Shikoku: Why We Walk

April 19, 2017

The next two days will see us walking down the very same highway we sped along by bus yesterday. Then, it took a little over an hour to be whisked to Uwajima. Today’s 28-kilometre walk – 5 hours of solid walking at a brisk pace – will only get us part of the way there.

So why walk? Why not just take the bus? Today’s trek speaks to those questions.

As slow as two-footed locomotion may be, there is an intensity to the experience where every step can reveal something new. A chance to look up, down and around, to catch aromas from someone cooking as we pass by, to hear all kinds of sounds – to reflect – minute-by-minute. 

Today’s sensory journey proves the point. It starts, as we leave Ainan City, with a clutter of eccentric signage strung along the busy highway. Uniformed children happily march past us on their way to school.  Soon we are gliding through valleys lined with lush, forested mountains, then along the Pacific coast with its endless vistas and turquoise waters. We wind our way down the narrow street of a quaint fishing village. The smells of fish and sea fill the air. Wood sheds hang out over the water. Out of one pops a woman, offering us a settai of oranges.

The trail heads inland right about lunch time. A nearby udon noodle house is closed so we head next door to what looks like a restaurant. It turns out to be a karaoke bar. But the ladies in charge offer us beers and bowls of noodles. There’s just us, slurping lunch while our two amused hosts watch. And we are equally amused by our strange surroundings, a dark, windowless room festooned with twinkling lights, lush satin and velvet draperies and lit-up electronic screens. A soundtrack of pop song instrumentals fills the space.

As the path continues inland, we make our way through a tunnel, the second of the day. Typically, these are harrowing passages for pedestrians. Usually there is a narrow sidewalk, but cars and trucks brush by at alarming speeds and the noise level is intense. Today’s tunnels are dedicated to pedestrians, running parallel to, but separate from, the motor vehicle tunnels. The barrel-vaulted walls are dotted with murals. Other pedestrians quietly move down the long passageway. Above us, a mountain crushes down.

A bowling pin stuck on a pole? A charming fishing village? Lunch in a karaoke bar? A promenade through a mountain? These are the things we missed on our bus journey down the same road yesterday.

This late afternoon, we arrive at the small town of Tsushimachō Iwamatsu and Miyoshi Ryokan, the latest in a good run of well-appointed Japanese inns. After tea and treats and the requisite bathing ritual, we don our yukatas and outdoor slippers and head down the street to the ryokan’s dining facility. It’s a fine feast indeed. Sashimi, shellfish and pickled condiments as usual. Then there’s a delectable soup of shrimp, clams and octopus. And a regional specialty, grilled unagi, Japanese freshwater eel. How spoiled we have been these last few nights!

And with that I proffer one more reason for a long walk: a fine guilt-free meal to end the day.

 

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