Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Nakasendo solo XV

I was conscious of the scent of earth on my trousers, a scent filling the subway car on which I rode.  The previous day, I had been helping Kevin and the folks at One Life Japan harvest their rice up in a remote corner of Nagano prefecture.  As they don't use chemicals or machines, this involved kneeling directly in the muddy paddy, sickle in hand.  And now as I rode deep beneath the busy streets of Tokyo, I tried to convince myself that the other riders would find this smell comforting, and remind them perhaps of their roots in the soil.  I sat there in the stuffy and uncomfortable subway car, whose heat was on high despite what was going on outside. Well, I suppose it was October.

It exacerbated the grumpiness I was feeling.  I was frustrated at Toyko being built to a scale other than human, a scale that forces you to walk nearly a full kilometer through underground tunnels to get to your train.  (This feeling would be developed further in viewing a map of the city in 2020 with all the proposed islands to be built for the upcoming Olympics, and even more so when looking down from the absurdly high SkyTree.)   It had become apparent last night.  After two full days in the laconic pace of the countryside, I'd noticed how quickly my pace propelled me forward, as I marched in time to the beat of the urban warriors through Tokyo Station.   I also noticed the masks on the faces that I walked amongst, and the fact that my own face had grown a similarly hard exoskeleton of an expression.

I rejoined the Nakasendo above Motohasunuma Station, stepping from the brick subway gate and into the rain.  A typhoon was swirling past the city just offshore, and Tokyo was getting a real pasting.  I had been lucky with weather throughout the walk, so didn't really mind doing this last bit through the city in less than perfect conditions, striding across the puddles reflecting neon.

And I really only had a couple of hours left to walk.  Thus I passed the morning reading the signs above the shops lining both sides of the road.  Through Itabashi, the signs changed with each street that the Nakasendo crossed.  Butchers, bookshops, and barbers, the latter accompanied by the scent of hair tonic.  As moved into Sugamo, I thought how much I like walking these older parts of Tokyo, with their unpretentious old shopping arcades.  A far cry from the glitz of the western side of town.

Near Taishō University, my attention was pulled to the Ōdai Sazae-do, a strange pagada whose multi-levels spiralled up to resemble the mollusk after which it is named.  Apparently there is one up in Aizu made of wood, but this one was all ferroconcrete.  At its base, the visitor is greeted by an ancient wooden statue of Kannon that dates from the Heian period, but at the top is another statue of similar size, all gaudy and flashy.  The climb up the steps to reach it should've been a hint of what was to come, walking through walls painted a soft blue, to a soundtrack of songbirds.  Coming down the other side all was red.  I wonder what this signified, as I descended to the base and profane world below.  It was where I felt I belonged as the mist continued to slowly cleanse the dirt from my pant legs. 

The Nakasendo through Sugamo was lined by lampposts that bore small photos of the area's attractions.  I looked in vain however to any mention of the prison that held the war criminals or the hangmans's scaffolds.  Its main attraction appeared to be the Jizo temple with its throng of older woman busy waving incense smoke over their heads, or wiping water from the body of a small Kannon statue that stood at one corner of the grounds.

I rejoined Route 17 just beyond here, and followed its ever narrowing length to the Red Gate of Tōdai.  The tree-lined grounds looked inviting, but I chose to move along, as the rain grew more and more sincere.  I was quite soaked by now,  my enthusiasm washing away.  But I carried on, knowing I had less than an hour to go. 

And so came Kanda, revealing neither fields, nor gods. Upon arrival, I had in theory, already finished the length of the Nakasendo, having walked the last two kilometers a half dozen times while leading tours.  But tradition spoke louder than rain, and I retraced my steps along this last kilometer, arriving once more at the replica of the metal sign from which distances on Japan's five great highways are measured. 

And with these last final steps, I put the 537 km of the Nakasendo behind me.

On the turntable:  Jerry Garcia, "Garcia Plays Dylan"
On the nighttable:  Murasaki Shikibu, "The Tale of Genji (Seidensticker)"


wes said...

A great big otsukare to you my friend for being the purist and completing every inch of the old route. I've really enjoyed these posts and can definitely relate to walking on busy concrete roads while the world passes you by.

This post is wonderfully written as usual, as the typhoon rains provided ample poetic inspiration

kenelwood said...

Well a BIG otsukare to you !

adams guild™, Japan