Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Day 22: Omiya - Nihonbashi

Distance covered: 30.1km
Weather: Fine

We breakfasted at our hotel (me on bread and coffee, Erik on the Japanese buffet) at 7am and set off on the final stage of our journey at 7.45am. The weather was perfect again.

It was built up most of the way, and convinced that we'd seen the last of the countryside, I made a bet with Erik that we wouldn't see any cabbage patches between Omiya and Nihonbashi. A few kilometres down the road he found some cabbages in someone's front garden and claimed his 100 yen.

At around midday we crossed the Arakawa River, which marks the boundary between Saitama prefecture and Tokyo. Half way across the Ota Bridge we saw Mount Fuji again in the distance. We felt like celebrating, but were mindful that we still had around 15km to go.

Soon after crossing into Tokyo we stopped for lunch at a swanky bar/café, which had some pretty reasonably priced lunch specials. We felt a bit out of place in our trekking gear, and were again reminded that we weren't in cabbage country anymore. We did, however, see a bear soon after that. A stuffed one in a shop window.

The last post-town before Nihonbashi was Itabashi, which still manages to retain some old world charm despite being in the middle of Tokyo.

We had already worked out that the route into Tokyo would take us through Sugamo, the neighbourhood in which Erik used to live, but it wasn't until we got there that we realized it would take us along Jizo-dori and practically right past Erik's old apartment. In fact we'd almost past his old station before we recognized the place, and had to double back to have a closer look and take some photos.

We had refreshments at Denny's by Sugamo station before setting off on the final leg of the day, which took us past Tokyo University and Akihabara and (after nearly making a wrong turn about 2km from the finish line) down the home straight to our goal at Nihonbashi.

The light was fading as we got there, but the neon lights were beautiful. We crossed the bridge, shook hands, and had a salaryman take our photo. Erik then caught the subway to his friends' house, and after a bit of searching I eventually found my hotel in nearby Kayabacho.

The End


Anonymous said...

Congratulations to both of you. Now that the stroll is over, you can finish the comments about Keith Jarrett.
Oh, who won?

Walking Fool said...

I believe Erik made it to the bridge first...but I was first to the other side.

------------------------------------------------ said...

Hi there, I am planning to do part of the nasakendo walk and was wondering if you could give me some advice. We have 4 days only so which part would be best? I am travelling alone with my 3 boys (13,12 and 6 yrs old).

thanks so much.

Walking fool said...

Hi Elaine

If I had four days to walk part of the Nakasendo again, I would probably chose the section from Ota to Kiso-Fukushima (Days 9 to 11 in my diary), which includes the old post-towns of Magome and Tsumago. But with three children I'm not sure how much ground you would be able to cover in a day. The nicest section was from Mitake to Nagiso, so perhaps you could limit yourself to this section.

Be aware that accommodation is scarce from Mitake to the town of Ena. You may have to stay in the old inn at Hosokute. Also, the track is a bit rough in parts, including some large, slippery cobblestones. In other parts you will be walking on the side of the road with no footpath. The road is very quiet between Mitake and Ena but can be busy further on.

I've emailed this comment to you. Feel free to email me back if you want more information.

Walking fool said...

Oops, I meant days 8 to 11 in my Nakasendo diary. Can't count!

Anonymous said...

I can only make your site show me Day 22. How can I access Day 1?

Walking fool said...

Hi Anonymous

Day 1 is here:

Or to read the complete Nakasendo Diary, go here (it's in reverse order, so scroll down and click on Older Posts to get to the start):

Fuji Snail said...

Matthew, that was a great read. Thanks a lot!

I read all of it and even I'm off by a few years, I hiked with you all the way.


Walking fool said...

Thanks, Olivier.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am planning on walking the entire Nakasendo from Tokyo to Kyoto. I plan on sleeping outdoors in a tent for much of the time. I cannot speak or read Japanese, so naturally I have a lot of questions about the logistics of traveling the trail.

If you would be willing to field some questions from me, I would be very grateful. My email address is nakasendo.mr@nym.hush.com

My first questions are:
1. Is the trail well-marked from Tokyo to Kyoto?
2. Is it easy to find water along the way?
3. Are any sections of the trail particularly dangerous?
4. If you had cell phone access, were you able to get reception along most of the way? I plan on keeping a cell phone for emergency purposes.
5. How much of the trail goes along the highway?
6. Did the trail have, like most of Asia, convenience stores arranged at convenient distances? For a thru-hike like this, a "convenient distance" could be several or even tens of kilometers.
7. Which maps were most helpful? Or were you fine without a map?
8. What trekking gear did you find invaluable along this trip? Which stuff can be safely left at home?



Walking fool said...

Hi Martin
Thanks for your comment. I'm traveling at the moment and about to hop on a plane, but I'll try to email you with answers within the next few days.

Walking fool said...

Hi Martin

Here are some answers to your questions. I also sent them to the email address you supplied.

