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Day two of the journey has a liberating feel. No longer intent to teach for salary, I now subtly imply for a helping hand. A typical spiel:

"In two years of teaching English I spent all but a couple of weeks in Tokyo. So now, since it's the MOST EXPENSIVE country on earth, I MUST hitchhike. I sleep in a TENT and eat mostly ONI-GIRI. Many KIND JAPANESE have helped me out along the way and if it weren't for their GENEROSITY, I would have never made it this far. Japanese are VERY YASASHI.

As usual, I'm fed the entire day by various types, dished a couple of packs of cigarettes and am invited to a birthday party in Hachinohe, a city in north Honshu on the Pacific coast. I decline the invitation, for I have a clear-cut mission this day; a conversation with Alan Booth.

Alan died seven years ago. A well-known, jocular scribe, Booth had been affiliated with Tokyo Journal for years. As travel editor in 1991 I would often check my facts with Alan. He had walked the path I am taking and documented it one of the most insightful books about Japan ­ "The Roads to Sata".

Booth was most animated and excited when I quizzed him on a holy mountain I had heard about. Osoresan, located in the hatchet-shaped Shimokita peninsular, is where shaman dubbed Itako bridge the gap between the worlds of the living and dead. Itako are blind, old women with powers that are as mysterious as the region itself. Alan talked for over an hour about his experience there, "It's really eerie there, and people are scared of the place."

Magically, as if an Itako had already received my message, the first car available in Hachinohe stops. Masahisa speeds up the Pacific side of the peninsular and then cuts over to Yokohama town on Mutsu Bay. He parks, and without any warning, runs into a house and gets a friend. The two 20 year-olds rush me into Yoshikito's car and the exchange is nothing short of an Indy pit stop.

I explain that I wish to visit Osoresan on my way to the Hokkaido ferry in Oma. If an Itako is available, I will camp and spend the evening chatting with Alan. True comrades, my chauffeurs accept the mission.

A mere hour of daylight remains as we wind towards our destination. There are plenty of people at a spa but afterwards we see few through the mist that wafts about. The area is void of beauty. Alan had described it as "misty, brown, and dead looking." I feel like I'm driving through a Led Zeppelin album cover. Alan was spot-on. I can feel the boys' tension quiver from the front seats.

"Stop where those cars are, Yoshikito," I somewhat demand. Mission objectives override congeniality. Yoshikito is at least appeased. He doesn't want to go any farther.

I return to the car deflated. Yoshikito is ecstatic. We're leaving this godforsaken place. I notice a can of Asahi Dry in the backseat while climbing in."Wait a minute!" I squeal, sending the boys back into terror. "Can I just leave this beer here. My friend really liked beer."

"Yes, but David, please, we must leave soon," Yoshikito pleads, wiping sweat from his brow.

I wasn't a lifelong friend of Alan and actually only met him twice. We had spoken on the phone many times. But this mountain, its ancient legend, and our similar journeys are uncanny coincidences. Parts of both our souls are surely here. I walk to a hidden crevice with the beer, hold it tightly, and speak to it.

"Alan, David Duckett here. Sorry, but I couldn't get an outgoing line here in Osoresan. Like you said, an Itako is hard to find on short notice. Anyway, my message is in this beer."

I tuck the beer under some dead shrubs. Hopefully, an Itako will complete the transmission. Alan adored Japanese beer.

The boys are extremely relieved and we celebrate our near death experience in Mutsu City with the most sumptuous meal of my trip. Ramen, rice, breaded pork, scallops and beer have the three of us in a burp contest on the way to Oma, the northern tip of Honshu. I'm left at the ferry terminal and the guys thank me for the most harrowing day of their lives.

 

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