Day 13: The Nakasendo by train: 10th May 2017

As I said, this is the old walking trail from Kyoto to Tokyo. However some parts of it have more or less disappeared under the roadway. This means we might have hadtowalkon theroadsif we wanted to continue on the Nakasendo. We do not like walking on roads. Other than the part we have just completed it was extremely difficult to get any information about where it is possible to stay along the way. If we had got the book, we now have, earlier we would have made different plans and walked more along this ancient way. More about this book later.

We rose in our splendid hotel and had breakfast. There was a huge choice of both Japanese and European food. We were not sure where we would lunch so we ‘laid our ears back’. The shuttle bus took us to Nagiso station from where we would travel along the Nakasendo trail. There was a couple of foreigners, four, as the lovely JR lady rep told me! She took a piece of scrap paper and made a small drawing of what we sould look out for along the train trip. We met a young Japanese firefighter while we were waiting. His English was quite good. He had learned it from the Internet. Unlike many Japanese, in the hospitality sector, he understood as well as spoke some English.

The trip by train was along the Kiso valley. At places it is quite narrow and in others it is wide. The mountains rise up on either side, some deep green and then a lighter green plantation blocks. These mountains have obviously been planted with trees a long time ago. The dark trees were either cedar or pine. I am not sure what the light green trees were. Because today the sun has not come out this dark green is reflected in the river. Each of the three foreign couples was clutching a piece of paper, similar to our own, on which the JR lady had marked something they should look out for. It turned out to be a massive rock formation in the river.

The trip took about 1.5hr and we arrived at our stop – Kiso Fukischima. Our accommodation here was the cheapest on our whole trip. So it was with some trepidation we asked at the tourist office where it was. The staff in these rural tourist offices are extremely polite and helpful. We found a café where it warned patrons about exactly how many minutes the preparation of a cup of coffee, would take. Having got our cup of coffee in the exact time predicted, we headed off with our backpacks for the 15 minute hike. At the point on the map where the tourist lady had marked our accommodation there stood a building that looked like it had not been ‘lived in’ for many years…. Since this night’s accommodation was so reasonable we were prepared to expect anything.

I left Barry at this spot with the bags and retraced our steps. Phew! Our place of rest was quite posh but did not announce itself too loudly. It looked like an apartment block. I had to sneak into the lobby and see the password for the wifi which was the Royokanl name we had. Back up to collect Barry and bags. We rang the service bell but it was too early to check in. They took our bags and off we set to explore the ancient forest up the mountain opposite our accommodation.

Since it had rained on and off all night it was quite wet under foot. The ascending path was very steep. We had got a map from the tourist office but soon realised that it was high on artistic quality but very low on fact. Eventually we came to a spot with a signpost showing an easy way back down. So having had our picnic and taken in the view way below we set off back down.

Just a word about warning about information Japanese pamphlets. One would never put a foot outside the door if you were to heed them. We were to be aware of all sorts of poisonous snakes, biting bugs and wild animals. All we saw was a squirrel that was neither grey nor chestnut coloured but a dull brownish green! I did get a fleeting glance of a brightly colored bird. Other that these few animals our trip was sadly wildlife free. As always on these trips there is so little time to get a good handle on the flora and fauna. 

Now, the book… the restaurant where we ate last night was a bit strange. It was run by a man who seemed to be alone as there was nobody else about to serve tables or take orders. So, when he was in the kitchen one just stood and waited watching him through the big kitchen window! It was a fairly long wait… While we were waiting I found the book. It is the most comprehensive description of the Nakasendo we have ever seen, with a trace of the route in enormous detail and notes in English and Japanese. If we had had it before we started we would have walked more of the trail. The irony is, Kiso Tourist Federation produces the book, but, to our knowledge, it was not available in any of thetouristofficeswevisited!!This is a slight kink in the normally comprehensive Japanese organisation.

Our Ryokan has a wonderful onzen (hot bath). After our walk we both made our way to our male or female hot bath. These are such a wonderful experience after a walk. After a half an hour’s soak we decided to do our washing in the washing machine. There was a dryer too so we were confident we could get it dried. This was a false hope as the drying machine seemed to be permanently fixed on cool!!! Now we have a mountain of wet washing draped around our room. Staff seemed to disappear from view as soon as they had dealt with you so we did nto want to recall them with the bell. But the drinks machine dispensed lovely cold beers.

Dinner was taken in the above restaurant, the only one that was open. It was simple fare but delicious and the draft beer was great…