All posts filed under: Japan

The Welcome Committee

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

Going Against the Flow: Pilgrim Portraits on the Shikoku Henro

ON A HASHIHAMA-BOUND TRAIN, THURSDAY MORNING Hi again, all. Well, my pilgrimage may be over but the journey and adventure roll on. I stayed two nights in Matsuyama, back at Sen Guesthouse right near Dogo Onsen, after a 3.5-hour bus trip across the island from Tokushima. It was great to be back there, and hosts Nori and Matt greeted me warmly. Many stories from the trail were shared. Danielle, my saviour from several weeks ago when she rescued me from that Family Mart and took me to Sen to recuperate, came over last night for a visit. First night was spent here… ..but last night I moved downstairs to a tatami-floored dorm room. I replaced some of my gear (nights are getting chilly), sent some home, and had two more hot-spring baths while I was there, and last night we retired to the rooftop for sunset with a journalist who was in town to do a story about the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Her timing was impeccable and she nearly ran out of iPhone juice recording my …

The Backwards 88, Day 47: And Then, Suddenly, I Ran Out of Temples

Hey, all! Yes, the circle will be unbroken — thanks for asking. At 4:50 this afternoon I entered the temple gate at number 1, bringing me back to where I started, completing a 1,200- or 1,300km loop of Shikoku and a 47-day tour of 88 freakin’ temples. I guess I’m in pretty good shape for an old bastard as my sum total of aches and pains after all that tarmac-pounding and mountain stomping is: zero. In fact I was seldom tired for more than five minutes on the whole walk. Injuries: three missing toenails (keep your eye out), some degraded toe skin, aching knees when I woke yesterday — but they’re fine today. I think I’m getting good at this stuff! As Matt (a former henro along with his wife Nori) at Sen Guesthouse back in Matsuyama said when I was there, you’re just starting to get good at the whole thing and then you reach the end. A damned shame. I have all my rituals and routines down, and have nights in my tiny tent/bedroom/ office/base camp …

The Backwards 88, Day 40: Pilgrim Postcards

[You might have received this post in your inbox erroneously titled “Day 39”. I just realised I’d lost a day! It happens on the blurry path to wisdom!] A LAWSON’S STATION KONBINI, KAINAN, TOKUSHIMA PREFECTURE ~  Morning, all. As threatened, here’s another batch of shots from the last week or so, mostly of scenes and subjects encountered between temples. I enjoy both my subject areas, the temples themselves and the stretches of road and path linking them, for different reasons. The temple one is far more challenging. My aim is to capture a sense of the place that is different from the others, and respond to it artistically in the conditions in which I find it. Believe me, with 88 of them to deal with, that can get pretty tough! As someone who doesn’t believe in anything, I’m obviously not reacting to the places in any spiritual sense. I’m interested in them as places, and judge them on aesthetic grounds, how they relate to their environment, their architecture and landscaping, historical elements etc. Avoiding repeating …

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. 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. Oh, and get this: A couple of hours ago, just after I arrived, a …

The Backwards 88, Day 27: Beyond the Difficult Place

SOMEWHERE NORTH OF KONGOFU TEMPLE (#38), EAST COAST OF CAPE ASHIZURI, KOCHI PREFECTURE, SHIKOKU According to legend, this location was given to Kūkai by a mysterious female recluse named Hokke-sennin. Kūkai carved two Fudō-myōō statues and created this temple which is considered a hansho (difficult place) ~ from Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide, my guidebook Hi, everyone. It’s been a while. It’s always been a while… How long’s it been since the last post? At least a week. This post will cover quite a lot of ground in more ways than one, but I’ll try to keep ‘er lighter than that last one. Shouldn’t be too hard, since, as the title suggests, I’m in a far better condition emotionally this time around. Firstly, for the sake of clarity, that header shot, which I’m unable to caption, is from Temple #45, Iwayaji, the place referred to in the quote above — not Kongofukuji, which I visited yesterday. Kongofukuji must also be considered a difficult place, since getting there nearly killed me, yet again. (Once again, there aren’t many temple shots here, as …

