Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Nakasendo Way * Part 7


The Nakasendo Way ~ Coming down from the mountains

At the Shinchaya Teahouse lodgings we were able to demonstrate
our prowess in geta, the traditional Japanese outdoor shoe.
We ran fearlessly up and down the cobbled road, in the dark,
imitating the floating world geisha of the Edo period.

Hiroshige - Fukaya Geisha

However I am sure those geisha would have walked
with a lot less noise and considerably more decorum.

The town of Narai, in the Kiso valley, won my accolades for
the most authentically preserved functioning post town
along the Nakasendo.

Hiroshige- Narai

The post towns along the Naksendo Way were conveniently
spaced so as to allow the weary traveller to dine, bathe, and rest.
He could also change horses, porters or palanquin.

Each town had a duty to supply hospitality to official travellers
at the town's own expense, and to provide a hospitality service
to other paying clientelle.

Not far from Narai at Kiso Hirasawa we visit a renown lacquer
ware artisan who demonstrates his skill on the lathe and with
the application of lacquer. I learned that lacquer is a resin and
many many coats are applied to a wooden vessel with much
sanding in between, by using little coarse rocks of varying
grittiness, in order to produce an article of high quality.

Moving higher into the Kiso valley we see fast
moving rivers and waterfalls.

We find evidence of logging: derelict mills and disused railway
lines that once transported timber down from the mountains.

Photo from Walk Japan

In samurai days it was forbidden to chop down any of the
five highly sought after trees used in construction.
The punishment for cutting down trees was one head per tree.

We stopped for a night in the town of Kiso Fukushima, a winter ski
town that had once hosted the Olympics, and with the advent of
plummeting temperatures enjoyed the hot spring baths.

At 1180m above sea level high on the Usui Pass we had
spectacular views of the Kanto Plain toward Tokyo. But it was
another five hours of rugged descent before we reached the
local train at Sakamoto which would take us to our bullet train
connection and through to the city.

In an extremely rare example of things not running to schedule
in Japan our shinkansen ( bullet train) had been delayed due to
signalling issues. For a country that prides itself on efficiency
and punctuality this incident was an embarrassment large enough
to make major headlines the next day. A cold Asahi and the
remnants of the French pastries we had hastily bought that morning
in Karuizawa before our unanticipated eight hour climb up the
Usui pass and harrowing scamper down the other side,
eased our wait for the train.

All along the Nakasendo Way we had encountered statues of the god Jizo whose role it is to protect both travellers and children. Jizo is the bodhisattva who plunges fearlessly into any place or situation to help those in need. For anyone who has lost a child Jizo is a powerful image of hope and solace. Jizo's qualities include unflagging optimism, fearlessness and gentleness.
Jizo is usually portrayed as a monk child often carrying a pilgrim's staff with six rings that jingle to warn animals of his approach and prevent mutual harm.

The little figure in the top left corner of my home blog page is a simple but evocative statue of Jizo.

As we have reached Tokyo we now stand at the end of the Nakasendo Way.
Tonight we will share our final evening meal together and tomorrow our little group of walkers will disband.

Let us choose something from the memu for dinner
and finish with some pocky.

As you have now walked well over 200 km I have a treat for you.
Next time we are going to indulge in some therapeutic R&R.
I have arranged for us to visit a very special place not far from Tokyo
where we will do some soaking and unwinding...
Until then...

~My haiku of thanks to John~

Our dear walk leader
has earned our utmost respect
venerated guide



  1. That was great Delwyn looking forward to the next episode!.. MEMU how funny is that.
    When my sister was on tour in Greece for the pre Olympics she came across a menu that said: stuffed aboriginals instead of stuffed aubergines!..the mob of aboriginals traveling with them did think it was very funny!
    I have been reading here and there that you are going over seas hope it is for a happy occasion and please be careful with all the flu warnings out there,wear a mask of some sort .Are we going to be long without you Delwyn?
    Thanks for the walk today sure enjoyed it!

    xxx Mona

  2. 'Each town had a duty to supply hospitality to official travellers at the town's own expense'

    I was left feeling optimistic by that sentence. If we could get that community spirit back.

    The whole journey has opened my eyes (and mind!) to a world that is often portrayed in a cliched way over here. Many thanks, I look forward to the denoument of your trip.

    Greetings from London.

  3. Hi Mona,
    your story is a good one, " stuffed aboriginals "
    I'm glad you liked the walk. I'll drop you a line...

  4. Mr C. welcome again,
    Many towns were left hungry as a result of the pressure put on them at busy times.

    I'm glad if my impressions of the Nakasendo Way walk have added a little to your understanding of Feudal Japan, as the walk did to mine.
    Happy Days

  5. You explain the spirit of the jizo so well (better than some Japanese people even know!) Did you enjoy the Pocky? They have different flavors in different parts of Japan!

  6. Hi there Tulsa,
    I have enjoyed a lot of Pocky, especially Men's Pocky!! I still have Japanese treats in the pantry from Daughter's last visit...also consomme which she loves better than our stock - probably all the MSG! and the delicious curry slabs. I make a version of Osaka okonomiyaki (have I spelled it right?) but add a layer of potato on the bottom and use dashi flavouring.
    Happy eating days

  7. Pocky Sticks!! We love those things. Our Japanese family, the Oishis from Yamauchi just sent us a nice supply of them. The bitter chocolate "Mens" flavor is my favorite.

  8. Delwyn these pictures are so amazing. I felt like I was there too. i love seeing pictures of my friends travels. It makes me feel like I am there to.

    Love Renee xoxo

  9. Memu? That's close.

    Narai is beautiful and those puff balls in the first photo? Otherworldly.

    As always thank you for a guided tour of this beautiful place.

  10. What a treat to walk right behind you, experience your trip virtually. Lovely.

  11. Renee,
    well I glad that I could take you along ...
    happy travelling

  12. Reya,
    I loved the way someone had gone to the trouble to hang those flowers outside their home.
    Happy Days

  13. Hi Rosaria,

    we are almost at the end, just one more lovely place to visit now...

  14. Amazing. This is another advantage of blogging - getting to see things I don't imagine I will have a chance to - amazing !

  15. Hi Delwyn,

    I'm wondering where you get all this knowledge about Japan. This and other stories of yours on Japan are quite good and show a first-hand experience of the place and of the people.
    As regards the far East, I have always been close to India instead. It came from my father who told us tales about marajas and princesses when we were children. He was a good storyteller and we were fascinated. Japan instead is unknown to me. So I gladly follow you in your virtual trips. Maybe you remember how we were talking in my blog about Japanese spiritual discipline. Can you advice a good introductory book on this topic? I’d be grateful to you.

    All my best regards

    Man of Roma

  16. Your post is simply too lovely. I can see that you have put in a lot of effort for our viewing and reading pleasure. Keep posting.looking forward to your next post.

  17. ...just love going on this "walk" with you!


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