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One Week In, Halfway There – The Trip So Far (Kyoto – Hamamatsu)

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 01/01/2008)

Happy New Year!  I took the day off from walking to do some writing and hang out in Hamamatsu City and this is what I ended up with.  (This has not been proofread, there are no pictures yet, and I am not used to typing on a Japanese keyboard so I don`t know how to get quotation marks.  Use your imagination until I can get it spruced up later.  Kind of a pain, huh?  I`ll work on it sometime.  After writing all day, I don`t really have the energy to look at this any more right now.)

I took copious notes the first hour and a half of my trip, scrawling times and temperatures and place names rapidly in my little pocket notebook and recording every tiny detail.  After that I gave up and just walked and have hardly touched the notebook since then.  If I was going to make this work I needed to do more walking and less stopping to ponder and whatnot.  I still wanted to take lots of pictures and record interesting things along the way but my approach had changed and I methodically focused on putting one foot in front of the other.

I’m not sure whether I was really well prepared for this adventure or not.  I certainly brought along everything I needed (and more!).  My pack weighs a lot and seems to get heavier with every step but most of the stuff I brought along has been extremely useful.  Perhaps I didn’t need to bring along a pack of candles but I had them so why not?  The twenty or so mandarin oranges seemed to multiply as I went along and one week into the trip, when I was down to only one left, it felt like a bowling ball lurking with malicious intent in the top of my bag.  Its very orange-ness mocks me every time I open the bag, daring me to eat the last one and rid myself of this burden at last.  I despise this orange and its promises of health and sustenance and yet I cherish it as a faithful companion that has come this far with me through so much.  I ate it anyway.  What kind of friend rides your back for 250km?  A tasty, delicious, juicy, pulpy, Vitamin-C filled friend.

Every day has been difficult, but the first was by far the worst.  There have been more painful days but it has never been so painfully easy to just give up and quit.  I’m not enjoying the walking nearly as much as I thought I would.  It`s cold and my body aches and throbs with every step.  But the resting times have been fantastic!

The first day I started by walking from Sanjo Ohashi down the Kamogawa (Duck River) until I reached Gojo and Route 1.  I pondered strange place names along the way such as Living Bar and Hotel You, and I glanced briefly at the last youth hostel I would see for a long time.  This would also be my last chance for a Starbucks for a long time but I passed it up thinking I would find another later.  I climbed the hills east of Kyoto and soon found myself walking next to wild, tropical forests full of strange and exotic bird noises and evil-looking hanging vines.  I passed the Higashiyama Unstained Court and suddenly there was a tunnel in front of me!  There was a separate tunnel for foot traffic and I couldn:t suppress my grin as I entered it.  Yes!  This was why I was doing it.  I was actually walking the Tokaido!  I emerged to glorious views of a city sprawling in the depths of a valley and tree-covered hills were visible all around.  I caught my first glimpse of the shinkansen gliding silently down below.  I descended into the valley and plodded along past countless pachinko parlors, gas stations, and fast food chains.  So far, everything was exactly as expected.  That would soon change.

I passed a vending machine that sold vegetables and fresh eggs from a local farm and a little later I passed a mystery vending machine that had a bunch of question marks with different prices.  The prices ranged from 40yen to 70yen which is really cheap for a canned beverage in Japan but I was too afraid to try putting any money into it.  I should have to see what was inside.  I ascended the hills into Yamashina and upon reaching the pass noticed a footbridge passing by overhead marked only in kanji: Eastern-Sea-Something-Walking-Path.  Well, it didn`t exactly say Tokaido (Eastern Sea Road) but it seemed close enough to me.  Shrugging my pack to settle it better on my shoulders, I gripped my sleeping bag with stout resolution and plowed on up the trail, leaving the road far below.  Immediately I found myself laboring up countless flights of steep stairs.  Fifteen minutes later I was still climbing and I could hear the road descending down into Otsu – far, far below.  I walked and walked, descending a little and then rising still further.  Eventually I reached a panorama viewpoint and was able to look out on Otsu and Lake Biwa (the largest inland lake in Japan).  They were really far down there!  I passed only a few people as I doggedly continued on up the well-kept but brutal trail.  An older man was coming down with a couple of walking sticks.  I said hello and commented on the nice weather) with sweat dripping off of me as I panted along laboriously) and he laughed and said it was nice but too cold.  Later I met a young man who was practically running down the trail.  He had some sort of metal device attached to each shoe (for tractions, I suppose) and his shoes rattled and clanked as he bounced along, throwing leaves and dirt all over the place.  Later, I passed an old man who was working by himself off in the woods, perhaps gathering mushrooms.

