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.

4 Jan, 2010: A couple of times in the late evening and early morning hours I stepped out from the warmth of my sleeping bag and tent and into the cold windy air. Such was the pressing urge to point Percy (penis) away from the sea for the wind, and to take a leak (to urinate) without making myself wetter than I was. Experience had taught me to read the wind and the sea like a book. Of course, even this was not perfect as on a number of occasions I would return to my tent wetter than when I had left it. This was not always because of a sudden change in the wind direction, or any misfiring on my part. But like the fool I found myself standing with my privates hanging caught up in a sudden downpour. And which would not be made any easier as it would usually be whipped up by the wind in the night, did not let up until I was well into my long tramp on some coastal road. Even in such dismal weather conditions which a lull in the rain, or a break in the clouds, the scenery was often quite breathtaking. After leaving Kamo I slowly made my way along the road towards Atsumi. Along my way I passed through a series of small tunnels, each of which reminded me of my journey through Hokkaido. These tunnels, however, were in no ways near as long or as testing to my brain as those that were constructed on that great northern island.

It was about three-thirty in the afternoon when I tramped into the town of Atsumi and stopped by at a seafood restaurant to have a late lunch. I recalled it being quite a large place as restaurants went, but was could not recall its name for the life of me. Being empty, it lacked the atmosphere of a place frequented by life. “Mmm!” What the fuck, I thought as I was hungry. So I propped my backpack up against a table in from of the television and set down. This proved to be a mistake! Well, at least as far as my poor eardrums were concerned. It was some kind of a comedy program with a series of not very famous Japanese standup comedians, each going through their different routines one after another. The comedians were allotted no more than a few minutes of airtime to perform their skit. Nothing appeared outrageously authentic. For each skit consisted of the usual straight guy next to the equally ridicules sidekick scenario. Each time, the performing pairs would rattle on and on and on, and in a language that spat out words like machinegun bullets.

The unbelievable speed where the words and on social topics that my brain was unable to comprehend with any clarity. Such were their performances that I dare say that even God almighty did little better. The there was the nonstop laughter from the audience, who seemed to be having a time of their lives. Soon I could feel the blearing noise from the television was beginning to wage war on my already exhausted nerves. It was near impossible to turn my mind away from the annoying continuous rattle of the comedians and the almost nonstop laughter of the television audience in order to focus my mind on getting some of my thoughts of the day into my notebook. For some reason thoughts of the dreaded Chinese tortures I once read about in the Judge Dee series of stories years earlier entered my mind. “Mmm!” If only the main character in those stories was here now to turn that damn television set off, how grateful I would be, I thought.

By four o'clock I still had not even begun to think about a place to pitch my tent for the evening. The land around was very wet, though why I was not exactly sure. Had there been a downpour in my absence? Or perhaps it was from the melted snow? Why not, since the temperature had proved to be milder than usual. On previous evenings whenever I would wind down after a long day of tramping along the roads, the wind would have dried vast areas of the surrounding grassland. Then, too, snow would have all but vanished. When I did find a good place to make camp, a heavy downpour, or even snowfall, would soon follow. Though fortunately I would be already safe inside the pitched tent looking over my maps or writing some thoughts into my notebook. Such as it was, when things became wet, it made getting back up onto the road in the mornings much more time consuming. Not the best ways to begin a long hard day! Whenever the ground was wet from the rain or from the melting snow, it was equally hard to stop for a rest once I did get going. For only a mad man would sit his weary butt done in the wet. Besides, it was a good excuse to kick up as many kilometers in as short a time as possible. Usually there was on other alternative!

As luck had it, I would sometimes come across a dry shelter when I badly needed to. This might be at a bus stop hut with a lengthy bench inside of it to stretch out on. Tonight I was pleased to note in my notebook that such luck did show its face, this time in the form of a wooden framed structure with a roof, but no walls. It was the kind of place where people might stop at to picnic or rest. Though come to think of it though, there was no wooden table in the center. Either way, it was the kind of thing you might find in a large park or tourist resort, or where ever. All that I could thing of just then was that I was happy to find it, for the rain had begun to fall once again and I was no longer feeling sure about my well-worn tent anymore. Besides, the damn thing was still soaked through from the heavy downpour the other night, and now lay draped over the railings of the wooden structure for whatever good that would do.

