The Nakasendo Road Part Two: Day 4 -6
Part Two of Three: Japanophile Trevor Skingle ‘walks Japan’ to raise funds for the humanitarian charity RedR UK!
Day Four: Hosokute to Okute – For those who had suffered from the unseasonal heat the day’s walk was limited to hiking from Hosokute to Okute, whilst the remainder of the group went on to complete the second part of the hike across Jūsan Toge (Thirteen Passes) into Ena. After an early morning stretch outside the Ryokan watching some amazing sports cars making their way to the nearby Motorland to burn the asphalt the first part of walk began, passing the beautiful and tranquil Bentenzaiten (Goddess of Fortune) Pond and later the Yasesawa Ichiritsuka dual marker mounds that indicated that this was the 91st milepost mound from Edo (one ri was equal to approximately 3.7km). Between Hosokute and Okute the route passed over the longest 800 meters section of intact ishidatami stone paving that remains on the Nakasendō which led up to the Biwa Toge Pass. On the way there is a stone marker with an inscribed poem commemorating the journey of Princess Kazunomiya who passed along the Nakasendō in 1861 with her 15,000 strong entourage on her way to Edo to marry Tokugawa Iemochi, the 14th and penultimate of the Tokugawa Shōguns. Descending from Biwa Toge Pass the route passed a well preserved Kōsatsuba notice board and a large 1,200 year old sacred cedar tree at Shinmei Shrine which marked the entrance to Okute. Earlier on the walk a very large wild boar had emerged from the bushes at the side of the road a short way ahead. Luckily a car coming in the other direction intimidated it enough for it to retreat back into the bushes.
Day Five: Ena to Shinchaya – the day started with a visit to the Hiroshige Museum in Ena where, coincidentally, the museum was exhibiting Ando Hiroshige and Keisei Eisen’s entire woodblock print series of the 69 stations of the Nakasendō along which the group were walking. Included in the exhibition was a workshop-studio where members of the public could make their own copies of a few of the prints from a series of woodblock cuts, something which the members of the group took to with great enthusiasm.
After the visit to the museum the group took a tour of the old part of Ena where the streets had been constructed in a right angled pattern as a defence against attacks along the way passing some of the older buildings still in existence, including the Oi Honjin, a high class inn for high officials of which the gate and pine tree were the only original parts that had survived a fire in 1947.
A short train journey took the group to another strategically important post town Nakatsugawa for the start of the walk to the Shinchaya Inn over the Magome Pass and into the Kiso Valley. The walk ended with a steep climb up another section of well-preserved ishidatami to the Shinchaya Inn. An inscription on a commemorative stone just before the inn read, ‘From here the Kiso Road lies entirely in the mountains’, an extract from Shimazaki Tōson’s ‘Before the Dawn’ (Yoake Mae). That evening the group were once again treated to a fantastic dinner. This time slightly more rustic and which included grasshoppers (sweet and delicious) and wild boar amongst a plethora of dishes.
Day Six: Shinchaya to O-tsumago – Over the previous few days much monitoring had been done on the progress of typhoon Man Yi which had been predicted to hit Japan’s central island of Honshu overnight. Contingency plans in place the edge of the typhoon had during the night hit the area where Shinchaya Inn was located. The rain was torrential so the group was unable to leave the inn and spent the morning pottering about. After a light lunch the rain petered out and arrangements were made to ferry the group and the luggage directly to the next inn the Maruya Ryokan at O-tsumago, after which a walk in to and around Tsumago had been arranged. However this meant that the tour would bypass Magome, the birthplace of Shimazaki Tōson where there is a museum dedicated to him and his work. Disappointing but given the prediction of potential landslides, flooding and tree falls walking there was out of the question. A brief walk took the group into Tsumago where the group were given time to explore the town before meeting up to visit the Rekishi Shiryokan Historical Museum dedicated to the history of the Kiso Valley post towns, and Okuya, an original wakai Honjin built in 1877 which when functioning was used to accommodate any overflow of senior officials after the main Honjin (today a reconstruction) was full. The Meiji Emperor stayed at Okuya in 1880 and Princess Kazunomiya in 1861 and the office of headman, senior official and freight logistician of Okuya was held by one of the protagonists of Tōson’s novel ‘Before the Dawn’, Aoyama Juheiji (a character based on Tōson’s maternal uncle Shimazaki Yojiemon Shigeyoshi). Later the group was bussed to the local Onsen (mountain spa) where after strict instructions on Japanese bathing etiquette the group dispersed for a rejuvenating hot soak. During the evening meal the group was visited, interviewed and photographed by Takehiro Yonekawa, a staff writer for the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun newspaper writing an article on why foreigners walk the Nakasendō, a good chance for some language practice. As with all the other dinners the evening meal was marvellous.
If you have enjoyed this article and would like to help Trevor’s efforts to raise funds for RedR UK his Just Giving page is still open
Walk Japan http://walkjapan.com/
Japan Times article
Nagasaki University Meta Database of Photographs in Bakamutsu-Meiji Period
Shinano Mainichi Shimbun article
Photographic images published before December 31st 1956, or photographed before 1946 and not published for 10 years thereafter, under jurisdiction of the Government of Japan, are considered to be public domain according to article 23 of old copyright law of Japan and article 2 of supplemental provision of copyright law of Japan
Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.