Day 25 – Walking The Nakasendō, Japan – The beauty of not following the well-trodden path…
Today was the very first day in which we did not walk on the Nakasendo trail.
We did walk the whole way from Unuma to Gifu city, but not on the Nakasendo.
We started walking late, to let the early morning rain dry up.
The stretch of the Nakasendo in Unuma-juku has had extensive restoration and preservation work, completed just seven years ago.
They restored and repaired old buildings and homes, as well as the sake brewery which dominates one side of the old street.
They have buried power lines underground, and this row of buildings now looks very attractive, despite the fact that it is surrounded by modern houses.
As we walked along the street’s few blocks, we visited the beautiful renovated Honjin (high officials’ accommodation building) which was open to the public, and had a lovely interior and a nice but small garden.
From Unuma, we walked for a few kilometers on a very loud and busy road, full of chainstores, restaurants, oil change and tire shops, auto body shops, ubiquitous car dealerships, huge Karaoke and pachinko parlors, pet grooming salons, and other fixtures of the Japanese highway landscape.
There was a very narrow sidewalk for most of this walk, as nobody walks here; this is the service area of a busy town.
We were walking on the sewer and runoff drainage lines, with the traffic noise overbearing.
The trucks and cars which passed us by were splashing the remaining puddles of rain that had fallen the day before.
The day was sunny and hot, and the asphalt was steamy and smelly.
After an hour and a half, we stopped into a chain cafe and had coffee, tea and pancakes, not so much because we wanted to eat, but rather to escape the hot and busy road.
Then we started walking again toward Gifu City.
Modern day Route 21 has completely overwhelmed the 20 kilometer stretch of the Nakasendo between Unuma and Gifu City.
Very few traces of the original Nakasendo remain in this part of the route.
I also noticed that my mind was playing an old and boring record in my ear.
I had thoughts like:
“What a sad life and a waste of the glorious experience of being a powerful human being, just to open a pet grooming salon, washing the hair of poodles all day long….
Is this why and what we were put here on earth to do?
Groom the nails of dogs and cats?
Dress up in a suit and tie to spend all of our days selling cars, or cell phones, or shoes?
What are they doing with their lives?
Heck, what am I doing with my life…
All my life I wanted to “make it,” to become rich and wise, only to end up like a mendicant pilgrim, walking all day in the heat like an aimless creature…
What kind of millionaires are we?…
What is the use of being wealthy if you live like a homeless person?…
Roaming the ugliest part of towns, looking at empty vacant shops, in a rundown part of town…
But isn’t the whole process of the pilgrimage is to step out of your own definitions of your identity?
To not be rich or poor, a businessman or a retired, but just to step into the rhythm and flow of life and to just be….
Be who I am…
Not be defined by my relationships, affiliation, culture, race, wealth…..
Oh, look at these used cars…
I could buy one of those now, and we would be in Kyoto in no time…. Heck, I could buy the whole car dealership…
But what am I going to do with a car dealership in an ugly stretch of town between Unuma and Gifu….
I don’t want to live here and spend my days working in a car dealership….
What a stupid idea…
I can imagine a much better life for myself than this…
Besides, if I really wanted to get to Kyoto faster, I can take a train and be there in one hour, no need to buy a car or a car dealership….
Oh, what sad lives people are living…
The human experience is so sad…
People are getting sick and dying…
My beautiful mother believes she is aging, and thus it becomes her reality….
Her best friend, the beautiful and vivacious young Zehava is now in a nursing home….an old woman…
Oh, why have they grown old…..
Why don’t they listen to me when I tell everyone that we are powerful creators and that what we SAY and THINK has tremendous influence on us….
We must change our ways of thinking and stop growing old….
Growing old is such a sad, miserable and lonely process…
But is it possible not to grow old?
To stay beautiful and happy and grow stronger?…
I know that I am stronger physically, mentally and emotionally than I was as a young woman, but still….my hair is graying and my skin is not as supple as it once was….
But then again I do not eat so well when I travels so much…
Is it possible to get better and not to get old?
Oh, Buddha, where are you when I need your wisdom…
Why am I walking on this road?….
Where are we going….
We still have to walk four more hours on this road….”
In a moment of illumination, we decided to take a parallel route into Gifu, a road
that took us onto the main village street with wide sidewalks, less traffic, and trees planted all along it, providing a bit of shade to the overheated and delirious pilgrims we have become.
This road gave us a different glimpse into the area we were walking in.
No wonder that we saw closed businesses on the service road.
It wasn’t a place with good vibes to walk to, to have coffee or to shop.
The new places were opening in town or in small neighborhoods around the center, not on the busy service road.
We saw some lovely cafes and modern eateries, and finally stopped at a newly opened cafe for an afternoon tea.
How do you know in Japan that a place is newly opened?
Because the business is filled with potted orchids and flowers, that people have brought to the grand opening.
If you see a place with dozens of pots of orchids or other glorious flowers, the place has just opened.
Back on the main road, we decided to again take another route through the northern mountains, and to go directly to our hotel in Kawaramachi, a historic street on the Nagara River, famous for its cormorant fishing.
The road was not as flat as the Nakasendo, and we walked a bit longer, but it was nice to be surrounded by green mountains and not by trucks.
The river itself was wide and fast moving, and running very high on its banks, perhaps the result of the last two days of rain.
We walked along a narrow busy road that passed between the mountain that the Gifu castle was located on, and the river.
Finally we reached Gifu park with its quiet shrines, a beautiful and shaded Peace Park, and views of the Gifu Castle in the fading sunlight.
We began walking down Kawaramachi Street when we spotted a beautiful building, with warm lighting emanating from inside.
It turned out, to our delight, to be our hotel.
I was overwhelmed with joy that without knowing, we had booked such a nice, historic hotel in the most scenic part of town.
Every man working in the hotel was dressed in a black suit, while the women were dressed in kimonos or in black suits.
They made dinner reservations for us at a very good and bustling Italian restaurant in town.
That night, after a fabulous vegetarian Italian meal, I soaked in the hot spring pools.
I alternated, selecting between the white silky mineral bath, the clear and hot natural herb bath, the natural Nagara river hot springs, and the outdoor baths, thinking how beautiful life is….
If we had stayed walking on the Nakasendo today, I would have walked by Gifu thinking it is experiencing an economic downturn because of all the closed shops, and that it is a bit of a dump.
But taking another road, I got a new point of view about the place.
I got to see how beautiful the place truly is.
I got to see and stay in an elegant place on the river with many historic cormorant fishing boats.
I saw an exhibit of old photographs of how the area looked 150 years ago, with the fishermen wearing woven skirts and how they kept their Cormorant fishing birds in woven baskets, went fishing at night with lights, released the bird to catch fish, and then retrieved it from their beaks.
This small sweet fish is a famous regional delicacy in Kawaramachi, where we are staying.
With many blessings,
Tali and Jules
Day 25 – Stats:
Total walking time 7 hours
Active walking time 5 hours
Total steps: 29,179 steps
Daily Kilometers: 21.5 Kilometers
Total Kilometers walked up to date: 565 Kilometers
Accommodation: Hotel Juhachiro in Kawaramachi, by the Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara river and near the Gifu Castle.
It has traditional Japanese style rooms with private toilets and showers, as well as a great selection of indoor and outdoor hot spring baths.
It serves a good buffet breakfast.
Total elevation climbed 2,230 meters
Total descent 2,268 meters
Maximum Altitude reached 74 meters
Stations Visited In Gifu Prefecture
52. Unuma-juku (Kakamigahara)
53. Kanō-juku (Gifu)