Irishman Walking is about my walking the coastal roads of Japan through a series of summer, winter, spring, and autumn stages. Stage 2 began in the city of Noshiro, Akita Prefecture in the winter of 2009, and ended in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata four weeks later in January 2010. Last 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. Then in winter Stage 9 started from Fukuoka and ended in Hiroshima City on the island of Honshu. The stage lasted for three weeks. Stage 10 is planned to start from Hiroshima this coming spring and will end in the city of Okayama in late-March 2013. The stage is planned to last for about two to three weeks.

31 Dec, 2009: It was a round seven o'clock when I pulled myself out from under my sleeping bag and under a pile of damp clothes. The rain had leaked in though the seams and kept me awake half the night mopping up; the fabric of the tent was now dry. “Mmm!” That was a good sign, I thought. Apart from the damp clothes, the dry breeze blowing in from the sea had removed just about all the evidence of the storm last night. Sleep had not been easy, but like previous nights, it was a hit and miss affair. What mattered now was getting ready again for the road. A hole was in the front of my tent to bury some rubbish, and needless to say, to take a dump (defecate) in, too. Then following a nice cup of hot tea, and an assortment of nuts with a little dried fruit for breakfast, I was once again tramping along Route 7 bound in the direction of Niigata.

Yesterday I had felt proud of myself; I had tramped the remaining few kilometers with a newfound spring in my step, despite the pains in my legs and feet. And now there was un-abounded joy in my heart, as I set off again in a mood of fervor, and if all went well enough it should remain confident. In fact, such was my confidence that I had little thought of even the weather being an obstacle. Then again, bad weather at one time or another held up all explorers and adventurers, for that was part of the job. On the whole, I would not say I as blessed with splendid weather, and at times so heavy was the rain, snow, and wind it was almost impossible for me to leave my tent, let alone travel at all.

The temperature gage on my little thermometer read 4 degrees Centigrade when I set off, though the sky remained heavy with low clouds for much of the day. From time to time snow flurries fell, but failed to make an impression on the surrounding landscape. My progress was slow, but steady. Soon I was passing out of the towns of Nikaho, and then Konoura, and then into Kisakata where lunchtime was knocking at my stomach walls. Or as the Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton wrote while on one of his Antarctic expeditions more than a hundred years ago: “The appetite of a man who has just come to camp after a five hours’ march in a low temperature is something that the ordinary individual at home would scarcely understand, and, indeed, the sledger himself has movements of surprise when, after finishing his ration, he feels just about as hungry as when he started.”

Across the way the glass doors of the Season Hotel stood invitingly ajar. A roadside advertisement just opposite the hotel told of food that could be had at a reasonable price, less than ¥1,000 yen. I made my way through the restaurant doors and over to a table where I set down by one of the windows. There was no need to look at the menu for long, as my mind was just about made up before I set down. Just as the bowl of shio ramen (noodles) and a cool bottle of beer had done the trick yesterday, so I ordered the same.

This time an attractive young waitress served me with a delightful warm presence about her. It was the kind of warmth that I had not been near for some years. That was way back in the good old days when I fell in love with the girl who generated such feelings like there was no tomorrow. Thought we have long ago parted, I still thought about her from time to time, especially tramping through some those giant tunnels in Hokkaido. Expressions of warmth toward someone almost always brought with it the desire for a closer relationship, of acceptance, and of course trust, which was so important. Sharing those warm feelings was a powerful tool for building and maintaining those close friendships. That said, however, it was an art in itself trying to verbalize such feelings to someone you were close to. Indeed, this all had nothing to do with the poor waitress, but it was a welcoming thing to sometimes cross paths with really nice people.

A good number of the houses and the towns I passed on my way seemed prosperous along this segment of road, if appearance was anything to go by. Then again, 'believe nothing of what you heard, and only half of what you saw', as the saying often reminded me. Even still, I could not help but notice that people at large were getting ready for the end of the yearend festivities. Many of them seemed to be scampering about doing their last minute shopping at the various shops and stores that were packed. At the larger stores creates and boxes of wines and beers were given the prime spots on the floor space close to the entrance.

