..that great peak in Kiso
Is freezing even in summer
We wish we could give it
Some warm clothing…
This story is about a highway built 400 year ago. A road connecting two powerful cities. Road which was the rejuvenation of Japan’s thousand years old highway system. Nakasendo (中山道) — Road though the central mountains. Another name is Kisodo– road through Kiso valley.
Edo Period from 1603 to 1868 was an era when many political and intellectual reforms took place. During this time the political power shifted from the emperor to Shogun (commander in chief). This was the time when Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world. Strict social order was maintained. Culture, art and literature flourished during such peaceful times.
Edo city which is today’s Tokyo became the capital. People used to travel hundreds of miles from old capital Kyoto to Edo. Japan is a mountainous country. Crossing all those mountains was a huge task; many people lost their lives. So it was decided to make this highway. 530 kilometers in those days. 69 stations were made in between. Travelers would rest, visit tea houses and gear up for the remaining trip.
Out of these 69 stations two are well preserved. Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku. These two stations connect modern day Gifu and Nagano prefecture. The well trodden trail is of 8 kilometers. Along the way you would see beautiful alpines, waterfalls.. simple old Japanese villages.. Rice fields etc.
We began our journey from Magome, place located 200km west of Tokyo. The beginning of the trail is a pleasant walk through forest. Road is made out of huge stones. I tripped once or twice, then started wondering how people in those days must be walking with wooden slippers when I can barely walk in my hiking boots. The rocks in few places are slippery. Otherwise its a lovely walk. On both sides you’ll notice ヒノキ or cypress trees. These trees were planted for castle building material. Cypress grows very slow so don’t judge them by their thin trunks most trees in this jungle are two to three hundred years old. Kiso valley cypress are protected nationally. Cypress live up to 2000 years so locals want the trees to grow that old.
After passing that forest we came to the Magome-juku. Many small tea houses on both sides. Here you’ll get to experience the creativity and sense of beauty of Japanese minds. All the old tea houses are now turned into restaurants and souvenir shops but the outer appearance is deliberately matched with the tea houses during Edo. It took us a minute to recognize the tourist center. It was completely camouflaged! Appreciating the beauty of those homes we had few chestnuts and bought tangerines.
As we said good bye to Magome; rice paddies welcomed us and at a distance noticed few blue hills. And rising above all those hills was Mt Ena. This 2200 m mountain is very handsome. He gave us company for sometime. Before Nakasendo was made people used to cross Ena which sounds scary. As even in the mid of May there was lot of snow left on top.
Now we were descending to Tsumago town. Again in forest. There were few statues of mountain gods. Some of them resembled Hindu gods so much! After a while we saw two stunning waterfalls.
Reaching Tsumago was refreshing. I am lucky to visit these towns in spring. Got to see so many flowers. An old house looked so warm. We entered; the volunteer had prepared green tea. He told us the brief history of that house. He was wearing traditional clothes. Tea and sweets were for free. If you wish to experience the real お持て成し hospitality of Japanese people don’t visit the cities.
It was noon so had some buckwheat noodles with mountain veggies. And Goheimochi- specialty of this area. Rice dipped in walnut and sesame dressing.
We took about 5 hours to complete this hike. We were really slow compared to the people in Edo. Apparently they used to walk 30 km per day starting from 4 am to 3 pm.
On my way back to Tokyo, I was thinking about the smiling people of Kiso. The handpicked chestnuts from Kiso hills. The rice paddies and flowers everywhere. That patch of Japan seems like it has traveled through time.
Hope you enjoyed my story. For more, visit my blog once in a while and leave a comment to encourage me for writing more