Friday, June 01, 2012

Spring along the Nakasendo

For my job for Walk Japan,  I guide clients along the Nakasendo, walking 150 of her total 437 kilometers.  In two months, I walked the route 4 times, for a modest sum of 600 km.  In repeating the journey,  faces and places become familiar.  Most fascinating was walking away from winter and into spring, a newborn season tiptoeing forward incrementally.  I've never had the opportunity to do so, to dwell so completely in the coming of new life.   

What follows are varied scenes along the road, those not previously covered in haiku form. 

Old farm woman bent at the waist in the newly flooded paddy, staring down at a face reflected back from between young rice stalks.  The face changes, but they stay that same fresh color of green.  How many of these has she mothered over the years?

Outside Okute, an old man chips away at a block of ice resting in the back of his truck. 

An old woman makes her way down the steep stone walk of Magome, steady on three points of sandal and cane.

Nothing in the coffee shop but gaijin and dogs.

"...waves of wisteria like purple clouds, bright in the west."

All that flowing water, as the snows relinquish their hold on the higher peaks.

That bizarre spring typhoon seen from the safety of Iwaya Onsen.  From my window, I watch the white clouds roll down the street and then engulf us in hail and wind.  Later, I sit in the rotemburo on the roof,  the clouds above me dashing faster than smoke.  I sit here until the lightning chases me inside.  The next morning, I'm again in the bath, red cheeks stroked by the gentle caress of snow. 

The squat houses of Kaida Kogen, in stout sumo stances against the snow.

Late April, weaving along the sakura front, seeing the blossoms in their various incarnations as we dip and climb in altitude. From hesitant buds to mankai to fubuki and back again.   I see them for the last time up on Kaida Kogen, blossoming anachronistically with the carp banners, and snow-covered Ontake, beyond.

The quiet cluster of Jizo outside the village of Nishino.   Final resting place of pilgrims who took the ultimate journey.

The old ticket taker at Narai station, the way his hands seem to operate apart from him, going through motions honed by time and muscle memory.  I leave him to go sit in the park beside the old bridge, on a morning so quiet and beautiful that I nearly cry I'm so overcome by happiness.  

The ruler-straight fringe of the girls of Matsumoto.

The train out to Bessho Onsen is suddenly boarded by a conductor dressed in white and holding a harmonica.  He suddenly hands me a song sheet, and I find myself joining him and a couple dozen old-timers in some sentimental pre-war ballad.  We sing another before I lead my own charges off the train.  God I love Japan and its sudden bursts of the surreal.

A rubber cobra hangs beneath the eaves off a house, to frighten off any swallows so bold as to declare squatters rights. 

On the platform at Ueda, striking up in conversation a man dressed in European Alpine wear circa 1927.  Right down to the ice axe.  He is off to scale Mt. Asama, whose pate is still covered in snow.  A formidable task this, but he is a man who climbs the higher, deadlier peaks of the Himalaya every other year. 
Japan's tiny toy landscape as seen from the Shinkansen.

Seeing the SkyTree from way out in Omiya. 

Love the lilting chill guitar work of Ernest Ranglin, in this case as we cruise above Tokyo's city streets. 

Coming out of the dull brown of winter, the sakura following their ume sempai into greater degrees of color.  Then nature really broadens her palette, the hillscape exploding into an array of hues that sadly elude the use of any other adjective but 'Disneyesque.'  (Think rapeseed and iris.)  And the hillsides too filling out in that new green that rivals the almost self-conscious show that the maples will put on six months hence.  All this new growth erases the view of higher peaks that had been with me on earlier tours.  The foliage is back, man, and they won't let you forget it.

And the animals too make the scene.  They'd been scarce in March, but for a wild boar blending into the dull gray-brown of the forest.  By May, the mountains are alive with birdsong.  In the rice paddies, the frogs hold an all night rave. Various types of snake look to bust up the party, including a viper crossing a mountain road below Nenotoge.  On a solo walk, I scare up a deer at dawn above Sekigahara.  The white of its buttocks almost seductive as it flees up the hillside.  Around the nearby fish ponds, I'm warned of a bear that I won't see.  (At least until two weeks hence, but that'll be on Kyushōzan in Tottori.)  Dropping into Gunma, our party literally collides with a party of monkeys, their twenty or so doubling our own number. The males confidently patrol the perimeter.  The females turn to shield their babies with their bodies under the shade of trees.  Our simian cousins too may see us as a harbinger of spring, thinking, "Look out, the snows are gone and the Sapians are back." 

On the turntable:  Dinosaur Jr., "On the Farm"
On the nighttable:  Basho, "On the Narrow Road to the Far North"

1 comment:

wes said...

I hope you were also able to capture these wonderful descriptions on film as well. I'd love to see a photo of that man dressed in the vintage European alpine togs