Where I’m At

Where I’m At

Hi, all.

Yep, still alive, last time I checked. I haven’t been a complete tech-hermit: the Instagram posts have been appearing like clockwork, the blog, which is far harder to maintain, I consciously let atrophy in the interests of relaxation at night, laptop battery life and concentrating on the oddly satisfying though never-ending task of prettying up the day’s pictures.

For those readers who’ve been wondering and perhaps even anticipating, my apologies and gratitude. I have a couple of free hours right now, so I’ll see if I can sum up the events of recent weeks with a few of those ghastly bullet points, and supplement those with some pictures in a forthcoming (promise) post.

Meanwhile, do consider checking out my Instagram page — I never missed a night and with my favourite shot for each day, it makes a pretty decent overview of my whole Japan trip; my handle is goattrackphotography.

  • Where I’m at is Osaka — my first time here, oddly enough, considering it’s the 3rd-biggest city in the country — in a really, really cool Starbucks/book store/cafe high up in one of those ubiquitous shopping precincts that enclose every major urban station. I’ve been here for many, many hours, as it’s rained all day and now that the hard work is over, I’m reluctant to get all wet and grungy again. I’ve also had little interest in sightseeing — would have checked out the reconstructed castle, which is very famous, but this place is just so comfortable, and I’m sorta castled out. Plus it would require walking; I hate walking.
  • I came here yesterday via JR highway bus from Matsuyama, Shikoku, where I spent a few days doing almost nothing except taking a daily hot-spring bath, working on pictures, napping and sharing beers and yarns with my friends at Sen Guesthouse.
  • I’ve seen a fair bit of that guesthouse of late. I actually quit the pilgrimage a week and a half ago, just three or four days from the end, at Ozu station, Ehime, south of my start/finish point at temple #51, Matsuyama. I had temples #44 to #50 left to do, and then the return to #51, but my feet had been messed up after a few days of walking in dreary rain (in sandals), and the pain and misery were extreme even by my standards.
  • The place it all started to go bad was Cape Ashizuri. My third time there and I’ve never warmed to it. I always found it sorta bleak — maybe reading in Oliver Statler’s book about all the pilgrims in days of old intentionally sailing off into the sunset in prolonged acts of suicide (plus its reputed popularity even today as a place to jump off the very scenic cliffs) marred its image for me. I far prefer Muroto, the other cape in Kochi.
  • It sucked that my feet began, again, to fail there, as I’d just met a couple of cool young Frenchmen doing the Henro and we enjoyed each other’s company. Funny, just as in my first walk down that cape in 2008, the best English I got to speak in ages was with citizens of France in their second language. They moved ahead, we met by chance a couple of days later in a bamboo forest, we parted…and then they turned up, with great gallic gusts of laughter, at a convenience store I was slouching against — we shared dinner, beers and a great stealth-camp in a hillside park in Uwajima. Then my feet gave up the ghost and I could never catch them again.
  • Rain is a pain when you’re lugging a couple of cameras. I usually change to the weather-resistant 100mm macro lens on the (also weather-resistant) Pentax body, which hangs over one shoulder unless the weather’s really awful, but the Sony RX1 that is attached like a prosthetic claw to my right hand is far from weather-resistant — and also very expensive. I’d wrap a shower cap (first thing I look for to pinch in hotel rooms) around it, then hang it from my sternum strap just inside my lightweight rain jacket — and all of this further sheltered beneath my umbrella…but it’s a hassle. Especially when I see something I need to shoot. A precarious business in inclement conditions.
  • The laptop has now done two Henros and somehow stayed dry inside its Sea-to-Summit dry-sack in the pack. What a machine. I couldn’t have done the art I completed without it. Go, Apple.
  • Blisters usually don’t bother me — I pop the ones on toes and the back of feet as soon as they appear. With the two-three toenails I always lose, they help make my feet look like I’ve danced through fire or something. But on that danged cape the wet socks started to rub, and I felt the hot spots starting to bite beneath the ball of each foot. Worse fears realised: the nastiest possible spot for a blister, let alone a left one and a right one, right where that 15kg+ bears down with the most force. After a few days, though they never burst, I was travelling at less than half-speed, and every step felt like I had ground glass in my socks.
