Saturday, December 09, 2017

On the Great Eastern Road III

A pair of Russians were poking around in an old house.  I saw them enter through the front door, which they left open, revealing a couple of tatami laying on their sides, and old stove.  They dwarfed the old Japanese man with them, who was presumingly showing them the property.  What I found most curious was what Russians might be doing out here.  We'd see the occasional Russian sailor up in Yonago (accompanied by urban myths about stolen cars and bicycles stolen being sold over in Russia), but that was a port town on shared waters. But this was landlocked and somewhat remote part of Mie.  Brazilians I could understand, a presence hinted at by the trilingual signs warning them, and me, that a 3.2 meter tsunami could reach here to dampen my shoes.

I'd see no more foreigners that day.  The locals of Yokkaichi though were out and getting on with their respective days, and those that I passed at this early hour actually gave me a greeting.  I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised since strangers (foreigners included) have been walking this Tokaidō for many centuries.  A nice change I suppose from what had been expected of their ancestors:  on their knees, faces in the dirt, and god forbid any incidental eye-contact was made with a feudal lord  passing by in their fanciful processions.  

A steady stream of traffic sped past me on its way back to town.  I sometimes hate walking these roads at this time of the morning.  It was particularly bad today, as in most countries this narrow road would be for single lane traffic only.  But here it was for two, and the unpleasant trend lately is that people's preferences are leaning toward bigger cars.  When walking on heavily trafficked roads, I tend to stay on the right, against the flow so that I can at least see the cars before they hit me.  But the Japanese are taught the annoying habit to pull over to the extreme far left when stopped or when in a queue, leaving me very little room between their wing-mirrors and the frontage of houses.  It was unpleasant going, but as usual I could escape into my music, listening to a rotation of Elvis Costello and Ewen MacColl, as they told me all that was wrong in Britain in the late 20th Century.  I continue to move against this flow like a steam train, little puffs of white emerging from my mouth every few steps.  

The clock must have hit nine, for suddenly the rush of cars was no more.  I can begin to take better note of what's around me.  Stepping into the oasis of a shrine,  the sound of birdsong tricked me into thinking I was listening to the sound of a cicada.   I laughed at the sight of a woman who had put on a heavy parka to take out her rubbish, a journey of perhaps five meters from her front door.   

I knew that was climbing because the tsunami warning signs were increasing their increments.  The road dipped again briefly into Ishiyakushi-cho, where I ate lunch hastily on some crates stacked behind a supermarket.  Naturally there was a pleasant little park with benches about a 100 meters further on.  It marked the end of a poetry walk of sorts, as each of the houses in this little town had poems by Sasaki Nobutsuna hanging in front.  The house of this great tanka poet still stands, though most of his real work was done in Tokyo, where he founded Japan's first poetry monthly, and was later the first recipient of Japan's Order of Culture.     

The next suburb had postings of another sort.  Photos of the faces of construction workers hung near their building site, probably to ease the minds of nervous suburbanites, living in a nation growing more and more afraid of the outside world.  Though what really has changed since the days when Sasaki's poem, “The Song of the Conquest of China,” rallied the boys 80 years ago?

Kameyama welled up next, the first glimpse of real charm all day.  The initial shopping arcade not so much so, with its shuttered shops eliciting the usual question of whether they simply had the day off, or was the town slowly dying.  An abrupt left turn led me downhill through an older part of town, which still bore a number of houses from the feudal period.  One of these had a sign proudly announcing the work of the Tokaidō Preservation Project.  I fought off an urge to call this group and ask where they were getting their funding and whether it they really felt it was worth it, as the machinami vibe was long gone.  Aside from a few nice buildings, the rest were completely prefab, and looked as if they'd been built during the previous decade.  A mobile phone attennae towered above it all.  And the directional signs for the Tokaidō itself were the worst in the prefecture.  Game over, man.  

But bizarrely enough, this was the nicest stretch of all, pressing toward Seki on a quiet riverbank.  I'd wanted to explore the town, as it is the best preserved on the entire Tokaidō.  But I needed to get back to Kyoto to pick my daughter up from school.  I'll be sure to return early next time.  As it was, the ride home was complicated, at the typhoons of last September had knocked out the rail line, and the substitute buses were about as consistent as the efforts at preservation in Kamiyama.  I made a pathetic attempt at hitching, but only a taxi could get me to the next train station on time for the once hourly service.  So a day that had started with traffic moving too quickly culminated in a further rush of tires, the meter frustratingly following suit.

On the turntable:  Ella Fitzgerald,  "The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks"
On the nighttable:  Tony Horwitz, "Blue Latitudes"



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