Konnichiwa from Nippon, folks!
I’m tapping this on my laptop, via some sweet Japanese wifi technology, from a table in my favourite Starbucks, right next to the park in Kichijoji, Tokyo. I got in to Narita last night on a half-empty flight via Cairns, and crashed in an airport hotel room smaller than my bedroom at home.
I’m here for 88 days — nope, not in this Starbucks; that would be excessive. In Japan, I mean. I wanted to make the most of my 90-day tourist visa, and I’m covering a fair bit of ground, old and new, revisiting some favourite old haunts and walking some new paths.
Let me backtrack, briefly.
My American plans have been put on hold for some personal and legal reasons I won’t go into here. It was a rough year, and I hit rock bottom for several months. It’s hard with a blog to walk the thin line between sharing enough personal info to give your posts some personality and keeping your private life, well, private. But I’m happy to share some positive news — hence this post.
My life started to turn around again a couple of months back. To celebrate, I treated myself to this trip, which I’m doing on a tight budget, helped along by a strong Australian dollar that is giving me around 90 yen for the buck — I remember the figure being in the 60s when I lived here years back!
Now here I am, back in the place I swore I’d never return to when I finished my first three-year tour of duty in the Tokorozawa English-conversation killing fields. (I visited again in 2006, 2007/8, and for three days of hiking while teaching in Korea in 2013.)
There is no escape, it appears, from the things you love.
Anyway, why fight the pull of the most exciting mountains I’ve ever walked? (Not to mention the gravitational force of the ubiquitous konbinis.) Why not just give in when you have the chance, and return to the place where my love affair with mountains and walking really kicked off?
It’s hot here: 36C/96.8F today. First thing I did last night on checking in was stealth-wash my shirt and unmentionables in the bathroom sink, a ritual I’ll surely be repeating on every one of those 88 days.
I had to keep my wardrobe small to compensate for the insane weight I’m lugging in gizmos and the gizmos that charge the gizmos! Three cameras and a laptop, plus a mobile hotspot with back-up battery (rented from Japan Wireless and waiting at the hotel desk when I arrived), a Steripen to purify my backcountry drinking water, a back-up hard-drive for pictures, and craziest of all, my carbon-fibre tripod that seems a lot heavier than it did when I carried it around Sandgate…
I may end up sending the tripod home and buying a tiny GorillaPod. I love the versatility of the tripod but the pack feels heavy even without the food and water I’ll be schlepping in the mountains. I approached this whole trip from a photographer’s perspective, but most photographers, even the ones who do nature/wildlife stuff, use these things called cars or stick to saner itineraries…
Oh, my itinerary?
It’s vague but cool. Tonight I stay in my first capsule hotel, and tomorrow afternoon I take the fastest shinkansen (“bullet train”) in Japan to the far north of Honshu, then an overnight train under 12 miles of seawater in the Tsugaru Strait to arrive in Sapporo, from where I’ll make my way to the interior and the Daisetsuzan mountain range that defeated me on my misguided winter walk in 2008.
I’m doing a weeklong traverse of this, the largest of Japan’s national parks, then returning to Tokyo before splitting almost immediately for the wild and relatively people-free peaks of the South Alps, highest mountains in the country:
Another week of alpine walking before returning yet again to Tokyo and another shinkansen down to Kyoto, the old capital and wonderland of ancient temples and shrines.
After a couple of days there, it’s across the Inland Sea to Shikoku and the cornerstone of my adventure: the 88-Temple Pilgrimage, a journey around the perimeter (with several mountainous inland legs) of the 4th-largest island that measures 1,200-1,300km (745-807m) and will take me 4-6 weeks to walk.
After that, if I’m not confined to a wheelchair, I aim to make it to the North Alps and the climax of the trip, a weeklong traverse of these spectacular peaks where I did my first serious solo walking in the early-2000s:
Somewhere there I need to catch up with old friend Andrew, who lives near Tokyo, and perhaps revisit beautiful Mt Kumotori, which we hiked back in 2000.
I’ve walked the North and South Alps before — the header shot shows me with two temporary companions on the summit of Okuhotaka-Dake, Japan’s third-highest peak, one of my greatest hiking days ever — but my goal this time is to capture some decent pictures as well as revisit those spectacular peaks and ridges. My original aim was to do it with lightweight gear and suffer far less than before, but all this gear is challenging that goal!
As for the pilgrimage, I flirted with it in 2008 when I wandered for 30 days through Shikoku, and I’ve long wanted to return and do it in full. I’m making it a little more idiosyncratic by doing it anti-clockwise, which is seldom done and considered harder (due to signage and gradients) but also good luck. My photographic challenge is to get one good shot at least of each of the temples, while trying not to repeat myself.
(I was going to put a few scanned pictures from Shikoku here but the wifi’s lost its awesomeness and I’d rather be outside. I’ll include some when I talk about Shikoku in more detail later on.)
I’m doing all this walking with a tent (more weight), and in Shikoku will be stealth-camping on river banks, beaches, roadsides, forests and no doubt under bridges, except for the inevitable acceptance of free temple lodging when it is offered (I enjoyed it twice on the last trip). I also have two awesome side-trips to do en route, which I’ll fill you in about later!
OK, enough of that. Time I did some shopping and eating! I hope you enjoy reading about the fun (and inevitable suffering) as much I do (?) walking it. With this hotspot and laptop combo, I aim to share short posts daily or almost daily, at least on the Shikoku leg. I plan to include one or two simple pictures with each post as I won’t be able to do much photo editing on the trail. Of course, this will depend on my ability to charge my various devices as I walk…
Thanks for reading, and please feel free to make any comments along the way, as I look forward to reading them while holed up in my lonesome tent each evening, assuming I’m not passed out with exhaustion!
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote