One Man Walking

2008-06-23 Still stealthy

June 23rd, 2008 · 1 Comment

Throughout the day I’ve talked myself into and out of paying for accommodation tonight. The forecast for tomorrow says “chance of rain: 100%”, but I can’t go hotel hopping all the way to Soya.

As I turned in my key for last night’s room the hotel manageress offered me a free breakfast, so obviously I stayed just a little longer. She told me her daughter lives in Mutsu, 50km north and my target for the day, and her boyfriend is Australian. Then she said something about him being my friend and I couldn’t tell if she was assuming that since I am a New Zealander (one of 4 million) I would probably know Alex the Aussie (one of 14 million?), or she was suggesting she’d introduce us so I could have a free roof.

I started out in rain but it faded away within the hour and I just walked north along the road making sure not to pass any puddles at the same time as a truck. I walked a long way today stopping only at a road station to try to sort accommodation. The free internet there (rare but very handy) suggested Wakinosawa Youth Hostel whose address was “Mutsu-shi” (as in Mutsu-city). Their terrible online map didn’t match my version of Mutsu so I called them for directions. It took me 15 minutes to establish that they aren’t actually anywhere near the city but 45, yes forty-five, kilometers to the west. They had been trying to tell me this for a while but I’d mistaken it for people not understanding how far and fast I walk. It was of course my fault for not knowing enough Japanese, but the postal service or government body for addresses needs to be overhauled if they think that place can share a name with a town so far away. But then the Japanese address “system” is a whole other issue.

Anyway I walked on quite late. Getting myself right into town in an effort to either be spotted by Alex the Aussie or get a hotel. I passed a kendo club room where the little old lady waiting for her grandson inside tried the old TALKING LOUDLY TO FOREIGNERS trick when I said I didn’t understand. I still didn’t understand, and I guess she just thinks I’m a little slower than all the other people she meets.

As it turns out I am stealth camping in a park. One hotel was below ¥5,000 but the park is free :-)

Word of the day: mi-mi ga ki-ko-e-nai = deaf

Distance today: 56.5 km

2008-06-22 Just mileage

June 22nd, 2008 · 1 Comment

It started raining last night as I ate my pot noodle and it has only briefly paused since then. Sometimes it was so feeble that I put my umbrella away. I just trudged north until I reached the start of the Shimokita Peninsula, the northern area of Honshu that looks like an old axe, and checked into yet another business hotel. At ¥5000 per night I don’t want to do this often. Unfortunately the forecast is for several days of rain, and I hate camping in the rain.

Farther to the north, a strong low pressure system will move gradually northward along the northeast coast of Honshu. This storm is strong enough to produce significant rain and gusty winds through northern Honshu. Precipitation will move into Hokkaido in the evening and into Tuesday.

geta waiting for guests 

Luckily someone around here has unprotected internet so I’ve downloaded a few podcasts to entertain me and even signed up to Twitter. Whether you are a member or not you can get updates as soon as I do something interesting (and get to internet access).

Word of the day: ka-do = corner

Distance today: 36 km

2008-06-21 Summer Solstice

June 21st, 2008 · 4 Comments

The longest day of the year, the summers solstice, or as PCT hikers call it “Hike Naked Day”. Thru-hikers would often be up in the high Sierras at this point where you don’t see roads or cars for hundreds of miles. I was crossing Muir Pass exactly a year ago. Today though I was a little closer to civilisation.

Misty Lake Towada 

I woke in a dry tent but there was mist in the air so I went back to the lake for a look, again worth the extra boot leather. I had planned to take route 102 down a narrow valley but found something much better. The Oirase Scenic Trail. Touted as “long distance” it is 14km of quite well maintained path beside and over a wide but shallow river with occasional waterfalls and rapids. It was a really pleasant surprise and I’ll be writing to Chris to make sure he takes that route if he goes to Lake Towada. Being a weekend there were more people about. Walking clubs with their Leki poles and checked shirts. Guided tours following ladies waving flags and a few people there just walking by themselves. I got a lot of stares but everyone of them turned in smiles and nods when I said “konichiwa”.
Sunny Lake Towada 

When the trail ended I walked through the little town without noticing it and was out of food options. Then I saw a little stall with Fish-on-a-Stick and figured I should try everything. As it happened the fish is only on the stick while cooking. It is sold wrapped in a paper towel complete with scales, bones (cartilage?) and head. It was tricky but I managed to walk and de-bone the fish at the same time, it was really good fish and I bet it had some protein I’ve been missing.
Fish in paper 

Today I saw 9 people of European descent. They were all in cars, whizzing about doing their own things. This is worth noting because I’ve not seen any non-Japanese people since Nagano more than two weeks ago. I guess Oirase is, quite rightly, mentioned in a few guidebooks.
Choshi Big Falls 

Another thing I haven’t seen for a while is my stove. I’ve been eating in ramen shops (or houses) or skipping dinner since Kiso Valley in May. It was almost an honour thing to prove I didn’t need it. But since I have it and pot noodles were on sale I decided to cook (boil some water) for a change.

