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.

31 March, 2010: My eyes opened just in time to see the sunrise, which I thought was in the exact same spot the moon had done twelve hours earlier. The ambers from the campfire had long died down. A thin frost coated the grass about my tent. And as I was looking about to see what to do first, a middle aged man stopped to chat with me, or rather to ask me a host of questions. "How long have you been away from your country? How long have you been in Japan? Where are you living now?" He would have gone on like this if I had not abruptly cut him short. "Excuse me! I really am in a hurry to pack up my stuff and be on my way", I said. "So, good-bye, and thank you for stopping." Without waiting for a reply, I turned away from the sink where I had hoped to brush my teeth and set about pulling the tent pegs out of the ground.

An elderly man cycled slowly past and stopped at the sandy bench at the other side of the campsite. There he sat down and took something like a can out of his pocket and began drinking from it. Between each sip he would look nervously about him, as if he was doing something he knew that he should not do. "What was up with him?" I wondered to myself. "What was it that he was drinking at this early hour of the morning?" I was becoming as inquisitive as the other chap had been with me a short while earlier. "That was naughty of me!" I thought. “It was not good to see wrong in anyone, only good!” Soon the nervous man stood to leave, but before swinging a leg over his bicycle, he walked a couple of steps to the garbage bin and tossed the can into it. And with that, he was gone!

It did not take long to up camp, and with everything away it their proper places, it was time for me to be on my way, too. The nights rest had done me good, for I was ready for the road, even if I did not bother with breakfast. However, before I could leave the campsite once and for all, curiosity had got the better of me. Satisfaction was called for. With my backpack resting against one of the beautiful quality trees that dotted vast openness of the campsite, I walked over to the garbage bin. Of course, there was a garbage bin nearer to where I had made camp and where my own trash was safely deposited. Still, I wanted to know what the old fellow had been drinking, as if that would shed some light on why he seemed nervous.

The garbage bin in question was empty but for the can that had been tossed into it thirty minutes earlier. Reaching in with my left hand I picked the can up. “Mmm!” An empty can with ‘Cafe Latte’ printed on it. Perhaps it was one of those warm drinks that could be got from the vending machines these days. Why not? The morning had been chilly. When I saw the nervous man earlier, all sorts of alcoholic related thoughts had run through my mind. But then, an element of foolishness ran through my head, too, as I tossed the empty can back into the garbage bin. This surprised me! For the most part I tended to look positively on people, strangers and friends. Until there was good reason not to, of course. 'Believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see.' With that I slung the can back into the garbage bin and turned back across the grass to get my backpack.

The weather could not have been better. The frost was soon gone from the road, which was now as dry as a summer’s day. The sun lifted slowly up into the cloudy sky. High overhead the vapor trail left by a military plane was breaking apart. The birds and the sea were the only sounds serenading me on the road now. Soon I tramped past Nichirenshu, the Hongyoji Temple, and through the old Matsugasaki Tunnel, 3.3 meters from road to roof. This narrow coastal segment of Route 45 reminded me once more of my youthful days, and of the narrow countryside roads in Ireland.

At Higashiushima Town I passed by a gang of workman and workwomen cutting away the roughage from the sides of the road. "Where are you going?" a gray haired man called out to me, and who appeared to have some authority of the others. "I'm walking around the island". "How long for?" he asked. "Mmm! Seven days! Today was my final day." I answered him with my usual smile. It felt good that it was my last day, and looked forward to getting over to the mainland again. "Good luck! And thank you for visiting Sado." He shouted after me, as I looked back and waved. The others did no say a word, and I was not sure if they even noticed me.

Then there was a short stop by the sea front to rest a while, and where I consumed the remainder of the 500-milliliter carton of milk I had been carting around with me. A little later on I came to the disused Higashitateshima Tunnel, now dead and lost to nature and the past. Soon I passed through the town of Higashitatsushima and then the town of Higashikawashimizu, and soon to be erased from my mind. Then came the beautiful little one street town of Noura. It was the kind of place one could sit around in and reflect on past, present and future events.

