An eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape; the point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.
– Lucy Lippard, quoted in Wanderlust: a history of walking, Rebecca Solnit
And so, after an early blast of Tokyo winter in late November, the weather changes and I decide to go for a walk. I pull street clothes over UniQlo Heat Tech underwear, and load ebook, laptop, notebooks, and camera lenses into a rucksack and step into a blue-sky morning. Safety first, I check for traffic on the narrow road right outside my gate. The air is still cold, but the sun is warm on my face and, after the morning chill lifts enough to remove hat and gloves, on my head and hands.Across a busy road which runs all the way out to the ashy slopes of Mount Fuji unseen to the west (I climbed Fujisan last September, but that’s another story). A quick left at the yakinikku grilled meat restaurant, and a turn to the right down a residential street.
Until recently, this road was a farmer’s footpath. Now it leads past a cluster of newly built middle class homes. The original farmhouse still stands, however, landscaped and refurbished on developer’s money. What, I wonder, would this farmer’s ancestors make of these uniform townhouses where once were fields?
Another left at a coin-operated vegetable locker stocked by locals with carrots, daikon radish, spinach, eggplant, broccoli, sometimes a bouquet of garden flowers. Follow the narrow road past a choked bamboo grove which at night, when my wife passes it on her way home, is a dark and sinister place. Equally spooky public elementary school, deserted for some reason this schoolday morning. Across another big road, this one originally built to bring green plums into the city center.
Wait for the signal at the railroad crossing. These tracks run east to Shinjuku, and west to the Chichibu-Tama mountain range (yes, Tokyo has mountains within its city limits; also islands, but these are other stories).
On the other side of the tracks, the best route to my destination follows busy roads. Pedestrians and bicyclists pass on narrow, imaginary sidewalks separated from close-squeezed cars and trucks and buses by a line of white paint on the level asphalt.
It’s usually around this point that I shift gears. From here, beyond the range of convenience stores and supermarkets and bento shop which mark the limit of my daily strolls, body and mind know that we’re going for a walk. For the next hour or so, there’s nothing to do but walk, nowhere to be but here.
Earbuds go in (Japanese lessons; the latest Murakami novel on audiobook; Sigur Ros for mood music). My legs stretch out from their cramped suburban shuffle as I hit my stride. I become a walking machine, passing low-rise apartment buildings and shuttered shops, until I’m walking on real sidewalk again. At first simply worn pavement but, as I draw nearer, red brick, a perambulation which ends sometime later (what’s time to a body and mind linked to the eternal rhythm of motion?) when I near a cluster of shrines and temples which mark the final approach to my destination: Kichijoji.