Word of the day: na-tsu = summer

Distance today: 45.5 km

hiking  ·  movie  ·  photo

2008-06-20 Quiet mountain town

June 20th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Tonight I am about 42km from where I stayed last night, in a quiet mountain town on the shore of Lake Towada. After more emails and more food I set off from Kazuno at quite a pace. 7:30am is pretty late for me so I was trying to make up for it and trying to take it easy at the same time.

Towada-Hachimantai National Park Maiden Statue 

The road to the rim of the crater that formed Lake Towada is narrow in parts and I was not fond of the number of tour buses going to and from my destination. Not only because of the immediate danger of them veering into the other lane to avoid me, but because it indicated there would be crowds of people milling around at the lake. As I was evaluating one break point a bus pulled in and the guide stepped off. Dressed like Peggy from Edward Scissorhands with a pink air-stewardess’ hat and checked jacket with massive padded shoulders, she ordered everyone off and into the gleeful arms of the proprietor who had come out to welcome the next batch. I kept moving.
Another lake and ice-cream 

Arriving here after 5pm was a good idea. No more busses were arriving and lots were leaving. I meandered through town stopping in an o-ma-san (grandma) shop to buy tomorrow’s snack and find a restaurant. All I’d passed so far had been shut but just around the corner the town was still open. At the Towada Shrine I spoke to a Japanese couple who had lived in Yorkshire for 5 years. The wife said she’d forgotten most of her English but she spoke it as well as any I’ve heard.
Pier in Lake Towada 

Dinner of ramen in a restaurant which was having its carpets redecorated by the vomiting toddler in the corner. The lady in charge said she didn’t mind, and I would have too but I wasn’t spoken too. I guess my smell was worse than the child’s. My clothes still look bright and clean but I’ve done a marathon in them and the sweat my bag has absorbed can’t be washed out.
Sunset over Lake Towada 

Word of the day: byo-ki no = sick

Distance today: 45.5 km

2008-06-19 Cooling my heels

June 19th, 2008 · No Comments

After an early morning dash to see sunrise over the valleys it was a long downhill to the onsen and the road. I passed a marker for the 40 degree line, I think it was 36 on the marker I saw at Sata. I prefer kilometers, those numbers change faster.

Sunrise near Yakeyama 

For a few weeks I’ve been seeing everyone out in the fields cutting grass and now it’s had time to dry the local farmers have declared today “Roadside Bonfire Day” which didn’t help my breathing much. Nor that of the in-line skater going uphill. Dressed all in black lyrca and carrying only his ski-poles and a water pouch (yes, I could tell that’s all he had) he must have had a support team or been planning to come back this way but I didn’t see him. Eventually the rain came and my plan to reach a town worked fine. I managed to convince the lady at reception that a futon room was ok and I’ve done laundry, had a couple of showers and read lots of emails.
Westward down from Yakeyama 

For dinner I tried a local place so I could speak to people instead of watching them watching me on the road, asking only for a small bowl of udon (to wash down the 2 liters of ice-cream I’d eaten at the hotel. Mmmm, calorific). The plan worked and I got talking with the owner and the three drunk guys. There was the more intelligent and reserved one at the back. Not as drunk, thus easier to understand. The quieter one around the corner, with blood-shot bulging eyes and more English than the others but he really needed prompting to use it. And the loud talky one. Obviously had more to drink and kept asking the same questions about age and location. The other two started answering for me when they’d heard me say “I’m still 27″. I had to repeat the walking bit too. Every time I got more specific about my start and end point I got asked if I was hitch-hiking, even though they previously agreed that walking was “good times”.

Eventually it wrapped up and as drunk business guys tend to do they asked me to the next bar. But it was late and I can’t waste a day with a hangover, so after I got them to let go of my hands I left and will now sleep very well.

