Thursday, October 28, 2010

'Round Shikoku Day 11

The night before, two cats had been fighting beside the harbor, like a couple of drunken sailors. This morning, a handful of kites were swirling in the sky, as if churning the clouds in order to ring out the last remnants of rain. A trio of old men sit looking over the harbor, not speaking. The seawall is an impressive piece of work, built like a labyrinth to protect the boats and the town from the typhoons which return again and again. The men seem a type of chorus, and may be looking for a tempest of another sort --a tsunami. Stirred into motion by the recent Samoan earthquake, it is due on these shores sometime after lunch. As if this isn't enough, a typhoon is also on its way.

Temple 25 overlooks the harbor, up a long flight of steps that pass beneath a beautiful bell tower. Twenty-six isn't very far away, atop a low mountain like Temple 24. The trio are interrelated and hold an important place in the Kodo Daishi mythology. Apparently it was here that he'd engaged a tengu in debate, who, if I understood correctly the overheard explanation of a tour guide, may actually have been a foreigner. My own pet theory is that the tengu may have been a tree, as the forest is filled with twisted and fantastic shapes. Ironically, on the way down the mountain, my pack caught a tree limb, which broke off the trunk and crashed down a few inches to my right. Most of the wood was rotten (and now sprinkled across my clothes and pack), but the center of the limb was solid enough to have broken a bone or shattered my skull. It was a close shave, but somehow I survived the Tengu's mojo.

There is a small market where the trail meets the highway. We buy lunch here and eat while watching the sea. Next door is a whale-themed center, where the model of a cute looking cartoon whale stands grinning beside an immense harpoon gun. As I eat, I wonder what sort of message this place is trying to send.

When we shoulder our bags it begins to rain, a rain that won't cease for 24 hours. A car driven by a monk stops beside us, and it looks like he's about to offer a ride, but his wife seems to talk him out of it. They drive off. An hour later we're walking down the main street of Kawa, a fine mixture of old Edo and Meiji period buildings. It is a relief to be off Ole '55 for the first time in days. A helicopter is circling the town, on tsunami watch. The really heavy water is in the air, falling all over us. The world is gray, gray funemushi bugs like something from Giger's nightmares, dashing along the gray concrete walls. My mood too is gray and for the third consecutive day I begin to hope for a ride. But this time I really meant it. I was tired of walking and wanted to get on with it, but I wanted to keep my integrity and not deliberately flag a lift. Yet the cars kept skimming past, the rain kept hammering down.

Near dark, I stepped onto a bridge and took a few steps into calf-deep water. "This sucks!" I yelled at nothing in particular. There was a machine shop nearby, so I ducked in, pouting at the rain. It didn't seem to notice, coming down as hard as before. As we walked on again, I went into survival mode, as I often did at this time of day. I was looking for a covered place under which to set up the tent. The bus shelter along this stretch of coast had been built to withstand typhoons, with four sold walls, sliding doors, and a floor spacious enough to set up a tent. But there weren't any in sight.

What I did see was a pilgrim's rest hut, built beside a small cafe. The owner came over, a small sickly-looking woman with bad hearing. I was dry for the first time in hours, and had hot coffee in hand. As we warmed up, we asked about possible places to sleep. A she was thinking, a friendly, robust man walked in; the husband, looking 20 years younger than his wife. When she asked his opinion, he quickly said, "You can sleep here," pointing at a low coffee table beside us. His wife looked horrified and began to protest. Miki and I have often commented on this sort of thing. Men, being impetuous, are often quick to offer help or things, being somewhat disconnected from the realities of daily Japanese life. The women are the ones who put the foot down. They are the ones forced into addition cooking and cleaning due to their man's whims. We've seen it most often with potential rides: the man slows down, then accelerates as the woman beside him sits shaking her head.

The man won this time. He had three friends in tow, and they invited us to join in their impromptu pot-luck sukiyaki karaoke party. It was a surreal night, of food, beer, and loads of enka. Our host thought that Miki looked like the famous Taiwanese singer, Teresa Tang, and made her sing a few of her tunes. I don't know any enka, but I made due with my usual repertoire of Okinawan classics. The woman sitting next to our host was very friendly, quite possibly his mistress. The other couple was quieter, the husband saying little besides, "More Beer!" as raised a bottle to top me up. His wife said nothing at all. All the while, our hostess stayed behind the scenes, cooking and prepping a shower for us. When she did sit down, there was obvious warmth between her and her husband, despite is possibly philandering ways.

The party broke up around nine. Miki curled up into the love seat, while I stretched my sleeping bag along the coffee table...

On the turntable: Jeff Beck, "Beck-Ola"
On the nighttable, John Nichols, "The Milagro Beanfield War"

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