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. 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 later. Stage 9 started at 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 two weeks.

22 March, 2010: A light snow began to fall at exactly nine in the morning as I was leaving the nature park. Ever since I awoke this morning the sky was heavily covered with clouds, but appeared bright all the same. A bright sky never failed to make me feel cheerful. The surrounding area, too, was rich with the sound of birds in the trees. It truly was a tiny nature reserve, sadly gone to pot, which I tried not to dwell much on, for keeping a positive mindset for the road ahead was more important.

A giant statue took my mind momentarily away from the busy and dusty Route 113. It was easy to see that it was some kind of grand religious monument. I could not help but think of the money, planning, and time that must have gone into erecting the massive thing must have come to one hell of a sum. Surprisingly, considering what the statute must have cost, other buildings and much of the grounds in which everything stood appeared quite rundown and uncared for.

When I did finally chance upon a post office along the road the damn place was closed. In fact, just about everything was closed for some reason, the shops, the restaurants, and the businesses. "Mmm!" I was not feeling happy, and had no idea why all the places I passed were closed. Not until some hours later on the roads that I discovered from someone I stopped to chat with that today was a public holiday. It was a time when the Japanese stopped what they were doing and visited their family grave. The 22 March was also the 'Day After Spring Equinox', not that either of these times meant anything to me. I had no family graves to tender to and did not care what the day was as long as the weather was favorable. Of course, this included access to food and water, or beer.

“Mmm!” I wondered if it was a public holiday? Why not, there were fifteen nationally recognized public holidays in Japan. With the sort of luck that I had experienced in recent times, then today was probably one of them. Public holidays in Japan came into being after the passing of the Public Holiday Law of 1948 (since amended). The law stated that when a national holiday came on a Sunday, then the following day, Monday, would become a public holiday. Once upon a time before the use of the Gregorian calendar in 1873, public holidays in Japan were based on the traditional Chinese calendar. This meant that New Year's Day was, for example, celebrated at the beginning of spring, like present (in March). The people continued to celebrate the New Year in modern China, in Korea, and in Vietnam. That said, I still had no idea what public holiday it was, or if it was one at all.

About this time I was not feeling very happy, and had no idea why all the places I passed were closed. Not until some hours later on the roads that I discovered from someone I stopped to chat with that today was a public holiday. It was a time when the Japanese stopped what they were doing and visited their family grave. The 22 March was also the 'Day After Spring Equinox', not that either of these times meant anything to me. I had no family graves to tender to and did not care what the day was as long as the weather was favorable. Of course, this included access to food and water, or beer. "Mmm!" Just then I thought of the nice wheaten bread sandwiches I would sometimes make at my place in Tokyo.

On those lazy days when I would sit down to a cheese and onion or ham and tomato sandwich, of course with a cup of tea or coffee, too. That was the life! Then again, I read somewhere that wheat-based foods like bread, bagels, and muffins, even cereals, like muesli, which I loved, contained a lot of amylopectin-A, which could cause higher blood sugar levels than most other carbohydrate source-based foods on the market today. The researchers in the article believed that the higher than average blood sugar level in the body, the faster the body aged. As with accelerated aging, wheat-based foods might even be linked to an increased risk of getting cancer.

People were advised to reduce, if not eliminate wheat-based foods in their diet. Aging was another area that the study covered! Foods believed to contribute to people aging faster were corn-based foods: corn cereal, corn oil, corn syrup, corn chips, and the like. As with wheat-based foods, corn-based foods had a large impact on blood sugar levels, thus, the reduction or elimination of them was much advised. It went without saying that your body would likely thank you for reducing or avoiding corn-based foods altogether.

In recent years I had got into the habit of brushing my teeth after almost every time I ate. Brushing the teeth was something people did almost automatically, especially in the mornings when they got up and in the evenings again before they went to sleep. Some scientists voiced the opinion that it should be done more regularly. More regularly! I was never quite sure what that meant. Did they mean after meals or just before every chance a person got? Then again, why was brushing the teeth so dammed important anyway? Was that what stopped them from falling out? Teeth were nothing but trouble from the moment you got them as a child to the moment you died, if they had not already fallen out first. Then there was cost of visiting a dentist, which was not to be laughed at.

Whenever I looked at pictures of Hollywood stars smiling I often wondered what on earth had they done to their teeth? They usually had a set of choppers that looked like piano keys. I knew that brushing the teeth had something to do with removing plaque that built up on the teeth, which led to cavities and tooth decay, and all that kind of horrible stuff. Still, I had the feeling that just brushing the teeth was not enough to protect them. I used to have a friend you was always flossing the areas in between the teeth because it helped to reduce the tartar, another mineral deposit that led to decay. For me, I still held to the view that people needed to be more careful about what sort of junky food they ate, like, ice cream.

Perhaps the intake of sugar or sugary foods, like candy, sugary desserts, ice cream, and cereals, were the most obvious of foods to avoid. Not just because of the damage sugar did to the teeth, or even an increased waistline, which my grandmother used to hammer into me donkey’s years ago, but also the age-accelerating effects. According to researchers, keep in mind that some starchy foods: white rice, oatmeal, and white potatoes, etc., could also have significant impacts on the blood sugar level, and thereby increase the aging of the body. Also, all kinds of vegetable oils, such as, soybean, corn, cottonseed and canola oils, etc., had long been thought of as being healthy. However, by the time these oils reached the supermarket shelves they had undergone a lot of oxidation changes that could damage the cell membranes in your body. In turn, this could lead to any number of health problems, like, heart disease, not to mention accelerate the aging process.

On the road however, any kind of food would have done me well enough regardless. Food was the fuel for tramping the roads. So it came as a nice surprise to find a couple of restaurants opened for business in the little town of Seiro. At last I settled on a bright looking place to eat at called 'Tawaraya', which I was happy to see sold a variety of dishes that I could stomach. On the wall just as I entered the place a large menu fixed to the wall above the kitchen area showed appetizing looking photos of the different mouthwatering dishes. And at reasonable prices written in bold print below each picture. Of course, it did not take me long to decide that the chicken katsu teshoku looked as though it would do the trick, oily or not. After the ¥500 yen coin was put onto a machine next to the counter, I set down to wait for the food to come. However, I was disheartened to learn that the restaurant did not sell beer, not even a can of that non-alcoholic concoction.

Along Route 113, somewhere between Seiro and Niigata City, or perhaps closer to Niigata than not, I began to get the impression that I had indeed taken a wrong turning, again. The road no longer ran by the sea like it did on my maps. Instead bent inland through a large industrial area, which of course was not mentioned on my maps. The area reminded me of the many dismal looking little factories on the edges of Tokyo, important to the once thriving economy. And with the state of things at the moment, many of those little factories had long since breathed their last breath.

The whole focus of my mission was to use the roads that ran along the coastline, or as close to it as possible. Whenever I did take a wrong turning, which I was now getting quite good at, it was never easy to get back on track as it involved taking one turning after another. This did not make things any easier, for each turn and bend in the road that I took usually could be felt on the mind and body. With kilometer after kilometer and often along tedious stretches of road, almost always resulted in bouts of depression. Getting lost could also dash any harboring thoughts of making camp early.

It had just gone six o'clock when I finally was in a position to decide on a place to erect my tent. As good a place as any, the camp was located on the doorstep, and only twenty meters away from the main road, where I should have been all along. “Mmm!” I was on the right track again, but now it was good to make camp. I thought. It should see me with an easy, if not an early start in the morning. All that I could thing of now was getting some shuteye. The noise from the passing cars and trucks could be heard, but I was too tired to care, the distance and time had seen to that. Even the mesmerizing sound of the rolling waves, which I adored, was beyond me now. In other words, I was in no mood even to enjoy that moment with the sea and with a cup of red wine, which I tended to like to do once I got settled down for the evening.

Exposure to loud noise could be harmful to ones health: stress, insomnia, headaches, and of course damage to the hearing, too. The noise from anything could not have bothered me much now, or perhaps I was too worn out to be bothered. And now with the tent erected I just wanted to crawl into my sleeping bag and close my eyes. Outside I could hear the sound of footsteps and the hurried sniffing of a dog. It was not the first time people had walked their dogs past my tent. I loved dogs! “Mmm!” Then again, I wondered if their dogs were anything like my dog, and would lift its leg anywhere it could.

If you were unlucky enough to live on or close to a main road then the noise could be quite unbearable. In Tokyo the noise was more consistent than excessively loud. From inside my apartment in Tokyo, for example, I would consider myself lucky if I could hear the birds singing outside. Even with the windows open in the summer months I really needed to strain the eardrums to hear the chirp, chirp, chirp sound of insects. One big difference between the summers in Ireland and the summers in Japan was the abundance of cicadas in the trees.

In Japan, the unique sound of the cicadas started from mid-July and lasted until early-September. If there were plenty of trees nearby then tough luck, for cicadas singing in chorus could be quite unnerving. However, if there were few or no trees growing nearby, then even the unique sound of the cicadas could not be heard, which could be termed as good. With the absence of quality trees the same could be said for the wind blowing through the branches. On a good day I still had to filter through the relentless traffic noise from construction sites, sirens from ambulances and police cars, to hear anything that nature had to offer.

The unwanted noise might be avoided if I moved to a more rural location well away from Tokyo. Then again, I was not so sure one could really escape from it: carbine harvesters, chainsaws, snowmobiles, and off-road four-wheel drive vehicles, and so forth. “Mmm!” Apart from some remote uninhabited island, I wondered if there really existed a place in the world that was completely free of manmade sound, even the distant noise of an airplane flying over?

