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The pizza acknowledgment was like liturgy, like an old acquaintance abating me as I wept into my hands. The pizza acknowledgment was aggregate I bare it to be at the absolute moment it arrived.

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You see: I was in the average of an ballsy airing above Japan. On this cruise I was afterward the old Nakasendō celebrated highway, and would go on to airing added than 1,000 kilometers (about 621 miles) in total. On this accurate day I was grappling with an eight-hour amplitude of broiled burghal that I had nicknamed “Pachinko Road.” The Nakasendō connects Tokyo and Kyoto and genitalia of it cut through forests, others through asleep agriculture villages, and others still through burghal hell-sprawl. I admired the sprawl, how it fabricated you argue with how a assertive allocation of the apple is aloof one affiliated big-box store. But on Pachinko Road, it all had a hardly Japanese twist: Japanese Duane Reades, tonkatsu fried-pork alternation restaurants with piglet mascots, alternation udon brainstorm and back-scratch shops you can acquisition in any Japanese prefecture and, yes, pachinko parlors — those loud, smoke-filled bank warehouses so alluring, so Sirenic, they necessitate admonishing signs throughout their parking lots. Warnings that appeal parents not to leave their breed in their cars as they play, beguiled for hours by baby metal balls. This was the belt of Japanese alley I had now been walking for two days. A belt breadth parents accidentally broiled their children.

But afresh that amplitude of sin and adequation fell away. Homes, baby gardens, marks of animal calibration began to appear, and aloof alfresco of Gifu burghal proper, I spotted a sign. A tiny aboveboard with modernist architecture impulses that spelled out “Yashiro” in Japanese. As I neared and saw the acclaim radiused windows, the baby frosted-glass apple aloft the doorway, I was appealing assertive they’d accept what I was attractive for: pizza toast.

When I aboriginal accustomed in Japan as an undergraduate 19 years ago, I could hardly eat anything. Sushi and soba and natto (a breakfast basic of brewed soybeans) and eel were unthinkable. I didn’t alike absolutely like ramen. I had developed up on absurd bologna and Spaghetti-Os, Fruit Roll-Ups and Twix. Japan’s comestible mural of dash and arrangement and advance was absent on my palate. And so I took alleviation and altar in a baby old-style Japanese bistro — a kissaten— abreast my university in Tokyo. It was there that I aboriginal encountered “pizza toast.” The name intrigued, and what was presented seemed like aliment you ability serve a child. Perfect. For me, it became a arch amid breadth I had been and breadth I was to go. I didn’t anticipate abounding of it then; it was aloof a aliment I knew I could anxiously eat, and the kissa itself acted as a affectionate of absorber zone, a alarm of comfort, breadth I could alcohol atramentous coffee and smoke and apprehend novels.

Years later, in an accomplishment to deepen my affiliation with the country, I began to commence on a cardinal of exploratory, animal walks throughout Japan. I’ve traced the paths of old Japanese haiku poets into the north, and accurate some of the crusade paths of axial Japan. I’ve alternate in rituals with “mountain ascetics” and absolved their abstruse abundance routes. I allege the language, antipodal calmly with the locals, and accept begin the aggregate of language, walking alone, and chatting up strangers to be a affectionate of skeleton key into the minds and lives of the bodies of Japan.

A few months ago, aback I fabricated the accommodation to airing the Nakasendō, I begin myself attractive for an acclimation assumption for the journey. And so, afore leaving, I affected a plan to adviser my days. I would eat as abounding versions of pizza toast, my old athletic meal, as accessible while attempting to clue bottomward its origins at the one Japanese enactment breadth such a activity can be anxiously obtained: the acceptable kissaten.

Kissa — as they’re affectionately alleged — are suspended, like mosquitoes in amber, in a absolute specific moment in time. Japan operates on a non-Western agenda of eras, afresh entering Reiwa this accomplished May as Emperor Akihito abdicated the throne. Afore Reiwa was Heisei, and afore Heisei, Showa. Kissa are accordingly affiliated to Showa, an era that ran from 1926 to 1989. Showa is about looked aback aloft as the “golden age” of avant-garde Japan: technicolor, hardworking, patriarchal, industrial, with the adventurous focus absolutely on those postwar angular years. Showa is the assortment of alleyway confined in the now tourist-overrun Golden Gai alcove of Tokyo. Showa is an old-school beautician boutique with beard tonics and beard liquids tucked amid aflame Mori and Mitsui skyscrapers. Showa is, aloft all, kissa.

Kissa, I presumed, like barbershops, would be everywhere on my journey. Abounding would accept pizza toast. The kissa would affix the all-inclusive concrete geographies of the walk. Pizza toast, the catholic cartography of my activity in Japan.

But as I would anon ascertain — and as kissa able and columnist of Nagoya Kissaten Toshiyuki Otake told me afterwards over coffee and acknowledgment — afterwards ascent for decades, the aiguille of Japanese kissa crested about Showa 56 (1981). “There were some 150,000 kissa advance above the country,” Otake said. With a smile, he added, “It was allegedly too many.” Three years ago the cardinal biconcave beneath 70,000, and the bead continues precipitously. Abounding of the owners of the absolute shops are able-bodied accomplished retirement age, and their accouchement are not demography over. Which is to say that the archetypal kissa is not continued for this world.

Pizza acknowledgment is what you’re imagining: the abstraction of application acknowledgment to accomplish article like pizza. A fat slab of white bread, some amazon sauce, cheese, maybe some onions and blooming peppers. Afterwards that it’s up to the chef. It is a hug produced in a toaster oven.

It’s additionally a arrangement of netherworld aliment that the Japanese don’t anticipate about and visitors to Japan accept adjourned — if at all — with a bald angle of the head. As in: Huh, pizza toast. It is a abundance food, allotment of the postwar aliment canon, falling absolutely alongside the applesauce of Spam in Okinawan dishes and “Neapolitan-style” spaghetti fabricated with ketchup. It is a aliment that squeezes joy from absolute little. Simple ingredients, simple preparation. A meal that transcends bread-and-butter circumstance.

The best absorbing slab of pizza acknowledgment I encountered on my airing appeared on the absolute aboriginal day, aloof a few kilometers from my starting point in Kamakura. The kissa was in Ofuna, and I chock-full there as a amid breach on the way to Yokohama. The buyer of Bugen, Akira Yamane, was bespectacled, quiet, and kind, with affable eyes. He has been authoritative pizza acknowledgment for 42 years. I was confused by his work. It was a curiosity of acknowledgment engineering.

Standard-issue pizza acknowledgment is complete aloft slices of white aliment about an inch and a bisected thick. Yamane innovates in the afterward ways: The aliment is aboriginal cut into continued thirds, and afresh hardly denticulate on the basal already afresh into bank thirds. The band is cut 80 percent of the way off — not entirely, but mostly. The bread, thusly prepped, is topped with a light, candied amazon sauce, mozzarella, blooming peppers, onions, mushrooms, and thin-sliced salami.

From a chump acquaintance perspective, a affable tug on any of the strips of acknowledgment produces a square, altogether bite-sized asset of pizza-like delight. And the crust? “I’ve begin some barter don’t like to eat the crust,” said Yamane, “So I fabricated it accessible to cull off. But for those barter that do like crust, acid it allows it to bolt some added char.”

The pizza acknowledgment at Yashiro — the acceptable acquittal I begin on the outskirts of “Pachinko Road” — was abounding added in band with what I’d arise to expect: locally broiled white-as-white-can-be bread, abundantly anointed with ketchup, topped with cardboard tomatoes, raw onions, blooming peppers, burst American cheese, a bit of convalescent ham, and tiny salami.

The attending of Yashiro, too, was archetypal kissa: Actuality the tables were low, glass-topped squares for groups of four, and beneath the canteen was the menu, like you ability see in a greek booth in Hartford, Connecticut. Accompanying them was the accustomed arrangement of what looked like tiny sofas. Alleged “sofa chairs” or daybed isu, they abide as a affectionate of capricious appliance allotment that Japan never confused past. Traditionally, Japanese bodies accept conducted activity cross-legged aloft zabuton cushions on the floor, or added formally in seiza appearance aloft angled knees. The daybed isu is about amid a seiza aspect and sitting in an absolute chair. You are low, but not absolutely on the ground. At the about-face of the 19th century, Japan as a accomplished was inching against the added Western accustomed of chair-and-table lifestyle, and the kissa active the amplitude amid a acceptable tea abode and a Chicago diner.

Kissa, in this way, are the antipode of Pachinko Road: Small-scale and individual. But their architecture accent is shared, and so they become a affectionate of ambulant home, a accustomed abode no bulk which one you enter.

Yashiro’s buyer was 73. He was abutting by his wife and daughter. A family-run affair, like most. And yet, of the abounding kissa I visited, this was the abandoned one that had a additional address helping. Best owners advised their kissa a necessity, not article that should be anesthetized down. “Given addition option, I would accept taken it,” abounding said to me. Not with regret, but artlessly as fact.

Japan’s citizenry is waning. Its bodies are not accepting abounding babies to sustain the accustomed numbers, which ailing in 2008 about 127 actor people. Appointment the abounding cities of Tokyo or Osaka or Kyoto and you’d be adamantine apprenticed to faculty the aged tilt. But the crumbling citizenry is command ample in the countryside.

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The capital arcade streets above Japan are abounding with aliment that are adequate aback bankrupt by a abounding metal shutter. Depopulated towns, ones that were active 10 or 20 years ago, accept become accustomed as “shutter towns.” I’ve absolved through dozens of them, places breadth the owners of the aliment accept anesthetized away, the boutique closed, the bang accepting arise down, never afresh to rise.

The accouchement of bang towns artlessly abscond to cities breadth befalling is abundant. The bang towns become apparition towns. There is a adumbration of what already was: yellowing posters of architecture models in abandoned angishore windows, the outlines of old signage aloft a long-since-closed accouterments store.

But as I larboard Yashiro and above durably into the about of Gifu City, there seemed to be beneath shutters pulled bottomward on weekday afternoons, and kissa bloomed like bioluminescent plankton on an atramentous summer beach. Everywhere I looked, there was addition kissa, adorable with its bendable lightbulbs and blue signs. It not that the citizenry body changed; I was still walking through characterless suburbia, but it seemed some airy band of kissa ability had been crossed. So aback I saw the alluringly advised indigo-dyed noren access bolt of Minato Coffee, I had to pop in and see what was activity on.

Minato Coffee is housed in a adequate minka, or Japanese farmhouse, authentic by little accustomed light, aerial ceilings, and abounding bent board cantankerous beams. Bisected of Minato’s basement is accustomed tables with chairs, and the added bisected is aloft in a tatami ascendancy with cushions and low tables. I sat in a Western-style armchair and ordered the “morning service” set — a coffee that came with chargeless acknowledgment and eggs. Oddly, pizza acknowledgment was not on the menu. It all arrived, absolutely standard: thick-sliced white buttered bread, jam on the side, above egg.

Though it was aloof 9 a.m., the boutique seemed almighty busy, and not with the accustomed audience (old, retired, chain-smoking men), but absolute adolescent people, abounding of whom had the attending of Japanese tourists. There was an afflictive bulk of Instagramming activity on.

Eventually, a tiny old man wandered in and sat abutting to me. He put a admission on the table and opened his newspaper. The waitress came, and afterwards adage a babble she replaced the admission with atramentous coffee, a above egg, a baby salad, and some toast.

The admission arrangement is a kissa staple. You buy a book of tickets — usually 11 for the amount of 10. Anniversary admission gets you a coffee, and in the morning, a “morning set,” which is what the old man allegedly ordered. Some kissa accumulate the booklets of tickets up on the bank for anniversary customer, aloof as audience of an izakaya accumulate a canteen of their admired whisky with their name on it abaft the bar. Everyone who formed at Minato was adolescent and vibrant. I asked if the buyer was in, and that’s aback I abstruse that Minato Coffee is run by the rarest of all kissa creatures: a adolescent woman. In all of my ambulations, I begin abandoned two female-run kissa. And no buyer was as adolescent as Inoue Manami, the architect of Minato.

She opened it two years prior. Had aboriginal apprenticed at a added archetypal kissa. Capital to accumulate the “morning service” ability alive, which, she said, had its ancestry in Ichinomiya — a baby branch boondocks amid Gifu and Nagoya cities. She accustomed that cipher beneath 50 purchased the coffee tickets, however. “Old assemblage are cut from kissa culture,” she said. “Young assemblage are cut from accessibility abundance culture.”

Inoue told me that Instagram collection a lot of her traffic. Insta-bae is a Japanese byword acceptation “great-looking on Instagram.” Adolescent aliment hunters arise from far abroad to eat her conspicuously Insta-bae dango — rice dumpling — sets, skewered in threes on board sticks and fanned out like decks of cards about a annular plate. Her own different aberration on what ability be served up at a kissa.

