Monday, August 20, 2012

Nakasendo, solo IV

The road out of Tarui was a dull road busy with cars rushing into town.  I'm nearly taken out on one curve by a 4WD vehicle of a type driven most often by people who live in cities. One stag beetle hadn't been so lucky, laying flat on the road's edge.  These prized insects are usually well cared for, so this was either an escapee that had been run down, or one that had been crushed beneath the foot of a jealous rage.  

I was really feeling tired this morning. It could have been the lack of sleep, despite the fatigue from yesterday's 32km.  Or it could've been the humidity just sitting on my shoulders.  Or perhaps too many consecutive days of dark, threatening clouds.  The scenery remained uninspiring, with the only beauty I'd seen having been the light blue Meiji-era building beside the canal in Akasaka.  Just outside of town, a crow peeled the flattened body of snake off the road like a piece of dried jerky.  It reminded me how, despite hundreds of hours spent outdoors, I've seen only a few snakes this year.  

Plodding on through the northern outskirts of Ogaki.  Between the suburban homes and small factory operations are random bits of nature:  the micro forest of shrine;  the tree lined canals;  the sudden burst of green that are rice paddies.  In one of the latter, I see a bird of a type I think I've never seen before, until it lifts off to reveal a belly and wings  so white and clean that it looks like an inner kimono. 

But mostly, more suburbs.  In front of one house is a large dead frog, one foreleg held out in front of its chest in the protective gesture of a Buddha.  I could've used some of this aid as I came to a bizarre series of overlapping roads without any trail signs whatsoever.  I walked around for a while cursing.  When I finally untangled myself, I noticed a half dozen pairs of panties in the weeds beside the road paralleling the river.  Somewhere in town, somebody's clothesline is a little barer this morning.  A wild cormorant pays no heed, peacefully fishing in the Hiranoi River.   

I cross a village on the floodplain before the next river.  An announcement comes over the loudspeakers that there is to be a minute of silence at noon, this being 'Peace Memorial Day,' 67 years after the Japanese emperor's speech brought WWII to a close.  When the time comes, I am crossing a high bridge, midday between two shores.  I can't find a better metaphor for the whole day.  Eventually I stop at the next temple and pray for the dead of my two homes. The flags at the local town hall fly at half mast.  Behind them, the trees lining the canal shed their white petals like cherry blossoms.  

I'm walking through rice fields, literally wilting due to lack of shade.  I find a tree here and there, then sit awhile at a shady temple.  In the village is a large stone commemorating the heavy losses that this particular place suffered in the war.  Nearby, the graves of three of these dead are decorated with fresh flowers.

Until today I've been quite satisfied with the quality of the map I've been using.  Most Japanese I know have remarkable skills at drawing, so it is a surprise that their hiking books have such lousy maps.  The estimated times given to do the walks appear to be absurdly conservative estimates, until you take into account that this also includes the time wasted trying to find the fucking trail.  This particular book too has finally come to fail me here.  It's as if the mapmaker just wanted to get the hell out of this area, leaving the job half finished.  I got so thoroughly confused at one point that I simply sit in the shade of a convenience store, swallowing my rice balls with angry bile.  I use road maps inside to figure things out.  For the next two hours, I'll follow a single straight road that will build up gradually until entering the city of Gifu. A few people sing karaoke in a small bar.  Across the street is a cafe called Namiki, referring to those rows of pine that once shaded the trail.  But here in the city, there isn't a tree to be found. 

The Nakasendo enters Gifu through an apparently Korean neighborhood, where the tarmac changes color, leading you effortlessly along the M-shaped turns through the city.  It is a nice stretch, the best of the day. The buildings keep their character, proud against the steel and glass a few streets over.  There are people around, but not in the bustling manner particular to a city.  People actually seem to be out casually strolling, on this the last day of the holiday. 

I had intended to stop here, and have a hotel room booked by the station.  (I'd actually intended to find shrines to sleep behind during these three days, but the rain stopped that idea cold.)  But it is only 4pm, with the road paralleling the train line for the next 12km.  I decide to walk until six o'clock, then take the next train.  The road out of town has me immediately regretting this choice.  I do get rewarded with a few parts of a more rural character, then the road becomes the busy Route 21.  It is actually pleasant through the town of Naka, quaint in a weathered, retro-Showa kind of way.  There is also large park with grass for grateful feet. 

Then, a doubletake, at an run-down old business hotel just shy of where I was planning to catch my train.  The old couple are friendly and amusing, so I shift gears and check in, avoiding a train ride back to a characterless chain hotel back in Gifu.  I chat with the old couple for a while about local dining options, then go up to my room for a much needed shower.  My room is old and beat up and wonderful.  After my shower I sit with the breeze blowing in from yet another rain storm...

On the turntable:  Grand Funk Railroad, "30 Years of Funk"
On the nighttable:  Monica Ali, "Brick Lane"


No comments: