For our first KYD No. 12 teaser, Robbie Arnott touches on his travels in Japan.
Want to read the rest of Robbie’s big reveal? You can get your hands on Issue Twelve on 7th January.
I was going to Hokkaido to climb a volcano. I’d already been in Japan for a while with my girlfriend, mostly travelling around the Kansai and Tokyo regions looking at Shinto shrines, eating noodles, drinking sake and staring at Mount Fuji. After two weeks she returned to Australia for university, while I had another 10 days there by myself. With no real plans, and having gorged myself on the lights of the cities and the sight of ancient temples, I decided to head north. I’d heard about some national parks with volcanoes.
At a hostel in Sapporo I was doing my best to avoid being an Awful Australian Abroad (tip: drink less than usual), and I got talking to a French guy named Ruben. He was a photographer who’d spent the last 18 months travelling around the world trying to finish his latest project, which involved taking photos of naked people set against backdrops of dramatic natural beauty. I was intrigued; he seemed like a friendly guy, relaxed and not at all creepy. He showed me a scuffed book in which his last collection of photos had been published.
I know nearly nothing about photography as art (or photography in general – I always press the wrong button) but I was quietly moved by his work. In each picture the subject was miniscule, hunched over or curled up on the ground, dwarfed by whatever ice floe, torrential river, precipitous cliff or cloud-drenched mountain they were transposed against. Peru, Israel, China, even Afghanistan; Ruben had been everywhere. He seemed genuinely chuffed when I told him that I liked his photos. He had to leave the next morning, so we shook hands and said goodbye.
I spent the next two days aimlessly wandering about Sapporo, eating ramen and checking out an old brewery that was eerily similar to the Boags factory in the town where I grew up in Tasmania.
It took three trains and a bus to get to Mount Kurodake. The last train was an old local express, rocking slowly away from the city of Asahikawa and deep into the forests of the national park. Other passengers had closed their eyes as soon as the train took off, apparently asleep, only stirring when we stopped at each station. I was wide-eyed and jittery, stretching my neck to see each town and landmark we passed. I was the only person to get off at the second last stop, a tiny village framed by a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. It was busy during the ski season, I’d been told, but now it was barren in a noiseless, ghost-town kind of way.
I wasn’t feeling much like the intrepid, adventurous traveller I’d imagined myself to be. I quickly became keenly aware of how alone and out of place I was – what business did I really have in the mountains of Hokkaido?
Robbie Arnott is a bookseller and writer living in Tasmania.
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