A walk, another walk, and my inchoate new book

On an afternoon in August 2017, a few days after I had walked from one end of Japan to the other, I met Timothy Harris, an Englishman of many trades — actor, director, translator, editor, diction coach — who has lived in Japan since the 1970s. His friend Alan Booth, who had passed away in 1993, wrote the book The Roads to Sata, about a walk from another end of Japan to the other, which had served as the main inspiration for my own journey. One of the many differences between our walks, 40 years apart, was that I crossed all four of the main islands of Japan while Booth skipped Shikoku, the smallest.

Shikoku is an island known for a pilgrimage route which connects 88 of the island’s Buddhist temples in a loop around the coast. On my way across Japan, in the spring and summer of 2017, I walked across Shikoku, but instead of the pilgrimage route I took a course straight across the island’s mountainous interior. It was a landscape I found fascinating for its ruggedness and remoteness, and I thought it was a place Booth would have enjoyed. Timothy Harris told me that Booth had in fact walked across Shikoku — and that he had taken a very similar route.

Tim at the time was working on a posthumous anthology of Booth’s uncollected writings, which was published a year later as This Great Stage of Fools. It includes the account of Booth’s 1983 walk across Shikoku.

Here is Tim’s introduction to the piece:

Several summers after Alan had walked through three of the four main islands of Japan, beginning at the northernmost cape of Hokkaido, continuing through Honshu, and ending at the southernmost cape of Kyushu — a journey of some three thousand, three hundred kilometers that he described in his book The Roads to Sata — the Japan Airlines magazine, WINDS, asked Alan to complete his journey by walking across Shikoku, the last, and smallest, of Japan’s main islands. He decided to do this along the island’s longest axis: east to west — a five-hundred-kilometer walk. The walk was, of course, accomplished in a fraction of the time the longer journey took — eighteen days as opposed to four months — but, day for day, it was at least as hard, since Alan had chosen to walk not along the coast, but through the mountains and hills of the island’s interior — country as remote and rugged as any in Japan. The following account was culled from notes and the diary he kept.

Booth’s account didn’t come with a map but his path was easy enough to reconstruct from geographical reference points in the text. I realized that it was indeed very close to the route I had taken. It was then that I decided that I would have to go back to Shikoku and follow in the exact footsteps of his 1983 journey. This third walk across the island, in January and February 2019, was what became the subject of my first book, The Wilds of Shikoku, which you probably know, and which is layered with these two other walks across the island: Booth’s in May and June 1983 and mine in May 2017. Those of you who read the fine print in books also know that Tim was kind enough to serve as the co-editor of the book.

My notes and pictures from my original 2017 journey across Shikoku are now online as a part of These Walking Dreams, the visual field diary I kept on my long walk across Japan. Shikoku begins on Day 24, on an overcast morning in the port of Misaki.

100% of the proceeds from each sale of The Wilds of Shikoku continue to go to the defenders of Ukraine, fighting like lions against the Russian invaders who have proven themselves to be a rabble of rapists, looters, and mass-murderers over the past two months. I have so far sent over $400 in proceeds to the Ukraine army, and to Vostok SOS, an NGO who help deliver medical and humanitarian aid to local people. Can we make that $1000? I hope we can. Please check out the fundraising page I set up, and buy a copy of Shikoku for yourself or a friend.

There is also a rather beautiful limited edition of the book called Tokushima Blue, in case you are tempted and wish to contribute more towards the war effort.

A Something Like Peace, my upcoming photobook, is now taking form. This project dates to October 2019, when I worked for a month with a group of Kyōto thatchers as they replaced the roof of a hulking medieval farmhouse, which has been inhabited by the same family for 26 generations. With other volunteers, I worked on the roof to assist the thatchers, and in my spare moments I documented the rebirth of the house. At the halfway point of the re-thatching I learned of a personal if apophenic connection: the thatch we were tearing down was exactly my age, laid 39 years and one month before, in the first full month of my own life.

The project, in the shape of ½ a terabyte of photos, sat dormant on my computer for the next two years until it began to cohere this past summer and autumn and winter. It now has a pleasant momentum and I expect it to reach its final form in the coming weeks and months. Until then, a preview.

Thank you so much for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day. In May, I shall be back with stories of mountains.

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