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.

“Aaahhh!”

“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]

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Chapter 19



I wake up. I stand up. But as soon as I do, I feel a strong pain. It’s in my lower leg beside the shin bone. It stops me from taking a single step. It’s a serious problem.
Let me think for a minute. If we are able to continue, that would be fine. If we have to stop our trip—well, that would be okay too. I can deal with either case. The walk is only as important as I decide. It’s not a matter of life and death. It will not ‘make or break’ me. It’s not the same as losing a job or becoming bankrupt. So I’m not going to worry!
I’ll just do my best. During the next few hours, the pain will either get worse or better. I cannot know unless I try.
Carefully, I move my leg. I find that, if I’m gentle, it will bend a little. I lean on Mami’s shoulder and take a few steps. It’s like I’m doing Tai Chi. I continue for 10 minutes, 20, 30, and then, gradually, the pain goes away. I sigh, and start breathing again.
On every day of the trip, things happen. Today, we ask at a small factory to use their toilet, and they present us with towels and tea. Later, an old woman invites Mami into her garden, and gives her some cans of juice. I find the first coin of the trip, and stand on my first prickle. Mami sees a group of monkeys sitting on the road. I lose Mami for a while, when I walk past the park where she sits waiting. These are small things, unimportant. But that’s life!
We sit in a ditch beside a field. The wind is blowing, warmly. Mami uses our stove to boil some instant noodles for lunch. I check our odometer to see how far we’ve come. I’m disappointed. We’ve only traveled 13km today.
But then I think again. Thirteen is only a number. Why should I let it affect me? Numbers aren’t real. A number doesn’t affect the weather, fill my stomach, or give me energy. I can choose if I want to feel happy or not. Certainly, it is better to feel happy. This morning, I wasn’t sure if I could walk a single step. So isn’t it great that I have done 13km? Of course it is!
[398 words]

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]