Animals, Australia, Japan, The Backwards 88
Comments 18

The Welcome Committee

There were some things about getting home that were a definite improvement on Japan…


Cultural adaptation begins in the airport toilets.

..but overall, this was the toughest time I’ve ever had leaving a country.

Hey, all.

Yup, back in Brisbane, as of Friday, and I’m just about recovered from the jetlag, lack of sleep on the plane (aisle seat + apparently weak-bladdered co-passengers = much annoyance) and I suppose the accumulated effects of all that walking.

I’m still a little rundown, my walking speed has plummeted, and I’m pretty damned down over the end of another adventure. But all of those negatives are tempered by being home with my folks in a good place, and the satisfaction of getting so much done in those 88 days, including:

  • My Daisetsuzan traverse in Hokkaido
  • Climbs of Iwaki-San and Hakkoda-San, beautiful old volcanoes in northern Tohoku
  • My first ascent of Yatsu-ga-Take, despite the cruddy weather
  • A three-day return to the South Alps starting with Kita-Dake, Japan’s second-highest peak
  • Lots of walking in and around the old capitals & temple heartlands of Kyoto & Nara
  • Temple-rich Koya-San in Wakayama Prefecture, site of the tomb of Kukai (renamed Kobo Daishi after death), the monk-saint-folk hero in whose shadow the Shikoku pilgrimage developed over a thousand years or so
  • Two multi-day segments of the Kumanokodo, the ancient pilgrim-route network in Wakayama Prefecture: the Kohechi & the Nakahechi
  • My 47-day gyaku-uchi (reverse order) circuit of the thousand-year-old Shikoku 88-Temple Pilgrimage, a long-held ambition
  • A 70+ km crossing to the Honshu “mainland” via the Shimanamikaido, a bicycle- (and walking) friendly series of islands and bridges traversing the Inland Sea
  • My first visits to the famous old writer’s town of Onomichi and Hiroshima, which was, ironically, one of the most peaceful and calming corners of Japan I’ve found
  • Lots of time to (re-) explore Tokyo
  • A photographic journey of my own devising which though challenging was even more rewarding and soul-soothing than I’d hoped
  • A lot of great (if often not exactly high-end) food
  • A ton of hot-spring baths, surely near the top of Japan’s greatest gifts to the traveller
  • At least 10 nights in capsule hotels, where I rarely slept well but always enjoyed the security and privacy of my plastic pod, which would be no surprise to former girlfriends
  • 23 — TWENTY THREE! — encounters with praying mantises, my second-favourite insect after dragonflies

I’m gonna be hitting you all with a lot of posts about the Henro (pilgrimage) over the next several weeks, plus others about other places and topics including those mentioned above.

I also owe you some reflections on the big walk, and perhaps even some history, since I got started with so little preparation, and found blogging-on-the-go so demanding, that I never really had time to go into the whys and whens and whos.

Meanwhile, I have resumed work on the virtual mountain of images I made over there, with the goal of putting a collection together that I can share, hopefully on paper, celebrating (and occasionally, no doubt, critiquing) that 88-to-one circle.

I’m hoping all that hard work, plus the depressing thought that I need “real” employment to pay for all this, will stave off the demon dogs of post-adventure depression.

Will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, here’s a summary of what I did since my last post. Talk to you again soon!

~ GOAT, Brisbane, Australia

*          *          *          *          *

After leaving my friends at their Matsuyama guesthouse…


Matt & Nori on the guesthouse roof in Matsuyama: Excellent times with Excellent people…


..drinking Excellent beer & just sitting around being Excellent.

..I was back on the street…


Street self-portrait before returning to the road under an inviting sky.

..and then the trains, and then in Imabari, Shikoku, through which I’d walked weeks earlier.

Located the start of the Shimanamikaido and met a cyclist called Mike, from San Diego, almost at once. He was on his way back across the Kaido. Like me, he was soon to depart Japan for an uncertain future in the West; like me, he was painfully reluctant to leave:


Mike on the first of several bridges as we crossed the Shimanamikaido towards the Honshu mainland.

