Day 20 – Walking The Nakasendō, Japan – From Nojiri to Midono, then to Tsumago and Magome, Along the Gaijin Highway

Day 20 – Walking The Nakasendō, Japan – From Nojiri to Midono, then to Tsumago and Magome, Along the Gaijin Highway

Last night, I had many dreams, most of which were confusing.
I woke up in the morning with a feeling that I should make sure to book the only rural guest house that I could find, along the stretch of the Nakasendo between Okute-cho and Mitake.

This area of the Nakasendo remains as it was hundreds of years ago, really remote and rural, with no train service.
There are no places to stay in Okute-cho, or farther, towards Mitake.

The option of walking from Ena to Mitake means a very long day of nearly 50 kilometers through a mountainous area, which would be too hard for us to do.

So while Jules was packing his things this morning, I went downstairs to ask the very friendly man at the front desk to call the inn in Hosokute to see if they had any availability.

The man was happy to help and called the inn, telling them he was calling from the Forest Spa Onsen in Nojiri.

They told him that they had no rooms available.
I asked if they knew of any other guesthouses nearby, but they said that there were no other guesthouses in the area, a fact that I already knew.

Whenever things do not work out for me, I trust that Spirit has another plan for me, perhaps an even better one.
So inwardly I asked my Spirit Guides for help.

The man at the front desk finished the phone call and apologized to me for not being able to secure a reservation.

I thanked him deeply for even trying.
By then, Jules had joined us and we paid our bill.
As we were paying, the phone rang.
It was the guesthouse in Hosokute again.
They had changed their minds and accepted our reservation.
We quickly made arrangements for dinner and breakfast to be included and I thanked my Spirit Guides, who NEVER fail to help me.
How it happens, I do not know, but I am grateful that they have always smoothed the way for me…

We had a good breakfast of miso soup, rice and pickles, two kinds of seaweed and green mountain ferns made in two ways, fresh hot tofu and tea.
We left untouched the chewy raw squid salad.

We started walking by 8:30 am out of the hotel in Nojiri.
We retraced our steps about three kilometers in the Atera Valley and joined the Nakasendo again.

As we climbed the hills to the first town, we saw a woodworker making small mechanical waterwheels in his garage.
He had made a small wooden man who was moving his hands forwards on a table, making Soba noodles by the rotation of the waterwheel.
It was really a wonderful piece of craft.

The day was sunny and hot and we were looking for a place to drink and rest, but the Nakasendo bypassed the town of Nagiso, so we kept on walking.

One of the benefits of walking pilgrimages is that you learn to control your urges and develop strong resilience.
You simply cannot drink exactly when you are thirsty, you cannot sit when your feet hurt, you cannot eat when you hungry, there is little you can do about the heat, or the weight of the pack on your back, and you cannot pee when you want, you have to wait until you pass a toilet or a forest.

in Midono, we did climb up to a Buddhist Temple, only to find it was full of people who we think were attending a Buddhist funeral ceremony.
We sat outside listening to the chanting, enjoying the cool shade of the very aesthetic temple garden.

We continued on, through the small post town of Midono, to Tsumago.

Along the way, we met a Japanese man who was walking the whole Nakasendo, but from Kyoto to Tokyo.
He was doing it in sections, walking whenever he had the time.
He told us that he had met many, many foreigners while walking from Magome to Tsumago post town.

We already knew that this section of the Nakasendo gets the most foreign tourists and day walkers.

The Nakasendo Highway in this section, is nicknamed “The Gaijin Highway,” or the Foreigners Highway.
Due to the tourists interest in these towns, Tsumago and Magome thrive today.

Unlike other post towns on the Nakasendo that have almost no inns left, Tsumago and Magome still have many thriving inns and guesthouses, as well as many small shops, museums, cafes, places to eat and small galleries.
It is delightful to see, and a great relief for a tired pilgrim.

Along our walk towards Tsumago, we passed by an old house that was converted into an art gallery, displaying large figurative clay sculptures of the human form.
They looked awesome.

Before we reached Tsumago, there was a very small mountain pass, called Kabutokannon, that is marked by a beautiful large Kannon stone sculpture.
The goddess of mercy stood there in the cool forest, with the largest wooden open trough I had seen yet, collecting water from a nearby mineral spring.

The center of Tsumago town looked like what I imagined the old Nakasendo looked like in the Edo-era days.
It is a bustling place with people shopping, dining, or resting in the shade.
Every place was open and vibrant with life.

There were places selling chestnut ice cream, and a small shop with a gentle and sweet man, who was selling steamed buns with different kinds of fillings.
We bought a steamed bun filled with chestnuts and one filled with vegetables.

We saw a funky shop of an eccentric fashion designer, who makes fashion-forward suits, pants and shirts from thick, colorful woven fiber that was used during the Edo period as a material for firefighters’ clothing.
It is a hardy fabric that will last a lifetime, and yet very attractive in its new application.
I really loved his funky fashion shop, although it looked a little out of place in an old traditional town.

At a small cafe and art gallery, we stopped to have refreshing ice coffee and ice cream.
It was a very hot day and I felt so delighted to take off my backpack and shoes and rest, sitting on the floor.
The cafe had a lovely design and it felt like a sanctuary.

