Thursday, 16 April 2009

The journey to Yokkaichi

As I've mentioned previously, having lived in Mishima and Nagoya and traveled frequently between Tokyo and Osaka, I'm pretty familiar with many of the areas the Tokaido passes through. In fact this familiarity was one of the reasons why I chose to walk the Nakasendo instead of the Tokaido back in 2007.

The section of the Tokaido I'm least familiar with is probably the section between Kusatsu and Nagoya. The journey between these cities, which I'll tackle on days two to six, will take me over the Suzuka Pass (near the Suzuka Circuit, host of the F1 Japanese Grand Prix) and through the city of Yokkaichi. I don't think I've ever been to Yokkaichi. When I was a student at Nagoya University in the early 1990s, I went on a class trip to the Ise Shrine. This would have entailed traveling passed if not through Yokkaichi, but I honestly have no memories of the place.

I've always associated Yokkaichi and the surrounding area with pollution and illness. Yokkaichi is home to a large konbinato (this Japanese word, meaning a large industrial complex, is one of only a handful of loanwords from Russian), and in the 1960s and early-1970s, the presence of sulphur oxide-laden smog generated by this complex led to severe cases of an asthma-like illness among local residents. This illness, which was given the name Yokkaichi zensoku (Yokkaichi asthma), was one of the Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan. I think the first time I heard of Yokkaichi, way back when I first became interested in things Japanese, was in relation to this illness, and it could be that since then I've unconsciously avoided going anywhere near it.

Today Yokkaichi seems to have solved its pollution problems, and I'm actually looking forward to going there. The official tree of the city is the camphor tree. The official bird is the black-headed gull.

Distance walked today: 3km
Total distance walked since Tokaido training began: 176km
Days left until departure: 31

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