Tuesday, May 05, 2015
From the Mountains, Where They Carried Heavy Crosses
I found the name puzzling. "Sabae" literally means Mackerel Bay, but the sea was nowhere to be found. Viewed from my perch atop the temple grounds, all I could see through its Edo period gate were perfectly framed hills, rolling one into another, all covered in fresh green, dazzling the eyes.
I'd found the old post road rather quickly. I'd needed the GPS to guide me away from the station, but upon approach, it was quite obvious, the narrow stretch now a modern shopping arcade, if modern were the 1960s. I'll revisit it when I finish a future walk here. My intent today was to walk from this express train stop, down to Imajo, which is serviced only by local trains, but is where I left off in December 2013. In completing this 20 km section, I'll later walk the remaining 90km as day-trips between express stops. Easy in, easy out.
Before leaving the temple, I sat awhile to read of this town's history on wikipedia, looking to see which renowned public figures were Sabae-ites. But all I found were politicians, sports heroes, minor actresses, all strangers to me. So I descended the stone temple steps worn and curved, signifying that others had enjoyed this same view over the centuries. As I rounded the bottom and moved south, I passed before the general store, its hexagonal windows resembling those of Vietnam.
I moved beyond town, and crossed a broad river. Beneath me, a flotilla of turtles flowed just off a sandbank. The far bank was more village than town. The countryside began to re-exert itself, the houses growing more space between them, allowing the sky to cut a broad figure, challenged only by higher peaks to the east, slowly shedding their remaining snow drip by drip under the unseasonal heat. Sharing this same sky was a large sign telling me the history of the sake distillery behind me. Sadly the sign had outlived the distillery itself, the weathered and dusty crates visible behind dusty and broken glass. And where the sky receded again, I found the city of Takefu.
Bizarrely, I have a small role in the history of this place. A few years ago, I came up here to take on a job I was offered. It was a simple one-off, and I doubt that I was in the city for more than two hours. Not long afterward, I'd received a mysterious phone call from a young woman who had gotten my number from the company who had contracted me. She told me that she'd met me that day, and was hoping that we could get together for coffee and a chat. I had absolutely no recollection of her, and at any rate, no interest in meeting her anyway. I explained that I was married and had a young child, and that I wasn't looking to play around. That ended the conversation at that particular occasion, but it hadn't ended the phone calls. Within a few weeks she called me again, the second of what was probably four or five phone calls. They'd all end with my telling her that I wasn't interested in starting any sort of affair, which were her obvious intentions. Ironically enough, it was she who provided the ultimate end to the conversation. I noticed that she would repeatedly mention Poland, and express her fondness for Chopin, being a classical pianist herself. When I asked why, she said, "Isn't that where you told me you were from?" It was immediately clear that she'd confused me for someone else. With a quick and gentle rebuke, I told her that she had the wrong guy, hung up, and I never heard from her again.
Takefu receded now as well, and I found myself walking in true farmland, between paddies flooded and reflecting cloudy sky. I followed footprints of dried mud beside the small canal ever rushing to my right. Flowers lit up the banks of the paddies with a brilliant blue. This long and winding road led me to the hills above Imajo. I was upon them before long, and it seemed as if the steep uphill that followed was a reward for the straight lines I'd been moving along since morning. Yu-ō Pass wasn't too high, but I was winded by the top. I gazed down upon Imajo itself, this being the third and perhaps final time I'd visit. I had wanted to get in earlier and look around, but I'd dawdled a bit, the overall walk today being one of the better ones, all prettily remote and unspoiled. So yet again I found myself racing for a train I absolutely had to catch, literally running along the town's main street. But my eye did happen to catch a directional sign for a hiking path up a nearby mount, and as the mental footnote formed itself with almost an audible click, I reminded myself to never say never. During the train journey home, I wondered about all the glory that I casually stroll past as my attention remains ever focused on the ancient trail beneath my feet. What else is out there, laying just beyond the edges of my knowledge and imagination?
On the turntable: "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Sdtk)"
On the nighttable: "To Myanmar with Love"