On a battleship grey morning I walked into the underworld, into a forest where clouds swirled between the trees, where the darkness never lifted, not at noon, where statues in white headscarves like Zoroastrian schoolchildren in the alleys of Yazd lined the road. It was the underworld, and the cloud obscured the temple of Bodai-ji on the shores of the acid lake. It was a savage, primeval land, the end of classical Japan, and I walked out of the caldera on a road lined with sulfur deposits, and the cloud lifted like white magic, and summer light enveloped the forest. It was Japan in its extreme, and it was the beginning of the end.
The last spur of Honshu is a battle axe drawn against the savage north, and I walked its narrowing roads two months after I had set foot on this endless island. A bathhouse stood by the river, and I floated in the salty water until the afternoon sky faded to grey, two rice balls for the road ahead cooling in my rucksack. I slept by the pool, then I walked on, into the night forest, on closed and crumbling roads, under the stars, and five hours later, I reached the coast and saw the mountains of Hokkaido across the Tsugaru Strait.