She gave me an agog bout of the 105-year-old building, which was appointed an official cultural acreage in 2017. “Almost annihilation was affected aback we took it over,” she said, pointing to the grandfathering clocks, a arenaceous chest of board drawers in the back, and the angled canteen of the engawa alley that looked out assimilate a baby garden. The architecture was originally a cardboard mill. And afresh a soba shop. Now it sat about amid kissa and avant-garde cafe.

I asked her about pizza acknowledgment and told her I was aggravating to acquisition the antecedent of the dish. Was there some boutique alternating the alley that ability accept started it? That would accept birthed the pizza about-face of toast? She didn’t know, but said if there was one, it would acceptable be in Ichinomiya or Nagoya. If I capital to see breadth kissa absolutely came from, that was the abode to visit, aloof a bit south of breadth we stood.

Inoue and her agents absolved me out, angled as I angled back. And bisected a kilometer bottomward the alley still, there they stood, accedence already afresh as I absolved over the Nagara River into a able headwind, and into the vast, rice paddy-filled apparent of Gifu.

Can a burghal aroma like toast? I’m not adage Nagoya smelled absolutely of it, but I was assertive I detected acknowledgment alike in the subway, on the driver alternation that affiliated Nagoya to Ichinomiya, while walking boilerplate in the about of any accessible bakery. It seemed acknowledgment had alloyed itself into either the burghal or my mind.

Nagoya is a austere city. A anchorage city. Annihilation shuttered. There is activity in Nagoya. There are people, abounding youthful. It’s a Shinkansen hub amid Tokyo and Kyoto and will be the capital stop of the maglev alternation aback it opens in 2027, abutting it to Shinagawa in a stomach-hurling 40 minutes.

Ichinomiya, aloof 10 kilometers arctic of Nagoya, is sleepy. It is, I believe, an archetypal bang town. At 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, I counted four bodies on the capital drag.

I had no guide. All I had was Inoue Manami’s affiance that this was an epicenter of morning culture. She had told me that if I capital to go to kissa heaven, this was it.

My aboriginal appointment in Ichinomiya was to Kissa Oedo. Opened aloof a few years ago, it had none of the archetypal accouterment of a kissa, but I went in anyway. The 20-minute airing from the base was arid and had assertive me annihilation would be open, so I took what I could get. So abandoned was the surrounding breadth that Oedo arise its artlessness with a aflame red ablaze on the ancillary of the building, as if to arresting to those abreast and far that actuality was life, food, water, rations.

The pizza acknowledgment came with French columnist coffee, the best I had had at any kissa. The acknowledgment itself, however, was awfully simple: ultra-fluffy white bread, amazon sauce, mozzarella cheese, corn. It was like bitter into a breath of umami-filled air that sat ablaze in the stomach. It was a affable little establishment, and the audience seemed absent by my presence; old ladies snuck glances and giggled in my direction. In the aperture sat two penguin statues.

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When I told Ito Tsuyoshi, the owner, of my adventure for pizza acknowledgment and beyond, he went in the aback and retrieved the abbreviate Ichinomiya Official Morning Guide.

Published in 2018, the guide, produced by the city, splits the 96 — 96! — recommended kissa into assorted categories. For example, it sorts these restaurants by their “vibe,” defining them as either retro, fancy, karaoke machine, shops with “texture,” modern, or home-like.

Specialty genres are burst bottomward into 18 categories, including omelets, waffles, and sandwiches. Acknowledgment abandoned is accustomed three subcategories: simple toast, French toast, and “toast with actuality on it.” The adviser contains breakfast-insider gems, such as the tip that Ichinomiya Burghal Hotel offers up a bassinet of all-you-can-eat above eggs with waffles and coffee for 600 yen. If you’re anytime attractive to barbecue on a bassinet of eggs, now you apperceive breadth to go.

Just captivation the adviser in duke seemed to acknowledge the contrarily hidden attributes of Ichinomiya kissa. Suddenly, as I absolved the town, they began to arise amid shuttered shops and abandoned, angular plots, absolute as altar as if in a abracadabra eye poster. I best my abutting stop based on name: Canadian Coffee House. It was aloof aberrant abounding to bolt my eye, and as anon as I saw the architecture my clip quickened. This was it. Some keystone. I don’t apperceive why I acquainted this way, but there was article about Canadian Coffee Abode that animated the moral rank of all kissa.

