Saturday, August 23, 2008

Blogging, Summer Vacation and Kiso Valley

August 23rd

I haven't been blogging very much. I'm feeling very inspired after my summer vacation. Some of you may or may not know that we are staying a fourth year in Himeji. We are super happy about it, and that means you have another year to visit us in the land of the rising sun.

I love summers in Japan. My schedule is very relaxed, it's really nice to go out at night, it's great to toodle around on my bike, life feels easy and fun. Even though it has been a great summer in Himeji, it still feels good to get out of town.

The past couple of summers, we've traveled to other countries. This year, we decided to see some of Japan. I've been wanting to visit the Chubu area of Japan (Gifu and Nagano Prefectures) for a long time. It's famous for its beautiful landscapes, untouched rural areas, traditional Japanese architecture, excellent hiking and camping, the "Japan Alps" and hot springs.

August 9th

Before my dad became ill, he often encouraged us to visit Kiso Valley. He had very fond memories of a trip he made with my mom in the 1970s. It is where one of the "old edo roads" is located, the 500km long "Nakasendo" (path through the mountains). It's the road that people used to walk from Kyoto to Tokyo. The Nakasendo was built parallel to the more famous Tokaido road which was next to the sea. Because of restrictions by the shogunate, travelers were almost always forced to make the trip on foot. As a result "post towns" developed every few kilometers to provide travelers places to rest and eat during their long journey. There were 69 stations or post towns along the Nakasendo.

We made our way to a small "post town" called Magome. It's in the mountains and was the starting point for a three hour hike to the next "post town", Tsumago. We hung out for a couple of hours in Magome and had lunch. We were also able to mail our bags to the next town, so we could enjoy the 7 kilometer hike to Tsumago. Both towns have closed their streets from traffic, have building restrictions, hide their electrical power lines, are protected by the government and are well-preserved.

I was a little worried at the beginning of the hike, because it was mostly uphill and the sun was unrelentingly beating down on us. The first 30 minutes we were exposed to the sun, but then the path started meandering into the woods, through small towns and by crystal clear, ice cold rivers.

As we were walking, we came to a hamlet with maybe 3 or 4 houses along the road. One of the houses had vegetables cooling in a bin with ice cold river water running over it. There were actually a few cooling bins like this one in Magome and Tsumago. This particular bin had a sign over it saying how much to put in the can, along with some salt and a knife for a quick snack for weary travelers and neighbors.

We saw lots of roofs with big rocks on them just like the pictures above. It must have been the roofing technique of that time.
The hike was the perfect amount of time! After 3 hours of sweating and sun, we were so excited to make it to Tsumago. It was nicer than Magome. There were many souvenir shops and tourists in both towns, but Tsumago seemed untouched by modern times and so it had a more authentic feeling. As we walked through we could see craftsman making hats and wooden boxes and there were beautiful buildings.
We headed for minshuku Daikichi. After a bit of a rest, we went to the dining room to eat our already prepared, set dinner that was part of our accommodation.

Dinner was an adventure in and of itself....raw horse meat, which I had tried a couple of years ago and had sworn I would never eat again. It was actually delicious.

And to top off the experience, inago or crickets. I had to drink a lot of beer and take a mouthful of rice before I put one of these little critters in my mouth. It was sweet and crunchy. That's got to be one of the most difficult things I've ever eaten next to natto (fermented, rotten, gooey soybeans) raw horse and raw chicken. Julian mentioned that at least they were free-range and organic.

After dinner, we took a stroll through town. All of the tourists had left, so it was extremely quiet and peaceful with soft lighting. We came upon a local restaurant/bar and stopped in for a drink with some of the locals. We practiced our Japanese and found out that the crickets in this area of Japan are particularly fat and juicy! It was a great way to end our long journey.

The next day, we headed to be continued...

Here is a link to our photo album, 08 summer vacation.


Sara said...

I'm so happy you're blogging again - just in time for me to live vicariously through your journeys!!
Your trip sounds amazing - the photos are great! I would have loved to see those little towns with buried power lines ;-)

Lauren said...

Yeah! Love reading your blog and how great that it is linked to your facebook!