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The Long Way Down - Horrible Highway 12

Our first two weeks had been filled with visions from a wildlife documentary. There was always something to fill our imaginations as we walked along the coasts or through the hills that rang high above them. We had been spoilt, for no sooner had we turned to head away from the coast, than the roads began to fill up with traffic jams and the streets with tacky fast food shops. The beauty of the sights before however was replaced by an amusing myriad of bewildered faces peering from the windows of passing cars. We became quite good at reading lips with comments ranging from ‘Su~goi~’ or ‘Look at that will you!’ to ‘Baka da ne’ or ‘Look at those crazy bastards will you!’ Sometimes people said nothing, as they drove, mouths agape toward the very edge of disaster before recovering their composure and, fortunately for them and sometimes us, their direction. Almost every person that passed however mouthed the word ‘takeuma’ or stilts, as if seeing them brought back some recollection from their youth. For many adults, takeuma were as much a part of their childhoods as school was, with most holding some dear memory of a time spent playing on these simple objects of fun. While their origins may have stemmed from China initially, takeuma had now become as Japanese as sumo, and it was one of the reasons why we had chosen them to do such a challenge. Walking down the length of Japan on something not traditionally Japanese seemed wrong, and as we watched lips after lips mouthing the same familiar word, we silently congratulated the decision to use something so central to everyone’s past.

Route 12 was to be the highway that would take us down through the middle of Hokkaido and to Iwamizawa, our last major town before we took a left turn onto our final road to the ferry terminal to Honshu. We had chosen it for no other reason than it seemed the fastest and shortest route to take us where we were headed. Fast and short, however, could just as easily have been interpreted as dirty and boring, for Route 12 turned out to be one of those horrible roads whose only purpose seemed to join together the kinds of satellite factory towns that gather so hideously on the outskirts of major cities. With nothing endearing to capture our attentions, we walked at a steady pace, counting the steps left to the goal at each day’s end. Even the people passing in the cars revealed expressions that matched the dreary surrounds, stealing the fun from our lip reading practice sessions. As days passed along this smoggy choked arterial, it began to act less like the inanimate object that it was and more like a living thorn in the side of our motivation, so we decided to give Route 12 a name that more clearly captured its true personality. ‘Koitsu’ or ‘ You Son of a B….’ as it was now unaffectionately known became our new travelling companion and the brunt of many a frustrated outburst as we struggled slowly along. Days that had disappeared in a flash before, we taking forever now, as we trudged slowly south.

For some horribly sadistic reason, every campsite that we found at the end of the day tended to be perched at the end of the road of the town’s highest hill. It was enough to make us change tactics and begin searching for local parks to bunk down in instead, always with the blessing of the locals. Just as people are delighted when rare species spontaneously appear on their beaches or in their towns, so too were the locals intrigued when they woke to the sight of strange stilt walking creatures in their midst. At times we felt like caged animals, as locals disrupted their morning walks to peer in to our tent and observe the still sleeping creatures up close. It was an unnerving feeling to wake to a row of curious faces lined up at the tent window, smiling with each roll or yawn. Luckily for us we were saved by a phone call from a man who had first seen us on our first day. Otojiro san had contacted us wondering whether we were interested in visiting his house for the night to share stories and relax with his family and friends. Any chance to escape the morning viewing sessions was a blessing, and so with after a quick call to confirm a time, we were of like Free Willy to Otojiro san’s house and a night that we would never forget.

We walked in to a party that was in full throng, with people sharing stories in one corner, or telling jokes in the other. We were welcomed in and at once relaxed in the comfortable atmosphere of what really felt like a home with people who were happy to just be. As the food and wine flowed, we were treated to a musical bonanza that even included a performance by Miki, who was most relieved to find that she still had full use of her fingers, despite the thrashing they had been getting at the hands of the stilts. We sang, we laughed, we talked, we drank and as I look through the photos now, it seems there was a point where we even acted something out. Don’t ask me what, there must have been a reason I erased that memory from my imagination! The time flew by and before we knew it, the dawn of the new day signaled our bed time. There would be no stilt walking today. It was time to catch up on some sleep and to soak in the family atmosphere that we had been missing so much. I lay down and as I flicked through the pages of children’s book detailing everything anyone could ever want to know about poo, I realized that tomorrow (or today) would be another one of those days where we would have to say one of those inevitable goodbyes that just don’t want to leave your mouth.

posted by Mick and Miki Tan @ 2:39 AM,


At August 12, 2009 at 3:21 AM, Blogger James said...

I see Jesus in one of the photos but I'm not sure who the others are.

At August 15, 2009 at 6:39 AM, Blogger 貴美 said...


I am Kojima in Kanegasawa, Fukaura-city.
Do you remember that you came to our house to use a bathroom ?
It was nice to see you.

How have you been?
All our relatives are behind you two all the way.
Take care of yourself.
We wish you two good luck with all the way to KAGOSHIMA.

Here are some pictures of you two when we met you.


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