Japan, Long-Distance Walking, The Backwards 88
Comments 23

The Backwards 88, Day 37: Peace, Hope & Pilgrim Smokes

Hey, all.

Well, this one’s coming to you from a dark bench at a michi-no-eki (“road station”) called Tano-eki-ya that — so far (the night is young) — is my favourite of the trip.

It’s right on the main street of the coastal Kochi town of Nahari/Tano, but it’s a sleepy town and no trucks are rattling past. There is an elevated railway line not many metres above my head, but this is the boonies and the trains are rare.


Uwajima City. What kinda day-drunk bar is closed in the daytime? I sobbed for half an hour as I walked out of town.

The good points: dark, my tent is set up under cover right on the “porch”, there’s a Lawson’s Station konbini 50m away, toilets are close and clean (already washed today’s shirt, socks and unmentionables), and there’s this bench, with a power outlet right next to it.

I can’t tell you how rare and delightful a discovery that is. All this beauty, insight and art from the oriental road requires a certain amount of elec-trickery to make it to your device of choice.


Harvest time near the Shimanto River mouth. I abandoned my planned “private pilgrimage” (2nd one of the trip!): walking the length of this only remaining undammed river in Japan from mouth to source. I did it the other way in 2008. I walked off-trail out to the mouth but was feeling too down and unfocused that day, so rejoined the pilgrim path and haven’t regretted it.

Oh, and get this: A couple of hours ago, just after I arrived, a slightly off-kilter young bloke appeared out of the dark and rain and asked in Japanese if I was doing the henro. When I confirmed this, he started shaking with excitement.

When I told him I was doing it gyaku-uchi, he just about fainted onto the pebblecrete. Reverse-pilgrims are considered lucky by some of these superstitious Shikokuans. I think he thought he’d struck karmic pay-dirt.

Then he handed me a bag containing a bottle of Coke, a can of beer and two convenience-store hard-boiled eggs. Shazaaam: an o-settai bonanza. I gave him my name and country and he seemed well-pleased with the exchange. So was I — my first can was almost empty.


Unopened morning glories outside some temple or other.

I made myself wait till I started on it though, as beer at day’s end is blogging death of late. I’ve attempted a post a few times; last night I deleted the whole thing in frustration once the exhaustion kicked in.

But here goes… (sip).

Well, I’m sorta-kinda on the home stretch. Today, possibly my shortest/laziest on the trip, saw me scaling another one of those “difficult places”, the steep and protracted road-climb to Temple # 27, Konomineji:



That bastard nearly finished me off. It was raining too, and I was in a foul mood when I arrived. Fortunately the temple setting was spectacular, dwarfed beneath a stand of monumental cedars, but I must have looked wretched, as one of the old-lady staff came out with a cup of hot black coffee.

I realised I was borderline hypothermic (it doesn’t take much) and ended up on the tatami mats under my sleeping bag in the most luxurious pilgrim digs I’ve seen. Would’ve been nice to stay, but I was too buzzed on the coffee, and after a short nap I descended, paused to chat with a French woman and an English-Australian who were staying in a family inn down there before doing the steep climb tomorrow.


I was just lining up this shot on the coast in the rain after a FOUL night at another road station, when this pair walked into frame. “Ii tenki, desune?” I said as we met — “Nice weather, isn’t it?” — and they both laughed. I can’t wait to try it again on some more henro tomorrow.

I bitched and whined for a while and filled them with trepidation, then, my work done, I ate the mikans and banana they gave me (western women get showered with o-settai), and started off, only to be almost immediately diverted by a spectacular torii (red shrine gate) on a massive beach boulder, waves breaking at its base, and I lost another half-hour there doing pictures…

I’ve been enjoying myself mostly, and today was the best yet (despite the climb-bitch, but at least that had a tangible object) in terms of mental stability. Most days I can blow an hour, two, three, in awful inward stuff I won’t go into, till I even have to tell myself out loud what an idiot I am and that I need to change channels.


Rolling up his sleeves to get down to business & cut some freakin’ weeds.

