Kuriyama, Hokkaido → ⛏ Yūbari, Hokkaido → Kaede, Yūbari, Hokkaido

Map of Hokkaido with author’s route from Kuriyama to Yūbari highlighted. 🗺 Open map in GaiaGPS →

Fishing floats painted to look like various cartoon characters hand from a tree next to a flowering bush.

Gabor holds a small watermelon with a frown.

A blue-green plastic shopping basket filled with melon rinds. 📍 Kuriyama, Hokkaido

Like most Japanese produce, melon tends to be a comically overpriced luxury product, a function of the peculiarities of Japan’s agriculture, but not in the western foothills of the Yūbari Mountains, where melons can be bought at roadside stands instead of in posh gift packs. Dr. Orosz may not have been impressed with the size of the watermelon we purchased for breakfast, but it was a wonderfully fresh, sweet melon, and it was gone in a few minutes. This being Japan, a basket lined with newsprint was provided for our discarded rinds, and we walked on, under a hot sun.

Rusting pumps at an abandoned filling station.

An abandoned white basketball shoe in the grass.

A rusty railing looks out on a winding railroad track.

A rusting, abandoned-looking house.

A crumbling concrete wall.

A couple in festival clothes walks by a shop, with two older men standing by.

A group of men adjust their headbands in preparation for a Japanese summer festival.

A group of elderly women wearing festival kimonos walk in procession.

Closeup of the rear of the head of a balding man, wearing a headband and looking out on a group of people.

Two young girls in festive clothes walk by a group of boys in regular clothes on a street filled with people.

Groups of people in festival uniforms dancing at night.

Two women in summer kimonos talk and watch the dancers.

📍 Yūbari, Hokkaido

There was plenty of rust, there were deer on the railroad tracks and abandoned houses by its side, but Yūbari, a town which is often shorthand for the death of the Japanese countryside, was in no worse shape than rural Aomori or Tokushima. Most of the city’s remaining 8,000 people — out of 110,000 two generations ago — were out on the main street on the evening we walked in. There were plenty of girls in flowery yukatas, there were children showing off their skills in karate and in running around, and for two hours, hundreds paraded down the main street, dancing to distorted, screaming electronica. I had seen enough death and it was good to see no more, even if for a fleeting summer night, and we walked out of town, and into the mountains, to the reverberations of fireworks.

Fireworks exploding above a dark forest. 📍 Kaede, Yūbari, Hokkaido

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.