Raw slices of sea bream mixed into an emulsion of broth and a raw egg, then eaten with perilla leaves over rice, followed by an ointment-thick miso soup mixed with dried orange peel, and eaten over another kind of rice: when you walk all day, every day, any food will taste good, but decadent city food served on beautiful plates will be like ambrosia.
“I’m never going back,” Ōhashi Aki said, after informing me that Liverpool had drawn with Southampton the previous evening.
“Aomori is beautiful, but there is no culture. And the men don’t talk.” She’d met her husband, a fellow opthalmologist, at a conference, and moved with her to Matsuyama. I wondered if he talked. “A little,” she said.
Then we stood in the warm spring sun, the snow queen from the distant north with the Southern barbarian from Kagoshima, and the champion barista of Miima took our picture. “You should wear sunscreen,” she said.
When I went to pay for my coffee, I was told that she had paid for everything. I ran after her, but she was gone, a fairy from the blue forests who still had a soft spot for Luis Suárez.
Hungarian readers will recognize this as a kifli, the quintessential morning bread roll of the country. A very good one, too, crispy and quivering with butter, none of that cheap spongy supermarket kifli. Like everything weird, exotic, and not obviously from France, it was described as a delicacy from Hokkaido.
“Excuse me,” the man said, and he tapped me on the shoulder, “is your country the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy?”
Well, yes, well, no, well, you’re only off by 99 years, and what’s 99 years at Dōgo Onsen, the ancient bathhouse from Miyazaki Hayao’s Spirited Away, where we both sat, naked, soaping our backs.
“I have a Maria-Theresien-Taler. A big one.”
This was not as strange as it sounded. During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, far less than 99 years ago, the Maria Theresa thaler was widely used as currency.
Later, in the sweet, alkaline waters of Dōgo, I soaked my tired feet under an enormous mosaic of two beautiful egrets doing the same.
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These Walking Dreams is a visual field diary of a 4,300-kilometer walk from one end of Japan to the other, in the spring and summer of 2017.