Word of the day: hi = fire

Distance today: 37 km


Today was mostly a Down day

P.S. I heard a bear today. I could have seen one too for ¥500 but bears in cages don’t interest me

2008-06-18 Not just mileage

June 18th, 2008 · No Comments

For most of this morning I thought today was just about the distance. Putting my head down and getting it done. The walk was pleasant. Soon reaching the Tamagawa Dam view point where I charged some things and dried out others. After a while the view of the man-made lake disappeared and with dense forest on either side it was just me and the simmering tarmac below. I reached the Tamagawa Onsen Visitors Center shortly before 1pm and wasn’t going to bother going to it except the sleeping workmen at the road-side building said they had no water and that was my only choice.

It turned out to be, as Alan Booth would say, worth the extra boot leather. The center was air-conditioned and the sole employee had seen me on the road yesterday. A big 3D map inside showed Mt. Yakeyama and some hiking paths over it! Though the man told me it was too late to start the “5 hour” track, and there were bears so he’d worry about me, I saw a hut near the peak and figured that would do. First I swung by the onsen to enquire about prices. It was another case of not being listened to or understood. I was told the price for one person one night and tried to ask if two people for one night was double that. Three times I stated the doubled price but before I could finish saying “….for two people” he’d correct me and say
“No. This is the price”
“For two people”
“No, just for one”
“Right, then ¥16,200 is…”
“No. It’s ¥8,100″

Anyway, I should have tried the water at the onsen, I’d misunderstood and thought it was free upstream, but found that was just where people sat under umbrellas or in the small shacks breathing in the fumes. According to the English pamphlet “The waters of Tamagawa Hot Springs are medically efficacious”, but it was baking hot already and I don’t need to sweat any more than I am already.

Healthy steam stream 

So I headed up Mt. Yakeyama. I paused to listen to a hiker tell me about take-no-ko (bamboo shoots) and boiling them for 30 minutes. Since I don’t have the fuel or water to do that I put the shoots back into the forest once he was gone. Besides, they wouldn’t taste as good as Ohashi-san’s.

After a…..

……what was that? A fast moving black shape just shot across the floor and made the wood pile shuffle. I think there is a mouse in the house…..

…….not too steep climb the trees stopped and the path crossed the tell-tale white chalky rocks that show the crust here is thin. I reached the mountain hut with plenty of time to get down the other side, but I’d rather be up high for sunrise. I hear it might rain tomorrow. If the clouds come early maybe I’ll be above them. If they come late I’ll be reaching town and it’s time for a wash.

Mountain path 

Mountain path 

Word of the day: Ken-ko = health

Distance today: 37 km


Today was mostly an Up day

2008-06-17 Lunch with a princess

June 17th, 2008 · No Comments

I was packed and walking by 4:30am but managed to wisely put those extra daylight hours into resting (and charging my electronics, and working on my tan). I also wasted some by missing tiny little roads that show up on my map but really need to be marked as tracks. The first was described as “big” yesterday but was gravel, unsigned and started through a lumber yard. Nice walk though. That brought me to the shores of Lake Tazawa and the statue of Princes Tatsuko where I had lunch. The lake looked great for swimming but I just paddled and tried to look vaguely pilgrim-ish as I washed myself for the first time in a few days.

Lunch with the princess 

You know you’re a Thru-Hiker when:
*You don’t need a shower because it’s only been four days
*The only thing overtaking you is your smell

I had socks airing on my pack today and the smell was ghastly. I’ve rinsed them now so they’re a bit better but I’ll need a laundromat before Hokkaido or they won’t let me in.

The second missed road was Route 248, again unsigned and looking like a forestry road. It lead me north through a million mosquitoes and onto 341 where I’ll be for a while.

Lakeside torii 

A tree having a paddle 

Word of the day: mi-zu-mi = lake

Distance today: 46 km

2008-06-16 Lawnmower men

June 16th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Taking the smaller roads meant a three hour walk to the first store to buy breakfast. The lady in charge spoke better English than my Japanese and she help point out where the samurai houses were in Kakunodate and that the lake just north of town has a beautiful statue of Princess Tatsuko.

As I was stuffing my bag after refueling at a MaxValu supermarket I noticed a man on the bench staring at me. If I’d had the language skills I’d have said something like “don’t stare so hard or your eyes might fall out!”. A bit harsh maybe but he was being far too nosey for my liking. Instead I turned and waved as I left saying only “Sayonara!” as a cheery parting shot. I think that got to him because he chased me across the car park to ask where I was going. “Hokkaido, by foot” I said and carried on.
The next guy I talked to was old and looked confused, maybe by my presence. He asked me “nan netsu?” I don’t know what that means but he didn’t care to clarify, just waving me away when I said I didn’t understand.