Low in the sky, or certainly not that far above my tent, I could even hear the cranking sound of the wheels of an airplane being lowered. For some hours good number of airplanes took off and landed at the airport nearby. The noise of the engines proved constant until sometime before ten o’clock when last of the planes landed. They were not all jet powered either! The sound of a propeller plane’s engines when passing overhead had something melancholy about them. Also, the shape of the propeller, was actually first pioneered by the Wright brothers more than a hundred years ago. The original propeller blades compared with their modern equivalent, had gone though little change in that time.

The twisted airfoil shape of propellers used on modern aircraft today was often attached to the crankshaft of a piston engine just like on those early prop-planes. As I lay in my tent thinking about the airplanes passing overhead, I also remembered the times when my father sometimes took us for a drive. That was on the odd Sunday when the sun ruled supreme. If the drives were not down to Newry, or across the border to Dundalk or to Drogheda in the Free State, as people called the South in those days, then it was to Aldergrove Airport to watch the airplanes coming and going. Although the airport was now called Belfast International Airport, many people still referred to it by its old name.

There was another civil airport, named in 2006 after that great footballer, George Best (1946-2005). The George Best Belfast City Airport was located in the dockland area of Belfast, not far from where the ship Titanic left on her maiden voyage. Of course, back in the 1960s Aldergrove Airport was nothing like as busy as it was today. Apart from a few little Tridents, which were mainly used for the West European routes, there were not so many jet-powered aircraft that used the airport when I was a child. Still, even way back in those days there was a steady flow of BOAC and Aer Lingus flights, etc., which came and went, mainly to and from destinations in England and Europe.

Because of its large airport, Aldergrove was upgraded to the main civil airport in the North in 1963, and was officially opened by the Queen Mother in that year. It was around that time when we used to visit the airport. In 1966, around the time our drives to the airport ceased, the first regular jet flights to London-Gatwick had begun. Then two years later in 1968, services were introduced to places like Glasgow-Prestwick and to New York, via Shannon in the South.

We could even watch the passengers disembark and hang about waiting for their luggage. How I used to gawk at them with awe and envy through the wired fence that ran for some length. Either way, the bigger the plane looked, the more excited my young mind became. "Luck at at‘in Da', fo’er props." (Look at that one dad, four propellers). “Ay! It’s a big‘in.” My father would reply, as he lay on the grass enjoying the sun on his face, a tiny portable radio close to his ear. Of course, I do not think he got much rest with three noisy kids jumping up and down every time an airplane took off or landed. And how I well recalled the blinding sunshine that bounced off the painted sides of the aircraft as they landed.

Although I had used Aldergrove Airport many times since those long gone days, I had not set foot at the much nearer George Best Belfast City Airport, named after that great Belfast boy, or “Georgie” as many of us used to call him. Thinking of where I was when the ‘Belfast Boy’ died, caused me to wonder where all the time had gone? If only it was possible to stop Father Time, or to slow it down for a while! Just then it dawned on me that perhaps a snapshot or two of the passing planes above might be a good idea, at least for my notes, but I soon discovered that even this was not possible. “Fuck it!” The camera battery was dead after just four days of use, and not so constant at that.

In an attempt to turn my thoughts away from the aircraft of the present and the past, I tried to think about the coming meeting with my friend. I wondered about different things one after another. If a double room at the Dormy Inn had been booked without too much trouble, as it was located right in the center of the city. “Mmm!” Surely there was no problem as it was the middle of the week, I thought. The Niigata Sake-no-Jin or Niigata Sake Festival, which was the largest sake event to celebrate Niigata Sake, had ended more that a week ago, so the hotels should not be so busy.

As far as I knew, there were no other events in the city, otherwise my friend would have said something. “Mmm!” Then I thought about how nice it would be to sit in a hot bath for a while, while my clothes were being washed in a washing machine at the hotel. Of course, I thought about recharging the camera batteries, and checking up on any e-mails at a computer in the hotel lobby. Most of all, I looked forward to just spending sometime with my friend, but when that was, nothing had been worked out between us yet.

23 March, 2010: It was good that the traffic had lessoned along Route 113 for much of the night, to mention the aircraft in the sky had ceased to let me get what unhindered rest I could. By morning however, it all started up again, as I glanced at my pocket watch, which read eight-fifteen. "Mmm!” Quite slack for the morning rush hour I thought, as I pulled myself out off the sleeping bag. The main road was not so busy when compared to other big city approaches. As for the sky, the planes had still not taken to the air yet, but I did not know why that was. “Mmm!” There must have been some deal between the airport and the residents, I mumbled to myself.

Because of the distant location of the Belfast International Airport, which operated twenty-four hours a day, all year round it was not subject to any noise abatement procedures, environmental constraints, nor airspace limitations. No matter how I looked at, propeller of jet aircraft noise was really noise pollution. Thank god they stopped flying at around eight in the evening, and still had not taken to the air, but this was Japan and business was business, so I expected them any minute now. Like the roads, the air transport was all part of what kept the economic clock ticking. As far as I knew, the propeller planes were not so noisy, at least not in the same screeching way the jet planes were.

On the weather front, I climbed out from my sleeping bag to a miserable overcast sky. It was never easy to keep a positive mindset when such a dull and threatening sky hung over you. God knew how many times I had experienced the wrath of the dismal skies over Belfast and London. Because of both countries geographic locations at the western seaboard of Eurasia, atmospheric conditions ranged between a moist maritime to a dry continental air. This in turn led to unstable weather, or even different kinds of weather occurring on any given day, hence the Englishman’s constant association with an umbrella. In a big way, the weather I had experienced on the roads had been ‘unstable’, for want of a better word.

Just as I was contemplating the weight of the weather on my nerves for a couple of seconds, I also thought about two people who had me passed by earlier on foot, a young man and then an elderly chap. Last night the young man glanced over at me as I set by my tent kicking my boots off. Actually, I was about to pop open a can of beer at that time, but waited until he had passed. The other was an elderly chap out for an early morning stroll. He did not seem to notice me, though I believe he had, for the Japanese saw everything even when they pretended not to. He kept his eyes fixed in front of him as me walked along. There was not even an ohayo gozai masu (good morning) greeting.

Back in Tokyo there would never be such a thing between strangers, but on the roads a simple greetings of some sort was common. The last few hours before leaving for Sato Island were restless, I hardly slept, and when I did I awoke feeling more exhausted that had I not rested at all. Often preparing for some new adventure strained my nervous system. I strongly believed that my tramp around Sato would be my Shangri-La on this trip, or at least I hoped so. Boredom came easy to me, even the fours on the road had its fair share of uneventful flatness.

Even the road signs often gave confusing signals. Like, one arrow pointed left for Niigata JR Station, and another pointed straight for Niigata Airport. My maps were contradictory to the road signs, which did not help any. My maps did not have the left or right arrows or the turns that the road signs had. Often the maps showed that the same road led straight to where I wanted to go to without left of right turns. In this case, the road that I now stood on went right into Niigata City Centre, which suited me just dandy, or so my maps told me. Sometimes I would get frustrated at which was the best or shortest route to follow.

The maps were not very good at this! To some dismay my maps even had the airport at different locations, which caused my blood pressure to go up a few notches. One map had the airport south of the Agano Gawa River, whilst the other showed it to be just north of the river. So I was never really exactly sure just where I was, even though I did recall crossing a couple of large rivers yesterday, that did not help me any either. ‘A bad workman blamed his mistakes on his tools’, as the saying went. It did no good trying to blame the road signs, or the maps, or tiredness as reasons for being lax about recording everything of importance. Whenever I cycled around Japan many years ago I did not have a map to my name, or much of anything then not even a tent come to think of it.

Just as my mind was working overtime, the elderly chap who had sauntered past my tent twenty minters earlier, returned. When I saw him go past me earlier as if I did not exist, I thought for a moment that perhaps he did not know what to say or make of a strange foreigner squatting there outside the tent. Perhaps my sudden appearance had knocked him off balance, and needed sometime to think. This time however he did not go past like before, but stopped and ambled over towards my tent. "Weren't you cold last night?" he asked me in Japanese. My eyes had followed him all the way as he made his way towards me.

With a smile, I told him that I was not cold at all, and had actually slept rather well. Of course, I thanked the man for asking me, and anticipating a series of the usual sore of questions to follow, I quickly produced a folded up photocopy of my trusty little newspaper article from between the pages of the Jenkins book that I was reading and gave it to him. The elderly chap appeared contented with this and started off along his way reading it as he went.

As I had thought a little earlier, the prop-planes were in the sky again. It was time to pack up everything and hit the road proper. How beautiful they appeared moving slowly under the young sun. Every time one of the prop-planes crossed overhead, momentary thoughts of being in another world ran through my mind again. For me all kinds of little things and happenings could trigger thoughts about people and places long gone, for me the sound that the prop-planes made was one of them.

The sky hung heavily over me and with every step I made towards the city center, needless to say, it threatened to rain. But the clouds were not that low, and in a little while the facades of Niigata were clearly in view now. Having hit the road without eating anything for breakfast, the hunger pings also made an appearance. From a window at a McDonald's, I stopped in at I could make out a large auto place called 'Yellow Hat'. From its roof hung a number of famous signs: Yokohama, Bridgestone, and Dunlop, and others. Dunlop was the name that my battered old tent supported, but other than that I was unsure of the connection, since the company that John Boyd Dunlop (1840–1921) started up was more famous for rubber tires than producing tents. Located between the Yellow Hat auto store and the McDonald's stood a 'Sukiya', an inexpensive beef bowl chain restaurant that I sometimes frequented back in Tokyo.

To my left I could see another store called 'Sports Depo'. On either side of the store there were a series of smaller and lesser-known shops, all open for business. A glance back a little ways from where I had just come from I could see a Mos Burger and Coco's family restaurant. “Mmm!” Just then I though that if only I had of seen the Mos Burger joint first, but the damage was done, I had already ordered something to eat. All of the stores, shops, restaurants, car dealers, and banks, and a host of other businesses that would have taken me much too long to have noted, were all within a stones throw of one another. "Yes! Niigata was near!" I told myself.

To me many of the shops looked bright and new. "But where were all the customers?" Even the roads were not as overly as busy as might be expected on a Monday morning, especially on a main road into and out off a city the size of Niigata. When I left McDonald’s I turned onto the road towards the city proper, and as I went along, the shops and stores took on a more depressed appearance, faded, dull or simply boarded up. “Mmm! The tell tail signs of recession!” I told myself not caring one way or another.

24 March, 2010: It was the twenty-forth of March, 2010, and about time, as I was urging to get across to Sado, ‘The Mother of All Japan” as the tourist brochure I had in my pocket read. When I was planning this stage of my mission back in Tokyo I thought I would give Sado a miss since in was not one of the main islands. However, on the road I somehow felt that I would regret it later if I did, to get so close and not even stop to give the little island a peek. My backpack was just about packed and ready to move out. Of course, a few food supplies, too, were prepared, as I knew not what to expect once I got the ferry over. Now dried fruit, cashew nuts and walnuts were stuffed into little bags securely fastened to the outside of my backpack the night before.

The cashews, like, most tree nuts, were a good source of antioxidants. Alkyl phenols. This was abundant in cashew nuts. Cashews were a great source for dietary trace minerals, iron and zinc, and copper. Walnuts were one of a number of high nutrient density foods. According to the Internet, 100 grams of walnuts contained 65.2 grams of fat, 6.7 grams of dietary fiber, and 15.2 grams of protein. What more could you want? In other words, the protein from a few walnuts provided my body with all of the essential amino acids that I needed.

Now dried fruit, cashew nuts and walnuts were stuffed into little bags securely fastened to the outside of my backpack the night before. The cashews, like, most tree nuts, were a good source of antioxidants. Alkyl phenols. This was abundant in cashew nuts. Cashews were a great source for dietary trace minerals, iron and zinc, and copper. Walnuts were one of a number of high nutrient density foods. According to the Internet, 100 grams of walnuts contained 65.2 grams of fat, 6.7 grams of dietary fiber, and 15.2 grams of protein. What more could you want? In other words, the protein from a few walnuts provided my body with all of the essential amino acids that I needed.

Besides being very healthy, one great thing about keeping a bag of dried fruit and nuts at the ready, they fitted the bill when it came to fixing those troubling hunger pings, and without needing to stop on the road where valuable time could be wasted. An assortment of dried fruit and nuts were not exactly cheap to buy. And when you did load up on them, they were not exactly light to carry either, especially the nuts. One reason why cashew nuts cost so much to buy in Tokyo was that they were handpicked from trees in tropical places close to the Equator, or on special farms in India. The Indian cashew nuts tended to be smaller and harder, which did not influence the prices of them in Japan.

The largest cashews on the market came form Brazil where they often grew in the wild. Thanks to the Internet, I learnt that the cashew nuts English name derived from the Portuguese name ‘caju’, the fruit that grew on the cashew tree. Originally, the cashew apples and nuts came from northeastern Brazil. “Tropical places? Mmm! Was that why the were so expensive?” I wondered. It was not so difficult to prepare my own dried fruit. The Internet was full of do-it-yourself sites, and making your own dried fruit was among them. Heavy or not, making my own supply of dried fruit might solve a few problems, too. Like saving money and time!

Talking about saving money and time, there were a couple of policy changes that caught my eye since my last stay at a Dormy Inn (in Otaru). Unlike at the Dormy Inn I stopped at in Otaru, this one in Niigata had a thirty-minute timeslot for guests who wished to have breakfast at the hotel: 6:30-7:00, 7:00-7:30,7:30-8:00, 8:00-8:30. 8:30-9:00, 9:00-9:30. 9:30-10:00,10:00-10:30; for the honor of selecting from one of these breakfast times, I was given a buffet breakfast ticket at a cost of ¥1,000 yen. Not cheap! If I was not mistaken, when I stopped at the Dormy Inn in Otaru, breakfast was included in the room price. Still, not wishing to grumble too much, I chose the "7:30-8:00" slot since I hoped to board the nine thirty-five-morning Sado Island ferry. It also left me with enough time to get all of my things packed and ready in the morning before checkout. A brisk walk in the fresh morning air should see me at the ferry in good time, I hoped. A clerk at the counter told me that it was a thirty-minute walk from the hotel to the port where the ferry was docked.

In the morning when I went down to the restaurant on the second floor for breakfast I was amazed to see so many people there. “Mmm! Why?” I wondered, thinking that I could not have chosen a worst time. Then I thought that perhaps I should have waited a while longer, or watched the high school baseball on the television for a bit. It was by no means the holiday season or weekend when the hotels would be busy. The hustle and bustle of hotel guests lined up at the different buffet counters to pile up the tiny plates with all kinds healthy and not so healthy breakfast dishes: baked salmon, rice, pickles, fried eggs, omelet, bacon, sausages, plain yoghurt, slices of fruit, orange juice, coffee, tea, and milk. I do not recall a Japanese breakfast without natto, a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans. Nattō at breakfast time was especially popular in the eastern regions of the country, which included Hokkaido, Tōhoku, and Kanto. One thing that I noticed was that many of the guests really piled up the dishes as if it was the last time they would ever eat again on this planet.

At first I thought that the ‘breakfast-timeslot’ to be a rather silly system or idea, but perhaps without it things would have resembled Shinjuku JR train station at rush hour time. Many of the men were clad in business suits, and most seemed to be in a great hurry. Perhaps they had to hurry off to their jobs, or to some pressing business engagement, or to catch a train, or fly or drive to some other part of the country. Whatever the reasons, most grabbed what they wanted from the buffet counters, and carry their loaded trays to their tables and stuff it down their throats well within the prescribed time. The table I sat down at was just by the entrance, where I was able to observe everything. And likewise, just about every single guest would take a little glance at be as they hurried out of the restaurant.

Even though I was somewhat pushed for time myself, I still felt having to finish your breakfast within a thirty minute slot a ludicrous idea. I thought that eating was something to be enjoyed, not hurried. Breakfast was said to be the most important meal of the day! Right? This was especially true as far as young children were concerned, growing bodies and brain cells, and so forth. After all, the children where the future! A regular intake of food was necessary for everyone. That said, I would question the value of junk food was for anybody? In short, kipping breakfast often meant going without anything to eat for a good part of the working day. This could lead to intellectual and behavioral problems, not to mention physical drawbacks, too. In other words, a good breakfast could mean the difference between going to school or work, to being absent because of some illness, beyond the Monday blues.

Everyone at the hotel appeared to be in a hurry to get to one place or another, or to quote Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), ‘time is money’. It was as if they were trying to save time by stuffing the food into their faces as quickly as they could so as to get away. The Japanese were not the most elegant of eaters anyway. The way they stuffed the food into their gullets or slurped down the bowls of hot noodles, would shock any newly arrived tourist.

At university I remembered the way many of the fellow students regularly skipped breakfast in the interest of getting that extra longer time in bed. Many of the female students snubbed breakfast it to save on calories, when in fact skipping it actually made weight control more difficult. For myself, I loved those early mornings when I set down to enjoy a nutritious meal, which I knew did me good health-wise, and time-wise in the long run. At least it put me in a better position to face the day.

Certainly I thought a good wholesome breakfast, after a good sleep, recharged both the brain and the body, and it made me all the more efficient at note taking during the countless lectures we had to do way back then. For those among us who could cook, a good breakfast did not have to take time or be complicated to prepare, but simple like milk over cereal, or in my case it had to have a cup of hot tea or coffee along with it. To me a hearty breakfast was more valuable than a few extra minutes of sleep.

On my travels in other countries, I found that university cafeterias were great places to stop by at to get a bite to eat, and a lot less costly than restaurants. That said, I was not so sure about Japanese universities, a good few of which I had passed on my travels. There was the University of Niigata, and the International University near the Niigata City by the Nihon Kai (Japan Sea). “Mmm! Was possible for an outsider like me to just stroll in off the street to see what food there was on offer?” I thought. “If the chance and times were good then why not give it a try?”

Eating breakfast at hotels could bring the gluten out of anyone. I too was guilty of loading up my tray with as it saved me the trouble of returning to the buffet tables for seconds. Of course, there was no limit on the amount of visits a guest could make to the buffet tables. Likewise, most of the other guests grabbed what they could in just one visit, too. After all, the world might end tomorrow! On the whole, the whole thirty-minute timeslot thing might have been better suited for school outings or Boy Scout jamborees, or even in the military or in prisons. But for hard working (and walking), tax paying adults like myself it was a bit too much to stomach. Time in general passed much too quickly as it was, and therefore it should be used to the fullest. Loaded up tray or not, thirty minutes was much too short a time to relax and fully enjoy breakfast. It did not make writing in my notebook any easier neither.

As I left the hotel restaurant the clock on the wall turned eight sharp. Hurried breakfast or not, I felt as full up as a sumo wrestler, or as well fueled up for the road as I could be. The next party of guests was already standing at the continuously replenished buffet tables, taking up where the last lot left of. Back up on the elevator to my room, Room 606, I changed as quickly as I could into my walking gear. In less than five minutes I was out the door again with my backpack in place and heading down to the lobby to hand in the keycard. Before hitting the road, I sat down at one of the personal computers to check up on some e-mails. It was eight-thirty sharp when I finally left the hotel and headed for the port. From door to door the walk would take about thirty minutes. Once at the ferry terminal I purchased a one-way second-class ticket to Sado Island for ¥2,320 yen.

Ten minutes later I stood on the deck of a Sado Kisen Car Ferry bound for Ryotsu Port. I could not recall exactly when I last stood on the deck of a ship in Japanese waters. But I vaguely recalled sailing on a ship from Kagoshima to Okinawa in 1980, more than thirty years ago. Back in those days the voyage took exactly twenty-four hours from port to port. For me it was like a slow boat to the other ends of the world, and one hell of a boring journey. The ship, if I recalled correctly sailed out of Kagoshima late in the evening, and everything onboard was closed or off limits to the other passengers.

Just about everyone on board smoked incessantly. Then again, perhaps it was just as good a way as any to occupy the nerves on such a tedious voyage. The big problem was, they all lit up at the same time, which did not help my own nerves any. Also, I was the only foreign passenger, and a nonsmoker at that. As to the state of things onboard that Kagoshima-Okinawa ship, it was not what I would have recalled shipshape. The crewmembers were so unfriendly and more interested in sitting about in a group playing cards, shogi, and smoking than they were in the welfare of the fee-paying passengers. And with all the shops and restaurant closed there was absolutely nowhere to get food or drink.

On the other hand, the ferry that I stood on bound for Sado Island was a very different kettle of fish. The cleanliness onboard and the crew and staff were both professional and very polite. Of course, they were neatly clad in the appropriate uniforms and working clothes. The morning weather reports on the television were favorable, at least for the first day out on the coastal roads. In the following days I would cover all 210 kilometers of them to be precise, although at the time I still had not done my homework on the actual size of the island. Nor was I sure of what kind of an island Sado was.

The tourist brochure told me that the island was Japan’s most precious gem, and that the country’s true natural treasures, traditions, art and history awaited me in some shape or form. If it was really true, like the brochure informed me, I would be able to explore this natural beauty untouched by modern development. Great! However, a disclaimer on the brochure that caught my eye, advised me to use the map at my own discretion. “We accept no responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, or inconvenience sustained by anyone using this map. Rates, admissions, costs, and events are subject to change at the discretion of service providers or event organizers.” I also read that there were a good number of campsites available on the island, “during a seasonable period.” Of course, the rates and facilities varied at each of the sites, but I had no intention of stopping at any of them, so it did not matter what they charged.

The ferry moved forward and went on steadily in a sideways motion then gaining its own speed, soon we were out on the high sea. For a while I stood on deck and watched the disappearing shoreline astern. Some people on deck were competing to win the hearts of the maddening seagulls that fought amongst themselves, to get at the tiny piece of bread in her outstretched hand. All I wanted to do now was to sleep a while, and if I could not do that, then to picture the ferry crossing over a gray sea and under an even grayer sky. With a wave and a good bye to the sea gulls I pulled open the door. Onboard the near empty ferry to Ryotsu Port I met a middle-aged lady who told me that her name was Nazuko, and that she was an elementary school teacher in Nagoya. She was on a trip from there to Sato with a group of her sixth form pupils. We did not talk very much, since our minds were focused on more pressing issues and concerns.

The seagulls were clearly having a field day as the ferry moved away from the jetty in a steady sideways motion, the speed increased with the passing minutes and soon we were out on the high sea. For a while I stood on the deck and watched the disappearing shoreline astern. A woman a little ways from where I stood on the deck, was doing her best to win the hearts of the maddening seagulls that fought amongst themselves to get at the tiny pieces of bread in her outstretched hand. The seagulls were having a field day as the ferry moved away from the jetty in a steady sideways motion, the speed increased with the passing minutes and soon we were out on the high sea. For a while I stood on the deck and watched the disappearing shoreline astern.

A woman a little ways from where I stood on the deck, was doing her best to win the hearts of the maddening seagulls that fought amongst themselves to get at the tiny pieces of bread in her outstretched hand. I read from a Sado island tourist brochure that I had picked up at the port feeding seagulls on the Sado Kisen Ferry was a playful way to pass the time on the crossing. To paraphrase the brochure, those interested should get some snack chips or crackers and head to the stern, were many sea-going birds could be seen chasing the ferry, or the snacks, all the way across the Sado Strait. And, if were extra lucky, a pod of dolphins could also be observed. There were no dolphins that day, or a least I did not see any. All I wanted to do now was to sleep a while, and if I could not do that, then to imagine about how well things would go on the road after the crossing.

Already the calm gray sea under an angry looking grayer sky proved to be not so encouraging. The weather conditions were my biggest concern during my time on the island. With a wave and a good bye to the sea gulls I pulled open the door and entered. Onboard the near empty ferry to Ryotsu Port I got to talk to a middle-aged lady who told me that her name was Nazuko, and that she was an elementary school teacher in Nagoya. She was on a school trip to Sado with a group of sixth form pupils. Sadly, we were not able to talk very much, since our minds were focused on more pressing issues and concerns, for her the students, and for me to get my butt wound the island with the least trouble.

However, before leaving me to go and checkup on her charges, whom I felt sure were having an enjoyable time kicking about somewhere on the ferry as healthy children did when left to their own devices for any amount of time, I slipped her a copy of my only claim to fame, the newspaper article telling of my walk around Japan. Glancing over it quickly, as teachers tended to do, she said: "Sugoi!" or ‘Great’ in English. I was also up front about taking a snapshot of her and asking her to take one of me, clad in the appropriate sea crossing attire.

As I had expected, like on all modern and well-run passenger ships, a general shop could be found in the lobby, and manned by and attractive young girl at the counter. With a quick look though a series of magazines and books on a stand by the wall I picked up the only book published in English. It was Ryokan-sama written by Some Gyofu and translated into English by Shoichi Ono and Paul Riley. I already had with me the Jenkins book to read in my tent in the evenings, but being in Niigata prefecture or Echigo as it was once called in the Reverend Ryokan's day, another one would not hurt. "Mmm!" To hell with the extra weight, I thought the little book would be an enlightening purchase at just ¥500 yen. And so now I had two books in my backpack, I felt sure it would be worth the added weight.

Soon the ferry turned towards the port and the other passengers made their way down below to their vehicles, there were not many on foot. Each year a tug-of-war competition was held in the port area, as well as, the Onidaiko and Mikoshi festivals. For some reason they were held in the evenings. It did not take long for the ferry to dock and soon I was on my way north out from Ryotsu Port towards Cape Hajikizaki seemed no different than other parts of Japan I had tramped through.

Soon the road took me through a 414-meter long tunnel, and I wondered about what others there might be along the way. On the edges of Ryotsu I stopped to chat for a while to an elderly chap leaning against a wall near the roadside. He told me that he had paused to take a little breather from a stroll he liked to take after eating. After an exchange of greetings and names, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Reiji-sense spoke English rather well. He told me that he had been a French language teacher, but was now retired. “Mmm!” Perhaps he was in his mid-70s, I thought as I adjusted the straps on my backpack.

In the course of our little chat I told Reiji-sense that when students we had to study French or Spanish the two required foreign languages. In fact the language was selected for us as it depended on what class we were in. Being in Class 1A, which was deemed the brainy class at a secondary school that I attended on the Antrim Road on Belfast, I had to study French. Our gentle French language teacher, a fellow Irishman, had failed miserably to get me to perform. Accordingly, French was deemed to be an impossible language for me, and soon I found myself transferred into a less intelligent class, Class 1C. In the new class Spanish was taught by a tall, handsome Spaniard, who turned out to be one hell of a strict son of a bitch if ever there was one.

Not that I was altogether thick (stupid), rather I found my secondary school life disappointing, and felt much apathy, if not unrest during those years. Schooling was just one big psychological flop. Even the years at university proved to lack influence in my working life. When I looked back over those early school years, I did not do very well at any of my other subjects either, and if my lack of interest in school learning was a result of my fractured family history. So perhaps it was as much my fault as it was the teachers. Not that I could recall anything much good to say about any of them!

Regardless of the efforts of that harsh Spanish teacher, who regularly did his best to beat the Spanish language into me with a leather strap, which he kept handy on a shelf nearby. Still, I never understood which made him the more angry: the countless mistakes I made on the homework he gave us, or the times I failed to hand in homework at all. For most of the other kids in the class, one or two whacks across the tips of the fingers was enough, for the leather strap had a few marbles sown into it for added effect.

That was all such along time ago, and even though I had travelled through both France and Spain, I told Reiji-sense, with some shame, that I was unable to utter a single intelligent sentence in either language. Because of my father’s job, I did not last an academic year at that school in Belfast, and soon we were all carted across the Irish Sea on the Larne to Stranraer ferry where we settled in London, for a while anyway.

When I did turn to hit the road again proper, I felt that there was something lonely in Reiji-sense's face, as if he had hoped that I could have stayed longer. “Mmm!” For a while on the road I wondered about what kind of lifestyle would have caused a man his age to feel lonely? I sensed that he really wanted to talk to me more, but I had just arrived on Sado and needed to kick up some dust if I was to get anywhere it got dark. From our little chat I felt that he had so much experience in his lifetime, well travelled and very educated.

In the short time we talked I learned from him that he had lived and studied in France for a few years in his younger days. In an attempt to be cleaver, I surmised that, that was around half a century ago, or around the time that I was born. I somehow felt guilty about giving him a copy of my newspaper article, as if to say: "Here! Read this, it will tell you everything. I really had to be going." I felt angry about having imposed such a tight schedule on myself. Surely my mission was all about making time for those I met along my way?

Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth, but I really needed to be on my way. It was already quite late and I still had no idea just how many kilometers the coastal roads around the island where. Then a cold wind had begun to kick up, which was biting its cold teeth into me. It was kind of Reiji-sense to give me his portable telephone number before we parted. Perhaps he thought some danger might befall me somewhere along the way. The borrowed pocket phone I carried with me could only receive calls. “Mmm!” Then I wondered how an elderly man well into his seventies could have helped me if some trouble befell? Unfortunately he did not use a computer otherwise I could have given him my e-mail address. Still, I respected him for that since today mankind was so heavily reliant on technology, not on the human spirit, or face-to-face heart and soul.

Some ways further along my way a light drizzle began to fall. At a ramshackle-looking old wood building I stopped to take some snapshots of what looked like a series of small evenly cut tree stumps that were soaked in large basins of water. I had no idea at that time why the stumps were there. Just then a chap in his forties appeared out of nowhere and invited me into his little workshop for a cup of coffee. Such hospitality towards strangers had become rare just about anywhere in Japan and in other countries.

Years ago when I was a young, longhaired backpacker hitch-hiking from Tokyo to Kagoshima in Kyushu I sometimes got invited to spend the night at someone’s home. Of course, this meant a hot bath, food, and drink. Even then I felt that it was more luck than anything cultural. In the Reverend Ryokan-sama's time, people invited travellers into their humble homes to spend the night, a shelter from the cold. Ryokan-sama was well known, and just about everyone he met knew him by his name.

The chap introduced himself as Kozawa, and pointed to a chair by an oil heater. I set down as he set about making coffee, and looking for a mug for me. A kettle was already steaming away on an oil heater when we entered the workshop. It was the kind of heater I used to use during the cold Tokyo winters decades earlier. Since arriving on Sado Island the weather had continued to be on the cool side, so I really was glad to be given a hot mug of coffee. During the thirty or so minutes of being in the workshop Kozawa-san volunteered proudly to give me a step-by-step rundown on process of his work.

I could not remember when I last had a guided tour of anything. In the course of the little tour a number of old photos were produced to help me understand what was being explained. Even though I smiled and nodded I was at times rather frustrated with myself for not understanding everything he told me in his beautiful sounding Sado accent. I well understood the English language regardless of the country the speaker who spoke it came from, but this was not English and clearly not the Japanese that I had become familiar with.

Kozawa-san seemed to love his work and passionately told me that some of his harvested mushrooms were sold at a specialist shop in Ochanomizu in Tokyo. Of course, I had never heard of the shop, but I knew that area reasonably well and told him that I would visit the shop whenever I could. Perhaps even to buy some of his mushrooms. I also learned that he lived with his elderly mother in a great thatched roof house that I had passed by less than a kilometer back. It was so strikingly beautiful that I even stopped to take a photo of it. He never spoke about his father, or whether or not he was married. Just before leaving the little workshop I told him jokingly that the only thing I knew about Sato was that Mr. Jenkins lived somewhere on the island. "Yes! Over in the Mono side of the island" he told me. The news rang sweet in my ears. "Perhaps I will see him after all?" I began to think to myself as I left the workshop.

The weather was still tellingly cool even though the hot coffee went down well. The wind seemed to have let up a little under the cloudy sky. Still, I was grateful that the drizzle had stopped. Two motorbikes passed, the riders clad in leather. They were the first large motorbikes loaded up with camping gear that I had seen since the summertime in Hokkaido. In the evening a phone call from a friend told me that the weather tomorrow was expected to be good, at least good for walking. This was not the case in Tokyo, she told me, where heavy rain was expected at anytime.

Good or bad weather, life in large cities was hard. Unlike the rushing crowds and traffic in cities, a great sense of pace appealed to me in Sato. The pace of life seemed so slow here, with absolutely no hurrying. I would like to have said the same for drivers, yet, I was surprised to notice just how many of them drove while using a portable telephone. In Tokyo all kinds of dishes could be easily got. Normally when people travel to some foreign place they love to sample the local gourmet dishes. Some how it was not quite that easy on my long coastal tramp down through Japan. Just about every one of the restaurants I did stop at, did not offer anything that could be called the local gourmet. At a number of places the local special dish to be had did not venture much beyond a bowl of noodles, such as, Kitakata ramin, in Fukushima. With the long day beginning to draw in, even my thoughts about rural and urban places could not keep me from sleep.

25 March, 2010: It was nearly four o'clock in the morning when a heavy rain began to fall. Following an assortment of nuts and a few vitamin pills for breakfast, I set to the uncomfortable task of dismantling camp. It was never easy to pack wet camping gear at anytime of the year. The wooden structure under which I pitched my tent last night offered only minimal protection from the rain. The wind saw to that! A cup of hot tea or coffee would have been a nice way to face the rain soaked road, but even that was not easy to do in the rain.

Besides, countless dust particles had somehow got inside my water bottles. Even after boiling the water, I had no filter paper to make coffee, or filter the water through to make it clean. As to using a teabag instead I would not be able to erase the thought of drinking dirty water even if it was boiled. By nine o’clock everything was in its place, and wrapped up to face the rain. On those miserable days I would do my best not to think about the rain and try to focus my mind on other things.

One of the most common questions I was asked on the roads was: ‘why I wanted to walk around Japan?’ I don’t know if I ever gave a satisfactory answer to this question. Even when I toyed with it myself I found it hard to come up with a good answer. And to simply come out with: ‘I don’t know’ was not really an answer at all. In the early 1920s, the mountain climber George Mallory (1886-1924) was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest the world’s highest mountain, to which he answered: “Because it was there.” During a climb in the summer of 1924, both Mallory and his climbing companion Andrew Irvine (1902-1924) disappeared.

Mallory’s body was fond in 1999 about two thousand feet from the summit. Irvine's body was never found! Even today, scholars were still debating whether or not they reached their goal. People could be very irrational without even knowing it, and often did stuff that benefited no one in the long-term, not even themselves. Like cycling, walking long distance walking was not for fun or enjoyment. It was certainly not a holiday, but hard painful work. In fact, the pain in the leg muscles and feet (e.g., blisters) was at times intense.

My mind continued to work overtime that I even asked myself if I successfully tramped around the sixth longest coastline in the world would it make me a better person? Would it help me to deal with the future better? Surely only retuning to the point where I started from, Cape Soya in Hokkaido, might provide some answers. Even when I finished my venture around Japan by bicycle years earlier, the only thing I wanted to do then was to look for a new mission to set out on. I did not think about how it changed me one bit. Actually, when I thought about it now, I don’t think it did! In the end there were no big philosophical or psychological answers to the meaning of life, or rather, the meaning of my life. It even seemed rather silly that the goal (Cape Soya) was so important to me, only me. Once I had started out on my mission around Japan, I did not want to leave until I had done it. Therefore, it was the strength of my own determination, or even hard headedness that kept me going regardless.

There was some truth in the fact that I just wanted to be outdoors, for I hated the humdrum and somewhat lonely way my lifestyle in Tokyo had begun to look. Rather than just get depressed, I needed to do something that did not require much thinking or planning about, and with as little responsibility or pressure as possible. Of course, it was never easy to just think in this way when I did hit the roads. Or even to explain fully to anyone why I wanted to walk around the country, especially since my ‘normal’ life in Tokyo always awaited my return when each stage was completed.

At the same time I did not want my life on the roads to be any more mundane than it was in Tokyo. At first, tramping the coastal roads of Japan fitted that! However, the downside or rude awakening was, tramping the roads was not as exciting as I had hoped. But there it was, I had ‘made my bed and had to sleep in it’, as the saying went. What I did find out was that tramping the roads was very much something of the present, and that it had to be seen in terms of distance and hours, and perhaps even in days, but not in terms weeks, or months, or years or long-term. In other words, I had no idea what I would get out of this mission of mine.

On the road I passed through a long tunnel, more than 1,000-meters. Besides the tunnels, beautiful scenery was very much part and parcel of being on the roads. However there were times when it failed to instill in me that romantic aura of the kind that made many people want to sit down and write poetic verses. Like capture the moment! Baring the dangers of venturing away from the main drag, which I liked to do if I could avoid those long tunnels, was the incredible scenery that could be had on those out of the way roads. Often, too, I was blessed with the most fascinating of views I had ever set my eyes on. Now I did not care to stop awhile to take in the beautiful scenery, and lingered no more than to take a snapshot.

The weight of my backpack was not the only thing that troubled me. From time to time I felt weighed down by the symptoms of depression! Of course, the symptoms of depression came in many forms and depths. In many cases the tell tail symptoms of depression could be rather complex and different from people to people. They could range from feeling sad to total despair, and loneliness. Even when busy with traffic, the roads were lonely places much of the time anyway! Suffers could lost interest in the things they once enjoyed, which just about summed up my feelings from time to time. The symptoms could last for weeks or even months, if not to interfere with a person’s work, family and social life, too. I was well versed on depression, and knew that those who experienced the symptoms for a whole day, or regularly for weeks, then professional help should be sought.

Perhaps I was fortunate that the bouts of depression that sometimes clouded me were not long lasting, or sphere enough to cause me to lose interest in just about everything. There were some nights when I sound it hard to fall and when I did, I would awake very early in the morning. Not sleeping (or waking up early) was two of the physical signs of depression. One thing that helped me to counter those feelings of depression was studying my maps. Most evenings I would go over the maps carefully, fixing in my mind the places I hoped to reach by the end of the following day. And, if all went well on the road on any given day, then I could not feel better. In other words, a sense of accomplishment was a powerful tool to strive for. On the whole, my depression was manageable!

There was a driving school that I passed by, the large numbers printed on the cars, all moved slowly around a setout-driving course. Thoughts of my own nervous time at Koyama Driving School came flooding back. As far as I knew, the Koyama Driving School was the only thing that I had in common with Charles Robert Jenkins. It was the only driving school that gave driving lessons in other languages besides Japanese. The Koyama was a fine driving school located in Futakotamagawa in Setagaya Ward on the southwestern edges of Tokyo. The driving school filled a niche in English by offering foreigners the chance to have officially approved driving lessons. Koyama Driving School was established in 1957.

About 400 foreign students attended the driving school every year. Most of them were from India and the Philippines. Also, a number of international companies, such as, BMW, Nissan, and Coca Cola Japan, sent some expat employees to Koyama to have driving training lessons since they needed to learn about the Japanese driving rules and laws for safety. To quote from the Koyama Driving School Web site: “More than 2,000 foreigners, including Charles Jenkins in Sado and Alberto Fujimori (ex-Peru president), took lessons from us.” And without wishing to sound too flippant, ‘Irishman Walking’ Michael Denis Crossey was one of the contented students.

Sometime later I stopped by a bus stop hut to get out of the cold for a spell, and the gray overcast sky where the rain threatened to fall at any moment. There I made some hot tea with the fresh water I had picked up some kilometers back. Already for much of the day the unrelenting rain had pounded down on top of. It felt strange the way the weather could influence the mind. On the whole, the bouts of depression that hovered over me heavy like the overcast sky above. Then each time the rain would stop, a warm wind would come and dry everything up, including the depression.

Just as the rain had its effect on me when it fell, my mind felt heavy for much of the day for other reasons, too. There were the visions of hot food that I could not have for the frequent lack of shops and restaurants, which did not help. Of course, this was not a problem for the cyclist or motorist, but being on foot was a very different problem. I read somewhere that that when the body is signaled hunger it meant that the metabolism was working properly or operating well. Somehow though it was nice to have a choice to eat or not to eat. It was early yesterday that I last had something hot and wholesome to eat. "Surely there was a restaurant to be had in the next town?" Or so I kept on trying to tell myself, but I still felt depressed.

When you embarked on such a mission as this a series of physical and mental problems were bound to follow. The tremendous amount of physical discomfort that could spring up at anytime on the road had to be considered, as it was all part of the planning. There were the numerous frustrations in the evenings when I discovered that I had not walked as far as I had thought or hoped. Sometimes too, it was that thing called ‘boredom’ that caused me to switch off from everything around me. Not recommended for it was a dangerous concept to be in since I needed to keep my wits intact for fear of the dangers on the road. Not to mention taking a wrong turn, a thing that I had become good at even at the best of times.

It took a person with a special mind-set to even think about tramping around a country, let alone start out on a mission that involved much endurance. The actual final accomplishment of whatever it was the adventurer setout to do seemed quite secondary. “Mmm!” I wondered. “Wasn’t it the same with mathematics?” In a math class many years ago a teacher once told me that the correct answer was not as important as knowing how to get to it was. Tramping long distances on a daily basis was not something one could say they were good at, like a skill and discipline a professional footballer, or a mountaineer needed to rely on.

I did not know if one could ever be said to be ready for such an undertaking, like tramping around a country. Challenging one of the great mountains there rigorous training beforehand was understandable. However, walking across a continent, or around one of the longest coastlines in the world, what training was needed other than being mentally driven by some inner thing? Or even being just hardheaded as some family and friends had referred to me from time to time. Even with all of my experience of long distance walking, I still had no idea about any specific talents or skills needed, perhaps because there were none. The only thing that I knew about myself I was a real bummer for staying focused. Yes! Perhaps I was truly hardheaded as to ‘give up’ was not in my book of phrasal verbs! Success or failure, I felt driven to do my best!

Regardless of their mission, adventurers had some things in common in that everyday was a series of readjustments, and success was never an assured thing! Perhaps in this tramping around Japan was similar to climbing one of those great peaks. To paraphrase one mountaineer on an expedition to climb Mount Everest: "Sometimes climbers lost the reason they were here. Their goal became blurred and they wanted to go back to Seattle, eat some good Italian food, be with the family." He continued, "many times the most successful climber was not the most talented or strongest physically. But he was the most driven. The same thing was true for life. It was unfortunate that being a driven person had become a term of derision. The world used to admire people who were driven." Of course, climbing any of the great mountains could never be too closely compared with tramping around the main and minor coastal roads of any country, but for me that word 'driven' was the main key from beginning to end.

On the road I remembered thinking about what I was told by the attractive young woman at the tourist information place back at Ryotsu Port: “Things would be OK on the food front once you got round the bend at Cape Haziki." As it turned out the coastal road, which ran the length of the Sado-Yahiko-Yoneyama Quasi National Park in the direction of Aikawa, was devoid of any place to stop and eat at. There was not a shop, café, or restaurant of any kind! Previously whatever place I did stumble across by chance was either closed because I arrived too early or too late. Some were even closed until the tourist season started up again, and late-March was clearly not the touristy season time!

Even when I entered the larger towns my hopes were often soon dashed, so my hopes did not feel very high when on such place came into view. If only people could live on beautiful scenery alone, how happy everyone one be. The Meoto-Iwa Rocks, or husband and wife rocks as the name meant, poked out from the sea south from central Aikawa, and offered a dramatic view of the Nanaura Kaigan Coastline. Of course, I still had a long way to go before I got that far, but it was something to look forward to and the thought took my mind away from the hunger pings for a spell.

It was not until I had crossed one hell of a massive bridge when my eyes fell on what looked like the town of Futatsu-Game in the distance far away to the right. As I stood on the bridge with my eyes focused on the buildings in the distance I felt my blood rising. This was accompanied by another bout of depression about to make itself at home in my mind. "Fuck it!” I shouted in a loud voice. “How on earth could I have passed by a whole town without even noticing it?” Then I thought about road signs, but I could not remember any along the way that could have shown me the way.

“Mmm!” For a moment I wondered what I should do, to retrace my steps or to press on? Of course, I was not exactly lost, or I was kind of on the right track around the island. The town was kind of out of my way, even though I felt it should not have been. Being hungry only added to the feelings of stupidity, which soon replaced the depression. “Mmm! It was very true." I mumbled to myself as I made my way across the bridge. "Getting lost was something that I was good at!"

Last night, on the phone a friend made mention of fair weather conditions. However, counter to the fair weather conditions, the sky had become very miserable. For a while I had even contemplated giving up on Sado Island altogether. After a study of my maps, I had even considered cutting along a dirt path that led down a steep hill carpeted in bramble and bamboo thicket to cut my journey on the island short. “The island was not really part of my mission anyway” I mumbled to myself, as I tramped through the cold rain and snow that had begun to soften up the ground around. It was not easy to get your mind away from the weather, and think about something else. Perhaps the depression was getting the better of me, and I felt helpless to prevent it.

For a while I tried to think about books that I had recently read, and even food that I would like to eat when the chance presented itself, so as to get my mind into positive gear. I thought that if only I could have laughed aloud at my own stupidity, just like the Japanese eccentric Buddhist monk, Ryokan Taigu (1758-1831) had done when he had carelessly gone up the same slop that is was now going down. However, unlike that enlightened priest, I was in no mood to laugh as I found it difficult to stop feeling lonely, miserable, and sorry for myself. Ryokan had lived a sizeable part of his life as a hermit, although he was mostly remembered in certain circles for his calligraphy, and of course poetry, which according to those who knew much better than me, presented the essence of Zen life.

Somewhere early on in the day I was able to secure onigiri (rice ball) and some beer, which rejuvenated me somewhat, even if rice balls were not among my most favorite of foods. “Mmm!” Perhaps it was the sight of the beer that cheered me up, I thought. After that I walked and walked and walked without a single morsel of food in me all day long. The snow had stopped, but the rain continued to bucket down relentlessly. As expected, my body had become cold, wet, and needless to say, hungry again. It was during such times that I would begin to look for a place to make camp to at least get the hell out of the rain, if not to get what rest could be had.

Sometime later I stopped by a bus stop hut to get out of the cold for a spell, and the gray overcast sky where the rain threatened to fall at any moment. There I made some hot tea with the fresh water I had picked up some kilometers back. Already for much of the day the unrelenting rain had pounded down on top of. It felt strange the way the weather could influence the mind. On the whole, the bouts of depression that hovered over me heavy like the overcast sky above. Then each time the rain would stop, a warm wind would come and dry everything up, including the depression.

Just as the rain had an effect on me when it fell, my mind was heavy for much of the day for other reasons. There were the visions of hot food that I could not eat for the lack of shops and restaurants. Of course, this was not a problem for the cyclist or the motorist, but being on foot was very different as far as covering distances was concerned. I read somewhere that when the body signaled hunger, it meant the metabolism was in good working order. Somehow it was nice to have a choice whether to eat or not to eat. It was early yesterday that I last had anything hot and wholesome inside my stomach. "Mmm!" Surely there was a restaurant to be had in the next town? Or so I kept telling myself. Even with such thoughts I still felt depressed!

When you embarked on such a mission as this then a series of physical and mental problems were bound to follow, too. The tremendous amount of physical discomfort that could spring up at anytime on the road had to be considered, as it was all part of the planning. Not that planning was easy, for it was not! There were the numerous frustrations in the evenings when I discovered that I had not walked as far as I had thought or hoped. At times my feelings were influenced by that thing know as ‘boredom’, and which caused me to switch off from everything around me. This was not recommended for it was a dangerous concept to be in since I needed to keep my wits intact for fear of the dangers on the road, like falling rocks and the on coming traffic. Not to mention taking a wrong turn, a thing that I had become good at even at the best of times.

It took a person with a special sort of mind-set to even think about tramping around a country, which involved much endurance. Then again, life was not easy! If it were, then it would not be worth living. The final accomplishment of whatever it was an adventurer set out to do was secondary. “Mmm!” I wondered. “Wasn’t it the same with mathematics?” In a math class many years ago a teacher once told me that the correct answer was not as important as knowing how to get it. As a student, I was never good at math anyway! Tramping long distances on a daily basis was not something one could say they were good at, like a skill or discipline a professional footballer, or a mountaineer needed to rely on. Even this was questionable, since footballers had their bad days and climbers scaling the same mountain again and again faced new trails and tribulations every time.

When challenging one of the 14 great mountains in the world, rigorous training beforehand was understandable. I did not know if one could ever be said to be ready for such an undertaking, like tramping around the Land of the Rising Sun. However, walking across a continent, or around one of the longest coastlines in the world, I was not sure what training was needed other than being mentally driven by some inner thing? Or even being just hardheaded as some family members and friends had referred to me from time to time. Even with all of my experience of long distance walking, I still had no idea about any specific talents or skills needed, perhaps because none existed. One thing that I knew about myself, I was a real bummer for staying focused. Yes! Perhaps I was truly too hardheaded as to ‘give up’. Giving up was not in my book of phrasal verbs! Success or failure, I felt driven to do my best!

Regardless of their mission, adventurers had some things in common in that everyday was a series of readjustments, and success was never an assured thing! Perhaps tramping around Japan was similar to climbing one of those great peaks. To paraphrase one mountaineer on an expedition to climb Mount Everest: "Sometimes climbers lost the reason they were here. Their goal became blurred and they wanted to go back to Seattle, eat some good Italian food, be with the family." He continued, "many times the most successful climber was not the most talented or strongest physically. But he was the most driven. The same thing was true for life. It was unfortunate that being a driven person had become a term of derision. The world used to admire people who were driven." Of course, climbing any of the great mountains could never be too closely compared with tramping around the main and minor coastal roads of any country, but for me that word 'driven' was the main key from beginning to end.

On the road I remembered thinking about what I was told by the attractive young woman at the tourist information place back at Ryotsu Port: “Things would be OK on the food front once you got round the bend at Cape Haziki." As it turned out the coastal road, which ran the length of the Sado-Yahiko-Yoneyama Quasi National Park in the direction of Aikawa, was devoid of any place to stop and eat at. Apart from some elderly woman preparing seaweed, or norri in Japanese, there was not a shop, café, or restaurant of any kind! Previously whatever place I did stumble across by chance was either closed because I arrived too early or too late. Some were even closed until the tourist season started up again, and late-March was clearly not the touristy season time! Even when I entered the larger towns my hopes were often soon dashed, so my hopes did not feel very high when on such place came into view.

It was not until I had crossed one hell of a massive bridge when my eyes fell on what looked like the town of Futatsugame in the distance far away to the right. Many tourists liked to visit the coastline to see the Futatsugame Rocks, which because of their low position in the sea appeared to resemble 'two turtles', hence the nickname given to them. The sandy beach with its clear water there was also part of the attraction. However, as I stood on the bridge with my eyes focused on the buildings in the distance I felt my blood rising. This was accompanied by another bout of depression about to make itself at home in my mind. "Fuck it!” I shouted in a loud voice. “How on earth could I have passed by a whole town without even noticing it?”

I was swearing again and that was not good! But then what the hell? Everyone swore! I heard of a research that said the average Joe Public swore every 140 words, and that a child picked up at least one swear word by the age of two. But then, I swore for a reason, for just for the sake of swearing like some of my friends. Then I thought about the road signs, I could not remember seeing any along the way that might have put me right. “Mmm!” For a moment I wondered what I should do, to retrace my steps or to press on? “Fuck it!” Even that was not easy. Of course, I was not exactly lost, or I was kind of on the right track around the island. The town was kind of out of my way, even though I felt it should not have been. Being hungry only added to the feelings of stupidity, which soon replaced the depression. “Mmm!” It was very true, I though was I made my way across the bridge, getting lost was something that I was good at.

Last night, on the phone a friend made mention of fair weather conditions. However, counter to the fair weather conditions, the sky had become very miserable. For a while I had even contemplated giving up on Sado Island altogether. After a study of my maps, I had even considered cutting along a dirt path that led down a steep hill carpeted in bramble and bamboo thicket to cut my journey on the island short. “The island was not really part of my mission anyway” I mumbled to myself, as I tramped through the cold rain and snow that had begun to soften up the ground around. It was not easy to get your mind away from the weather, and think about something else. Perhaps the depression was getting the better of me, and I felt helpless to prevent it.

For a while I tried to think about books that I had recently read, and even food that I would like to eat when the chance presented itself, so as to get my mind into positive gear. I thought that if only I could have laughed aloud at my own stupidity, just like the Japanese eccentric Buddhist monk, Ryokan Taigu had done when he had carelessly gone up the same slop that is was now going down. However, unlike that enlightened priest, I was in no mood to laugh as I found it difficult to stop feeling lonely, miserable, and sorry for myself. Ryokan-sama had lived a size able part of his life as a hermit, although he was mostly remembered in certain circles for his calligraphy skills, and of course poetry, which according to those who knew much better than my limited knowledge of the man, presented the essence of Zen life.

That said it did not surprise me any to learn of the existence of a fair number of religious places on the island. Before the seventeenth-century religion played an important role in Japanese society. With the emergence of the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) Confucianism became more relevant than it had been previously. Or at least until it was replaced in the late-nineteenth-century, or during the Meiji period (1868-1912) when it gave way to more Western scientific views.

There were around a hundred thousand Shinto shrines in Japan, with the Meiji and Yasukuni shrines in Tokyo the most famous, if not the most important of them all. Meiji Shrine was established in dedication to the country’s first modern emperor, and the Yasukuni Shrine for the souls of those who died for their country, the altimeter sacrifice. However, not only were there more Buddhist temples than shrines, but also they were also more famous and more important architectural-wise. Some very famous temples that attracted countless visitors each year were, the Enryrku-ji Temple built on a mountain that overlooked Kyoko, the Kotoku-in Temple in Kamakura, and the Kiyomizu-dera Temple located in the eastern part of Kyoko. The thing that I found strange was that both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples were not exactly places of worship, but rather homes to sacred and hidden objects, which were unseen by worshipers and visitors alike. The temples did not have the facilities for large religious gatherings like the Christian churches had in the West, and depending on the type of ceremony and numbers of people, things were performed outside.

Today Buddhism and Shintoism were more a matter of custom and social convention, than any theological walking stick to lean on, or for individual strength like Christianity was for many in the West. If you were to ask them, most Japanese would tell you that they were not religious. Which begged the question, why on earth were their lives so intertwined with religion? The keeping of tiny Buddhist alters in homes, Shinto blessings at births, Buddhist rituals at funerals, and Shinto and even Christian marriages ceremonies, and so forth. Even the countless numbers of people who visited shrines to pray for some personal desire, like getting a child into a good school, or overcoming some illness.

A lot of the shrines I stopped by at to rest looked as though they were in dire financial straits, or in the words of Edwin O. Reischauer, “signs of quiet decay.” The shrines had failed to get back on their feet again since the war, and the ban of public funds. The famous shrines or the ones located in beautiful places wee able to generate other sources of income, such as from tourists and eager sightseers. Although somewhat on the periphery of Japanese life, Shintoism was the most distinctive of religions in Japan, if it could be called a religion. It was by far the oldest of the other religions in Japan. Shinto mythology was reminiscent of ancient Greek mythology. There was the animistic worship of nature, waterfalls, islands, mountains, rocks, trees, and the sun, and so on. After all, Shintoism taught that just about everything on earth had a spiritual essence, a kami (god). The word Shinto meant the ‘Way of the Gods’ in English. So was it any wonder it had linked the origins of the Japanese imperial family to the sun goddess, Amaterasu, the supreme kami in Shintoism. It was a link that would be cut by General McArthur following the surrender of Japan in 1945.

A main purpose of a Shinto shrine as a structure was to house one or more Shinto gods or sacred objects, and not so much to worship at. Often, but not always, a Shinto shrine would have sanctuaries, or honden, by the entrance where the kami or secret objects were enshrined. This would be considered the most important building. Even still, much of the Japanese landscape was dotted with monasteries, temples, and shrines of all sizes and importance. Sado Island was no different! Buddhism first arrived in Japan during the sixth-century, and played a major role in society from then on. Considering how many places of religious worship that still existed throughout the country, religion at large played a subdued role among Japanese society. And considering that the Japanese population stood at almost 130,000,000, which made it the world’s teeth most populated nation, few people sought solace by visiting their local shrines and temples. It was only at certain times in the year that people visited them, like on ‘All Saints Day (Bon Festival), and at the end of the year, or during the first few days of the New Year, and so forth.

It was not exactly clear when Buddhism came to the island of Sado, but came it did. The Seisui-ji Temple was built in 808 on the influence of a Buddhist monk called Kenno who visited Sado around that time. The legend had it, Kenno felt sorry for the locals on the island who were unable to make the pilgrimage to the Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoko. As a result, the Seisui-ji Temple was built for the islanders to go to and pray. The Rengebu-ji Temple was believed to be the third most revered temple of Shingon Buddhism, one of the main streams of Buddhism in Japan. The teaching of esoteric Buddhism began in India in the third- or forth-century AD, and made its way to Japan via China. According to legend the Buddhist monk Kukai-sama, founder of Shingon Buddhism, an esoteric Buddhist lineage, established the temple. There were no records to say that Kukai-sama ever came to Sado Island. The Chokoku-ji Temple was home to a number of local treasures including the wooden statue of an eleven-faced Kannon. Description handouts were available in a host of different languages, though the free-guided tours were only in Japanese.

