Gohoku, Kōchi → 📍 Great Pass → Mochii, Kōchi

Map of Kōchi Prefecture with author’s route between Gohoku and Mochii highlighted. 🗺 Open map in GaiaGPS →

A sign in the grass says: Don’t unchi!! good manners.

A rockfall partially blocks an old mountain road.

On a garage door, six children stand with their backs turned under a giant flying squirrel, their t-shirt spelling KOGAWA. 📍 Gohoku, Kōchi

If an unchi drops in the Japanese countryside and no one is around to hear it, does that count as bad manners?

A grove of orange trees.

Closeup of raspberry-like berries.

A green baseball cap hung on a wall covered with moss.

📍 Kogawa, Kōchi

Looking down on an old blue Suzuki Samurai micro-jeep.

An abandoned building by the side of a country road.

An abandoned vending machine with cans still inside.

A heap of firewood in front of a shop. 📍 Kogawa, Kōchi

A blue Honda Accord parked on a narrow mountain road.

A green plastic basket filled with dried shiitake mushrooms.

Looking out over thick subtropical undergrowth across a valley formed by forested mountainsides. 📍 Great Pass, Kōchi

The old road turned off the highway towards the Ōtōge — the Great Pass — and wound its way between the pilons and up the misty hillsides, past forlorn villages and rusting coffee machines and impeccable bonsai groves. Almost entirely unused now, the road dated to the year I was born, three years before Alan Booth walked it on his way across Shikoku, silent and translucent. I climbed higher, past abandoned cars, past the old tunnel, dripping and empty, past a construction site building yet another perfect road leading to nowhere, and I found the trailhead of the old path across the pass, overgrown and impassable, and the late morning air was chilling and remorseless.

A wooden mailbox attached to the outside wall of a shed. 📍 Great Pass, Kōchi

I suppose it’s a sign of having reached the deep countryside when even the Japanese postal mark (〒) becomes a thing of handcrafted beauty.

Looking along a pitch-black tunnel with some artificial lights in the distance. 📍 Great Pass, Kōchi

In an abandoned tunnel, no one can hear you scream.

A loudspeaker pokes out of a dense forest of bamboo and a tree in bloom.

A narrow road makes a U-turn down a hillside. 📍 Ōhira, Kōchi

A pavement-level view of a valley overhung with low clouds.

The same valley, but looking down on the small river in its center from a bridge.

A row of colorful houses on the bank of the same river.

Panorama of a U-turn in the river. There is a village on one of its banks, and it looks like it’s about to rain.

📍 Ikegawa, Kōchi

At the foot of the last pass which leads out of Kōchi and into Ehime, the Dōi River makes a perfect 180-degree turn at the town of Ikegawa, where a man bought me coffee and another man bought me tea, the latter exquisite. The cloud had reached the rooftops by the time I started up the valley towards the pass, a bottle of sake for the spirits and myself in my rucksack, the land pushing the dynamic range of my medium-wavelength cone cells to the limit with every shade of green.

Closeup of cherry blossoms covered in droplets of water. 📍 Ikegawa, Kōchi

His importance […] is that he looked at Japan in a wonderfully fresh and honest way and in doing so shattered what I call the aesthete’s view’ of Japan,” Timothy Harris said of Alan Booth in an interview with Metropolis Tokyo, and this is why the pleasure I felt at the sight of these absurdly perfect plum blossoms above the gorge of the Dōi River was tinged with a sense of guilt. But there was no one around to judge, apart from Alan’s spirit — and how he mocked me! — and I watched the raindrops cling to the petals, and I listened to other raindrops patter on my raincoat, and I walked into a subliminal symphony of subtle sensations.

A narrow valley in the dusk, with the clouds so low that they touch the tops of the trees. 📍 Mochii, Kōchi

Inside the cloud, barely able to see the edge of the narrow road, across streams and rivulets and puddles of cold winter rain, I carried sake and oranges for the last spirits of Shikoku’s interior. Above the black forest, past the remote village of Tsubayama and past the vertical gorge of Omogo, rose the twin granite pyramids of Mount Ishizuchi, the highest points in this land, and their snows would melt and they would soon be strewn with the pink puffs of akebono azalea. That strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight that I have come to recognize as joy, and now must find some way to live with daily,” Zadie Smith wrote in her essay Joy. Daffodils grew in the gloom. It was the penultimate day of winter in the old calendar. My limbs tingling with exhaustion, my breaths merging with the clouds, I closed my eyes, and listened to the howl of the wind and the staccato of the rain.

Shikoku Field Diary was written on the 500-kilometer walk across Shikoku in January and February 2019 that became the subject of The Wilds of Shikoku, my first book.