" There was a while to go before the sun rose. Perhaps the sound of the horn announced the end of a nightshift somewhere?" Whatever it was all about, I felt that it was time to up camp and get my own butt into gear. In the morning the sky for once was clear of clouds. Good!

On the road the air against my face felt cooler than in the early hours, which I thought was strange. Then almost unannounced a light snow began to blow in over the sea and seemed to scatter in all directions when it touched land. Not the best of greetings to start the morning in. That said, the snow failed to hinder my progress and within a couple of hours, or ten kilometers later, it stopped all together. The wind was a different story, and remained steady throughout the day, but it was good that there was no rain. The rain really made a difference to everything! More often than not I would up camp and hit the road without bothering to boil water for tea or coffee, or even think to rustle something up to eat if the sky looked threatening. Then again, even on the best of days I seldom had anything nourishing to enjoy. If I did have something in my backpack it was never enough to solve the hunger pings, beyond an assortment of nuts, dried fruit, and vitamin pills.

There was little difference between eating a meager assortment for breakfast and nothing at all, for the hunger would be there. On those days when I started out without eating breakfast it would not be long before the feelings of hunger came calling big time. There on in, much of the time on the road my mind would be occupied with all kinds of food, and what I would eat whenever the chance allowed. It was also strange how the thoughts of food helped to take my mind away from the muscle pains for a spell. For like the traffic that sped past me to get to some place in a hurry, food was the fuel in my tank, and with out it progress was never easy. So like gasoline to the car on the roads, food was a must for the nutrition, the calories, and the energy.

Therefore, it was not as if I could get your body used to not eating. After all, a car would finally roll to a stop when the fuel ran out. Like the car without gas or fuel from fat in the body, a hungry tramper would not get very far. Did not Napoleon Bonaparte say something like: ‘An army marches on its stomach’. Very true! But to use another saying: ‘The way to a man’s heart was through his stomach’. What I did know was this, my heart or mind should not be on food, but on the road and on my mission.

I never really quite understood why I did not take or make the time to prepare something nutritious before hitting the road in the mornings. Like the traffic, I wanted to hurry in every little way that I could. Of course, there were mornings when I had tried to slowdown and prepare something to eat, but there just as many when I did not. Not good! Even if I was not always aware of it, on an empty stomach my body functioned well enough, since the kilometers fell away on after another. It was kind of mind over body, in that I wanted to believe that some place would soon pop up where I could stop to eat. On foot as I was, a big mistake! I read somewhere that walking on an empty stomach could be seen as a fat-burning advantage. However, on further reading I learnt that it was not suited for everyone, but only to those who had difficulty in losing weight. Clearly I did not fit into this piece of research, since obesity was not a problem at all.

When I was finally able to get food into me somewhere along the road, how quickly everything changed again for the better. The thoughts and strain of the hours on the road without food soon vanished as if they had not been there. Then I could almost feel the beat of my heart like there was no tomorrow and the blood and oxygen racing through me for the newly found energy in me. My mind felt calm and breathing smooth as I went along my way. Without food of any kind, things seemed exactly opposite, Not only would I soon become tired, but also everything around me went almost unnoticed. When I looked back on some of those hungry times, I was fortunate I did not blackout or became dizzy. For the traffic on the roads, I needed to be in tiptop condition. After I got some food into me the thoughts on food would be replaced with new thoughts, and my heart would be once again in tune with my mission.

Along the road I stopped at a bus stop hut in the town of Himezu. The hut had a bigger floor space than most of the huts I stopped in at or passed by on my mission thus far. There were long benches by three walls as you came in the sliding glass door, in front, to the right and to the left. Unfortunately, the benches were much too narrow to stretch out on or to offer much, if any, comfort. Still, it was a place where I could sit and wait for some water to boil away from the reaches of the cold Sado winds kicking up outside.

I had not gone far from the town of Himezu when a heavy downpour started to fall. In the space of only five minutes my clothes had become saturated. Soon the straps on my backpack, the extra weight caused by the rain, bit into my shoulders. To go from being bone dry to being literally saturated in such a short time made it hard to keep a positive mindset. But that was not the end of it, for soon the rain had turned to sleet. It continued to fall this way for another ten minutes. Such conditions made life on the road really hard, and the next few kilometers proved heavy on both body and mind. It was a shame since I would have liked to spend some time at Himezu to enjoy the panorama. Himezu was about twenty kilometers north of Sawata where I was headed. Himezu was also a popular fishing spot, not that I cared much for fishing, nor for eating them.

