Story: Sometime around 1994, I ended up working as a mushroom farmhand (enokitake and shiitake) in a small mountain village called Saji in Tottori-ken (prefecture), Yazu-gun (county) .
A sorta friend of friend of my brother was seeking a foreign worker (at the time, Japan’s economy was in a “bubble” with abundant wealth and no one wanted to do the crappy jobs it turns out). They would pay my airfare and so on, I had just finished a stint hitching and drifting around Europe and before the Grateful Dead tour and thought this would be an interesting adventure.
In 1993-4, I worked as a mushroom farmhand in Tottori-ken (prefecture), a rather remote area of Japan (southwestern-ish Honshu). The work was long and arduous and the boss was a jerk so, I eventually split unannounced one day.
Determined to explore some of the country before my visa ran out, I stuck my thumb-out seeking a “bouken” (adventure) after making destination signs by copying place name kanji characters onto 100 yes store notebooks with crayon and decorating with some lucky words and stamps (not sure if this helped).
Hitch-hiking isn’t very common in Japan but by sticking to rural areas – including the traditional “o henrosan dori” (the pilgrim’s path) on Shikoku (the smallest of the 4 main islands of the Japanese archipelago) which has seen many wandering poets, seekers and prayers over centuries – I skidded along alright.
Getting rides in the country areas was usually rather quick but often times, the ride would insist of showing “hospitality” in form of taking to their hometown to show off “the thing their town is famous for” (of which every town has one thing). Not ideal for fast moving but well… the take the ride, you go where it goes. Getting between big cities along the expressways was much less enjoyable and relied on waiting around rest/service areas in these cases.
I pitched my small tent most anywhere (beaches, shrines, parks etc) much the chagrin of caretakers and so on who would scold aloud in the early hours. In these situations, I poked my shaggy head out of the tent flap and yammered confused apologies in my farmer Japanese – this tactic would usually confuse the situation into submission.
Some of the time I was accompanied by a mysterious and intrepid Japanese surfer girl who thought my ridiculous plan was worth trying. I liked this part.
What follows are a few pieces of photographic evidence from these journeys, snapped with an early generation panorama camera – but developed “normal aspect” hence black framing bars on some shots.
“You can’t go home again” says Thomas Wolfe, and i’m cool with that as i don’t have a “home” however, there a few spots in the world that i always yearn to return to – one of which is Misasa Onsen, a small mountain town in Tottori-ken (prefecture) Japan(note: pop. approx 6500) which boasts hotsprings with exceptionally high levels of Radon/Radium (is this good for you? i dunno, not a chemist – note: radon is the gas-form).
They folklore says (as per the town’s name which translates to “Three Mornings”) that staying and bathing here for three days will cure you of all your ills. As Radium was discovered by French scientist Marie Curie, the town celebrates all things France with a statue, festival and park dedicated to the wise lady, and other Franco-accruements.
When i visit Thailand, i fly into Chiang Mai – a bustling olden city in the north area, rather than Bangkok which is just too much city for countryboy me. Then i head for the city of Phitsanulok, (Pits-NOH-loh) in central Thailand which is a workaday, very “normal” city for medical treatment (Phitsanulok life is detailed elsewhere in a similar fashion.
I travel by train – either a 1960s era Japanese model or a new Chinese-built machine with folding beds for the nighttime journey. Along the way, i write poetry and gaze out the window (poetry series Towns and Trains is – or might be – elsewhere in this archive).
What follows are snaps taken by a Lomo La Sardina (sardine can) camera loaded with expired film snapped from a moving train for no particular reason aside to see what happens and capture the washes of colour fleeting by as i roll, as well as a few folks i encountered along the way and a few places i slept or soaked.
Puffing along a trail recounting leaving cold, miserable London en route to post-hurricane Florida with flashbacks to working in Rheinplatz grade fields, gathering chestnuts to sell for beer and bread money, strange encampments at Oktoberfest, and hitchhiking to Amsterdam with gaggle of pals. To London by ferry and rapid exit via cheap flight Florida, quickly interjecting in chaotic domestic situations, meals with surly Hare Krishnas, sleeping on unglamorous beaches, and avoiding looting commotion, while plotting forward momentum, which eventually came in form of a dubious drive-away car situation to Dallas… and beyond (in 1992).
Features music by: “Brave Captain” fIREHOSE (recorded live in Ancienne, Belgique, March 12, 1991 – via Archive.org), “Florida” by Blue Rodeo (recorded live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), and “Crazy Fingers” by Grateful Dead (recorded live in Phoenix, AZ, 1993 – via archive.org).
On a forgotten forest walk, Dave riffs a story about first trip to Europe – starting with trying not to puke over an Amsterdam bridge after a meeting new temporary coffee shop pals – with flashback to Mexican desert trips with Grandpa, LSD trips with VW bus-fixing pals, and family Grateful Dead road trip to in Arizona.
Foreshadows future stories of an rapid exit from London to Florida then a (rather dangerous) driveway car to Dallas, bus to SLC, flight to Vancouver, then to Japan…
This past summer, after literally losing my mind, I decided to step into the abyss… Bravely, intrepidly and without compromise.
Holed up at a mountain cabin while chaos swirled around my lives, I listened to the message from records from decades ago, I hot boxed my beloved bus were so many happy memories happened, I reunited with charming characters from my past and even better, met their children who are adults (moreso than me anyway), then with a solid head of mushrooms and MDMA, this plan came to me.
On a psychedelic carpet, i clicked enough buttons on the Internet, to purchase an abstract variety of plane tickets to send me a round like a manic boardgame in search of a new flavour of truth and reality.
Salt Lake to Las Vegas to Pacifica to Chaing Mai and now to this anonymous city where I’m practically the only foreigner in a city mourning the death of their beloved King, I’m finding comfort and solace and healing.