The Backwards 88, Day 17: Under the Big Stone Hammer

MATSUYAMA, EHIME PREFECTURE Hey, all. Well, I’m 38 temples into my journey, having visited #51, Ishiteji (“Stone Hand Temple”), the day before yesterday, here in Matsuyama, and numbers 53 and 52 yesterday. Yes, out of order, which is due to some unforeseen good fortune two days ago. What we used to call Trail Magic on the Appalachian Trail. It was about time my luck changed. Let me set the scene. Overall, it’s been a rewarding journey, though one of the hardest I’ve done and I’m only a couple of weeks in. I do remind myself sometimes that I’m not the 42-year-old who finished the A.T. feeling the strongest I’d ever felt years back; I’m also lugging the kind of pack weight that helped me develop stress fractures back on the A.T. But it’s one of them thar lonesome trails you hear about, and even for me, a man used to solitude, this one pushes the boundaries at times. Doing the pilgrimage in reverse order would challenge the social life and sanity of even a Japanese person …

The Backwards 88, Day 8: Sandal Power in North-Eastern Shikoku

Greetings, folks, from rainy Kan’onji City on the western fringes of Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku. If you’re the kind of weirdo who prefers kanji (Chinese characters), I’m here to help: 観音寺市. It’s the name of both the city and one of its two principle temples (the suffix -ji means temple). Kan’on or Kannon is a Buddhist goddess of mercy (and pets, apparently), much venerated along the Shikoku pilgrimage route: 29 of the 88 temples are dedicated to her. One unusual thing about this temple, #69, though, is that it adjoins #68, Jinnein, which meant a delightfully easy double whammy with which to start Day 8 today. I’m presently squandering that advantage by sitting here on my Z-Rest outside a 7-11, typing this long-overdue post and stealth-charging laptop, wifi hotspot and one of my arsenal of camera batteries. I haven’t tapped into a convenience store’s power outlet since I last wandered through Shikoku in 2008… (I don’t like supporting the evil 7-11 Corporation, currently in the news in Australia for ripping off their student workforce, but their stores are …

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. …

Flying by Falcon, Rocking with Rose

Travelling in Japan is all about the trains — well, except for those annoying mountain-hiking parts. The whole country is a train-spotter’s paradise, with prizes including the almost obscenely streamlined Hayabusa, one of the fastest shinkansen (“bullet trains”) in Japan… ..within which I sped yesterday from Tokyo to Aomori in the extreme north of the main island of Honshu, and the Hamanasu… ..at the opposite end of the train-technology spectrum, which rocked and rollicked through the night, beneath the Tsugaru Strait to emerge onto vast Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island. Even the names are cool. Hayabusa means peregrine falcon, and Hamanasu is the Japanese rose, Rosa rugosa,a name which captures its rambling, exuberant energy, even if it’s not especially macho name for a train. I’m typing this aboard the final phase of my Daisetsuzan-bound railway odyssey (there’s still a bus to go after that), a Super Kamui Limited Express from Sapporo to Asahikawa. A quick check suggests that kamui translates as “divine or powerful”. This seems like a favourable omen before my upcoming excursion. That ride aboard the falcon …

Good Things Come in Eighty-Eights: My Latest & Greatest Japanese Odyssey

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. Dinner was omu rice, some inari zushi, a “steam cake” and a big-ass can of Sapporo beer, in one hit checking four favourite konbini (convenience store) culinary delights on my to-eat list. 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. …

Tokyo from Under the Bushes

PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOKYO, AUGUST 2013 It’s been a long haul but this post concludes my little Tokyo series. It’s time I embraced the here and now, or at least the here and not-too-many-months-ago. I can at last start on my daunting backlog of Korea posts, like all the lovely Autumn ones — now that Winter is moving in to shake the last of the colour from the maples and the town itself…

Fuji-san: Behind the Veil

PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOUR JAPAN, AUGUST 2013 I remember when my friend Andrew and I climbed Mt Fuji just over a decade ago, she was mighty elusive considering she was easily the biggest lump of rock and cinder on the entire archipelago. We had camped near Lake Motosu, and started walking to the mountain base at midday. It took us five hours, down vague tracks and forestry roads, to get to the starting point. Much of the time we were treed in, but even when we found ourselves in the open, with 3,776m of mountain somewhere in front, we often couldn’t see her. Haze, cloud, dense misty air is drawn to her, clinging to her flank like a camouflaging cloak. Then the cloak would shift, you’d be granted a glimpse and — Jesus.

A Phantom in the Forest

PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOKYO, AUGUST 2013 Somewhere back home I’ve got two paper journals, handsome volumes in which I used to write my Japanese hike reports. There are an even 50 — this was when my mountain mania was raging, with no cure in sight short of an unplanned plummet over a precipice. On the first page of one there’s a pencil rubbing (I believe that’s the word, unsavory as it sounds) of a kanji (Chinese character) from a well-weathered summit sign. The character is…