Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Day 4: Tsutaki-juku - Nirasaki

Distance covered: 28.4km
Weather: Fine

The soreness in my legs and hips from the evening before had gone by the time I got up shortly after 6am. I've probably mentioned this before, but the body's ability to recover completely overnight amazes me.

At 7am I went down and got some bread and coffee from the little buffet in the lobby and ate breakfast in my room. I then checked out and headed to the station where I caught a taxi back to the Tsutaki-juku rest area, the point where I'd left the Koshu Kaido the day before. The fare was about half of what I paid then. I guess I was charged extra for the taxi to come from Kobuchizawa to get me.

At the rest area I stocked up on water before rejoining the Koshu Kaido. The temperature was forecast to reach the thirties, and I didn't want to be caught without water again.

It was 8.30am by the time I started walking. For the first few kilometres I followed a narrow road next to Route 20 through rice-farming country. The annual rice harvest was underway, and in drained paddies next to the road farmers were busy cutting the plants and hanging them up to dry in preparation for threshing. The cutting and threshing were done by machines, but the hanging seemed to be an entirely manual operation.

At around 10.15am I reached the post town of Daigahara. I passed an old sake brewery called Shichiken and popped in with the intention of using the toilet, but on hearing that I was walking the Koshu Kaido the proprietress insisted I taste one of the local brews. She told me a bit about the history of the brewery and explained the sake-making process. The tasting room was quite new, but the main building dates back to the Edo period. The large ball seen hanging under the eaves in the photo is called a sugidama. It's made from cedar needles and traditionally lets people know not only that sake is available but the degree of maturity of the brew. The greener the ball, the younger the sake.

As usual, midday came and went without me finding a suitable restaurant for lunch, so I bought a cold salmon-and-rice dish and some deep-fried goodies at a convenience store which I washed down with an iced coffee. Shortly after getting underway again I passed this curious object on a hillside overlooking the town of Maruno.

The sign next to it mentioned a scarecrow festival, so my guess is it has something to do with that. There are some photos of the festival here.

A little further on, while crossing the Kamanashi River, a noticed two figures standing on the bridge ahead of me, one of whom looked familiar. It was the retiree from Nara I'd met the day before. He was even more surprised to see me, since he'd just been telling his new acquaintance (a farmer who'd stopped on the bridge to check out the fishing prospects in the river below) about a strange New Zealander he'd met whose hobby was walking the old highways of Edo-period Japan. The three of us had a good old chat and then the retiree and I bid the farmer farewell and headed on together into the town of Nirasaki. I never did learn his name, but he did tell me he was 62 and an avid mountain climber.

The farmer and the mountain climber

I checked into my hotel in Nirasaki just after 3pm. When I got to my room and took my sun hat off I was surprised to see two pink patches on the skin just above my temples. It didn't take me long to realize that the sun had penetrated the mesh side panels of my sun hat. The mesh provided welcome ventilation, but the designers obviously hadn't taken into account the consequences for the follicly challenged. My hands were also slightly sunburnt.

Later that afternoon I walked down to the station area of Nirasaki and found a Coco's family restaurant. As you may recall from my Nakasendo and Tokaido diaries, the Coco's seafood soup spaghetti is one of my all-time favourite Japanese family restaurant meals, and I was delighted to find it still on the menu. Unfortunately it wasn't quite up to the usual standard. I was well into my meal before I remembered Mrs Fool had asked me to take photos of the food highlights of my trip. I took some photos anyway. So here are the remains of the seafood soup spaghetti dish:

And here are the remains of dessert, a green tea fondant with ice cream and azuki beans:

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