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It’s a long way to Tipperary – Part II (Hamamatsu – Odawara)

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 07/01/2008)

(Again, sorry for the rough quality but after copying notes for two hours I don`t want to look at them anymore for awhile.)

January 2nd I struck out again and passed two more net cafes in the early morning.  My body felt pretty good (my feet still hurt) and I made really good time with the rising sun.  I crested a hill about 9am and got my first view of Mt. Fuji on the trip!  I laughed, I whooped, I giggled with glee as I dropped by bags and did a little dance.  Mt. Fuji is a really inspiring sight and with this clear winter weather it looks fantastic.  A perfect white cone sticks up all by itself and it is no wonder it is the symbol of Japan.  It is truly majestic.

I kept going, filled with new energy and began approaching some other, smaller and closer snowy mountains.  I must have missed my turn off somewhere because when I finally stopped to have a drink and check my map I was way further north than I was supposed to be (about 8km north or halfway to Tenryuu).  Luckily, I didn`t have to backtrack the same road but I ended up walking about twice as far as I needed to.  I was really out I nthe country and the only things around me were fields and greenhouses.  I saw only one train while I was out there and it had only a single car.

I arrived in Fukuroi and noticed the pachinko parlors were doing a roaring trade with the new year.  I was able to find a net café pretty fast and I went in to check it out.  It looked pretty comfortable (the booths had tatami mat floors!) and I asked the guy at the desk if there was a bath house nearby.  He printed out a map off the internet and then drew his own map to go along with it so I could figure out how to get from the café to the station and from there to the bath house.  It was another 4km or so to the bath house but I didn`t have anything better to do.  I was greeted by a cheerful man standing out front who was apssing out free cups of amazaki (sweet, hot rice wine) in celebration of the new year.  I’ve read you are not supposed to drink alcohol before or after taking a hot bath but I took it anyway and it was really good.

Maybe I’m getting spoiled but I didn’t find this sento very impressive.  It was small, crowded, and the baths weren’t very interesting.  Maybe I’m desensitized now but the hot baths weren’t hot enough and the cold baths weren’t cold enough.  Also, nobody talked at this bath so it was kind of boring just sitting around with a bunch of naked dudes.  I went into the sauna for awhile because I wanted to watch the news but they were watching the Japanese version of “Funniest Home Videos” so I didn’t stay long.  One of the baths had some sort of mineral in it which smelled interesting and there were red lights glowing in the water.  I slid into the cold pool for awhile and watched with amusement as four or five young boys attempted a series of leaps and dives into the pools.  Upon entering the water a boy would scream bloody murder and tear out of the pool to hop around giggling with his friends, their hands clasped tightly over their crotches as they waited for the next one to dare an attempt.  There was on section of the main outdoor bath where some wooden benches were sunken in and there was a sign that said, “Massage Area.”  Well, I didn’t see the water bubbling like mad like it usually does when jets of water are used to massage so I wondered what the deal was.  I sat down on a bench and instantly received an electric shock to the lower part of my spine.  I scooted forward reflexively and it stopped.  Slowly I backed up and the closer I got the more intense the shocks became.  Right up next to the pad that does the shocking the shocks were so intense that I began to go numb in my lower back.  I figured this wasn’t a good idea since I still had to walk back to the net café later that night.

I poked around the baths for awhile, trying to kill some time but after awhile I left and relaxed in the TV lounge out front.  They had an ice cream vending machine and I bought two ice cream bars before I felt like leaving.

I returned to the net café and slept really well.  The next morning I had a good start and made it to Kakegawa as the sun was coming up.  I checked out Kakegawa Castle for a little while and watched the shinkansen streaking by below and then I continued on.  I saw one guy who looked like a fellow Tokaido pilgrim as I was resting for a bit but he didn’t see me as he passed on the other side of the street.  Later I saw the same guy in a temple.  I climbed a pretty long hill and then went through a tunnel with a narrow shoulder which was kind of scary.  I stopped at a roadside noodle place all by itself at the top of the pass but the broth was really bad.  Maybe I’m just becoming a noodle connoisseur (I just wanted to use that word and see if I could spell it correctly [hehe, as I wrote this I accidentally worte “smell” instead of “spell” because my feet stink right now!]).

After that I continued on and for the first time the shoulder completely disappeared from both sides of the road.  I got my first offer for a ride from an older gentleman and his wife who had seen me eating at the noodle restaurant earlier.  I thanked them but said that I had to refuse because I had to walk the whole way.  Nodding understandingly, the man waved and almost pulled out into an oncoming car.  I bowed furiously to anyone and everyone coming by, apologizing for causing an inconvenience by being in the road with my big bags.  Rounding the bend, I got some more fantastic views of Mt. Fuji and it was much closer this time.

I descended into Kanaya and found I had missed part of the old Tokaido.  I didn’t want to backtrack uphill but I went back to check out the beginning of it.  It was a treacherously steep road made of old, rounded, stones and looked like it would be a pain to cross.  It’s too bad the path is not better marked for those of us walking the trail backwards (towards Tokyo instead of away from).  By the way, I saw the same backpacking dude I saw earlier and he was descending the steep stone path.  I think he had a better idea what he was doing than I did.  Oh well, I’ve already missed so many parts of the old Tokaido that the purpose of this trip has changed.  This is no longer about walking the old Tokaido.  It’s about walking to Tokyo on the general route of the Tokaido.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to use this for my senior paper next year or not but we’ll see.

Anyway, I reached a long bridge and collapsed on the bank of the river, deciding to rest a bit and gather energy before making the crossing.  As I was lying there with my head pillowed against the sleeping bag, staring up into the sky, the backpacker showed up again!  I had to say something.

“Hello!  Um, are you walking the Tokaido?” I asked.

“He laughed and said that yes, he was, and I told him that I was too.

“Where did you come from?” I asked.

“Today?  I started in Kakegawa.  You?”

“I started in Fukuroi.  How far are you going today?”

“I’m going to try to make it to Fujieda.”

“Oh, wow!  I’m only going to Shimada.  Well, good luck!”

He left and continued on while I lay there a bit more and that was that.  Or, so I thought…  About 3:00 I passed a net café in Shimada but I wasn’t ready to stop yet so I kept going because it looked like there was quite a lot of city left in front of me and I figured there would be more net cafes later on.  About 3:30, there was the guy again!  He popped out of a side road (probably the correct road) right in front of me and I waved vigorously at him.  He laughed and kept going but I caught up with him pretty fast and we walked along together for awhile.  He lives in Kyoto and works at a factory and has been walking the Tokaido in short sections for the last two years.  He has a week off from work right now and had just started walking that morning after arriving by shinkansen at Kakegawa.  We talked for awhile and walked in silence for awhile and I wondered whether I should have asked before joining him.  After all, walking the Tokaido is a very personal thing but I was just so excited to find someone else doing it too.  He asked how many other pilgrims I had seen and I explained that he was the first and that I had been getting kind of lonely feeling.  He said it was rare even for Japanese people to walk it anymore but especially unusual for a foreigner like me.  It got dark as we traipsed through Fujieda and we split up at a McDonald’s when I went inside to ask about a net café while he continued on to the train station where he could find a business hotel.

I’ve been afraid to enter curry restaurants ever since that bad ordering experience in Nagoya months ago but I finally braved it last night and was able to enjoy some nikujaga (meat and potatoes) curry with no problems.

I found a net café with free all-you-can-eat ice cream along with the drinks but it was a little expensive and kind of noisy so I didn’t sleep very well.  My booth was right next to the stairs so all night people were traipsing up and down to the karaoke and billiards upstairs and the laughing and merry-making woke me up a lot.  If I had designed that café I would have put the internet and manga part upstairs away from the noisy stuff.

The next day, Friday, was a good day for walking.  My body felt good )no more terrible pain in my feet) and the weather was good so I made really good time crossing the mountains into Shizuoka despite stopping a lot to take naps and brush my teeth and shave and things like that.  I came upon a cool pedestrian tunnel in the mountains that is really dark and quiet and I emerged from it into a really well-preserved part of the old Tokaido.  An old man sitting on his porch stopped me to talk to me.  I didn’t understand everything he said but I caught that he is 86-years old and has been living there the last 55 years.  He had a heart attack at one point and has a pacemaker now so he doesn’t climb the mountain anymore.  He talked about the different times the roads through that area were put in.  The tunnel I walked through was actually built during the Meiji period (late 19th century) and was a lot easier than the old Tokaido which is basically just a path over the mountain.  Of course, according to him this part of the Tokaido road dates back to the Heian period (8th century) which is even before Tokyo became the capital.  The new tunnels that Route 1 passes through were constructed during the Showa period (post-WWII) and completely bypass that little section of history csnuggled away in the hills.  That’s what I got out of the conversation anyway.  Unless I say otherwise, every conversation I have is entirely in Japanese and I am by no means fluent so I really can’t understand some of these people sometimes.

I was really homesick today and kind of depressed so I poked along at my own pace, taking lots of breaks to check my phone for emails.  I stopped and had a small cheesecake from a convenience store and laughed like crazy, on the verge of tears, when I got an email from my mom about the recent antics of our cats.  It really felt good to think about those cats doing their thing.

I made it to downtown Shizuoka by about 1pm and fell asleep in the park downtown for about an hour and a half.  The park is inside the ruins of an old castle and it felt really good to just lie on the grass in the sun.  I woke up when some high schoolers began practicing their brass band music nearby on the soccer field.

I found a Starbucks and relaxed for a bit but decided I really didn’t like Shizuoka very much (it felt dirty and dark and everything was under construction) and despite the splendid views of Mt. Fuji it just couldn’t compare to Hamamatsu.  With two hours of sunlight left I continued on.  A bunch of hyper voices came from a car waiting next to me at a stop light and I looked over to see a group of excited kids waving and shouting, “Hello!” (in English).  I grinned and waved back and for the next block-and-a-half or so they would wave at me every time traffic inched past me and then would wave at me again when I passed them a moment later.  It was really fun.  It reminded me that the first encounter I had with Japanese kids was with a group of Japanese school kids on a class trip to Kyoto from Shizuoka! I was happy.

I made it to Shimizu at night fall and went inside a McDonald’s to ask about a net café and do some writing.  I found a net café and struck out early the next day feeling well-rested and ready to walk.

And walk I did!  I set a personal record and walked 50km in one day.  I stopped for breakfast at a convenience store and watched a monk-like older man shuffle past slowly.  He was wearing simple black robes and tibi (split-toe) boots and he had a kasa (traditional conical-shaped straw hat) and a cool old man beard and I wondered if he was walking the Tokaido also.

About 8am the sidewalk ended.  The road was sandwiched between mountains and railroad tracks on one side and a sea wall and the ocean on the other side.  I could see a sidewalk that began on the other side of the road next to the sea wall but I couldn’t see any possible way to get there without crossing three barriers and four lanes of busy racing traffic.  There was a big sign warning that pedestrians and bicycles (and rickshaws) were not allowed any further but I couldn’t see any other coice and, taking a deep breath, I plunged forward.

Those were the scariest couple kilometers of my life.  I figured I was either going to get killed, arrested, cause some sort of terrible accident, or a combination of the three.  I made it through alive and free and found my walking path again.  I nearly collapsed once I got off the road because my knees were trembling so badly but I found a bench and took a short break.  There were lots of people walking around in Yui and I said “Hello” or “Good morning” and received two very different kinds of replies.  People either respond by smiling and bowing and saying “Hello” or they just stare at me silently as though I’m some sort of alien creature.

In Kanbara I met a stewardess (cabin attendant, I guess they’re called now) who was home for New Years and works for United Airlines.  She aksed where I was from and when I said Oregon she said, “Oh!  Portland?”  She says she flies through there all the time and really enjoys it.  She walked along with me for awhile and the nwished me luck and said she hoped to see me flying on United sometime.

I got a little lost between Kanbara and Yoshiwara when I climbed a hill to see the big tree that marks one of the old ichirizuka.  An ichirizuka is sort of like a milepost and marks the distance a man can walk in one hour (3.9km).  From on top of the hill I watched parasailers soaring over the factories down below in the city of Fuji.

Fuji City really is an industrial area.  I walked through rows of factories belching thick smoke into the air.  All Japanese cities smell really bad but Fuji was disgusting.  It is kind of sad because they have such spectacular views of Mt. Fuji looming up above them.

I walked along the Senbon Kaido (Road of a Thousand Trees) and I am sure there are way more than a thousand trees there although I did not count them.  It goes on for several kilometers and it took me awhile to realize that the big wall I could see behind the trees was the wall that holds the sea back!  I climbed up it to check it out and was rewarded with a sunset over the windswept beach.

I spotted a sign for a net café just before I stopped for some sushi and after another excellent night’s sleep I founda bakery in downtown Numazu and took some time to write in my journal.

I decided not to try to find the floating hotel in Numazu and struck out for Mishima.  I thought I would walk to Mishima and see if there were any net cafes there and if there were not then I would return by train to Numazu for the night and then return by train again the following day to Mishima where I could make a good start o nthe long mountain pass that lay ahead at Hakone.

As I was leaving Numazu a car pulled up next to me at a stoplight and a Japanese guy in his 30s rolled down the window.

(In English) “Hey dude!”

“Uh, yeah?”

“Where ya headed?”

“Mishima.”

“Yeah, but where?  Mishima station?”

“Just Mishima.”

“Get in.  You want a ride?  I`ll take you.”

“No, no.  It’s okay.  I have to go by foot but thanks.”

He shrugged and sped off down the road.

Sometimes one takes the wrong road into town and it can really affect the first impression one gets of that city.  This was one of those times.  I thought Mishima was a dismal town with nothing special to offer anyone.  I finally reached the station and couldn’t even find a decent place to eat.  I did find a sign pointing to an internet café a kilometer away so I walked until I found it and then got a bento (box lunch) from a conbini.  The old guy behind the counter seemed so happy to see me.  He looked at me with beaming, eager eyes and seemed thrilled to give me direction to the local park.

I went and sat I nthe aprk (which was aprt of the neighborhood shrine) and read a book while having lunch.  I got really cold so after awhile I got up and moved around a bit and found a creek to sit by.  I watched as a guy going by on his bike screeched to a halt and almost crashed as he tried to avoid hitting a rat that had suddenly run out onto the sidewalk in front of him.  I went over and took some pictures of this crazy rat as he was chewing on some weeds and watched with fascination as he ran out in front of another guy who was passing and almost tripped him before disappearing down a storm drain.

Later, I heard a ringing bell getting closer and closer and suddenly a fire truck showed up and stopped in the middle of the street right in front of me.  A dozen firemen appeared from nowhere and helped back the truck into a garage that I was sitting next to.  Then, as suddenly as they had come, they disappeared.

I spent some time in a Laundromat reading, writing, doing another load of laundry, and waiting for 10pm so I could get the special rate at the nearby net café.  I slept really well but not long enough and got going about five in the morning.  I had a couple of pastries from the nearby conbini and then walked until I found a Denny’s and feeling really tired already I went in and rested while having some French toast.

I made good progress during the morning and reached the town of Hakone high up in the pass by lunchtime.  It was cold and some clouds had blown in so I sat at a rest area drinking a hot coffee from a vending machine and watching strange pirate ships designed to carry loads of tourists as they skimmed around the mountain lake below.  Every restaurant I passed in Hakone had nothing cheaper than 1000yen (about $10) and with my stomach grumbling I pushed on to the next town of Moto-Hakone.  Luckily I found a sandwich pub here called Mat Hatter that specialized in Doner Kabobs and I had a nice sandwich for only 500 yen.  I was the only person in the shop so I had a great time talking with the man and woman who ran the place and they gave me free miso soup and pretzels and a map of Hakone.  We talked about various things and then they gave me some advice for how to find the old stone road of the Tokaido and I left.  I found the road with no difficulties and was happy to see a few other people at least attempting the first hundred meters or so.  It was very difficult to traverse these slick rocks and I thought to myself that I was glad that they weren’t wet.  Two minutes later it began raining.  The path did indeed become more difficult to travel.  It took a really long time because I had to be really careful with every step or I might take a tumble.  I imagined myself breaking a leg or smashing my head on a rock all by myself in the woods out there and began wondering if I should really be doing this.  But, I made it safely and then spent several agonizing hours walking along the road with no shoulder.  I found out that there are worse things than walking along a road without a shoulder.  It’s worse when you have to walk along a long, twisty road with no shoulders and blind spots and lots of traffic in the middle of a rainstorm.

I passed lots of onsen (hot springs) and just before I entered Odawara I spotted a monkey!  He came ambling out of someone’s garage right in front of me, climbed the tree in their front yard, jumped on their roof, and began traveling along the rooftops next to me.  Every time I pulled out my camera to take a picture he would disappear but I watched him finally head off into the forest next to the neighborhood shrine.  He was really cool and I was so happy to see my first monkey in the wild (not like in Iwatayama where it is a preserve and you expect to see monkeys there).

Crossing under the shinkansen tracks, I gave in and used a Japanese-style public squat toilet.  It was really more because I wanted to get out of the rain for a few minutes than anything else.  I really don’t like Japanese-style toilets.

That’s all for now.  I’m in a net café in Odawara and I’m super-exhausted so I’m going to try to sleep and then maybe attempt to read some manga.  I entered Kanagawa prefecture today so the end is near.  I believe I have about 85km left to go to get to Nipponbashi in Tokyo.  Piece of cake.

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