People | 20 QUESTIONS

Walk 997 kilometers in Craig Mod's shoes

by Claire Williamson

Staff Writer

Name: Craig Mod
Age: 38
Nationality: American
Occupation: Writer
Likes: Myōga (Japanese ginger)
Dislikes: Mukade (centipedes)


1. What first brought you to Japan? University brought me. Friends, family, walks and a relatively well-functioning socialist layer of society keep me based here.

2. How should people answer the “where are you from” question? I always give extra context, quickly: “Well, I was born in so-and-so, but I’ve been living here for 20 years.” Asking where someone “is really from” can be hurtful. I don’t think this is really understood in Japan. And so: I love to flip the equation, to ask “Where in Japan were you born?” to people who are clearly non-Japanese, but who seem to have been living here for a long time. Living in Japan as non-native, it’s probably the first time they’ve ever been asked that question. It never ceases to delight. In a homogenous society, being considered an insider — even if it’s performative and from a place of knowing, almost like a wink — can be a tiny gift of being made to feel not The Other, if only for a second.

3. In May you went on an epic 997-kilometer walk across Japan. Why? I had been going on increasingly longer walks and was looking to “level up.”

4. Has walking always been a passion? It has. My walking began in earnest when I arrived in Tokyo in 2000 and started wandering the back streets late at night. I’m adopted. Those of us adoptees, I think, have a proclivity, or at least childhood compulsion, to imagined parallel lives.

5. You wrote for Wired that you became a “disgustingly kind hello machine” during your epic walk. Did you get any unique reactions? There wasn’t any particularly unique reaction, but a more general reaction that shocked me: Time and time again people stopped what they were doing and came over for a long chat. That said: One man on a rusted bicycle with a single tooth kept saying over and over again, “Such a fast walker!” and another old man, who had wandered over in his pajamas from lord knows where, kept repeating the phrase, “It’s not going to work out. It’s just not going to work out.”

6. What was the best part about being so frequently bored on the walk? The worst? The best? Boredom itself! That was the goal. The worst? Walking into a headwind for eight hours straight on my way to Sekigahara, and just having to endure the endless whoosh, the tilted gait, the dehydration, the sand in the eyes, the drabness of that particular landscape.

7. What’s unique about the Nakasendo trail as opposed to the Kumano Kodo? Oh, they’re completely different beasts! The Nakasendo was, in part — along with the Tokaido — utilitarian, a sankin kōtai highway. The Kumano Kodo, a series of pilgrimage paths. The Nakasendo, today, is mainly on roads, often alongside pachinko parlors. The Kumano Kodo is almost entirely in the forest, past mamushi (pit vipers) and deer carcasses. The Nakasendo has no explicit spiritual or religious component unless you count the grand spirituality of business hotels. The Kumano Kodo is entirely structured around shrines and temples and syncretic belief.

8. Has anyone ever compared you to Alan Booth? I don’t know — should they?! I drink far less beer (or any alcohol) than Alan. And the countryside kids don’t irk me. In fact, I had the most amazing interaction with a salty 7-year-old somewhere in the middle of Gifu Prefecture. School had just let out and my path dovetailed with a little crew of boys. They started yelling the standard “herrooo!!” and I responded in Japanese, “You have such a lovely town!” And one of the little kids, who kinda felt like we were cut from a similar childhood cloth, said — and remember, he’s 7 — “This place? It’s a s— hole!” We became best friends for life.

9. Any pet peeves? Open-air sneezers.

10. How about advice for writers? Focus on processes and cultivating writing habits rather than overly obsessing over goals. If you get the habits right the goals will come naturally. And, please, turn off the internet!

11. How should I cut back on social media? Remove yourself from the equation. Install an app like Freedom. Set a schedule to turn net access on and off and then abide by it. Don’t rely on yourself to make a decision. Get out of your own way.

12. Does social media destroy attention spans? “Destroy” implies the attention span is gone. It’s not gone, just co-opted. You can get it back, pretty quickly, with just a few days of disconnection.

13. Any podcast recommendations? You’re askin’ the wrong guy. The only podcast I regularly listen to is “Longform.” Aaron, Max and Evan are national treasures.

14. What should everyone know about publishing? You can do it. Print on demand is a little contemporary marvel that few people ever stop to acknowledge: the making of a book, even just one, with the push of a button. Publish, publish, publish.

15. Have Amazon’s physical bookstores changed the market? They’ve been open for several years now and have had almost no impact. I’ve visited a few and they’re just … weird. The reason I go to bookstores these days is for the human curatorial element. I trust the folks at Three Lives and Co. (in New York) — they always deliver something interesting!

16. What’s your favorite quote? “‘I’ll take that drink of water now.’ He closed his eyes and ceased struggling for air. When Robert got near, certain the man had died, William Haley spoke without opening his eyes: ‘Just bring it to me in that old shoe.'” From Denis Johnson’s “Train Dreams.” Why? Because, adventure. And comedy.

17. And your favorite word in Japanese? Osewasamadeshita (thank you for your hospitality). Mainly because it’s so formal, almost hilariously so. Said earnestly after a great stay at an inn or minshuku (guesthouse), it feels like it transcends all the casualness of day-to-day contemporary life. Said as a joke when you leave a dirty little izakaya pub, it makes everyone laugh.

18. Do you collect anything? I collect in photography: images of the beds I slept in the moment I got out of them, images of all the functioning clocks I see in a day, images of people tending their gardens, images of signs of secret Christianity in the Japanese countryside.

19. Fill in the blank: “Country roads, take me home to the place … with great pizza toast.”

20. Any other 2019 plans? More walks! Walking in Kyrgyzstan, China and more of Japan.

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