My Norwich Walk

by Motoyuki Shabata

This is part of the Walking Norwich series.

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In these months of the pandemic Norwich feels as distant as the moon to me living in Tokyo, and even thinking of the more prosaic streets in the town makes me nostalgic, but I’ll pretend for a while we are still in the pre-pandemic days and people get together in restaurants and pubs and you can hear the roar from the football stadium on the days the guys in yellow and green play there.

There are some serious contenders for my favorite Norwich walk. Elm Hill, the really cobbly cobble street with rather quaint shops selling second-hand books or board games; the green meadow around the Cow Tower where you can forget you are in the twenty-first century; and the busy and noisy Magdalen Street which is probably Norwich’s most multiethnic area.

However, if I had to choose, I would opt for the riverside path from Norwich Station down south to the area near the football stadium. It’s certainly not one of the most beautiful riverside areas in Norwich: by far the more scenic places are up in north of the town, and here the river is flanked on one side by various buildings, some of them rather decrepit, and on the other by a practical concrete path, which is where I’ve opted for, in front of a row of newish apartment buildings. I don’t even know if the path has a street name.

My wife and I have stayed in Norwich three times, a couple of weeks to a month each time, with great support from the extremely helpful folks in National Centre for Writing, and in each of our enormously pleasant stays I went to Riverside Leisure Centre to have a swim almost every day, and wherever we stayed I always walked along the riverside path to go there and on my way back. I almost always felt good walking there after a day’s work, and it’s nice to walk so near the water – there’s no fence between river and path, which is unthinkable in Japan (people are more nervous about children’s safety). While I walked I sometimes fantasized living in one of those apartments along the river, thinking how nice it would be to work on my translations on the balcony in good weather.

Whenever I walked there I listened to some audio recording: I almost always do no matter where, if I walk more than ten minutes. Although I mostly translate contemporary American fiction, listening to voices from America while walking somehow doesn’t work. After several experiments I’ve discovered British classic tales of fear work best. So while I walked the riverside path in Norwich I mostly listened to stories by Sheridan Le Fanu, M. R. James, and Algernon Blackwood … I loved listening to those stories before and after I took a swim. In the quiet evening dusk I could almost pretend I were somehow transported to the nineteenth-century Britain.

Some people walk to Leisure Centre like me – though most of them take the busier Wherry Road – and others drive. But there was one guy who apparently took a boat to get there: one time I saw a man I’d just seen in the locker room walk out of the centre and go straight to the small boat waiting on the riverside, and as I still watched he paddled on to a larger boat mooring down the river, which was most likely where he lived. As I watched him leisurely get up onto his dwelling on the water, I wished for a moment I were in his shoes – or rather, in his boat.

––Motoyuki Shibata


In February 2020, Motoyuki and Hitomi Shibata spent two weeks in Norwich as part of Japan Now East. Motoyuki Shibata is a Japanese translator of contemporary of American fiction. He edits the English-language literary journal Monkey Business, which introduces contemporary Japanese authors to the English-speaking audience, and the tri-annual Japanese-language literary journal Monkey, in which he publishes new Japanese stories and poems as well as translations of those written in English.

During his time here he chaired an event with Hiromi Itō and Jeffrey Angles to discuss the publication of Killing Kanoko / Wild Grass on the Riverbank, now published in the UK by Tilted Axis, led a Translating Cultures workshop with Hiromi Itō, Jeffrey Angles and Polly Barton, exploring specific issues and challenges in translating between the two very cultures and literatures of Japanese and English, and recorded a podcast with us about his working methods. He also took part in an episode of Free Thinking on Radio 3, and in events at Japan Now in London. Listen to the podcast here: