The instructions on my map of South Japan say DESTROY WHEN NO LONGER NEEDED, and when a map has been walked out of, it is no longer needed.
Deep in the gorge of the Remote and Inaccessible Iya River, right next to a four-story parking garage built in high Yugoslav style, one can observe an ingenious piece of 12th century civil engineering: the one-way vine bridge. Stepping on it from the left bank will trigger a voice in perfect American English, announcing from the forest that THIS IS A ONE-WAY BRIDGE. PLEASE TURN BACK. THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION. Further progress in the wrong direction will summon a man waving furiously, enraged that someone would dare think of crossing this wild bridge of medieval outlaws and renegades without dropping 500 yen into a box on the proper side.
I smiled, turned back as well as I could, and didn’t stop for the next 20 kilometers, until I was free of parking garages, one-way bridges, and people driven from the city in tour buses to look at simulacra of medieval tales for money. High up in the forest, as the evening turned into a cold and ink-black night, the real Iya Valley began.
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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.