Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Day 1: Nihonbashi - Minami-Koshigaya

Distance covered: 25.5km
Weather: Cool and cloudy with long periods of drizzle

Two things weighed on my mind as I walked the short distance from my hotel next to Tokyo Station to the starting point of the Nikko Kaido in Nihonbashi: the weather, and my backpack. A few days ago the forecast for the start of my walk was ideal. Yesterday was meant to have been wet and blustery in the wake of Typhoon Vongfong, and the days following that fine. But in fact yesterday turned out to be beautifully fine and only slightly windy, and now it looked as if it was going to rain on this, the first day of my 146km walk from Tokyo to Nikko.

As for my backpack, I'd done absolutely no training with it on, and only minutes ago I'd shouldered it in earnest for the first time since walking the Koshu Kaido four years earlier. Already it was feeling uncomfortable, and I was beginning to worry about what shape I'd be in at the end of the day, let alone after a week of walking.

I arrived at the bridge that gives the Nihonbashi district its name a few minutes before 8am. A couple of friends were going to accompany me on this first leg to Minami-Koshigaya, and as I waited for them to arrive I looked for and found the monument marking Japan's Kilometer Zero. It felt strange beginning my walk from here. On all my previous walks along Japan's Edo-period highways, I'd traveled in the opposite direction (i.e. towards Tokyo), so I was used to ending my walks here.

My companions eventually arrived and after a few commemorative photos we set off. We walked north for a few hundred meters, past the two new Coredo buildings, before turning onto a side street that took us through Nihonbashi's apparel warehouse district. By this time it had already begun to drizzle. I delaying putting on my rain gear in the hope that it would stop, or at least not get any heavier, but after passing Asakusa I relented. It did ease off a couple of times, enabling me to take the odd photo with my new camera, but I ended up keeping my rain gear on for the rest of the day.


I usually only have two cups of coffee a day: one during breakfast and one after lunch. It's a routine I tend to stick to whether I'm at home or traveling. While passing through the flophouse district of Sanya, however, we came across Cafe Bach, which my companions informed me was something of a local institution, so in we went. The coffee took a while to arrive, but it tasted fantastic. The cakes and desserts looked great too, but we resisted the temptation to try them and set off again in the rain.

At around the 10km mark, shortly before crossing the Arakawa River, I noticed an incredible "conestellation" (a term I've coined to describe groups of cones with artistic merit) by the side of the road. Some of them were made by hand from bits of timber and tape! Luckily it was during one of the lulls in the rain, so I was able to take a few photos.

Conestellation near the Arakawa River

On the other side of the Arakawa River we passed a monument to the poet Matsuo Basho, whose route on his famous journey along the "narrow road to the deep north" followed the Nikko Kaido as far as Nikko. Moments later we left busy Route 4 and entered a narrow shopping street that led us past Kita-Senju Station. There were quite a few nice looking eateries along this street, so we decided to stop for lunch, choosing a restaurant specialising in fish. The main dish was great, and the pickles and miso soup some of the best I've tasted for a long time.

We continued north after lunch, stopping now and then to take the odd photo and admire some of the old buildings we passed along the way (one of my companions was an architect, and shared my interest in quirky architecture). There wasn't much else of interest, really. We were still very much in the greater Tokyo conurbation, which with a population of just under 38 million people is the world's most populous. Perhaps the most pleasant stretch was between Soka and Matsubara Danchi, where we passed through an avenue of pine trees that had been planted to recreate the atmosphere of the old Nikko Kaido. It was certainly nicer than walking on a normal footpath, but the persistent drizzle was beginning to dampen our enthusiasm. We were so eager to reach our final destination that we almost missed the only surviving original ichirizuka, or route marker, on the entire Nikko Kaido. The site was rather poorly maintained, I thought, and even with the benefit of a sign with a photo, it took us a while to work out which of the several sickly looking trees in the area marked the location of the ichirizuka.

We arrived in Minami-Koshigaya just after 5pm. After seeing off my two companions at the station I checked into my hotel. I rested for a bit and hung up my wet clothes to dry then walked to a nearby Saizeriya and had some seafood spaghetti, bread and salad, all washed down with a glass of beer (in honour of Alan Booth). Later, while soaking in the bath, I noticed my hips were a bit bruised from the strap of my pack. Apart from that I felt OK, surprisingly so considering my lack of preparation. And the weather forecast for the next day was good. 


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you're back! Your walks are always a great read.

Walking fool said...

Thank you, secret admirer!