Breakfast with Muriyama-san was a curious thing. He reached into his bag to pull out his food to start the day and came out with nothing but candy. Jelly candies, Chinese hard candies – basically like small Jawbreakers – gummies and more. He offered me a handful, which I was hesitant in accepting and stashed for later when my energy was low. I sat eating pineapple watching him pick through his assortment of candies. There was nothing strange about it for him. He put his candy back in his bag, only after offering me more of each one, and got up and left.
I started the day walking with rain in mind. I knew it would be coming. There was a lot of rain predicted so, even if the forecast was wrong it would probably just be by amounts. I wasn’t worried about the distance too much. I still had this day and the next to get into the city and find a place to stay before Cindy arrived. The only concern was a rumored lack of places to stay.
I was beginning to regret not having a phone. I had already been using payphones to contact Cindy, now I needed them again to call for lodging. There were enough pay phones along the route that I didn’t need to worry too much about searching for one. There was only the question of whether or not it would work.
There were no clouds early in the day. I was hoping to travel a respectable distance and find a place to stay before the rain was falling hard. I was prepared to walk in the rain but it was certainly in my preference to avoid it. I pushed myself to keep a strong pace going despite the heat slowing me down. The road stretched along the coast without any shade for long distances. Each time any shade appeared I took a moment to hydrate and got back on the road to maintain my pace.
I was making good time, but it was taking a price on me. I became exhausted early in the day and was running out of water. I could see down the coast and there were no towns or buildings in sight. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing anything for hours. There was a small town on the map where another closed down elementary school was marked. I planned to stay there for the night, but there was much of anything on the route before it.
The sky was beginning to cloud up and I still had a good distance to go. I was already exhausted and had doubts that I would be able to maintain the pace I was on. The only food I had left in my bag was a few yuzu fruits (a Japanese citrus) and I felt in need of something more.
A Reststop Occupied
I pushed forward with no signs of shade and was growing frustrated. I tried to push myself to move faster but exhaustion wouldn’t allow a maintained increase. I saw far in the distance what looked like the roof of a rest hut and was pleased even though I knew it would only provided some brief shade. I didn’t rush myself. There was still a long distance to go after this hut and I didn’t know when I would have opportunity for a meal.
As I got closer to the hut I could see three cars parked beside it. My frustration mounted at the thought of having to spend energy on a social interaction. I was in no mood to interact with anybody and could see no reason for a group of cars to take a rest here. I moved closer and settled upon a cold attitude. They had still not left and I decided if they tried to speak to me I would turn them away with mumbles or grunts of acknowledgement. It was not the way of the henro, but I was tired, hungry, and frustrated. Manners were secondary to me at this point.
When I arrived at the hut I grew embarrassed by my thoughts. Under the hut a group of women welcomed me with trays of food and bottles of tea and water. They smiled and waved for me to sit as they unfolded one chair for me, and another to set my bag on. The weight off my shoulders was a relief enough. I thanked them and eyed the food that was laid out.
I knew they’d set it out for henro but felt rude in just grabbing. The ladies sensed my hesitation and arranged a plate themselves piled with an assortment of rice balls with different ingredients inside. There was one with salmon, one with meat, another with pork fiber, and another with umeboshi (a kind of pickled plum with a very sour taste). On a typical day I would have ate only the salmon and meat and avoided the other two, but I ate them all with gratitude and have since developed more of a taste for the later two.
The ladies spoke to me, poured me drinks, gave me more food, and I hardly had any interest in leaving. One of them got a plastic bag and filled it with food I could eat later in the day. I waited for her to stop but she continued to put more in until the bag was to capacity. There was at least 15 rice balls in the bag and they gave me two bottles of tea to leave with.
The Rain Arrives
It was not the first time I felt overwhelmed by o-settai, and it wouldn’t be the last. I’d arrived at the hut with low spirits and frustration, I left happier than I’d felt all day and was now looking forward to running into somebody I might be able to share my food with. My spirits were high moving forward and remained that way, even when the rain began. I still had almost three kilometers to go before I would reach the school. With my revived energy I picked up the pace while the rain was still light.
Had I been wise, I would have put on my rain gear immediately. Instead, I reasoned that the rain was not yet falling too hard and could wait. Not much to my surprise it picked up fast and sent me sprinting under the edge of a stranger’s roof to change; but, I only reached cover once I about as wet as I deserved.
They rain gear I’d purchased worked well but was also very warm and I was sweating a lot. This reintroduced the issue of hydration. Walking in the rain was proving far more uncomfortable than I’d expected with the heat on top of it. I saw another Ryōkan open for lodging and, although I fought myself from going to speak with them, I had to inquire about their prices to see if it was worth my salvation from walking in the rain. It wasn’t. I was tempted, but I needed to put a stop to the extra money I’d been spending.
The rain was falling hard now. I could both hear and feel the drumming of raindrops on my sugegasa. It was frantic and without rhythm. As I moved forward, I grew desperate for some salvation from the rain. It came in the form of a phone booth. I was happy to get out of the rain and now I could call some lodgings to see if anything was available.
The folding door of the ancient booth had not been maintained and was a job to open. I shook it back and forth making miniscule progress until there was enough space for me to squeeze my frame through and pull my bag through behind me. I wrestled off my bag inside the skinny booth and stood for a minute to appreciate the cover from the rain. The air was humid inside and didn’t provide much comfort.
I jostled in the tight quarters to grab the change and start calling lodging. It appeared that Catherine’s inability to communicate might have been a problem for her because places were not as busy as she’d indicated. I called three Ryōkans and they all had rooms available for me. I made reservations for two nights, the next day by myself, and the day after with Cindy.
The booth with it’s tight quarters and extra humidity was no improvement from being outside in the rain. Once I finished my calls, I jumped right back onto the road. The rain only increased during the walk. I reached the school after 30 minutes more and found shelter beneath an overhang by one of the entrances to the building. I sat for a while and watched the rain drops pound ripples in the puddles of the courtyard. They reminded me of the waves I’d watched brushing on the beach just two days past. But, they had definite differences, I thought. The rain would stop, the waves would not.
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