At a good few of the houses I passed along the way I saw all ages of people entering them carrying bags, boxes, and whatnot from their cars. One middle-aged woman, perhaps the mother-in-law, was grinning from ear to ear as she directed an attractive young lady, perhaps the daughter-in-law, into through the open from door. The younger being loaded up to the chin with what looked like pre-cooked food. Just then thoughts of my own assignment of food supplies entered my mind, a dwindling assortment of nuts and dried fruit that I carried in my backpack. It was such sights that I envied, extended families, there for the New Year holidays to enjoy to the fullest.

In my heart I hoped someone would stop me and invite in to their warm homes to share their food and drink and company. But this was not Hokkaido where I discovered firsthand that such things actually did happen, if you were lucky. “Mmm!” I wondered if that was that because the average size of their houses, compared to other countries, was extremely small? Thus, only enough room for the extended family to come together. It was true, there were few house in Japan with a living rooms big enough to accommodate more than a few people. And the same was true for homes with yards or gardens big enough to have garden parties. But this was not Tokyo and many of the houses I passed were quite large. Therefore, I was not so sure and felt it was more a cultural thing, than the size of the houses.

Even if the space posed few problems, culturally, the Japanese drew a line between people they considered to be insiders (e.g., family, close friends), and those they considered to be outsiders. Work-collogue, for example, who came under this later category would seldom be invited to Japanese homes. Should an invitation be extended, however, much worry, confusion, and detail usually followed as to what and how to serve the guests. About ninety percent of the Japanese homes that I was invited to down through the years for one reason or another, there was usually some foreign connection. Either the host or the hostess was non-Japanese, or if they were Japanese, they had lived and worked overseas for an extensive period of time. A case in point was my friend Eiji-san and his wife, Emiko, who were kind enough to put me up at their home in Noshiro City in Akita for a couple of days before I began Stage 2 of my long mission around Japan. Both of them had lived and worked in America for close to a quarter of a century, and their daughter still lived there.

Like yesterday, my tramping had been hard but I felt good as I covered more than twenty-five kilometers. Also like yesterday, the snow failed miserably to take hold. At times I tramped through some short-lived snowstorms, but more of a pleasant surprise than annoying. The strong winds continued to make friends with my little well worn tent, which had just about had it as far as its usefulness. To me the wind was far from being friendly, especially when I stood outside my tent in the early hours trying to point Percy (urinate) in the direction of the horizon out over the sea. Just before my little bicycle clock that I carried in my pocket struck the big hour, the clouds broke apart to reveal the most glorious view of the moon and stars. Not only that, it was to be the last sight of the moon and stars that I was to get of 2009. Such was the beauty of the evening sky that if it had of been a Christian I might even have thanked God for that momentary flash. It felt so warming to my heart to watch the moonlight dance across the grassy fragments about camp.

Of course, I knew very little about the sky at anytime of the day, night or year, which was a shame since I loved to know what it was I was looking at. What I did know was that the sun was the nearest star to the Earth, at some ninety-three million miles away. Besides the sun, a lot of the brightest stars were much further away, and needed to be measured in terms of light years. To observe anything even further away, the astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope, which even if I was able to peek through, I still wound not know what the hell it was seeing. Such was the beauty of the evening sky that if it had of been a Christian I might even have thanked God for the way I felt at that moment. “Mmm!” If only I had someone with me now to enjoy the moment with. Then there were the shadows! It felt so warming to my heart to watch the moonlight dance across the grassy fragments about camp.

It felt good to be back inside the cramped but warn enclosure of my sleeping bag and tent and away for the smell. It was never easy to sleep when you were thirsty, so I reached over for the soft drink bottle that I got at a vending machine a while back and took a swig. Strangely I did not feel tired, still there was little for me to do now but to listen to the orchestra of sounds and non-sounds outside the tent. The sea beating against the rocky shoreline, the wind whistling through the little pinewood forest that stood nearby, and the flapping noise from the fabric of my tent. There was even the noise from the cars as they rushed along the road not fifty meters up above me. Last but not least, there was the gentle sound of the lead from my pencil upon the notebook paper, which also made a sound at the turn of the page. The there was the sound of my breathing, that everything seemed so much alive to me. Not alive in the harmony so important to the orchestra, but rather, from the different directions, separate and alone, the sounds all came together.

