Walking the Nakasendo Way.

Day eight, 10th November, 2018 and the Intrepids (four Aussie Sheila’s from Tasmania) leave the comfort of the Shinchaya Inn…….942B65E4-1A93-42C9-BAF7-B2DDAEFAB3C9…….and head on up the now comfortably familiar yellow speckled path (the Nakesendo’s signature route colours) towards our next destination of Tsumago.02F8E484-6B20-4D08-8358-1C393F9C9708The Hara family keep waving farewell until we round the corner and disappear from sight. It’s only 2 km to the post-town of Magome, and on the way, the early morning sun drives off the mist from the rice fields…….2CD7ADFF-5ABB-466D-80E1-DB2AD57A00A0…….and lures us into the shadowy depths of the entrance to a Suwa shrine. The Suwa deity was worshipped as the god of hunting and agriculture, and more recently, the god of national security!98E01908-D726-458A-B809-D31B49B337E1We head into the beautifully restored post town of Magome with its broad stone walkway……..31A60E36-6C8D-4434-B66F-78867513810F ………..lined with carefully tended greenery.1ADA24C8-905F-4D20-8203-1910FB09EA95 5814EABE-7A59-40FD-92D2-D69E915DE39DMagome’s embellished preservation contrasts with the rugged authenticity of neighboring Tsumago and as such, is hugely popular. Magome means ‘horse basket’ as travellers once had to leave their horses at inns before tackling the steep path ahead. The town‘s buildings comprise of wood and plaster with wooden plank roofs held down with stones and because fires repeatedly destroyed Magome so its buildings are now 20th-century replicas.

The place is crawling with visitors who have accessed the place via the highway and the central car park is thick with coaches belching out tourists. But despite the crowds, and also because of them, the Intrepids spend a welcome respite people watching whilst having the best coffe of the whole trip at Hillbilly cafe. 12676CC4-EEBD-45B8-833E-C2489C4E64F4The young owner/barista of Hillbilly’s is charming and speaks good English and will be heading to Melbourne in the near future to brush up on his coffee making skills. After stocking up at the local supermarket for a picnic lunch, the Intrepids head on up through the crowds and out of town. Through a bamboo lined forest……3482F9A3-1B7A-4A52-BE1E-6570425925DE…..and on and up towards Magome Pass through well ordered rice fields and the last of the valley views, down cobblestone steps to ring the bear bell before crossing the road. E1402B1E-93E0-4D73-87E1-B520F355A9945DB15116-9411-4319-899E-4FCEA616A50AWe stop for lunch and ponder the signs for bears……..7958BE2A-70B9-4D8D-A221-5CB7789B74CA ……so far, and somewhat disappointingly, we see none throughout our whole walk – in fact, we were more likely to have had bear served up for dinner at one of our over night ryokans. However, these creatures, of which there are two species to be found in Japan: the Asiatic black bear and Ezo brown bear, should still be thought of with great respect! Whilst they are found mainly in the north of Japan, (though black bears have been sighted prowling around the streets of Kyoto), there have not only been sightings, but maulings and even killing of humans. We picnic in nonchalant ignorance!

From the top of Magome Pass (at 801m) we head on down through a forest trail to the Ichikoku-tochi Tateba rest stop, an old tea house, now run by locals who provide tea, sweets, information and the occasional ‘Kiso Bush’ song by Mr Suzuki for hikers passing through. 6D7DB1AD-36C0-4F9E-834C-305CE4A81BD3The fish above the traditional hearth is not only a symbol of water to stop the embers from the fire from jumping out of the pit, but it also holds the kettle in place. By lifting the fish head, tension is released from the central pole thus allowing the kettle to be raised or lowered above the flames. The 300 year old tea house’s architecture retains the same structure, style and atmosphere that was encountered by samurai and other travellers during the Edo Period. Heading on in Joana’s footsteps (well loved British actress Joanna Lumley walked a section of the Nakesendo trail -see Joanna’s Lumley’s Japan) the Intrepids check out the Odaki falls……E9E9F854-29FA-43F6-AD84-3939E105E853…….trysting place of Miyamoto Musashi, a 17th century Japanese swordsman, philosopher, writer and rōnin (wandering samurai). Musashi became renowned through stories of his excellent and unique double-bladed swordsmanship and undefeated fighting record.

From the waterfalls and past more streams and autumn colours, the Intrepids follow the winding cobblestone (ishdatami) path…….ABEF8027-B038-4B81-B9E7-B30CD7D960BD……..over the Kiso river, famous for the rocks that have collected in its bed over the centuries from landslides from the surrounding slopes……….CE31B5E2-3C34-45FF-84B0-EC99E23182E5………and into Tsumago post town.77BD007F-0FF5-4E40-B038-02FAD199457167D15488-52CB-4EA3-A1D6-44F48C6B52BD

In 1841, during the Edo Period, Tsumago had a population of just 418 living in 83 households of which 31 were inns – testimony to its importance and prosperity as the forty-second of the sixty-nine post towns which connected Edo (present-day Tokyo) with Kyoto.

Tsumago fell into obscurity and poverty after the completion of the Chūō Main Line railway in 1889 which bypassed Tsumago. However, in 1968, foresighted local residents began an effort to restore historical sites and structures within the town and by 1971, some 20 houses had been restored, and a charter agreed to that stated no selling, hiring or destruction of properties should occur. In 1976, the town was designated by the Japanese government as a Nationally Designated Architectural Preservation Site. Despite its historical importance, Tsumago remains a fully inhabited and well functioning town with numerous businesses catering primarily for the tourists who have put it back on the map.

A surprising find comes in the form of the camp fashions of Jun Obara, (seen here with the Intrepids)…….F2077160-06F7-4874-88BE-FFE5A394B1AB14C92B1E-BF44-473A-8384-D1C0F8B94E08……..an eccentric fashion designer who grew up and runs his shop in Tsumago. He’s cagey about letting us touch his fabrics, which don’t come cheap at shirts that start at ¥40,000 and jackets at ¥80,000. Obara designs the fabrics himself – all of which use sashiko, a running stitch technique used in the Edo Period to strengthen or repair indigo-dyed work clothes.

The town also yields more persimmons in stages of drying and delicious chestnut ice cream.978E3E53-1598-4FC0-993F-BEB7F286A642Finally, the Intrepids hop onto the shuttle bus that takes us to the Hotel Fukinomori, a combination modern and traditional style ryokan located in the heart of Tsumago forest, for a welcome soak in the thermal hot spring onsen (both indoor and outdoor variety)……..C5671B98-7B74-4260-8B69-9D07951652B5……..before indulging further in another amazing meal……..A87763F7-84A3-4FC4-B6B3-66712B44FA23……comprising of food grown and produced in the Kiso region, such as the renowned local Kiso Beef, hand kneaded soba noodles (made from buckwheat from the nearby Kaida Highland where we are headed next), fresh trout and horse intestine…….

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