Saturday, 18 September 2010

Day 1: Shimo-Suwa - Kami-Suwa

Distance covered: 5.9km
Weather: Fine, then cloudy

I got up at 5am after a poor night's sleep and after showering and dressing I began to sort out my luggage. I'd arrived in Tokyo the previous evening with a suitcase containing my pack and the things I needed for my walk as well as some additional clothes and other items I needed for the week I'd be staying in Tokyo with Mrs Fool at the end of the walk. So I transferred all the things I wouldn't be needing on my walk into the suitcase, which I intended to leave at the hotel ready for my return to Tokyo in ten days time.

It was at this point that I realized I'd left the belt that goes with my walking trousers at home. I did have the heavy leather belt with the big buckle that goes with my jeans, but I was reluctant to take it as I'd noticed during my Nakasendo walk that the weight of my bum bag caused the prong to wear a hole in my top. I pondered my options. Duct tape might work, but I didn't have any. I had some surgical tape, but that was too thin. Neither did I have any string. I briefly considered buying a new belt, but decided that would be too extravagant. The only other option I could think of was to go beltless. In the end I concluded having a hole in my top was preferable to walking 220km with my pants around my ankles, and so I went with the leather belt.

At 6.30am I went down for breakfast of white toast and jam, shriveled croissants, and tasteless coffee. Throughout the meal, I could see a couple (him a foreigner, her a Japanese) schmoozing on the footpath across the road from the hotel, and wondered if they'd been up all night partying or were in the process of parting after a night in one of Shinjuku's love hotels.

I'd booked a seat on the train for Kami-Suwa leaving Shinjuku station at 10am, so to fill in time I walked around Shinjuku and had another coffee (a nice one this time) at Doutour. I went back to the hotel and checked out at around 8.45am and made my way slowly to the station.

The Super Azusa limited express runs on the Chuo Line, which roughly follows the path of the Koshu Kaido. The journey from Shinjuku to Kami-Suwa took two hours and nineteen minutes. I would spend ten days walking back along the same route. I amused myself on the train by among other things listening to my favourite train band, The Chills, on my iPod (a late inclusion on my gear list). I consider "Hidden Bay" ("Maybe I'm a fool, a fool, a fool / But baby you're so cool, so cool, so cool") the best pop song for listening to while riding on a train. It also has the advantage of being followed on the album Kaleidoscope World by "I Love my Leather Jacket", one of the best pop songs for listening to anywhere, anytime.

I arrived in Kami-Suwa at 12.19pm and walked the short distance to my hotel. It was too early to check in, so I dumped my pack and after buying lunch at a nearby supermarket rode a local train one stop to Shimo-Suwa, the starting point of my walk. I'd originally intended to rest today and start walking the following day, but I felt good enough to walk the 5.9km from Shimo-Suwa to Kami-Suwa. I took it easy, taking a long break to look around the lower shrine of Suwa Taisha, one of Japan's oldest shrines and the scene of the climax of the famous Onbashira festival. For the five or so kilometers from the shrine to Kami-Suwa, the Koshu Kaido clings to the hillside high above Lake Suwa, while the railway line and main road follow paths closer to the edge of the lake. This puzzled me until I learnt that the lake level is much lower today than it was in the Edo period.

It was fine and warm (around 25 degrees) when I started out, but had clouded over and was threatening to rain by the time I got back to Kami-Suwa at around 3.15pm. I checked in to my hotel, then wandered down to have a look at Lake Suwa. For dinner I chose a restaurant overlooking the lake, where I sampled a glass of what passes for white wine in nearby Nojiri, a relatively new wine-making area I passed through in 2007 while walking the Nakasendo. The food was nice though, and the staff friendly and helpful in meeting my request for a meatless meal in a restaurant I later learnt specialized in local pork.

Back in my hotel room, I watched TV before going to bed at around 9pm. I was feeling positive about the days ahead. I had no injuries, and my body felt good, with none of the stiffness I'd experienced the day before.

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