For years I was possessed with that great gift of speaking too soon, and almost with out thinking. In the night sky some ways across the black sea I heard another sound. It was an angry sound troubling to any natural orchestra performing outdoors. The thunder was unexpected! Last night too, the thunder and lightening was only half of it, the heaviest of winds and rains blew and fell relentlessly. Strangely, I felt good! There was still no sign of the rain in these final hours of the year. A few cups of inexpensive red wine and a few pages of Jack London's 'White Fang' seemed as good a way as any to see in the New Year, alone in my tent.

Classic novels like this one by London, and modern history were the only books I liked to read these days. Wine was far from being a modern history topic. Historians believed that it dated back as far as 6000 BC when fermented grapes were uncovered by accident in the Middle East. Like now, wine was produced by the fermenting of grapes, and home-grown wine’s eventually spread to places like to Greece, and Egypt, and then Italy, Spain and France, who exported some of the best wines in the world today. Soon my fast tiring mind now felt to be in harmony with my body as I turned the pages of the book. And with tired eyes, it was in the warmth of my sleeping bag that I saw in 2010.

1 Jan, 2010: When I awoke a thin patchy covering of snow lay about the ground. It must have fallen gently in the night, for I could not hear for the multitude of sounds that eventually rocked me to sleep. On the road was a different story. The flurries of snow that fell increased with the passing of time. Giant snow ploughs were in action now in both directions. Each time one slowly passed me by a small convoy of motorists would follow behind. On one occasion there was even a woman on a motor scooter going along the best she could at near walking speed. “Mmm” Surely it was only a matter of time before the poor woman took a tumble? I thought. I turned to watch her in her efforts until she had disappeared from view. It was hard to see far into the falling snow! It was good for her that she did not fall off her scooter in that time, perhaps for me, too. I thought about the women and about which of the two of us was the more ill equipped for being in the heavy snow that day.

My mind soon focused back on the road in front of me, for now I could hardly see in front of my nose. A wintery mist had begun to form and the crosswind whipped the snow up before it could settle upon the road. “Fucking hell! Was this a blizzard or a snowstorm that I was in?” I mumbled to myself, wishing that I could be somewhere else, like sitting comfortably in front of an open fire with my feet up. Snowstorms happened when very cold air collided with warm air that had risen suddenly. The air had been surprisingly warmer earlier, that I had even thought about stopping to do a little washing. Then a lot of heavy moist laden clouds had begun to form across the sky, which I knew to be important for snowstorms to occur. But there was also a strong wind mixed in with it all, and which kind of made it a blizzard. “Fuck it!” Nothing was more perplexing than not knowing what exactly it was you were experiencing.

Then there were a few periods when the snow would suddenly stop and the sun would break through the low heavy clouds. “Mmm!” Those were glorious moments! Every time this happened my psychological batteries felt as though they were recharged and I was ready to kick up dust, or rather, snow powder once more. However, such moments were so short-lived. Almost as suddenly as the clouds had opened up to let the sunshine through, they closed again. Then the wind and the snow came heavier than before. Looking back, I would never have imagined this morning’s gentle snowfall would become so hazardous as it was now. Often it was possible to tramp along the pavement for the snow that the wind and the snow ploughs had deposited there. At least the roads had the benefit of the snow ploughs.

On the road, I was able to make my way against the oncoming traffic the best I could. However, if there was one thing that annoyed me most of all it was having to tramp along roads where the traffic never let up in either direction. Most of the motorists, I was happy to see, kept well clear of me the best they could. Of course, there were a few who I thought that lacked intelligence or manners necessary for driving in such conditions. Or, God forbid, were under the influence of alcohol it being that seasonal time of the year. Whatever the reason, some drivers passed me by at great speed, and kicking up the snow as they went with barely inches between us. On the whole, it was not easy or necessary for me to think of anything nice or positive about the drivers on the roads, for the need to keep my wits about me.

