Irishman Walking (Stage 1 Chapter 5)
Irishman Walking is about my walking the coastal roads of Japan through a series of summer, winter, spring, and autumn stages. Stage 1 began in Cape Soya in Hokkaido in the summer of 2009, and ended in Noshiro City in Akita Prefecture seven weeks later. This summer (2012), Stage 8 started at Shibushi Port in Kagoshima Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, and ended in the city of Fukuoka six weeks after setting off. Stage 9 is planned to start from Fukuoka City this winter and will end at Hiroshima in January 2013. The stage is planned to last for five weeks.
Gifts of Rain:
Cloudburst and steady downpour now
straw-footed on the mud,
he begins to sense weather
by his skin.
A nimble snout of flood
licks over stepping stones
and his skin.
his life by sounding.
Soundings (Seamus Heaney).
23 July, 2009: It rained hard on and off through much of the night. Which was not so strange I suppose, considering how unlucky I was with the weather since setting out from Tokyo. When I did bed down in the evening the rain and cold evening air left me in little mood for my customary two or three small glasses, or plastic cups to be precise, of red wine. One drop seemed to be enough before the weariness began to play its cunning tricks on my mind and body. As usual when alcohol passed my lips, I would awake in the early hours with the intention of taking my customary leek. The rain was still beating down rather heavily on my canvas castle, pitched on a campsite in Enbetsu. In order to perform any sense of relief, without getting overly wet by the rain, a rather dexterous position needed to be performed, that even a Chinese gymnast would have been proud to master. This meant keeping the upper and lower halves of my body inside the tent, while the middle part of my body was extended out into the cold night air and pouring rain. Finally the deed was satisfactorily performed! Fortunately for me, and the interior of my tent, too no doubt, the wind was in my favor. Contented that the deed had been performed as well as could be expected, Percy (penis) was tucked back into my shorts. Then with the tent flaps zipped up once more leaving the rain where it belonged, outside in the early morning chill, soon I was back in the warm comforts of my sleeping bag sound asleep.
By morning the area at large was saturated. The rain had stopped a couple of hours earlier, and now was replaced by a strong dry wind blowing in from the sea. Although the wind was getting up steam, still, I knew that I could not wait around for it to work miracles on my equally saturated clothes. They had been that way crammed into my backpack for much of yesterday. It was around eight in the morning when I saw the campsite office open up. Though the open door I could see two young men sit chatting away. Perhaps they were talking about what needed to be done about the place. Sometimes they glanced across the grassy well-kept grounds as they talked, with the odd stare in my direction.
¥500 yen was the going rate for pitching a tent on the grounds, which was much cheaper than any of the campsites that I had previously stopped at on the island of Honshu. The problem that arose, however, I wanted a receipt for my own personal files. The young attendants seemed not to have the necessary authority or papers on hand to issue me one. Perhaps they might have thought I was trying to get out of paying the ¥500 yen fee. Nothing could be further from the truth! For what it was worth to the future of the Japanese campsite industry, I was more than willing to pay the stipulated cost.
The heavier of the two attendants told me that the campsite was not the place to issue receipts, and the main office was where campers should go to first . “It was in that large white building on the rise overlooking Route 232”, he said pointing in that direction. I knew the building he was talking about, and had passed it last night. It was quite an imposing looking building just to the left of the road in the opposite direction to the campsite. “Who would have thought it was there that I had to go to, to register to camp?” I thought feeling a little stupid. Even if I had known, I would have been too tired last night to bother. Even now it was quite a climb up the winding road to do so, and nearly a kilometer back from whence I had come. Troublesome! Soon he was on the phone to someone at he main office asking what he should do about the receipt I wanted. Margaret Thatcher’s statement a couple of decades earlier: “This lady was not for turning”, was beginning to make sense to me.
