Walking the Nakesendo Way.

986EE708-CB20-413B-BE85-A01ACE7F9BC7Oi (now Ena) Post Town – the Nakesendo highway here may well have dated back to around 1100 – this print and others at each post town along the way by Ando Hiroshige. 

Day seven, 9th November, 2018 and breakfast at the Ichikawa Inn is as sumptuous as dinner. 07558857-0785-4847-B501-F9F33D35AE1CB88004E5-8EFE-4160-866E-EA1072EF0D94Which is just as well as the weather is not in our favour……86F0A5E3-9EDA-40CE-818C-765BB5E21624……..especially as we have a 12km stretch to the city of Nakatsugawa followed by another 6km hike to the Shinchaya Inn, our next ryokan destination. Undaunted, the Intrepids pass through a number of hamlets – textures and colours are all beautifully highlighted by the rain.49181C48-5C5A-450D-B1D0-647B2A8EA181971D1829-35C1-4F61-B84C-3F39AF644DD4Autumn has proven to be the best time to walk through rural Japan, and apart from the ever present, multi-hued clouds and carpets of maple leaves we find ourselves walking through and over, autumn is obviously the time of the persimmon or kaki. At this time of year they were everywhere in various stages of drying proving to be a popular autumn fruit in Japan. Whilst native to China, persimmons spread to Korea and Japan more than 1,000 years ago of which there are two types – an astringent version or Shibugaki and a sweet version, or Amagaki.

Persimmons are extremely rich in dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and other valuable B-complex vitamins such as folic acid, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) and thiamin. Surprisingly, it’s the astringent version, the Shibugaki, that is the favoured version, but only after it is completely ripened, or, preferably, after drying. The astringency comes from the tannin contained in the fruit and as this is water soluble, it dissolves in the mouth’s saliva leaving a terrible taste. But when an astringent persimmon is peeled and dried, the surface hardens to form a firm skin and ‘chokes’ the fruit, forming acetaldehyde. It is this substance that the tannin binds to which then stops it from being water soluble, thus preventing the unpleasant astringency taste. 78928AC4-8F12-4FCB-BCDC-760597693B12The fruit is associated with good luck and longevity and is often used as part of the New Year’s decoration ornament with big rice cakes in Japan. To the Intrepids, it also became a symbol of the local people’s hospitality and friendship towards us as we passed through the villages enroute to Tokyo. Like the elderly ladies in a small cafe that welcomed us into the warmth to dry out and fed us coffe, persimmon and biscuits.

Underfoot, there is an amazing array of manhole covers whose designs come in a variety of themes depending on locality, utility type and the manufacturer of the manhole cover.A04341EF-BEBE-4280-95BC-467CEC913200.jpeg They have caught the imagination of a growing number of self-styled ‘drainspotters’ from around the world. ‘In Japan, modern sewer systems began to appear during the late 19th century, though evidence of older sewage systems dates back to over 2,000 years ago. Foreign engineers introduced the Japanese to modern, underground sewer systems with above ground access points called manhoru (manholes). At first, Japanese manhole covers used geometric designs similar to those used in other countries. In the 1980s, when communities outside of Japan’s major cities were slated to receive new sewer systems, the public works projects were met with resistance – until one dedicated bureaucrat solved the problem by devising a way to make these mostly invisible systems aesthetically appreciated aboveground: customized manhole covers. Because the Japanese elevate design in all aspects of life to a new level, the custom covers were welcomed, even though they cost more than generic ones. Today nearly 95 percent of the 1,780 municipalities in Japan sport their very own specially designed covers.’ *

Leaving behind the beautifully manicured gardensof Oi post town…….A8723EB1-3003-45EC-A3C2-565C15D5330D…….the straw brooms, bronzed maple leaves and bound boulders…….EDFCE4CD-9BB0-4F0B-BC02-3BB1F85C6D9D……..the Intrepids take a well earned break overlooking the valley below………BAD25E50-CD55-47FC-9108-A7B7F0FC627F……..before heading on past more manicured gardens………7CBF4172-B99F-4D21-8642-CE993552AF28……..to reach our lunch stop in the post town, Nakatsugawa City.22902E09-80DA-4284-A8EB-7A99496C13F4

One of the larger post-towns in the Edo Period (1603-1868), Nakatsugawa was an important local market and retail center with numerous shops selling rice, sake, soy sauce, salt, clothing etc. It still thrives as a market town and small industrial centre. 

There is still another 6km to go and the Intrepids are running a little late, so a quick lunch stop ensures that we’re on our way once again, passing through Ochiai post town.94574B97-4C81-4116-A8E5-77D76FDCAC67

Ochiai’s claim to fame is the giant rice kettle that resides on the outskirts of the post-town that commerates the passing through of the town by the 16 year old Princess Kazunomiya and her 25,000 attendants enroute to her marriage to the 14th shōgun, Tokugawa lemochi in 1862.

As the Intrepids pass through the post town, the fast fading light is illuminated by some magnificent chrysanthemum displays. 2E58F4EE-5792-4954-8C0C-6BE0F3C86F69The chrysanthemum, or Kiku is an autumn seasonal flower that also symbolizes Japan itself.  The monarchy, for example, is referred to as the Chrysanthemum Throne and the Imperial crest is a stylized ‘mum’ blossom. Originally introduced from China, the flower came with a legend about longevity, the story of a town whose residents all lived to over 100 years old, where the water came from a mountain spring surrounded by chrysanthemums. Crossing such a stream…….F9B585A4-1113-4AC5-93E5-4029698E3B0E…….the Intrepids are on the last, and it proves all too quickly, the most tiring last kilometre of our first day’s walk. Much of this part of the Way is original, the ‘ishidatami’ cobblestones were originally intended to provide footholds for horses on the steep incline, but to our tired feet, acted more like potential ankle breakers. 940FFCBB-8FF9-4720-8148-CC6D4E1BE58D(Photos from Travel Lexx’s site – with thanks! – it was too dark to take our own!)

But finally, we stagger into the Shinchaya Inn run by Mr and Mrs Hara, and after a welcome ‘o-furo’ style bath……DD710B40-790C-4C96-BCB6-743AEE9ED90E

………dinner is served.12D153CD-D31B-446C-8398-FF3AD7E76E0D




* Amazon description of Remo Camerota’s book, Drainspotting: Japanese Manhole Covers, June 2010.




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