There was nothing else that I could do but tramp along clumsily through the snow the best I could. At times the traffic became so heavy that I needed to stick as closely as I could to the hedges and twigs that poked out of the snow at the sides of the snow packed road. My body was well protected by the old clothing I wore and by the camping gear I carried. The ice covered twigs and branches at times raked across my red nose and cheeks, and left nasty little patterns of dirt and of red scratches. Even without the use of snowshoes, the longer I tramped the better I tramped. And in time I was better able to calculate the physical limitations on my body, and to measure with some accuracy the distances and times it took between the place names on the road signs that stood along the snow swept road.

The snow was falling now at a blinding pace. A few minutes earlier a short let up in the snow allowed me the chance to stop and check my position on one of my maps. The map was already well-worn and torn from the summer stage on the roads, with my old friend and companion, the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea), down along the Hokkaido and Aomori coastline. Perhaps because of its usefulness during this earlier stage, I had grown sentimentally attached to the map and decided to use it on this segment of my journey, too, at least one last time before finally having to replace it. Sadly, nothing lasted good lasted forever! Experience had taught me that stopping somewhere to await a lull in the bad weather was not always a good idea. It was during one such moment when I came so close to loosing my only map altogether. I had just spread the map out across the soft snow by the roadside to check a few things, when a freak crosswind kicked up from out of nowhere and whisked the thing up from the ground and into the air above about my head. Of course, my hands fought frantically to grasp hold of it but it was no good.

I watched in near horror and disbelief as my poor map now danced in and out of the traffic and then fly up into the air once more and across the road, Route 7. Hurrying across the road and in and out of the now slowly moving traffic, and through the snow again after the damn thing must have looked somewhat comical to the unsuspecting motorists. I felt tired! It was not easy as it was to tramp all day long, and leaden down by a weighty backpack dampened by the elements, and then to have to face this new problem. Running through a snowstorm of a blizzard or whatever it was, and with a load on my back, too, was utter madness. Such was my incoherent and frantic desperation to retrieve my loss at that time that even now I still did not know how an accident did not befall me. Whenever I looked back on it now, how foolish I must have been not caring about myself just because I needed that old map, as if it was irreplaceable.

Suddenly, my map came to a wind blown stop against the hand railings on a bridge spanning high above a set of railroad tracks. It would be on those tracks that I would board a train bound for Niigata City at the end of this stage (Stage 2) of my long and tiring mission. The place that I tentatively planned to call it quits until the spring stage would most likely be at Nezugaseki JR Station, which was according to my map near the boarder that separated Yamagata and Niigata Prefectures. Then there was a 100-meter dash to the bridge to retrieve the map before the wind whisked it up again, and God forbid, blow it down onto the tracks below where it would surely be out of reach and lost for good.

Darting into the falling snow and across a dangerous road between moving traffic was not for the faint hearted, for on the road one needed to be a little mad to get things done! However, my hasty effort did not quite workout the way I had hoped it would. Just as I got to within about one meter of the map, another wind kicked up. From its resting place, the map rose up into the air again and tumbled and tossed through the air and over the slow moving cars back to the other side of the road again from where it had come. Fortunately for me, the map did not go over the bridge, as I had feared it would. Now the wind slammed my map into the side of a snow-covered embankment where it lay flapping about as if in great pain.

At this point the traffic had greatly lessened and soon I too was across the road, and with a dive that Superman would have been proud to make, I hurled myself thought the air and landed on top of my well-travelled map. Then the wet and tattered old thing was quickly folded up and shoved back into my little shoulder bag where I kept my notebook and pencils. For any more damage to it would have to wait to be assessed later on. Now with the map safely secured, I turned to the road proper feeling annoyed with myself for my foolish carelessness, which could well have cost me not only the loss of my map.