My eyes and feet were tired, so it was good to climb into my sleeping bag, which was insolated by the bivvy bag covering for extra warmth. Soon everything was spread out on top of the dry wooden bench and ready to climb into. It would be the second real time for me to use the bivvy bag, and with a strong crosswind coming in from the sea it was a good chance to see how it performed. Surely it could not do any worse than the tent, which had let me down in recent times. The weather had been absolutely miserable most of my time on the roads with downpour after downpour, and often accompanied by a strong wind. Which meant there was no escape from getting wet. Or ‘saturated’ for want of a better word! The evenings were little different. As usual I would hope that the wind and the rain would not come, at least until I fell into a deep sleep. But I knew from experience not to take anything for granted, especially when it came to guessing the weather forecast. On those days when the elements spared me their wreath, sleep would come easily.

Last summer when I tramped along the Hokkaido, Aomori, and Akita coastline I would stop to chat with just about everybody I met along the way. However, I felt on this winter stage of my mission (from Akita to Yamagata Prefecture) that most of the people I came across on the roads to be a bit standoffish. Whether this was as much my fault as their fault, or the way the miserable elements played tricks on a person’s mind, I had no idea. Even on those cold wet times in Hokkaido I could still recall the warm friendly smile and attitude of the people, which drew me to them. It was not until I left Hokkaido to make my way into Aomori that I came into contact with some of the most miserable of people I have ever met in Japan.

In fact, all the way from Nakita City to Tappi Zaki, not to mention the places in between, to be precise that I run into some miserable sods (characters). Besides such characters, even the strong wind blowing in from the sea was one hell of a miserable experience, especially the sleep lost in the evenings when I was unsure if you tent would hold or break.

Another annoying experience was the police! Earlier on in the day I watched as one police car passed me by slowly. Then a couple of hundred meters up ahead it stopped and waited for me to draw near. As I got nearer I could clearly see out of the corner of my eye two policemen sitting motionless in it. They looked similar to the famous and infamous characterture dummies on display at Madam Toussouds in London that hordes of tourists flocked to see. Founded by wax sculptor Marie Tussauda in the 1830s, Madam Toussouds was a wax museum and major tourist attraction in London, with a number of branches in other major cities. Here the waxworks of historical and royal figures could be viewed. Also those of famous film and sports stars, including wax works of infamous murderers were on display.

The front of the car pointed square on at the passing traffic along Route 7. Of course, I could not help but wonder, as I passed the car if they were of two minds, either to stop me for questioning, or not. As it turned out, I passed by without incident or interview. Likewise, I was equally careful not to betray my lack of interest in them with the faintest of stares nor cares, but continued along my way like nothing happened. Indeed nothing really did happen, but I was relieved to see that soon they were out of sight, and mind. Later on in the evening, as I lay shut up in the sleeping bag, I thought about the two policemen again. I felt that perhaps they were just doing their job. But I had no idea why they bothered at all to stop where they did to observe me as I passed. Was it because they had nothing better to do? Nor was I sure of the kind of crime that was committed in this part of Japan. Breaking into houses? Did I look so suspicious to the police? Perhaps the head office told them to keep an eye on me.

After a short time the rain stopped and the evening sky began to clear. It was the first time on my entire winter tramp that the stars sparkled down on me ever so majestically. The strong winds that blew most evenings had also died down to a mere breeze that was barely felt. Therefore, I was able to deal with the cold night air that remained. For once, there seemed little sign of rain or snow was about to happen again. Even the ground around where I planned to spend the night seemed to be drying before my very eyes, as was my tent. To keep your sleeping bag dry with a Bivvy bag was a must when sleeping outdoors under the stars. This was especially important when it came to down bags, for the moisture dramatically affected their performance whenever the down got damp or wet.