Gradually the weather began to change again, or down graded to a mere drizzle that looked like it would needle me for the rest of the day. Just as the rain had suddenly begun, the weather changed again for the better, as the sun made a guest appearance from out of nowhere. For a time the warm rays from the sun hit me square on the face, and the cold wet clothes no longer bothered me. My heart had opened up and welcomed it like a lost child back from the wars. It was such a good feeling!

In the town of Aikawa I turned left at a large police station and continued along the road for a short while. At the turning a road sign told me that I was headed in the correct direction for Central Aikawa, which made me feel good, too. "Mmm! Surely that signified a place to get something to eat?" I thought, hoping for some kind of reassurance. Positive thinking was important, and it helped the food taste better when you got it. I somehow knew that it would not be long until I found a restaurant. The sun had not only dried my mud-splattered clothes, but also the negative feelings that lingered in me for much of the morning.

It was not very much further along the road when a building some paces further on caught my eye. “Mmm!” I wondered. Somehow it did not look like an eating-place. At least there were no tell tail signs that told me ether way. There was no curtain, or 'noren' hanging outside to indicate the kind of restaurant it was, or if it was open for business. The sign about the door was written in katakana and read, ‘Barafuruka’. On closer investigation I could see that it was indeed what my hungry eyes were looking for. It did not take me long to throw off the backpack and shed the rain gear, which I left in in a corner in the hallway.

The restaurant was quite busy when I entered, but a table was to be had. After a quick look at the menu I ordered yakiniku teshoku. To some extern I was rather conservative when it came to food. For me it was advisable to eat the devil I knew rather than the devil I did not know. That said, my father was even worse when it came to restaurant, and always had sirloin stake, which he liked well done, with chips and a glass of beer.

A bottle of beer was ordered, too, and I no longer cared about it being an Asahi "Dry". It had not been easy to find places to eat at on Sado Island. In fact, of my four days on the roads down through Niigata Prefecture and then landing on Sado, this was the first restaurant I was able to find open. This surprised me a little since Sado was the sixth largest island in Japan, with a fair amount of traffic on the roads. Then again, finding places to eat on the mainland were at times not so easy to find either.

Being on the road as I was, it somehow did not matter what I ate, as long as I ate something. For it was pointless continuing with my mission if I could not keep my body supplied with the nutrition and calories it badly needed. The food when it arrived turned out to taste really good for the hungry tramper that I was. However, I noticed that it contained much more onions than meat. Regardless, I was glad to have found some sort of a place in which I could replenish my empty interior at. The godforsaken absence of shops and restaurants was taking its toll on me mentally and physically. The times I had to keep telling myself that I embarked on this mission because I had the ability to make it. The goal of circumventing to where I started could not be totally erased from my mind no matter how hard I tried. I became increasingly possessed with it as the days fell away and the various stages had been completed.

Inland, which was not part of my plans, the windy Ō-Sado Skyline road joined the towns of Kanai and Aikawa. For those who had the time and interest, the slopes of Mount Kinpoku gave a miraculous view of the whole island, especially near a spot called Hakuundai. However, the road was closed in winter at the end of November to April. A climb to the mountain summit was not so straightforward since authorization was needed. The area was restricted, or rather under the supervision of the Japanese Self-Defense Force.

Since leaving Aikawa after loading up on food the way proceeded relatively smooth. Kasugazaki, Kabbuse, Oura, the Meoto-iwa Rocks, Nagate Point and Inakujira Town fell away like dominoes. Long gone were the days when muscle pain, and the countless blisters on my feet slowed me up to the extent they used to do, for my body had become used to the punishment. It felt good! Just past the town of Inakujira I caught sight of a bright little sign that advertised a little sea view restaurant named 'Kainohira'. Perhaps greatly assisted by the newly planted nutrition and energy in me, I did not really need to stop for even a moment. For a while, too, the sky looked like it would rain, and a few drops made an appearance. This was soon followed by a few flutters of snow, but nothing more. In time I was pleased to note that both the rain and the snow held off as I continued my way along the coastal road, the hard surface of which was beginning to be felt through the thinning soles of my battered boots.

Even thought I was by no means hungry, the previous days without food had taught me to prepare my mind and body regardless, so I turned towards the cafe. There were no other customers to be seen when I entered, except for an elderly couple. The woman asked me in a local Sado dialect if I could understand the menu, as she gave it to me. I took it she meant if I could read Japanese. "Yes! I should be able to work things out well enough. Thank you!" I answered, in polite Japanese smiling. Unlike many of the Japanese people that I had dealings with down thought the years I tried to use the polite form in just about every situation. Some of my Japanese friends had complimented me for doing so, whilst others tried to enlighten me on the true workings of the Japanese Way, like it was not always necessary.

