Sunday, 19 September 2010

Day 2: Kami-Suwa - Chino

Distance covered: 6.9km
Weather: Fine

I woke feeling a lot more rested than the previous morning but with a slight tingle in my throat, usually a sign that a cold is on the way. Could it be that my downfall on this, my third major walking expedition, would be not an ingrown toenail or groin strain but a common cold?

I got up at 5.30am and an hour later went down to check out the hotel's buffet breakfast. There was a good selection of Japanese and Western fare, and I filled up on bread, pastries, fish, scrambled egg, and salad.

Having walked 5.9km the day before, I only had to cover 6.9km to reach my next destination: Chino. With plenty of time on my hands, I decided to check out nearby Takashima castle before hitting the Koshu Kaido. The castle was built in the 1590s but lay in ruins for many years before being rebuilt in 1970. It was originally known as the "floating castle" as its location on the edge of Lake Suwa made it appear to rise out of the water. However, as I mentioned yesterday, the lake level has fallen considerably since the Edo period, and the castle is now quite a distance from the lake.

After returning from my castle walk I checked out of my hotel and rejoined the Koshu Kaido at around 9.45am. I took my time, stopping frequently to take photos of some of the lovely kura (storehouses) I saw along the way. I reached Chino station at 11.45am and headed to the art gallery where I had lunch before checking out a couple of exhibitions.

Just as I was about to set off to find my hotel, I noticed a crowd of people on the main road in front of the station preparing for some kind of festival. It was in fact an Onbashira festival. I had been under the impression that there was only one Onbashira festival, the famous one held in April and May that includes the ki-otoshi ceremony (in which young men "ride" huge logs down steep slopes) and climaxes with the ceremonial erection of the logs as pillars at the lower shrine of Suwa Taisha. But in fact dozens of Onbashira festivals are held all around the area. Like the famous festival at Suwa Taisha, these smaller festivals are held just once every seven years, and involve the symbolic renewal of the shrine at the centre of the festival through the raising of four onbashira (pillars) which have been dragged to the shrine by teams of festival-goers.

Preparing for departure

I had arrived just as the teams were about to set off for the shrine, which was about a kilometre away. The organizers generously invited me to join in (actually, unlike the main Onbashira festival, anyone can take part in these local Onbashira festivals), and so shortly after 1pm I took hold of a rope attached to the first log and helped drag it down a slope and through a series of narrow streets to the shrine. In fact I found it difficult to pull the rope and take photos at the same time, so after a hundred metres or so I let go of the rope and walked beside the log the rest of the way.

Through a torii and down the first slope

Around a bend

Hitting a snag

Pushing and shoving

Nearly there

Arriving at the shrine

We arrived at the shrine (called the Tatsuya Sukura-jinja) at around 2pm, and much as I wanted to hang around for the pillar raising I was pretty hot and bothered (it was 27 degrees) and decided to head for my hotel.

I checked in at 3.10pm. Unfortunately breakfast wasn't included in my package, so after dinner at a Coco Ichibanya curry restaurant I popped into a supermarket and bought some things to eat the following morning. On the way back to my hotel I also passed a large shopping complex with a MontBell store. I had a quick look for a belt but didn't see anything that took my fancy. By 9pm I was in bed, feeling satisfied after a day that, despite the short distance covered, turned out to be very rewarding.

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