Irishman Walking is about my walking the coastal roads of Japan through a series of summer, winter, spring, and autumn stages. Stage 1 began in Cape Soya in Hokkaido in the summer of 2009, and ended in Noshiro City in Akita Prefecture seven weeks later. This summer (2012), Stage 8 started at Shibushi Port in Kagoshima Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, and ended in the city of Fukuoka six weeks after setting off. Stage 9 is planned to start from Fukuoka City this winter and will end at Hiroshima in January 2013. The stage is planned to last for five weeks.

4 August, 2009: The next morning, was the forth day of August, the twenty-first day since leaving Tokyo, and the day when I assumed my tramp. It was a little before leaving my friend when the breeze finally shifted and the sun came out and the rain squall looked as if it was about to be assigned to history. I still had not come to terms with which weather was the worst to tramp the roads in: the rain or the strong sun. There had been so little sunshine since setting out from Cape Soya. Some one once said: "Don't worry about the road, think instead about your own steps on it." Perhaps I should not worry about the weather either. For this was what it meant to be accustomed to the brutal business of long distance walking. Being a true trooper of the roads, however, I was not so sure anymore!

Checkout time was at eleven, and with the red wine and lack of sleep I did not feel like tackling anything, especially the road. Last night the red wine flowed, and chocolate consumed. We watched one of the most interesting of British films on a late night television station. Half way through the film my drowsy friend finally fell into a deep sleep. Being hardheaded, I needed to know how the story turned out, and continued to watch the twists and turns of the film from start to finish.

Made in 1967, ‘Two for the Road’ said to have been an underrated classic ahead of its time. The ‘road’ was the bumpy and rocky road of relationships and marriage. The plot was set largely in France, and focused on the relationship, growing tensions and insecurities between a student-cum successful architect, Mark Wallace, played by Albert Finney, and his wife, Joanna, played by my favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn, were driving through the French countryside, a romantic setting. Their most recent trip caused them to recall past journeys together on that same segment of road. For example, how they first met, how and why they decided to travel together.

There was Mark’s fling with another woman and Joanna’s short love affair with another man. Therefore, the story showed how a charming, charismatic couple could change, evolve and hurt one another while realizing that they were still in love. A well-acted story that showed how their passion for each other brought them back together again, and so forth. It was a difficult story line to follow as the plot took place over a twelve-year period, with the present juxtaposed with the past. Therefore, careful attention and extrapolation to the story line was needed. This was not made any easier with the flow of red wine, my own heavy eyelids, and the noise of my sleeping friend’s snores.

We were both tired! And we really had consumed too much red wine during our few days together. I vaguely recalled my dozing off during the film, but could not recall myself sleeping at all. Although I watched the film from start to finish, and remembered how the plot concluded, I absolutely had no idea about anything after it ended. For all I knew, I cold have fallen asleep sitting on the bed with my back leaning against the wall. Or that was the position I was in when I awoke. An empty wine glass lay on the floor by the foot of the bed with another one on the table beside the remains of the food we had eaten yesterday. My friend was already awake at dressed, and not long back in the room. It was a nonsmoking room and she tended to pop out side from time to time for a smoke.

I noticed that the bed sheets were smeared with the chocolate we have eaten last night. Now they gave the appearance that someone had had used the sheets to wipe their ass with. There were also a few red wine stains here and there on them. "Look at the state of the sheets," I said, not really caring for an answer. I was never one for saying, 'Good morning'. "Oh, don't worry, such things happened at hotels. Besides, hotel staff were used to messy clientele." My friend always seeded to have an answer for everything. Still, her words did not make me feel any better. For what it was worth, I removed the sheets and folded them up with the chocolate and red wine stains turned inside. And with the wet bath towels and pajamas placed on top of the pile, some sense of artificial reprieve could be got. Within minutes we were head down in the elevator to the second floor for breakfast!

It had been a rather busy day, with trying to see as much of this historical city as possible during our short time in it. Rather than walk to the places of historical interest, we decided to use public transportation instead. I needed to rest as much as possible before I hit the road tomorrow. However, I believed we spent more time walking to the different bus stops for the different places of significance, than we did traveling on the buses themselves. Somewhere along the way we stopped off at one of the many interesting restaurants for lunch. In the evenings we would stop by at a supermarket to pick up some stuff to eat, French bread, ham, cheese, some greens, back at the hotel. Of course, at the top of the list, were a couple of cans of beer and a bottle of red wine. If we did not bother with picking up beer or wine for the evening, it was because we planned to call into one of the equally interesting little bars scatter about the city. Like the restaurants and bars, there were a lot of interesting-cum trendy shops and stores here and there. One shop we called into specialized in Zippa cigarette lighters, and where I decided out of the blue to buy my friend a present.

Even at breakfast my friend disappeared for a few minutes to have a smoke, and which kind of put an end to whatever it was we were discussing. I never could understand smokers, and the power of that tiny thing had over them, which they willingly lifted to their lips. When we first met a year or so earlier, my friend told me that she was in the process of giving it up. Clearly not! Once she told me that when the Japanese government hiked the price of a packet of cigarettes, she went out and bought lots of packets for her and her father before the rise came into effect. However, whenever we met at a restaurant or somewhere, she was in some ways respectful enough not to some in front of me. The downside of this was that she would usually disappear from the table where we sat to go and to smoke somewhere. There were also a couple of times when the food would be placed on the table before she returned. I kind of found this more annoying than her habit or the bad smell of cigarette smoke.