Most of the towns and villages that I tramped though were one-street jobs, all with some beautiful and hidden history. Like the others, the town of Tsukifuse came and went. At Katanoo I stopped by a tiny shop to get a can of beer, but to my disappointment the shopkeeper said that he did not sell beer. "The shop just 100-meters back sold beer," he told me. I thanked him and made my way out the door. The sweat was running down my forehead and into my eyes. I was not sure if I sweated more the moment I stopped than when I walked. Then again, a proper amount of sweat was important!

When it evaporated, it cooled me down and helped my body to maintain its core temperature, which on the road one tended to take little notice of anyway. Sometime ago I once had a conversation with a friend about the merits of sweating. It was then that I learned that there were two types of sweat, ‘eccrine’ and ‘apocrine’. Eccrine was brought about by exercise, or tramping around Japan like I was doing now. Apocrine was more related to stress, and which many people who lived and worked in a city like Tokyo knew only too well. This type of sweat tended to form under the armpit, often gave of an odor. On the road, I did not seem to suffer so much from stress, or foul smells. In fact, a good day on the road tended to burn off any needling stress there was, which of course was not anything shockingly suicidal. Then again, feeling hungry or thirsty and unable to do anything about it did get under my skin from time to time. It was a common enough occurrence on the road.

Thirsty as I felt now, and with my water bottles nearly empty, it was not rally and element of stress, yet. It would have been nice to sit down somewhere and drink a nice cool can of Sapporo or Kirin beer, or whatever cool drink I could get. As to the little shop that sold beer, I was not in the mood for backtracking, even if it was just short distance away. So on I went regardless towards the town of Suizu. Suizu Fishing Port was flanked with concrete tetra pods, and black sacks filled with gravel and stones. The drab condition of the sacks looked like they were placed there for quite a long time. Still, the war on modernization around the port area was in the air. Signs of rebuilding and repair was everywhere, but had been halted for whatever the reason.

When I turned a bend in the road the Kinpoksan, Shorandosan, and Dondenyama mountains came into view. This was the home stretch, for I could almost smell Ryotsu Port in the distance. Even when the port came into view across the bay, I was by no means near the finish line. But push on I did with a youthful spring in my steps, I could feel the kilometers falling away fast. Then I entered towns of Nojoh and Ryotsuogawa, where I stopped to have a rest and down a bottle of Asahi beer. The owner of the little store was a pleasant woman called Kazumi Nakaguchi, who served me the beer with a lovely smile. Kazumi-san who did not speak a word of English, told me that she ran the little shop for nearly 30 years, and that her husband was a fisherman. Judging from her looks, I would say that she was around my own age, therefore rather young when she opened the shop, and perhaps not long married. We did not chat much about anything in particular, other than my long tramp around Japan, which she appeared interested in hearing about.

There was something about our little encounter that I could not quite explain. When I left to continue my walk I felt that it would have been nice to know Kazumi-san better, to talk more. “Mmm!” Then I began to wish that I were not leaving Sado so soon, and to argue with that part of me for being in such a hurry to get across to the mainland. “What was the rush?” I had even contemplated stopping one day longer, perhaps camp by the sea, which could be seen from the shop. All of this so as to talk more with Kazumi-san! In short, I was fascinated or attracted to her! Yes, some things could not be explained! Even the dull weather did not bother me anymore.

It was amazing what a beer could do for your energy. The towns of Hanyu, Moroo, Shidomari, Maki, Kawasaki, Sumiyoshi, and then Harakuro all fell by the wayside without much effort, as I neared my destination under the cloudy sky. As the port came within visual distance a ferry pulled away from the dock. When I first arrived on Sado seven days earlier I passed so many wood factories on the road that led out from the city. Now on this final anti-clockwise stretch of road into the city again, wood factories greeted my return.

At the tourist office the beautiful young Terue Homma, whose eyes looked very tired, welcomed me with a smile as she had done a week earlier when I first arrived on the island. "How was your trip?" she asked, as I dumped the battered and dirty backpack down on the floor next to the glass door. “Tough! But well worth the effort! The weather was a bit on the miserable side thought.” I said feeling a little sad that the 210 kilometers around the island had all been somewhat hurried. “Glad to hear that." "The people were very nice. Unlike in Tokyo.” I replied, with a little laugh. They were very approachable and easy to talk to. Everyone but Jenkins!" "What are your plans now?" She asked me. "Well! I am very tired and just want to get across to Niigata. Perhaps just to check into a hotel, to wash and to sleep, I guess. I can’t think about anything else just now. Yes! I really need to sleep."

