Monday, August 17, 2009

Western Front


For some reason, I wanted to walk the west side of Like Biwa. I thought it would be nice to find small beaches and have a swim when it got hot. The day had a poor start, when I took a train on the wrong line and got off at a station with a similar name. Once I got to where I needed to be, the morning was nearly over. I walked a quiet road, well shaded and with beautiful views of lake beside me. I figured to simply follow whatever road was closest to the lake, and was surprised to find that there is an actual trail. It stayed on the pavement mostly, but once in a while I'd be treated to a short stroll on the beach for a couple 100 meters or so. Being Obon, many families were camped at the water's edge, the kids playing in the water. Most of these were in clusters at the bigger, more famed beaches, but quite a few had scored a small strip of sand out of the sight of anyone else. I was passed by many bicycles, riding past me with a rush of wind ever growing in pitch, as they did the 185 km circumnavigation of the lake. I'd often come come across a bike or two leaning against a tree, with the sounds of someone cooling off in the water below. There were also many fishermen, the most enviable without shirts and waist deep in water.

While walking in 'nature' you often come across the abandoned remnants of frenzied 'bubble' spending. There were some pretty resorts left to decay up here. One of them spooked me in that the clock over the entrance still kept accurate time. It gave the feeling of a cadaver about to rise up on the table. The path took me over some rocks that helped me avoid a long tunnel. At the top of the trail was a small temple dedicated to Kannon, whose main hall was built from wood bloodied in the great Azuchi castle's fall. Once beyond this, I succumbed to worldly desires and had an ice cream.

Leaving the quiet road behind, I came to the first of a series of small villages. The first, Makino, had an almost Christian graveyard of small stones laid across the sand. Nearby was an old Edo period sake shop and another for soy sauce, as well as three barber shops all in a row. Later I came to Omi Izumi, whose residents had the foresight to display photos of buildings that they hadn't had the foresight to save.

It was hot now, full afternoon. I wanted a swim, but I was near a bird sanctuary, and the coast became wetlands. The view of the lake dropped away and the road became dull. To escape the heat, I crossed to the west side in order to walk in the shade of sakura lining this route. There were a few times where I could drop into the marsh and walk along a series of wooden walkways. They looked unused, with bamboo and other plants growing between the planks. I eventually got my swim where I found beach again, bobbing and easing my achy feet in the warm water.

Back on the road I grew sick of the monotony and thumbed a ride with a car full of cute young women. One of them impressed me with her knowledge of old Shinto. She's the only Japanese person I've met who has actually read the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. It was fun to ride along singing to a Nirvana CD, but after they dropped me off I began to wonder if they were kitsune, since I was stuck at an massive concrete station, whose boastfulness was undeserved, hosting a single train per hour. Having far too much time to kill, I wandered out again, trying to hitch to a busier station. No luck. At all. Ah, Shiga-ites, how I'm gonna miss you!


On the turntable: Andrew Bird, "Armchair Apocrypha"

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