Thursday, 21 May 2009

Day 2: Kusatsu - Minakuchi (24.8km)

I woke a couple of times during the night, but generally slept better than the previous night. Nothing like walking 25km with a heavy backpack to ensure a good night's sleep. At about 4.30am I was pretty wide awake, so I got out my book and read for a while. At 5.30am I turned on the TV and watched the news and weather.

I got up at six and went through my usual routine of showering, dressing (remembering to apply anti-chafe balm to my feet before putting my sox on), and shaving. At seven I went down for breakfast. The breakfast buffet at the Boston Plaza Hotel was one of the early highlights of the Nakasendo walk in 2007, and I'm pleased to say it was up to the same high standard in 2009. I had scrambled eggs on toast, various fancy pastries, and cereal with fruit, fruit juice, milk, and yoghurt.

I left the hotel at eight and retraced my steps to the point (identified with the stone route marker shown in the photo above) near the honjin I visited the day before where the Nakasendo and Tokaido go their separate ways. My legs were still a bit tired from the previous day's effort, and my groin, left big toe, and hips were all sore. Still, I felt excited at the prospect of venturing into unknown territory.

It was mostly flat with little traffic all the way to the post town of Ishibe, making for pleasant walking. I took it easy, taking a couple of long breaks to rest and eat scroggin, eventually arriving in Ishibe at 10.45am. There I'd planned to make a side trip to the Tokaido History Museum and Shukuba no Sato, which according to one description I'd read on the Internet was a kind of theme park dedicated to the Tokaido. I made my way to the railway station from where I caught a taxi to the museum and theme park. While making plans for my trip I'd considered walking to the museum as it was only a couple of kilometres at most from the station, but I was glad I took a taxi as what I hadn't realized was it was uphill most of the way.

The taxi driver dropped me off at the main office where I left my pack and paid the entrance fee of 320 yen. The "theme park" was a collection of around half a dozen reconstructions of the kinds of buildings that might be found in a post town in the Edo period. Each was filled with period furniture and other bits and pieces. There was also a reconstruction of a pair of ichirizuka. Ichirizuka were mounds of earth, each topped with a tree, usually an enoki (Japanese hackberry) or matsu (pine), placed on either side of the road at intervals of one ri, or approximately 4km, for the purposes of calculating distance along the Tokaido. Some of them still survive, although it's very rare to find original ichirizuka on both sides of the road as when roads were widened one or the other inevitably had to be removed. As well as these originals, there are also quite a few reconstructions of ichirizuka along both the Tokaido and the Nakasendo.

The Shukuba no Sato was quite interesting, but not as impressive as I'd imagined. The museum was rather dreary and I left after just a few minutes inside. I went back to the office and picked up my pack. After chatting with the staff there for a few minutes, I set off on foot down the hill in the direction of the station. I knew I'd hit the Tokaido before I arrived at the station, so my intention was to rejoin it at the point. Unfortunately I lost my bearings and had to ask a young couple for directions.

I felt a little frustrated as I was concerned at the amount of time this little side trip had taken up. However, the scenery around Ishibe was very pleasant (lots of old buildings, newly planted rice fields, very little traffic) and this soon put me back in a positive frame of mind.

At around midday I started looking for somewhere to have lunch, but it wasn't until
I reached the town of Kosei at about 1.45pm that I found a place I liked the look of: a Japanese chain restaurant called Washoku Sato. I ordered the Nagomi bento, which consisted of cold soba, tempura, chawanmushi, rice, and a choice of drink (I had iced coffee).

Soon after leaving Kosei I rejoined the main highway to cross the Yasu river, whose course I'd been following for most of the way since leaving Kusatsu. Along from the modern bridge was a monument marking the spot where travelers used to cross the river in the Edo period.

My legs were quite tired by this stage. Thankfully it was only another three kilometers or so to my final destination of the day in the town of Minakuchi. Once there, however, I had trouble finding my hotel and had to ask directions at a petrol station.

It was about 4pm when I finally checked in. The room was a bit drab but offered a nice view over the city. I rested, watched some sumo on TV, and then popped over to the big Heiwado shopping complex next door to the hotel to have dinner. I didn't think much of the restaurants there, so I bought some things (deep-fried squid, chirashi gohan, beer, and a grapefruit dessert) at the supermarket and had dinner in my room. I watched some more TV and was asleep by 9pm.

No comments: