Friday, 12 May 2017

Day 3: Kitsuregawa - Nasushiobara

Distance covered: 30 km
Weather: Fine then cloudy

I got up feeling none the worse for wear and after a Japanese-style buffet breakfast (minus the raw egg) at the hotel restaurant I packed and set off. It was just after 8 am. Minutes later I was at the bottom of the hill and back on the Oshu Kaido feeling confident about the day's 30 km hike.

The terrain was undulating for the first hour or so but mostly flat after that. If anything the scenery was more beautiful than the day before, with the constant verdant green of the rice fields and the woods in the distance forming the perfect backdrop to the splashes of colour provided by the blossoms and wild flowers and well-tended gardens. There were palatial farm houses, too, and while I appreciate the arduous nature of agricultural work (though most of the actual rice planting is mechanised these days) it was clear to me that the farmers in this part of the country make a good living.

The road varied from a broad, two-lane highway with footpaths on both sides to a narrow, unmarked lane barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Several times while walking along these narrow stretches I chose to step off the road to let vehicles coming from opposite directions get by, but this was more out of courtesy than a sense of danger, as the traffic was light and most drivers gave me a wide berth.

As I was passing through the former post town of Yagisawa after my second break of the day at around the 14 km mark I noticed an impressive-looking monument by the side of the road. Intriguingly, it marked the birthplace of Japan's first scholar of the French language, Hideyoshi Murakami (1811-1890), whose efforts in teaching himself French in the Edo period when Japan was largely cut off from the West and later teaching the language to others resulted in him being awarded the Legion of Honour in 1885.

No Walking Fool trek would be complete without a stop at a Japanese family restaurant, and so at around 12.45 pm I left the Oshu Kaido to have lunch at a branch of the Joyfull chain that I'd spotted on Google maps. I was pleased with my progress and had intended to spend a full hour relaxing in the restaurant with my shoes off, but on checking the weather forecast on my iPhone while enjoying an espresso at the end of the meal I saw to my horror there was a 60% chance of rain between 3 and 4 pm. I checked the time. It was 2 pm. I looked at my map. A further 13 km to walk. I quickly finished my coffee and headed out the door, eager to get as close to my goal for the day as possible before the heavens opened.

I completed the remaining 13 km without a break, arriving at the intersection of Routes 72 and 34 at around 4.30 pm. Of course, it didn't rain! My accommodation was some 3 km off the Oshu Kaido in the direction of Kuroiso station. Having already slogged 30 km, I wasn't keen to walk any further, so I went into the convenience store on the corner and asked them to order me a taxi. That night I dined in my room on sushi and a can of beer bought at a nearby supermarket. My legs felt weary after the day's marathon effort, but I was more concerned about the weather. The television news warned of the possibility of severe downpours in some parts of the country the following day. And the chance of rain along my intended route was 100%.

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