Takahara to Nonaka

Soaring hawks, big black butterflies, blooming roses (with scents to knock your socks off), splendid weather, melodious birdsong, gorgeous scenery and I made it to the next ryokan without perishing! According to my Fitbit, I walked 13.56 miles and climbed the equivalent of 233 flights of stairs, and my feet have not fallen off. All in all, I good day.

Blessings to those who sent encouragement – it truly made a difference in my outlook. Also, the path was a bit less ladder-y than the previous day, so that was helpful.

Here are some photos for you. Enjoy.

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Kumano Kodo: And So It Begins

I left Kyoto this morning for a train down the coast to the start of this ancient trail said to be spiritually cleansing; I could use some of that. I had lunch I’m 99% sure was vegetarian at a special place I discovered near the bus station in Kii-Tanabe. I stopped at the museum at the foot of the trail for water and to offer thanks I don’t have to dress like the mannequins depicting earlier pilgrims. I also offered thanks to the actual trail before starting, and I was off. The weather couldn’t be lovelier and the forest is lush and peaceful. The only thing is . . . the trail itself; it’s a gorgeous area – spring is bursting out all over – but the incline is a killer. I can walk all day and into the night on relatively even ground; this hours-of-steep climbing is an altogether different animal. And this is to go on for several days. My mind keeps vacillating between I can’t do this and I have to do this. Words of encouragement would be greatly appreciated.

The “path” is tricky to discern in some places, but there are helpful signs here and there. I see only a few other people; I practically have the place to myself.

When I arrive at my accommodations after the first leg, a resident hawk soars over the valley and mountains. The weather is spectacular. The floral scents are intoxicating. Even the frogs here are soothing. I can’t hear any human-made noise. It’s lovely. Heaven. I’m in heaven.

Here are today’s photos. Enjoy.

Yes, these are two shots of the “path.”

This is more pathy, but yikes. Most of the steps are way taller than your average step height.

A new style of bibs.

Live all you can, and don’t forget to send words of encouragement.

Mt. Kurama, and mount something else

Today’s train journeys took me on a day trip out of Kyoto to Mt. Kurama and its dozens of holy spots (and monuments to poets!) along the trail over the mountain, but it was a mere 18,000 steps and a skimpy 72 flights of stairs . . .

The walk was mostly calm and beautiful, just me and the birds and a few other hikers, until a group of shrieking American high school students came tramping up behind me. It was a combo group of them and an equal amount of Japanese students, who remained perfectly silent as they made their way through the forest. So different. And embarrassing.

Speaking of embarrassing . . . I had been noticing how nearly every window I’ve seen from a Japan train has been closed up tight with curtains, which has been very disappointing. However, that was overcompensated for today on a slow-moving local train with the unusual seating arrangement of facing straight out the windows. I scored one of those take-in-all-the-sights seats and was treated (?) to my first ever live show exhibitionists, right there, at eye level, standing on their porch, both facing the train, and, wait, were they smiling at us as they bounced away? Sorry I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo for you. I looked around at the other passengers, but no one reacted in any discernible way. But me, I still chuckle every time I think about it. What a trip.

Anyway, here are some other photos. Enjoy.

Live all you can. But maybe keep some things private?

Narai to Kyoto

Ha! So, the vision I’d had of Tokyo as a mad city turned out to be false last week; now I have been disabused of my vision of Kyoto as a verdant place of peaceful gardens. But more on Kyoto later.

Yesterday and last night I enjoyed two of the best travel experiences I have ever had. That May morning walk from Magome to Nagiso and then my stay at the 260-year-old ryokan in Narai were just stellar. The ryokan owner (ninth generation!) could not have been a more gracious host; I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in months on his futon and buckwheat pillow, even though I’d worried about sleeping in a room with so much history lurking in the corners; and the four-course vegan dinner (and then breakfast) he prepared for me was outstanding. Very sweet; very special. They will be hard to top.

But I had to leave lovely, ancient, preserved Narai for Kyoto; I got there on three very fast trains. So far, Kyoto appears to be just a noisy, traffic-infused, Asian-flavored city that worships commerce. I did find a vegan restaurant, but I’m not sure I’ll return.

Anyway, here are some photos, although my time in Japan up to now has been far richer than any photograph could portray.

I’ve been a Europhile for so long; I may have to rethink that notion.

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Magome to Nagiso and on

Before today’s walking journey, I want to tell about last night’s ryokan stay, which featured that special blend of travel joy of the new and fear of the same. The room was traditional – tatami mats and sliding ricepaper doors; the old building warren-like and creaky; the toilets shared, and one brushed one’s teeth practically in the middle of things. I also took my first onsen (hot communal bath), although thankfully no one joined me, because I was so worried about doing it wrong – there are so many rules! I had a fabulous dinner served at a low table shared with an older Japanese man in his yukata (robe) who spoke no English. I copied everything about how he ate, except for the burping. Throughout the night, I heard everything from snores to barking and the owner’s kids being kids, with some mystery noises throw in for that authentic Spirited Away effect. Breakfast was great, and I was out door after the appropriate bows. What a night.

I made my way forward on part of the Nakasendo way that passes through bamboo forests, past ancient hamlets and front doors, beside rivers and rice paddies, and all kinds of other surprising sights along the way (western art, high fashion tailors). It was such a beautiful morning – how lucky to be walking through Japan’s countryside in May!

The plan was to walk a few hours, catch a train, and then walk four more, but two things changed that: 1, pains started popping in spots hitherto pain free, and 2, the description of the path included the words ” hardest route” and “steep inclines” so I opted out of the second phase. My body has been a good friend all these years, so I decided not to push things.

I’m staying tonight in another ryokan in Narai, this one in continuous use since the Edo Period (1603 to 1868). It too is old and lovely. I shall report on its quirks and secrets tomorrow.

Here are some photos. Enjoy!

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Tsumago via Magome

After leaving Matsumoto via train this morning, and after charging up on the region’s soba, I walked part (about seven miles) of the Nakasendo Trail, beginning in the pretty, tiny town of Magome, As you can see from the photos, it was a lovely walk. I’m also adding a few fun signs, including the unmentioned-by-the-tour-company bear warnings! Oh, and one of my self-portraits and tonight’s room.

Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.

Live all you can. It's a mistake not to.

%d bloggers like this: