Friday, July 22, 2016

In the End is My Beginning

It was the type of journey that I like, out to the edge, to the furthest reaches of a geographical something.  There must be a word for this, a word like 'liminal,' to expresses psychological geography.  It took some time to get up here, to this narrow shoulder of land at the dead center of Toyama Bay, where the Hokuriku-dō is no longer called that, despite the road continuing its journey north, paralleling the Sea of Japan and now known as the Hōkkoku Kaidō.  Ironically what is the first section is for me the last, having walked the Hokuriku-do incrementally for seven years, following its length not only south to Kyoto, but also the twin routes that trace both shores of Lake Biwa.    

I stayed the night in Kanazawa, visiting with an American friend from my Yonago days, who is back in country for the summer in order to do a language program.  I hadn't slept well,  due to the beers and the excitement of catching up.  But I still roused myself to catch the first train of the morning, unfortunately a pricey Shinkansen but nothing else would get me on the trail before 8 am.  Nearly everyone else on board was cool-biz uniformed salarymen, who were expected in Tokyo by nine.  Poor fellows.  I debarked in Toyama, then took its light -rail out to its furthest end, as a few high-schoolers bobbed and dozed.  

It was dark and breezy, which was better than expected, if the rain continued to hold off.  It was a good start, through a post town proud of its history.  The road was wide and free of overhead clutter, and I shared it only with a dog-walker.  It eventually fed a series of busier roads that were bumper to bumper, again a far preferable situation than the speed racers who often rushed late to work at this hour.  These too fell away, and before long I was out in the villages. 

Tall electrical pylons marched toward the far hills, paying little heed to the  broad expanses of rice paddy through which they trespassed.  Rusting clanking hulks of small industry seemed to watch them as they passed.  I'd been spending a fair bit of time overseas these days, which was having a detrimental affect on my point-of-view and upon my tolerance for this kind of thing.  To be based abroad is the preferred option, where upon repeated visits to Japan you see little of, or easily accept, the visual blight, and the annoyances of day-to-day life.  Can't see the blemishes for the beauty.  But to live here, and to spend lots of time away, brings about the mind of comparison, a situation in which this country generally doesn't fare well.      

Perhaps this is a reflection on how I feel about things politically.  How disappointed and saddened I am at the extent to which people go not to see the unpleasant.  Better to ignore and carry on as if everything is fine.  But sadly, things begin to erode slowly away and the decay sets in. 

Its similar I suppose to the epiphany I had a dozen years ago when I decided to teach yoga.  That had happened on a train, looking out at farmer spraying chemicals into his fields, against a backdrop of hills manipulated and torqued by concrete.  I thought about how when a person is depressed or afraid, they often neglect themselves physically, be it with alcohol, drugs, or just poor diet in general.  So it is with societies and nations.  The most abused landscapes can be found in places where the citizenry is struggling.  Happy people tend to live in beautiful places.  It's a chicken-and-egg thing naturally, but it seems to be symbiotic somehow.  

There is an internet meme going around, about only spending time with people who enrich your life, and avoiding those who have the opposite effect.  This is probably all a reaction to the current horror show of contemporary politics, be it on the British, American, or Japanese model.  So perhaps in that lies the answer, to only visit places that fill you with life, and to concentrate on those with great beauty, doing your best to avoid those ugly and mundane.

Not long after these thoughts, I came across the hollowed out carcass of a turtle.  Its innards had been completely removed, probably pulled through its shattered shell by crows.  But its head and front legs were still extended from its shell, as if under the illusion that it were still protected.  For whatever reason, the sight of this, and the calm expression on its face, brought me near tears.  

The signs of decay continued.  At an intersection not far on, it was so complete that it looked set dressed:  scratched and rusting signs, peeling paint, faded posters, and ivy-covered walls. Even the traffic signal looked frail.  At the center of this was a snack bar called, of all things, 'Haven.'  It too, of course, was shuttered.

The day remained cool.  Thunderclouds kept a lid on it all, the breeze blowing in from the sea.  At some point the sun began to poke through, very gently, as if slowly opening the eye of morning.  How beautiful its rays looked upon the fresh green of rice paddies, a refreshing contrast to the flat grey above.  

Rice fields. Rice fields. Rice fields.  A village came up eventually, with a surprising amount of Jizo statues along its length.  There was also a house doubling as an izakaya, a poster for Orion Beer on each of its side panels.  In the nearby schoolyard was a white marble statue of what I at first took to be Balzac, as if I were still in The Rodin Museum of Paris.  His hair was perfect.  I went along like this, spacing out, in a liminal state of my own, when suddenly a pheasant raced across the road ahead of me, to get to the other side.     

Here in the rice belt, it was only natural that there would be a large amount of channels to irrigate them.  I made a series of crossings, and along one ditch, all the grass had been recently shorn like a crew-cut.  I walked across it awhile, relishing this all too brief respite for sore hips.  With all the walking I do I rarely blister anymore, the soles of my feet are smooth and firm like the soles of my shoes.  But I do feel it in my hip flexors, usually after 20km or so.  I would finish with 26 today, and was moving fast in order to beat the full heat of midday.      

The clock struck high noon as I reached the outskirts of Takaoka.  I was rushing, as ever, to catch one of the few trains back to bigger places.  This seemed a theme, as if a buildup of momentum were necessary to vault me from these rural scenes of mid-20th Century Japan, back to my place in the 21st.  But relish this time spent in the past, even if a day like today had been less than invigorating, scenery wise.  But there were other roads ahead to provide that, as this one, the Hokuriku-do, was for me, walked.

On the turntable:  Ben Harper, "Live at the Hollywood Bowl"
On the nighttable:   "Rome and A Villa" 

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