Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Day 15: Shimo-suwa - Wada

Distance covered: 22.6km
Weather: Rain, then cloudy, then misty, then cloudy again

It was pouring down when I got up just after 6am. The weather forecast was for rain throughout the day, not quite what we wanted as we contemplated the difficult climb up to Wada Toge, which at 1600m is the highest point on the entire Nakasendo. However, during breakfast we noticed the rain had stopped. It hadn't started again by the time we left the hotel at 7.50am, although we had our raingear on in readiness for the next downpour.

We'd aimed to catch the 7.52 train back to Kami-suwa, but it'd already left by the time we got to the station. There was another train at 8.02, but we decided it would be easier to take a taxi. It turned out the taxi driver was a keen walker (he'd done the pilgrimage on Shikoku), so we had a good chat to him along the way. He told us a bit about the journey ahead and some of the sights to look out for.

We rejoined the Nakasendo at 8.15am, and immediately began the steady climb up to Wada Toge. We soon passed one of the sites where the logs used in the Onbashira festival are skidded down a steep slope. Soon after that we made a wrong turn, and ended up walking more than a kilometre up a picturesque little valley before realizing we weren't where we should have been and backtracking to get back onto the Nakasendo.

For much of the morning we were walking along a busy highway, often with no footpath, but it wasn't very steep and the autumn colours were beautiful, plus it hadn't rained at all since we left, so despite the odd frightening encounter with a truck, it wasn't too unpleasant.

Still, it was a relief when we eventually left the highway to begin the final part of the ascent along the original route of the Nakasendo. Unfortunately this was also the steepest part of the climb, and the track was pretty rugged in parts, taking us over rock falls and up what looked to be streambeds. We took it slowly and took lots of breaks, and eventually made it to the top at 12.30pm. It had taken us four and a quarter hours to walk just over 11km!

The descent was different altogether. For much of the time we were walking along fairly wide grass or stone pathways etched through a beautiful forest. The mist, which we'd found cold and unpleasant at the top, now added a hauntingly beautiful quailty to the landscape around us.

We interrupted our descent to have lunch at an old diner. We chatted to the proprietor, whom I imagine lives a pretty lonely existence in such an isolated place, and learnt that his daughter had married an Englishman and gone to live overseas. He even showed us some photos of the wedding! He also gave us a free sample of the diner's specialty: chikara-meshi, or mochi (rice cake) stuffed with bean paste. Apparently people used to eat this in the old days to give them the energy to make it over the pass.

We left the diner at 1.15pm and continued the descent into Wada. We had rejoined the highway by this stage, and although we enjoyed the luxury of a footpath for a while, it eventually disappeared and once again we had to compete for space with lots of trucks coming in both directions.

We made it to the town of Wada at around 4pm and found the old inn we were staying in that night, Hontei ryokan. We got a very warm welcome from the couple who run the place. There was some lovely jazz music playing on the stereo when we arrived, and when I commented on it the husband explained that he used to play the double bass in a jazz band. He then offered me a cup of coffee, which I gratefully accepted, despite having just drunk a can coffee from a vending machine down the road (the last thing I expected at an old ryokan like this was freshly brewed coffee).

The bath at Hontei was large and looked very inviting, but unfortunately both of us found it so hot we couldn't stay in for very long, even after adding some cold water. We also had to contend with a very old toilet of the type we in New Zealand refer to as a "long drop". Still, we enjoyed our stay very much. We had a huge upstairs room. In fact there were no other guests at all, so we had the whole place to ourselves.


ted said...

I too made the wrong turn up that same pretty valley. Was worth it for the photos I got.

I have walked parts of the road many times for Walk Japan, and walked the whole thing incrementally in 2012.

Looking forward to your Nikko posts...

Walking fool said...

Hi Ted
Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. Glad to hear we aren't the only ones who took that wrong turn. And yes, I remember it being a picturesque wee valley.
I've been meaning to write up the Nikko Kaido walk for some time. In fact I have most of the first day written up already. I'll try to post it soon.

Walking fool said...

I meant to add that the Nakasendo Way section of the Walk Japan website was an invaluable resource for us when we were planning our Nakasendo walk. In the end we printed out most of the text and took it with us. We would read the relevant section over breakfast each morning to help prepare ourselves for the day ahead.

BTW, is Tom Stanley still involved with Walk Japan? I always felt a kind of affinity with him since as well as walking in Japan, one of my main interests over the years has been the Japanese anarchist movement, and in particular Osugi Sakae. Tom, of course, wrote a book about Osugi.

ted said...

Yes Tom is still alive and kicking. He and I co-lead a couple of tours a year, so I am lucky to be able to travel with him. A boss, a mentor, and a good friend.