Monday, 25 May 2009

Day 6: Yokkaichi - Kuwana (15.9km)

I woke at 4am and dozed until 5.30am when I turned on the TV to watch the news and weather. The forecast was for another fine day. At 7.10am I went down for breakfast. The "buffet" was a bit disappointing compared to the one at the last Super Hotel I'd stayed at in Kyoto, with the only Western-style offerings being toast and pastries. The coffee was from a vending machine (the Super Hotel chain have vending machines in the breakfast areas of their hotels which you can use for free at breakfast time), but it tasted surprisingly good.

I left the hotel at 8.30am and while walking through a shopping arcade soon after rejoining the Tokaido I met a group of four women who were walking the Tokaido in the opposite direction and who had just left from another hotel up the road. Further on, after crossing a couple of rivers, I came across a lone pine tree, one of many that were originally planted along the Tokaido more than 400 years ago to provide shade in summer and shelter from cold winds in winter. Quite a lot of these original pine trees still survive, some still in the form of avenues that extend for hundreds of metres. Many of these stands of pine trees have names. Oddly, this single tree bore the name Nihon no Matsu, or The Two Pines. As you might have guessed, there were once two old trees here. One of them died, but the original name remains.

For most of the morning I was walking through the suburbs of Yokkaichi. I was following a narrow street just off the main highway which was flat and dull and lined with small factories of all kinds. Hardly the most uplifting of surroundings, and to make things worse, when I stopped at 11.30am after crossing yet another river to have a rest and send a couple of emails from my phone, I got my first mosquito bite (I'd get a further eight before my journey was over). I moved away from the river and continued my break next to a large joyato, one of the giant lamps that burned throughout the night in the Edo period. Along with the ichirizuka, the avenues of old pine trees, and the occasional stretch of ishidatami (stone paving), these lamps are among the most common remnants of the original Tokaido the modern traveler is likely to come across.

The last few kilometres into the post town of Kuwana were tough. It was hot and muggy, and as I neared my goal I had to follow a series of doglegs (a common feature of the original Tokaido as it approached strategic towns, supposedly designed to confuse invading enemies). About a kilometre from the finish I passed a young solo walker heading in the opposite direction. His name was Aki. We stopped and chatted. He was covering about 30km a day and sleeping rough at night. I expressed surprise that his pack was so small. He in turn expressed surprise that mine was so big. "What on earth have you got in there?" he asked. Another walker had said the same thing, and so I was beginning to think that I had far too much stuff, which is ironic considering that at the start of the walk I was pleased that I'd managed to restrict the weight of my pack to under 10kg. Aki was thinking of walking the Nakasendo back to Tokyo once he arrived in Kyoto, and so I gave him a few tips based on my experience of walking the same route back in 2007. Before parting I took his photograph, something I tried to remember to do whenever I stopped to talk to people along the way.

A few minutes later I reached the point in Kuwana where Edo-period travelers caught the ferry across the bay to Miya on the other side of the modern city of Nagoya. Having reached my goal for the day, I headed in the direction of Kuwana station, thinking I'd find a nice place for lunch along the way. I didn't, and so I ended up buying some hot chips, a banana, and some iced coffee at a convenience store and having lunch in front of the station. At 1.50pm I boarded a train for Nagoya, arriving there at about 2.20pm. From Nagoya station I walked to my hotel, which was meant to be in front of the station but which was a bit further away than I anticipated. Along the way I passed a couple of Westerners. I realized I hadn't seen another Caucasian since leaving Kyoto. I resisted the urge to greet them.

The hotel was quite new and my room larger and better equipped than those in the business hotels I'd been staying in so far. I would have looked forward to my two nights there and the rest day in between if it wasn't for the fact that my toe was starting to really hurt. I did a load of washing then went out to have something to eat at around 3pm. I also withdrew some cash, thinking I might need a bit to pay my doctor's bill the following day. I took it easy for the rest of the afternoon and evening before meeting a friend at 7pm. Before going out for dinner we spoke to one of the receptionists and got details of the address and hours of a nearby hospital. We then went out to an izakaya where I drowned my sorrows in beer and sake. Back in my hotel, I watched some TV and went to sleep at around 10pm.

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