Never in my life had I encountered anything of which to be really afraid of. Some of my friends in Belfast had, for example, got themselves wrapped up in 'the Troubles' big time, and as a result of their efforts spent much of their youthful years in the infamous Maze Prison, which was used to house paramilitary prisoners during the mid-70s to the mid-2000. Also called Long Kesh on the outskirts of Lisburn, the prison was built on the land there where a former Royal Air Force station used to be. In some ways my friends had played a prominent role Irish history, including the1981 hunger strike for which they had put their names down for selection. Though in some ways it was fortunate none of them were chosen. With strong signs of peace well in hand, the prison was finally shutdown in 2000 and demolition began soon afterwards on 30 October 2006, but was halted a few years later.

A good number of their friends even died in the Trouble’s for one reason or another. So many innocent people died in the thirty years of the conflict, which I guess was the darker side of the Republican and Unionist struggle during those times. Fate had played a hand in my own course in life. For the closest that I ever came to death was the result of a series motorbike crash on the Fulham Road in London. That was in the 1970s during the height of the Troubles in the North, the accident itself was not very far from Saint Stephan’s hospital where I spent a year. My elder brother Paul, who used to visit me in the hospital, was killed soon after I came out.

That too was the result of a motorbike accident that he had in Peterborough where he was on holiday with his lovely wife, Sally. They were married a little prior to my own accident. Not only that, the same priest who married them, also performed the funeral ceremony, all within the space of little more than a year. Therefore, as a result of shock of my brother’s death, and my own near death experience, what better thing was there left for me to do than to travel the world? I had been lucky in that I had never smoked or taken drugs beyond what came in the tea, in the coffee, or in the beer I drunk. However, all those exciting, interesting, and knowledgeable things that traveling had about it then it was a drug or sorts that I was hooked on.

The extent of the bombings and roadblocks had now gone from the streets and cities in the North. It was not uncommon for the young to seek out new aims and identity by going to one of the big institutions, like, Queen's University, Belfast or the University of Ulster. In many senses I guess I was fortunate not to have got caught up in the Trouble's at all. Of course, I knew what fear was, and from which it was made, but I did not need to volunteer for some life and death mission like my friends had done. Nor did I see my tramping about the world during those years of the Troubles in terms of danger, or anything to be afraid of. I was simply too busy moving from one country to another to know or care about the unknown, or to feel any fear for the excitement of being caught up in it, if there was such a thing.

Beyond being hit by a car crossing the road, there was no worry about some catastrophe thing waiting to happen, like a bullet or a bomb with my name on it. Tramping the roads seemed so natural to me, or kind of like ‘sex’ or ‘lust’ was to a young person, in a quaint sort of way. “Mmm!” No! It was even greater, I thought, as I made my way back up onto the road. Perhaps on par with that thing we call ‘love’. Tramping along the coastal roads kind of justified my existence in life, it was much bigger that any political or national cause.

Stopping to talk to people I had never met before in places I had never been to never fail to fuel my determination on the road. Tramping along the coastal roads for long periods in the day demanded discipline and obedience, and common sense. But on a few occasions even common sense told me that disobedience was sometimes necessary. This rule of thumb was important, for it told me to expect and be prepared for the unexpected. Like the times when I came across an old abandoned road with a sign posted telling me to keep out, and which I decided to use instead of the newer road, which often ran through a massive tunnel. The problems of trying to get though the freezing weather conditions were also a case in point. For the last five kilometers into Sekata I could barely see ten meters in front of my nose for the high wind and heavy snow that came at me from all directions.

Still my spirits had picked up greatly since the map happening some kilometers back. Perhaps because I was well aware of the fact that nothing lasted forever, good or bad. In short, if the miserable weather was not going to let up, the least I could do was to get my butt the hell out of it for a while, which I did. Soon I was sitting in front of the television in a warm hotel room waiting for the bath to fill up. The tiny plastic wrapping of the little plastic cup in the bathroom read, 'WASHED UP', which kind of summed up the state of my own condition after being out on the road in such atrocious weather. The college and university marathon relay race called ‘Ekiden’ in Japanese was on the television. The race had become part of the New Year, and was run from Otomachi in Tokyo to Hakone, and then back to Tokyo again, which was some 217.9 kilometers long. But all I could think about was the hot bath, which was now ready and how great the water felt as I stepped into the bathtub.