It was the second time that I was to use the bivvy bag since buying it for this winter tramp. The first time was soon after leaving Noshiro during one extremely cold night in the tent. But before the night was over, I soon had to peel it from me for the condensation that had built up and nearly saturated down sleeping bag inside of it. That made the sleeping bag much too damp for comfort. That experience had made me wonder if the ¥13,000 yen that the bivvy bag had set me back was a bad investment. I had bought the bivvy bag on the advice of an acquaintance, and who had sworn blind to its importance when camping out in the snow.

This time, with a cool dry breeze in the air, I decided to sleep out under the stars and use the thing a second time just to see how it performed. I really hoped it would! Perhaps last time the condensation was a result of my own incompetence, like, shutting myself up completely inside it, and with little ventilation for my body to breathe properly, what was there to be expected? This time, too, I would be more careful to keep my nose and mouth exposed to the cool outside air. My wet clothes and the rest of the camping stuff were firmly tied over the railings for fear the wind might pick up in the night and blow everything away. Also, the rain that fell on the previous night had drenched just about everything. So it would be of interest to me to see how quickly the stuff dried in the cool evening breeze. Once the stuff was secured, I climbed into my sleeping bag and bivvy bag that enveloped it.

For the first hour or so I felt warm and comfortable as I lay listening to the sound of the rolling sea not fifty meters away. Sleep did not come easily, for a slight increase from the breeze on my cheeks kept my mind alert. From where I lay I could make out the dark tree branches swaying back and forth, more than they had done an hour earlier. Baring the increase in the breeze the evening had been for the most part wind free. “Mmm!” Was that the calm before the storm, I wondered, as I turned onto one side? It was during this tossing and turning of sleeplessness that I unintentional felt the bivvy bag's interior. As before, the unwelcomed watery result had reappeared. “Fuck it! Condensation!”

In less than five minutes the tent, which was now nice and dry, was erected on the cold concrete floor of the structure. A ground mat was rolled out along the inside of the tent. On it I placed the damp sleeping bag and crawled into it. Outside from the confines of my tent I could hear the bivvy bag fluttering in the wind. It was tied to the railing turned inside out to dry. The tent had always been my home on the roads, and was now grown accustomed to it, and felt comfortable in my own little sense of space. It was a welcoming warm sense on a cold windy night after a long day of tramping the wind, rain, sleet, or snow. So exhausted would I be that even on those nights when I felt hungry sleep still came easily. Then in the mornings after a good rest the hunger pings evaporated enough until I came upon a place at which I could buy something to eat. Of course, there was the occasional evening when the warmth and comforts of my sleeping bag and tent failed to entice anything in the way of sleep. Those sleepless hours often brought with them a sense of loneliness, where even losing myself in a good book became impossible. “Mmm!” This thought depressed me further since books tended to be my place of refuge. On the whole I only had myself to blame, I had chosen to be here, pursuing something that was dear to me, walking around Japan. To quote John Steinbeck (East of Eden), “All great and precious things are lonely.” Then again, you could feel alone in the company of other people. Even life in a metropolis like Tokyo could be a lonely place to be in, too. Fortunately, tonight was not one of those nights, and soon I slipped into another world, a world of dreams.

On the previous evening an icy rain fell relentlessly upon my tent. It lasted right into the early morning hours. The importance of getting a good sleep was not just to replenish the body, but to keep out negative thoughts, too. But when sleep did not come so readily, such negative thoughts were sure to. "Rain, rain, rain! What am I doing here? This was not even my country! Why on earth did I put myself into this fucking position?" Then there would be other thoughts of giving up my mission and returning home. Perhaps if I had drunk too much red wine or beer, or had consumed too much coffee at a Starbucks coffee shop somewhere, then, I could easily blame such thoughts on the alcohol or the caffeine. “After all, they were depressants, weren’t they?” I told myself, not feeling any better for it. Even the busy chaotic lifestyle I led in Tokyo had softened me up somewhat. There was nothing to do but wait snug inside of my sleeping bag and just hope the miserable elements would pass over by morning. By eight o'clock in the morning a steady rain still fell. Nine o'clock came and went and ten would have come and gone, too, if I had not finally decided to make a move and hit the road proper.