All that I knew was that I did not want to backtrack even a quarter of a meter just to get a stupid receipt stipulating what, where and when ¥500 yen was paid. Paid for stopping one lousy wet night on a campsite where even the facilities were closed to me, including the bug (toilet). A hot shower would have been more than appreciated. Besides, with an untold number of kilometers ahead of me, I felt strongly against any unjust wear and tear on my body. As luck had it, the same attendant was instructed to drive up to the main office in person to pick up the receipt. visit more information Not to make things any easier for him, I gave him a ¥1,000 yen note in payment. I did not have anything less on me. All he had to do was to return with the receipt and my change in hand.
While he was gone, I set down at a round, plastic table outside, so as to look over my maps and to organize my thoughts for the day. As I was doing this, the thinner of the two attendants came out from the little office and gave me a can of ‘Georgia Emerald Mountain Blend Black’ coffee. I did not see him approach the table, or anything about me for that matter, as was my habit when engrossed in thought. Up until then I cared for nothing, but the lost minutes, and all for what? A stupid receipt! Too much time had been wasted already. Of course, I was very much grateful for the young fellow’s rather unexpected kind act, and told him so. Just prior to the little gift, I had started on my usual, if not pitiful, breakfast intake of some almond nuts and raisins. So as a counter to my empty water bottles, the coffee was a treat for which I felt truly grateful, even if it was not hot.
A look over the campsite and all the other similar places that I passed down along the coastal roads told me that the local governments had spent a lot of money to draw tourists. Even now the short burst of background music, the modern design and bright color of the buildings, and general layout of the campsite caused me to think way back to a certain summer holiday I had as a child in the mid 1960s. That was at a Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Ulster, long gone out of business. Butlin’s was a chain of large holiday camps in the United Kingdom and Ireland that provided affordable holidays for ordinary British families. Sir William Heygate Edmund Colborne “Billy” Butlin was a South Africa-born entrepreneur whose name was synonymous for the low budget holiday camps. The Butlin’s brand name had enticed millions of families and young couples to its coastal camps since being founded in 1936. Together with its colorful, organized entertainment, redcoat and bluecoat smiles became a cultural phenomenon. I still recall adults talking about the notary comedian and redcoat, Jimmy Cricket, who was performing during the summer of 1966,when was there. How very similar everything here looked and sounded. All that was missing were the ever smiling Blue Coats and Read Coats, but unlike way back then, the campsites I stopped on or passed by were either empty or just empty. So too, the buildings and facilities had become rundown and faded.
With my receipt safely stored away for memories sake, I was underway by nine-thirty. My short tramp by the seafront on a tiny road that belonged to the campsite, lead to a T-junction. The left turn brought me up on to Route 232 after about thirty minutes or so. As I neared the road a sparrow landed on an iron fence and calls out in the way birds do. Was it trying to tell me something? I passed it by with out so much as a care. Glancing back I could see the bird flapping languidly upwards to the sky, and an overcast sky at that.Was it trying to warn me of the coming rain? The most prevalent of birds to accompany me on my long tramp through all kinds of weather had been the crow, not the seagull. One thing I noticed about the crows was that they were nowhere near the size of the massive scavengers that hang about the local rubbish dumps in Tokyo.
Just yesterday when I was tramping by one of the many farms I came across I saw a dead crow hanging from a rope. It was some kind of deterrent device I supposed. “Could crows comprehend such a thing?” I wondered. “Did such things work better than scarecrows, if at all?” I had read somewhere that crows were generally right-handed, not that they really had hands. In Tokyo I once saw a couple of crows fighting over who should get first bite from the meat of one of their splattered counterparts. It was dead as doornail after being hit by a car. I was sitting on my motorbike at a traffic light then watching the two crows fighting for the honor. The lights changed and I had to leave without knowing how things turned out. I somehow thought that the hanging crow would not work as a deterrent.
That said I felt it really took a fairly steady wind to shift the dead bird hanging from the fence to produce any meaningful effect. On an added note, one scarecrow I passed was better dressed than me that I even thought of switching clothes with it. On a road in Tokyo I once saw a couple of crows fighting over which should get first peck of the splattered meat of one of their counterparts. The thing was as dead as a doornail after being hit by a car. I sat on my motorbike at a traffic light watching the two crows fighting for the honor. The lights changed and I had to leave without knowing how things turned out.