In some ways, I added to my friends fag (cigarette) addition or habit. Last night, when we stopped by at the shop that specialized in Zippo cigarette lighters, I bought one of them for her. It was a kind of gift to say thank you for all of the help when I was walking the long, hard roads. At times whenever I approached a city, for example, I would call her on the phone and ask her to reserve a room for me, and which she was ore than willing to do. Of course, ninety-five percent of the time I preferred to camp on a beach somewhere overlooking the coastline, for nothing could beat tat. But, sometimes I was really exhausted and wanted to stop the night somewhere other than in my tent so as to just soak in a hot bath for a while, and have a good sleep in a proper bed. In turn, my friend would then check out the hotels on the Internet for me, and after a short interval she would call me back with the necessary details, like, the name of the hotel, its location, and costs, and so forth. On other days, she would inform me about the weather conditions of the place I was going to, or places of interest to look out for. Zippo was a famous cigarette lighter, the design of which was inspired from an Austrian cigarette lighter. Also, I thought, Zippo was a funny sounding name, too, or similar to one of the great Marx brothers.

For some reason, the founder of the company that produced the lighter liked the name, Zippo, which to him sounded like ‘zipper’. That was in 1933, though the company had to wait for another three years before it was granted a patent to protect its famous design in 1936. The Zippo lighters first became popular with the United States military forces, especially during the Second World War years. During the war years the Zippo manufacturing company ceased consumer production of its lighters, “and dedicated all manufacturing to the U.S. military." Also, according to the Internet, the Zippo lighters were made of brass, which was a commodity that was unobtainable during the war years. In turn, Zippo began to use steel instead for the remainder of the war.

Spurred by a growing popularity of cigarette smoking by men and women alike during the following years, other companies soon jumped onto the bandwagon. Therefore, it was important for Zippo to market unique designs and improvements to the lighters being sold. The lighter manufacturers at large, Zippo among them, found profitability in turning their lighters into miniature billboards, of sorts. To them the lighters were perfect canvases for all kinds of logos for brewers, motion picture studios, and of course for cigarette manufacturers and brands, like, Camel cigarettes, and so on. They were also used to commemorate historic events, major sporting, racing, or hunting events, even souvenirs from destinations like, New York, Las Vegas, or Washington, D.C, and many other places and themes. The Zippo lighter I bought as a gift for my friend had a colorful print of the most famous ship in the world, the RMS Titanic, on it. The Titanic was built in Belfast in 1912, not so far from where I was born four and a half decades later.

There was a final cup of coffee at Mister Donuts next door together. My friend was kind enough to go over my tattered Japanese-worded maps and re-write in English as many of the key places or cities that I would pass thought. The clock read twelve-fifteen, which told me that it was well past the time for me to be on my way. And so it was, with a tiny kiss on her cheek, I turned away and made my way along the straight stretch of road that was to take me southwest out of Otaru. As if it was to be our last meeting ever, my friend stood and watched me for quite a while. For a spell I would look back over my shoulder and raise my hand. Then, a good ways down the road, I stopped to looked and looked back at her one last time, and who was by now a dot in the distance. Perhaps she was unable to catch my wave. Besides, such was the distance between us that I was no longer even sure if it was my friend anymore. It seemed pointless to stop again, and so with a fixed gaze ahead of me, I tramped on into the distance proper. For sure, the lazy days Otaru together were done and gone. I had to shake myself free from those sullen and sorrowful feelings that often came part and parcel with those sweet sorrow kinds of partings the Shakespeare wrote of.

At the same time, it felt good to be alone again, and with my old companion the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) once more. As if to welcome me back, a light wind blew in from the sea and remained favorable all day. As far as I could make out, the clouds that loomed ahead in the sky earlier, now blocked out the sun. Things were beginning to fall nicely into place again. There was no denying it, I was happy to see my Tokyo friend again and to talk and party with her for a while. After all, engaging in philosophical discussion with somebody who had a good brain was a favorite pastime. What I did miss most, however, was not my friend, but rather a soak in the hot bath every night, and the comfort of a proper bed to sleep in at the hotel. There was the nice comfortable room around me, too, the television news, and the film that I rally got into even if I was tired, if not drunk.

The only thing I had to look forward to in the evenings for comfort now, were my sleeping bag, and the fabric wall of my tent. The interior of the tent was certainly small, like the gathering of a gloom about to happen. There was just enough room for me in it, and nothing else. That meant my backpack and miscellaneous stuff had to be made fast outside in the evenings, and under cover from the sudden downpours. It was all very troublesome, to say the least! Then again, even this did not matter now. The road tat lay ahead was what counted!

Much of my way along the road was a patchwork of open grassy fields; tree covered hills and the sparkling coastline, thanks to the sun upon my old friend the sea. From time to time in the distance I could see small fishing villages spread out along the shoreline. Then I would think about shops and food and whatnot, only to be disappointed when I tramped through them. Soon I passed the Sei Liberty Memorial without stopping to investigate why it had memorial in its name. Two tunnels are tramped through without any complaints on my part. The main street seemed endless, with large hills and small mountains all about hiding the sea from view. From time to time my old friend reappears, but this time the hot sun also made its presence known. A stop at a Seven-Eleven for a cool beer could not have been better timed.

On the road again the sudden sound of a horn from a speeding truck startled me. With a quick turn of the head I could see it swerve out of the way to overtake a tiny car missing it by inches. The face of the women driver inside the car seemed unmoved. It was difficult to read the emotions of a Japanese, for the absence of tell-tail signs on their face. A road sign on Route 956, on which I was now making my way, told me that Shioyu JR Train Station was away to the left, and that the cities of Kutchan and Yoichi were straight ahead of me. I did not care whether the cities were there or not as long as I could get past them without any trouble. The blisters on the soles of my feet were beginning to be felt once more. Experience told me that it was only a matter of time before the pain would affect my pace. “Perhaps I could do something about them when I next sit down somewhere to rest,” I told myself, as I increased my speed a little hoping to get as much distance under my belt before the pain became worse.

Some body I stopped to chat with for a while told me that soon there would be three very long tunnels up ahead. Of course, it was not the sort of news that cheered me up. Previously, the sight of the massive tunnel never failed to send my mind rolling with thoughts about my past, and this was no different. Even still, it felt such a shame to have to tramp through these massive things, as they deprived me of the experience of the beautiful coastline and countryside that I had grown to appreciate.

In the tunnel thoughts about my early days at school flowed back. “What a dunce I must have appeared to others in my mathematics classes,” I thought to myself, while at the same time trying to keep my wits about me for the oncoming traffic, too. How I used to sit at my desk, clueless, and not wanting to be there. Our math teacher at the time spoke through his nose, that I literally was unable to understand some of the words he was saying to me. Perhaps he felt that I was just being simply awkward. To him, I must have been a real pain in the butt kind of kid! The sort of kid teachers relished having in their class. Actually, I was not a bad child if I recalled, or even a popular one at that when I thought about it. How I hated my secondary school days! But was that all of my fault? Because of my father’s work, we moved quite a bit, and as a result, I attended two primary schools and one secondary school in Belfast, where I truly was happy. My life in London meant me having to attend three other secondary schools. So I guess, I never really settled, or in some ways, not allowed to settle down. We had lived at so many different addresses that even now I could no longer count them, let along remember them.

My postgraduate days were also a bit of a patchwork of experiences. My years in America, for example, could be summed up in terms of the three different colleges I enrolled at across the country, in Texas, in California, and in Indiana. It was not until I returned home to Belfast later on when I finally graduated at Queen’s University, Belfast, and later on from the University of London. When I look back over those years, I do not know whether to feel proud or to wonder if it had all been a great waste of time and money. Even now I consider myself rather unsettled.

Soon the mouth of the first of the three tunnels that I was told about earlier, lay open before me. Fortunately, the length of the tunnel was not as bad as I had expected it to be. Its 460-meter length was acceptable as tunnels went, and soon it was well behind me. When I drew near to the second tunnel I saw that I was less fortunate. To me, this second tunnel pushed the boundaries of acceptability as it ran for 930-meters. Then came the third tunnel, which like the first, it was not so bad either at just 541-meters in length. One annoying thing about tunnels on this segment of my mission was that no sooner would you emerge from one tunnel, that another invited you into its open mouth. Unlike the school dunce, I was kind of like an inquisitive cat. It was true I had little choice but to enter most of the tunnels that I came to if I was to make any progress, but each time, too, it felt so good to emerge at the other end. And low and behold, soon the first of the dreaded tunnels appeared in front of me, and would come one after another.

In the course of time, and with the third tunnel now well behind me, I came to a restaurant by the roadside, where I decided to stop for rest. The town the restaurant was located in was called Momonai. On the roads I desperately needed fuel in the form of food and water, and beer. After all, beer was a foodstuff, a major source of nutrition, and of which trampers of long distances in the heat demanded constant replenishment. That said, too much of anything was ruinous to ones’ health. Distance? Beer? Both? For the most part, the food I ate tasted good, and was quite rich in calories and carbohydrates, which did the trick. Quality-wise, you got what you paid for in Japan, usually nothing more, unless you were lucky.

Sitting myself down at a table, I ordered a beer and the 'B lunch', which came in the form of Katsudon soba, a bowl of rice with sliced pork cutlet dish on top. In comparison to the restaurants I frequented in Tokyo, the portion of food here in Hokkaido was enormous in volume. Which, needless to say, suited me just dandy since I needed every ounce of calorie and protein I could get on the roads. On normal circumstances, like living and working in Tokyo, just one visit to a restaurant would be more than enough. As to my carbohydrate-protein-calorie intake, I was able to burn it all off on the roads in no time at all.

It was a strange feeling, too, and frightfully noticeable every time that I looked into a mirror in a public toilet when I stopped at somewhere. I knew that I was eating more than ever before, or that was what being on the road big-time did to you. Whilst at the same time, the fat on my body was gone, and the clothes I wore on the road seemed baggier than previously. Both pairs of the shorts trousers that I took with me, fitted to a T when I left Tokyo, however, now they needed to be held in place with a piece of string tied around my waist. To my surprise, the beer, when it came, was a 633-milliliter bottle of Sapporo. Usually when I ordered a beer at the different eating holes I stopped at along the way, it came either in a mid-sized mug or 'jugi' as the Japanese called it. Besides the food and the beer, another good aspect about stopping at these places, was simply to get my butt out of the sun. The sky was mostly full of rain clouds, but those times when the sun broke through, it did not take me long to feel the difference, which was not always welcomed.

In comparison to the many restaurants I ate in, in Tokyo, the portion of food you received in Hokkaido was enormous. If it was not for the amount of calories I was burning off during my long hours on the hard roads, on normal circumstances just one visit to a restaurant here would be enough to do you all day. On the road I desperately needed food. For the most part, the food I ate in Hokkaido was quite good, but occasionally it was not for the faint hearted. Quality-wise, I got what you paid for. As a result, there were no grand delusions about the greatness of the food.

To my surprise, the beer, when it came, was a 633-milliliter bottle of Sapporo. Usually when I had a beer at the different eating holes I stopped at along the way came either in a mid-sized mug or 'jugi' as the Japanese called it. Besides the food and the beer, another good aspect about stopping at these places, was simply to get my butt out of the sun. The sky was mostly full of rain clouds, but those times when the sun broke through, it did not take you long to feel the difference, which was not always welcomed. The road going qualities of my boots, too, if not my whole body and mind, were severely taxed, but they continued to rise to the occasion. If only I could have said the same about my feet. Blisters! What success I did have in terms of distance, was due in no small part to trying not to think about the pain. Sort of mind over body, or that sort of thing. Unlike the monster tunnels that popped up along the way, or those long endless stretches of road and sheer boredom, it felt natural that under such circumstances of stress and strain, my mind was closed to all subjects. Even with the pain in my feet, it was a wonder that I could notice anything at all. But then again, there were things that you could not but notice, like the vast open sea and the weather around me.

Once again the Japan Sea appeared more beautiful than ever. Occasionally there were clear patches of sky ahead of me, and east out over the sea. “Perhaps if I could dangle my feet in the water for a while?” I thought, as I stopped to look out over the sea. “It might do something good.” The temperature of the air today was up beyond 35 degrees centigrade, but the sea temperature had dropped somewhere way below that. The cool salty waters felt so good on my feet that I could have stayed there fore ages. Soon the magic of the foamy tide eased the pain somewhat. The skin on the soles of my feet felt tender enough for me to slice open the blisters with my knife to release the watery liquid within. My feelings also changed, for all about me everything looked just right. I had long become acquainted with the many chances to enjoy the beautiful scenery, which was one of the good qualities with being on the road. However, the many road works and tunnels that I passed hardly did justice to this beauty.

The graying sky told me that I should make camp sooner rather than later. Hopefully near to the sea, for nothing beat sleeping after a proper splash about in the sea, which was what I intended to do. When morning came, I would pull myself out from my sleeping bag always feeling like a new man. Soon after drying my feet and putting my socks and boots back on to hit the road, the fifth tunnel today, made its presence known. The Momonai Tunnel, as its iron nameplate read, was only 370 meters long, but it was a short distance that turned out to be quite dangerous to tramp through. There were no markings or pavements in the tunnel to walk on, and the continuous flow of traffic running through it went by me at a fairly brisk speed. It only needed one fool headed driver to be tuned into a pocket phone to have turned me into a statistic, pushing up daisies (dead and buried).

It was not so many kilometers after the town of Momonai that I decided to draw my tramping to an end for the day. The blisters in my feet were not fully fixed yet. The sky, too, still had a couple of hours of daylight in it as I turned off the road and onto a sandy beach to pitch my tent. It was the first real sandy beach that I had seen in ages, but there was something picturesque that bracketed me to it. Was it the silence as shadows fell across the beach? Soon the rustle of the gentle wind could be heard against my tent?

The sight of a sign positioned next to a nearby car park whisked my mind back to reality. I was unable to comprehend much of the stuff printed on it, but I knew enough to tell me that it had something to do with camping. Already when I arrived a good twenty or thirty 'Colman' tents, among nameless others tents, were pitched along a vast portion of the beach. A tiny stream cut the beach in two parts. I was unsure if the southern half, where my tent stood, was part of the official camping area proper, or not. Either way, I was determined to hit the road at the crack of dawn before any attendants showed up to tell me that I could not camp here.

My main aim when I tramped out off Otaru was to reach Yoichi and beyond as quickly as my feet would carry me. Being worn out was not always what caused me to stop and make camp, far from it. Most days on the road an inner power helped me to push on, often so without too much difficulty, baring the odd blister. Without a doubt, the three days in Otaru had rejuvenated my tired bones. The blisters were gone thanks to the hot baths that I soaked in for an hour every night. Not the public bath at the hotel, for I loathed even the idea of bathing in it with complete strangers. It was soothing enough just simply soaking in the room's bathtub. Perhaps I did not really need to stop and rest the number of times I did. Then again, it was so important to sometimes slow my pace down and take perspective of where I was at, physically speaking. Apart from being exhausted most times when I did make camp, the hope was to try and finish my day in as good a condition as when I started out on the road in the morning.

Away to my right I could make out two Caucasian guys in their twenties, fooling about the sand with four Japanese girls who were around the same age as the guys. Whether it was being tired or feeling old, I envied the carefree youthfulness about their play; running, jumping, falling, and rolling over one another in the rich sand. Perhaps they were college students enjoying a break from their studies together on the beach. After all, school was out for the summer! It was the first time so far on my mission that I had set eyes on a fellow foreigner of any shape or form. And there, less than 200 meters from where my tent stood, two were making the most of their play. Yes, I envied them!

None of what I saw seemed more relevant to me than the bottle of inexpensive red wine I carried with me all the way from Otaru. There was nothing better than the taste of red wine on the tongue, and the glow of the sun across the water at the close of day. When the sun did finally take its last breath for the evening and slipped beyond the horizon, I turned my attention on my notes, and a few postcards to family, friends and acquaintances: "I left Otaru after a badly needed rest. I made my way towards Wotsuka. Tonight I am camping on a sandy beach not so many km south of Momonai Town. Besides my own tent, there were a good few other tents pitched along the north shore of the beach (4 Aug)."

5 August, 2009: The morning began with the usual sketchy breakfast of nuts, dried fruit, and melted chocolate, and of course a cup of hot tea, sadly without milk in it. It had been said that breakfast was the most important meal in the day. At least, it was better than nothing, for I felt ready once more to endure the chaos of the busy road that lay ahead of me. Perhaps it would have been nice to sleep a little longer, but what was the point? A late start meant endeavoring to cover the distance of thirty to thirty-five kilometers would have been far from pleasant.

Down below on a sandy beach I passed by, four young girls were playing at piggyback. The two smaller ones rode merrily on the backs of the two older girls. One of the girls began to sway to and fro and swaying from side to side, as if to throw her little companion on to the sandy beach. The sound of laughter told me that everyone was having a good time. Of course, no one got hurt or went tumbling head first onto the sand. There were some rocks poking out from the sand and bits of driftwood skittered here and there, so I felt in tow minds whether I should call out to them to be careful.

In my childhood days everybody got injured in some way. There was not a kid on our street that I could recall did not have at least one scar somewhere on their body. In my youthful past, we were always running, and so one or both of my knees were always bleeding because of one fall or another. The same could be said for my legs, covered with scratches for crawling through the long grass in the summertime, or climbing trees at anytime in the year. Right or wrong, I felt that the Japanese children today were much more delicate than the children I grew up around, in Belfast. Not just the boys were tough, but the girls too, in their own way. They could give you a good hiding (defeat) with their words alone if you crossed them.

The thoughts of the children I just passed a little while ago, and of my own childhood years, lingered in my mind for sometime. In some ways I admired the Japanese children at their play, not just because they were children doing what children did, but that they could do it. “How silly my old friends and me would look if we fooled about in the same way,” I thought. We would more than likely be viewed as being a bunch of idiots or drunks. To paraphrase Corinthians 13:11: When I was a child, I talked like a child, and thought and reasoned like a child, too. But when I became a man, I had to leave my childish ways behind me. “Oh, how I missed my youthful past,” I thought to myself, unable to shake off my thoughts of the children at play.

In their play on the rich sandy beach, now a good few kilometers behind me, a beautiful and innocent form of communication was going on between them. “Wasn’t that what play was all about? Communication!” I thought, while at the same time trying to keep my wits focused on the traffic. Indeed there was nothing about their play that spoke of sorrow, or concealment of something beyond serious. Why should it? Children's depression and suicide were worsening problems in Japan. Sadly, the country’s suicide rate was ‘high’, for want of a better word. According to 2009 figures, the suicide rate was above 30,000 a year.

Overwhelmingly, clinical depression, a life-threatening mood disorder, which often led to suicide were viewed as adult things, though not exclusively. In the last decade, there had been a steadily trickle down the age scale of both, clinical depression and suicide among the young. Hokkaido University professor, Kenzo Denda’s research showed that one elementary school child in 12 suffered from clinical depression; whilst, among the junior high school students the rate was one in four. Other researchers felt that it was even worse than any standardized surveys could show. With my own Internet research, I found that National Police Agency statistics showed that nine children committed suicide in Japan last year (2008).

What drove such young children to such extremes? What despair could make them take their lives, to wipe out all those years ahead of them? For specialists in this area, there was no easy answer. Unlike adults, it was not easy to articulate a child’s deeper feelings. Sometimes children expressed themselves through shoplifting, or deviant sexual behavior, or violence. Nor was it easy to look at ‘depression’ as a cause of such acts by children that even doctors could not always “get the message” (Japan Today).

If only something so shallow as ‘escapism’ could help. One definition of escapism, according to my Merriam-Webster dictionary: habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity or entertainment as an escape from reality or routine. Adults often went to the cinema, or to the pub, a short-term escapism, kind of like sweeping the dust under the carpet, but work it did. Escape from the hardships that befell them in their daily life, not doubt, like, work, family problems, or some strenuous relationships or happenings, and so forth. Even the Puritans needed to escape form something.

There was nothing more pure than very young children! For them, their life was ahead was a long road, or series of roads with ups and downs. What all children really needed above all else, to prepare them for the years ahead, was unconditional love from their parents. Love was a powerful tool that could strengthen anyone to cope with problems, depression, or whatever. Nowadays many parents, not only in Japan, but everywhere, tended to complain about being unable to love their children, or to take pleasure in them. As a result, many children did not have, a so-called, normal upbringing. Therefore, was it any wonder they would react in extreme ways towards whatever problems came along?

