Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Back on Twitter

After an absence of nearly eight years (caused by my account apparently being hijacked by someone in Finland), I'm back on Twitter under my original username, @thewalkingfool. As I mentioned in 2009 (!), I was originally going to use Twitter to post real-time reports on my progress as I walked the Tokaido. Now I'm thinking of using it to report on my upcoming Oshu Kaido walk. If you want to follow me, you'll find a "follow" button at the top left.

Sunday, 30 October 2016


A couple of months ago, feeling especially motivated after reading a book on Neuro-Linguistic Programming, I made a list of my dreams/aims for the next few years. Included in this list under such headings as "Health & Fitness," "Work" and "Writing" are such goals as running the City-to-Surf (an annual 14 km run held here in Christchurch), reducing my cholesterole (I guess those two are kind of related), working more while making sure I keep regular hours and take days off, getting my first novel published, and attending the Melbourne Jazz Festival.

Naturally, one of the headings is "Walking." Under it I wrote three goals: walk the Oshu Kaido, walk Route 16 (the 241 km beltway around Tokyo), and walk the length of Japan (aka The Big One). According to the book, it's important that you not only write down your goals and refer to them regularly, but also that you set dates by which you intend to achieve them. And so next to "Walk the Oshu Kaido" I wrote "May 2017." A few days later I booked my flights to Japan.

All of this is by way of an announcement that in May next year I will be walking the Oshu Kaido, the fifth of the go-kaido, or five old highways of Japan (labelled A on the by-now-familiar map below). Walking all five of these highways has been a kind of unconscious goal of mine for a while now. I don't remember when I came up with the idea exactly, but it was probably after I walked the Nakasendo and was thinking of what to do next.

At just 90 km, the Oshu Kaido is the shortest of the go-kaido. I plan to walk it over three days. As usually, I'll be posting updates on my training up until I leave and reporting on the walk after I get back. Otanoshimi ni!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

It flies!

For years, artist Kazuhiko Hachiya has been working on building an outlandish personal jet plane modelled on one that appeared in an animated film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. When I first shared a video of it back in 2009, it didn't even have an engine. In 2010 I posted a new video of it, engine attached, taxiing down a runway. Well, guess what? It now flies!

Friday, 14 October 2016

I'm still alive!

How have you all been? I can't believe it's been almost two years since my last post. Anyway, I have some exciting news! Stay tuned for more details.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Day 7: Imaichi - Nikko

Distance covered: 8.5 km
Weather: Cool and cloudy with drizzle

After a well-earned sleep-in, I got up at 7 am and checked my toe. It was fine. I showered, shaved and dressed and headed down to the restaurant for breakfast. Now I've had some wonderful buffet breakfasts over the years. The breakfast at the Amari Koh Samui hotel was so beautiful I videoed it and set it to a Mozart violin concerto. The Amari Phuket breakfast was probably even more lavish. They even had porridge! While nowhere near as impressive as the breakfast buffets at these Thai hotels, the spread at my hotel in Kinugawa Onsen was definitely a step up from what I had experienced at the other hotels I stayed at along the Nikko Kaido. The waitpersons were also a lot nicer. After being shown to my table, I went and toasted some wholegrain bread (sans pink swirls) on top of which I piled a couple of spoonfuls of scrambled eggs. I then filled a bowl with cereal, fruit, fruit juice, yoghurt and milk. When I finished eating this, I got a couple of pastries to have with my second cup of coffee. There were others things available, including waffles, but seeing as I was staying here three nights I decided to leave those for another day. On my way out, I asked at reception if I could change rooms. Though I had asked for a non-smoking room, the one they had put me in smelled of cigarette smoke.

I left the hotel at around 8:30 wearing my rain gear and with my bum bag around my waist but without my pack. I caught the 8:50 train back to Shimo-Imaichi and rejoined the Nikko Kaido where I had left it the previous day. There was another long avenue of cryptomerias, followed by a short stretch of narrow road clogged with cars and trucks. Unusually, there was no footpath here, making it quite unpleasant to walk along. As I approached Nikko, a man coming in the other direction stopped and asked me if I was lost. Nikko is a popular tourist destination visited by lots of foreigners, but I guess not many of them venture out this way. We chatted for a bit, and he told me he was a kind of self-appointed volunteer guide who liked helping foreign tourists find their way around. Before we parted, he gave me a detailed map of Nikko, which was helpful since my walking map only showed the parts of Nikko adjacent to the Nikko Kaido.

I arrived in central Nikko at around 11 am and had lunch at a restaurant near Tobu Nikko Station. After lunch I walked the final few kilometres of the Nikko Kaido to its end point by the Shinkyo Bridge. This final stretch was uphill, but it wasn't too steep. I took a bunch of photos of the bridge before climbing the hill on the other side of the bridge to the Toshogu Shrine. By this time the drizzle had stopped, but there was low cloud all around me, producing quite a mystical atmosphere. The autumn colours were also nice, though I had read reports that they were even nicer around Senjogahara, where I was planning to head the following day. 

