Took the donko slow train to Akita city, then the coastal line to the ancient, mythical, unpronounceable seaside settlement of Kisakata.
Kisakata is in Nikaho city. I got off the train at Nikaho city. But Kisakata was not there. It was nowhere to be seen. Several years ago, when Japan had a grey lion for a Prime Minister, small towns were eaten alive by big towns in a process called gappe. So now Kisakata lives somewhere inside Nikaho city, but it is nowhere near Nikaho station.
An elaborate excuse maybe. But trust me. It wasn`t the wrong stop. The stop was wrong.
The lady at Relaxin`, the Jazz Cafe near Nikaho station certainly sympathised with my position. She even had the generosity to say: “I have heard of people making that same mistake.” Really? Fools. Then she made me a superb homemade pizza and offered me a lift to Kisakata herself – she was on her way there anyway.
My Lady Luck was 59 and called Noriko; she`s been running Relaxin` for over 10 years: “The only Jazz cafe in the whole of Nikaho!”
Standing in front of a row of Japanese and Scottish whiskey bottles, Noriko talked jazz. Her interest in it came with the discovery of Miles Davis and his Kind of Blue album.
“Being moved by your emotions is a crucial part of living,” Noriko said. Jazz affects her deeply. She played an album by Hiroko Williams, a Japanese jazz artist. Noriko regularly prays to Buddha that Hiroko will come and play live at Relaxin`. “It is important to keep believing in something.”
The lady was funky. I say that with a lot of hesitation as my life as of yet has not got anywhere near funky. But Noriko was funky. She had a colourful hat on worn at an angle, AND she had red streaks in her long grey hair. Undeniable proof of funkiness.
Crammed into her tiny boxcar, the enormous shadow of Mount Chokai (2,236m) loomed over us as we headed into Kisakata. 2,500 years ago, part of Chokai collapsed into the sea and created 99 islands (in old Japan, the number 99 represents a large quantity). The poet Basho visited some of the 99 islands on his visit 300 odd years ago. Kisakata was as far north as Basho got. Lazy git, he did not even have tricky train maps to negotiate.
Then in 1804, 100+years after Basho, a huge earthquake lifted the Kisakata coastline. The 99 islands were joined up to the mainland. Many islands now stand in the middle of rice fields – “they`re defnitely worth visiting,” the Jazz lady recommended.
The Jazz lady had more up her sleeve.
“Do you plan to go up Chokai at all?”
“If possible, yes”
“My friend in Kisakata is training to be a guide. She can take you around the marshes tomorrow if you want.”
“Really, that would be great. Would you mind asking her?”
“I already have. She is available all day.”
Maybe it was not a mistake getting off at Nikaho after all – thank god for gappe.
EVENING: Binged on supermarket junkfood then fell asleep on a futon listening to Some Kind of Blue. A funky way to end the day…… Perhaps.