That thing called ‘love’ was an important index of any young persons’ character, sensitivity, and sense of worth, or self respect. The power of love, therefore, was not to be scoffed at! Love had the power to strengthen them, I felt, in various ways, particularly when it came to the making and braking of relationships, which would become a theme or turning point in unexpected ways over the course of their, hopefully, long and happy life. A life that would bring them to focus on, and value, the binding quality of that other thing we call ‘friendship’. Of course, this was not to devalue, weaken or ignore, the family institution, which was not an easy thing to partake in at the best of times. Among the many values of the family structure, of course, was that it helped to people to cement a sense of place, which was often just as strong as any national boundaries could be.

We were all part of the ‘present’, but for me, the children and young adults were more apart of the ‘future’. They needed to be taught better to prepare them for their future. Respect had to be part of this learning, but how do draw up the proper curriculum to this end? Perhaps what was put into something was not always what you got back. Still, I strongly believed, perhaps a bit naively, the chances of getting something god back, were better. Of course, this did not mean to give your money to a banker or broker to invest, for they had already miserably shown their true colors, gray, black, and red.

To see them play, I envied them! Like me, they were away from the rules and regulations imposed on teachers ad students, alike. It was not easy to distance myself from my own youthful past; a past were we were not reared, but dragged up. How we managed to stay happy and healthy children, I still had no answers. Perhaps there was ‘love’ hidden somewhere. Like a moving picture before me, I could see myself in the children at play some kilometers earlier, even the young adults I currently taught back in Tokyo, and the thousands of young people I had the honor of enlightening down through the years. When I learned from other teachers about various family hardships, financial or psychological problems they faced, which undoubtedly affected their confidence with others, academic performance, or being absent from school, and so on, their pain really burned into me. I felt ever so helpless!

My days were numbered anyway, and there was nothing I could do about it. Or like I said earlier, there was no turning back the clock. Unfortunately! "How would it have seemed to innocent onlookers had these youthful creatures at play down on the beach earlier, not been four young girls, but four elderly women fooling around together?" My mind continued to work overtime, as kept half of my brain focused on the traffic that sped past. I also noticed that my pace on the road had slowed down considerably, which told me that my progress by the end of the day would not be so good. "Would the onlooker settle on some belief that the elderly women were only trying to relive or capture something they had lost so many years ago?" The backpack straps bit into my shoulders, which now began to hurt a little as I tramped along the road. "What kind of a future awaited these young girls? Would they remember this day on the beach together?” I wondered. I sometimes looked back at my own playful times with great fondness.

At last, the sight of the town of Yoichi in the distance pulled me back to the present. Which was just as well, since I found myself falling into some big black psychological-cum sociological hole way beyond my own understanding. At Yoichi I called into a Spar convenience store to pick up a packet of biscuits. That was for when I stopped somewhere along Route 5 for a rest and to boil some water for a badly needed cup of tea, or coffee. Something to nibble on and dip into the hot beverage made my little stops along the way that little bit more worthwhile. It was here that I said goodbye to Route 5, which now veered away to the left in the direction of Kutchan and Oshamaube. Route 228, my new companion for the next umpteen kilometers, would take me through Furubira and Shakotan, which I thought was another one of those names that did not sound very Japanese.

The route also kept me in touch with the sea, the sight of which never failed to send the adrenaline rushing through my body. The Irish had a long history with the sea, but not so much the people I grew up with. Prudence suggested that they had more pressing issues to deal with, such as, putting food on the table in a climate of social and political discrimination in those early years. That was during a day trip to Bangor in the early 1960s. I think I could say the same for the other kids about the street, so it would be safe to say that we were not exactly lovers of the sea. Ireland was surrounded by water, but I only saw the sea just once as a child. The second time was in 1969 when I took the ferry from Larne to Starrier in Scotland. On the train bound for London where I lived on and off for seven years, I was not to see the sea again until I left for New York in the late 1970s. Even then it was from the windows of a DC-10 some 30,000 feet high above the sea.

The small pot of water on top of my Captain Stag burner began to boil, and in no time at all I set enjoying a nice cup of tea. The 'Bourbon butter cookies', to quote from the packet they came in, added to that short moment of enjoyment. Thoughts about my grandmother entered my mind, if for a moment. "Yes! Perhaps she was right. Little things did please me." The only objectionable feature being the cooking things took up a fair bit of space and weight in my backpack. With the last drop of my tea finished and what was left of the biscuits stuffed safely back into my backpack, it was time to move on. Besides, over the closing minutes of my rest the sun was starting to beat down on top of me like an oppressive force.

The full effect of the sun became apparent, or at least it was probable it had been too much for the campers to deal with in their tents, which must have felt like ovens on the hot sand. These last few evenings, too, the interior my tent was unusually hot. The main bulk of the tents were now gone. Some ways down the beach a few remaining campers looked like they, too, were uprooting. The rate of work was necessarily very slow for the effect the heat could have on a person. Even in the best of conditions, decamping tended to take longer than making camp. Some people stood about idly looking on. These fellows did not trouble themselves to lend a hand, or perhaps they felt that too many hands spoilt the broth, as the saying went. Those hard at work contented themselves with getting down to things that were of immediate importance. Some among them folded up the tents and gathered up the miscellaneous camping things. Perhaps the shade less beach had proven a bit too much for them. The gathering clouds in the distance told me that it was all just a reprieve from the rains, which I expected to fall again at any moment.

Each time I decamped I tended to do several things at once, and in the process, little of any time was gained. For as long as I cared to remember, being in a hurry seemed to typify my approach to live, especially in my younger life. People how knew me well used to say that I would die from a heart attack. Although I was still very much alive, I felt my friends were correct in a round about sort of way. My haste often caused me more time and hardship. One example of this was my keenness for venturing off the main roads in favor of taking an abandoned route. If things did not work out according to plan, you could be looking at a loss of half a day, not to mention the wasted energy in terms of the kilometers tramped.

In the dead straight tunnels the exit seemed much nearer than it really was, for the dim interior the distances were very deceptive. When the tunnels ran one after another, the land between them was like little heavens. When I came out off a tunnel how much more beautiful the sea looked at such times, even with Colman tents clotted about the sandy beaches. Some occupants of the tents stood by barbecuing, others played about in the foamy tidewater. The lazy among them lay about doing nothing at all, but sunbath under the scorching sun. There was little reason for me to stop, and not helped any by the absence of a store or restaurant, I passed on by. A little further along some workmen were working on a large building that I suspect would cater to selling food when completed.

The sight of it only made me feel hungrier. The route took me into a number of small towns. Alas, the main thoroughfare in the town of Shinchimachi presented a number of shops that were open for business. Soon I was passing by shops and businesses of various kinds, all dotted about on either side and as far as I could see. I remembered just how such sights had been especially true before and after Otaru. Unlike then, there seemed to be a great absence of anything in the form of restaurants. Just as my mind was becoming assigned to not finding a place to get food at when I stopped at a restaurant. To my dismay, however, and just as I was checking out the menu by the door, the proprietor of the place came outside and took down the hanging drapes or 'noren' that indicated it was open for business.

Continuing along the road, I came to a couple of places that specialized in fish-related dishes. My negative view towards fish as a food was formed in my first five years of life on this earth. The way I saw things about the people in Belfast were not in terms of Protestant and Catholic, or Orangemen and Unionist, or Nationalist and Republican, but rather fish-eaters and non-fish-eaters. Ever since I was a child growing up in Belfast, I hated the smell of fish. Especially when sometimes a neighbor cooked kippers over a gas stove or open fire in the evening. The smell of which lingered about our front door, if not the street, for ages. In the summer months many houses on the street kept their windows open, so the smells and sounds never failed to enter. In the years to come, my life as a traveler in fair and foul weather, this distain towards fish would remain with me.

"What should I do?" I thought to myself. I was unsure about my chances of finding a restaurant further down the road that served dishes I could stomach. I had not been so lucky all day long. There seemed little else worth doing, but push the door open at one of the restaurants and enter it. For a time, at least, it would be shelter from the heat. The waitress at Minatozushi placed a glass of water before me on the table and handed me the menu, which I could not read. What I was able to make out were the prices, which seemed higher than what I would normally pay at a restaurant I stopped at along my way.

Then I thought to myself, "What the hell!" After all, I was on a kind of holiday away from the daily grind in Tokyo. I was happy to learn that sushi could be had, and which was ordered, though not without first some difficulty in trying to convey to the waitress that I did not want fish eggs, known as 'ikura' in Japanese. The Japanese people loved ikura, the sight of those little orangey things always made my stomach rumble. While my order was being arranged, I ordered a jug or 'jugi' of cool Sapporo beer. The restaurant was rather busy, with customers whom I sensed, like myself, were passing through town. Judging by the number plates on a few of the cars parked outside, I suspected a number of tourists about the place, but of course, I was not really sure of anything. You could never be certain in Japan just what people really were, unless they told you. My brain did not want to think!

When the sushi arrived it was only on the table but a few minutes, for the time it took me to put it away a hungry dog could not have done better. Another beer was ordered, which helped sooth my mind and organize my thoughts as I put them down on paper. A glance at my old bicycle clock, and which I now carried with me in my pocket, told me it was time to hit the road once more. It was not always easy to get started from my rests, and in this case the beers did not help any either. Or to paraphrase Cervantes, I drink when I had occasion, and sometime when I had no occasion. That said I knew a number of people once close to me, whose life had been ravaged by their habitual overindulgence.

The shadows from the parked cars stretched further out across the road. Perhaps it would do well to keep an eye open for a place to make camp as I went along my way. My eyes swept down along the unobstructed road ahead. "Good!" I thought, "The shadow by the side of the road should ease the remainder of my tramp, wherever that my be." Not long having passed out of the town of Shinchimach I came to a bridge. Maruyama Bridge ran for five hundred and sixty-two meters and took nearly one and a half years to complete. Just as I was approaching a tunnel on the other side of the bridge one of the waitresses from the sushi restaurant pulled up in her car and stopped. For a moment I thought that perhaps I had forgotten something, which would not have surprised me the least bit.

