Ibaraki Bus Ride

I took a final walk today, a trip up to the top of Mount Tsukuba, one of the hyakumeizan 100 famous mountains in Japan. As Tsukuba-san is supposed to be one of the easier peaks I decided I could quite easily do the climb in sandals and with my full backpack.  This decision was based on vague memories of half-understood comments from people who had not climbed it, and backed up by a blogpost I had not read properly,


Anyway, I will write about the actual hike in a future post. This one is about, erm, actually I am not really sure what it is about. So good luck reading it. Here goes:


Recently I have been reading A Time of Gifts, a memoir by Patrick Leigh Fermor of walking from Holland to Istanbul in the 1930s. A fantastic adventure, broad in scope and rich in historical detail, a different Europe from what I have ever seen or known. It is hard to supress the desire to follow his footsteps for a bit, perhaps with a few less barns and a few more beds. Perhaps I will try one day. For now, I should concentrate on trying to make sense of what is around me, for today that is Japan, for tomorrow Taiwan.

A public bus from the lotus-root producing, lakeside town of Tsuchiura took me to the foot of Tsukuba-san. The 45 minute journey was enough to remind me of some of Ibaraki’s peculiarities. At the back of bus, I joined a University-aged boy with dyed blond hair, a huge gold earring, black Doc Martens, and a blousy grey jacket of the kind usually worn by 60 year old women. He got off to be replaced by a High School Boy with his trousers falling down who immediately rested his bare feet on the seat in front and spent the entire journey styling his hair. We were not far from Shimo-Tsuma where two girls, one a wild punk and one a rococco-loving cos-player form an unlikely friendship in the funny film Shimo-Tsuma Monogatari.

One of my main memories of living in Ibaraki is the roads, (trains were for schoolkids and gaijin), for adults, cars were indispensable. Even hairdressers, banks, internet cafes and conbinis have their own car parks. Sometimes it seems that Ibaraki, consistently ranked as one of the least popular prefectures to visit, is aiming to concrete over every inch of ground. It is a drive-in prefecture; with a squint you could be in the midwest US of the movies.

Then suddenly, as if the builders had run out of cement, the bus sailed through a little old village, Fujisawa (Wisteria Stream) where green popped out of every garden, colourful flowers poked their heads over high stone walls and shiny kawara clay roof tiles added a desperately needed extra dimension. There is hope for Ibaraki, if only it can find the cure for concrete.

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