He left me behind after a chat, and I enjoyed the afternoon autumn sunshine and the spectacular Inland Sea below and all around:


Island-hopping via a smorgasbord of bridges.


Traffic on the Inland Sea, Day 1.


Sunset, Day 1 (those lights on the right are a ship slipping under the bridge). Now, where the hell to sleep?

Who should I find as I slunk around in the dark that night, looking for a campsite, but Mike, who’d already located a recharging point and a place to fit a tent (or two) reasonably safe from road noise and bright lights, which we agreed was the big challenge of camping out in Japan.

Next morning…


Mike gets all he-man as he prepares to resume riding on Day 2 as I dry off the night’s condensation on my tent. We met again soon after at the nearby Circle K for breakfast.

..we said goodbye again, and I had a good day of bridge-walking and island-hopping…


Day 2 was mantis heaven: six of the critters in all, bringing my total for the whole trip to 23.


I had to keep stopping to photograph & then scoop to safety a succession of mantids. Some would cooperate, some were darned ornery.


Sunset on the Inland Sea, Day 2, before I sought and finally found my first ever saltwater hot spring.


A sliver of moon on a gorgeous sunset Inland Sea.

..culminating in a walk to the northern shore of Omishima, a hot-spring bath, and my final night tenting at a deserted michi-no-eki (“road station”).

I thought about spending another night on the road…


Day 3. Returning to the south of the island & the Shimanamikaido route. The sign warns of inoshishi — wild pigs. I saw little gaggles of piglets twice in Shikoku.

..but started feeling the pangs of pre-departure anxiety and instead sped it up for several fast hours of road-stomping across the final bridge, onto a ferry and into a hotel room in Onomichi, Honshu.

Half a day there looking at (more damned) temples and photographing the local cats…


With a friendly, purring temple cat (in red bib & bell) in Onomichi. I have an interesting sunglasses-tan from the previous day’s walk.

..and I got a local train the 70km or so to Hiroshima, where I enjoyed a magnificently clear and calm evening strolling and taking pictures around Ground Zero:


Homeless man, dusk, Hiroshima. The iconic “A-Bomb Dome”, which was right beneath the atomic bomb detonation in 1945, is on the right. 140,000 people were exterminated in a circle spreading out from this point.

Next afternoon it was onto a shinkansen…


A more contemporary hazard, Hiroshima Station, where I caught the shinkansen up to Tokyo.

..with a beer or two and a window seat for the lightning-fast trip back to Tokyo.

I lost all sense of purpose and urgency back on familiar turf, but I needed the rest and the luxury of no specific objectives.

Inevitably, I gravitated back to Kichijoji…


A beat-up old crow in Inokashira Park, Tokyo.


Wasted in Kichijoji.


Rare good English on a sign, Kichijoji, with handy diagrams in case the message still doesn’t get through.

..and then did come up with a goal, which was to photograph some more stray cats, one of my favourite subjects, in a couple of Tokyo parks:


Setting sun, Hibiya Park.


Here comes Autumn, Hibiya Park.


Stray cat seeking a safe refuge, Hibiya Park.


A 10-year resident of Hibiya Park. Note his battered old tail.

I also caught up at last with Andrew, an old friend from my earliest days of Tokyo teaching.

We returned to Tokorozawa’s Hyakumi (“One Hundred Flavours”), the modest-but-bustling (and smoke-filled — ahh, Japan) old izakaya we teachers used to make pests of ourselves at, back when we worked just down the road:


With Andrew at a Hyakumi, watched over by a boy-band reject with terrible hair, one of the lamest advertisements for beer I’ve ever seen. Most Japanese beer posters feature a hot woman guzzling a big glass of draught beer, a far more successful strategy in my view.

I soon realised that salty pub food and five draught beers nowadays hit me with a force I seldom encountered in my relative youth.

Especially when I stupidly agreed to accompany Andrew the next morning on a trek into the mountains of Chichibu to do some research into the local wolf cult (seriously) for Andrew’s blog.

