Monday, November 30, 2015

The Sacred and the Cows

I took the first train of the day so as to beat the rain.  It also enabled me to beat the rain that had just ceased, after falling all night, after falling for two days.  

The cobbled lanes shone in the faint light of dawn.  Tall hedges rose on either side, framing perfectly an old man riding toward the castle ruins.  Walking toward him, I did what most feudal period travelers would have been hesitant to do;  that is visit the castle.  In those days, the average man on the road would have wanted to get through these administrative centers as quickly as possible, since they were hotbeds of authority.  Far better to carry on up the road to the next town, and a small quiet inn somewhere with its sake and its gambling and its women.  Climbing up to the ramparts I found where the keep had once stood was a wide open space now cleared for a city-center park.  All along the perimeter of the walls the grass had been tramped down by the footfalls of walkers, though it is not hard to imagine that they too have been walking in the same footsteps as the feudal era sentries now long gone.  

I found that I had no beef with this Matsuzaka, with its large decorative cowbells and statues of horse-headed Kannon.  It is an attractive little city along a rather ugly industrial corridor that extends southward from Nagoya's distended belly.  This was my third single-day walk along what had once been the Ise Betsu Kaidō, and I'd seen very little but bland suburban homes and massive structures looking almost abstract objet.   In fact I don't believe that I found myself in the midst of any sort of open space since leaving Yokkaichi on a hot August day now a year past.  No wonder really since this was the primary road connecting the well-visited Ise Shrines with the Tokaidō and thus Edo.  Inns and tea houses would have lined this route, free as it was from any significant hills.  

Matsuzaka's folk museum had many artifacts from this time, and delighted even more in being free on this national holiday morning.  I continued along the rough hewn stones to pop my head into an old samurai house or two, then got on with the walk at hand.  

Arriving at the river's edge, I retraced my own steps of yesteryear.  The day turned out to be warmer than what people were dressed for.  The recent rains had brought with them chill, and the train ride down was accompanied by the scent of musty clothes pulled out for a new and premature season.  One exception however was an old woman bent at a perpetual 45 degrees, sweeping the path to a shrine with a broom twice as tall (now) as she.  

The suburban corridor led me over a couple of rivers.  Beside one, an eda-mame field looked parched despite the recent weather.  What was coming in didn't look too promising either, and as the first drops began to potsu-potsu off the road ahead, I pleaded with the sky to hold off just a bit longer.  It seemed to heed, and besides the odd drizzle here and there, I was left unmolested to finish my walk.  

Over the last river, paralleling a bridge I'd crossed back in March when I wrapped up the Ise Hon-kaidō.  This bridge had far less traffic, and I walked in the center of its low white rails toward the zigzags that fed me onto the intersection where I met with my previous route.  Seeing no real need to go to the shrine again, I bee-lined for the station, and onto a platform abuzz with people returning from a long soggy holiday weekend.  And while I was pleased to finish a route that I had seemed destined to never complete, a glance at my map reminded me that I still have one more Ise route to do, one that stretches away from the Kumano shrines out there beyond the hills...


On the turntable:  "Frank Zappa, "Zappa"
On the nighttable:  Victoria Glendinning, "Raffles and the Golden Opportunity"

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