Monday, April 6, 2009

The Nakasendo Way * Part 4

*The Nakasendo Way - We begin the long walk

Today we will meet John. We need John because he is going to be our guide on the Naksendo Walk.

We also meet five other walkers, four of whom are English, and one, a wild Irishwoman.
There is a very good reason why John has a parasol, but that is another story.

Noh Theatre

We will put our faith in John as he has lived and taught in Japan for ten years and also because he has an amazing repertoire of Noh grimaces. We figure he can extricate us from any bother.

We also have our first experience of playing musical shoes. We must take our boots off and slip on plastic slippers each time we enter an inn. But we must not wear these slippers into the bathroom or toilet. There are other slippers for that. Neither can we wear them in the bedrooms on the tatami. Over the next twelve days we are destined to make many slipper faux pas.

Kinkaku - The Golden Pavilion

John wants us to see the Golden Pavilion Temple - Kinkaku-ji and the Ryoanji Zen Rock Garden before we leave. The top two stories of the Kinkaku pavilion are covered in pure gold leaf.

Ryoanji Zen Rock Garden

Of the fourteen rocks, surrounded by moss, on the neatly raked gravel of the Zen rock garden only thirteen are visible at any one time. It's true, I checked it out.

The simple mossy garden adjacent to the Rockery felt a lot more zen-like after the bustle and snapping of cameras in the enclosure next door.

Naka Sen Do - Middle Mountain Way

This sign says Nakasendo. It is a sign we will get used to over the next twelve days and one that we will be constantly on the look out for.

At Hikone, on the shores of Lake Biwa, our walk begins in earnest.

The castle town, or jokamachi, of Hikone would be a two day walk for the samurai of the Edo period, but for us it is a pleasant 55 minute train ride.

Hikone Castle

On the Nakasendo walk we spend most of our nights in traditional inns. Many of these inns have near vertical wooden staircases to access the second floor bedrooms. These stairs test both our strength and agility. I learned that it was easiest and safest to descend backwards. I also learned to take only what was absolutely necessary upstairs and leave the travel bag below.
Occasionally we will stay in a hot spa ryokan or small hotel.

The inns provided a mix of private and shared bathrooms but all came with the requisite Japanese bath, which require the bather to follow a stringent bathing etiquette, distinctively Japanese.

After the completion of the evening bathing ritual we would dress in our yakata (rather like a cross between a dressing gown and a cotton kimono), provided by the inn and assemble in the dining room - ravenous for a feast. We were never disappointed.

Of course we ate with chop sticks. Unfortunately we did not have these guidelines to direct us.

Japanese dinners provided by the inns were beautiful, artistically presented banquets of many and varied dishes.

Here are some of the things we dined on:

Various cooked fish including carp
and sashimi,
wild boar stew,
crunchy roasted soy crickets,
unusual savoury custards,
steamed pumpkin,
many salad vegetables,
horse sashimi,
roasted chestnuts,
sweet potato,
poached figs
and grapes

Rice always accompanied the meal but was intended to be eaten only as a filler.
Asahi and sake were both plentiful and inexpensive.

Home grown
washed by monsoonal
summer's rainy weeks,
How chill and white, how fresh and
green, are leeks


One Asahi please

Sleeping on a futon on the floor with miniature seed pillows that feel like bags of dry mung beans (they probably are) became a pleasure. After a long day's walking I think I could sleep anywhere.

I want to sleep
swat the flies
softly please

Shiki Masaoka

In all this cool
is the moon also sleeping
There, in the pool?




  1. Delwyn, I feel like I get to share the journey with you. Thank you.

  2. I love the Japanese prints you have included (and I have a thing for beer ads, so like the Asahi one!)

    But, I wonder how 'zen' I would be feeling searching endlessly for that fourteenth invisible rock.

    And ... 'horse sashimi'??

  3. Hello Jennifer,
    I'm glad to have you come along...
    Happy Days

  4. Violet, good morning little flower...
    I am collecting a sizeable folio of prints- future posts I am thinking...

    The Zen garden did not convey that feeling unfortunately. But the mossy gardens around the corner did...

  5. Hello Delwyn
    Iam so happy to see you in the pictures! The atmosphere in this journey is just as i remember about my stay in japan,I do hope you have had some quiet time along this walk?..Japan can be a busy place in the most least expected places.

    Have a nice day...Muggy day by the way! xxx

  6. Hi Mona,
    Well the days were busy walking but I always found time in the day to walk by myself and sink into the peace of placing one foot in front of the other...

  7. hi, Delwyn.
    i feel like i've gone to japan with you...
    such detailed account of experience - simply marvelous.

    their 'takoyaki' is the best! i'm sure the original one in japan taste so much better. i must go to japan someday..... =)

  8. Moonshin, hello to you,
    as soon as we arrived in Kyoto last visit I took my friend upstairs in the Kyoto station complex and found the takoyaki vendor...scrumptious...thanks for reminding me...

    I am so glad that you are enjoying the walk.
    Now how about trying horse sashimi!!!

  9. Hilarious do's and dont's... peaceful zen rock garden... mouthwatering menus... majestic table settings... beautiful temples... marvelous haikus... lovely journey... and I got to tag along and enjoy it immensely THANK YOU! what a great post, it was truly a wonderful read. Grazie.

  10. Lola, firstly I am shocked to hear of the earthquake and saddened at the great loss and injury.- and so close to Rome...

    Thank you for being such an ardent, enthusiastic companion along the way. You would have loved the food. The Japanese are experts at food presentation.
    Happy eating...

  11. The Nakasendo Way sounds marvelous. I'm so glad our blog-paths have crossed.
    Shalom from Jerusalem.

  12. Welcome Dino to south of the equator,

    Yes this is exciting...

  13. Dina, please excuse typo...time for bed...

  14. Here in DC we are right in the middle of the Cherry Blossom Festival, so all things Japanese are emphasized everywhere. What a beautiful aesthetic!

    Love the Golden Pavillion and its reflection in the water. Wow.

    The the Middle Mountain Way sign? That boxy character with the vertical line? I use that character in my business card design. In Chinese it means "center." Clearly it means the same thing in Japanese.

    The last image of the full moon and the blossoms - wow!

  15. This post is delightful - such a perfect blend of photos, prints, poetry, text. I have to confess that you're much more adventurous in gustatory matters than I would ever be. Travel matters, too, now that I think about it. I would never have thought to set out on this particular journey. Bravo to you!

  16. Hi Reya,
    The kinkaku-ji certainly creates a good photo.

    There's a story to the moon image.
    On another Kyoto trip my daughter and I were walking through the bamboo forest at Arashiyama, (remember nakasendo 2) and stopped to talk to a little old man sitting at an easel. He had copies of his work and this postcard was one of his paintings.

    Happy Days

  17. Meri, thanks for your seal of approval. I value your opinions. Although this seemed a wild adventure it was all very well orchestrated by walkjapan and John was an excellent guide.

    I have travelled around japan with Beloved and another time with daughter and it is work but such fun.

  18. It's just gone half eleven at night here int he UK and I am sitting here soaking up every single word of this marvellous tour. Many thanks and thank John for me, too, he was a most helpful guide.

    Greetings from London.

  19. Good morning Mr Cuban...

    John was a marvel, such a well informed, congenial, funny guide...the perfect tour leader.

    I am so pleased to have you as part of the walk group.

  20. Hi Delwyn - please tell me if you do another Japanese walking tour, because next time I will join you! Love the photos, love your descriptions, makes me want to be there, too. I want to count the rocks, and breathe the air, and climb the verticle stairs, soak in the tub, try to avoid slipper and chopstick faux pas (the 'must not do' list is hilarious!), taste everything and enjoy some sake, too - kampai!

  21. Hi Valerie, so wonderful to see you here,
    I would definitely do it again- with you one day, lets make a oven timer is beeping but I want to talk to you more...Happy days till then...

  22. I can say 'Wow" only.
    Great trip, love hthe water relection of Kinkaku - The Golden Pavilion and the last painting too.
    What a great pleasure to sleep well & fun with miniature seed pillows. And you have a partner to share with too.....
    Love all the posting here! Very beautiful, encouraging & high spirit for sure:)

  23. Yoonsee,
    thanks for all of your comments and I am happy that you enjoyed this post. keep watching for further installments...

  24. Just caught up on this 4th section of your walk...all I can say is I want to go too! If I ever do take a trip to Japan this sounds like a wonderful way to do it...will have to question you more on how you made the plans...Lovely photos and prints...


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