Tuesday, May 05, 2015
I found the name puzzling. "Sabae" means literally Mackerel Bay, but the sea was nowhere to be found. Viewed from my perch atop the temple grounds, all I could see through its Edo period gate were perfectly framed hills, rolling one into another, all covered in fresh green, dazzling the eyes.
Walking up from the station, I'd found the old post road rather quickly. I'd needed the GPS to guide me away from the station, but upon approach, it was quite obvious, the narrow stretch now a modern shopping arcade, if modern were the 1960s. I'll revisit it when I finish a future walk here. My intent today is to walk from this express train stop, down to Imajo, which is serviced only by local trains, but is where I left off in December 2013. In completing this 20 km section, I'll later walk the remaining 90km as day-trips between express stops. Easy in, easy out.
Before leaving the temple, I sit awhile to read of this town's history on wikipedia, looking to see which renowned figures were Sabae-ites. But all I find are politicians, sports figures, minor models, and all strangers to me. So I descend the stone temple steps worn and curved, signifying that others had enjoyed this view over the centuries. As I rounded the bottom and moved south, I passed before the general store, its hexagonal windows resembling those of Vietnam.
I moved beyond town, and crossed a broad river. Beneath me, a flotilla of turtles flowed just off a sandbank. The far bank was more village than town. The countryside began to re-exert itself, the houses growing more space between them, allowing the sky to cut a broad figure, challenged only by higher peaks to the east, shedding their remaining snow drip by drip under unseasonal heat. Sharing this same sky was a large sign telling me the history of the sake distillery behind me. Sadly the sign outlived the distillery, the weathered and dusty crates visible behind dusty and broken glass. And where the sky receded again, I found the city of Takefu.
Bizarrely, I have a small role in the history of this place. A few years ago, I came up here to take on a job I was offered. It was a simple one off, and I doubt that I was in the city for more than two hours. Not long afterward, i'd received a mysterious phone call from a young woman who had gotten my number from the company I'd done the work for. She told me that she'd met me that day, and was hoping that we could get together for coffee and a chat. I had absolutely no recollection of her, and at any rate, no interest in meeting her anyway. I explained that I was married and had a young child, and that I wasn't looking to play around. That ended the conversation at that particular occasion, but it hadn't ended the phone calls. Within a few weeks she called me again, the second of what was probably three or four phone calls. They'd all end with my telling her that I wasn't interested in starting any sort of affair, which were her obvious intentions. Ironically enough, it was she who provided the ultimate end to the conversations. I notice that she would repeatedly mention Poland, and express her fondness for Chopin, being a piano player herself. When I asked why, she said, "isn't that where you told me you were from?" It was immediately clear that she'd confused me for someone else. With a quick and gentle rebuke, I told her that she had the wrong guy, hung up, and I never heard from her again.
Takefu receded now as well, and I found myself walking in true farmland, between paddies flooded and reflecting cloudy sky. I followed footprints of dried mud beside a small canal ever rushing to my right. Flowers lit up the banks of the paddies with brilliant blue. This long and winding road led me to the hills above Imajo. I was upon them before too long, and it seemed as if the steep uphill that followed was a reward for the straight lines I'd been moving along since morning. Yu-o Pass wasn't too high, but I was winded by the top, and I gazed down upon Imajo itself, this being the third and perhaps final time I'd visit. I had wanted to get in earlier and look around, but I'd dawdled a bit, the overall walk today being one of the better ones, all pretty remote and unspoiled. So yet again I found myself racing for a train I absolutely had to catch, literally running through its main street. But my eye did happen to catch a directional sign for a hiking path up a nearby mount, and as the mental footnote formed itself with almost an audible click, I told myself to never say never. During the train journey home, I wondered about all the glory that I casually stroll past as my attention remains focused on the ancient trail beneath my feet. What else is out there, laying just beyond the edges of my knowledge and imagination?
On the turntable: "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Sdtk)"
On the nighttable: "To Myanmar with Love"
Sunday, May 03, 2015
“I’ve taken to long-distance walking as a means of dissolving the mechanised matrix which compresses the space-time continuum, and decouples human from physical geography. So this isn’t walking for leisure -- that would be merely frivolous, or even for exercise -- which would be tedious. No, to underscore the seriousness of my project I like a walk which takes me to a meeting or an assignment; that way I can drag other people into my eotechnical world view. ‘How was your journey?’ they say. ‘Not bad,’ I reply. ‘Take long?’ they enquire. ‘About ten hours,’ I admit. ‘I walked here.’ My interlocutor goggles at me; if he took ten hours to get here, they’re undoubtedly thinking, will the meeting have to go on for twenty? As Emile Durkheim so sagely observed, a society’s space-time perceptions are a function of its social rhythm and its territory. So, by walking to the business meeting I have disrupted it just as surely as if I’d appeared stark naked with a peacock’s tail fanning out from my buttocks while mouthing Symbolist poetry.”
