Day 23-27 – November 3 – 7th 2015 Nakasendo Way
The Nakasendo Way – part of a network of ancient highways. Said to be part of the original Shogun way from Kyoto to Tokyo – and we were going to walk a bit of it. We had booked this part of our trip before we left, through Oku Japan, a company providing us with a very well organised and supported walk.
Fingers crosssed – not really – we had much confidence sending all non-essential gear from Yoshimizu to our AirBnB in Tokyo through the incredible Takuhaibin delivery service.
Day 22 November 3rd. Kyoto to Magome
Reluctantly we left our little room at Yoshimizu with Mio waving us goodbye. Our next adventure begins.
We caught the Shinkansen to Nagoya – an entertaining ride. Chris was quite sure we experienced Yakuza!!! He tells it thus “Got off the train with the Yakuza older guy in nice suit who gave me a death stare. Young
man with flat Mohican built like brick shithouse seemed to be his bodyguard. They were met at station by another bodyguard who gives deepest bow I have ever seen”
We got the train to Nagoya then ran to catch the bus to Magome. Along for the ride were others we had seen along the way who appeared to be going the same way. I commented to Chris it was like the TV show The Great Race!!!
Once in Magome we began walking up the hill through the village. A narrow street lined with quaint old wooden buildings. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant with simple soup.
As we walked on up and out of Magome our fellow walkers fell away until there was mostly just the two of us. And the Bear warnings! If only.
Lovely walk to our first night in the old town of Tsumago
Day 23 November 4th. Tsumago to Nijori and Kiso-Fukishima
Got lost heading out of Tsumago which added about 45minutes and some tetchy times to the walk.
Once on the right road it was a lovely walk to Nasori where we found one supermarket with no a lot of pre-prepared trail foods. We did select a variety of snacks then
The route traversed mountain passes and a couple of unplanned variations on the route provided surprises such as a beautiful waterfall and towards the end of the day a dense and luscious forest.
Throughout the day we were treated to small hamlets of old houses, and spreading vistas of beautiful bright autumn colours – brilliant red and yellows. Throughout our entire walk we encountered very few people. Often hours with no one on the trail.
After what for us felt like hard slog and feeling buggered not beaten we made it to the station at Nijori. Oh joy we found a supermarket with beer and Pringles as we waited for our train to Fukushima.
A further treat awaited us in Fukushima where our host was actually waiting at the station on our arrival so without any wait at all we headed off. Another treat awaited us – Ryokan Iwaya in Kiko Fukushima-outstanding accommodation huge room with ensuite bathroom and very comfortable.
After a delicious and much appreciated Onsen we headed to dinner feast and a few beers before sinking into our futon sleeping with the sound of the river running by our window.
Day 24 November 5th. Kiso-Fukishima to Tabuhara and Narai.
After breakfast we reluctantly drageed ourself away from our lovely room. Driven to the station where our parting conversation was a witty exchange about the Kiwis beating the Aussies in the Rugby.
We had a wander around Kiso-Fukushima and found a bakery where we purchased cream buns and
cheesy bread for lunch!
Back at the station Chris was very excited to discover ‘Cafe Latte in a Can’ from a machine. Then the train to Tabuhara.
We walked through Tabuhara and started through the forest for what is purportedly the hardest section of the trail. The path was steep but zig zagged relatively gently.
We stopped for our lunch near the Shrine at the Torii-touge Pass. Chris taking copious photos and me studying the guide: “This mountain pass was named “Torii” (Shinto shrine gate) because a prominent local samurai warrior in 15th century prayed to Mt. Ontake (which is visible from Torii-toge Pass) for victory in a battle against another clan. After winning the battle, he built a torii gate and Ontake Shrine to thank the spirit of the mountain.”
And then on down to Narai “Narai was once known as “Narai of 1000 inns,” as this was the most prosperous of the 69 post-towns along the Nakasendo Trail. Travellers prepared or recovered in the
many inns here before or after tackling the steep Torii-toge.” A beautiful old town of dark wooded buildings lining the narrow streets.
Another night spent in wonderful traditional accommodation Iseya
Day 24 November 6th. Narai to Kiso and Matsumoto and then to Kuzaiwara
Started out early with a walk to Kisothen for the train to Matsumoto.
At Matsumoto we first walked to the castle opting to walk the outside rather than tour inside given limited time.
We then wandered back via historical streets after which we got the train to Nagano then the Shinkansen to Karuizaiwa .
Heralded as a resort town – Karuizaiwa looks like a haven for the rich and famous. We walked down the Main Street littered with designer shops and exotic food stuffs. Unable to resist we acquired a cheeky little Camembert.
Delightful Ryokan the Tsuruyu Our itinerary described “This venerable Ryokan has around 400 years of history. The current lobby, with its carpets and armchairs, shows the start of western influences on Japan during the Meiji period.had been a haven for the cream of Japanese literature.” Heaven. Would definitely return here.
Day 25 November 7th. Kuzaiwara to Yokokawa to Tokyo
Our final day on the Nakasendo.
With the option of a long uphill walk or a cab we hardly needed to debate the decision. The cab dropped us at Touge – the Usui Pass and after taking pics of a restaurant (closed) that John and
Yoko used to frequent we started downhill.
Passed through the ruins of what had apparently once been a hippie settlement which contained the shell of an old bus with no sign of any road in. The trail was gorgeous ending at a disbanded train line that had been turned into a walking path.
A lovely walk it was, the first part through a forest of turning leaves, the latter down a steep rocky path to a converted railway path below.
Had soba for lunch then caught the local train and then the Shinkansen to the madness of Tokyo.
Finally we arrived at the station in Yokokawa and trains leading to Tokyo. Our last few days in Japan. Tokyo a bit of a shock after the quiet rural scenery of the Nakasendo Way. We opted to hop off the train at Shinjuku rather than Shibuya, a major junction and one of the busiest stations in the world. Good choice Shinjuku was quiet and small.
Arriving into Harajuku station and emerging into the mass of people surging down Takasheita Street was a culture shock but exciting. The instructions given to us by our AirBnB host were incredibly detailed. We easily found our way with a map plus written instruction plus photos of landmarks along the route. No domestic disagreements on this navigation.
Again detailed instructions of how to enter the apartment quickly saw us in a tiny light-filled room decorated with Sakura blossom paintings and branches along with Hello Kitty everywhere – plugs, plates, pillows, purse, and on and on.
Both a bit tired and Chris struggling at first with the tiny space. After sorting out our use of the small space available we headed out. Both in the mood for cuisine other than Japanese. After a bit of a wander looking for an Italian supposedly nearby we found ALA. Up a small staircase a buzzing Italian restaurant. Smoking is still allowed most places and we asked for non-smoking space which was a cozy corner overlooking the open kitchen.
What a night it was. Chris and staff having a fun-filled banter. The Chef and a fellow customer chatting with us. All this and some very fine food from a tiny busy kitchen. Behind us a table of what Chris described as“ ’hipsters’ being intellectuals” . I loved watching – a group of young men, and 1 woman all head to toe stylish black. As the night went on our dinner companion, lovely to the end, became increasingly unintelligible with a never-ending glass of red.