It’s so hot, I’ve stripped down to my Y-fronts and with sweat dripping into my eyes and obscuring my vision I cycle east from my hotel near Sawara Station in Katori, Chiba Prefecture, along a path that runs beside the vast Tone River to my destination: Katori Shrine. It was built in 1700, is dedicated to Futsunushi, the god of swords and lightning, and is the principal Katori shrine in a nationwide network of several hundred. I’m looking for a riverside torii, which indicates where to head away from the river. In the distance I see it and accelerate toward my first goal, only to find it’s a mooring station. This happens repeatedly until I think I’m hallucinating. Maybe I am — heat, hangover, exhaustion — but finally, after about an hour, I arrive at the simple wooden torii.

A signpost points the way to the shrine, so I cycle past many expansive old-style (but relatively new) houses painted yellow, blue and green and crowned with traditional multitiered roofs. I feel good, knowing the shrine is just up the road, but then I behold a depressing sight — a very steep hill. I get off the bike (it’s not the mountain type) and start pushing. I’m passing through a forest thick with trees and bamboo, and the cicadas strangely fall silent while the heavy foliage cuts out the sunlight. In the gloom, a squadron of sizable crows sit unflinching on branches mere meters away, menacingly eyeing me up. I stop and try to stare them down, inviting a rumble, but soon realize that if they were to mount a coordinated attack like in Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” I’d stand little chance of survival, armed as I am with only a pen, and with no one in earshot to hear my cries for help. I think of the Charles Bukowski novel “Women,” when the Bukowski character gets lost in the forest, and I see the headline now — DNA TESTING ON FOREST SKELETON FINDS IT TO BE THAT OF MINOR BRITISH WRITER IN Y-FRONTS. MARKS ON BONES SHOW HE WAS PECKED TO DEATH BY CROWS.

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