In scant days, I will leave again into uncharted territory, beyond what science and reason says is capable of this haggard body but I refuse to except anything but finding some sense of joy.
I can live with pain I accept, but I cannot accept living without my brain and without my heart and soul. I am born to give, exist to share, and I am empty without those.
Without a safety net, without and emergency escape route, without language skills, without the strength to punch my way out of a wet paper bag, I have built a tiny universe and painted the walls just the colour I chose.
Who will return to the West Coast on December 6? what will I look like? Who will I be? I am indifferent to all of these questions as the destination is simply a byproduct of the journey.
The journey is me and I am the journey. Brick by brick, I will gently apply the mortar to rebuild, to renew, to replenish and regenerate from the very mitochondrial cells outwards.
A dear friend’s teenage daughter was heading out on her first foreign adventure–as such, i passed along a few thoughts. Sharing as perhaps others will find helpful.
It’s Dave here – and while I don’t have knowledge of all things, I do have a lot of knowledge about traveling… Not about fancy hotels and airline miles and gourmet restaurants but instead, grassroots travel where you immerse yourself in the culture and never really quite return home because much of your heart remains behind.
Now I don’t know all the details but I understand you’re going to a rather “developing” (hate this term but…) with a school group to do a humanitarian project – all that is awesome and, since I’m here, I’ll share a few random tips for you to consider while you ramble.
First off, all that stuff about packing light is very, very important. Consider your clothes a “uniform” and trust me, no one cares what outfits you wearing plus, one of the funnest things to do is buying clothes local and then you come home with a neat outfit. I take clothes which are quick drying, dark colors, and well-worn in so I don’t mind giving them away when I leave.
Since you have this extra room in your pack now you will fill it with something much more valuable: treats for the people. I don’t mean important expensive things but some of the things I take include: sets of pencil crayons, notebooks, pens and buttons with fun designs, postcards from my home town (remember agricultural people around the world love seeing photos of animals and farms and plants and so on), sometimes deflated soccer balls but those are a bit clumsy. My last big trip I printed out hundred postcards of my art so I had something to give to people that really created that connection much more than a “Facebook friend.”
Document extensively but use cameras judiciously. What I mean by this is that photos are often the worst way to connect with the people (there are exceptions like instamatics), as it put something between you and them, and that something is also an expensive piece of technology. Now photos are so important and I’m so grateful for the few foggy images I have from my first travel spots, my rule was to buy one or two disposable cameras, peel off the outer wrappers so is just a plastic black box and then I am limited by those 24 or 48 exposures so each shot had to be very important. Sure lots of them turned out really lousy but the intention was a lot of fun. Now I travel with a sardine can film camera which produces hazy water-colored memories which sort of seemed like how memories fade.
Instead, I love to make notebooks, fill up journals, scrapbooks with all my travel artifacts (ticket stubs, postcards, brochures, signatures, sketches, maps,…) These give you an interactive talking point with folks as you meet them and, of course travel with a pencil bag so folks can sign and add their thoughts to the big jumbo book, plus flip through and see other artifacts of me and my journey. I even throw in a few family photos and stuff like that before I leave to show new friends (as well as stave off the possible homesickness).
This one may sound weird but stay with me: I (usually) have a rule in which once I decide where to go, I learn nothing about the country. This seems super counter-intuitive but, because traveling is so easy now (my first trip to Europe at 21 was before cell phones, Internet, ATMs, common currency etc. ugh) so to keep that “degree of difficulty” up to snuff, I go in naïve so I can feel like an early explorer, there before the masses. Now I realize that doesn’t fit exactly with the logistics of your trip but the thought of going with a clear mind and minimal expectations opens up so many opportunities. Think of the place as white paper or canvas waiting for your contributions rather than pre-coloured with the drivel of guide books and instagram stories. Great examples is: “the most famous tourist site in every country” in which you can line up for hours to see something which you could go to another town and see something less crowded, perhaps not quite as magnificent, but almost wholly to yourself.
In other words, find your version of what’s awesome and discover the story(s) for yourself. Trust going to places you’ve never heard of or never expected, and you’ll find bits of magic which you can feel like you were the first person to document.
OK, health stuff… Like you, I’ve struggled with terrible migraines on and off throughout my life and now I’m dealing with a bunch of other crappy illnessess (fibromyalgia, CFS/ME etc). So, when I travel, I always have my little “safety kit” of killer soft eye mask, best earplugs, lavender oil, sticky heating patches from Japan for my shoulders and back, various oinments and magic to deal with onset of crazy pain. Like your situation I suspect, once it hits, you are done and need to shut down until you sort it out. So make sure you have your emergency escape kit and don’t be afraid to take an extra day in a quiet room when you need it. You are young, South America is just getting going (keep in mind it was a collection of “banana republic” – another lousy term, sorry – dictatorships for most of my life) so you can return again (and maybe again). The important point is to come home inspired and not battered.
Besides my beloved scrapbooks (if you want links to view photos of them just let me know) I also often take an audio recorder and love to record ambient noises of markets and streets and crowds or music or buskers and when I’m home and feeling blue, I put on my headphones and the audio drift you back better than any photo ever could (usually). Also, with my travel artifacts besides scrapbooks I also make big “static montages” meaning a kind of wall-hanging collages with all my bits and pieces floating and stuck on, sometimes with some paint, and a bit of narrative on top.
Anyhow I could go on and on but mostly I’m just super excited to see you heading out on an adventure. Your Mom tells me so much about you and while I met you was a baby, I look forward to seeing you as an adult one day soon.
I am constantly available to offer any bits of scattered wisdom or encouragement… At your leisure…