Saturday, February 06, 2016
Journey through the Past
The weather forecast showed 12 degree temps, which the sunny morning skies confirmed. I decided to spend the day playing connect the dots. I had already walked a series of routes down in south Nara prefecture, but subsequent internet fiddling showed me that I had 'eaten the loaf, but left the heels,' if you will. Where did those routes connect? A fine day to find out.
Nothing terribly special to report, as I'd already consumed the tastiest bits. Nara is world famous for its lengthy history, nearly 1500 years of history, so its no surprise at how lived in the area looks. Even the newer house look weathered, the older ones hanging on. There are the odd small blemishes of industry, and the obligatory highways and rail lines, but I like the way the mountains and fields close in to hug everything. In particular the first section of the day, along the eastern reaches of the Yamato Kaidō, as the valley walls grow closer and closer as if to shield its kiss with the Hase Kaidō, a kiss I'd missed on my walking the latter road two years ago.
Not far away is the junction with the Kami-tsu-michi. I had thought that I had covered this 2-km elbow of the Ise Hon Kaidō while on a walk of the Tokai Shizen Hodō in 2009, but the TSH is further up toward the hills, a fact I discover as I sit sunning myself beside Shiroyama Jinja, perusing a series of online websites and refueling on a rice ball and some cold chicken. The Ise Kaido proper follows the river below, and so now do I. A handful of children play in its dry bed, two grannies gossip on a bench above. I criss-cross someone's farm, passing a number of signs pointing toward the seemingly infinite shrines and ruins that dot this, the Yama-no-be Michi, one of my earliest walks in the area, and still one of my favorite walks in Japan. I move through the village of Miwa, following the shrill sound of a flute to an Hatsu Ebisu festival and its giant red fish omikoshi. This is an affiliate shrine of nearby Miwa Jingu, where the god of alcohol is deified. I smile at the smaller shrine's eponymous beer, and realize that I have yet to drink that particular brand this year. Hatsu Yebisu is most definitely called for, but will have to wait, as February is generally a dry month for me. (Perhaps then, a Super Dry instead?) A handful of steps away brings me to Miwa Jingu's massive torii, supposedly the tallest in Japan. Not long after arriving in Japan, knowing that sake is enshrined here, I sat drinking a cup in the shadow of that very gate, watching the sun set over the Katsuragi range. This gate more or less marks where I had thought I'd finished my walk of the Kami-no-michi in 2014.
But now, my walk of the Ise Kaido can finally be called complete.
I toast this with a tea and some chocolate, before heading down Route 169, into the heart of Sakurai. It is a modern road, yet thankfully lined with mom and pop shops rather than box stores. It never ceases to amaze me just how many beauty salons and eyewear shops there are in Japan. It is as its citizens want not only the perfect coif, but also the ability to clearly see the perfect coif of everyone else. (This is where I will insert a snarky quip, saying "for a people so dead set on 20/20 vision, it is amazing how astigmatic is the government's hindsight view, in following the definition found in Merriam-Webster: 'showing incapacity for observation or discrimination.'" Perhaps my own lenses are rose-tinted.)
The Kami-tsu-Michi is now cut by a rail line and a river, but after a little creative detouring, I am walking the section known locally as the Yamada Kaidō (confused yet?). It is more or less the rural Route 15, which curves itself toward Kashima Jingu. The sky clouds over for the first time all day which brings the wind and chill. Alternately, the mists of time part to reveal the landscape of the sixth century capital Asuka, dotted with dozens of key-shaped burial mounds. A village, then a town escort me back to the rail-line, which I follow south a few kilometers until I enter the train station.
This ending will too serve as a beginning. I have one last road to walk down here, leading from this tomb kingdom of Asuka to the later-era Heijo Palace of Nara, paralleling the temporal progression that marked the transition from newly sedentary hunter gatherers to a more established civilization defined by collective agriculture and a new import -- Buddhism.
No map links per se, due to the nature of the day. Instead:
On the turntable: Annie Lennox, "Medusa"
On the nighttable: John Nathan, "Living Carelessly in Tokyo and Elsewhere"