Last night just as I pitched my tent a tiny butterfly came and sat on top of a blade of grass nearby. A heavy rain that let up an hour earlier saturated the grassy field. Like the blade of grass upon which the tiny beauty set, the rain too beat down everything. I moved my index finger slowly and gently beside the butterfly to see what would happen. Without any hesitation, it staggered onboard and began to make its way up on to the back of my right hand and along my bare arm towards my shoulder. I could feel a tiny tickling sensation as it moved. I slowly raised my right arm and low and behold, the tiny beauty turned upwards towards my hand from which it came. I lower my arm, while slowly turning my hand. The butterfly made its way around and now stood on the back of my hand. Whether it felt comfortable in my presence I would never really know, but our little encounter could not have been better timed. Just then, the rain began to bucket down again, this time heavier than before. At the space between the inner and outer canvas of the tent I blew gently and the tiny creature fluttered away inside. At least there it would find some shelter from the rain for the night.
Looking out through the open tent flaps at the heavy rain, I could just about make out the figure of a cyclist. If the miserable weather was not enough, he certainly had his work cut out for him. The bicycle was heavily loaded up with camping gear, and was powering his way up a steep segment of road, which I had tramped up the night before. Not a word was spoken as he went by! “Perhaps he did not see me” I thought while at the same time wondering why I did not say something either. Just then a military truck passed, and I watched it disappear out of sight. It was not the last time I spotted a military truck that day, and suspected there was a military barracks somewhere in the vicinity.
By morning the rain had stopped falling, for the umpteenth time. When my tent was emptied and about to be dismantled and packed away, the butterfly made a guest appearance. It was just as well, since I had forgotten all abut the little thing. I watched it move from between the two canvases where I left it last night. And with a burst of energy following a good rest, it took off. Soon it returned and fluttered about for a bit before disappearing into the tent again. As was the case last night, I put out my finger and this time the tiny creature landed on it. Outside in the fresh morning air a gently wind blew against my cheeks, but the tiny creature held firm. Raising my left hand slowly to my lips, I blew gently on it, and so into the morning air it went. This time, we parted company for good! To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”.
The wind had left Route 232 fairly dry in no time. If only it had worked similar wonders on my clothes. There was not a sign or puddle anywhere of the heavy downpour last night. A little while ago a cyclist rode past me heading south. I had not seen or heard him coming, but for a brisk “Hi!” called out as he passed. It all seemed so quick that I had little time to react or reply for he was gone as quickly as he had come. I guess I was lost somewhere in my own world of thoughts, again. Some kilometers further on a motorcycle with sidecar passed. The rider waved and a pretty lady in the sidecar wearing dark glasses waved and smiled. I waved and smiled back at them. I loved large motorbikes and was the proud owner of one, currently parked at my place in Tokyo. Somehow a beautiful Harley with the sidecar gave a grand appearance, and with the beautiful women for a companion, the world was his oyster, I guess.
On the road, my companion was the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) that warmed my heart every time I looked out over it. The majestic Musashi Kai, to be precise, was now with me for a good stretch of the Ororon Line the highway between the cities of Wakkanai and Otaru (Route 232). I could see two tiny islands away out on the horizon. In the absence of my map, I ventured to guess that the two islands were Yagishiri-To and Teuri-To, with just four kilometers of water separating them. Both islands came under the Quasi-National Park authorities. Of the two islands, Teuri had the greater pull on tourism, with more accommodation and facilities to cater to them. The reason being were the thousands of sea birds migrating to the island, with others living and breeding there all year round. The Common Murre, or Ororon in Japanese, was perhaps the best known of birds on Teuri. Once Common Murre lived on the island in great numbers, but had been reduced to only a few because of nets from fishing boats. Actually, I could also make out the shape of a lone fisherman in his tiny fishing craft churning out a living. Still, I did not think it was the smaller fishing boats that were to blame. Squid fishing was the main thing in the area with large fishing boats from the southern islands used very powerful lights to attract the squid. In addition, there was not much grassland or forestland, but the scenery was said to be simply breathtaking. Not exactly a tourist attraction, but the “smallest high school in Japan” was also on Teuri Island, with ten teachers for just six students.
