I’ve recently resolved to walk for at least 30 minutes a day. I do this mainly in the streets around my house and, until today, I simply stepped outside in the clothes I happened to be wearing and set off on a stroll. This, however, is not how my elderly neighbours approach walking. No, for them walking is a far more serious endeavour. Many of them enjoy daily perambulations and it seems that they want to leave you in no doubt that they are exercising! For slightly rotund women over the age of sixty this would appear to mean wearing a sun-visor and gloves and vigorously pumping their arms whilst adopting a gait somewhere between that of a serious speed-walker and that of a person desperately trying to make it to a toilet before they shit themselves. For men, it varies wildly.
Today I saw a man in a purple and white shell-suit and clunky white trainers. He was swinging his arms in time with his steps so that his hands moved to almost the same level as his shoulders. He employed a high-knee technique combined with long strides and it says much for the youth of Japan that men here can often be seen doing such exercise without an audience of piss-taking lads yelling abuse, pointing, laughing and arranging themselves into a conga of imitators. The man reached the traffic lights and began some pelvic revolutions as though he had an invisible hula hoop.
Another man was stranger still. He was walking ahead of me in a normal manner when he abruptly turned around and began walking backwards so that we had the odd situation of walking on a narrow path in single file in the same direction and yet facing each other. There was some distance between us so speaking was out of the question. Instead, we just sort of walked on trying desperately to avoid embarrassing eye contact. Well, I tried, anyway. I looked at the pavement, examined my buttons, played with my phone and then looked back up and he was still there, still walking backwards, still looking directly at me as I approached. Thankfully his reverse stroll time-limit was up after about a hundred metres or so and my awkwardness ceased as he did another 180-degree swivel and reverted to the behaviour of a normal person.
It’s good that the old folk like to walk. It’s good that they try to keep fit and flexible, but they make me feel like I am cheating. They unwittingly make me feel like I am not exercising at all with my limp-armed gentle strolls. So, this evening I decided to give it a go. Proper walking. I put on sweatpants and I swung my arms with gusto as I took overly long strides and attempted to look purposeful in my walk. Other proper walkers nodded to me in recognition. They gave me friendly smiles. They wished me a good evening. It was rather nice. Were I to walk like that through my hometown in Britain, I suspect the best I could hope for was a wedgie and a starring role in a YouTube video entitled, ‘Check out this nob!’.