Japan on Foot – Part 1

March 29th, 2012By Category: Outdoor/Sports

“Japan on Foot” (published by Fine Line Press) chronicles the exploits of two “roving reporters” (one English, one Japanese) who set off to capture the spirit of Japan by walking the length and breadth of the country, a 15-month odyssey of 7,500 kilometers.

Mary recounts adventures and meetings with some of the thousands of people they met along the way, including a professor who plans to resurrect the woolly mammoth, a farmer who maintains Moses was buried on his land, a Buddhist scholar who cares for what is reputed to be the mummy of a mermaid, and a marine geologist who believes that an Okinawan underwater structure is the ruins of a lost civilization.

“Japan on Foot” explores Japan’s off-the-beaten tracks, as well as some of its lesser-known myths, legends, history and culture. The two journalists also shed light on communities that live on the fringes of Japanese society, including the Buraku people and descendants of the Hidden Christians. A selection of photographs is included in the book.

Here is the first of several excerpts by author Mary King.

Mama-chan was far from pleased to hear that Etsuko  had quit her job and her comfy Tokyo lifestyle to walk through Japan.

“Women of your age are usually married with children by now,” Etsuko’s mother ranted down the phone line on what was the eve of a mad dash to pack before flying up to Hokkaido.

“You can’t possibly walk from Hokkaido to Okinawa,” she growled.

“If you’re coming back to Okinawa after all this time, fly down.” I could almost feel Mama-chan tearing out chunks of her hair. Etsuko,  meanwhile, tried to placate her with the fact that they would eventually meet on home turf, but that it would take her a while to walk the distance from the top of Japan’s northernmost prefecture. Mama-chan seethed. Calling her daughter a blithering baka, she slammed the receiver down.

My family in contrast, thankfully, had long ago surrendered to my wanderlust because I had spent almost half my life living and working overseas. But this time, even I wasn’t going to wriggle off the hook so easily. I had barely snuggled under futon covers for the night when the phone rang again. My younger brother was on the line, calling from England. It seemed that Dan was taking a last-minute interest in my “roving reporter” walk.

“What’re you up to now?” My brother sounded irritable. “You’re walking from Hokkaido to Mu! Who d’you think you are — Indiana Jones?” Dan had read the letter I sent to mum, telling her that an underwater structure lying off the coast of Okinawa is thought to be the ruins of a lost civilisation. Etsuko and I were eager to dive out to Asia’s equivalent to Atlantis.

“Mu is to be the icing on the cake at the end of our great obambulations,” I teased him.

“Have you completely lost it?” Dan snorted. “You’ll be searching for the Holy Grail next, ya daft bugger.”

Etsuko and Mary on the roads of Hokkaido.

I bit my lip. Tomorrow’s flight up to Hokkaido was an early one, so this was hardly the time for arguments. “I like legends, myths and mysterious places,” I said calmly trying to rebuff him. “I want to experience all the myths and legends of Japan. I love this country. It’s a walk of love, for Japan and for Etsuko.”

My brother grunted. Talking about loving a woman and an alien country unsettled him, but this was a special walk for Etsuko and myself as we had
chosen to do the walk to celebrate our ten years of being together, as well as to mark the new millennium.

“Anyway, on a more practical note, sis’, I guess you’re familiar with Hokkaido’s wildlife. They’ve got bears up there. Know all about handling bears, do you?”

“We have a little, tinkly bell that we bought in a camping store,” I replied, expecting to provoke the wrath of the gods. But instead, Dan surprised me. “Thank heavens!” He sighed with what sounded like genuine relief. “A bell should see ’em off.” Dan then wished me luck and hung up. I returned to my futon, but sleep was not forthcoming.

To be continued…

Mary King will be in Japan to talk about her book at SWET (Society of Writers, Editors and Translators) on May 19 in Kyoto and May 25 in Tokyo.

For further information on “Japan on Foot,” visit Fine Line Press.

Author of this article

Mary King

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