I set down for a rest or to ‘take the weight of the sling backs’, as an Australian friend might put it. As umpteen times before it was in one of the bus stop huts. The traffic on the road was picking up, as was the dust kicked up by it. For a while, too, it looked as though the sun would break through the clouds that had dominated the heavens since arriving in Hokkaido. The sweat ran down my face and back. I could feel the early stages of sunburn on the tips of my ears and nose. A rampage through the contents of my backpack produced the black rimmed ‘The North Face’ gore-tex hat that I bought in the Ochanomizu district of Tokyo just before coming away, My old baseball cap with Guinness printed across the front was substituted to the sidelines for the time being.
For the umpteenth time, I stopped at a bus stop hut for a short rest, or to ‘take the weight of the sling backs’, as my Australian friends would put it. The traffic on the road was picking up, as was the dust kicked up by it. The dust caked sweat ran down my face. Also, I could feel the early stages of sunburn on the tips of my ears and nose. This puzzled me, for the lack of sunshine since starting some days ago. For a while it looked as though the sun would break through the clouds that had dominated the heavens since arriving in Hokkaido. A rampage through the contents of my backpack produced the black-rimmed ‘The North Face’ gore-tex hat that I bought in the Ochanomizu district of Tokyo just before coming away. My old baseball cap with Guinness printed across its front was substituted to the sidelines for the time being.
Just when I had finished strapping my backpack up again, a fat chap in his late sixties or seventies cycled by. He was clad in a bright colored green vest, a pair of faded white shorts, and sandals that had seen better days. The vest was rolled up high above his fat belly showing his bellybutton to any one how looked. The baggy shorts flapped madly about in the wind. Fastened to the rear of his bike were two well-worn saddlebags; crudely covered with a black plastic rubbish bag to protect them from the rain. “Fighto” his broad smiling face called out as he passed. It would have been nice if he had stopped and exchanged a few words, or at least until I could have got a photo of him.
Even though we did not talk, the sight of the elderly cyclist had cheered me up for a while. But the happy thoughts soon vanished when I discovered that I had been misreading of my maps. Earlier this morning I anticipated having the sea with me for the greater part of the day. The direction Route 232 was to take me told a different story. Soon a series of punishing up hill and down hill curves lasted for more than ten kilometers. “Fuck it! I thought. For even my maps could not to be trusted. Not only that, the winding segments along the road headed further and further inland, and soon not even the tiniest glimpse of the Nihon Kai could be seen. Earlier in the day, I was really beginning to feel at home on the road. With the sight and sound of the sea playing pleasant tricks on my mind, I felt so good. Of course I knew, also, that it was only a matter of time when the sea would be near again, but when? I hoped that the next time it happened there would be no more partings, but that too was impossible.
Up a head in the distance I could see a cluster of buildings. Perhaps it was a town! I still was not on friendly terms with my maps and was not sure of its name if it was a town. What the buildings harbored I was soon to find out, no doubt. A large blue and white colored road sign came into view. As I got near I could see the large lettering on it: ‘Romankaido Shosanbetsu’. (Roman Road). On the lower half of the sign I could see that an arrow pointed towards Shosanbetsu Spa and that Misakinoyu 2 kilometers further along the long straight road. A little further along a tiny sign told me that Teshio was 52 kilometers behind me. Another sign informed drivers that the maximum speed limit for drivers was 50 kilometers. There must have been a school nearby as a yellow and black sign advised drivers to be careful of children crossing. By the side of the road I could see some builders hard at work rebuilding or renovating a house. A few steps along the road I came to a wood factory. The grounds were neatly stacked with planks and logs of wood, old and recently cut down, all necessary to the building industry. “Perhaps the wood the workmen were using on the house came from there” I thought as I passed by not really caring one way or another. “I suppose it made sense, in more ways than one, to have local workmen do the job.” Again, I did not care much one way or another.