On the turntable: Koerner & Glover, "Live at the 400 Bar"
Saturday, May 02, 2015
It was Kanazawa, and finding myself with a free afternoon, I decided to connect some dots. While it appears from these pages that my feet are ever in motion (which is essentially true), they move at a speed nowhere near that of the mind. So it is that I have a ridiculous number of ideas for walks, and for the writing to inevitably follow. This relationship of foot to hand could at one time have been compared to that of a simple dessert after a heavy meal, but it has now shifted to that of an appetizer before a feast.
One walk I envision is the complete Hōkkoku Kaidō, from its eastern end in Jōetsu, Niigata, 150 km along the coast to Kanazawa, then rounding south to connect with the Ōmi Kaidō which I'd begun in Imajō. Numerous times I've walked a particular section while leading Walk Japan's Basho tour, so it seemed a good idea to knock off the 20 km that continued from there to my hotel.
I detrained in Tsubata and immediately jumped into the sole taxi waiting out in front of the quiet station. Hanging from the seat in front of me was an pamphlet for free cancer screenings. I'd seen this type of thing before: the ads for retirement homes; the ads for retirement services; the ads for grave stones. It was a testament to just who was riding these cabs this far in the countryside.
I had lunch in the shade of the michi-no-eki, overlooking a large patch of grass. There was good ice cream here I remembered, but I forewent it to get moving. I moved past a large soccer stadium built for god knows what, and carried on down a long straight stretch lined with shade trees, like the namiki of old. I could imagine the cars of young lovers parked beneath them at night. But from beyond them now in the full light of afternoon came the sound of things being torn apart: the grinding of metal on metal; the gunning of an engine. Something large was being torn out of existence.
Thankfully the uguisu warbled in a stronger voice, one that seemed to punctuate my footfalls along this particular section. It dawned on me that I don't often write about things I hear while walking. For too much of the time, I've got music turned on, so as to blot out the roar of the traffic, and to temper the unpleasantness of walking the busier roads. (Though on numerous occasions music has taken on the part of the muse.) And due to a recently deceased iPod, I could hear it all today, most especially the racket coming from the loudspeaker-mounted vehicles, 'campaigning' for the election two days off. These vehicles were most active in the rather new suburban community I eventually found myself in. There was no real sense of history here at all, nor in the campaign messages echoing off its cheap frontages.
My road fed eventually into an older looking shopping street, which had a couple of ancient stone markers, designing lesser arteries diverging from this greater thoroughfare. Despite the Hōkkoku Kaidō's 1200 year history, very little remains but these stones, in a country built upon the principle of the old being forcibly evicted by the new, a fact emphasized most magnificently by the cherry blossoms bursting above my head.
I felt I needed a rest so took the opportunity to sit in a bus shelter, built like a little concrete hut as protection in these snowy northern climes. I badly needed to pee, but was still in the midst of the 'burbs. So having finished my bottle of tea, I began to refill it, thankfully with a volume slightly less than its allotted 500 ml. That done, I dumped the warm contents into a drain, then, like a mafioso tossing away his weapon after a hit, disposed of the evidence in a bin beside a vending machine. A few blocks up, my greeting to a dapper elderly gent went unreturned, which didn't set such a good example for the schoolkids playing within earshot. Did his blanking me mean that word was already out about my piss-bottle antics?
I walked this road for the next hour or so. It wasn't particularly busy or noisy, but was rather bland on the eye. The Kaidō eventually parted from it, leading diagonally away to the left, its surface now cobbled and somewhat preserved, in a city that does a remarkable job of caring for its history. I walked along it, passing old shops with wooden frontages, against the stream of high school students spilling out of a school at the top of the hill.
I brought my day to a conclusion in an old machiya converted into a coffee shop. There was an gallery attached to the front, and a fellow with a mullet was hanging photographs, the bowler hat atop his head straight out of A Clockwork Orange. He was obviously one of this city's many bohemians, but I felt he looked a little unfinished without facial hair of some sort. The cafe was run by two attractive middle-aged women, who I took to be sisters, not so much for a resemblance of face, but for their admiringly buxom figures.
It was only a couple of kilometers from here to the end of my walk, a delightful zigzag amongst interesting little museums and funky galleries. Kanazawa is certainly one of the most charming of Japan's regional cities, its name befitting a place filled with treasures far greater than I ever imagined. In a way, it is a shame that these treasures can be shared with the residents of Tokyo, who can now reach the city by Shinkansen in two and a half hours. I fear for the character that will thus be lost in this town. Luckily this year I will able to get back up here a few more times while on tour, and will try to find some time to get out and explore. But isn't this exactly the point of these walks in the first place, to get out amongst this country's history? In this particular case, it is history in motion rather than history simply memorialized, and I am lucky to see it while it still exists.
On the turntable: "1234: Punk & New Wave 1976-1979"
On the nighttable: Will Self, "Psychogeography"