Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chapter 18

Some people can read a book while they walk. I’ve learned that skill too. But today, I try something else; I try to write while I walk. I would like to write a book about this trip someday, and if I begin to write it now, this will save me time.
I try it for a few minutes. However, I miss a road sign, and walk in the wrong direction. The same thing happens ten minutes later, and again I have to double back for a hundred metres. No, it’s better to do one thing well, not two things badly.
We stop for lunch at a shokudou in a small town. Its owner is an old woman. She must be 70 at least. “I’m rich enough to retire, but I want to keep busy.” She gives us some beans for free. “I can’t sell them, because they’re bent.” She doesn’t believe me when I tell her that in New Zealand all the beans are bent. I don’t believe her when she says that her son is a friend of Chiyonofuji, the ex sumo champion. But she brings out a photo of the two to prove it.
In the afternoon, we question the owner of a coffee shop. Does he know of a good place where we could camp? “Let me see,” he replies. “Maybe you could ask at the health centre. It’s just up the road.”
The health centre is in a very large building. We go inside and ask if we could camp there. It takes a long time before we get an answer. One person has to ask another person who has to ask someone else. Finally, the manager tells us, “We can’t say yes, but we won’t say no. If you wait until dark, then we will pretend not to see you.”
We go outside to wait. Many people are exercising there. They are walking around a 600 metre track. It looks like fun. Even though I’ve been walking all day, I want to join them.
But then, I suddenly cry out: “Aaaargh!”
“What’s the matter?” asks Mami.
“It’s my leg—I can’t move it,” I reply.
At the end of the day, my body has had enough of walking. There is now a sharp pain in my lower leg. I hope that it’s better tomorrow, otherwise what will we do?
[394 words]

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chapter 17

I wake up just as the weather changes. As soon as my feet touch the grass outside the tent, it starts to rain heavily. Quickly we get out and move our things underneath the park shelter.
After a simple breakfast of boiled potatoes, we put on our rain clothes. Mami has a Gore-Tex suit; I have an old coat that I once found on the side of the road. It’s a good New Zealand brand, but it is torn. It is clean, but there are stains. Mami hurries ahead to wait somewhere dry. I walk barefooted through town.
A man comes up to me. “Could you show me your passport?” he asks. He’s a policeman, and he shows me his badge. In my poor Japanese, I try to explain what I’m doing.
“It’s raining. So my wife has my passport. But I can show you my name card.”
The policeman looks at it and goes away. I continue walking. But 15 minutes later, he returns in a patrol car. “Please get in,” he tells me.
He brings me to the police station, and leads me into a small, upstairs room. “So your wife has your passport, does she? Where is she? What? You don’t know? How will you find her? Does she have a cell phone? What is its number?”
I tell him that I don’t know the number. It belongs to the television station. I haven’t learned it yet. But I have the Yamaguchi’s phone number. I give it to him, and hope that someone will be home—not the grandparents because they are deaf.
Meanwhile, Mami is waiting at a convenience store. It is wet and cold. There’s nowhere to sit to read or write. She has to wait a long time.
Eventually, a policeman comes and asks her who she is. He brings her back to the police station. There she sees me sitting like a lost child. Mami is able to explain who we are, and what we are doing. The policeman is satisfied. He even apologizes. “I had to check, because these days everyone is worried about terrorists.”
Altogether, we have lost about 90 minutes. From then on, Mami sees to it that I always carry my passport, phone number, and other information. The policeman gives us some hot coffee, and drives us back to where he collected us.
A good thing is the rain has stopped.
[402 words]