Sleep had been rather hit and run, but now I didn’t want to wait for the rain to stop while drifting in and out of sleep anymore. Benjamin Franklin was known to frequently wake up in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep. World leader like Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Napoleon Bonaparte got little sleep. Ernest Hemingway would stay awake for days at a time so as to write, after which he would conk out for a whole day or longer. Regular naps were said to have aided the surrealist painter Salvador Dali’s creative energy. Leonardo Da Vinci took twenty-minute naps every three hours, and stayed awake night and day for the rest of the time. Albert Einstein claimed that he was not able to function on less than ten hours of sleep a night. The French mathematician, Abraham de Moiré reportedly slept around twenty hours a day in his old age. There were countless stories on all kinds of sleep patterns that all kinds of people had.

If it happened to people driving their cars, then wasn’t it logical that it would happen to someone walking? Those who suffered from narcolepsy tended to fall asleep for only a few minutes at anytime it struck. “Mmm!” There had been a good few times when I was really tired, but could not sleep at all. Therefore, I wondered that in a safe environment, wouldn’t narcolepsy a blessing? Perhaps the jury was still out on the benefits of that uncontrollable sleep disorder. Of course, narcolepsy could be dangerous to those who suffered from it. Narcoleptic drivers could cause trouble to others, beside themselves, on the roads. To make matters worse, the causes of this uncontrollable sleep disorder were not exactly clear, though perhaps genetic, a head injury from an accident was one factor. It was believed that one in every thousand people suffered from it.

Of course, I was well aware about the importance of what sleep meant to me. With all the moving and thinking I did on the roads a good sound sleep was necessary in more ways than one. It was during sleep that allowed the muscles in my body to relax. I read somewhere that the breathing slowed down and the beating of the heart decreased, too. A good sound sleep had a lot of influence on how I reacted to those everyday things that I faced, and even my attitude with other people I met. On the road I just loved to stop and chat to just about anyone, whilst as the day wore on and I began to feel the strain of the long day out under the elements, I was less inclined to stop for anything. In fact, the brain never really completely shut down when people slept (e.g., dreaming). Scientists were unsure about the real value of dreams to us, and even the workings of the brain were not fully understood either.

Sleep or no sleep, I needed to look at things more positively regardless of the weather conditions. Neither did I care to wait for it to stop, to hell with the rain, for it was all part of the adventure. Besides, how much worse things would be if it were not for the trees about the area. The tress absorbed a lot of rainwater. Therefore, if they were cut down, there would be nothing left to soak up the rainwater or hold the soil in place. When floods occurred, the soil, homes, and even people could be washed away. Nepal was prone to flooding. Not just because of glacial outbursts, but by cutting down the trees for firewood. When the rains came the soil was simply washed away, which made it impossible for the people living there to grow food. One of the risks for floods in countries like Nepal was a glacial lake outburst. As far back as the mid-nineteenth century the receding of mountain glaciers had proven to be one of the most reliable evidences of the changing global climate worldwide. Whenever the glaciers retreated, ice dams were formed. These dams were comparatively weak and could breach without notice discharging massive volumes of water and debris hundreds of kilometers downstream causing catastrophic damage to anything that lay in its path.

Looking at the elements as positively as my mind would let me, it was fuel for my book. So to was the unwanted interest in me by the police that I had run into from time to time. That said, it was time to put those on the shelf and see the as part of the past. After all, I needed to look towards a brighter future, wherever that might take me. In the not too distant future I needed to begin drawing up plans for the next stage of my mission. Stage 3 would have to start at Nezugaseki, where this stage was on the verge of coming to an end. As I lay in my tent toying with the future, a big part of me told me that what matter most was the present. There was still some distance to go and I needed to get up on to the road again and notch up what kilometers I could before the day’s end. When you were on the road, other thoughts tended to occupy the mind, like food. The thoughts about stopping somewhere to eat something cheered me up, and soon even the rain failed to bother me.

5 Jan, 2010: The coming of daylight dispelled any concerns I had dreamt about waking up in a blinding snowstorm. The wind in from the sea was 10 degrees centigrade, according to my trusty sidekick in Tokyo told me on the phone a little earlier. My friend lent me the pocket phone just prior to my leaving Tokyo. The rain in the night was now down graded to a light drizzle, and which began to letup as I rolled up the wet camping gear. The lull in the rain also told me it was time to get away as quickly as possible in case the weather deteriorated again.

It was a lot easier to deal with miserable weather on the road, than it was trying to decamp when it fell. The thin canvas floor of the tent remained cold throughout the night, no thanks to the concrete floor it set on. This was another reason I put down to my having a near sleepless night. Like the bivvy bag I had bought earlier, the aircushion I picked up for additional insulation on this winter tramp had fallen short of great expectations, or ‘useless’ for want of a better word. A number of times in the night I found myself needing to blow some air into the damn thing, only to gave it up as a bad job. I suspected a puncture had occurred somewhere, somehow.

As if I did not have enough stuff already crammed into the backpack, the added and annoying fact was that I had to lug the damn useless thing about with me. Hence, I was not a happy camper! There was good reason not to dump it altogether, like I sometimes did with the old T-shirts or socks that had become caked with sweat through the course of the day. Nor was I inclined to post the aircushion back to my place in Tokyo do deal with later, for fear that it would get damaged more, or even lost. As soon as I got back to Tokyo, I certainly planned to take the thing back to the outdoor store I bought it at so as to present my case. It was not as if I could simply wrap up my journey there and then and return to Tokyo. Like it or lump it, I was stuck with the useless thing for the duration of my journey. The only thing I could do was to try not to think about it.

While on the road heading towards Nezugaseki I came upon a little bakery-cum coffee shop. The shop was called 'Daigu'. It was as good a place as any to stop at for a short rest, and to get a few personal things in order. There over a hot cup of coffee I was able to get some of my thoughts down into my notebook. Because of my hurry to up camp and get away I did not bother to dig into my meager supply, so at the bakery I decided to look over the array of pastries. The two pastries that I settle on, Noeru and Yakireigo, turned out to be delicious and reasonably priced at ¥158 yen each. The coffee was self service and, unfortunately, came in a paper cup for just ¥105 yen. Being a coffee lover much more than having a sweet tooth, its quality could by no means be compared with that of the pastries that were excellent. The poor service, which surprised me a little, I found to be a bit on the coldish hard-faced side. And quite on par with that I had experienced on countless visits to cafes and restaurants in England. Then again, I was not overly surprised to expect such poor service in this segment of my journey.

Nezugaseki was to mark the end of Stage Two of my long tramp down along the coastal roads. There were three reasons for this! One, I was fast running out of time and needed to get back to Tokyo where work awaited me. Then there were the deteriorating weather conditions, which I found literally depressing, the regular reports I got from some trusty friends in Tokyo. Finally, I was scheduled to meet a friend at a hotel in Niigata where we planned to spend a couple of days looking about the city together. As much as I wanted to, there was no way I could get there on foot in the remaining time that I had left. The only thing to do was to wrap up this stage of my mission in Nezugaseki, and take the train to Niigata.

The tramp from Atsumi to Nezugaseki must have been the most testing stretch of road on the entire winter tramp thus far. If the intermittent rain was not testing enough, the angry sea had to be considered, too. The huge waves smashed with gusto against the roadside and sprayed huge volumes of water over it. There a good few times when I needed to time my steps to escape being drenched. Not from any fear of getting washed into the sea, but for being drenched by it in a single sweep would have made things even more uncomfortable. The relentless wind, too, hammered into me from all sides and angles, including from behind. A most exhausting experience to say the least!

So heavy had the rain and wind got that it was a blessing to duck into a bus stop hut on the north side of Koiwagawa Overpass for a while. After a quick straightening out of my load for better balance, a glance out the door told me that there was going to be no let up in the weather anytime soon. The spray of water over the road from the sea continued to make its presence felt. My body temperature was fast cooling down from the rest, but also for the wet clothes I wore. Cooling down was easy, but warming up again was easier said than done. There was little else for me to do other than to shoulder my stuff again and get back on the road and face everything that the elements could hurl at me. At least, the blood would start pumping up some warmth again.

