Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Nakasendo, solo VIII

I said farewell to my clients at Matsumoto, then said farewell to the train at Kiso-Fukushima.  It took about 30 minutes back the way I'd come, but they were a hot, uphill 30 minutes, over 2 kilometers of hot asphalt.   As I was standing before a long tunnel, weighing the merits of exhaust fumes and merciful shade, a ride appeared, relieving me of having to make that choice.  The driver had a certain rough working class way to him, yet there was a certain sentimental sweetness there too.  Plus he was driving a Prius.

He let me out at Narai station, where six of my walks have come to a conclusion.  I set off up the road, bleached flat by the midday sun.  Sound emitted from inns lining the street, human movement behind closed bamboo blinds.  

The road crossed a small river which until now I had assumed was still the Kiso river.  A look at Google shows that it was instead a river named after the town I'd just left.  The Kiso, so mighty as it pours through the town of Kiso-Fukushima, was now in the next valley over, its true nature tempered by a dam higher up.  The Narai River then led me through the town of Narakawa, past the shade of the old, high-gabled elementary school.  Here too was a posttown of certain beauty, its residents some of the most famed lacquerware artisans in the country.  Suma shrine at the town's far end brought some much welcome shade.  As I ducked into an ancient outhouse to pee, a massive spider dropped from the ceiling, barely missing me as it hit the wooden floor with a noisy thunk.

Not far on I'd arrive at the busy Route 19, where I'd spend too much of my day.  The Nakasendo leaves it now and again to run through the old post towns, but they are post towns in name only, taking the form of ubiquitous suburban homes nowadays.  One remaining relic are the water features, which were a blessing on such a hot day.  I drank at all that had a ladle.  

I took a short break at the old barrier station, now a museum, as expected.  Just beyond, I entered forest proper, along the top of one of those concrete embankments that shore up countryside hillsides and Tokyo bank accounts.   I rested again with a group of old Jizo at a curve in the road, again attempting to connect with the past.  

Memories of the rest of the day are of a rally between rest stops. Beside a high stele marking where the Meiji Emperor had had a short break.  (If it was good enough for him...)  At the long sought after stone written with the words, "Everything south of here is the Kiso Valley."  (Ah, but the true 'valley' ended a few kilometers back, at that hydroelectric station.)  At a group of vending machines priced at 100 yen, where I made small talk with a man touring by motorcycle, overheating in helmet and leathers.  

It was a long walk through the post town of Motoyama.  The main street is broad and proud, but the homes are all new here.  They surprised me in being marked with the names of inns, though I'd guess that is more historic than current.  I can't imagine any reason that the town would get that much tourist traffic, despite the pleasant views of soba fields and the distant hills where the cicadas scream.

And finally into Seba, winding down past a hillock topped by an old Meiji era community center, and through the town.  I find the station nearby and sit in my own sweat, drinking an orange soda that I'd been craving for hours, since I passed that bottle discarded on the side of the road, filled with piss of a similar color.  An old man brought his young granddaughter to sit with him and watch the trains come in.   A wonderful exercise in teaching patience, as this station sees only one an hour.  But it still beats TV...  

On the turntable:  Midnight Oil, "Red Sails on the Sunset"
On the nighttable:  "Tales of the Heike"

1 comment:

Oliver said...

The last two sentences are interesting. Nice post.