It was the coldest night yet. I woke up repeatedly, remembering two things from Before the Dawn. One was an old saying of the region: “A child is to be brought up in cold and hunger.” The other was Hanzo’s attempt, near the end of the novel, to burn down the temple in which we now shivered. (He ended his days a victim of madness.) I didn’t want to see the temple damaged, but I would have welcomed a small fire.
We set out early the next morning, walking past fields dusted with frost. In a short while we came to a stone marker. “From here north,” Bill translated, “the Kiso Road.” Added to my sense of accomplishment was a feeling of enrichment; I was emerging from 11 days in a Japan that previously I had only read about. There were no witnesses to our arrival, but in my mind I saw—as I see still—bowing innkeepers, caretakers and gas station attendants.
Thomas Swick is the author of the collection A Way to See the World. Photographer Chiara Goia is based in Mumbai.