Left Yamagata city. Took 2 hour bus ride through mountains to get to old castle town of Tsuruoka. Adjusting to traveling alone. Out of the habit of talking to people. Starting to talk to myself.
Lugged bearpack and Shrewsbury past the deserted shops on Sunroad to reach the Uchi river. Riverside deserted. Its waters blocked up with algae, a discarded sake bottle resting motionless on the surface.
The poet Basho came to Tsuruoka in 17th century, wrote a haiku about eating an aubergine, then left by boat for Sakata. Tsuruoka is known as a centre of culture. Twilight Samurai author was raised here. Can`t see much culture now.
An old man with crooked teeth and a wide smile stopped to chat to me: “the river used to be much cleaner, full of fish,” he repeated 3 times. He was generous with his time, responding to my foolish questions and craving for company.
A sudden downpour. I sheltered under a cherry tree. A stupid idea, I got soaked. No shops to hide in though – their shutters are all pulled down.
Tsuruoka looks dead. Its canal and train station killed by cars. Edge of town bypass is lined with nationwide chain stores. Hardly a chain store in the town. Hardly a store. Garagara empty.
Booked into Hotel Stayin, a business hotel in a town without business. A cheap cell on the 4th floor. No curtain. Just a thick wooden board to slide across the window.
In early evening walked along river again. Looked dramatically different. Rainwater had drained into the canal and the dead river was alive, flowing at speed. The sun was shining and the town`s age became a virtue; its rust began to look refined.
Looking forward to finding more life tomorrow.