Friday, September 27, 2013

Eight on, Eight off

Awoke to the sun rising on what would be yet another flawless sky, last week's typhoon having purged all the moisture from the air.  And with the sun, came the heat.

The steam coming off the paddies indicated that the night at least had been cool.  It was pleasant to walk the still-shaded streets of Kinomoto, this one in particular lined with old wooden homes and shops.  The lamps were unnecessary in the light of day, but the lamp posts illuminated the way in the metal characters forged upon them, characters bearing the kanji for the Hokkoku Kaidō. 

But all things do come to an end.  Just as I was beginning to enjoy the sun's soft caress on my skin, I took a sharp right onto busy Rte 8.  I hate these roads most at this time of day, when commuters are racing to work, their attention ever-forward, in complete disregard for anything beside the path.  And where the sidewalk ends...  I cross over the left, always left, so that I'll be able to face the fast moving traffic, allowing myself to pull a last minute leap should a driver's eyes be engaged by keitai, or the morning news broadcast upon their dashboard.

A few of the old post towns serve as pit stops, taking me away from the rush of metal, and enabling my adrenaline to slow.  Here, most is wood and tile, and the occasional thatch.  The rooflines of the latter resemble the prows of ships.  The temples and shrines through here have an interesting characteristic that I've never seen.  Rather than having the wooden decks that usually line the perimeter, it is as if the decks have been built, then folded upward to rest against the sides of the structures. This adds an interesting psychological element in drawing the eyes too upward, the movement extending beyond the pitched roofs and into the sky above.  Not unlike Christian churches, really.    

I take a rest in the shade of one temple gate, with the snip of scissors sounding behind me, in the hands of gardeners trimming the trees within the grounds. Then I'm moving out of town again, where the houses leave off to reveal the straight lines of dirt paths and cropped rice stalks, all perfectly aligned and leading toward the tufts of trees which serve to hide larger shrines.  

I cross a small river over the old bridge, now limited to pedestrian use.   For me, these bridges are straight out of the American South, as they link riverbanks thick with trees.  The river itself is crowded with water foul -- ducks and egrets and heron.  The rain swollen rivers are a banquet.  

 On the far side of the bridge is another post town with the curious name of Torahime, or 'Tiger Princess."  The sign boasts of its history, but all I see is ugly development.  The road here is broader than most, with the old structures all on the left.  A new bridge is being built at the town's southern end, taking us further from what ever history once existed here.  

Eventually, I arrive in Nagahama.  Here, history exists in spades.  The Hokkoku Kaidō is quite spiffy here, the older structures having been restored to house galleries and restaurants.  This is Japan at its best.  The side streets too intrigue, filled with people strolling around.  There is even a craft beer brewery.  I will be back.  

I'm teased by views of Lake Biwa, just a few dozen meters to my right. But I never arrive on her shores.  Instead, I'm fed onto yet another busy highway devoid of sidewalks.  I'll pass through a few post towns, none of which honor their past.  There are a few old stone road markers, which probably would have been a nuisance to remove.  Then the road itself disappears in Maibara, and I'm forced to walk a long circuitous route around its train yard.  

All south of here is similarly characterless.  Massive industrial factories.  Love hotels.  The only hint at the natural are a pair of wild boar traps.  I find great relief when arriving at the turn-off for the Nakasendo, for I know that this long 28 km trudge is coming to an end.  Toriimoto really should get more words than it is usually allotted, as here the Nakasendō was bisected not only by the Hokkoku Kaidō, but also the Chōsenjin Kaidō coming in from Hikone.  There is still some personality to the old town, with nice wooden buildings and the handful of descriptive signs.  I've been through here three times, but today I notice little.  As usual, I always seem to finish these walks with a dash for a train, not wanting to wait thirty minutes for the next.  And so with a panting of breath and a leap into the air conditioned carriage, I too, am history. 


On the turntable:  Pink Floyd, "Ummagumma"
On the nighttable:  Alexandra Horowitz, "On Looking"      


1 comment:

wes said...

I, too, have a soft spot for the eastern part of Biwa, especially considering the western part nearly killed us.

Plenty of good mountains on the eastern side as well. I think we can combine a hike with a more thorough exploration of Nagahama as well.