I was feeling seedy indeed and fortunately Andrew was easily persuaded to take the bus all the way from the final train station to Mitsumine Shrine:


A fellow casualty in one of my Tokyo capsule hotels, morning. Mine is the next pod along.


Early-autumn colour, Mitsumine.


Andrew on his Wolf Quest, Mitsumine.


Foggy mountain path near Mitsumine Shrine.


All you need to know here is that the red kanji means “bear”.


Probably the coldest I’ve been on the whole trip was on this mountain outing.

My final morning was spent hunting pussies in Ueno Park…


You ain’t supposed to give cats milk, right? Homeless but indulged cat in Ueno Park, Tokyo.


I hate pandas.

Typical Tokyo street scene.

Typical Tokyo street scene.

Then it was out to Narita and a seven-hour leg to Cairns, a five-hour layover (joy!) and the home stretch to Brisbane.

My father had rebuilt the kitchen cabinets and benches ruined in that flood earlier in the year, and it was a pleasure indeed to be back in my nice apartment and a large and comfortable bed.

Had a family get-together on Saturday, and I’ve also revisited my magpie tribe in the local park. I was worried they might have forgotten me, foolishly. Magpies never forget.

Meanwhile, the tribe seems to have grown while I was away. I must have had fifty of them all over and around me this morning, plus a few wary crows.

Nobody’s table manners have improved in my absence, either!


Watching as cricket pitch covers are removed prior to a weekend snooze game.


Cricket. Even the birds are bored.


On the benches with one of my magpie pals.


Crows are feared & mistrusted by just about all other species, but they’re hopelessly outnumbered here among “my” tribe.

Alright, gotta split! I feel like peanut-butter ice-cream. Don’t you?


“Let’s get the ____ outta Dodge!”

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. Barbara Smith says

    loved the specially evocative pics this time… the whippets in coats, the old crow, the ship sliding under the bridge… now i know why i haven’t heard from your mum recently.. hope to see you soon!

    • Thanks, Barb. Those whippets: naturally I had to ask about them. “Whipetts desuka?” (or similar) I said. “Hai,” she responded. Then corrected herself: “No. Greyhound.” Huh? Don’t know if I’ve seen baby greyhounds before, but I’m pretty sure those aren’t them.

  2. I hope you will pack your trip(s) and many great photos in to a big book. Thank you for sharing your trip with us, and I hope there will be many more in a near future.

  3. Great to hear where you are at Goat … in fact, not that far to the east of me at the present time, good old stormy south-east Queensland in summer. Hope your time in Bris is enjoyable. Might catch you with a camera on the esplanade some time (my sister lives at Shorncliffe).

    There are a few mantids in Bris, but not such road warriors (I think). How long before you head off again? Cheers and all the best, Rob

    • Hey, Rob, I love Shorncliffe, real ye olde Brisbane indeed. I have a couple of potential destinations in mind for the next trip, both of them fresh turf. I really crave new places and experiences even more now that I think of myself as a photographer of sorts. However they’re both Northern Hemisphere places, one of them extremely so, and I’ll have to wait till the temps and conditions are kinder. And of course there’s the thorny issue of money, which has killed many a poor drifter’s hopes and dreams…

  4. Great work. My major memory of a Sydney to Tokyo flight was the Japanese woman next to me saying “So sorry” what seemed every hour as she headed for the toilets.

    • Haha, I’m making sure I get one of those emergency-row seats next time if possible. Even though I suspect I’d panic and be the first to leap down the chute if an emergency arose, I’ll take that risk for the legroom and ability to move around and have neighbours do likewise with relative ease. Flying is pure torture for me, and JetStar flights don’t give you ANYTHING for free! I do prefer window seats otherwise, as I can go for unfeasible lengths of time without needing to visit those appalling “restrooms”.

  5. johnberk says

    Pretty cool summary of your experiences. Your blog gave me another reason to start planning my own Japanese trip. Until now, I have been only to mainland China and Taiwan for a business trip, which did not allow me to see more of it. I hope that in the near future, I will make it to see at least some of what you have suggested.

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