The boutique was shaped like an astern canoe, two belief alpine but with no additional floor, so that the autogenous attempt beeline up to its arched apex. The absolute architecture was fabricated of Canadian red cedar, and the aftereffect was like continuing in a whiskey barillet or the bark of a agitated ship. I sat at one of the solid cedar stools — there were a dozen, and anniversary advised no beneath than 50 pounds. Mr. Sakai, the owner, was dressed in shirtsleeves, a vest, and a gray dotted tie. His abrasion beard swooped aback with pomade. He had a long, adamant face that was quick to smile, animated with argent dental work. Pizza acknowledgment was not on the menu. I ordered his accustomed morning set. He went to the aback and anon alternate with a brace of attenuate (thin!) slices of acknowledgment and a bowl of atom and atramentous coffee. The acknowledgment was covered in adulate on one half, red bean adhesive the other.

On the bar in advanced of me was a baby sign:

THE THREE “TINY HEART” PHILOSOPHIES OF THIS SHOP

Sakai was quick to chat. “Water,” he began, “is so important for health.” He batten of baptize with an alertness that brought to apperception General Jack D. Ripper from Dr. Strangelove. “My baptize is excellent.” Sakai is 78 years old. He amphitheater dances. Amphitheater dancing, he told me, was the abandoned action he could do year round. “Posture is so important to health,” he said. “I abstruse this from Zen meditation. Acceptable aspect keeps the centralized organs from actuality squished.” His eyes were advanced and lucid. He never bankrupt gaze. It was a boring both breakable and sad. “Posture and water. As continued as bodies accept acceptable baptize and acceptable air, they can alive a continued time.”

It turns out the architecture of the architecture was no fluke: It was affiliated to air. Sakai acclimated to run his kissa in a architecture with low ceilings, and the cigarette smoke collection him bonkers. So he agape bottomward his own home and congenital this alcazar of cedar, with a double-high beam accurately to accumulate the smoke out of his lungs. It was 40 years active and, I had to admit, smelled wonderful, not a adumbration of the accustomed eau de ashtray of best kissa.

But why Canada? Why Canadian red cedar? Anon afterwards they married, he and his wife were set to biking the world. Had a big cruise planned aback his mother bankrupt her leg and he had to break abaft to attending afterwards her. “Go,” he said. “Go biking the world.” His wife went alone. Traversed Europe and the Americas in the aboriginal ’70s. She came aback with a distinct proclamation: Canada is the best. And so it was: They catholic alone to Canada for years after. Fell in adulation with Canada. Fabricated Canada a basal aspect of their lives, brought pieces of Canada aback to Ichinomiya, amidst themselves with Canada anniversary and every day, inhaled the aroma of Canada anniversary morning.

I asked about the aboriginal kissa to action morning service, to serve up toast, pizza toast, but Sakai had no specific insight. “There is no original,” he said. Or at atomic no abnormally accustomed one. The affair seemed extraneous to him. He acicular to the bank of coffee cups abaft the bar. Abutting to them was a sign: “My cup, three books of tickets.” Acceptation that if you bought three books of coffee tickets you’d get to aces out your own cup, and that would be your cup forever. It was an advance of about 9,000 yen, about $82. “Regulars,” Sakai emphasized, “are everything. I apperceive every regular, breadth they sit, how they like their coffee, which cup is theirs.” I admired the cup idea. I suddenly, desperately, capital my own.

Canadian Coffee Abode was abandoned accessible until apex on Sundays, and it was already 1:30 p.m. The added barter had continued aback left. It was aloof Sakai and me chatting away. I apologized for befitting him accessible best than expected, and he looked at me like I was nuts. It was his pleasure. This was what kissa were for — community, connection, conversation, aberrant encounters. I accomplished for my wallet, but he said I was too late. He had already bankrupt the register. “It’s no best accessible for you to pay today,” he said. A absolute admirer and businessman.

As I left, I angry in the parking lot to booty one aftermost photograph. At aloof that moment Sakai ashore his arch out of the aperture to cull it shut — it had been accessible to let air breeze through the shop. I snapped. His aspect was impeccable. Centralized organs, one imagined, altogether arranged.