All through the night the wind and snow hammered against the window of my room as if calling me out to tramp just that bit more, the call of the wild. Not being able to sleep well, I began to feel confused and restless! I had hoped to rest well in a proper bed, too, but seemed unable to do so. “Mmm! Perhaps I should be out in the snow instead of in the warm hotel room.” I told myself. “After all, wasn’t that what my mission was all about, to experience everything, in all kinds of weather?” Then again, when I was outside in the snow more than my balls had become nearly frozen!

Outside was so cold in fact that I even worried about coming down with something like hypothermia. Hypothermia was when the body temperature dropped way below what was considered good for you. Being in icy water or out in the snow for too long were good enough reasons to feel worried. The symptoms I read could range from shivering, your skin turning unusually pale and cold, or even falling down. Irrational behavior or slurred speech was also clear signs that something was serious.

Planned or unplanned, I was game for most things. As a result of this gung-ho spirit of mine, it had been by sheer blundering that my mind was formed the way it was. My love for the outdoors did not exactly come as naturally as I would perhaps have preferred. Rather, it was something that I kind of fell into, more for want of something challenging to do with my humdrum lifestyle in Tokyo. In my heart I knew that this segment, or Stage Two, that had been mainly on the coastal roads, was nearing its end. And mainly because of the atrocious weather, this two-week long winter stint had really worn me down physically and mentally.

A glance through the open bathroom door at my tattered map spread out on the floor below the air conditioner to dry. “Mmm!” On the map I could make out the pen mark I made earlier, and which I knew represented the city of Tsuruoga, and where I thought might be as good place as any to rap things up at. Besides, time was also against me, and I needed to think about getting back to Tokyo to work. But it was no use trying to think further than that about anything now beyond sitting in the hot bath just a bit longer. Tsuruoka was the second largest city in Yamagata Prefecture after Yamagata City located on the coast of the Sea of Japan.

2 Jan, 2010: At eight-thirty the phone rang. It was from one of my friends in Tokyo. "How's the weather?" she asked me, in her voice sounded crisp, commanding, and always to the point. My friend always spoke to me like a boss spoke to a subordinate. Of course, I knew her character well enough not to mind. "I don't know! I'm still in bed half a sleep. Just a moment," I answered, dragging myself up on one elbow to open the curtains near the bed. "I couldn't make it out clearly from here, but I think a strong wind was still blowing the snow about on the ground way below. And the sky still looked pretty miserable." After I few more words about my plans and health the chat ended.

It had already been decided last night to stop one more day at the hotel, mainly to take a look about the attractive little city that had an estimated population of around 111,500, about half that of Belfast. From a historic high of around 400,000 prior to 1914, Belfast's population was on a gradual and persistent decline. And though currently stable, estimates for 2008 showed the population there to be almost 270,000. Japan’s population was declining, and the same was most noticeable when you got away from the big cities. The world had over 6.6 billion people, the population continued to grow, with most living in urban areas. The population in Japan was expected to decline from around 130 million to less and 117 million by 2025. There are more than a million temples in Japan; half of them seemed to be dotted about Sekata.

3 Jan: This morning the television reports on a lull in the snowy weather conditions raised my spirits. I decided to push on along the coastal road to see where it would take me by the end of the day. On the television the second day of the Hakone Ikiden marathon was under way. In a just a few minutes I would be under way, too, as I closed the door of room 603 behind me to take the elevator down to the hotel lobby to return the key.

My first sighting of the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea) came on Route 112 as I crossed over the Akagawa River. Just across the Sodeura Bridge that spanned the river stood a cafe called 'Afternoon Tea.' There I dropped my backpack at a wall by the entrance and made my way inside where I sat down at a table by one of the large windows. Most prominent among the items of the cafe's interior design were two wedding dresses. I learned from the attractive proprietor that perspective young couples would meet at the cafe to discuss their future plans together. Perhaps the wedding dresses on display helped the young couples to keep their minds focused. 'Young Love' as the words in the Bob Marley song went, came to mind. I also learned that the cafe was also used for other meetings and functions, such as, ikebana or flower arrangement groups. The bunch of fresh flowers in one of the corners must have been placed there for one of these groups.