On the whole, calling it quits in Nezugaseki was not as smooth as I had hoped. For the strong winds that whipped into me all morning long and made the tramp from Atsumi to the train station at Nezugaseki just about unbearable. Not only that, the miserable weather had one last evil trick up its sleeve. Most of the trains from Sakata to Murakami were halted because of the strong crosswinds, which rendered the train time schedule that hung on the station wall useless. There were three people in the waiting room at Nezugaseki JR Station when I got there: a stocky built boy in a high school uniform, and a rather shy young girl whom I suspected to be around junior high school age. One other person was a rather outwardly nervous looking chap, and for some reason or another his presence caused me think of two words, ‘village’ and ‘idiot’.

The chap occupied himself with moving back and forth from one wall to the next, and did little of anything but to lean against them. This he repeatedly did until a train finally arrived, and without once taking his eyes of the ceiling. Whatever the actual meaning of this behavior was, which I took to be a rather extraordinary to say the least, only God or the chap’s psychologist knew! For my own part, the only wall that I was interested in was the one that had a clock on it. The hands on the clock read one o'clock sharp. With nothing mush else to do, I dropped the backpack down against a bench next to the entrance to rest my sorrowful butt.

The station was devoid of staff, so I walked over to where the high school student was standing to see what he knew about the trains. He told me that because of the strong winds the trains were running on a skeleton service. “Mmm!” To make matters worse, however, he told me also that the southbound trains for Murakame might even be cancelled, but was not entirely sure. In the best Japanese that I could muster up, I then asked the boy if he knew when the next train for Niigata was, and from which platform might it leave from? Needless to say, he did not know the answer to either of my questions. At least there was a chance that they were running, I told myself as I thanked the boy and returned to the bench to sit down.

Of course, none of this information was certain, which did not help me any either, but I was positive that something might happen. Then there was an element of anger in me for feeling a bit confused, and for the absence of any station staff to verify things proper. Or like the Clash song went, ‘should I stay or should I go now.’ “Mmm!” Feeling in two minds at what to do, I set on the bench and took out some maps to try and make some kind of sense about my situation. My mind was in no mood even to write in my notebook. Then I even remembered trying not to think about the notebook I lost towards the end of the previous stage of my mission, as it was not easy to stay positive without some kind of a fight.

At last a local train bound north for Sakata pulled into the station and stopped. The three waiting passengers got on it, and soon they were gone. Leaving my backpack where it was, I walked across the snow-covered road and headed down what seemed to be the main shopping drag in this rather quite little town. This was in the hope that some sort of positive information on trains or buses could be had. After a few minutes of setting out from the station I stood in a shop that sold beer and other alcoholic drinks. Like myself, the shopkeeper had no idea as to whether the trains were operating to a skeleton service or not, or even if they were running at all. It was reassuring at least to see that the shop had large bottles of Sapporo beer in stock. Picking a bottle up, I had the shopkeeper pop the cap off for me, and made my way back to the station waiting room where I could at least enjoy the beer out of the cold in peace.

No sooner had I set down on one to the plastic chairs and lifted the bottle to my lips when a local southbound train pulled into the station and stopped at the platform furthest from the waiting room. "Fucking hell! Wasn't that my train?" I mumbled to myself, while almost dropping the bottle on the floor as I stood up. I grabbed my stuff up as quickly as I could, full beer bottle and all, and made a dash from the waiting train. Fortunately, there was not a single living sole on the northbound platform to obstruct me as I dashed along one of the platforms and up the steps. I sprinted as fast as I could two steps at a time, across the ramp that linked the two platforms and down the other side. Just as I reached the steps leading down the southbound platform an automatic whistle sounded, and the doors of the train closed and pulled slowly away from the station before my very eyes.

“Fuck it!” This was really the last straw! I was furious with myself and with the lack of information available to me. “Fuck it, fuck it, and fuck it again!” I shouted not caring who heard me, knowing well that no one but my sorrowful self was there anyway! “This was one fucking unmitigated disaster!” I swore again, this time under my breath. It was bad enough with the absent station staff, let alone some helpful locals to put me right, but to watch the train that I should be on pull into the station, and then out again all in the space of what seemed like seconds was more than I could bear. Normally I would just tell myself that shit happened and it was all part of being on the road, but I did not want to do that now either. Just two passengers got off that train, and I had watched them leave the station and get into waiting cars. They had glared at me as I rushed past them carrying my battered backpack under one arm, with the maps and the bottle of beer under the other. I must have looked a sight for sore eyes to them.