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Chapter 16

My feet have started to hurt. Today, I swam several times in the sea, but I’m tired after walking 37km. Mami suggests that we go to an onsen. That sounds like a good idea. However, as we approach the building, I get nervous.
In Japan, gifts are perfectly wrapped, clothes are perfectly designed, and food is perfectly prepared. So much perfection makes me uneasy. I dislike formality. I like to be informal.
This onsen looks much too formal. When I walk through the door, it looks much too perfect. It looks as if it is for rich people. Inside, it looks like a palace. The staff is dressed in black and white uniforms. I feel embarrassed in my walking clothes.
I’m confused too. At the counter there’s a ticket machine. How does it work? Which buttons do you push? What are all of these options? Mami knows what to do, but I am completely lost.
People put their shoes on a shelf and replace them with slippers. But what does a barefoot person do? To use the toilet, there are other slippers. Be careful of this; be careful of that. It’s so hard to remember.
It’s easy for Mami. She’s Japanese. She ducks under the women’s curtain while pushing me toward the men’s. What will I find inside? Where do I put my clothes? How do I keep my money safe, the soap clean, and my towel dry? What are these baskets for, and—Oh my God—I’ve come out of the toilet wearing the wrong slippers!
Suddenly, it’s all too much. I give up. I take a shower, but I avoid the bath. I don’t want to think. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to be with those dark-haired, unsmiling, naked men. I need to escape.
I calm down in the tatami waiting area. My problem wasn’t just the onsen. I’ve been stressed for several days: traveling to Japan, living with new people, struggling with another language, smiling for the camera, worrying about walking 40km per day. That onsen was simply the ‘last straw’.
Slowly I get used to onsen. During out trip, we visit 27 of them. On our way to the public park where we plan to camp, I look back over my shoulder. The name makes me laugh.
Happy You Onsen.
[387 words]

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Chapter 15

Today will be another ‘first’. It will be our first full day on the road. We are going to walk (and cycle) all day long, not just for two hours.

We get up early. The night had been peaceful, but cold. Our tent is small, and our sleeping bags are thin. We zipped them together, but it was difficult to do, and it didn’t help much. We will need to sleep head-to-toe in the future. Mami must get herself a warm hat.

I begin to walk at 6.30 a.m. while Mami packs up. She can catch me up easily on the bicycle. I carry only a water bottle and a small day-pack. Mami pulls the bicycle trailer with its luggage bag. It contains about 20 kilograms of clothes and equipment.

We reach the highway. So early in the day, and so near to the Cape, there is little traffic. However, the road is hilly; sometimes I help Mami push. And there are many tunnels. The scenery here reminds me of New Zealand.

After 15km, we pass under a large road sign. It tells us that Soyamisaki, our goal, is 2700km to the north. I try not to think about that. In fact, I try to think as little as possible. Thinking doesn’t help me to act. It only uses energy.

For many kilometres, I walk beside the sea. The weather has become hot. It isn’t summer yet, so the beaches aren’t open, but I go for a short swim anyway. I’m the only one in the water. In fact, I’m the only one on the beach. Mami is several kilometres ahead.

We have planned to meet up for lunch at the same restaurant that we were at two days ago. We had enjoyed a great meal there together with the TV crew. However, when I reach the restaurant is that Mami is unhappy. On this day of the week, the restaurant is closed.

[323 words]

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chapter 14

How do you feel in a tent?

How do I feel? I ask myself. Let me see.

Well, I’m healthy. I don’t have a cold. I have no flu, no aches or pains. My arms and legs are fine. And so is my back.

I can relax.

It’s fine weather. The day is warm—not hot, not cold—just pleasant. There’s no wind. The air smells clean. And I am happy. Isn’t this nice? In an hour, only two cars pass me by.

Now and then, I catch Mami up, when she stops her bicycle to wait for me. Sometimes the TV crew is waiting to film me walk by. The afternoon passes.

At five p.m., after traveling 7km, we decide to stop for the day on a nice patch of grass. We unpack and then set up our tent. It is orange, and small. This is the first time for us to use it together.

The TV crew is surprised. “Are you stopping so soon? But you have so far to travel!” They thought that we would try to do more. However, it’s important not to do too much on the first day. You need to listen to your body. You need to follow the sun. You need to keep your motivation high, and to camp at a good place when you find one.

When it gets dark, our friends leave. They have filmed us enough for today. They will come back in a few days to film some more. Mami and I wave them off, squeeze into the tent, and zip it shut.

[258 words]