But apart from that I wouldn’t be anywhere else, and am actually dreading finishing. Hence the slowness, though being a bit rundown probably contributes. I’ve lost a few toenails but am otherwise physically fine, and still get excited as I approach a temple, wondering how cool it’ll be, and what angle I’ll take.

It seems an eternity ago that I was seeing signs like this as I drifted down the western side of the isle:


That “Kochi” is Kochi City, capital of the prefecture of the same name. The road is Rt 56, aka Henro Death Road.

A few days ago I was there. It was hot and the sun was bright; everything seemed ugly and drab. The bleak river I followed coming in lacked only a few floating bodies. I stayed one night in a hotel and couldn’t get out of town fast enough the next morning. Funny, I enjoyed Kochi when I was here in ’08.

Well, I was going to go on at you a lot more about recent stuff, but I ended up having a lot more edited pictures ready than I can cram into one post, so I’m gonna cut straight to a selection of shots now, and follow up with another batch in a couple of days.

There’s a bit of everything here, mostly from the last few days.

Ja ne.


The one time I regret not getting one of those hats is in the rain — they come with a plastic cover!


Same bridge. Tourist boats near Uchiko Castle.

And this sequence speaks for itself. A rare friendly kitty in sleepy Iwamatsu (“Stone Pine”). I’d slept under their bridge the night before:







Pride of the Iwamatsu fleet.


Don’t point those things at me.


It’s hard to make progress when yr constantly hassled with marriage proposals by locals. I had to pass this time, didn’t wanna start a fist fight. For what it’s worth, I would’ve chosen the one on the right.


The swallowtails & other butterflies love the red spider lilies, naturalised imports from China that have been in brilliant bloom for a few weeks.



Two popular brands of local cigarette. Perhaps smoking has declined overall since I lived here, but it’s still very, very common.


A henro takes a smoke break on the Kochi coast.


My new tent, illuminated by headlamp light, after a night under another bridge. This spot was a beauty. A roof overhead means no wet tent to pack, plus space to spread stuff out as I break camp.  A woman called me Gear Explosion on the PCT.


Eight and counting!


A beautiful dog and so starved for affection. Tied up on a chain as always, but I gave her a good pat.


Silver Week banner & golden rice.


You can work this one out for yourself. He/she was the size of my thumbnail.


Nope, I didn’t do it. Henro graffiti on a 10km mountain-road descent.


I camped on a disused tennis court behind this tsunami defensive wall. There was an abandoned school there with “No Trespassing” signs — of course I trespassed, I love abandoned buildings. These walls are all along the coast in these parts. There’s a surfing community here, and a beautiful woman surfer chatted briefly with me. Watching her walk to the water in a wetsuit has been one of the highlights of my spiritual journey.


They oughtta pay me for all the plugs I give ’em.


Creek rapids at dusk as I did that massive descent I mentioned in the previous post.

henro crossing bridge shikoku

A French henro with two Japanese companions. I wondered how they communicate. Even when I asked where he was from, he answered in French!


Note the terror. The standard response in certain henro and most cats.


Gentaro Seike, 83, writes his details in my book (for some reason). He wanted to take my photo, and emerged from his house with an old-school plastic disposal film camera with flash! Note the trucker cap, the universal accessory for the modern farmer.


Tonbi (black kites) are ubiquitous in farmland and even suburbs. They are highly social, make a great call and are aerobatic masters, but they don’t like you pointing a camera at them.


Attempting a blog post last night at my stealth-campsite at a crumbling “lovers’ sanctuary”, which gave me a good laugh.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Pingback: Writing 101, Day-19, Round up of great reads | Sabethville

  2. Barbara Smith says

    I noted your rather plaintive comment that you wondered if anyone is reading.. i certainly am.. but each post is so complete there is little to say except… Thanks and good luck ! Keep on!

    • Appreciated! That was a cry for help indeed. Weird having so many followers, most of whom are “invisible”! Enjoying myself lately, less darkness, in fact I can’t even pack up this morning, sitting here in the ultimate stealth site (see future post!) by the sea, reading the news etc on the laptop!

