Chapter 30 – Discover Japan
BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA;
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS and FOUR LANGUAGES.
1. Country weekends
Gradually I began to get my private life into some sort of shape.
I began to see a lot of Yasuko. She still had her job with the Ajiken.
We spent many weekends doing what we had enjoyed so much together two years earlier— exploring the beautiful countryside around Tokyo.
1. Country Weekends
For someone brought up in the monotony, solitude and harshness of the Australian countryside, the lushness, variety, seasonal changes and the wealth of human interaction in Japanese nature was exciting.
’Discover Japan’ was a slogan developed by the national railways to encourage people to get out and travel.
It should not have been necessary. Japan is a goldmine of attractive places to discover.
We had begun during my Ajiken days with the mountain country an hour or so to the west of Tokyo – the 1500-2000 meter ranges of Oku-Tama, Oku-Chichbu, Tanzawa.
Now we were gradually moving further a-field, mainly into the deep, vast and largely unknown 3,000 meter ranges of the Southern Alps.
The Japanese are a strange people.
They will happily spend six-eight hours traveling to the well-known but distant and often over-crowded Northern Alps, mainly because they are well-known, distant and over-crowded.
But they ignore the equally challenging but deserted and very attractive Southern Alps just the other side of Mt Fuji – almost within viewing distance from Tokyo.
Thursday afternoons would see me poring over hiking maps, planning the route for that weekend.
Friday evenings we would set off on the overnight trains to the starting point for our climb.
Sunday afternoons we would be descending many miles away, tired and happy, hopefully to a hot spring hideaway before taking the train back to Tokyo.
One of my ‘Discover Japan’ techniques was to take a map, look for an area with few villages or roads, and head off to see what was there.
Inevitably we would find a Shangri-la hidden away in the hills and forgotten by history.
One of our best finds was the island of Kakeroma down Okinawa way.
I had been invited to Kyushu by the elderly Iwasaki Yohachiro.
He was being bitterly criticised by Australia’s environmentalists for trying to build a honeymoon hotel in Queensland’s remote Yeppoon area.
(Why the greenies should protest an hotel bringing people and funds to an area crying out for people and development seemed surprising.
(I could understand it if they wanted to visit the area in its pristine beauty. But we never saw any sign of them there looking at the pristine beauty.)
Iwasaki wanted me and some others to visit his resort hotel in Ibusuki near Kagoshima, so we could get some idea of what he planned for Yeppoon.
That was interesting enough – a mammoth affair with dozens of hot baths, live shows and dantai (group) tours moving through every night.
There I discovered he also had interests in the island of Amami Oshima to the south, where he had made his fortune prewar exporting hardwood sleepers for the Manchurian railways.
His staff arranged for me to visit Amami also.
On a map of the large and little-known Amami island I noticed another large but seemingly unknown island just to the south with the unusual name of Kakeroma.
It had few roads or large settlements.
No one seemed able to tell me what went on there.
So we (Yasuko and myself) decided to go and find out.
Crossing the Setouchi channel from Koniya at the very bottom of Amami, we discovered a paradise of unspoiled semi-tropical hills and beaches surrounded by coral reefs, inhabited by dear hearts and gentle people clinging to the customs of another era.
In every village we could hear the clack-clack of the hand looms where the women of the island made the highly-prized tsumugi cloth for sale in the rest of Japan.
The place was so untouched that hotels, taxis and even vending machines did not exist.
Even now, at moment of writing, only a few diving fanatics know about Kakeroma, though it has over 200 kilometers of coral-lined coastline and a population of around 4,000 (7,000 then).
We have been back several times since, mainly so son Dan could link up with a young girl he had met there and liked.
The world has this image of Japan as a grossly over-crowded nation.
But there are large areas of countryside where people rarely venture.
Even ardent hikers rarely want to stray from the beaten track.
In the Tanzawa hills just outside Tokyo it was thirty years before someone came across the remains of downed wartime plane.
The trails nearby are often crammed with weekend hikers. But no one had ventured onto the steep slopes alongside.
In the remote headwaters of the Mibu river on the western and rarely visited side of the Southern Alps I once came across what I am sure was a small Red Army camp.
About half a dozen of tough, good-looking youth were camped out there.
If they really were Red Army fugitives, it was sad that their talents, energy and youth were being wasted in a fruitless confrontation with a society that had no idea of, or sympathy for, their idealistic goals.