Monday, March 16, 2009

The Nakasendo Way


The Nakasendo Way ~ Introduction- Part 1

Last year I walked the Nakasendo. The Nakasendo or:

Naka - Middle
Sen - Mountain
Do - Way

is the old samurai highway between Kyoto and Tokyo. I had prepared a lengthy travelogue of this walk but because it is a long journey and has many steep and winding paths I feared I may lose you.
Instead I have decided to present, at intermittent spells, little vignettes of my adventure.

Map courtesy of

By way of introduction let me tell you a little about the Nakasendo's origins.
Although established in the 7th century the highway was used more extensively in the Edo period, which is that time in Japan's history from 1600 to 1868.

The highway was built on the Chinese pattern of a well maintained and regulated thoroughfare with post towns dotted along the way at spaced intervals. The towns provided the travellers and pilgrims with inns for accommodation and dining, tea houses, shops for provisions and a porter system.

There are many delightful towns, cultural and historical snippets and much majestic scenery along this route but before we leave we have some exploring to do in Kyoto.

If you take the Nara line two stops south of Kyoto to Fushimi Inari and climb the hill behind the town you will find hundreds upon hundreds of red torii.

These spectacular temple gates pay homage to the Japanese God of rice, Inari who is accompanied at the mountain shrine by what seems to be an equal number of his swift messengers - foxes.

On the western hilly outskirts of Kyoto I crossed the Hozugawa River via the Togetsuko Bridge in search of monkeys.

Old Photos of Japan

I found, instead, at the top of the mountain a tiny shrine dedicated to a merchant by the name of Ryoi Suminokura.

Below the shrine and clinging precariously to the hillside was an enormous bronze bell. A sign informed me that I was entitled to three gongs. The bell's mellow reverberations rang out over the green valley of Arashiyama below.

A frail white butterfly
Beneath the spell of Noon
Is sleeping on the huge
Bronze bell

Buson 1715- 1783

A solitary caretaker monk invited us in to the simple four by four metre shrine where, with a view of the valley below, we could contemplate Mahatma Gandhi's seven social sins.

It was the last one that got me thinking.

Togetsuko Bridge by Tokuriki

On an old wooden building that we passed on our descent I noticed these hand written words:

If you open your heart
what you will find
may be some thing wonderful
Only you will know.

At the title - Japanese print by Kagami


  1. ohayo gozaiemasta ( I am sure my spelling is wrong !) but nevertheless a absolutely beautiful autumn morning to you,from Brisbane way..and it must have been a magical walk ,friendly and peaceful?

  2. Very interesting walking tour. I look forward to future vignettes. But, for context, how many days does it take a typical tourist to walk the whole way? How many miles is the whole trip from Kyoto to Tokyo?

  3. Mona, I'm impressed. I find Japanese particularly heard to get my tongue around. My older daughter majored in Japanese and teaches there in Saitama, Tokyo. Arigato for chatting.

  4. Dan, hi there, If you take a look at the map above you will see that it looks to be a distance of around 300 miles, perhaps more. The walk I took was of 12 days duration with varying amounts of actual walking interspersed with some trains taking. Our maximum distance walked in one day was 25 km, but some were only 12-15 km or so. On a level ground you walk 4km an hour but in the mountain tracks and passes fewer.

    You can walk the entire distance but it is better to avoid the cities and places where the original road has been covered with highways.
    We began with a train ride to the castle town of Hikone at the northern end of Lake Biwa, just before the town of Sekigahara, which is shown on the map.

  5. What a lovely trip, full of beautiful sights and thoughtful meditations

  6. Morning Lakeviewer,

    It was a really rewarding adventure. The remote parts of Japan are so beautiful.

  7. Thank You Delwyn, for the adventure.I enjoyed it thoroughly.
    Beautiful little quotes too.x

  8. Hi Natalie,
    So glad you did. The found handwritten quote is a treasure.

  9. Hello Again..i was just looking at the handwritten quote and realized that is it written in the old character style which leans much more towards Chinese.

    I know there are three styles written :katagana,hiragana and kanji but only one is used at present but I cant remember which is which.
    do you know? i would like to refresh my memory,just as a matter of interest.

    pss; big storm hanging over Brisbane the sky is green!

  10. Hi Delwyn,
    Thanks for dropping by and giving kind comment.
    My name is Yoon See and I don't want to over-expose my surname. So I had decided not to put it up on my blog.
    Korean surnames most start with Kim, Chooi and Yoon.

    Yeah, I really admire your jazz and passion in life. Thanks for the sharing below, I just need this:)

    "If you open your heart
    what you will find
    may be some thing wonderful
    Only you will know."

  11. Mona ...big storm here too - Armidale northern NSW! and I love love the vignettes ..more please.
    For some reason I am always drawn to Asian scenes/art ...everything. Very restful and obviously speaks to my soul.

  12. Sarah L : then we are kindred spirits my dear because I feel the same draw and desire to see more and understand more of the culture. My daughter did too and was drawing Japanese style pictures when she was very young way before studied Japanese.
    I have many more in the pipeline - perhaps one a week, what do you think?

  13. Yoon see, welcome to my patch of blogsville. I understand now. I am glad that you can take something away from my site , that makes me happy.

  14. Mona I am sorry I don't know any Japanese other than the 1/2 dozen words tourists use but if you ask Poppy, my daughter she may be able to help.

  15. Beautiful pictures. Envy pours out of me. Almost a haiku.

  16. What a beautiful trip I have undertaken guided by your skillful hand. Many thanks. That last image (top to bottom) sums up pretty much how I feel after reading about your jaunt.

    Greetings from London.

  17. Oh wow! What a fantastic journey this must have been. I love seeing paintings and photos of the old interspersed with your contemporary travel photos. Amazing, simply amazing. The tunnel made of toriis must have been very impressive. Can't wait to see more of your journey!

  18. Fantastic - the poems, the images and your story. What a fantastic "walk" you took. I imagine the footprints of all the samurai who walked there before you. Wow.

    I've been watching Kurosawa films, so I'm on a wavelength with all things Japanese. Thank you!

  19. What a fascinating undertaking. Why did you feel called to do this? What was the most important lesson?

  20. Delwyn, that last of Ghandi's Seven Social Sins has got me thinking as well. What does he mean by that, do you know. I am going to investigate that further. Thank you for the thoughtful idea. I would also love to know why you when on this journey, what took you to Japan - maybe another post?

  21. I have a soft spot in my heart for Japan. I spent a summer in Kagoshima years ago and was smitten with its extraordinary beauty. Wonderful pix!

  22. "something wonderful only you will know".


  23. Bagman, One syllable short of a haiku but I appreciate the effort!

  24. Anon: welcome to my neck of the woods. Thank you for the encouragement and I am glad I have added some pleasure to your London day.
    Happy Days

  25. Bella: so nice to have you visit and thanks for your meaningful comments. The toriis were one of the many great sights on the adventure. I will be posting these Nakasendo stories regularly from now on. I have a few up my sleeve...

  26. Reya. Hi there, well that's good - you are in the mood to hear a Japanese story or two. And there certainly was that feeling of walking on history...

  27. Willow good morning - another fellow lover of Japanese beauty and charm! Where's Kagoshima?

  28. Pamela: Hello again to you this sunny am,

    What was so lovely about that quote was that someone had taken the time to stop and write it on the side of the old building. It wasn't conspicuous at all, my eye just caught the handwritten script. It was a spot of luck. One of those magical moments in an adventure.

  29. Meri, Hi there, hope your seat has a better view today.
    I have always had a strong affinity for the East.
    I had been to Japan twice before and absolutely loved it. So much so the first time that I had the crazy urge to pack up and move there. My oldest daughter has been teaching there on and off over the past 5 years and now lives in Tokyo with her Japanese partner.

    Last year I began to wonder if there were any organised walks in Japan because I love walking I thought I could marry these two passions.
    I googled and came up with walkjapan and everything fell into place from there.

    The beauty and culture called me Meri and because the adventure involved walking in the outdoors I answered the call.

    Some of the most important things I learned were:

    to be reasonably fit...which I was...
    to try all food...
    I prefer a cool Asahi to saki
    there is always beauty to be seen
    the Japanese have a talent for drawing our attention to beauty
    Japanese baths can be bloody hot

  30. Hello Jennifer, I'm glad you've come again,
    If you have read the comment above you will have your answer to the question about why...

    As for Gandhi - worship without sacrifice - I thought it over and talked about that sin with my friend on the walk and concluded that worship can be in some instances gratuitous, repetitive and empty of emotion and intention to do good - perhaps he is saying that to truly worship which means pay homage, adore God or GIVE SERVICE we must share something of ourselves and act rather than be passive. Offer ourselves and our gifts and talents to that spot in the community/world that needs them.

    What do you think?

  31. Hi, Delwyn,

    In regard to Gandhi's Seven Social Sins: they all get me to thinking. It would be interesting to read Gandhi's commentary on these; I'm sure he had interesting things to say.

    The second, Wealth without work, gets almost a free pass where I live. Few people I know think to question the morality of becoming wealthy from investments. It's always seemed at least morally suspect to me to make money from money. My father insinuated this value into the marrow of my bones from the very beginning.

  32. Dan, I have something of that protestant work ethic too, possibly too much of it so that I can feel guilty when I am not being productive - like at this time in my life...altho I am actually being very productive creatively.

    I will do a search on the social sins. Let me know what you come up with.
    Happy days

  33. Dan -

    Principle Centered Leadership byStephen R. Covey

    Stephen Covey discusses the 7 social sins here.

  34. Did you travel the Nakasendo walk with a company? If so, which company and would you recommend them? Your blog and photos look fabulous! Do you think it possible to self-guide for the walking sections? We only have a few days available so will only be able to do a few sections of the walk.

  35. Hi Emily

    I walked with Walk Japan whom I highly recommend. They organise everything, the transport of bags, the inns to stay in each night and the background historical and cultural info is invaluable.
    happy travels


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