Saturday, 18 October 2014

Day 4: Koga - Oyama

Distance covered: 16.5km
Weather: Fine and warm

This morning I slept until 6am, a sure sign that my body clock had finally adjusted to Japanese time (until today I'd been waking at between 3 and 4am). I got down to the restaurant at 7am to find it already full. The food was OK, but the coffee was the worst I'd had for some time.

Today I was to have company! Mr Iwakawa, who stayed with us in Christchurch earlier in the year while traveling around New Zealand, was meeting me at Koga Station. I got there early and wandered around for a bit. In front of the station I spotted something unusual, even for Japan, where vending machines are ubiquitous: an umbrella vending machine.

Mr Iwakawa arrived on time at 8.34am. Since we only had 6.5km to walk, we decided to go and check out the cluster of kura I'd passed the day before. Some of them have been restored to their original condition, while others have been converted for other uses: a restaurant, a hall, and even a rest room! While we were looking around, an attendant invited us to have a look inside one of the restored kura, which was originally used to store rice for use at nearby Koga Castle. It was the first time I'd seen inside such an old kura.

We eventually rejoined the Nakasendo near Koga Station and wandered through the old post town of Koga. At the point where the Nakasendo joins busy Route 4, we came across this structure, modelled on an old lantern.

We followed Route 4 for most of the rest of the day. The scenery wasn't great, but there was the odd reminder of the days of old. Before lunch we passed Mamada-juku, which marks the halfway point on the Nikko Kaido. Cue for a commemorative photo!

We stopped for lunch (rice balls and other yummy Japanese food prepared by Mrs Iwakawa) outside a convenience store just before midday. Later, as we were approaching Oyama, we passed the Wakazakari sake brewery, which is a nationally registered tangible cultural property! This was a cultural experience we weren't going to miss. We went into the showroom and wandered around until one of the staff invited us to taste some of the sake. I thought they'd never ask! After four small cups, I was feeling a bit tipsy. I went off to use the restroom, which was out the back in the brewery complex proper, and on my way back I got a bit lost.

We stumbled on, arriving at Oyama Station at around 2.45pm. After seeing Mr Iwakawa off, I checked in to my hotel. For dinner I went to a nearby Coco's restaurant, where I gorged on a mozzarella and tomato salad, the seafood soup spaghetti (which I first tasted while walking the Nakasendo and which remains one of my favourite Japanese family restaurant dishes), a glass of white wine, and a hot apple pie, which was more like a crumble and came on a hot plate that sizzled when you poured the accompanying caramel sauce over the top (luckily the hot plate had a handy paper "skirt" around the outside that prevented the sauce splattering my clothes - the Japanese think of everything!).

Before going to bed, I turned on the TV and discovered there was a program about the Koshu Kaido, the fifth of the gokaido, or five highways, which I hope to walk in the not too distant future. The producers had roped in three "celebrities" to walk the route relay-fashion, each of them covering around 40km over two days - with varying success.

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