      • Barbara Smith says

        I read all my news on the computer these days.. spent 7 months of the last year away ,mainly LA . My computer becomes my life line to the other world.As yours also is..

      • Yup, don’t know what I’d do without it as leisure and escapism as well as the “job” of photography and blogging etc on this trip. First websites I always check after email are ABC Online and the Guardian.

  3. Denis LeBlanc says

    Just to say yes, your reading is always a delight for this housebound Canadian who can no longer travel himself. Your photos are inspirational. Sorry I have not commented lately – please keep at it.

    • Your readership and compliments are appreciated as always, Denis. Really happy people are enjoying the pictures. Took some beauties this morning I’m looking forward to sharing. But really, I wish there was money to be made in stray cat photography!

  4. I read. Every old posts. I like your writing, spared, and your photos clear, sharp and colorful. Please write and post when you can. I follow your pilgrimage every posts.

  5. You have an audience from all over the place, great stuff.

    Another set of stunning images – love the swallowtails, cats at all emotional extremes, Henro graffiti and the sushi-powered workstation.

    Glad you didn’t get distracted by the prospect of local marriage, one of us would have to set out in search of you to point you back on the road, and that would end up in some epic totally-lost road-trip farce if it was me.

    Mind you, keep an eye out for a spare wetsuit, that could be the go!

    As Barbara said “Keep on!”, mate.

    PS Japanese Treefrog, Hyla japonica, but I’m sure you knew that.
    PPS Looking forward to seeing that temple project in print down the track.

    • Cheers, Robert. Nope, I didn’t know the species of frog so that helps a lot, thanks!

      You wouldn’t believe it, I’ve just suffered the worst injury in a month on the road, and it was a toothpick stabbing. Jabbed one deep into my finger recently — bought a pack so I could use the container — and I glanced down this morning to see it infected and oozing pus! How’s that for he-man? Anyway, no dramas, I’m packing Neosporin. And my tetanus shots are up to date, I think!

    • Yeah, they’re incredible, right? Two more yesterday, so my tally is 10. Korea had some big buggers as well. Keeping my eyes out now for some beheadings. Twice in Korea I found a male post-execution.

  6. My back feels sore just looking at your tent set up, but the “bit of everything” collection is excellent, so thanks for taking the time to make a post. I especially liked the cat yawning sequence. I have trouble writing one post a fortnight from the comfort of my home so I don’t know how you are doing it. You’re missing an early storm season here in Brisbane. Hail stones and black outs already this week. 🙂

    • Yeah, I read about that great storm. Hope there are some more on the way (for my own selfish reasons).

      The cat sequence was great fun. She was a sweetie. Just had another encounter this morning here at this incredible stealth spot I found last night. A ginger with a healthy terror of humans, but I got some shots.

      I teeter between wanting to chuck the whole blog, and wanting to post more often. Yeah, it’s tough doing it on the road, but I’m starting to love my new tent and enjoy crawling into it in the evenings (a procedure in itself) and playing with a few pictures before the alcohol and exhaustion kick in.

  7. Reading it all and loving it. Do you have the one on the rights phone number?

  8. Darius says


    I think we’re all silent readers these days because we’re waiting with baited breath as to which local girl finally captures your fancy (Ian–I’ll spill the beans–we know your single now, with this latest Japanese hiking trek really just a final search through each village as to see which lovely you will wed!! You sly dog, you!!) I think the sweetheart you have chosen is absolutely. –Mrs. Goat without a doubt. My only question is: Will the two of you reside in her Japanese village, or are you and the new Mrs. going to be residing in Brisbane? Wishing you a lifetime of great sex & joy!!

    • I’ll settle for a good coffee in the morning and an occasional beer or red wine at night, Darius! Everything else is too damned complicated and draining.

      All will be revealed in a forthcoming post…

      • Darius says

        You don’t owe me (or anyone) an explanation!! Just keep trekking & sharing your adventures and photos!

        I SO enjoy hearing from you!!



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