Of course, I could only imagine at how strange I must have looked as I rushed past them. I could feel their eyes on me, and surely they must have noticed the train pulling away without me onboard. After all, it was not every day the Japanese in this part of the country saw a dirty, sweaty, smelly, and hairy 'gaijin' (foreigner) rush past them for dear life. Not to mention being loaded down with all of my possessions, including the bottle of beer that spilt out on the steps as I legged it up them. For myself, I did not give a damn about how I looked or what I carried. There was only one thing on my mind at that time and that was to catch that damn train. Oh how I could remember it all quite clearly now, as I scribbled everything down into my notebook. Things could not have been worse. Being just half way down the steps, in full view of the train doors sliding shut, and them to stand there on the platform and watch the southbound train pullout of the station, was one hell of a way to wrap up this stage of my mission.

It took a lot of effort to try and put a positive spin on that moment of missing the train. “Mmm!” If one train came and went, then surely it was logical that another one would be along sooner or later, I tried to tell myself, and all that I had to do was to wait. And so it was there on ‘Platform 3’ at Nezugaseki JR Station that I waited, and waited, and waited in the cold, but no southbound trains came. For the next three hours that I waited there, I walked about the platform to keep warm. Like a fool, I did not want to return to the warmth of the waiting room again, as it was not possible to get from there to the platform in time to catch a train should one roll in. I was also beginning to feel like the 'village idiot'. In the time I waited, two goods trains sped past, heading in both directions.

At long last a voice could be heard over a loud speaker above the platform announcing, in Japanese that "no more trains would be running, because of the strong crosswinds." It was not the first time that I had heard the message, which had been given out more than an hour earlier. However, my brain had been preoccupied with thinking about various other things at that time and I failed to comprehend the message properly. And which no doubt, I felt, added to my stupidity. The voice informed me that a special bus bound for Murakami JR Station had been called into service and would arrive at the station at four thirty-eight. From there the trains bound for Niigata and beyond were unaffected by the weather. Murakami was only half way to Niigata, but it was better than getting nowhere. Already the dark had arrived and the rain, which had stopped for the entire time I waited for a train to arrive, now began to fall. At last the bus arrived and I got on it and planted my butt down a seat at the front.

It was then that I learned from the driver that I would have little trouble of getting a train to Niigata, where I would meet my friend. I did not care much about that now, for any further trouble would matter little considering the way my day had gone already. The bus journey was slow and steady, and stopped at every single train station along the line. There it picked up a few other stranded village idiots, but not so many. It felt good to get to the station were I bought a ticket at made my way, without much trouble, to a crowded platform. The train bound for Niigata pulled away from Murakami JR Station at five-thirty sharp. Only this time with my weary butt safely planted on one of its seats. At last when it was understood that I would make it to Niigata by tonight, I gave a call to my friend, to see about booking me a room. In no time at all a room at the Dormy Inn in the center of the city was arranged.

All that my mind could think about now was climbing into a hot bath; beyond which little else seemed to matter much anymore, for this last day of Stage 2 had been a real bummer. I felt ever stupid at how the final day of tramping the coastal roads had turned out the hardest. The shortest distance had been covered, the longest time had been wasted waiting, and last but not least, I had been on the slowest bus ride ever in my life. I could honestly say that of all the previous days on the road, this one proved the most exhausting. Short of the day calumniating in near disaster, I could have tramped all the way to Murakami considering the time I chose to wait in Nezugasaki for a train that never materialized. To add salt to the wounds, it turned out to be a day that was free of rain, if not wind. If anyone asked me what troubles did I have on my long winter tramp, I would simply say that I had but two, the rain and the police. I would be too embarrassed to tell them about my hours of waiting in the quite little town of Nezugaseki and missing the train.

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?