Monday, March 20, 2017
On the Great Eastern Road
This is one walk that I hadn't intended to do just yet, this Tokaidō. I still have a number of these old roads to explore, but I feel the need to do them in their entirety, over a series of days, in order to slip into the rhythm of the long-distance walker. (Only you won't see me doing it in straw sandals.) Yet I find myself in Tokyo with a number of days to kill, as I await a visa for a largish adventure next month. And a walk from Tokyo to Yokohama appeals.
I come to Shinagawa minutes before 9, and the speed of the flow increases dramatically, then begins slow. It is around this point that the Tokaidō begins to angle to the southwest, parallel to what had once been the coastline. Today it is still very much part of the city, though an older part, and bisects a shopping arcade that is a half century away from the glitz of the inner Yamanote. These places always strike me as being the bed-towns of the retirement set, where the vortices of life spiral them back toward an identity as 'villager.' This city has often been called a series of villages, and here it is easy to see why. I had left Tokyo, and had arrived in Edo.
For some reason, this street has an unusually high density of Thai massage places. In front of one, a sole ginkgo leaf sticks to the pavement, and on this March morning I marvel at its longevity. Not so the next section of the city, as the old shopping arcade eventually peters out and I am funneled onto a bland modern road that parallels a rail line. The orderliness of central Tokyo is gone, and here I find suburban monoculture, though one gray and urbanized. The apartment blocks towering above seem less like homes and more like places to bide time between trips to the office. I've never seen much appeal in the suburban 'life,' and even a short time spent passing through such places tends to induce boredom. 'Short' is a relative term however, and after more than an hour passing through this landscape, it is a tossup which will go numb first: my feet or my brain.
The Tama river no longer serves as such a distinct boundary anymore, as the scenery remains built up, though the Kawasaki side is more pleasant, a proper city with tidy tree-lined streets and attractive shops and eateries. There is order too in the vast homeless village in the river's reclaimed bed. Sturdy wooden shelters have been hammered together, around which are simple open kitchens and a few vegetable plots. As spied from the bridge above, it is the most lived-in community that I've seen all day.
Bars begin to appear near the station area, and beyond this there's a small but definitive Chinatown. In front of one restaurant, a Chinese uncle is trying to lure people in to eat. A few blocks on is a large stone upon which is carved a cryptic message: "Happiness can be found here." I am not sure where happiness can be found on this planet, it must be far far from here. I continue on through suburb for the rest of the day.
Tedium and fatigue are beginning to creep in. I even miss the stone marking the Namamugi Incident, now buried beneath a massive new flyover for the motorway. In fact the marker itself has been moved one hundred yards up the road from where the brash young Englishman Lennox lost his life. I knew the story and had long wanted to see this place, but like all too many things in Japan, the current physical environment is incongruous with how it had looked in the imagination. And imagined landscapes are inevitably superlative. I'm tempted to temper my disappointment with a visit to the Kirin Brewery nearby, but choose instead to stride on.
On walks like this one, I begin to lose enthusiasm after kilometer twenty, and after twenty-five, the body too begins to rebel. There is little here to distract from the pain in the hips and feet, so perhaps in my pain I am closer to the spirit of Lennox than I thought. I certainly share with him a stubbornness, one that drives me onward for an additional hour until I arrive at Yokohama Station, and journey's end.
I'm not sure when I will pick up the next section of the Tokaidō, a two day stretch from Yokohama to Hakone Yumoto, from where I have walked previously while guiding. What is more certain is that a pair of fellow imbibing bibliophiles live at about the midway point, and so it is in their good company that I will come to take my rest.
On the turntable: Charlie Parker, "Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve"