A good day to you all from aboard the Blue Luminous, floating somewhere on the black waters of the Straits of Tsugaru (home to bluefin tuna, American nuclear submarines, and deranged long-distance swimmers), about to head into the bay and towards Aomori City. My walk around Hokkaido is over. Six years and some weeks after landing at its southern tip in 2017, at the youngish and foolish age of 36, I made it back to the same spot, a journey of 77 continuous calendar days spread over three years — the high summer of 2017, the late summer of 2022, and now the early autumn of 2023 — and somewhere between two to three thousand kilometers. From now it’s straight south for some weeks, into the mountains of northern Honshu.
Walking in Hokkaido is harsh, a land with capricious weather and some of the most unappealing architecture I’ve ever come across, a quasi-colony built out on an industrial scale and largely uninhabited, a place that’s Japanese but isn’t Japan. For most of my time around it I longed for human-scale old Japan but then something strange happened as I was nearing Sapporo: I began to feel an overwhelming joy at being here, on this wild island in the north-west Pacific that shrugs off most attempts at domestication, where a pre-human world is never more than an arm’s reach away, where to exist will always be akin to skating on thin ice.
In Sapporo, I met the English scholar and writer Willie Jones, now in the ninety third year of his very long life, the author of a short book of interviews with Hokkaido artists and craftsmen titled Out of Our Hands, published last year by one of his former students, the writer and anthropologist John Ryle. I now think that Willie’s interview subjects also draw from what I increasingly felt as I neared the end of my walk around Hokkaido: a sense of exhiliration borne from learning to first exist then to thrive on this savage island.
Said thriving, I must add, was helped greatly by the incredibly generous people I met on my way, and also by the bowls upon bowls of some of the best seafood I’ve had in my life.
Over my days of walking south, I realized that two field diaries is one field diary too many to keep on a walk. I will be shutting down the one I intermittently kept on Mastodon and keeping only the — very visual — one on Glass.
I post quite often these days, 2–3 times a day, mostly photos with very little text. It’s that kind of journey now. The words will come later.
Here is the map with my latest location.
To Tsugaru, home of the eponymous shamisen and the writer Dazai Osamu, the subject of the first chapter of Alan Booth’s Looking for the Lost. Also: apples, apples, apples, apples, and more apples. My friend Tanaka Nobukazu, a trucker from Aomori, messaged me that I should eat apples. I hope he is also eating apples when he isn’t—
“I’m carrying snow tires a lot now. After unloading, I will head to Hanamaki city Iwate prefecture.”