One temple, or rather the history behind it that I found most interesting was the Miyosho-ji Temple. The Buddhist monk Nichiren-sama was a man of superior ethical wisdom lived in Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). My readings on Nichiren-sama told me that he was the sort of man I could get along with had we crossed paths. He stood up for what he believed against authority! Nichiren-sama taught his followers that enlightenment could only be obtained through the Lotus Sutra, called Myoho-Renge-Kyo in Japanese. For him the sutra held all of Gautama Buddha’s teachings, and only devotion to it led to obtaining a future state of karma. The basic idea in Buddhist teaching was to help followers to free themselves from earthly desires and attachments, so as to get nearer to a state of reverence and the Nirvana cosmos. In this Nichiren-sama must have been very successful! To paraphrase from Wikipedia, some of the schools that followed his teaching regarded him as the actual Buddha of this age.

Mahayana Buddhism was the big thing in Japan since the ninth-century. Three main sects grew from Mahayana Buddhism. The Nichiren Buddhism was one the main sects in Japan today. Thanks to the early Meiji government, it no longer permeated in the lives of the people as it once used to. It was esoteric in nature and placed great emphasis on rituals, art, magic formulas, and so forth, in order to achieve salvation. Here Buddha promised salvation for all animals to the ‘pure land’. Perhaps it was felt that all the animals were not responsible for their actions. Another emphasis promised salvation to the ‘pure land’ through strong faith. Whilst, a third emphasis taught that salvation could be acquired only through self-discipline, self-reliance, and Zen or meditation. Not only could salvation be achieved in the after life, but that through these disciplines, one could strengthen their character in the present life.

In his time, Nichiren-sama generated much resentment with rival priests and the government authorities, which in turn led to an attempt on his life and exile from the mainland on more than one occasion. It was on the second exile, which lasted around three years, Nichiren-sama was banished to the island of Sado for criticism of the Kamakura shogunate government. It was indeed a harsh punishment for the severe winters. On Sado Island Nichiren-sama gained a lot of followers, and one went on to establish the Miyosho-ji Temple around 1275, a year after Nichiren-sama was pardoned by the Kamakura government and allowed to return to the mainland. (His first exile was spent on the Izu peninsula in 1261, until he was pardoned in 1263). As with Miyosho-ji Temple, the Kompon-ji Temple was also established in 1607 in honor the Buddhist monk Nichiren-sama and his teachings. During the time he lived on Sado he wrote one of his most important works, ‘On the Opening of Eyes’, or ‘Kaimokusho’ in Japanese.

Exile to remote places like Sado was a very serious punishment, second to the death penalty, in that those exiled there were not expected to return. The earliest notary figure to be exiled on Sado Island was a poet, Hozumi no Asomi Oyu who was sent to the island in 722, reportedly for criticizing the Emperor. Emperor Juntoku (1197-1242) was also banished to Sado for his role in the Jōkyū War of 1221, where he lived for twenty years until his death. His grave was located in the Mano Goryo mausoleum on the west coast of the island. The Noh dramatist Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443) was exiled on unspecified charges in 1434. There he completed his last recorded work two years after being exiled, which provided a detailed account of his time on the island. Not much was known about the end of Zeami’s life, but it was believed that he was eventually pardoned and continued his life on the mainland where he died in 1443. His grave was located in Yamato in Kanagawa Prefecture. The last person to be banishment to Sado Island was in 1700, nearly a millennium after the first.

There was a time when gold and silver were mined on this island, even right up until not that long ago. To quote from the tourist brochure: “78 tons and 2330 tons respectively over almost 400 years of operation until the mining business was discontinued in 1989.” If time allowed, the Sado Bugyosho was also an interesting place to visit. Although restored to its original state, the building dated back to the Tokugawa period, was from were the gold mining operations were governed. Also, some of the mines were now opened to all interested visitors to experience. Even if Sado Island was not all that big, unfortunately, the mines were too far out of my way to pay a visit.

Ever since my own childhood I suffered from a predisposition or fear of being enclosed in mall spaces. Thanks to Wikipedia, one study indicated that anywhere from five to seven percent of the world population were affected by severe claustrophobia. Of course, I was not so sure how sever this disorder of sorts was with me, and I was in a few tight situations in my life, which turned out well in the end. The onset of claustrophobia has been attributed to many factors, including a reduction in the size of the amygdala, classical conditioning, or a genetic predisposition to fear small spaces. One of the mines, the Sodayu was opened in the seventeenth-century during the Tokugawa period. Others, Odate Mine Shaft, Doyu Tunnel were opened up during the country’s first industrialization period in the nineteenth-century.

For museum lovers a visit to the Aikawa Folk Museum and the Aikawa House of Folk Crafts would have been a good way to kill a few hours, had I the hours to kill. There were a lot of historical artifacts on display from the Sado gold mines. At the Exhibit House, too, visitors could get a hands-on chance to experience traditional Sakiori weaving, or craft make their own pottery, for a reasonable charge. Not much was for free in Japan! A large number of pottery artifacts uncovered near to Yogi in the Southern part of the island demonstrated that Sado was populated as early as the Jomon period. The Nihon Shoki also told us that Mishihase people visited the island in 54.

Sticking with crafts, the Sado Hangamura Museum was housed in an old courthouse, a vestige of the early days on the island. At the museum was home to a wide collection of hand-made woodblock prints that depicted the life of the islanders past and present. Then there was the Mingei-kan, a hundred-year old private dwelling with a classic collection of chests and artifacts on display. The artifacts on display had belonged to the occupants of the house, and gave the visitors some idea of the history and culture of earlier life on the island.

The Sado Museum offered a more scientific insight into the island. For example, the museum included botany, zoology, geology, archeology, fine arts, inventions, and so forth. Also on display was the artwork of the painter Tsuchiya Bakusen, who was born on the island of Sado. Not only did Bakusen come from a wealthy family, his younger brother was also the noted philosopher Tsuchida Kyōson (1891-1934). In addition to the museums, mines, and tunnels, there were the Iwaya-san and Sai-no-Kawara Caves and a whole host of other places of interest. At the Iwaya-san Cave, for example, visitors would be able to see the many deity images that had been carved into the side of the wall long ago.

One legend had it that the narrow cave led through to the northern side of the island. The existence of the Sai-no-Kawara Cave was more for the honor of infants and young children who had died. The cave was adorned with hundreds of tiny jizu statues left by the parents of the infants and children. According to local belief, the cave was a resting point for the children as they made their journey to heaven. “Mmm!” I wondered if such places were a sort of ‘Purgatory’ that was drummed into as in the Roman Catholic schools?

There was a place known as Purgatory in Roman Catholic doctrine that was believed to be the place for purification or for punishment. “Be good or else!” was one expression that I could still well remember being spoken at school and in the local community. As children we were afraid of not being able to go straight up to heaven, but to stop at that cold, damp, place called Purgatory, and for an undetermined length of time. Only those who died in a, so-called, ‘state of grace’ could go to Purgatory. So being mischievous children as we were, I did not think any of us qualified.

There the dead would be made ready for the final transition into heaven, or Paradise. Perhaps it could be seen as a kind of a halfway house, where the dead received their "final purification". The theological notion was that infants or very young children who had not really experienced much of anything, and therefore would have been clean of sin, or pure, when death came calling. Not just the Roman Catholics, a host of other Christian denominations, such as, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, etc., taught of there being an intermediate state before reaching the Pearly Gates for final judgment. This view of Purgatory actually pre-dated Christianity.

Since history began, and to paraphrase Wikipedia once again, there was a worldwide practice to care for the dead and to pray for them. This was a belief found also in Judaism, which was considered the precursor of Christianity, whereby praying for the dead contributed to the purification of their souls. This practice could be found in other traditions, too. Medieval Chinese Buddhists, for example, made offerings on behalf of their dead, who they believed suffered various trials in the afterlife. The Roman Catholic belief of Purgatory was based in part on the previous Jewish practice of prayer for the dead, which presupposed that the dead could be assisted after death to their final place of rest, heaven.

Besides the reasons behind the different religious artifacts, Sado Island was also home to the Japanese Crested Ibis, or Toki in Japanese. Because of its rich, natural, isolated environment, the island had been the last ecological habitat for the Toki. Even still, this beautiful bird became extinct in Japan in 2003. However, thanks to help from China, and to a very successful government program in Japan on breading the Toki, the first was released back into the sky in 2008. Should visitors happen to see one of these birds, they were advised to stay calm and silent and not to disturb them.

Some of my Japanese friends in Tokyo had told me about the Toki I set off on this stage of my mission and to keep my eyes open for them. However, on Sado Island a local man I stopped to chat with also told me that the birds were shy and mainly remained inland, or seldom came near the coast. I also learnt that those who wanted to get a look at this beautiful bird should make for the Sado Toki Preservation Center, which was in Niibo, in the middle of the island. In 2006 there were about 100 Toki on the premises, but some had been released in to the wide since then.

Somewhere early on in the day I was able to secure onigiri (rice ball) and a can of beer, which rejuvenated me somewhat, even if rice balls were not among my most favorite of foods, it was better than nothing. And anything tasted good when you were hungry! “Mmm!” Perhaps it was the sight of the beer that cheered me up the most, I thought. After the rice ball and beer were finished, I tramped along without being able to buy a single morsel of food all day long. The snow had stopped falling, but the rain continued to bucket down relentlessly, which added to my misery. I expected, that my body would become cold if I stopped again. Already everything on me was wet from sweat and the rain, and needless to say, I felt hungry again. The calories seemed to jump off me with every step, and every couple of days my old army belt would need to be taken in another notch. It was when the weather was miserable that I would begin to look for a place to make camp earlier than I would normally do so as to get the hell out of the rain, not so much for rest or sleep.

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?