Japan, Long-Distance Walking, Road Walking
Comments 8

The Empty Land

Back to Japan this post, folks: freezing Hokkaido and the beginning of my ill-fated and immediately disastrous attempt to walk the length of Japan from top to bottom in 2008 (my friend Chris was down in the tropical south, walking north).

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A glance back at Furano

When I started this blog in early 2011, I was in a between-adventures lull, just back from three amazing months in Switzerland which also saw the rapid disintegration of my relationship with a woman there.

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Farm Art, Furano

 Back in Brisbane, I was broke, broken-up and, if not broken down (2,000 miles on the PCT had immediately preceded Switzerland), at least in need of a good rest.

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Naturally I took the road less travelled

I wasn’t going anywhere, so in my blog I dipped liberally and randomly into former glories and embarrassments in Japan, America, Tasmania and of course Switzerland. My goal was to keep several strands going at once…but soon I was walking again (a thousand miles just around my neighbourhood, for example) and once I got to Korea I could barely keep up with my excursions here…

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Bus shelters made welcome rest stops

But I need another break from Korea. Let’s revisit Hokkaido as I dig out my journal entries from that ill-fated mission.

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Attacked by a two-legged dog

This chapter begins in Furano where I was resting my ruined leg after several days of agonising road-walking. You can read the background here and here and here and here.

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Is this really Japan?

Day 6, Monday April 7, 2008

Furano

Glad I decided to stay. Got my washing done, shaved my head, made a trip across the river to a big ¥100 shop and a supermarket. Asking for directions to a chemist, a lady came up and told me to follow her, led me down some back lanes, wished me “Genki de” [“Take care of yourself”] and deposited me at a chemist.

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View from the road

A young salesman sold me a knee brace –- really a sock-like bandage that I didn’t expect to work — and I managed to explain the walk in Japanese, gave him a meishi [business card with our trip details in Japanese]; he returned the favour with a bunch of energy powder things, wished me “Ganbatte” [“Hang in there”].

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That bodes well

Unfortunately I had to go back there later [to return the brace] as I got hold of a real knee brace at another store. This raised my spirits immensely, as did a phone call with [girlfriend down in Nagoya] Mika. Another cheap konbini [convenience store] meal and I packed up ready for an early start in the morning.

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Another bus stop break

Chris texted me once today –- trouble with his MSR stove and maybe returning to Kagoshima. Then another one this evening, reporting a guy killed by a bear in Hokkaido: a 50-year-old fellow in Hokuto, near Hakodate, killed while collecting wild edible plants.

Hunters shot the bear. That gave me the chills.

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Faded Phony

Up at 5:00 tomorrow and down the road again –- or up the road. Nakafurano, Kamifurano and on towards Biei. Knee willing.

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Collapsing Shrine Gate

Day 7, Tuesday April 8, 2008

A Few Km Short of Biei 

What a wonderful day today was, the best of the walk so far, and one of the best ever. My leg functioned well all day, most of it without any pain. It started to hurt late in the afternoon but that was after a long day.

I hope I can keep the severe pain at bay; the poor limb is not going to get much respite, but for the first half of the day, anyway, I was very strict about taking hourly breaks and resting at the first hint of pain.

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Distant Fox

I got going just before 6:00. I was in such a good mood thanks to the lack of pain and just because I was moving again, the day went by in a blur of happiness.

I went up through Nakafurano, wine and lavender country and hundreds of plastic greenhouses –- melons and pumpkins among other vegetables.

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Scenic Switzerland Hokkaido

Just before Kamifurano I took a sort of side-loop that was part of a road walking course called the Oka No Michi (“Hill Walk”) that I’d never heard of; it took me through some beautiful country, farmland with wide, empty pastures, bare fields, wind-breaks, very European or North American.

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Carp Streamers & the White Interior

In one hour I passed only a single car -– I hardly saw anybody anywhere. Spectacular backdrop of Tokachi-Dake, Furano-Dake and the south part of Daisetsuzan slightly marred by the haze but still stunning.

I really couldn’t believe I was in Japan. Lots of really run-down houses and barns patched together with scraps of wood and iron –- it really reminded me of poor parts of the American South.

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Carp Streamers, Dusk

5:18 am

I came at last to the end of that quiet, deserted rural valley beyond Senbo Touge. A couple of female hippy types pulled over in a van to ask if I was okay. A short conversation ensued about destinations, routes, I gave them a couple of meishi, and they drove back into the woods.

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Campsite Amusement

Passed a few signs for cafes and things, hand-painted, rustic-ethnic. Biei is supposed to be ‘artistic’. Should be a good place to linger this morning.

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Man & Honda, a timeless partnership

I’m camped in a good spot in a windbreak of pines on a ridge high above the road, with the occasional rattle of a train down on the other side. Hung a good bear bag last night –- spied two brazen foxes on the road and in a field yesterday, so must watch out for them as well…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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8 Comments

  1. The pictures you posted,your painful walk and still able to type is amazing.You have covered a lot of territory.Thanks for sharing.
    Ranu

    • Thank you, Ranu. Actually I was keeping a pen-and-paper journal on that walk, but it was still too difficult for me to write much each evening due to the pain and cold and being tired. I transcribed that journal to my computer before I came to Korea so I have a copy here.

      I always find keeping a journal on a long walk a lot of work and often go days without an entry – but I’m always glad for the notes I did take. Nowadays I take a lot more pictures, which at least give me a date in the picture data to match with each place.

  2. Penny says

    It’s amazing to me that such a tiny and crowded country has so much beautiful, isolated, rural scenery. Thanks for sharing.

    • Yes, it was a surprise to me how empty it felt up there. I knew it was big but where were all the people? I think all the farming folk must move out of the place in Winter, which is long and intense (as I learned to my great discomfort).

      Hokkaido was the last frontier of Japan, not settled by mainland Japanese till the late-19th century — in the process, by all accounts, they massacred and relocated most of the indigenous Ainu people. For modern Japanese it’s synonymous with potatoes and crabs — and bears. I barely scratched the surface, would love to go back — in Summer.

  3. You’ve suffered for your art haven’t you?! So many miles!

    There’s a few things in this post. Why is a shovel in the bus stop? Why is that woman wearing what looks like pyjamas? Oh yeah, I’m always impressed by your imaginative selfies! I don’t take many, but when I do I’m just standing there like a statue looking half-asleep. I should get a little more creative like you!

    Isn’t it funny that you can travel miles in a very populated country, but barely see anyone? It’s always an eye opener seeing your posts of these places. When I think of Japan, I suppose all the knowledge I have is like many westerners. Crowded, brightly lit neon cities, fast trains, Japanese gardens and snow. Is that it?! I guess I’ve never thought about the rural areas?

    • I really need to go back to Hokkaido in Summer — Switzerland as well, for that matter — and see an utterly different place. And yes, enjoy not looking at everything through the prism of pain — it’s a beautiful place, very empty for Japan, though in Summer there’d be a lot more tourists and a lot more activity on the farms — though it would be lovely to see the lavender and the fields green with potatoes etc.

      I suppose the shovel was for snow! And I doubt there was another bus for a few months!

      Self-portraits are a nice way to give yourself a break from looking out the whole day. Yeah, I try to avoid the standard form, and I prefer it when there are no passersby to watch me at work!

  4. That story about the bear took me by surprise. I think I need to revise my clearly inaccurate preconceptions about Japan.

    • Yeah, it’s different up there! Didn’t feel “Japanese” in a lot of ways. The bears are of the big brown variety — not the relatively harmless black ones. As a rule they’re shy, apparently. It was really much too cold where I was though — for bear or man.

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