Friday, March 03, 2017

Tokai Shizen Hoedown: Chubu II

I pick up the trail where I'd left it.  Reading back over my previous post, I appeared to have had the same weather, though this time I had been blessed with good weather for the duration of my week-long tour.  The waning days of February had jumped ahead to mid-March temps, which had made for easy walking, though the hard crust beneath my snowshoes had turned to soup by lunchtime.  

But here at lower elevations I know that snow is behind me. My jacket is tucked into my backpack as I step off the train in the company of a bunch of elderly women, a surprising number for a weekday.  On the train I'd notice a tourist pamphlet that one of them held, and decide that this little town of Iwamura had enough going for it to explore.  I have little distance to cover today, but as daylight is an issue, I allow myself only hour to cover the three km up and back through town.  

It is worth the detour, along the straight arrow lane bisecting the old post town.  At some point, someone decided to preserve the place, and even the banks and post office wear an Edo period visage.  I can see the appeal for the aunties as well, since every single structure, be it business or house, has a display of dolls in their front windows for the upcoming Girl's Day. 

Many of these buildings have placards above announcing castella, which could also be serving as honey for the auntie hive-mind.  Of more interest to me is the Iwamura Sake Brewery, whose most famous output "Lady of the Castle" is a tribute to the area's famed former leader, "Onna Joshu."  (Which explains the popularity of the dolls.)  Inside the brewery they have prepared a tasting section, set up on a little narrow-gauge rail system that runs from the back of brewery.  I fortify myself with a few samples of the Lady's liquid courage, all of which are on the sweet side.    

I backtrack through town and pick up the TSH on the other side of the train station.  It follows a small stream, then is lost in the site of a new apartment building.  I cross the train line and cut through a field to find the path again.  It wends up between rice fields, then begins to climb.  

I huff and puff my way into a cloud of smoke which stretches toward me from a rubbish bonfire beside a new carpark at the top of the hill.  The carpark is massive and new and unbefitting its size.  The same can be said for the temple it serves, a sprawling mess of concrete and gravel.  I'm not sure how long the temple has stood here, but everything in it appears new, and rather than a sense of peace that these country temples tend to bring, all I get is the feeling that somebody around here needs to reread the precepts.  

On the way out I notice a tall Jizo, at the base of which are dozens of food and toy offerings for the deceased children the deity protects.  I buy a sweet drink and leave it at the statue's feet, an offering for Shimazaki Toson's three daughters who all passed away in a single year.  I had been reading about them just the day before in Naff's biography, in a harrowing passage that emphasized their illness and suffering, a passage that had conjured up tears.  As an aspiring writer, I know how difficult it is to balance work and family and creative endeavors. But in no way can I understand sacrificing all for one's art.  Toson lost the plot, lost all sense of priority, and in my eyes he's a far lesser man for it.  

I choke my way up another hill topped with a pig abattoir, eyes awatering.  The feet are suffering as much as the nose, as I'm wearing heavy winter boots and have seen very little but tarmac.  Luckily there is very little traffic, mainly the odd granny driving very very slow. After close to an hour of this, the path begins to angle out amongst fields again. A school girl walking alone calls a greeting across the paddies.  She appears to live in a single house at the end of the valley.  I wonder what sort of life this is for her, isolated from friends, though she has proven cheerful.

Just beyond the house, I enter the mountains, on forested paths for the first time all day.  I am losing the light, so decide to shoot for the earlier of the two trains I've chosen as my goal for the day.  Once I reach a low pass, I begin a quick, gravity-aided descent down the other side.  I am nearly running, and am thankful that the snakes are asleep (though I did see fresh bear tracks a few days before).  

I allow myself the only rest of the day at the temple in the next valley.  It is open and sunny, but the chill is coming up along with four o'clock.  As I nibble a Clif Bar (a gift from Wes on our last hike, which at the time hadn't been for sale in Japan, but now goes for 2000 yen online!), I note that I have thirty minutes until my train, and 35 minutes of hike left.  Local guide books tend to be quite conservative with hiking times, but the new book I am using is pretty accurate, despite my usual quick pace. Luckily it is downhill to town, and I steeplechase hop a couple of electric boar fences on the way.  The final section cuts across town beside a small river, and somewhere in my haste I lose the trail itself.  No matter, it is near the station; not too far to backtrack next time.  Most importantly, I have a few minutes to spare to buy a canned coffee which I sip on the ride back, wondering why each and every time I walk I end up running for a train at the end.

On the turntable:  Coldplay, "X&Y Live 2005"


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