“Japan on Foot” (published by Fine Line Press) chronicles the exploits of two “roving reporters” (one English, one Japanese) who set off to capture the spirit of Japan by walking the length and breadth of the country, a 15-month odyssey of 7,500 kilometers.
Mary recounts adventures and meetings with some of the thousands of people they met along the way, including a professor who plans to resurrect the woolly mammoth, a farmer who maintains Moses was buried on his land, a Buddhist scholar who cares for what is reputed to be the mummy of a mermaid, and a marine geologist who believes that an Okinawan underwater structure is the ruins of a lost civilization.
“Japan on Foot” explores Japan’s off-the-beaten tracks, as well as some of its lesser-known myths, legends, history and culture. The two journalists also shed light on communities that live on the fringes of Japanese society, including the Buraku people and descendants of the Hidden Christians. A selection of photographs is included in the book.
Japan Today posted Part One of excerpts from King’s book here and Part Two here.
Following are more excerpts from the book.
Sitting on a red cushion in a small tatami-mat room was a podgy shamaness. Observing me over her thick-rimmed spectacles, she invited me to sit on a cushion. Although, traditionally, the "itako" of Osorezan are blind, some, like Miyou Ogasawara, are partially sighted. All the shamanesses at Osorezan undergo rigorous training that culminates in a symbolic marriage with a god. Afterwards, the women become mouthpieces for the ancestral spirits of pilgrims visiting what is one of the holiest mountains in Japan.
A lump rose in my throat. I was beginning to doubt my motives for having the session. Would Ogasawara-san be able to convey a message from a foreign spirit, and would I be able to fathom a message given to me in an Aomori dialect? The shamaness told me that she had communicated with a foreign spirit before, on behalf of an Englishman who had visited the mountain. The elderly woman promised to make every effort to channel the message to me in standard Japanese. Fingering fat brown beads with her thick fingers, Ogasawarasan leaned forward and asked for my father’s name. I trembled as I uttered, “Arthur Charles King”.
“Arzu Charu Chingu,” she said, and Etsuko and I suppressed giggles.
Ogasawara-san repeated my father’s name several times, but each time it made him sound Chinese. I figured that at this rate I should be grateful if she even managed to make contact with King Arthur or one of his Knights of the Round Table. But the itako started her long chant, thumbing through the prayer beads at a faster rate, and then after she fell into a trance, the monotone message came: “Be careful on the road as you walk south. Be careful with your health. Eat well and rest. I’m sorry I could not survive the illness, but to make me happy, marry and give me grandchildren.”
She repeated the same message several times before slumping forward and indicating that the session had ended. I handed her the three thousand yen fee for her services. The itako smiled softly and gave me a box of black grapes. “Take good care on your travels,” she said, holding my hands gently in hers for a moment. I awkwardly bowed and then shuffled out of the room as quickly as possible. I almost fell flat on my face as I feverishly wriggled my feet back into my boots.
“What a load of piffle,” Etsuko scoffed, as we stumbled on over volcanic rocks towards Lake Usoriyama.
Black ravens cawed, tearing at snack packets that had been left as offerings by pilgrims. The birds gobbled the contents and flew off. We strolled past gurgling fumaroles, giving off the stink of sulphur. Gokurakuhama Beach was deserted except for a few couples along its shores. Some were stooping to pray at statues or offering burning incense, a straw sandal or a toy. Flowers had been placed before many of the mizuko-jizo. Dressed in tattered red caps and bibs, the statues took on the appearance of abandoned babies waiting to be rescued from their forlorn surroundings. Some pilgrims offered sweets to appease the anguished souls of those who had never had the chance of life.
But the flowers, toys and brightly coloured pinwheels left spinning in the wind added no gaiety to the area. They intensified the atmosphere of grief in this place of spiritual limbo. I ruminated over what the shaman had told me. I didn’t believe that she had communicated with my father, but did wonder how she knew about our walk.
Read the book to find out.
Mary King will be in Japan to talk about her book at SWET (Society of Writers, Editors and Translators) on May 19 in Kyoto and May 25 in Tokyo.
Also, those interested in coming to the Mejiro lunch party should book early as seats are limited.
Details: Sunday May 27, 12.30 p.m. Lunch and Meet the Writer, Mont St Michel, Mejiro, Tokyo. Cost: 3,200 yen.
http://www.creperie-mont-st-michel.com/en/sas/welcome/top/ For bookings, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Allan Murphy at 090-9153-5917.
For further information on “Japan on Foot,” visit http://www.finelinepress.co.nz/japan_on_foot.html">Fine Line Press.© Japan Today