The tourist information office was soon to close, but before I headed back out the door, Terue-san gave me a load of touristy pamphlets about things and places of interest on Sado. Perhaps the things might have done me better if she gave them to me when I first walked into the office seven days earlier. Still, I was grateful for them and hoped to make use of them when I returned to Tokyo when it came to rewriting my road-notes. In answer to my remark, she was able to give me a contact address where I might be able to communicate with Mr. Jenkins. I learnt that he now worked at one of the tourist office branches, and where he was happy to pose with tourists for photos.

The ferry to take me back to the mainland was not to leave until seven-thirty that evening, so it was a good chance to look about the town. A stroll through the streets around the port area of Ryotsu soon told me that it was far from as interesting and beautiful as the little villages and towns I had seen thus far. The people, too, seemed less friendly and rather cold and untouchable, like in Tokyo. To make matters worse, most of the cafes and restaurants were either closed by five o'clock or in the process of closing when I got to them. Ryotsu was a rather drab place to say the least! This surprised me since Sado hoped to beef up its tourist industry; surely at attractive port area where visitors first stopped off the ferry would have gone done well.

One rather shoddy looking place to get something to eat at was still open, so I entered to see what was on offer. As it turned out, an elderly woman, who mumbled to some invisible being, ran the shop. There was absolutely no one else about the place, but a fat cat that lay on the floor with its head resting against a wall. The cat looked up momentarily at me, but soon it fell into its own little world again. And remained catnapping, quite unperturbed by the sudden intrusion. I sat down at one of the tables and ordered a beer. The elderly proprietress, who had come to see what the sound was all about, went back into the kitchen without saying a word, not even a grating. Then I could hear the sound of cooking, the hissing of hot oil, and the rising of steam. “Mmm!” Surely it was not for me, since I had not even looked at the menu yet, I thought picking it up to look at.

The elderly proprietress’s face was done up heavily in makeup, with bright red lipstick carefully painted on her lips. At first I was not quite sure what she was trying to tell me, as her words were now quite inaudible. But after a little while I came to understand her, or so I believed. The little models of various dishes looked rather good in the display case outside, but as it turned out, none of them were on offer. Something told me that this was not going to be a good end to my most fascinating venture around the coastal roads of the island. The beer had still not arrived, which I thought was a little strange. One thing visitors to Japan were likely to receive over all else was good and prompt service. I always liked to sip on a beer or a glass of red wine, when I was reading, but now I found it difficult to concentrate.

After about ten minutes I began to wonder what had happened to my beer. "Perhaps she had not heard me correctly?" I placed the Jenkins book, which was almost finished, on the table and focused my attention towards the kitchen. Just as I was about to call out to the elderly women she emerged from the kitchen mumbling away like there was no tomorrow. In her hands she carried a large tray! A few seconds later I found myself staring down at what looked like deep fried shrimp and other fish-like things, a small salad, bowls of rice and miso soup, which steamed up my glasses when it was placed it on the table in front of me. "I did not order this?" I told her firmly, but in polite Japanese. "Besides, I hated all kinds of cooked seafood dishes." I added, with some determination in my voice.

"What did you want?" she asked. "Well! Mmmm! Perhaps katsudon or katsuteshoku or even katsucurry, like you had on display in the glass case outside would be nice." She pointed to the food in front of me. "No! I only have this today." Without another word to me, she picked the tray up and carried it back to the kitchen. Her mumbles were now much louder than before, as if in deep discussion with someone who was not there. Clearly there was no way I was going to have satisfaction in the form of something to eat. The beer still had not arrived, which was just as well since by then I no longer felt like one anymore. And with that, I picked myself up and left the establishment, and the cracking and hissing sound of cooking and boiling water behind. As I was opening the door to leave, the elderly proprietress got in the last words in Japanese. "Thank you for coming, please come again!" As I picked my gear up from the floor, which I had left by the glass door, another cat looked in through at me from outside. It too was fat, like its friend that still napped away contentedly on the restaurant floor, the wall as a pillow. For a few seconds I held the door ajar, but the cat did not take the bait and enter. Perhaps it knew more about the place than I did, or perhaps it was on its ninth life and no longer felt curious.