Eventually I began descending.  The trail became even steeper and more slippery, covered with a thick layer of fallen leaves.  I slipped and fell down several times and the descent was murder on my knees.  I became a little worried because the trail signs said I still had five kilometers to go to reach Ishiyama-dera, the easternmost part of Otsu and where I assumed the trail would rejoin Route 1, and it was going to get dark within an hour.  I did not want to be out on the mountain in the dark and even though I had a flashlight I dreaded working my way along the trail in the dark.  At last I reached a small country road leading to a temple in the mountains and I decided to abandon the trail and attempt to follow this road into town.  It was really depressing to see how far out into the country I really was.  There was a mental health facility, a rock quarry, and many small farms.  I couldn`t even see a conbini (convenience store) in the whole valley stretching in front of me.  I found a road leading to Kusatsu and spent a coupole miserable hours stumbling along the edge of the road in the dark, trying not to get run over and feeling very sorry for myself.

At last I reached Kusatsu and wandered among hospitals, schools, and factories until I finally found downtown.  I was miserable.  Walking in the dark at the end of the day really sucks all the happiness right out of you.  But, my first experience with a net café really perked me up.

I waited until 10PM and then entered and ordered the night pack.  In net cafes in Japan you get your own private booth in which you can use a computer, watch tv, read manga, sleep, or do whatever else you want.  They have a selection of hot and cold drinks and you can drink as much as you want and it is all included in the price.  The prices are really reasonable too and you can usually stay the whole night for under $20.  The booths are usually really comfortable and sometimes you can get a booth in a separate, non-smoking room.  Most of these places usually have other kinds of entertainment and amusement available as well such as darts, billiards, table tennis, and karaoke.  Of course, some have pachinko and slot machines in a separate room too.

Anyway, I felt much better after my stay there and stuck out with purpose early the next morning.  I only paid for a seven hour pack at the net café so I got going around 4am.  As I was passing a gas station a little later on, a group of three men came up to me and one flashed a badge at me and said they were from the police and they would like to talk to me.  They asked me what I was doing and where I was from and asked to see my passport.  I explained that I was an international student at Kansai Gaidai and that it was winter break so I had decided to walk all the way from Kyoto to Tokyo.  They were shocked.  No hitchhiking? one asked incredulously.  Nope, walking all the way, I replied.  They made some uncomfortable little jokes with me as one was writing down all my information.  We`re like the FBI, you know? Said one and then he quickly corrected himself, Well, no, we`re not really like that at all.  They returned my alien registration card and warned me to be careful because Japan is full of bad guys.  They asked if I had enough money and I told them I had an account with SMBC.  I didn`t tell them I was carrying about $700 on me at the time.  I did not exactly trust these guys.  Anyway, they wished me well and I continued on my way.

I passed a Hard-Off and a Wonder Goo and wondered if all the strange Engrish was just some sort of joke.  Why is English so fascinating for Japanese people and even though so many can speak it well why is there so much Engrish everywhere?  I just don`t get it.

Early afternoon I entered Minakuchi and took a short break in front of Minakuchi Castle.  A toothless old man approached me and asked if I liked castles.  I said I did and he began explaining all sorts of things to me.  I had a difficult time following his Japanese because he slurred everything together.  He led me into the castle and told the old woman in charge to let me wander around for free because I didn`t have a lot of money.  He wished me well and then that was that and he disappeared.  The woman started an informational video for me and I sat in a chair, gratefully sipping some tea.  A couple came in and joined me and we learned about the history of the castle in the short film.  Afterwards we talked for awhile about what I was doing and where I had come from.  We flipped through a picture book about walking the old Tokaido and then explored the small castle together.  They were very kind and they also wished me well on my journey as we departed.

I continued on through open country full of farms and cement plants and passed a pet store selling Golden Dog Milk.  Now and then I would find stretches of the old Tokaido and stroll along quiet streets lined by ancient houses and twisted, old trees.  These houses appear very ancient on the outside but the garages have new cars in them and there are satellite dishes and air conditioners sticking up out of the roofs.

I reached the far edge of Tsuchiyama just as it was becoming dark and became worried because I was tired and cold and hadn`t seen anything in the town other than a solitary convenience store on the other side of town.  I didn`t want to go any further because mountains loomed up ahead and the next town was 20km away.  I sat at a koban (police box) for awhile, waiting for the policemen to return) but they were out patrolling and didn`t come back.  I backtracked a little ways to a coffee shop and went in to ask them some questions and get something warm to drink.

There was no one in the shop except the older couple who ran it.  Sheepishly, I asked if they were still open and slumped down gratefully at the counter when they replied affirmatively.  I explained what I was doing and asked if there was a net café or anything like that around.  They said no and I explained that I was looking for an inexpensive and warm place to sleep and wondered if there was a minshuku (guest house) or cheap ryokan (traditional inn) around.  There was a ryokan nearby and the master of the shop called to check if they still had rooms.  They did but it cost 4100 yen for one night with two meals.  Well, that`s a bit steep, the master said to me, looking thoughtful.  Why don`t you stay in the room we`ve got upstairs?

So, they let me stay in their empty apartment for free by mself.  They live in another house now, separate from the coffee shop (one of their parents: old house) and now the apartment is only used by their daughter whenever she comes home to visit.  So, I had a two-bedroom furnished apartment to myself!  I took a long, hot bath and collapsed exhausted in bed.  The house got really cold during the night (Japanese houses have terrible insulation) and I was so glad to be in a warm bed instead of sleeping outside.  They gave me breakfast for free the next morning and I had another pleasant conversation with the woman and her friend who had come to visit and meet the foreigner too.  I will never forget their kindness.

I spent the morning crossing the mountains into Mie prefecture.  Fog hung thickly in the air and twisted around the peaks.  Except for all the signs in Japanese I was struck by how similar to Northern California it felt to me.

As I was resting on a small hill next to the road, eating an orange and watching the traffic go by, I pondered the name on the side of a truck: Konan Tr. Co.  What does the Tr. Stand for?  Tractor?  Trailer?  Trading?  Trucking?  Transport?  Transnational?  There were a wealth of possibilities.

I descended into a small town in the foothills and suddenly cheerful music blasted from pole-mounted loud speakers next to a warehouse.  It must have been lunch time.  Everyone I passed on the street stared open-mouthed at the foreigner plodding along with his heavy bags.  I had not seen another foreigner since I left Kyoto nor would I see one until many days later in Toyohashi.

I passed some sort of giant dead rodent as I entered Kameyama (Turtle Mountain) and it was about twice the size of a large rat.  A great big pink monolith rose to my left as I passed the Hotel Chapel Coconuts, a love hotel across from the truck stop.  My road suddenly disappeared at a complex interchanged and I had to figure out some alternative roads to take until I could rejoin Route 1 later.  Sometimes it is pretty easy to figure out where to go when the walking path or sidewalk disappears and signs warn that pedestrians and cyclists are allowed no further but sometimes it is really difficult.  I wandered amongst rice paddies for awhile along a narrow, grassy path and finally found my way back to the highway.

I arrived in Yokkaichi after dark and collapsed in a McDonald:s for awhile.  I asked the crew about the surrounding net cafes (there were several that I could see on the main drag in the entertainment district) but none of them knew which was best so I returned to the one I had seen about a kilometer before.

I got up early and expected to spend a few hours in the warmth of McDonald:s before setting off once the sun had risen but found out to my horror that despite the Open 24 Hours sign McDonald`s was most certainly closed.

I laughed to myself quietly as I passed a place which boldly proclaimed Game Off!  Oh, Japan.

That day it was a long, miserable trek through a persistent rain that just barely managed to keep everything wet and never let up.  I arrived on the outskirts of Nagoya in early evening and was thrilled to discover Corona World.  Corona World is an entertainment megaplex.  Not only was there a net café, there was a bowling alley, a movie theater, a pachinko parlor, and even a spa!  The thought of a hot bath thrilled me and I trudged on into the sento (bath house).  I left my bags at the desk and settled myself into the bath with a sigh of relief.

Japanese public bath houses are one of the best inventions I can think of.  There are separate bathing areas for men and women.  Like any bath in Japan, you have to wash yourself completely before you enter the bath.  The bath is for soaking, not for cleaning.  You have a small towel you can take with you but it`s not really for covering anything up and you`re not supposed to let it touch the water of any of the baths.  Before you enter a bath you are supposed to take a ladle and dump water over youself several times to purify yourself before entering the bath.  Any embarrassment you might feel when first entering a bath house disappears really quickly.  Everyone else is naked too so why should you worry?  There is usually an inside bath and an outside bath and each bath has the temperature of the water displayed on a digital readout above the water so you know how hot a bath you`re about to get into.  There are usually several hot baths with varying properties and one cold bath.  One bath massages you with jets of water, another makes it feel like you are standing in the middle of a raging river with water roaring past you, another has a milky hue and smells of some sort of mineral, and I`ve heard of some that have electrical pulses and other tricks.  The outside baths are different from the inside baths and usually there is one in a rocky pool with big rocks sticking out here and there like the islands of Japan.  You can sort of hide in a little alcove in the rocks and just soak there by yourself with the towel draped over your head.  There are usually three large barrels nearby with different temperature water in each one and you can climb in and soak by yourself or with friends.  Sometimes there is a place to lie down on some smooth pebbles with warm water bubbling up underneath your back and your front exposed to the air.  It feels really good to relax there after steaming in a really hot bath.  There is always at least one sauna room at the sento also and sometimes two.  One will be a dry sauna where you sit and bake while watching news with a bunch of other people.  The other kind is a wet sauna where steam is pumped into a room and everyone just sits there dripping.  The dry sauna really hurts to breathe in.  The old guys who sit in the sauna are really intense and I see them run outside every now and then to jump into the cold bath.  I don`t know but it seems like it must be really hard on your body to go from extremely hot to extremely cold so fast.  Maybe I`m just a wimp.  I weighed myself after the bath and discovered I weigh 73.5kilograms.  Before I left on this trip I weighed myself in the dorms and I weighed 79kilograms (wearing clothes).  I don`t think I lost 5.5kilos in a week but who knows?  Anyway, there`s a lot more to a sento than just taking a bath but I`ll get into that soon.

So, I was sitting in the bath and an older fellow approached me and struck up a conversation.  We talked about Japan`s relations with China and Korea.  He spoke really roughly and I think he was testing me but I was able to keep up pretty well and he shook my hand when he left.  He was Japanese-Korean and we talked about some really interesting things.  Another man asked me where I was sstaying and when I told him I was planning to stay in the net café upstairs he told me that there was a room in the spa where I could stay cheaper and sleep in a reclining chair.  I thanked him for the information and worked everything out with the staff so I could spend the night.  I relaxed in the chair after my bath and fell asleep watching Japanese figure skating championships.

I got up at 6:30 the next morning and had just checked out when another Japanese guy who was staying there asked, Hey!  Aren`t you staying for breakfast?  It`s free, you know.  The guy at the counter complained that I had already checked out but the guy and his buddies pushed me back in and took me to the dining room.  Japanese people sure are nice, huh? he said mockingly as he marched me up to the kitchen.  He turned to the guy behind the counter and said, Oi!  This foreigner wants some breakfast.  Make sure he gets some bread.  So, I ate bread and a banana while everyone around me ate miso soup, steamed vegetables, and rice.  It was true, I do prefer bread and fruit for breakfast, but I had never said that and it was sort of an uncomfortable situation and I ate hurriedly and excused myself, offering my gratitude humbly if not grudgingly as I departed.

It was a long walk through Nagoya, one of the larger cities in Japan.  I passed a strange pachinko parlor with this cryptic message scrawled on the walls: you will feel heartbeat, because you experient LUCKY.  I tried to find a net café in Chiryu but nobody I talked to knew of any so I pushed on and wound up in Okazaki after dark.  I stopped at a noodle shop and asked if there was a net café nearby.  They replied that yes, there was one about four more kilometers down the road.  Doggedly, I trudge on and right after passing Okazaki Castle I finally found it.  However, this net cafe was somewhat different from the earlier ones.  I had a desk and a chair but no comfortable place to sleep.  I ended up watching Transformers: The Movie on my computer and dozed fitfully for a couple of hours.  I left about 4am and found a place to lay out my sleeping bag in the park and slept a few hours before being awoken by a few scattered drops of rain at about 7am when the sun began to rise.  I packed up my bag and returned to get a better look at Okazaki Castle during the sunrise.  I spent another day walking through mountains and arrived in Toyohashi at dusk.  I found another bath house and gratefully entered.  Soaking in the busy pool, I asked a nearby man if there was a net café nearby.  Yes, only a few miles from here, he replied.  The bath was really busy because lots of people were home from the big city (usually Nagoya) and were visiting family for New Years.  This bath was different from the others I`ve been to because a fully-clothed older woman was walking around doing some sort of maintenance work in the bath even though there were naked men all over the place.  I was a little surprised at first but it didn`t take long to shrug it off as another interesting experience in Japan.  There were also some really young girls running around with their fathers too because they were too young to enter the women`s bath by themselves.  A boy about my age approached me and we talked for a bit and I found out that he had graduated from Nagoya Gakuin University and knew some of my friends from there.  He offered to show me to his favorite net café in town and took me out to dinner too.  This net café was really comfortable and I slept really well.  I pondered whether I should backtrack the few kilometers he had driven me last night and check out the castle I had seen downtown but decided to press on.