  • I wasn’t enjoying myself. I just wanted to reach the finish line. One day I was at a convenience store, sitting down on the ground enjoying the motionlessness, when the little voice in my head said, “Man, just quit.” I got online, booked three nights at Sen, and spent a long, long day trudging towards the train station. I would have quit a day or two earlier but the trains and buses in that rustic corner of Ehime seemed like more bother than they were worth. Getting to this one would have ordinarily been no bother, but it took all I had, and I almost cancelled my booking at Sen but didn’t want to waste the money. On I trudged. When at last I collapsed into the seat on one of those little rural trains they have over here, I immediately gulped a couple of celebratory swigs of cheap Japanese whisky, but soon regretted it: it was a limited-express and it flew like a goddamned rocketship around the bends and through the tunnels and up the coast and over the mountains to Matsuyama, till I was gut-churningly motion-queasy. Matsuyama was the relief I knew it would be.
  • I didn’t really care if I never finished, since I’d already done the Henro once, but after a few days of rest the feet were a lot better, and I’d used the time to order some cheap hiking shoes on the Japanese version of Amazon, which Matt had told me would get them to me fast, and he was right. All at once I was back on a train south — this was a week ago, a Wednesday, and when I told Matt I’d be back in three days, he said, “No, dude, you’ll need four.” He booked me in for three days starting Saturday night, and it felt great knowing I had all that comfort and camaraderie waiting at the end of the line. Plus, I scored lovely weather and a really scenic section of trail. The train was a local, so it was an interminable journey, but once I got back on the road, I felt reinvigorated, my shoes were springy and luxurious, and I’d left some heavy stuff at the guesthouse, so my pack was at the ideal weight.
  • From Ozu I worked my way to Uchiko and then gradually gained elevation following a pair of lovely rivers up towards Kuma Kogen and eventually temples #44 and #45. I was utterly alone, there were flowers everywhere, the feeling was bittersweet and I savoured it all. First night was in a roadside shelter recently built for cyclists, next beside an ancient stretch of forest trail approaching Iwaya-ji (#45); the final night was under an overpass, just for old time’s sake — but a good one, silent and blessed with a little patch of grass and a few planted ornamental trees.
  • That last campsite was just 1.5km short of temple #46, and that final morning was wonderful: all the temples leading into Matsuyama are close together, and I really enjoyed that last string of stops, till I arrived at #51, just 10 minutes or so from the guesthouse, around midday on Saturday.
  • Beers ensued.
  • I took up my now-customary position at a little coffee table that is my de facto office when I’m there, and resumed doing not much of anything except bathing, eating, drinking, sleeping and photo-editing. I took some shots for Matt & Nori to use on their website (not on there yet but I’ll let you know) and met a few henro as they moved through. I had no idea what to do next but my departure isn’t till May 16 so needed to come up with something, or shorten my stay. At last I devised this almost-plan, which is…
  • Osaka…well, I’ll do it properly one day, perhaps. But later tonight I get an overnight bus to the western coast — well, almost. Kanazawa is one of those places you hear about over here that I’ve never seen. Arrive there in the morning and will probably spend tomorrow strolling around the old town and a famous garden, before a night in a cheap guesthouse and then another train, or bus, to the Noto Peninsula on the Sea of Japan. I had the idea of walking its perimeter years back, but forgot all about it till the other day. It sounds laidback and peaceful (though Golden Week is fast approaching, the one time of year a sane man avoids anything tourism-oriented in this country), but if it isn’t, I’ll bail for Tokyo and think of something else.
  • I’ve now walked Shikoku twice, once in each direction, via those 88 temples, in addition to the 30-day wander of 2008. I am, it’s safe to say, Shikoku-ed out. Right now I doubt I’ll be back, and if I never see a temple again it’ll be too soon.
  • I achieved nothing in the way of enlightenment (forget Nirvana — they were an excellent band but that’s it) but I never expected to, since I don’t even believe in it. I’m pretty much a rationalist to my core, which is a bummer at times. But as Edward Abbey said in one of my favourite quotes, “We have all we need of heaven here on earth.” (I will add: “Hell, too.”) What those long and sometimes punishing walks do provide, of course, is a near-lethal dose of self-awareness. No doubt it makes you stronger, but I don’t know, I still seethe with the same angst, and anger, and disillusionment etc at times, like everyone else; I suppose I just get better at riding it all out.
