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Monday, 1 October 2012

K and i reached the stadium only in time for the second half of a game between the Osaka Buffaloes and Chiba Marines, but even that was highly enjoyable. For a cricket fan like myself, it’s easy to dismiss baseball as ‘glorified rounders’ – but the expertise and accuracy in throwing the ball, especially, is greater than you generally find in first-class cricket; the outfielders ping it about in a most commendable way. In addition there was good chanting from the home supporters, and most importantly we saw the Buffaloes clinch victory with a home run. Fried chicken and chips meanwhile made an agreeable supper, washed down with a few plastic beakers of beer[1]. And happily, i was at least allowed to pay for both our tickets. Afterwards we took the metro to the coach station in comfortable time for the overnight service to Fukuoka. K’s thoughtfulness and generosity culminated in her gift of a new little rucksack and money belt, to replace ones i had which were falling apart.     
   After reaching the bus station in Fukuoka in dull but dry weather on the morning of Tuesday 19th July, i found an internet café and posted ‘Okage Sama de!’ on the blog. It occurred to me that the tribulations i’d experienced in Kyoto might be down to the fact that i had not made a point of visiting a church, so this is what i did next in Fukuoka, taking the number 12 bus to the cathedral. There i met and got into conversation with a young English-speaking Japanese who, like me, was really a ‘repeat offender’ as far as pilgrimage was concerned. He’d walked the Camino three times, and been to Medjugorje thrice, as well as Fatima; despite not officially being a Christian! He took me to find some very useful maps, and agreed to take custody of my sleeping bag, whose bulk i felt i could do without on the way to Nagasaki; we arranged to meet up again in the same place on the following Monday. Before leaving i visited the cathedral shop, chatting there to an 87 year-old Spanish priest, and the elderly nuns at the counter, who gave me a packet of strawberry-flavoured energy chewing gum. 
   Once clear of Fukuoka proper, heading west, as darkness fell the road hugged the attractively sandy coastline. Rumours were circulating of a tornado, due to affect some parts of Japan in the next days, but thankfully i had nothing more alarming to contend with than blustery wind and sea-spray. At about 9.30pm i found a good place to sleep in a curious niche, sheltered and shielded from the road, along the side of a modern high-rise in a coastal suburb. The only problem was that, in the absence of any kind of bedding (i’d forgotten that it is built into the sleeping bag that was left in Fukuoka), i had to improvise using various paper cups and plastic bags that i’d accumulated.
   The next day, Wednesday 20th July, was quite a good one for walking, though i got into a bit of a strop at an internet café, after pressing the wrong button. Lots of crabs could be seen, a giant spider (by British standards), herons, harrier type raptors and mudskippers, the amphibious fish. At bed-time i spurned a chance to sleep in an abandoned public convenience near the shore, not least because of its infestation with the amphipod ‘scud’ crustaceans i’d seen on my first day in Japan. Eventually i accessed a concealed crevice under a pedestrian bridge across a railway line, coping with the intermittent din of trains that passed by within a metre or so. 
Japanese surfers' paradise.
   Next day i continued along the coast road, in patchy drizzle to start with, stopping to rest in an open beach house looking onto a very overcast (hence rather British) surfers’ paradise. I was offered a lift before leaving there, but in the wrong direction, so i trudged on, buoyed by a gradual improvement in the weather. In the afternoon i saw a pair of black herons for the first time, then soon afterwards the extraordinary spectacle of a heronry, in which both grey and white varieties were seen roosting in the canopy of a dense forest next to the road. On the way into Karatsu, from where the Imjin Waeran invasion of Korea was launched in 1592, i also spotted a brightly coloured frog the size of a small rabbit. Ever conscious of time constraints, from there i took a local train to Imari, arriving at about 9pm, and pinned down an internet café to check emails etc. Afterwards, at about 1am i finally saw that i could clamber down a ladder to a riverside path, where there was a space for a moderate sleep under a bridge.
   On Thursday 22nd July, the feast of St Mary Magdalene, i got away early in bright sunshine, but later made heavy weather of a walk along a river valley, as the temperature exceeded the limits of my tolerability threshold. I happily accepted a spontaneous offer of a lift from a fellow of about my age, whose fluent English was the result of having once lived in Alaska. When i listed some things i’d observed, which Japan has in common with Britain (including, in theory at least, our ‘reserve’, and reputation for politeness), he pointed out another very important consideration – the tradition of chivalry, in which Japanese knights of course are known as Samurai. When our discussion turned to the question of which country i would most recommend for sight-seeing in Europe, i felt bound to endorse Italy.

[1] The annoying thing was only that each beer had to be served in a new cup.

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