Neon pilgrim dreams

I’ve thought more about Dempster’s experiences in Neon Pilgrim and I realise that I’ve often imagined many of them in detail myself. As a youth up in Queensland each evening I used to fantasise about walking down the hill from the family residence (Not my home. It was not my home) and trekking all the way by foot south to Melbourne, the home of my heart.

As I step off the bus at night and walk towards home I picture myself in Japan, walking the dark and quiet streets to a bland hotel on the outskirts of town. Everything is closed, but the run down pachinko parlour with its flashing neon lights and clatter of balls, a petrol station, maybe a diner and the ubiquitous convenience store, a source of packaged sustenance and supplies for the hungry traveller, of pot noodles and meat buns kept warm by the counter.

And sometimes as I sit out in the cold air late on a Winter’s night I dream not of the hotel room, but of seeking shelter from the rain under the awning of a small hut, warmed by a sleeping bag, shirking from the wind. Or of a night in a Japanese train station waiting room, waiting for the first local service of the next morning.

These are unromantic dreams. It feels wrong to think them while there are so many homeless who would dream of the bed I am in now, though they do mirror some of the experiences of the dedicated henro walking around Shikoku. And yes I have experienced it myself, though only briefly and with the full knowledge that better lay ahead.

It also speaks of the ability to find beauty in the dreary, an important skill in appreciating Japan. And it has to be Japan, for in so many other places, including Australia, to be in such a situation is to invite danger from others. The night so often doesn’t feel safe here.

But I have learned in travel that it is a certain degree of hardship and exhaustion that makes one appreciate the journey so much more.