Toshogu shrine is the final resting place of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Like military strongmen and dictators the world over, Ieyasu was cruel and ruthless. But the Edo period (1603-1868), which he founded and which his clan ruled over for two and half centuries, is one of my favourite periods in Japanese history. It was during the Edo period that many aspects of Japanese popular culture that I admire, including woodblock prints, or ukiyoe, flourished. And it was Ieyasu who ordered the construction of the Nikko Kaido and the other routes that make up the Gokaido. In short, if it had not been for Tokugawa Ieyasu, I probably wouldn't have become interested in Japan, nor would I have thought of walking the Gokaido, which wouldn't have existed anyway! These were some of the thoughts that went through my mind as I wandered around the Toshogu with the hundreds of other tourists, both Japanese and foreign.

Later in the afternoon, I walked back to Tobu Nikko Station and caught the train back to my hotel at Kinugawa Onsen. That night I dined at a nearby Gusto restaurant. Back in my hotel room, I quietly celebrated the completion of my fourth epic walk in Japan with a can of Sapporo beer and some scrummy mix.

The End

Monday, 20 October 2014

Day 6: Utsunomiya - Imaichi

Distance covered: 27.2 km
Weather: Fine then cloudy then rain

Things got off to a bad start on day 6. As I queued for breakfast, the old man just ahead of me fumbled his tray and almost dropped it, spilling miso soup all over the floor. He was gutted, and I felt so sorry for him as he apologised to all and sundry. But worse was to come! There were no egg dishes, and I arrived at the toast station to find not normal bread, but slices of what looked like cake with swirls of pink through them. When I asked one of the dragons on duty if they had any normal toast bread, she replied curtly, "That is normal toast bread." As I feared, the pink swirls tasted of strawberry. Yuk! The coffee ("espresso" from a machine) wasn't much better.

By the time I left the hotel it was rush hour. Of course, rush hour in Utsunomiya is nothing like rush hour in Tokyo, and having spent most of the previous five days walking alongside a busy highway, I was used to the traffic. But leaving Utsunomiya, I found myself on a series of narrow streets with a steady stream of cars coming the other way and no footpath. At one point I was nearly hit by a car whose driver noticed me just as he was about to turn onto the road from a side street.

Once I was out of the central city, things got a lot better. It wasn't long before I encountered the first of several avenues of towering cryptomeria trees I would pass today. Like the avenues of pine trees on the Tokaido, these were planted in the Edo period to provide shelter for travellers. Where these avenues survive, the width of the road is limited to the space between the two rows of trees. The footpaths run along the outside of the rows, meaning walkers are well separated from the traffic. 

With a search on Google Maps earlier in the day indicating that there were likely to be few restaurants along today's route, I decided to buy lunch at a convenience store. I got a couple of rice balls, a corn roll, a slice of fruit loaf and some iced coffee and had lunch sitting by the side of the road. Nearby some farmers were harvesting their rice. I was enjoying my picnic, but by this time it was starting to cloud over, and not long after I got underway again it started to rain. It drizzled on and off for the rest of the day - not the most pleasant of walking conditions, but I was still able to take some photos.

Unfortunately, in some places, the exhaust fumes and vibrations from the constant flow of vehicles is having a detrimental effect on the cryptomerias, and to prevent further deterioration there are plans to reroute traffic away from the trees and restrict access to the space between them to cyclists and pedestrians. These plans have been implemented in two or three places, and it was a real joy to experience walking under the massive trees just like in the Edo period. And they did provide some welcome protection from the drizzle.

I was enjoying myself so much that I lost track of the time. I had booked a hotel in the nearby hot spring resort of Kinugawa Onsen. To get there I had to catch a train from Shimo-Imaichi, which was still a couple of kilometres up the road. The trains ran every hour or so, and when I checked the time and the schedule I realised there was one leaving in a few minutes at 2:45 pm. Could I make it? I set off at a brisk pace. I even thought about running, trying to remember how long it took me to run 5km when I was doing so regularly a few years ago and then dividing that time by two or three or... But I quickly realised I had no hope of making it to the station in time, and so I slowed down and tried to relax and enjoy the scenery again. I arrived at Shimo-Imaichi at 3.15, and had a long wait before catching the train to Kinugawa Onsen at 3.50.

It was just a few minutes walk from the station to my hotel. It was quite luxurious compared to the places I had stayed at so far. The only drawback was the lack of wi-fi in my room. I was booked to stay three nights. Tomorrow I would walk the remaining 8.5 km of the Nikko Kaido and then explore Nikko itself. The day after I planned to hike the Senjogahara marshlands, something I had long dreamed of doing. Unfortunately the weather forecast wasn't that great. Also, when I took of my shoes I discovered a sizeable blister on the side of my big toe. Would I be able to complete the walk? Or would disaster strike at the last minute?