Friday, December 08, 2017

Tokai Shizen Hoedown: Chubu V

The Tokai Shizen Hōdō, while technically a single course, is in fact accentuated by a number of looping branches that diverge from the main trunk.  Unfortunately somebody thought it would be a clever idea to put all of these trail intersections in places that were far from any public transport, namely on the peaks of mountains.  What this meant was a fair amount of backtracking at either end of these intersections, not to mention expensive taxi rides.  

In this particular case the cab took me out a long narrow valley that culminated in an underused golf course, and a sad little zoo.  And on a morning as cold as this one, I didn't see anyone on the links, nor any sign of animals but for the frantic barking of caged dogs.  At the place where the road ended it splintered out into a number of smaller lanes, and it took a fair bit of guesswork to figure out which one.  Before long, I was able to come across a trail marker for the TSH, and following that path uphill for about ten minutes, I was able to come to the junction that I'd been looking for.  Then I turned around and went back.          

This was the first, yet for me the final, portion of the Ena Route of the TSH.  I'd walked about half of it repeatedly over the years, while leading tours along the Nakasendo,  and from there I walked south to rejoin the main eastbound path again.  After I finished my intended stretch today, I planned to return to the end of the Kansai section, and pick it up from there. 

But this section seemed almost as if it were trying to make me forego the whole thing altogether.  There are few things as uninspiring as 28km over tarmac, through bland suburb broken by tinny monuments to small industry.  Not to mention the stench coming from the paper factory coming from over the rise in Kani, which filled my nostrils every few steps. 

But I plodded on, down busy roads, beneath highway flyovers, concrete ever underfoot.  Over the course of the day, my perspective would shift to reveal the peaks of Mounts Ontake, and Hakusan and Ena, each snow covered and looming far out in the distance.  A man joined me for a short stretch, falling into step along the way to his car parked nearby.  He offered me an apple, which could have been the apple of knowledge, though I'm not sure.  We chatted awhile, and once again I was amazed that people in the countryside rarely acknowledge the fact that I'm not Japanese, and talk to me like a normal human being. 

The apple proved to be my only food for awhile, as the store I'd planned to hit up for lunch had closed years ago.   Others lay just off my route, but it would be awhile before I'd pass one closer in.  On the way there would be two hills, a narrow, sakura-lined concrete river, and a small tunnel like that from the dead platoon scene in Kurosawa's Dreams.  

I lingered over that eventual lunch, resting a pair of aching feet. My iPod is a godsend on days like this, but the battery conked out not long afterward. And my mood soured from there on, fixated upon whoever had created this route.  They had a lot to answer for, calling the section a "nature trail."

Finally, under a massive tree tied to some legend from the Heian Period,  a quaint town of Kukuri rose up on both sides to meet me.  The concrete remained, but the scenery at least was a little better, above a long, sinuous reservoir that was pretty in its own way.  The trail took an abrupt turn here, as if it too wanted to venture into the surrounding hills.  And finally, my feet found something softer beneath them.  

My mood was lifted to such an extent that I had no fear when I got to the bear.  I never saw it, but I heard its threatening huff, then the sound of its bulk crashing down the hillside.  I barely broke stride, but grew less pleased with the trail when it dropped me in the very direction that the bear had run.  Wild boar had been active here as well, the trail shredded by their foraging snouts.  

So it was with no little irony that I was happy to come to road once again.  My guidebook showed that a path would before long divert me to the right and through forest again, but the ample signage through here kept me on the fire road as it weaved down toward the valley floor.  The route must have been changed at some point.  

This was verified by a man I met along the way.  He told me that he walked this road often, and wasn't too happy when I mentioned the bear.  The stick he carried was for such possibilities, as unlikely as they were, and the way he wielded it gave me the impression that he was a martial artist.  He showed me some of the side routes that he sometimes took, telling me that they would lead me to the train station faster. But I was determined to stay with the TSH.  So we continued on, chatting as we did, though there was some sort of disjunct in the conversation, and I assumed that he spent a lot of time alone.  

When we hit the valley floor, I left him behind, and moved quickly along a small stretch of river toward Mitake station.  I knew this town well from my Nakasendo walks, had many times enjoyed its quiet temple and free museum,  and the tasty okonomiyaki at the shop run by the Korean lady who I learned had recently passed away.  No matter today, for I simply wanted to get off my sore feet, and was lucky to find a seat amongst the high school kids who knew nothing of bears, or old roads, kids who like me simply wanted to move past unpleasantness and get on to the next thing.  

On the turntable:  Eric Clapton, "Stages"

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