I got my first view of the Pacific Ocean as I crested a hill above a tunnel that the cars traveled through.  It was a really windy day but I enjoyed sitting on the beach for awhile watching the surfers.  A long sea wall a couple of kilometers out stretched as far as the eye could see to either horizon and big ships snuck along behind it.I made it to Hamamatsu by nightfall and spent a few hours in a coin laundry.  It felt really good to get my clothes clean.  I was so glad to find a net café that was open even though it was New Years Eve and I watched two movies to celebrate before going to bed.

I spent the next morning (New Years Day) resting and keeping warm at Denny`s while doing some writing and then I explored Hamamatsu the rest of the afternoon.  I really like Hamamatsu.  It`s a pretty big city with a lot of interesting cultural attractions.  I`m really impressed by the parks and the seemingly well-designed bus system.  It reminded me a lot of Portland in that respect.  Hamamatsu is known as the City of Creativity and there are many musical instrument stores downtown as well as a Musical Instrument Museum, a huge concert hall, and SUAC – the Shizuoka University of Art and Culture.  I was also surprised how many Brazilian stores I`ve seen in Toyohashi and Hamamatsu and apparently there is a large population of Brazilians living here.  All of the signs in Hamamatsu are written in Japanese, English, and Portuguese.  Hamamatsu has a castle too and I checked it out but then I spent the rest of the afternoon reading in various eating establishments – working my way from a crepe store to Mister Donut (where they have Simpsons themed banana and wild berry donuts right now which are actually better than they sound and look) and then I finally moved on to Kappa Sushi for supper.  I passed a place called Cats Café that had this puzzling sign out front:

CATS KNOW

Extraordinary is delightful!

CATS KNOW

Vigor is fantastic!

CATS KNOW

Suitable homey place!

Man, I didn`t know what to do with all of this free time I had so I entered the net café again tonight at about 5:30 and took the twelve hour package so I will have to leave tomorrow morning at 5:30 as well.  I really want to go to the Starbucks tomorrow morning before I push on but I am not sure it is worth waiting until 8:00am for them to open up and then probably not getting going until 8:30 or 9:00.

Some thoughts on the trip so far.  Overall, I`m pretty happy, I suppose.  However, it does get pretty lonely sometimes and my whole body aches all the time now.  My legs hurt, my feet hurt, my shoulders hurt, my chest hurts, but I haven`t had any headaches and I haven`t caught a cold so I`ve got to count my blessings.  All those mikans must have done the trick.  The only real research I did before starting this trip was reading the adventures of an older fellow known as The Temple Guy (www.thetempleguy.com) and I am amazed by all of the things he said he did.  It`s true, it took him over a month to do it and I think he was traveling during a better season but he was able to keep his website updated almost every day (with pictures) and he took time to pray for all his friends at temples and stuff along the way.  I will probably make it in half the time he did but I am also probably half his age and doing half the things he did.  I really have a lot of respect for him.  It is not easy to walk these great distances and I often forget that when reading the glorious works of Alan Booth and other people who I respect so much for the way they can walk the world and then write about the people they meet and the cultures they encounter.  Walking is truly a different form of transportation than any other option.  Riding a bike, a car, a train, a ship, or an airplane – these all have important benefits.  But I truly think walking is the most rewarding way to experience a journey.  But don`t get me wrong – it`s incredibly painful the whole way.  I thought I could handle pain and discomfort as well as the rest of them but it`s really hard to keep plodding along sometimes.  I usually do really well in the mornings and make good time but by the afternoon I have to stop more and more and I sit by the side of the road rubbing my shoulders and cursing my bruised and blistered feet.  For meals, I often crouch in front of a convenience store and eat bread, rice balls, or steamed buns.  McDonald`s is not the greatest place to eat but it is a safe place where you can leave your bags at the table for awhile while you go use the restroom and it is warm and you can sleep on the table for awhile.  It is really hard to find public restrooms in Japan so I have learned to seek out McDonald`s along the way.  It`s not a great place to eat but it`s a great place to take care of other business.

I guess that`s about it for now.  I have no idea what the trip is going to bring tomorrow.

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