Sunday, January 11, 2015

Chapter 24

Brrr! Last night was the coldest night that either of us has ever spent. Well, we had been warned that the nights get cold here. It’s because this rotenburo is high up in the mountains. We slept with all of our clothes on, but were still chilled to the bone.

I feel very sorry for Mami. What’s the best way for her to warm up? I decide for myself that it’s best to begin walking immediately. For Mami, I suggest that she goes back inside the rotenburo as soon as it opens. In the bath, she can take her time. She should put off the packing up until later.

I’m happy to be alone. In four hours, I walk 18km. During that time, I do a lot of thinking. The cherry blossoms here have only just flowered, and I think about them. Their lives are short—just a few days. Once they fall from the tree, their life is over. But it’s impossible to catch their moment of letting go.

Letting go, and picking up. I don’t need to pick up my feet and put them down; I just let them move forward on their own. Sometimes I see something interesting. I might pick it up and play with it. I find objects with bright colors and interesting shapes: a washer, a padlock, a piece of string, and a rubber baseball. Some, I may drop as I reach for the next. Some I’ll keep.

The road goes uphill and then downhill—an hour each way. All the time, it twists and winds. I remember Pauli saying that the Japanese build roads with the same energy that the Egyptians built pyramids.

I see a policeman cut out of plywood. You see them standing here and there. I wonder if they are to trick motorists into taking care. I think that there’s a need in Japan for road safety. It’s worrying how motorists speed, then slow, in, jerks. They follow each other far too closely, but then rush-to-overtake on corners and crests. They fail to give way, and they take unexpected lines around curves. Perhaps here they are nervous because they are so far from the city.

The next city that we reach is Miyazaki. It’s the largest city that we’ve come to. It is now 5 p.m. At first, it grows pleasantly cool. Then, it gets chilly. The traffic doubles, but the road’s width halves. We try to work out where we are, but the map is useless. It doesn’t even show the 500-metre-wide river that runs through the city’s centre.

We think about looking for a campsite. However, this will be our seventh night on the road. We’ve only slept indoors once so far, at Pauli’s. Mami suggests looking for a Youth Hostel, and I agree. It would be great to get a good warm night’s sleep.

The middle-aged woman in charge leads us upstairs, and shows us to our room. She also shows us where the bath is. There’s one for men, and one for women, but she encourages us to share one. Apart from us, the hostel is empty, so it won’t matter if I enter the women’s bath. Okay then, I’m willing to take the risk. If another female guest arrives, she is welcome to join us.

[550 words]

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Chapter 23

Today, the television crew will return. All day, the camera will follow us. They ring Pauli’s number in the morning. “How can we find your home?” Even though they know his address, they don’t know how to drive there. They need to ask at a police station. I really don’t understand the Japanese address system. It doesn’t work well at all.

After saying goodbye to Pauli and his wife, Mami and I become actors. It’s difficult to be yourself in front of the camera. Somehow, you feel that you should do interesting things. And avoid embarrassing things, such as picking your nose.

We travel at a slow speed. The van travels beside me, with its door open, and with the cameraman hanging out. It looks dangerous. Drivers of the following cars can’t overtake easily, yet are very patient. No one gets angry. I don’t think that this would happen in New Zealand.

For lunch, we all eat okonomiyaki. It’s delicious! I want to rest here until it’s time for my next meal. Luckily, the camera is turned off during the meal. It’s difficult to eat okonomiyaki without making a mess.

Our plan for today is to reach a rotenburo in the mountains. We can have a bath when we arrive, and we might be able to camp there. I exit a forest and cross a bridge. On the ground is a small toy that someone has lost. Once a day, on average, I find such a thing. I pick it up for my collection. By the end of the trip, I’ll have more than one hundred.

In the middle of nowhere, I come to a shed. It has a sign with the letters DVD. Now then, why would there be a roadside stall in such a lonely place? I take a quick look inside, and discover why. What an interesting collection of adult movies!

At the rotenburo, the others are already waiting. This time, I know what to expect. This time I’ll enjoy myself. I’ll happily enter the bath, as long as the cameraman doesn’t follow. If he does, then I’d need a body double, which means that Mami would need one too.

I’d need to attend the auditions. There were a couple of women on the covers of those DVDs who might be okay. But I’d need to check carefully. “Girls, line up please. Back straight, chin up, chest out.”

The manager of the rotenburo says that it’s okay for us to camp on the onsen’s grounds. It’s already dark when we set up the tent. Then, we eat our evening meal. Mami’s family gave the television crew some food to give us. We unfold the map, and see how far we’ve come. We’ve done five days. Kyushu looks enormous. Shikoku looks just as large. Honshu is three times the size. And after them, Hokkaido.

We’ll concentrate on one island at a time.

One day at a time.

One step at a time.

[494 words]

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Chapter 22

The lane ends, and we exit Kagoshima and enter Miyazaki, our second prefecture. The road becomes crowded. The cars are noisy, and they smell of fumes. This is very different to the lane that we were on. Walking doesn’t feel as pleasant anymore.

I check the map to see what we may expect. Again I’m frustrated. Not only are kanji more difficult for me to read than romaji. The map seems differently organized too. I’m used to maps where the cities are dots or circles. You can read how far it is between them. But on Japanese maps, there seem to be no clear centres.

On Japanese maps, the land is broken up into pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece is called a village, or a town, or a city. It depends on the number of people.  But there may not be a centre of population. The people might all live all over, or around the edge. So, when a sign says: 10km to Dokodemo, what does that mean? Is it 10km to the edge of the next piece, or to its centre? And how do you know when you’ve arrived?

Another trick with these maps is that roads often disappear. Now you see them; now you don’t. It’s very strange. There seem to be two road-numbering systems, so at a cross road the name—or number—may suddenly change.

Somehow, we finally get to Miyakonojo. We have arranged to meet Pauli there at a supermarket, but we are several hours early. We spend that time in a couple of places.
First, we have a meal in a Joyfull restaurant. It’s my first time. I like the fact that you can drink as much coffee as you like. It is also nice and cool inside. Then, we ask at city hall for directions to a sento. There is one nearby. It has no coffee, but you can drink ice-water and tea.

In the evening, we follow Pauli to his home, about 2km from the supermarket. He and his wife cook pizza for the four or us. We exchange our life stories.

Pauli and his wife have been together for ten years. They met in Australia, on holiday. They bought their home recently, second-hand. In Japan, not many houses are sold this way; people prefer to build new ones. I’m interested to learn these facts, because I’m starting to think about living in Japan. The more I see of the country, the more that I like it here.

At night, we s-t-r-e-t-c-h out onto cool, soft futons.


“Is it your leg again?” Mami whispers.

“Not at all. That was a sigh of pleasure, not pain.”

[446 words]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chapter 21

I wake up shivering because of two reasons. First, it had been a cold night. Second, I had a frightening dream. It was about a female hiker who was injured. Her pain was the same as mine. I touched her leg, and she pointed a finger at me. In a low voice she whispered, “Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome.”

IBFS is 'doctor talk'. It is the name of an illness. It occurs when a muscle rubs against a bone in your leg. I’ve suffered from it in the past, so I know that it can affect you for several months. I’m worried. How bad is it this time?

Well, it’s bad enough that I can only walk backwards down yesterday’s slope. I support my weight by using a hand rail. It’s very painful when I lift my leg. How can I continue walking? Maybe I can’t.

Should we shorten the walk? Should we do one island at a time, and return to New Zealand in between? Should I rest for a week in a minshuku? Should we buy a used car?
We do none of those things. Instead, we continue at a snail’s pace. I take two seconds for each step, like a mountain climber on Mount Everest. Then, after 90 minutes, just like yesterday, the pain slowly disappears.

Soon, we discover a secret road. We could easily have missed it; it’s lucky that we didn’t. No cars use it—just us, some walkers and some cyclists. A man stops to talk with us. “This road was built 18 years ago,” he tells us. “It’s an emergency route, in case of earthquakes.”

The two of us walk side by side. We take turns pushing the bicycle. I like traveling this way. It’s better to travel at the same speed, because it’s easier to talk. “Why don’t we walk back and forth along this road until we’ve completed 2500km?” I suggest as a joke. “We could walk the length of Japan without leaving Kagoshima!”

Later, we meet someone who has done just that. He is a friendly cyclist who stops to say hello. He asks us what our plans are, and is amazed to hear that we’re walking the length of Japan. But we are more amazed when we learn what he has done. Since he retired, two years ago, he has cycled here three hours every day. In total, he has cycled 25,000km. 

That is ten times what we plan!

[409 words]

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Chapter 20

It’s good to stay positive. It’s also good to stay cool. The afternoon is growing hot, so I walk slowly, stopping every 15 minutes to rest and stretch. I enjoy walking through tunnels, where it’s cooler. I find an old broom, and I use it to sweep stones from my path.

I almost walk past Mami without seeing her, again. She is sitting in the shade near a shrine, at the top of a long flight of stone steps. And she isn’t alone.

Beside her is a man, a cyclist, a European. They have been talking for an hour. Mami introduces me to Pauli, a man from Finland. “I live not too far from here,” he says. Please stay at my home when you reach it.”

“Sure, we will,” I say, “if we get that far! Ha ha.”

Pauli loves cycling. He can ride 300km in 24 hours! He works at the same school as his Japanese wife. They have been living in Miyakonojo for the last ten years. Recently they bought a house. It will take us another day to get there. (Cycling is much faster than walking.) Pauli tells us of a park where we can camp. “It has a very large statue of a samurai—the first Japanese to sail to Spain. You can’t miss it,” he says.

Then, he says goodbye and leaves. Mami and I take a look at the map. We try to find the park that we heard about, but can’t. “This map is useless,” I complain, which makes Mami feels bad. The map is homemade. Mami copied it from a road atlas. (The whole atlas was too heavy to take with us.)

At the end of the day, we are desperate. We still haven’t found the park, so we ask a man if we can camp beside his house. It’s where the neighborhood brings its rubbish. He shakes his head, and points instead up a very steep hill. The only way to climb it is if I use a rope and help Mami pull. This is crazy!

However, when we get to the top, I get a big surprise.

“There is the statue!”

“We’re here!” Mami shouts.

But as I walk across the grass, I feel a stab of pain. “Aaaargh!” I cry. Just like yesterday, it’s my leg again. Is this going to happen to me every day?

[397 words]