Friday, September 30, 2016
Wakasa Kaidō I
It wasn't how I'd pictured the morning going. I had envisioned scenes of walking through the dark predawn streets of eastern Kyoto, watching the world awake and scurry off to work and school.
Instead, I got rain, buckets of it. The weather forecast had shown a dry window from midnight to lunchtime, and I'd been a fool to believe it. In fact it was the rain that had woken me, not long before the five o'clock alarm. I debated going back to sleep, but trusting that the skies would clear, I hopped on my bicycle and headed south to Demachiyanagi. The steady drizzle that I rode through turned to downpour with my first few steps, but I thought I'd carry on anyway, weather be damned...
Until 15 minutes or so later when I remembered the words I use when I tell my walking clients that I was calling a day off: "If it isn't enjoyable, what's the point?" And it wasn't. The scenes of life I'd hoped to see were non-existant, my world view shrunk to that which fit beneath my umbrella. I decided to go as far as Yase station and if it were still raining, I'd head home.
I pushed on toward Kitaoji. A row of low-income housing formed a canyon on my right, while to my left were some newly-built luxury flats. Typical Japanese incongruous zoning. I like the idea of these two economic classes coming together in the middle for a street party, but I knew that that was an illusion, one enhanced by the Billy Bragg songs I was listening to to help me forget the rain.
And before long, the weather lifted. While the skies didn't exactly clear to a brilliant blue, the rain did stop. And a certain beauty appeared, a beauty of imperfection. Clouds teased the hilltops, caressing their flanks. Shadows brought definition to every shape and form. Japan is best seen in lower light anyway.
I rounded Yase and followed along Route 367, ducking down the quieter parallel roads when I found them. I had very little go on map-wise, just a single web link that claimed the Wakasa Kaidō was the busier highway. I've driven this road at least 50 times, so opted to follow the side routes, partly as exploration, partly as reprieve. Mainly suburban commuter communities, but at least they had the mountains and rivers at their backs. Up on the main road much was in decay, abandoned and forlorn.
The valley was getting higher, or perhaps the clouds were lifting, but at any rate, the humidity was coming on strong, to the point that it fogged my glasses. The road lost its shoulder as I had feared, but I faced down the traffic racing toward me on the curves. My early start was meant to have gotten me through this bottleneck before rush hour started. I was afraid to take my eyes off the lane ahead, but I quickly glanced down at my watch. Seven-forty. Shit.
The shoulder returned in front of a tsukemono pickle factory. A worker came out clad head to toe in a white outfit like a Hazmat suit. Seemed appropriate, for when they put in the radioactive dye in order to get all those weird colors. I don't believe that shade of yellow even exists in the natural world.
The broad valley of Ohara spread out before me. Higanbana sprouted just about everywhere, beside the shorn stubble of harvested rice fields. I'd walked this stretch a number of times, so I turned my brain off and listened to some early ballads by Bob Dylan. Well beyond the turn off to Jakko-in and Kirin Cafe was a small sports center whose owner had a few years ago been gracious enough to let my daughter use their toilets. Needing a pee break, I crossed their carpark toward the facilities. Midway across a woman called out "Moshi moshi," which also sounds much more aggressive than the usual "Sumimasen." I explained what I wanted, which she reluctantly allowed. While inside, I heard a man join her, and upon my return I found the two of them standing there, waiting. The man was interested in what I was doing, and at least verified for me that I actually was on the Wakasa Kaidō. Though sharing the name, the busy Route 367 was the newer route. I thanked them again for the use of the facilities, to which he said that in future I should use the toilets at the bus station. I turned then and began to walk off, peeved at this sort of attitude, with which previous kindness is instantly revoked. Why offer it in the first place? For some reason he asked my receding figure its name, to which I gave my usual "code name:" Larry Rullelo.
A good thirty minutes on I met 367 again, which lifted me gradually toward the pass. Midway up, a trio of cops were tagging speeders with their radar gun. Passing by I asked one of them, "Catch anything?" which got a laugh. A small trail took me off the main road and over the pass. Just over the other side was the Yamazaki Geo Clean Park (Geo being the latest Japanese recent buzz word for nature). Its motto ought to be, "Cleaning up nature for its own good."
The hamlet over the pass was called Tochū, which can be literally translated as "In the middle of." It takes every strength of your being not to add, "Absolute f-ing nowhere." Due to its name alone, it seemed a fitting place to stop. It wasn't raining at the moment, and with only about 15 minutes until my bus I thought that I'd sit somewhere, crack open my book, and through Gary Snyder's Great Clod I would begin to plod.
The Wakasa Kaidō carries on out of this town and immediately over the next pass. Route 367 undergoes a series of S-curves in order to climb it, something I truly hoped to avoid. The old trail must still exist. Unfortunately the community center was closed, and a man out front had little idea, figuring the path would be hard to find anyway. (Anyway, as that climb will wait until next time, I had time to find out.)
I moved toward the bus stop in a drizzle just beginning to fall. To my surprise I found out that my bus (one of only two a day), only ran on weekends, a detail the bus company forgot to put on their website. This could be bad, as hitching became my only option. But I was standing in the rain on a road that had no shoulder. The odds were pretty bad. To my surprise the third car did pull over, and with less than a minute's wait, I was inside and dry.
A couple returning from a wet morning fishing dropped me back in Kyoto at my bicycle. I detoured over to the stone marker that marks the start of the Ohara Kaidō, which I hadn't known existed. (The Saba Kaidō marker is at the west end of the Demachiyanagi bridge.) The rain began in earnest now, so I pointed my bicycle north, racing the forecast as summer fell in pieces all around me.
On the turntable: Bonobo, "One Offs Remixes & B-Sides"