Saturday, May 02, 2015

Nothing Gold can Stay

It was Kanazawa, and finding myself with a free afternoon, I decided to connect some dots.  While it appears from these pages that my feet are ever in motion (which is essentially true),  they move at a speed nowhere near that of the mind.  So it is that I have a ridiculous number of ideas for walks, and for the writing to inevitably follow.  This relationship of foot to hand could at one time have been compared to that of a simple dessert after a modest meal, but it has now shifted to that of an appetizer before a feast.      

One walk I envision is the complete Hōkkoku Kaidō, from its eastern end in Jōetsu, Niigata, 150 km along the coast to Kanazawa, then rounding south to connect with the Ōmi Kaidō which I'd begun in Imajō.  Numerous times I've walked a particular section while leading Walk Japan's Basho tour, so it seemed a good idea to knock off the 20 km that continued from there to my hotel.

I detrained in Tsubata and immediately jumped into the sole taxi waiting out in front of the quiet station. Hanging from the seat in front of me was an pamphlet for free cancer screenings.  I'd seen this type of thing before:  the ads for retirement homes; the ads for retirement services; the ads for grave stones.  It was a testament to just who was riding these cabs this far in the countryside.  

I had lunch in the shade of the michi-no-eki, overlooking a large patch of grass.  There was good ice cream here I remembered, but I forewent it to get moving.  I moved past a large soccer stadium built for god knows what, and carried on down a long straight stretch lined with shade trees, like the namiki of old.  I could imagine the cars of young lovers parked beneath them at night.  But from beyond them now in the full light of afternoon came the sound of things being pulled apart: the grinding of metal on metal; the gunning of an engine.  Something large was being torn out of existence.  

Thankfully the uguisu warbled in a stronger voice, one that seemed to punctuate my footfalls along this particular section.  It dawned on me that I don't often write about things I hear while walking.  For too much of the time, I've got music turned on, so as to blot out the roar of the traffic, and to temper the unpleasantness of walking the busier roads.  (Though on numerous occasions music has taken on the part of the muse.) And due to a recently deceased iPod, I could hear it all today, most especially the racket coming from the loudspeaker-mounted vehicles 'campaigning' for the election two days off.   These vehicles were most active in the rather new suburban community I eventually found myself in.  There was no real sense of history here at all, nor in the campaign messages echoing off its cheap frontages.

My road fed eventually into an older looking shopping street, which had a couple of ancient stone markers, designating lesser arteries diverging from this great thoroughfare.  Despite the Hōkkoku Kaidō's 1200 year history, very little remains but these stones, in a country spurred forward by the principle of the old being forcibly evicted by the new, a fact emphasized most magnificently by the cherry blossoms bursting above my head.         

I felt I needed a rest so took the opportunity to sit in a bus shelter, built like a little concrete hut as protection in these snowy northern climes.  I badly needed to pee, but was still in the midst of the 'burbs.  So having finished my bottle of tea, I began to refill it, thankfully with a volume slightly less than its allotted 500 ml.   That done, I dumped the warm contents into a drain, then, like a mafioso tossing away his weapon after a hit, disposed of the evidence in a bin beside a vending machine.  A few blocks up, my greeting to a dapper elderly gent went unreturned, which didn't set such a good example for the schoolkids playing within earshot.  Did his blanking me mean that word was already out about my piss-bottle antics?

I walked this road for the next hour or so. It wasn't particularly busy or noisy, but was rather bland on the eye.  The Kaidō eventually parted from it, leading diagonally away to the left, its surface now cobbled and somewhat preserved, leading me into a city that does a remarkable job of caring for its history.  I walked along it, passing old shops with wooden frontages, against the stream of high school students spilling out of a school at the top of the hill.  

I brought my day to a conclusion in an old machiya converted into a coffee shop.  There was an gallery attached to the front, where a fellow with a mullet was hanging photographs, the bowler hat atop his head straight out of A Clockwork Orange.  He was obviously one of this city's many bohemians, but I felt he looked a little unfinished without facial hair of some sort.  The cafe was run by two attractive middle-aged women, who I took to be sisters, not so much for any resemblance of face, but for their admiringly buxom figures.   

It was only a couple of kilometers from here to the end of my walk, a delightful zigzag amongst interesting little museums and funky galleries.  Kanazawa is certainly one of the most charming of Japan's regional cities, its name befitting a place filled with treasures far greater than I had ever imagined.  In a way, it is a shame that these treasures will be shared with the residents of Tokyo, who can now reach the city by Shinkansen in two and a half hours.  I fear for the character that will thus be lost in this town.  Luckily this year I will be able to get back up here a few more times while on tour, and will try to find some time to get out and explore.  But isn't this exactly the point of these walks in the first place, to get out amongst this country's history?  In this particular case, it is history in motion rather than history simply memorialized, and I am lucky to see it while it still exists. 


On the turntable:  "1234: Punk & New Wave 1976-1979"
On the nighttable:  Will Self, "Psychogeography"

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