Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On the Great Eastern Road II

I stand with my back to the water.  The river is wide, and a long narrow island lies just off shore, covered with those bristly susuki reeds that symbolize autumn.  Boats used to ferry people and livestock across, but the service ended in the late 50s, after the typhoon.  The only movement out here is an elderly dog walker, who had earlier pointed me to this place.  

As I had already begun walking the Tōkaidō last spring, I decided to walk a few stretches closer to home.  Traditionally, the road had stopped across the Ibi river at Miya, and those ferried across would pick it up again here at Shichiri-no-watashi.  It seemed a good place to start the Kansai section.  

The 'shichi-ri' in the name would refer to the seven ri that it would have taken to walk, one ri being the old Chinese measure of distance, equal to how far a man could walk in an hour while carrying a full load on his back.  Ri markers still line the old roads in Japan, having been used as waypoints of sorts.  Roughly equal to 3.75 kilometers, the walker will indeed find himself passing one about once an hour.  

The morning is early.  I need to be up in Nagoya by mid-afternoon, so left before daybreak.  I look around through the sharp light of dawn, hoping to find something that tells me whether or not the old boat across still exists, even once a year on a festival day or something. Seeing nothing, I begin to move up the road, led forward by shadows.     

Kuwana is a pleasant little town, if lined by modern homes.  It makes sense, as this area got the full force of the Ise-wan Typhoon, which killed over 5000 people and flooded 80% of the town.  The typhoon is still considered the worst storm ever to strike Japan. Having lost most of their history in a single day it is little wonder that Kuwana takes such pride in what remains.  Signage is ample, as are explanatory signs along the way.  It is easy to trust in the path, and leave the eye free to take in what it bisects.  

I follow the canal system lined with power boats and crossed by small bridges.  There is a small park that has been down up as the Tōkaidō in miniature, including a mini Mount Fuji.  I am fed past multiple temples and shrines, and  even the most mundane suburban street have something to hold interest.  An old-timey toy shop has paper adverts for treasures of a pre-digital age.  

The road climbs up to an embankment and abuts the Inabe river.  An old inn still operates here, its frontage a small park.   But the boat service here too is long gone, so I cross on a wide bridge nearby.  I see an old man taking photos, surely another walker.  I'd met two others earlier on, so surely this is a popular section. Or perhaps the fine autumn weather is too perfect to loll about indoors.  

Squashed animals are becoming a theme.  I've seen a frog, a surprisingly late season centipede, and even a small turtle, which may have tried an escape from the small garden in front of a restaurant nearby.  Corpses of another sort hang in the window of an old butcher shop.  Birds above are quite active, especially along the waterways.  There are crows and cranes and egrets.  An old man in hipboots stumbles along one stream net in hand, apparently after the same lunch. 

On a poster I see the face of that Benin guy from Koko ga Hen da yo Nihonjin, a popular show from about 20 years ago.  I'm not a TV watcher, but I enjoyed that one, though I didn't trust that the editing revealed the whole truth, and was cut in a way to emphasis conflict and misunderstanding. (And over the years I've become friends with a number of Tokyo foreigners who were regulars.)  I imagine viewers went away from it with their stereotypes about foreigners even more firmly entrenched.  The Beninese was particularly volatile, yet bizarrely enough went on to become Ambassador to Japan.     Spying his face got me thinking about the nature of foreign "talent" in Japan, and how I've been seeing the same handful of faces for over twenty years, perpetual one-hit wonders who linger about as if they are playing the county fair circuit.  I remember an old interview with Dave Spector from back in the 80s, him saying that he'd do anything for fame.  and would even play a panda if asked.  Perfectly apt for a black and white worldview.  

I notice that there are another of historical signs for the ruins of temples,in a far greater percentage as you would normally see.  I imagine that these must have been victims of the suppression of Buddhism at the end of the feudal era, and were particularly acute here due to the proximity to Ise Grand Shrine, the most important symbol of Japanese mythmaking.  Much like that shrine is reconstructed every 20 years, Japan too completely recreated itself culturally, and much of what we (and the Japanese themselves) think of as being ancient traditions were actually adopted at that time.  The temples, and the foreign religion of Buddhism, no longer had a place.

I cross the last of my rivers, of which there were many.  The Tōkaidō may have been Japan's principle old feudal road, but it with all the river crossings it would have been unreliable, especially during rainy seasons or typhoons.  My own progress has been much quicker, although impeded by gusty breezes that have built over the last hour.  I decide to shorten my walk by a few kilometers.  The last stretch takes me through an old shopping arcade, whose mascot seems to be some strange monk with an elongated neck.  (I find out later that this is Onyudo, a malevolent spirit know across Japan, though here in Yokkaichi he brings good luck in business and as such is celebrated by a festival.)   As I leave this renowned shape-shifter behind, I make my way toward the train station, to undertake my own metamorphasis into tour leader, for a group awaits me at Nagoya station.  This morning walk had served me well, a modest 18 kilo stroll to get the legs back in action after two months kicked up in leisure.    
On the turntable:  Elton John, "Friends (sdtk)"

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