Month: August 2015

The Backwards 88: The End of the Beginning, Beginning at the End

Hey, folks. How’s that for a mouthful of a post heading? But it’s a pretty good summation of where I am right now on this circular pilgrimage journey — one of the very few circular pilgrimages in the world, by the way. (By the way, I’ve just added a new post category, The Backwards 88, so all forthcoming posts about my Shikoku walk will be accessible from the “Recent Posts” section below.) It’s barely 6:00am and I’m recovering from one of my worst night’s sleep in the month I’ve been in Japan. Ironically, perhaps, it was here at Ryozenji, Temple #1, in a pavilion provided to pilgrims (wow, say that phrase really fast) where I was the lone guest. Unfortunately the bench I lay on closely faces a country road which, despite its narrow width, seems to funnel every speeding truck in Shikoku past the front gate. Also, I was a little drunk on the bad wine I shared with the head monk. Other than that, it was a great kick-off to my Big Walk. In …

Pilgrim Country!

I, KUKAI, WAS FOND OF WANDERING OVER MOUNTAINS IN MY YOUTH. WENT HIKING TO THE SOUTH FROM YOSHINO FOR ONE DAY AND THROUGH TO THE WEST FOR TWO DAYS. CAME ACROSS A SECRET ELEVATED PLAIN CALLED KOYA… ~ from a very fortuitously situated poster (a copy of which I immediately bought to send home), here in the tourist information centre in Koya where I am tapping out this post — and tapping into some free wifi & electricity — before hitting the pilgrim trail. *          *          *          *          * Hey there, folks. There’s an old monk tapping sporadically at the free PC here in the info centre. Things have changed a tad since Kukai (or Kobo Daishi as he was posthumously renamed) founded the place in the ninth century. Another example: there are a lot more foreigners on the streets these days, including this one. And my pilgrim staff is made of aluminium… I could go on, but I have …

Escape from Tomuraushi/Insect Meditations

From a picnic table in the shade in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, the conclusion of my Daisetsuzan saga… I went to sleep, or what passes for sleep at Club Mountaingoat, with the peace of mind that follows a few nips of Nikka whisky and a rare attack of good sense. Ahead lurked two more days of deeper penetration into the back-est of the Daisetsuzan backcountry; again I’d scanned the guidebook, looking for some hint of reward — terrific views, for example — to justify all those “hard”s, “long”s and “tough”s. I found nothing. Again. Outside, the mountain gods hurled volleys of horizontal rain against our pitiful shelters on crazed bursts of wind. I praised the stolid German craftsmen and women who’d manufactured such a sturdy little tent, and not for the first time saluted my own genius in leaving the syl-nylon tarp back in Australia. That merits another nip, my good man. Anyway, the decision was made, and I followed the final nip with the final Snickers in my food bag. The two Sapporo-ites (Sapporoids?) were exiting in the morning, …

Boulder-Hopping in Wildflower Heaven

Well, folks, here I am again in my de facto Tokyo office with the soft-jazz soundtrack and the students frowning over their papers and textbooks with the single caramel frappuccino they’ll ride till the ice melts and beyond, and the convenient power outlets spaced along the window bench — my main reason for hanging here (apart from the tobacco-free policy). Su-tā-bakku-su.  I’ve been busy, and it doesn’t seem like my posts on this trip will ever be less than a week older than the events they describe. Here I am about to talk about Day 3 of my Daisetsuzan adventure and since then I’ve already done two Tohoku hikes and returned yesterday from a magnificent (but very hard) three-day trek through the Minami (South) Alps, highest range in Japan. It nearly killed me, but it was worth it! You’ll remember the busted tent pole from last post. Well, at a little ma-and-pa outdoor store just around the corner here in Kichijoji, an energetic youngster in jeans tight enough to break bones was able to decipher my problem …

Just a Tiny Bit Lost in the Big Snowy Mountains

“I wasn’t lost; I just didn’t know where I was for a few weeks.” ~ Pioneer mountain man Jim Bridger This morning I was able to wash my one set of clothes for the first time since I’ve been in Japan — not counting the odd river-rinse or campground-sink cycle. I feel like a million dollars — or should that be 92,026,068.88 yen? I’m back in Tokyo as of last night, where I bunked down again at the first capsule hotel I stayed in (I’ve since slept in two other pods in Sapporo). Another night there tonight, this time in the mixed dormitory, since the male-only one was full. I don’t know why so many Japanese businessmen stay there, since the atmosphere is very western youth hostel, though pretty quiet, with European longhairs lying about and piles of crap all over the hallway floor. But it’s cheap. Even with all those transient gaijin, 30 bucks for a night in Tokyo is pretty damned good. Today’s a rest day — a zero as we’d say on the trail. …

The Highest Man in Hokkaido

Hey, folks. First of all today, would you like to see my Nikkas? Happy to oblige. First, here’s one of the pair of convenient travel-sized bottles I bought in the gift shop just before boarding the cable car up the side of Asahi-Dake a few days ago. The kind lady even wrapped each one in bubble-wrap without me even asking: And here’s one I took last night as I walked home from dinner to my third (and best) capsule hotel, here in Sapporo, Hokkaido. This is at the other end of the Nikka size spectrum: I do believe in the responsible consumption of ‘alcohol,’ even in the mountains, just like the authorities in Japan. Me, I like to keep the manner, and I do my best swearing in private: That gondola: I don’t really believe in the things. They’re like bridges to islands — they kinda mess with definitions. If you can fly halfway up the side of a mountain in minutes, is it still a mountain? But dang, that pack of mine was heavy. …