Two things. First thing is more of a small elephant, but a lovely elephant with charming tusks.

One of my smaller schools in the countryside has attached to it an even smaller branch school, which caters for pupils who live in the middle of nowhere. I visit the branch school about once every two-three months, and teach all of the 13 pupils in one afternoon. Because the school is so small, we get to do really boss things (and the lunch lady actually cooks my dinner without meat, woah!). Today, we planted rice.

After the gang who went to Korea returned from Korea, the squares which make up a typical view of the Japanese countryside were suddenly filled with water. Standing pert in some, saplings were breaking the still surface of mirrored mountains. “Spring has come,” as all of my team teachers can say with a perfect English accent. Today, we fourteen and many teachers spent fifth period up to our bare calves in mud, and digging sloppy alcoves with our fingers before shoving in the roots. A grid system had been outlined throughout our corner of one rice paddy, and where the lines crossed, we were to plant. Of course, one kid fell completely on his ass. Another got his wellingtons stuck, and in his bid for freedom, managed to tread over a row of saplings. It was a brilliant afternoon, man. Back in the office, once we had hosed down our legs, we scoffed ice cream in the staff room whilst the kids got ready for home time. Fit.

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photo1Thing number two. This thing is of MAMMOTH PROPORTION. The final poetry pilgrimage is planned, friends. And by Jove is it hot stuff. Zoom out of this map a bit, and take a look. That’s right, folks. From the famous barrier at Shirakawa in southernmost Fukushima prefecture – the barrier to the north which has existed since ancient times – to the heights of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture, I am going to walk the Oushu Kaido. The Oushu Kaido is a road which was built in 7th century Japan to connect Kyoto to the north, and along it are myriad locations of utamakura of which I have read, and admired, for years. Basho walked this road in 1689, but I will be deterring from his path in order to visit areas of interest he did not; miss out the places I have already visited on other pilgrimages; to shorten a day’s walk from 12 hours to 8-10, which will be the average per day if I am to complete the eastern part of my journey in one week.

The place-marks featured on the map below are those places of interest I hope to see, and the purple line is the route I hope to take. Although most of my walk will be along east Tohoku, once I have reached Sendai I will take a train to the west coastal town of Sakata – one of the towns I visited with Josh in September – and from there, walk north along the coast to Kisakata. Kisakata is the northernmost part of Tohoku any pilgrim of poetry ever ventured to reach in pre-modern times, and I was sad to have missed it when I was last in the north west. To see her myriad islets rising from rice paddies against the looming Mount Chokai has been a goal of mine since I first read Basho’s Oku no Hosomichi, and to do so should make a grand end to my time in Japan. I’ll stay overnight for as long as I can get away with, before catching a bus back down to Koriyama, and then, the plane back to the UK.

I cannot express to you how excited I am to do this. Walking alone for an entire week, with only the intention of making a video diary along the way to distract me, I wonder if I won’t go a little mad. I have learned from climbing mountains, however, that the greater the challenge to reach a worshiped place is, the greater the feeling of exaltation upon arrival. In no other way can I truly understand the clustered sentiments of old, and in no better way could I say farewell to the landscape which hosts them: a land I only came to because of them. I don’t recall having ever spent an entire week alone before, and I’ve certainly never walked over 30km a day after day! I don’t underestimate the undertaking (I’m shitting myself) but I’m going to have to take preparation a bit more seriously than I usually do. Wish me luck, eh!