July 12, 2016

World : Solo Travels

Japan 2007

To my surprise I finished listening to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (26 hours and 16 minutes) on my last long run.  So I had to find something to get me through my 20 mile run last weekend, and because the meditative, nostalgic ambience of Murakami worked so well for me I chose another of my favorites, Kafka on the Shore.  At 19 hours and 12 minutes, it should last me through the marathon itself if I decided to listen during the actual race.

One of the things I love most about this book is related to the time in which I read it.  I read it during my first semester of medical school, soon after I had returned from a summer trip to Japan and Southeast Asia. The 15 year old protagonist of the book, Kafka, runs away from home, and he doesn't plan where he'll run to until the moment he's leaving.  Then: "Shikoku, I decide. That's where I'll go. There's no parituclar reason it has to be Shikoku, only that studying the map I got the feeling that's where I should head. The more I look at the map---actually, every time I study it--the more I feel Shikoku tugging at me. It's far south of Tokyo, separated from the mainland by water, with a warm climate. I've never been there, have no friends or relatives there, so if somebody started looking for me--which I kind of doubt--Shikoku would be the last place they'd think of."

I felt that intangible wonder of connection reading this, as I had also just traveled to Shikoku on a whim not long before reading this.  I guess I wasn't technically running away, but in that post-college period of ache and uncertainty, it felt a little like that.

Shikoku is the smallest island of the four main islands of Japan, both in population and physical size. When people think of Japan they think only of the main island with Tokyo and Kyoto, and I did too until I made plans to travel there and saw that there are four main islands (and thousands of other smaller islands).  Hokkaido is the north, and Shikoku and Kyushu smaller islands south of the main island.

I spent two weeks traveling through the main island with my brother, and then took an extra week to travel by myself through the south of the main island, and to both Skikoku and Kyushu. It was my first time traveling by myself.

I traveled to the same city as Kafka did, Takamatsu. It was completely different from mainland Japan. It's very sparsely populated, and a typhoon had just passed through days earlier, making it feel like even more of its content had been swept away, leaving the kind of quiet that comes an absence of something previously there.

I saw one other tourist who had taken the same train as me to Takamatsu. Once when I wasn't sure how to get to a specific village (my guide book only said it was a 15 minute walk from the station but didn't have any maps, and there were no maps in Takamatsu), I saw the tourist walking and I tried to follow him.  He stopped often to take a lot of photographs with a very nice camera, so I gave up on that idea.  I eventually found it, and saw an old Kabuki theater, a farmer's house, a sugar press, a rice storehouse, and a lighthouse.  I love lighthouses (who doesn't love a good lighthouse?), and I loved this one for being nothing like the famous ones in Maine. It was a Japanese house, and from the inside you could look down into the city and see laundry hanging outside and roofs that are shingled and brown in varying degrees.

When I came down from the lighthouse, I saw my fellow tourist again. Even though I stopped for dinner before heading back to the train station, we collided again on the station bridge, he taking a photo from one side, me taking one facing the other way.  We boarded the same train back, and I was struck by the singular way that traveling alone can make you feel so connected to both what's inside and outside of you.

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