There were so many futons in Mr Village Middle’s spare room that I wondered if he wasn’t running a guest house on the side. Having said that, there were also no sheets, no pillows and no curtains, so that I had to drape an old piece of material across the window when the first rays of the sun hit me directly in the face.
By that point Mr Village Middle had already left the house, although having returned at about nine, he said that the weather was no good for harvesting konbu and they had only been able to do prep work. Before I left he gave me a shoe-box sized package of the stuff for Mrs M’s family, and even drove me to the post office to send it off.
The Gold Road was completed in 1934 and follows the rugged coastline between Erimo Town and Hiro-o Town. It took seven years to build, and earned its nickname because of the astronomical construction costs, which in today’s money would amount to approximately six billion yen, or more than a thousand pounds per metre of tarmac.
The road is closed due to bad weather more than any other in the country – approximately ten times a year – and in 1981, four people died from carbon monoxide poisoning after becoming stranded in one of its tunnels during a snowstorm. In fact, more of the Gold Road seems to be in tunnels than out of them, and even when I wasn’t cycling through one, I was overlooked by hillsides and cliff faces swathed in concrete and steel, or protected from potential rockfalls by barriers like this one.
Out here there was nothing but fields and farmhouses, and the only shop in the coastal village of Asahihama was shut. That morning Mr Village Middle had given me a bag of pickled gyoja (wild garlic) to send me on my way, which had stunk so much there was a danger of my clothes and camping kit (not to mention my breath) becoming infused with the aroma, so I had thrown it away. This meant that my only remaining rations were two satsumas and an emergency Cup Noodle, which as I now realised was useless without some emergency hot water.
It wasn't until halfway through the afternoon that I finally found a row of trusty jihanki (自販機 / vending machines), which emerged from the fog at an otherwise deserted crossroads. The can of hot tea and bottle of pop I bought gave me just enough energy to make it to a supermarket, and I eventually called it a day at Churui Village, whose symbol is an animal known as Naumann’s Elephant.
Heinrich Edmund Naumann worked as an advisor to the Meiji government in the late 1800s, among other things producing the first proper geological map of Japan, and discovered the fossilised remains of a kind of half-elephant, half-mammoth hybrid in Yokosuka near Tokyo. The species - which lived in Japan for around 100,000 years, and whose tusks were up to two and a half metres long - was officially named after him in 1924, and since a Naumann's elephant was discovered in Churui in 1969 (the remains of one, that is, not a living version), the village now has its very own Naumann's Elephant Museum.
After checking in at the campsite next door and having a very hearty evening meal, I could have done with an extra, mammoth-like covering of fur to help me through the night, which was damp, dark and distinctly chilly.