  • The first Henro was a battle against mental obstacles. I was on anti-depressants during it, fortunately, following some trauma and deep depression in 2014, but it was a struggle. This time it was more the physical body that let me down: cold nights, cracked heels, an elephantine middle finger after that plant attack, and finally the blisters. Then of course the mental stuff moved in there again at the end: Hello, darkness, my old friend. But I pulled it off, the end was beautiful, and I couldn’t be prouder, I guess. I don’t really think about it.
  • Nature, as always, was the core of my Henro. I didn’t really care about the temples this time — enjoyed some, for sure, but didn’t take many shots in them or care too much if I arrived at them after dark. Ancient trees, birds, insects, stray cats, a lovely snake, a pair of goats, rocks, moss, beaches, rivers, flowering trees: those and plenty of others were more beautiful than any human-made edifice could ever be; I’ll remember them and their fellows long after the temple memories have faded.
  • This will sound cheesy but what the hell: If nature is my god, mountains, forests, rivers and coastlines are my churches, walking is my ascetic discipline and making pictures is my meditation. End of sermon.
  • The walk down the Shimanto River (which I’ve now done twice), from source to sea, is for me a greater achievement than my pair of Henros. I’ll never forget that week of beauty and solitude.
  • That’s enough of all that.
  • Oh, my final figures? I’ll attach the completed table at bottom, but the total for my 53 days (which includes the Shimanto walk plus all the zero days) was…
  • 1461.9km/908m
  • Thanks for reading.
Henro Day #DateMain TemplesDaily DistanceTotal Distance
1Feb 28#51: Ishite-ji
#52: Taisan-ji
#53: Enmyou-ji
2March 1#54: Enmei-ji
#55: Nankou-bou
#56: Taisan-ji (a different one to above!)
3March 2#57: Eifukujo
#58: Senyu-ji
4March 3#60: Yokomine-ji41.85km/26m135.62km/83m
5March 4#61: Kouon-ji
#62: Hoju-ji
#63: Kichijo-ji
#64: Maegami-ji
6March 5021.44km/13m185.53km/113m
7March 6#65: Sanpuku-ji25.22km/15m210.75km/130m
8March 7#66: Unpen-ji
#67: Daiko-ji
9March 8#68: Jinne-in
#69: Kanon-ji
#70: Motoyama-ji
#71: Iyadani-ji
#72: Mandara-ji
#73: Shusskaka-ji
#74: Koyama-ji
10March 9#75: Zentsu-ji
#76: Konzo-ji
#77: Doryu-ji
#78: Gosho-ji
11March 10#79: Tennō-ji
#80: Kokubun-ji
12March 11#81: Shiromine-ji
#82: Negoro-ji
#83: Ichinomiya-ji
13March 12#84: Yashima-ji
#85: Yakuri-ji
14March 13#86: Shido-ji
#87: Nagao-ji
#88: Ōkuboji
15March 14#10: Kirihata-ji
#9: Hōrinji
#8: Kumadani-ji
#7: Jūrakuji
#6: Anraku-ji
16March 15#5: Jizōji
#4: Dainichi-ji
#3: Konsen-ji
#2: Gokuraku-ji
#1: Ryōzenji
17March 1600km472.04km/293m
18March 1700km472.04km/293m
19March 18#11: Fujii-ji
#12: Shōsanji
20March 19#13: Dainichi-ji
#14: Jōrakuji
#15: Kokubun-ji
#16: Kanon-ji
#17: Ido-ji
21March 20#18: Onzan-ji
#19: Tatsue-ji
#20: Kakurin-ji
#21: Tairyū-ji
22March 21#22: Byōdōji29.77km/18m610.70km/379m
23March 22#23: Yakuōji37.49km/23m648.19km/402m
24March 23039.10km/24m687.29km/427m
25March 24#24: Hotsumisaki-ji
#25: Shinshōji
#26: Kongōchōji
26March 25#27: Kōnomineji38.44km/23m766.01km/475m
27March 26#28: Dainichi-ji
#29: Kokubun-ji
#30: Zenraku-ji
28March 2700km805.59km/503m
29March 28#31: Chikurin-ji
#33: Sekkei-ji
#34: Tanema-ji
30March 29030.89km/19m875.45km/543m
31March 30040.33km/25m915.78km/569m
32 (Shimanto River Walk Day 1)March 31025.72km/15m941.5km/585m
33 (Shimanto River Walk Day 2)April 1019.08km/11m960.58/596m
34 (Shimanto River Walk Day 3)April 2#37: Iwamoto-ji29.11km/18m989.69km/614m
35 (Shimanto River Walk Day 4)April 3045.97km/28m1035.66km/643m
36 (Shimanto River Walk Day 5)April 4028.98km/18m1064.64km/661m
37 (Shimanto River Day 6)April 5013.82km/8m1078.46km/670m
38 (Shimanto River Walk Day 7)April 6024.08km/14m1102.54km/685m
39 (Shimanto River Walk Day 8)April 7044.44km/27m1146.98km/712m
40April 8#38: Kongōfuku-ji22.08km/13m1169.06/726m
41April 9040.93km/25m1209.99km/751m
42April 10#39: Enkō-ji27.17km/16m1237.16km/768m
43April 1100km1237.16km/768m
44April 12#40: Kanjizai-ji26.77km/16m1263.93km/785m
45April 13034.02km/21m1297.95km/806m
46April 14#41: Ryūkōji
#42: Butsumoku-ji
47April 15#43: Meiseki-ji29.08km/18m1353.24km/840m
48April 160 0km: Injured1353.24km/840m
49April 1700km: Injured1353.24km/840m
50April 1800km: Injured1353.24km/840m
51April 1925.80km/16m1379.04/856m
52April 20#44: Taihōji
53April 21#45: Iwaya-ji33.68km/20m1445.36km/898m
54April 22#46: Jōruriji
#47: Yasaka-ji
#48: Sairin-ji
#49: Jōdoji
#50: Hanta-ji
#51: Ishite-ji

