My inner social media consultant tells me that contemporary field notes from an expedition in the Far East require the presence of schoolgirls and rabbits, and I am happy to oblige. Her grandmother served me tea — the girl’s, not the rabbit’s — and we sat by the charcoal burner in their roadside stand, where they sold pickles and walnuts, and we looked at the gray clouds swirling overhead, all bark and no bite.
The Quattroporte idled by the side of the road which led to the high pass into Tochigi Prefecture, doing what Maseratis do on a Sunday morning which might very well be the last nice one for weeks.
“Engine problem,” the owner said, dressed fabulously in Crocs and knock-off Kappa sweatpants, and he opened the driver’s side door to demonstrate. TRANSMISSION FAILURE, the display read. It was a beautiful car.
Later, he pulled over in a BMW, and leaned out the window. “They’re fixing the Maserati now,” he said, “and here’s your lunch.” A grilled rice ball and a bottle of tea in my rucksack, I walked on, into a birch forest, over turquoise mountain lakes, into the clouds.
The cloud had rolled down from the mountains, the highland forest glowed with the colors of early spring, a cold drizzle soaked the mountain pass at almost 2,000 meters above sea level. It was time for grilled trout, prepared the way whole goats are grilled in Argentina, tilted over hot coals. Outside, Subarus growled on the wet asphalt, past the birch groves, into the tunnel, and I followed.
“This landscape is nothing short of a natural masterpiece,” Fukada Kyūya wrote of the juxtaposition of Mount Nantai and Lake Chūzenji, and when I walked out of the radiant blue waters of the bathhouse into the perfectly silent night, the clouds began to disperse, and the great cone of Nantai emerged from the darkness like a Polaroid frame. Soon, the lake came into view, awakened to life not only by its attendant mountain, which had created it 20,000 years ago, but also by the stars reflected on its surface. I stood on the shore, dipped my fingers into Chūzenji’s cool waters, and watched the midnight glow of Tokyo, 100 kilometers beyond the mountains.
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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.