Friday, 26 October 2007

Day 4: Hikone - Sekigahara

Distance covered: 24.6km
Weather: Cloudy, then rainy

The first thing I thought of when I awoke was the weather. The forecast wasn't great. I'd noticed the previous evening that I had a view from my hotel room window of Hikone castle up on the hill, but when I looked out this morning it was nowhere to be seen. Everything looked grey and murky. As it got lighter, though, I noticed the people walking around outside didn't have their umbrellas up, which was definitely a good sign.

I knocked on Erik's door at 6.55am. He was sill showering, so I went down and started breakfast (toast, sliced boiled egg, salad, fruit, coffee, and orange juice) without him. By the time he joined me it had started raining outside.

We left at 7.45am and soon rejoined the Nakasendo. The walk back seemed a lot easier than the walk to the hotel the previous afternoon. Our spirits were definitely higher. It wasn't long, however, before we had to tackle our first pass of the day: Surihari Toge. Tomoyo had traveled this section in her car and her impression of it was that it was dark and depressing. The route was narrow and steep in parts, especially when we left the road to follow the original path of the Nakasendo, but before long we were at the top. It reminded me a bit of the climb up to the Sign of the Kiwi via Victoria Park back home in Christchurch.

The road was quieter than most of the ones we'd traveled on through Shiga, and the scenery over the other side of the pass was quite different too. It was more rural, with areas of forest interspersed with fields and villages. The rolling countryside was also a pleasant change from the relative flatness of the terrain alongside Lake Biwa. At one point we spotted a troop of monkeys on the road ahead, but they disappeared into the bush as we approached.

We arrived in Samegai at 10.30am and headed to the Japanese buffet restaurant alongside the station recommended to us by Tomoyo. According to Tomoyo this was the only restaurant to speak of in the area, so we waited around until 11am for it to open so we could have lunch. It was a popular place, and the food was lovely, with lots of fish and healthy vegetable dishes.

It'd been drizzling on and off throughout the morning, so we'd been wearing our raingear. When I took my (cheap, non-breathable) rainpants off before lunch I discovered my trousers were damp from perspiration, so I left my rainpants off when we set off again after lunch. Before long, however, it started to rain heavily, so I reluctantly put them on again. By the time we arrived in Sekigahara, not only were my trousers damp again, but my feet were soaked. I vowed to buy some breathable rainpants at the earliest opportunity, and to do something to make my shoes more waterproof.

We got to Sekigahara at around 3.30pm and soon found our accommodation for that night, a Japanese ryokan called Masuya. We were warmly welcomed by the innkeeper, who gave me some newspaper to stuff in my shoes to help them dry overnight. We had two large rooms to ourselves, one with a table and zabuton cushions where we ate and relaxed, and the other with futons for sleeping. There was a lovely big bath made of cypress wood.

There were only two or three others guests, one of whom was also walking the Nakasendo, although in the other direction. We also learnt that a large party of foreigners on a guided walking tour of the Nakasendo was booked in the following night. Organized by Walk Japan, this tour takes people along the more picturesque sections of the trail between Kyoto and Tokyo, covering the remainder of the distance by train.

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