The Last of My Wandering Journeys Part III – Shimizu Tunnel

.. When I got back to the station, I found my train already standing at the platform with some people on board. So I touched my Suica card against the checking machine and got on the train myself. The departure time came and went, but the train did not budge. Ten minutes later, a female conductor announced that the route had been under inspection and that they were now awaiting a green light from the central office. Five more minutes, and the train started to move, but soon the conductor announced that there might be more delays along the way. Fortunately, though, the train soon reached the southern end of the Shimizu Tunnel.
.. Actually, there are two tunnels. The first one was completed in 1931 after ten years of hard work. It is equipped with a loop bridge. The second one was completed in 1967 after four years of construction. This tunnel has some stations in it, and is now used exclusively by down trains, while the first tunnel is used only by up trains. I was on a down train, so we went through the second tunnel. Although the train was moving rapidly, it seemed to take a very long time before the darkness lifted.
.. What surprised me most, though, was that it was raining on the other side of the tunnel! Kawabata Yasunari writes, in a famous novel, “Once out of the long tunnel, I found myself in a snow country.” What lay before me, though, were misty mountains standing in the rain. For a while I doubted my eyes, but then remembered the difference in weather between the Pacific and the Japan Sea coasts. I should have realized this when I saw a cap of clouds over Mt. Tanigawa.
………. An old woman comes
………. Into the train, her bent waist
………. And wet umbrella!
.. The train soon stopped at Yuzawa Station, where a group of primary schoolchildren boarded. The atmosphere of the train was transformed. Two girls now sat in front of me. I was struck by the difference in their characters. One appeared sanguine; the other rather nervous. One was laughing all the time, but the other looked into my face as if she were worried about me. They left the train at Muikamachi Station, but when we said goodbye, they told me to put out my hands and they hit them with their hands exactly as baseball players do.
………. Noise and laughter sent
………. Autumn gloominess away,
………. Schoolchildren boarding.
.. When the train stopped at Ishiuchi Station, I was reminded of the bronze statue of Okamura Mitsugi that I had seen before standing near the station. He was a political leader and had spent all his money trying to build a tunnel at the place where the present Shimizu Tunnel stands. He died brokenhearted, but is still respected as a great man by the people of Niigata Prefecture. Tanaka Kakuei, the former prime minister from Niigata, once vowed that he would dynamite the mountains blocking the free passage between the coasts, thereby reducing the economic disparity of the two sides. Tanaka also died brokenhearted, yet he too is held in great esteem in Niigata.
………. Those two men live on,
………. Kakuei and Mitsugi,
………. Warm in local hearts.

To be continued …

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One Response to “The Last of My Wandering Journeys Part III – Shimizu Tunnel”

  1. Like Basho’s ‘Oku no Hosomichi’, Sosui’s ‘The Last of My Wandering Journeys’ introduces places to which we have never travelled and personages, scenery and history along the way. The ultimate interest and beauty of the piece for me, though, is how the author, Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa), himself reacts to the conditions of travel encountered – surprised by rain, cheered by schoolchildren, impressed by the determination of the tunnel-builders he has learned about. This personalization makes the haibun enjoyable. We are thus permitted to travel with him. I am already looking forward to the next installment in July.

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