Next door to this restaurant stood another one that specialized in different kinds of ramen or noodle dishes. However, I was not in the mood for ramen and would have gone somewhere else had other places to eat at been open. At the same time, I was in no mood for facing anything out of the ordinary at any level, service or food. A glance through the glass sliding doors told me that the restaurant appeared better run than the one next door that I had just left, and where only the cats behaved normally enough. With a quick look over the menu I decided on a hot bowl of miso ramen, and a nice cool bottle of Sapporo beer. It did not take long for the ramen to arrive, well before the beer, which I also found a little strange. It was said that if you waited a long time for the food to arrive it usually tasted so good that it was worth waiting for. To cut to the chase, the ramen turned out to be the worst I had ever had in all of my many years in Japan. In other words, it was literally tasteless. Even the 'miso’ in the ramen, which was important for the taste, was meager.

Making my way back over to the departure and arrival lobby of the ferry port building could not have been more mistimed. An army of people from the ferry shuttled along the concourse in the direction of the boarding gates. In the main waiting area I retrieved my backpack, where I had left it sitting on one of the long wooden benches. I was glad that this part of Japan was still safe for leaving important things about. There was once a time before the bursting of the Bubble Economy when all of Japan was that way, trustworthy or safe. Now I was not so sure! Even if the worthless state of my backpack was anything to go by, it still contained some costly camping gear. Like good troopers, the Japanese tourists began to form a long line. They appeared also like eager beavers to be part of their group and not to stand out from the rest. Talking on the telephone was something I never felt comfortable with. Today it would be hard to find someone who did not own one. Even to this day I never owned bought or owned a pocket phone or 'ketai' as they were called in Japan.

In a similar vain, I found it hard to understand why I let a friend in Tokyo talk me into borrowing one belonging to her. “It would be better for you to have one with you just in case something happens to you. Or you need something urgently,” she told me before I came away. Then I thought: "What the fuck would she know about the hardships of being on the road?" My friend was a woman who preferred the luxuries in life. She stuffed the phone into my pocket when I stepped onto the night bus bound in the direction of Niigata Prefecture, when she had come to see me off. Of course, her intentions were well meant, I was sure of that. "Take it with you just in case of an emergency." "I will be tramping along the well used roads along the coast, not over ice bound for the North Pole," I replied.

On the crossing from Ryotsu Port to Niigata Port I thought I would give my friend a call just to fill her in with my progress, and that everything was so far so good. However, the number of times the phone cut when we did connect after a couple of seconds of talking was rather frustrating. Then I wondered how useful the things would really be if a disaster like an earthquake or tsunami did happen? So useless was the ketai on the crossing that if it were mine I would have slung it into the sea. The thing belonged to my friend and I was determined to return it to her whenever the chance allowed, and never to touch another one again. I must have been the only person in Japan who refused to own a katai. The damn things seemed to be so important to peoples’ lives, but I did not want to be controlled by them.

Then there were the countless people, the elderly and the young, whom I observed walking or cycling along the pavements in Tokyo oblivion to all around them, but their ketai. In some instances I had even seen motorists using them when they drove their cars. Stupid or mad, or both! If only Starbucks would prohibit the use of the damn things. How annoying it was trying to shut out the noise of someone talking on one of those tiny devices. Worse still, where the many drivers that I had seen on my tramp along the coastal roads, with the steering wheel in one hand and their ketai held up to their ear by the other hand. In this, Sado was no exception! In fact, it was easier for them to get away with it, as there appeared to be no one around like the police to stop them.

When I thought about it, I do not recall anyone being stopped in Tokyo by the police for using their phone. A few years ago in Tokyo a woman driving a car hit me and knocked me from my bicycle. All though I was not injured, the bicycle was so badly damaged her insurance company had to fork out the money for a new one. She had been using her ketai at the time, which I was sure took some explaining to the police who interviewed us both at a police station a few days afterwards. When the ferry docked and I was making my way through the heavy rain towards the hotel, I found myself using the ketai to call a friend in Tokyo to see if the room was booked. Then too the telephone failed to connect. “Mmm!” I wondered, what was the use of having such a device if it did not work when you wanted it to work? At that moment I had no idea if a room with a bath at the Dormy Inn had been booked for me or not. No doubt I was going to find out face-to-face in the next thirty minutes or so when I arrived in the lobby.

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?