1. No, the trail is not well marked at all. You will definitely need a map.
2. No problem at all. Water all over Japan is potable, and is also for sale in convenience stores and supermarkets. Just make sure you have plenty with you (in a bottle etc.) whenever you venture off the road or over a pass.
3. There are signs warning of bears in a few places, but I have never seen any. Also, there are wasps and snakes in rural Japan, but again I have never been attacked by either. The only other danger I can think of is traffic, mainly trucks on narrow roads without footpaths in a few places. But compared to hiking in other countries, I would say the dangers are minimal.
4. Yes, I also carry a cell phone for emergencies and to contact hotels and so on along the way. There have only been a few places (remote mountain areas) were I haven't been able to use it. If you're bringing a cell phone from out of Japan (rather than renting one in Japan), make sure it is comparable with the Japanese system.
5. The vast majority of the trail (I would guess over 80%) is along roads of some kind, ranging from country lanes to busy highways. The good news is that there are footpaths (sidewalks) along almost all of the major roads in Japan, so you are usually very safe.
6. In most places, yes. Where the trail is off-road for long stretches, you might walk over ten km without seeing one, but this would be very rare.
7. For three of my walks (Nakasendo, Tokaido, Koshu Kaido) I have used special walking maps produced by Gokaido Walks [http://outdoor.geocities.jp/byffg309/5kaido/go-31guidemap.htm]. These were generally excellent, though out of date in a few places (the Japanese are continually building news roads and changing the layouts of old ones). Unfortunately these maps are expensive and in Japanese only, so may not be what you are after. For my last walk (Nikko Kaido) I printed out a map made by Konoha House and available online. There is a similar map for the Nakasendo, though again it is in Japanese [http://www.konoha-house.com/nakasendo/map000.htm]. I don't know of any similar maps in English, but I do know of someone from Singapore who walked the Nakasendo using a map he produced himself using Google Maps. His website is here: http://546km.blogspot.co.nz
8. I have always stayed in hotels or other accommodation, so my gear excluded tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment and so on. Also, it will depend on the time of year you are going. You can see lists of the gear I took on my various walks here: http://thewalkingfool.blogspot.co.nz/search/label/gear

I hope these answers are helpful. Bear in mind that it's a few years since I walked the Nakasendo, though I have walked other trails in Japan more recently, and the experience has been much the same. Let me know if you have any other questions. Do you have a blog? It would be nice to be able to follow your progress.

Yoga Runner said...

Great read! I enjoyed it very much. I am living in Tokyo right now, and my husband and I would like to do some of the hikes here. We have been reading about the 88 temple walk on Shikoku as well. We are experienced "walkers" and finished the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain in 2015.

My questions: Is there a guidebook that you used with maps and suggestions for accommodations and restaurants? The Camino is marked by plenty of yellow arrows, but this trail is marked only with the stone signposts? We only speak a little Japanese (we are learning) how much of a handicap is this in the rural areas?

Thanks for your info. Would like to do some walking in NZ someday too!

PS... lol... I have grown to love the raw eggs mixed with rice for breakfast or lunch. I stir mine into rice straight from the cooker, and the heat of the rice makes the egg almost like melted cheese. Yum. Happy hiking!

Walking fool said...

Hi Yoga Runner
Thanks for the comment (and the Twitter follow!). I'll try to get back with answers to your questions within the next few days.

Walking fool said...

Hi Yoga Runner

Here are some answers to your questions. Feel free to contact me at walkingfool [at] gmail [dot] com if you'd prefer to continue the dialogue by email.

1. Short answer is no, and I know of no English guidebook for the entire Nakasendo. However, if you go to any of the big bookstores in Tokyo you should be able to find quite a few guidebooks in Japanese with maps (ask an assistant, or look for a section marked 中山道 in the part of the store with domestic travel books). I bought a Japanese walking map online as mentioned in this post: http://thewalkingfool.blogspot.co.nz/search/label/walking%20map
For accommodation I just searched online (in Japanese) as well as using the map function on the Rakuten Travel website to find hotels along the route. Restaurants were never really a problem, as there were plenty of places to eat as well as convenience stores along the way.

2. Not sure what you mean by "stone signposts," but with a few exceptions (the section from Magome to Tsumago, for example, which is gaining popularity among foreign tourists, is well signposted) there was little signage for most of the route and we had to rely on our map.

3. IMO there is not much difference in the extent of knowledge of English between the cities and rural areas in Japan, and so I would say that speaking little Japanese would be no more of a handicap in the country than it is in the city. Having said that, I had already studied Japanese by the time I first set foot in the country, so I have no experience of traveling there without knowing the language.

Here are some online resources you right find helpful:

Nakasendo way: This has loads of information (historical and other) about the route. We actually printed off sections of this and took it with us when we walked the Nakasendo. There's also a map at the top of the page you can zoom in on but it's very rough and I would not rely on it for accuracy.

Below is a page from a Japanese website on the Nakasendo with a list of links to Google maps with the route plotted in detail. Don't be put off by the Japanese on the page - the maps themselves have English as well as Japanese.

Good luck!

Walking fool said...

A couple of afterthoughts. If you find walking the whole Nakasendo too daunting, there are some sections that are more tourist-friendly than others. I mentioned above the section between Magome and Tsumago (and on to Nojiri), but you can also go to Narai, which is another old post town that has been extensively preserved/restored, and from there walk over the Torii to pass to Yabuhara, where there is a JR station. There's a guide to that section (PDF) here:

Also, if you want details of the accommodations we used (bearing in mind it was 10 years ago), feel free to email me.


Yoga Runner said...

Thanks for the information!