The window opened downwards and a hand popped out. "This is for you," the young girl said in Japanese giving me a cold bottle containing a soft drink. “This too!" I looked into plastic shopping bag in amazement; I could not help being lost for words. In the bag were two tiny crabs frozen together. "God!" I thought to myself, "What on earth was I to do with these?" "Thank you very much," I said taking the gifts from her. "You are very kind." "It would be nice to eat them when you camp near to the sea." I thanked her again, and with that she drove away. With the plastic bag now fastened to the outside of my backpack I turned back onto the road and headed into the mouth of the three hundred and seventy-three meter long ???? Tunnel, which took exactly two years to complete (March, 2004 to march 2006). "Crabs! How the fuck was I going to cook them let alone to eat them?"

My reading of three maps told me that I was now camping on Bikuni Kodomari Camp Ground, or such as it is marked on one of the maps. Being in groups was almost like a cultural and spiritual force in Japan. It seemed unimportant for me to understand the importance of this, as I preferred to pitch my tent as far away from the cluster of others. This was not always the mot sensible of things to do. I recalled one summer when I made camp next to a large and beautiful oak tree, believing in the comfort of the shade it cast out. Soon, however, the changing wind brought with it the most foul of smells. Upon inspection around the foot of the tree I was easy to deduce that some lazy scoundrels had used it to aim their dicks at. Judging by the strong smell of urine they had relieved themselves quite recently.

Back to the present, my tent stood on the beach next to a wall where some steps led up towards the road that I would follow tomorrow. A cluster of bushes hid my view from the other tents, which suited me just dandy. As I was erecting my little one-man 'Dunlop’ job (tent) I could not help but notice quite a number of rolled up bits of tissue paper laying about the sand here and there. The state and faded color of the tissue paper told me that it had been tossed there at various times, like, a few days ago, a week ago, or whenever. Of course, one did not need to have the detective brain or imagination of Arthur Conan Doyle to see that my predecessors had used the area around where I was now camped to empty more than their bladders (defecated). With the help of my little army spade, I was able to cover up most of the paper, and what looked like the ruminants of human waste, with sand. "I was going to be one very unhappy camper if I discovered any new human contributions to on this part of the beach when I awoke in the morning," I mumbled to myself, wondering if it would not have been better just to up camp and move further down the beech. Then again, I only had myself to blame for the bad choice of places to make camp at. It was not the first time I goofed, and I had the funny feeling that it would not be the last.

When morning did come, I did not bother with boiling water for breakfast. Of course there was a quick dip in the sea to clean my unwashed body before getting back out on to the open road in the hope of making good progress. There was no sense of tranquility like many of the mornings when I started off alone on the road. Rather, a profound sense of escape. "Escape!" I mumbled to myself, as my mind tried to make sense of the word and the world from which it popped into my mind from. “Mmm! Escape from a restless night?” No, it was not that! “From the noisy campers further down the beach?” Then there was the noise from the road works that started up much earlier than it would in Tokyo. And when it did get going it made concentration near impossible.

Sometimes when things did not go as I had hoped them to, hinds of deep depression would set in, but I felt there was a deeper reason for this. I was not so sure of the reason for why I felt the way I did. There were so many possible answers, but nothing seemed for sure. Even if I was escaping for a while from my hectic, humdrum Tokyo lifestyle, or even from myself, as a psychologist might put it. The only positive thing I could get out of such moments, was that the crazy thoughts helped the boring hours shoot by. Whatever it was that I at times felt I was escaping from, it led me to move away from the main coastal roads in favor of the closed up or abandoned roads that ran even closer to the sea, for the peace and quite that went with them.

Author's Bio: 

I am a somewhat disorganized yet, coherent, tidy, clean, healthy and happy Irishman with few regrets. I have lived my life somewhat backwards (e.g. travelled, worked, educated, born, and reborn, etc, etc, etc). In general, my views and outlooks on life are quite open minded and liberal. I have a very good sense of humor and love the company of similar minded people. I am also a lover of hiking, long distance cycling, camping and large (American style) motorbikes, to name a few of my interests. These are all the more worthwhile when done with someone you are comfortable with. Right? When I have free time I just love getting away from Tokyo (on my bicycle or on my motorbike) to some relaxing and interesting place.

If that is not possible, then I love to talk to friends. I honestly don't know what friends say about me. I am sure they say so much, or at least they think about me, I hope so as I think about them. Ha! Or like Oscar Wilde once said: "The only thing worse in the world than being talked about is not being talked about". So true! On the whole, I think better of those people who talk directly to my face than behind my back.

What makes me happy is a sense of achievement in all things I set out to accomplish. I wonder if this also includes that thing we call 'love'? What makes me Upset or Frustrated? Stupid people -- racists, bigots, and warmongers, or even the blood and gore in war movies. On the other hand, I have so many favorite movies, or two that come to mind: 'Love is a Many Splendored Thing' (1955), staring Jennifer Jones and William Holden; and 'Roman Holiday' (1953), with the great Audrey Hepburn, not to forget Gregory Peck. Why I like this film so much is that the film is about prejudice and overcoming it regardless of the consequences. Of course, I think, why one likes a film so much is really in the eyes of the beholder.

My favorite music? I like many kinds of music. Perhaps classical is foremost among my favorites as it can be very relaxing and thought provoking. Also, movie theme music really brings memories flowing back to me -- times, people, places, etc. Oh how I long for those yesterdays again! As to my favorite animals, I like all animals, especially dogs. It is said that a man's best friend is his dog, right?