Walking the Nakesendo Way.

Day 12, November 14th, 2018.

Tsuruya Inn in the town of Karuizawa is a curious mixture of Japanese and olde worlde English – the decor is comfortable although a little perplexing, particularly in our rooms.  Here drapes cover the low table providing for potential trip traps. Later, Brunyfire discovers these are called kotatsu, which comprise a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon. Underneath the table is a heat source, formerly a charcoal brazier but now an electrical unit which is often built into the underside of the table itself.A8DC9D24-68CF-4F62-AD37-4A7BE9DF38DC But best of all, breakfast comprises a more European style buffet, and the Intrepids fall on the toast and jam with gusto before heading out to explore Karuizawa town and before taking off for the last section of the Nakesendo walk. Despite its rather old fashioned charm with the occasional interesting detail, the gardens of the inn were a pleasant contrast to its somewhat stuffy interior.90070637-4701-4FB9-A5EF-13E99776D5DA1D29C45F-3923-4DC4-9FBD-7F8AD3C20AF8

The last of Hiroshige’s woodblock prints relates to Karuizawa, which was once a major town on the Nakesendo with numerous accommodation options as well as the hundreds of meshimori (rice heaping women) who served food and ‘hospitality’ at a price. 

At an elevation of 1000m Karuizawa is better known nowadays as a lover’s trysting getaway – cool in summer and only 150km from Tokyo, it’s an ideal spot for many a summer house, including that of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Apparently, Lennon had a favourite bakery that he used to cycle to…….57B16CDF-4E50-4B1B-B498-E2CD87588AD1F1C25C08-98CC-4044-8248-6F05B2951CF9We however, ended up buying our lunch at the competing baker across the road and heading off up towards the Usui pass towards our final train connection from Yokokawa station to Tokyo. DF64F465-2DE6-4081-909F-5CEAB2D090E0Today is a gentle hike up through native forest, at the top of which is a small hamlet and shrine, we set off with renewed vigour…….EDC783C3-FCD8-4F4D-AD7E-24A8DFF5D753….and make it to the pass by mid morning, stopping just long enough for a quick snack and photo op with a range of mountains in the distance. 4F2268F8-908C-42E8-A761-2C454CD89768Heading on, it’s down hill all the way, once again, going from the cushioned paths of fallen autumn leaves, to rocky ravines that seemed to go on for ever, narrow stone steps, to finish off with miles of ashphalt.E0AE1AB8-AC47-4877-A308-64612E0B276D We seem to walk for miles alongside the old Usui Line, Japan’s first rack-and-pinion railway that connected Karuizawa and Yokokawa until 1997. We pass under an overpass, indication that we’re leaving the tranquility of the countryside and diving back into the fast moving pace of the big city.938C4E30-157B-49E2-A700-5F60D8E27E97We stagger gratefully into Yokokawa station and purchase our tickets for Takasaki and then hobble over to a local cafe where Brunyfire notes people eating the famed Kama-meshi, or rice bowl topped with various local treats including mountain vegetable, chicken, boiled qual’s egg and dried apricot.3638E7F7-8F37-48D6-B01A-769251A16D2B This was traditionally steamed in a clay pot and purchased by travellers going up the Usui pass but is now served to train commuters. Brunyfire was eager to get hold of an empty pot, and dashed back to a craft centre back the way we had just come to purchase one. Finally, a short ride to Takasaki and then a transfer to the Shinkansen…….84376234-D0A9-4E12-A3C3-4EDFB6F2924C…….which whisked us into the heart of Tokyo.55482EA8-CABB-4E2D-B65F-1274F9A8F38C

Otsukaresama deshita or well done – even if we do say so ourselves.

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