Monday, September 17, 2012

Nakasendo, solo XI


Naturally, I started the day with a steep pass.  There is a psychological advantage to walking through the forest on a road versus trail.  There is a certain feeling of safety, as if the bears turn their noses up at bitamen.  As it was still dark somewhat, I decided to delude myself with this feeling of ease. 

Mochizuki's five masugata had me zigzagging over the mountain.  In the village which followed, the smell of Udon hints at someone's breakfast.  I was still hungry after an unsatisfying 'meal' of roll cake and coffee.  I ate my remaining bread in a Hachiman shrine in the eponymous posttown of Yawata.  The shrine grounds were spacious and beautiful in the fog of dawn.  Back in one corner I found a structure that bears a puzzling mix of crests of the Imperial Family, Sōjiji, and Ise Shrine.

A few miles on through the fog I came to Shionada.  A parade of schoolkids pass me on the bridge spanning the Chikuma River, headwaters to the Shinano, Japan's largest river.  I too flowed on, through a series of small villages that begat towns that begat the city of Saku.  My impression of the place can be summarized by an English word of similar pronunciation.  The traffic on the little roads was too heavy and fast for my comfort, and twice I was nearly hit by drivers flying around corners on the way to work.  I remembered how I hated to walk at this time of the morning while on the henro, when the fear of tardiness outweighs prudence.  Saku also failed me because it was here that the signs disappeared completely.  I tend to daydream through uninspired scenery, and at one point I had convinced myself that I was 5km off course due to a new freeway that wasn't on my map.  I was actually where I should have been, but was amazed at how quickly this nation's concrete habit makes maps obsolete.  I also was curious at Saku's reason for existence in the first place, as these bland regional cities generally serve as bedtowns and transport hubs for larger cities nearby.  Yet here, Saku stood alone, serving as nothing more than as the catalyst for my growing annoyance.  Somewhere along the way I passed another walker, a hippie-looking guy who looked as bewildered and out of place as I did.

Grateful to leave the 'burbs behind, I found myself winded as I made my way through a small village.  Looking back, I noticed that I had been climbing, and would continue to do so for the next hour or so, all the way to Oiwake's 1000 meter perch.  The town had traditionally been known as where the Nakasendo and the Hokkokukaido part ways, hence the name.  Climbing toward her, I found myself walking through a forested area of posh second homes.  But for the volcanic Mt Asama popping out of the trees from time to time, I could have been in New England.  Oiwake posttown had a few tokens of traditional architecteure amidst the symbols of wealth, but apparently trail marks and historic explanations would interfere with property values, or something.

Which led to my next misadventure.  Minutes after praising myself for a quick pace and correct choice of direction, I wound up going at least a kilometer down the wrong highway.  I turned quickly around, swearing and shouting I went, presenting the drivers who passed by in their luxury cars the picture of a man with tourettes.  I found the correct highway after a short while, and pressed on quickly, hoping to get to my train on time.  Since the birth of my daughter, I find that on the last day of these walks I tend to hurry on toward home for dinner.  Whereas I used to fancy myself as "Lonely Man on the Road," I suppose I'm now "Lonely Family Man on the Road."

After a couple of towns that actually looked Japanese, I traced a long, wide road through the shade of trees.  Along this stretch was a remarkable number of Italian restaurants, their parking lots filled with expensive German automobiles. Wave after waves of couples passed by on bicycles.  I was tempted to linger, but determined to make my train, so pressed on.  It was well after one p.m. now, and hunger was beginning to drain my batteries.  I had earlier bought a discounted bag of day-old bread, so sat on the wall of a small manor, to give my feet five minutes rest.  I realized then that I had been walking close to 25 km which stopping.  It was nice to sit, but I soon began to feel self conscious, wearing the same clothes for three days, and unshaven for a couple days beyond that.  (Before I give a horribly disgusting impression, I want to mention that I purposely wear quick-drying clothes that I can wash at night, plus I always have a change of clean clothes for the train.  Okay now?)  As I sat with my back     rounded forward to relieve the ache, I realized how much I must look homeless now.  So I threw my pack back on, and made my way eventually to the main street, turning right and walking down past all the young couples and their little dogs too.  I'd been to Karuizawa a number of times, and knew   that the small shop in front of the station had cold cans of the locally brewed beer.  Those, plus some cheese and jerky were the perfect reward for three longs days of 90km, leaving me five days walk to Nihonbashi, and the Capital...    


On the turntable: Smashing Pumpkins:  "Siamese Dream"




4 comments:

blaine said...

I've been enjoying these Nakasendo entries quite a bit.

I think I've learned to hate concrete even more since coming to Japan. I get depressed when a nice river has concrete along its banks. Not even the countryside can escape.

I dislike the very remote flood control dams. Those bother me a lot for some reason. One valley has like 8 or 9 in a row.

ted said...

I'm totally with you about the concrete. Too many hot days over hard surfaces this summer. I have five 30 km days until Tokyo , which means suburbs, something I won't even think about until spring. Had enough for now.

I was lucky to do some Aloa this summer, which reminded me how much I love mountains. Gonna focus on those

ted said...

Instead for a while. Plenty north of Kyoto to keep me happy this summer.

Bear in mind that more than 1000 of Henri's 1200 are on roads. There are days that you won't be happy...

ted said...

That's Alps, not Aloa....