One of the great delights of walking Japan’s back roads is the constant exposure to beautiful motorcycles, but even in this land of Blackbirds and Hayabusas, an MV Agusta F4 will stand out as the perfect, Frederick Seidel-ian expression of a sports bike.
“If you’re not in a hurry,” Ishikawa Takuya said, “you might want to meet Lajos.” After a bowl of udon and a beer, I wasn’t in a hurry. “He’s a world champion kayaker from Hungary, and he lives here in Tosa.”
A few hours later, as I lounged on the tatami floor of Lajos’s house, a man built like a classical statue of an athlete stepped in. He was Lajos Gyökös, the world champion kayaker from Hungary who lived in Tosa. He had missed out on Olympic qualification by 1.7% of a second. “That night was a funeral,” he said, “but it had been a fair fight. We mistimed a paddlestroke.”
After retiring from active competition two years ago, he coached the South Korean national team for a year, then moved to rural Kōchi to coach junior high and to set up a kayaking school. “They don’t fall in the water now,” he said. He was still quicker than anyone in Korea or Japan, among the hundred best in the world at a very obscure craft he has pursued for 29 years.
Later, as night and silence fell on his beautiful new home, we ate fried mountain vegetables, drank sake from Lilliputian cups, and delighted in our divine, apophenic evening. He was counting the days until his wife and his children could join him, and the next morning, he served me toast and coffee on a wooden tray.
The valley dropped away from Ms. Hiroka’s house in tesserae of flooded ricefields towards the mountains, darkening to indigo in the sunset. It was a ridiculous view, East Asian kitsch of the highest order, and Ms. Hiroka didn’t help things when she brought structurally perfect French pastries and fresh coffee in beautiful little cups. Nobody was from here and everybody wanted to live here forever.
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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.