Highway 55 has been our constant nemesis since leaving Tokushima, 3 days ago. It has us hugging shoulders as successive trucks and cars speed past at alarming speeds.
Today, however, the highway’s gas-powered energy begins to sputter. There are no more large communities between Hiwasa, our starting point, and Cape Muroto, the isolated point three days further down the road. Highway 55 was starting to resemble Route 66, the iconic passage crossing the American southwest from Chicago to Los Angeles. Just like that American byway, time now appears to have bypassed Highway 55.
Along our path, lined with dense forests and steep mountain slopes, are the rusting carcasses of dream palaces. It starts with the deserted pachinko parlour at the edge of Hiwasa (pachinko being the uniquely Japanese take on the slot machine). As we continue our walk, the woods compete with the ruins of what might have been a restaurant or a hotel. Occasionally small industrial operations reveal themselves along this lonely stretch, apparently surviving well in their isolation. Like the mill producing intricately-jointed wood beams for a new home.
There are happy finds for the tired pilgrim. Appearing like a mirage in the forest is Odorio café, an exotic stop for a latte and cool jazz. Later in the day, we drop our heavy packs at a welcoming rest stop with its vast array of vending machines offering every imaginable beverage and hot ramen as well.
The day’s 21-kilometre walk is near complete before the highway opens onto the Pacific once more. We soon arrive at our ryokan for the night, Uchizuma-sō, clinging to the rocky cliffs of the shoreline. On approach, it looks like a well-worn place sharing the same bittersweet qualities of today’s roadside architecture. But our tatami room opens onto a spectacular view over the arc of a small sandy beach. We watch as young surfers wait for one last wave and the sun sets over the still waters. The surfers quietly vanish. And we head downstairs in our robes and slippers for fine meal of vegetable tempura, grilled fish and sashimi.