Capital Flows and Asset Markets
Capital Flows and Asset Markets


I just got back from a 4 day trek in Japan, most it spent alone. Why did being alone feel so good?

I had been wanting to do the Kumano Kodo walk for some time. Its an old Buddhist pilgrimage network of trails in Wakayama prefecture, about 2 hours south of Osaka. With almost anything that I want to do these days, I knew that I just need to book the dates when the opportunity presented itself, and then pray that nothing came up that would force me to cancel.

A number of things conspired to make this a solo trek. I booked my flights to Japan relatively late, and when I went to the main website to book accommodation for the trek, I was told that they were no longer taking requests due to demand. I knew this would be my only chance to do this for the foreseeable future, so in a blind panic I started directly emailing every guesthouse and hostel on the trail that I could find. I found a few places so stay, so I booked them as “safeties” while I tried to find better accommodation options. In reality, even the safety options started to get fully booked out, so in the end I was left staying in the places that I had booked in desperation. While I had no problem staying in these places, I felt like taking someone to Japan for the first time and making them stay in random hostels and farmhouses would be asking too much. I also felt with everywhere booking out, the trail would be super busy, and I would have no trouble making friends. In the end, I left London alone. When I got to Japan I spent a couple of days with friends and family, before getting the 4 hour train ride to Shingu. After seeing the main temples there, I got an early night, and bright and early, I set off from Shingu (see map above) the next day. I should have perhaps realised I was going the wrong way when Google Maps sent me through this tunnel.

But when I got to the other side, it opened out to this beautiful vista. So I ignored the fact there was no one else walking on this road, or that I had seen a single sign post stating this was the Kumano Kodo, and trusted Google Maps. Even if I had twigged that I was not walking on the Kumano Kodo, my accommodation for the night was in this direction, so I did not feel I was in a position to change plans, even as I had a nagging suspicion I had made a big mistake.

Following the trail that was there, rather than the one I wanted to, eventually led me to this waterfall - one of the top 100 waterfalls in the country apparently! But by then I was stuck. There were no trails or paths that went any further, and only narrow tunnels with trucks passing through. I knew I was stuck, and in a quirky Japanese way, the moment I knew I needed some help, a Japanese farmer appeared out of nowhere, and gave me a lift up the road. Japanese are a bit like Brits in that way - they know you are probably lost, but won’t offer to help you out until you look like you asking for help! Americans and Australians will more likely come out and tell you directly you are in the wrong place.

That night, when I finally go to Mataoina Guesthouse, I sat down and looked more closely at the maps. There was no staff or other guests at this guesthouse - I had the place all to myself (this also happened in my modern hostel in Shingu - no staff and everything done remotely). What I realised was that the river I was walking next to was the Kumano Kodo, which is why it was marked on the map, but there was no path. As pilgrims used to come down the river, most people travelled form West to East, so I was doing the walk backwards. But after a long consultation with the maps, and the internet, it seemed that there was a path into the mountains only a short bus ride down the road. And this was a real path, not a river, or a Google map phantom. I finally was back on track, and likely to make friends, or so I thought.

Bright an early in the morning I got the first bus to the trailhead. I cannot tell you how excited I was to see a bus full of walkers with backpacks when I got on the bus! Here we go, my new travel buddies! To my surprise, I was the only person to get off the bus at the beginning of the trail head. My bus companions were going somewhere, but it was not the same place as me! Regardless, I saw my first sign for the Kumano Kodo, and I was going to follow it!

As I set off, I became slightly concerned again. The trail was not very heavily used, and almost invisible at certain points. I again did not see another hiker or trekker. I was wondering if I would ever see anyone on my trek. It was also a very steep climb, on a very warm day. I began to wonder if I had enough water, or food. I had left early, so no shops had been open before I left the main highway.

After a few hours of walking and climbing in solitude, I eventually joined the main path. Then I saw many walkers, but all walking the opposite direction to me. Unlike the paths I had been on, this path was wide, well trodden and clearly signposted. I suddenly realised that the centralised booking system that everyone used would ensure that everyone would walk in the same direction. For awhile I thought about the merits of a system that encourages everyone to take the best path. Optimisation and coordination means we get what we need, but at the loss of individualism and adventure. It made me reflect on the difference between passive and active investing. Passive been the safe, well worn path that everyone else travels on, while active being the lonely path, easy to get lost, and more likely to be filled with unforeseen dangers. For most people, they just want to get where they need to get, and the main path (passive), will always be right for them, but for others the path less travelled will always call to them, and that is me. I continued to travel the main path, and eventually made it to my hostel in a hot spring town, Yunomine.

This was the first time I had stayed in a hostel for over 20 years, and was far nicer than any hostel I had stayed in before. It even had its own outdoor Onsen!

One thing that was really struck about the hostel, was that a lot of the people doing the Kumano Kodo were not there to take in the scenery, or enjoy the hotsprings, or even experience Japanese culture. There were a lot of people there to complete the stamps that proved they had completed the pilgrimage, and were now eligible for all the merchandise available for anyone that completed Kumano Kodo and Way of St. James. I was reminded of various graduates I have met who have completed the CFA course before even starting work in finance. I guess I am getting too old and cynical.

At this point, I was hyped to be back on track. But this was making another huge mistake. The next day rain was forecast, with the afternoon forecast for heavy rain. I woke up at 5.30AM, had breakfast, and then set off to get to my final accommodation as soon as possible. I left with two bottles of water, but no food, assuming that just like the day before, I would be able to get food and water at temples on the way. This was a mistake. In this section of the Kumano Kodo, they try and make it as authentic as possible, with no stores or vending machines. I was about 4 hours in when I asked some passing Australians if there was anywhere to buy food ahead. They said no, I would need to go much further to get food and water. They gave me some gummi bears and then moved on.

It has been a long time since I have been that hungry. As I passed people, I would look at what food they had, and wonder if I could ask for some. They say that civilizational collapse if only ever two hungry days away, and at that moment I felt it. As I walked in the wet and the cold, with hunger and thirst gnawing away at me, and fatigue settling into my body, I felt more alive than I have felt for a long time. The mountain climbs melted away into a trance, as I focused on my breathing, and placing one foot after another.

Finally, after 8 hours of walking, and having fully exhausted my water supply, I came across a store of sorts. An oddly sexualized Pinocchio offered cans of soft drink, in exchange for 100 yen coins in his satchel. I happily enjoyed Pinocchio’s juicy offerings.

I finally made it to the most high end accommodation that I had managed to book and after a peaceful night, I stormed home the final few miles to be able to make it back to Osaka for a night out.

I have not backpacked or trekked by myself since I was 26. I had forgotten the freedom of arriving somewhere, and then leaving when you were ready, and not giving anyone else any thought or consideration. Eating when I want, sleeping when I want, and being alone with my thoughts for as long as I want were all such treats. But what I really took from the whole trip is that the biggest difference between old and young is that the young can be enthusiastic about almost anything, but I only bring my A-game for things that I really want to do. And that is ultimately the secret to everything in life, working out what you really want to do. Solve that, and everything else solves itself. And I think spending time alone really helps you focus on what you want, not what the world thinks you want.

Capital Flows and Asset Markets
Capital Flows and Asset Markets
Explaining how capital flows and asset markets work