Honai, Ehime → Mitsukue, Ehime

Map of Ehime Prefecture with author’s route between Honai and Mitsukue highlighted. 🗺 Open map in GaiaGPS →

A Japanese woman and a much taller European man, the author, pose for the camera.

The rear of a Subaru Impreza rally car in Colin McRae’s 555 livery.

The woman in the picture above cycles away on a road towards a hill.

Panorama of a small bay surrounded by forested hills. 📍 Honai, Ehime

Many families left for America before the war,” she said, because this area had been very remote and poor.” We stood by the shore in the silver light of Honai, the fishing boats long out to sea. When they came back, in the 1970s, they brought their children and their English, so don’t be surprised if you hear some very good English,” she said, in very good English. I’m a city woman now, but when I come back to cook for my parents, I no longer am.” Off she cycled for fish, and off I walked to speak some very good English with the villagers.

A dog stands in a window with a scooter parked outside.

Potted bonsai trees bearing colorful flowers on a concrete ledge in front of similarly colorful houses.

📍 Honai, Ehime

When you walk in rural Japan, you walk to the rhythm of loudspeakers greeting the morning and the end of the working day, times and songs changing as you move across the land. A noon song is sometimes also played, and this is how I came to walk out of Honai and into the rolling, endless hills of the Sadamisaki Peninsula to the tune of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Yes, dear loudspeakers, dear English-speaking villagers, dear heart-stoppingly beautiful and waning Shikoku, the ghost of a European was now followed by another European ghost, carrying a European ham sandwich and a Karuizawa pale ale in his rucksack…

…for a lunch which would not be complete without a foraged orange.

A very tight cluster of houses form a fishing village in a bay, with power lines descending almost vertically from above. 📍 Ōhama, Ehime

The layout of every Japanese fishing village I’ve ever seen, Ōhama of Nishiuwa being no exception, is the architectural representation of a platoon of Marines dropped on a particularly vile corner of Fallujah circa 2004.

A pink and lavender and grey seascape with small islands and a white ferry in the distance.

📍 Futami, Ehime

A radiation monitor showing 17 nanograys per hour next to a Japanese shrine. 📍 Futami, Ehime

In Ikata, where Shikoku’s only nuclear reactor stands, I wondered about the psychological paradox of public radiation monitors. I first saw them two years ago, in the rump villages dotting the Hamadōri coast near the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, showing levels of background radiation that were perfectly normal. The same was the case here in Ikata: 17 nanograys an hour corresponds to a yearly dose of 0.15 millisieverts — 10% of the average background radiation one will receive simply by living in Japan. Tl;dr: it’s nothing. But the mere presence of a radiation monitor in public makes the invisible presence of radiation manifest, and I wonder how it feels to be reminded daily of a physical phenomenon for which we have evolved no receptors.

The author holds an incredibly small peeled orange in his left hand. 📍 Ōe, Ehime

The number of highly specific words in Japanese for cultivars of citrus is second only to the Nuer vocabulary for shades and patterns and parity of cattle. This minuscule mikan was barely bigger than a fat Central European cherry, a prop from a Wes Anderson movie, and I peeled it in anticipation of the perfumed sweetness of a Sakurajima komikan, which it resembled, but it was watery and sour.

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.