Tonight I’m camping in a sports shed on the edge of a field used for “ground-golf” (as opposed to the more popular sport of air-golf). While I was sitting on the back steps a group of men turned up to mow the lawns and I stayed out of sight until they left. Despite a wonderfully sunny day it now looks like rain, and I hate camping in the rain.

Word of the day: onaji = same

Distance today: 47 km

2008-06-15 More walk, less talk

June 15th, 2008 · No Comments

Last night’s site was a very good choice. Soft ground and no condensation, it was quiet apart from the occasional pheasant or rabbit wandering by. It got light at 4am but I stayed put for a while after that. Eventually moving on to spend time and battery power trying to call home only to find out Dad wasn’t there and it’s not actually Fathers Day. Maybe NZ is different to everywhere else, I’m sure it was this weekend last year.

Not much else happened really. I read about Ashioto’s (Chris’) time in Shikoku. I can sympathise with a lot of those feelings but we are having very different journeys. Sometimes I envy his adventure. Staying in places longer, seeing more rural stuff. But I’m too afraid of winter to travel any slower so I’ll have to come back and take my time after the walking is done with.

This afternoon I’ve veered off the main highway and noticed the difference immediately. The valley is once again filled with strange chimes at 5pm and I found an awesome secret shrine up a steep stone staircase. I wanted to sleep right there but carried on and got closer to my goal. The hills here are gorgeous. The light clouds give even more shades of green to their densely wooded slopes and I’m not missing the plains at all.

Word of the day: midori = green

Distance today: 45 km

2008-06-14 Shaky ground

June 14th, 2008 · 3 Comments

You may have heard about an earthquake in Japan today. It wasn’t far away and may have been around 4.0 where I was. At about 8:45 I was recording a bit on my camera saying “nothing else around here is swaying so I guess it’s just a dizzy spell”. It probably was, but I’d be interested to know the time of the quake.

The newspaper arrived today with the article in. I think it missed some interesting points out, but being in a Japanese paper is pretty cool no matter what. I’m carrying a copy and several more will get sent home soon.

That Masami Goto is hosting a nice young man who gets given onigiri and beer from kind Japanese people as he walks through beautiful Japanese countryside 

Masami’s wife Kichi prepared another big breakfast, I should have weighed myself before and after this home-stay, and her sister arrived with her husband and mother to wave me off. Hideya (the husband, hope I spelled that right), is president of the food company they all work for and I left with packets of miso and consomme soup, plus generous settai that’ll see Tania and I in a hotel after I finish rather than a youth hostel. There was a bit of confusion as I reached the end of the road and headed south. Masami came running to point me north until I explained I needed to make my path connected by returning to the point he picked me up from, just 100m south from there. With that cleared I got going but something was wrong.
leaving the Goto house 
I don’t know what started it but somehow I got in a bad mood. I started running through events where I think I had been wronged in someway and devising arguments or comebacks that would prove my point. I even got annoyed at the weather for being so overcast and realised just how stupid I was being when I felt the anger pointing at anyone I saw. It wasn’t their fault it might rain soon. I tried playing my iPod to distract me but it continued until I heard Robbie Williams’ “Better man”. I know the words by heart but that song always brings on some pretty depressing self-reflection and I find it hard to get them out without my voice cracking up (@Peter A: I can actually do this one pretty well when it’s heart-felt). There were many reasons behind this trip, though the Japanese only get to hear of the ones relating to Japan itself. Among them is the continuation of last year’s time out and putting to rest the things that trouble me. Listening to your sub-concious is all well and good. Unless you don’t like what you hear.

Enough with the melodramatics. A farmer stopped and gave me chocolate, a shopper sat beside me and asked about me. They may have seen the paper or they may just like talking to odd looking fellas, either way they cheered me up. Just before my lunch time goal, Masami found me and wished me well again. That’s when I heard of the quake that at last count had killed 10 and injured 167. A few bridges are down, I think my route is safe though.

My target was Jurokurakan “16 rocks”. Which are figured carved into the rocks on the shore line. Sort of like Mount Rushmore, but on a smaller scale and done by monks.


More walking, a little rain and I arrived at Kisakita, a park where I spent a while stomping around between the natural islands of rocks and trees dotted amongst the rice fields. I could be in the road station but I have been looking forward to sleeping here all day. A little solitude and complete darkness will do me good.

Word of the day: shinbun = newspaper

p.s. One of the guys who came to the bar two nights ago passed me on the road today. Stopped to say hi and check how I was.

Distance today: 47 km