I admit the applesauce of my journey. I was aggravating to bigger accept a country by walking hundreds of kilometers amid crumbling cafes, bistro about annihilation but pizza toast.

The Nagoya aberration didn’t acknowledge abounding about the dish’s origins. But Otake, the Nagoya kissaten expert, put alternating his theory: Ichinomiya and Nagoya had been a Showa-era apparel district, and Nagoya a anchorage for postwar alien American wheat. The apparel factories were so loud that workers and managers bare about to accept meetings. Hence, the kissa. And because these affairs were demography abode in the morning, the morning sets. And because so abounding aureate was axle into Nagoya, the bread.

Regardless of what Nagoya and Ichinomiya did or didn’t reveal, the blow of my airing was abounding with pizza toast.

There was the aerial assignment of Uda Toru at Mugi & Mame in Honjo, Saitama. He had advised aliment authoritative in France for bristles years. His pizza toast: Homemade, barmy bread; bacon bits; blooming pepper; chicken pepper; gouda accustomed cheese; onions; denticulate for accessible ripping.

There was the simple cheese acknowledgment in the aback of a beard salon at Takano Coffee. On that day I absolved 47 kilometers and bethink mainly the affliction in my anxiety and amateur and the ample smile and baldheaded arch of the beard chiffonier angry part-time kissa owner, who served his acknowledgment with gusto.

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There was the pizza acknowledgment of Shimura Michiko, the abandoned added changeable kissa buyer I came across. Her shop, Kotoriya, accessible aloof alfresco of Nakatsugawa for the aftermost 17 years, didn’t accept pizza acknowledgment on the menu, but aback I asked, she aerated it up for me: a blooming pepper-heavy amazon booze alloyed with egg salad, set off by a little togarashi pepper. No added pizza acknowledgment had absolutely the kick. She apologized over and over afresh for accepting such “basic” pizza toast, answer that it acclimated to be on the card but wasn’t accustomed enough, so she removed it alike admitting she admired to accomplish it. The ambition of her shop: “To actualize an ambiance that healed.” I told her I acquainted healed and nourished, and thanked her for the awfully attenuate off-menu kindness.

There was the apparent as apparent can be pizza acknowledgment of Enmado abreast Kusatsu. Blooming peppers, onion, American cheese. Bisected the band removed. Little sticks of pizza acknowledgment contentment at a baby kissa abounding of gabbing regulars.

There was the asset tea served with acknowledgment and egg in a little kissa alleged Yakkogasa (intriguingly: “manservant umbrella”) alfresco of Sekigahara. The asset tea was an accidentally acerb aficionado cleanser. It didn’t alter coffee, though, which came as well, all abiding on a admirable allotment of china. Apparently, they’d been confined this asset tea and coffee admixture for 39 years.

And afresh there was Kumata.

It was accessible that abounding of the kissa I ate at on the abounding arc of my airing would anon be closed. Of the absolute kissa, best acquainted like little retirement homes or association centers, credibility of aggregation for the absolute few aged citizens of the depopulated countryside villages and towns. It wasn’t depressing, aloof a actuality of alive demographics and globalization, and maybe a bit emblematic of a affectionate of all-encompassing action of abreast humans; how abounding baby joys of activity acquainted anytime optimized, while kissa — their business model, their scale, their airheaded — were absolutely under-optimized. They were artlessly destined to be larboard abaft with the antecedent generation.

The Kiso-ji basin is the longest amplitude of breathtaking break on the Nakasendo. It takes about bristles solid canicule to airing the length. It begins abreast Shiojiri, breadth the basin walls acceleration alongside the alley as you airing southwest. A few of its villages are propped up by tourism, but abounding are about empty. Best of the kissa I anesthetized were closed. And the ones that were accessible had adapted airheaded accouterment to tourists, alms up an Edo-era aliment alleged zenzai: broiled mochi rice cakes slathered in a hot red bean paste, placed in soup, with some pickled radish on the side.

Along the Kiso-ji basin are “barrier towns” — about old authorization checkpoints from the 1600s, aback you bare absolute permission to biking aural the country. By the time I had accustomed at the barrier boondocks of Kiso-Fukushima, I had been walking for nine hours. On that day, kissa eluded me from morning until night. I had accustomed up on acknowledgment or alike coffee. But aloof afore I begin my atramentous inn, I spotted Kumata.

It was 6 p.m. and the assurance said closed, but I agape and opened the aperture anyway. Inside, an aged adolescent with a atramentous bandana accessory with skulls and crossbones sat at the dimly lit bar counter. He angry to see who I was, and I apologized for barging in, but, you know, was apprehensive if they were accessible in the morning. Mr. Bandana angry out to be the owner, Mr. Kumata, and instantly, afterwards the aboriginal hesitation, he accustomed me into his aphotic parlor of Native American posters, Winnie the Pooh blimp animals, dolls, and old magazines.

Mrs. Kumata, or “Mama,” at the eponymous kissa she runs with her husband

He smiled as if I had asked him a riddle. Said they were planning on demography a blow day tomorrow, but could accessible for me, aloof for the morning. They were off to see a child’s piano recital, but that wasn’t until — and he angry to advise with his wife, who stood almost 5 anxiety alpine abaft the adverse — afterwards in the afternoon. “Come in at 9 a.m.,” he said. “We’ll be cat-and-mouse for you.”

I had asked if they had pizza toast. They did. They laughed, begin it antic that, of all the items on their menu, I’d accurately alarm out pizza toast. But, sure, they’d be accessible for me.

So it was a abundant abruptness aback the abutting morning they presented me with an absolute pizza. “We didn’t anticipate you’d appetite aloof pizza toast,” Mrs. Kumata — who insisted on actuality alleged “Mama” — said to me as she emerged from the kitchen with a thin-crust pie on a plate. I didn’t accept the affection to acquaint them that pizza acknowledgment was everything. Was a totem. That pizza acknowledgment was the abundant unifier, the healer of this avant-garde walker. That pizza acknowledgment was added than aloof pizza toast. It was the underdog angry Pachinko Road. A aliment that had been artificial in some bizarro cultural oven adherent amid American GIs and abjection that somehow managed to afford all of that accoutrements over the years. It was unique, a aberration of reality. And best importantly: It was delicious.

But I didn’t say any of that. I accustomed their alms with a huge smile and conceivably alike tears in my eyes and, with abounding gratitude, had a pizza for breakfast. Pizza fabricated with ketchup and sausage, onions, and three types of cheese. It was the best ardent pizza I anytime ate. As I ate the clammy pie, the two told me of their lives:

Fifty-two years of active this kissa, the Kumatas. Mr. Kumata was Tokyo built-in and raised, but because of the war, his ancestors fled out actuality to abstain the firebombings. Mama was a local. Her ancestor an important administering official. Mr. Kumata confused fast. Mama was moony, a blithesome ragdoll. They’ve now been affiliated 58 years, but they beam like they aloof met yesterday, like the admiring was still ongoing. Both are in their 80s and ski at atomic 30 times a season. Thirty. “Have to get our money’s account for the division lift ticket.”

They accept accouchement and grandchildren. But they’re all in Tokyo, “where the befalling is.” I asked if their kids would booty over the boutique aback they were gone and Mr. Kumata balked. No, he said, they had aloft their kids able-bodied so they wouldn’t accept to run a kissa.

The boutique was abounding of knick-knacks. I poked around. Finished the pizza. Ordered some toast. I couldn’t accompany myself to adjustment pizza toast. The acknowledgment came out and Mama did a little ball for me. She had accomplished knees, knees still able of skiing. I was afflicted and intimidated. The acknowledgment was altogether accustomed thick-cut Japanese-style white-bread toast. Grade-A kissa toast. I admired it and admired them.

Sitting in the aphotic and algid Kumata kissa, amidst by blimp animals and a affected fireplace, I acquainted healed, like the abundant walking celebration was absolute itself, and admitting there’d consistently be added Pachinko Alley to walk, for the moment it acquainted like a lifetime away. I was beholden to be attractive at what remained of kissa ability beeline in the eye. It wasn’t continued for the world, and I absolutely couldn’t save it. But at atomic I was address witness. That acquainted like something.

The to-be-walked kilometers that day hovered about in the 30s. I hemmed and hawed. Mr. Kumata capital to accumulate chatting. “Stay,” he said. He capital to acquaint me added stories, but Mama shut his trap. She best me up by the bend and started to boost me out the door. The top of her arch almost came up to my bicep. She winked. “Let the boy walk, darling.”

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