From the menu I ordered a mixed pizza, a cup of coffee, and a bottle of beer to start with. For whatever reason, just about every place to eat at I visited since leaving Noshiro City served bottles of Asahi "Dry" beer. Regardless, a nice cool beer gave me the kick-start I needed before heading off again down the road. After leaving the Sekata Central Hotel this morning the weather had for the most part been rather good. The snow too was melting here and there, which did not exactly make my tramping easier. The sun was doing its best to break through the heavy clouds. Fortunately, the road was not so busy, which gave me the chance to keep my boots dry by tramping near the dry center where the road was free of snow and slush. Perhaps the motorists were still in their futons or beds sleeping off a heavy night of drinking and partying.

It was that time of the year! When motorist did pass me by in both directions, they seemed to respect my presence by either slowing down, or moving well clear of me, which kind of happy to see. Perhaps it was also that time in the year when people behaved more humane. At other times I got only long hard faces from the drivers or passengers when tramping down through, for example, much of Aomori and Akita prefectures. Therefore, I tended to refrain from looking at the drivers or passengers in the passing cars if I could help it.

Later on in the day there were a few tiny flutters of snow that fell, but nothing so bad as to write home about. One noticeable change in the elements came when I pulled into Yonohama, a nice touristic little seaside resort town. About that time a high wind blew in from the sea that would have whisked a grown man's feet from under him if he were not careful. It was my first real encounter with the my old friend the sea since leaving Sekata that morning, and quite a while since I last found myself having to face such a fierce wind, too. All the way along the coast as far as Yonohama, pine trees blocked out the sea from the road and buildings. No doubt during the day the pine trees had given me a fair bit of cover from the wind. Apart from a concrete wall that ran for some distance, there was nothing in sight to protect me when I left the town.

There was a traditional Irish blessing that went something like this:

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
The sunshine warm upon your face
The rains soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.

For the life of me, I could not recall a single time on the roads when the winds were ever behind my back. And the only time the roads rose up was to meet me, were the damn steep mountain passes I had to tramp across. In fact, the Japanese would just as soon go over a mountain as go around it. As for rain, there was nothing more irritating than having to tramp the roads in it. Fortunately for me, there were no sign of rain now, but with the passing hours the clouds ruled the aging sky, whilst wind blew steady. As I leant forward into the wind I could feel its power. At least it kept me from falling flat on my face as I made my way along the road, and now with some difficulty for the blisters in my feet. Perhaps in warmer conditions it might even have been considered a pleasant tramp. However, in this unpredictably cold weather, all I wanted to do was to get as many kilometers under my belt as possible, blisters or no blisters. Along the way towards Yonohama I passed through a couple of old towns of which the remnants of an earlier age could still be seen.

This was most noticeable in the form of roof tiles on the wooden houses, if not in the architectural design of the wooden buildings, which were rapidly disappearing across Japan. Of course, much had changed since the time I cycled around this country in the late-1970s, and then again in the mid-1980s. It was around the late-1970s, too, when Alan Booth made his epic walk from Cape Soya to Cape Sata. Besides the old wooden buildings, now long gone from the towns and cities that Booth and myself passed through years earlier, so too had large segments of the coastal roads disappeared and reclaimed by nature. The same could be said for many of the tunnels, now abandon. In the name of that thing called progress, new roads and longer tunnels had replaced all of the old ones.

When I arrived in the Yonohama it was easy to see that a large part of town’s economy came from tourism. As I made my way along the clean wind swept streets I passed as many, if not more, hotels and Japanese-style inns than actual family homes. The town was too busy with tourists for me to even consider making camp. “Mmm!” What the hell, it was too early anyway, I thought was I tried not to think about the pain in my feet. It was near the little town of Komo that I finally found a secluded little place to pitch my tent a way from the prying of any people. The place I choose to make camp was next to an empty building, which took the blunt of the crosswind blowing in from the sea. Though in reality, I think my tent received as much of the wind as the building, for it rattled the fabric all through the night that sleep came slowly, but gradually.

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?