The noise from the television was loud to say the least. Excited armies of high school fans watched intently as their teams went head on at it. Tokai from Kanagawa were tied 1-1 with Juguoka from Kitakyushu. Professional baseball was one sport I refused to watch, or not since that time Mark McGuire, ‘Big Mac’ surpassed the record for homeruns when he played for the St. Louis Cardinals. That was a really exciting time back in 1998 when he hit 70 homeruns, with Sammy Sosa hot on his heals. In 2010 when McGwire admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs it kind of killed my own interest in the game. (Barry Bonds currently holds the record with 73homeruns).

However, high school baseball was a very different kettle of fish. Exciting! Next to English Premier League football, as well as the lower leagues in England, the high school baseball games were and ideal ways for winding down after work in the evenings. Of course, with a glass or two of red wine, too! The long hours on the road had become my job now, and the high school baseball game made the ‘kitsu cully’, to use the Japanese pronunciation for ‘curry’, taste all the more better. The curry was not long on my table when another customer entered. The tone of the conversation between the elderly proprietors and the customer told me that he was a regular at the restaurant.

The view of the horizon through the large window, by which I set stuffing my face, was quite stunning. The sea looked as if it was picking up speed with each incoming rush. The rolling Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) could be seen way below smashing against some great rocks. Some seagulls lingered about on the rocks waiting for their chance. “Mmm!” Yes, Sado was a great place to fish! Far off on the horizon I could make out the crisp dark shapes of two container ships, so tiny in the distance, they powered their way to somewhere. In the warmer weather I could well imagine what an idea place the small patio by the window would be to sit in the evenings, chatting and sipping red wine. How I envied the elderly couple that ran the place. I wondered if they know just how lucky they were to live in this little paradise of sorts? On the television I could see that the score was now 4-1 in Jukuoka's favor. Justas I finished the second mug of beer, in the misguided belief it would prepare me better for the road, the score stood at 4-2. Yes, that was what made high school baseball interesting, it was a game for the underdogs.

It was a little after five when I made camp not far from the town of Futami along the Mano Bay. As on previous occasions, the tent was erected under a wooden structure for added shelter. The weather was so unpredictable! This time the shelter was well elevated above the rain splattered grass, a set of steps led up. A gentle snowfall had replaced the rain that fell for much of the day. It was the rain that forced me more than once to seek shelter. When there was no place to duck under, the tent was quickly erected. Frustrated! All of this hindered my progress! Even dry inside the tent depression would replace the frustration. “I should have carried on!” I would tell myself. It was true, such miserable was all part of my mission, and there was a good hour of so of daylight left. “Fuck it!” I called out as loudly as I could, for the weather god, the thunder god, the rain god, the wind god, and any other god there was out there who could hear me. To my surprise, the rain and snow stopped!

As I was erecting my trusty tent under the wooden structure a middle-aged chap, perhaps returning home from a hard days work, stopped to ask me if I was camping there. The rain did not seem to bother him, like it had me. He told me that just a little further along the road there were a water tap and a public toilet. “Yes! I know” I replied, pointing in the direction from where I had come. “I saw the toilet when I passed there. Thank you all the same." I said, telling him that what I really needed was this roof over my well-used tent incase the weather got worse, especially in the night. My tent had served me well, but now my trust in it was disappearing little by little each time I used it. Then again, nothing lasted forever, and I could not complain, for old Dunlop one-man tent had done its job well, a decade of service. However, the strain placed on it in Hokkaido, in Aomori, and in Akita, not to mention the other night here on Sado, the strong winds and rains had put thoughts in my head of replacing it once and for all.

Besides the patched up holes and the bent tent poles, tiny rips had begun to appear in the fabric and in the stretched seams here and there. Clearly the fabric and the seams, top to bottom, could not take much more battering from the elements if things got worse. It might last another hot summer, but not the winter season, or harsh weather at anytime for that matter. As for the tent poles, they were bent out of shape to be of any use, or to stand head-on against a size able wind. Such things were too expensive to replace or repair. Besides Japan was not that kind of country where it was more reasonable to buy a new tent. When I was a child growing up in Belfast just about everything that needed repaired was repaired, but not any more!

Once the tent was erected and the gear dumped inside, I headed back to the water tap to wash some underwear and socks. Not to mention give my weary feet a soapy going over under the cold water tap. Later on as I crawled back inside the tent I caught a slight glimpse of a neighborhood child straining his neck to get a look at the stranger camped under the wooden structure near his home. For a while, I wondered how many wanderers had led their tired head down to rest on this same spot. Somehow. I felt that I was the only foreigner.

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?