~山羊 ~

There are 14 comments

  1. Bethany

    Thank goodness for your digital crumb trail across the cybers, even from the shitty internet of village town Argentina I was able to find ya. One year in to my own 5 year endavour to walk all of South and then North America.

    Glad to see you are still walking, still seeking, still quitting, and then quitting at quitting.
    Big love,


    • MisterGoat

      Hey Fidgit!

      Bravo to you & your obviously insane quest! I assume yr going south > north! Yowzers, as Richie Cunningham used to say! I only just found your comment as I’ve (also obviously) not been around this neck of the cyberwoods of late. But this website, while doomed, is not the end of the story — I’ve been intentionally neglecting it so as to remain undistracted from my project of building an entirely new website, outside of WordPress even. It’s consumed most of my waking time since getting back from Japan. I will do a short post on here soon to explain to the handful of former readers who remain, and the new one should be up and running soon.

      Otherwise, yes, still an excellent quitter, though I did end up finishing the Henro for the 2nd time (and surely the last?). Speaking of quitting, I had a look at my photos from the PCT in 2010 (gawd, was it that long ago?) recently – not very good artistically (I wasn’t trying) but still glad I have them. Some good memories in there. Anyway, it brought back this lingering regret over finishing my walk at the Washington border — and all so I could jet over to Switzerland on a doomed quest to make a life with a woman who…well, I have nothing good to say about her, so I’ll stop right there. But dang, and I’ll almost certainly never be back on American soil, so that’s the end of that mission.

      Anyway, I just noticed you have a website of your own to check out, so I’ll check that out now. Stay safe! Keep on truckin’! Ganbatte!


      PS By the way, I have an Osprey these days – it worked great for me in Japan with all the weight of electronics etc, no back pain issues whatsoever…

  2. Rob Ashdown

    I was going to hit you with a curly question about enlightenment and what the ‘spuritual’ aspects of this truly epic walk were for you – but you’ve answered all that very eloquently in your ‘dot-point update’. A most individual, private journey that you have generously shared with us all, and many thanks for that. I’ve looked forward to your daily images. Hope all goes well with this difficult part of the journey, and here’s to ‘riding out any and all hard times’ that might lurk beyond the horizon, which I hope would be a process aided and abetted by the memory of this walk and a review of what must be a kaleidoscope of dazzling photographs.

    • MisterGoat

      Hey Rob, thanks as always for the nice words, a kaleidoscope indeed, daunting really. I wish you could just edit one picture and then click on “Apply to entire catalogue” or something… Never that simple though, so I just tinker away at half a dozen or so each day – at least it doesn’t cost anything except coffee money here at Starbucks (where you can charge your devices while going insane staring at pictures)…

      You’ll be pleased to learn — well, maybe “pleased” isn’t the word — that I had my love for Japanese crows tested yesterday, a rather tense encounter with a pair of parents after I got too close to Junior. Man, did they ever let me have it! Great entertainment for the folk in the park, though nobody made a single sound of either alarm or concern, just stared at the hapless foreigner fleeing as they took turns swooping! Another valuable lesson learned. And I thought magpies were bad.

      Slowly getting in time-to-leave mode, probably just in time as I’ve been spending too much and don’t want to go home to no funds whatsoever. At least I’ll have plenty to do while the poverty takes effect.

  3. Zoe Zepherelli

    Yes, I was wondering what happened to you! Good to know you are happily done and dusted. My thoughts upon hearing that you “quit” was that it’s the journey and not the destination anyway and you’ve definitely had the journey by the sounds of it MG. Well done! I love hearing about your bouts of self-nurturing and free-spacing-out just as much as the stretches of hard discipline. Yin and the Yang I suppose……. Enjoy the rest of your time there MG!

    • MisterGoat

      Thanks, Zoe, winding down here in Tokyo – getting on a plane home tomorrow night. I just didn’t have the will to do any more serious walking over here, need to heal up & rest. Also $$$ is drying up! Tokyo will do that…

  4. Christina Tanski

    So happy to hear (read) that you are safe and sound. 🙂 Your journey-meditative, soul-searching, grueling, challenging, IS a spritual journey-all yours, and no one else’s to judge or determine. Through all the temples, and even more so the forests, rivers, wildlife, cats-you carried yourself and your gear miles and miles and thoughts and more thoughts-a true meditative experience!! You have done your Shikoku (s) YOUR way-and that is exactly as it should be. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Bravo and Cheers, and enjoy every single second of the remainder of his trip!!!!!!!

    • MisterGoat

      Thanks, Christina, I think I need some time and distance to make sense of it all, but it worked out pretty well in the end. Never really expected to do the Henro once, let alone twice — the island is definitely part of me now. And far more rewarding artistically than I’d hoped, the shots will keep me busy for a long time yet. Definitely some self-discovery there too: amazing what this battered old frame can still manage when it’s forced to!

  5. Jane

    Hi Ian,

    Thanks for taking time out to give your readers a most interesting and comprehensive report of your activities. It’s been a tough trip physically and mentally but I’m sure one that you don’t regret and you’ll have so many memories to carry home as well as a vast number of beautiful photographic images. The daily Instagram updates have been a treat also so thanks for sharing these too. Enjoy the rest of your trip and I hope your return flight is less stressful than the initial one! 🙂

    Best wishes,

    • MisterGoat

      Thanks, Jane — me too. Meanwhile it’s a big bus journey tonight — again. I used to think (Australian) buses were almost as awful as planes but the Japanese ones, I must say, are better than flying in every possible way. Feeling rather disoriented, but hoping a return to the familiar turf of Tokyo will cheer me up and give me something useful to do with myself for my last week.

    • MisterGoat

      Thanks for waiting, starting to wind down over here, cut my trip short as I’ve run out of purpose…Tokyo bound tonight!

    • MisterGoat

      Well, sir, as you now know, there is a header picture or whatever it’s called in the actual blog (rather than the emailed version). And it’s super-cute! More to come — a lot more…

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