George Carter
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The Last Two Sandwiches In The Shop

| Wednesday 25th January, 2023

There we were tired, hungry and soaking wet but at least we wouldn’t have to use any brain power on deciding what to eat. The shelves of the convenience store were bare apart from the last two unloved sandwiches. I can’t remember now what their fillings were… it certainly didn’t matter at the time. These lonely sandwiches represented what could be our last nourishment for who knew how long?

It was our second trip to Japan. The first was the standard must-see two-city trip taking in the sights of Tokyo and Kyoto along with a more adventurous detour to the top of Mount Fuji – a climb that got me the wettest I had ever been—or ever would be—in my life. Or so I thought…

What made me decide to visit Japan in rainy season again? And what made me decide to forego the luxury of a beautiful and clean, if compact, hotel room, opting instead for a camper van?

Let’s call it a half-decent sense of adventure and a rather more decent—if misguided—sense of optimism.

Now let’s make something clear… in Japan, rainy season is wet. Really wet.

And this one—in June 2018—was the wettest one for a very long time. We’re talking “makes-international-news-and-gets-its-own-Wikipedia-page” wet.

Some eight million people were evacuated across twenty-three of the country’s forty-six prefectures. By mid-July as the rains abated, the death toll stood at just 225 with thirteen declared missing – each an individual tragedy, naturally, but credit is due to Japan’s exemplary disaster-handling skills preventing that number from being much higher.

So, we were stuck in a remote valley in the mountains of Gifu prefecture. We’d spent the previous night waking every hour to check the level of the river we were camping next to. Stupid, you might say to park at the bottom of a valley, but the sides of the valley were more dangerous; sodden earth and steep slopes don’t mix well, and the ground has a habit of collapsing under its own weight and sliding dramatically into the valley below.

And it was those landslides that had trapped us.

There were no roads out – or in, for that matter, hence the bare shelves in this small, remote shop we had found.

We had already tried driving an hour in one direction. Then an hour in another. Our plans changing moment by moment as our options depleted in front of us, slowly converging on nothing more inspired than ‘stay put and wait it out’.

And it was around that time I had a small epiphany: If today is my time to die, I thought to myself, then I will die happy. I am doing exactly what I wanted to be doing – I am on an adventure, and I am in a place I love.

Life isn’t about being safe. Life isn’t about staying on this mortal plane for as long as possible wrapped up in cotton wool and bubble wrap. Life is about living. It’s those moments around the edge that make it mean something.

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