The woman who owns the gallery and cafe is called Yasuko.
Her husband is an architect, and she told us that she was born nearby and her husband was born in Tsumago.

They bought the old shop from the family of an old man who had passed away.
They were not allowed to renovate the exterior of the shop, only the interior.
I complimented her for the beautiful job they have done.
It was a wonderful restoration job.
The place looked modern, yet timeless and classic.

We noticed that she had two beautiful wooden Kotos, in the corner of her shop.
Yasuko offered to play the Koto for us.
She put finger picks on her right hand and with both hands, she plucked the Koto to produce beautiful music that vibrated straight into my heart.

We asked Yasuko how long it took her to learn to play the Koto.
She laughed and said: “About fifty years!”

She told us that when she was in elementary school, she looked and acted like a tomboy.
He mother, who feared that she would never marry, suggested that she learn to play the Koto, the most feminine instrument in Japan that sounds a bit like an angelic harp.

She showed us the traditional music score, with circles and kanji as notes, which she has learned how to read.
Our conversation was a mixture of English and Japanese.
We spoke in Japanese to her, and she answered in English mixed with Japanese, trying to practice her English.

In the center of town, we ate grilled Gohei Mochi rice balls with nuts and miso sauce, which were very delicious.

But most of all, I really enjoyed seeing how well preserved the old buildings were, and how glorious they look when they are loved and used by both owners and customers.

The walk from Tsumago to Magome was straight uphill for about six or seven kilometers.
It was a scenic mountain pass with thick forests, farm houses and fields.

All along the road between Tsumago and Magome and through the mountain pass, we saw large groups of tourists.
There were large groups of French people, Scandinavian people, Spanish people, Israeli people, Australians, Americans and lots of individuals and couples walking this part of the scenic Nakasendo highway.

The walk up the Magome pass is much harder and longer when you are coming from the Tokyo side.
It is about a two hour climb up to the top of the pass, and then only 3 kilometers down to the town of Magome.

For those who walk from Magome to Tsumago, it is a 3 kilometer uphill and then about 6 kilometers down.

Before the top of the pass, there are some unique weeping cherry trees and a volunteer run old tea house.
The teahouse was closing when we arrived, so we continued on.
At the top of the pass, there is a small cafe where we sat to have iced coffee.

When we got to Magome, we had only a little time to see the place.
We decided that we would walk around the next morning.
Our accommodation for the night, the Magome Chaya, asked that we check in before 17:30.

The old Chaya (tea house inn) runs efficiently, a bit like a combination between a hostel and a Zen temple.
The bell rings at mealtimes, and the facilities include a guest kitchen, lounge, laundry, communal showers and toilets, and a restaurant across the street.

We did all of our laundry and hung it to dry.
Dinner was at 6PM sharp, and the woman who runs the guesthouse explained to the foreigners how to eat the horse-meat sashimi, how to eat the tempura and how to cook the clay pot dish on each table.
We asked not to eat any meat and they gracefully changed our menu.

She told us that she was from the Philippines.
Her sister had married a Japanese man who owns this Chaya Minshuku, and she had come over to help them.
She does not speak Japanese, although she seems to understand a bit.

All the guests at Magome Chaya that night were foreigners who had come to enjoy this beautifully restored old post town, and the neighboring towns.
The conversation was jubilant and I could hear their itineraries.
Some of them were walking around Tsumago and Magome, and others were taking buses and trains between the most beautiful old post towns along the Nakasendo like Narai and its surroundings.

It is easy to see why these beautiful towns are liked by so many foreigners.
They are historic rural towns with great design and aesthetics and with picturesque forest surrounding them, which offer day hikes and things to see, drink and eat.

It was a long day of walking in the heat, and it wasn’t long before our heads rested in the futons, that we drifted off to sleep.

With our love and warm hugs,
Tali and Jules

Day 20 – Stats:
Total walking time 8.5 hours
Active walking time 7 hours
Total steps: 37,235 steps
Daily Kilometers: 27 Kilometers
Total Kilometers walked up to date: 461.5 Kilometers

Accommodation: Magome Chaya in Magome.
An old tea house that has been an inn on the old Nakasendo from the Edo Period.
It has traditional Japanese style rooms with shared toilets and baths.
It serves good dinner and breakfast.

Total elevation climbed 2,264 meters
Total descent 2,152 meters
Maximum Altitude reached 784 meters

Station Towns visited in Nagano Prefecture:
40. Nojiri-juku (Okuwa, Kiso District)
41. Midono-juku (Nagiso, Kiso District)
42. Tsumago-juku (Nagiso, Kiso District)

Station Town visited in Gifu Prefecture:
43. Magome-juku (Nakatsugawa)

A Bit About the Stations Visited:

Midono-juku – #41 of the sixty-nine stations of the Nakasendō, as well as the ninth of eleven stations on the Kisoji.

Midono in 1841 had a population of 594, and 32 inns for travelers.
It was virtually indistinguishable from neighboring Tsumago in the Edo period, but today the disappearance of so many of the old buildings, as the result of a large fire in 1881, means that it does not attract anything like the number of tourists that Tsumago receives.

Tsumago-juku – #42
It has been fully restored and is now a popular tourist destination.
Prior to becoming part of the Nakasendō, Tsumago-juku was the tenth of eleven stations along the Kisoji, a minor trade route running through the Kiso Valley.
It was a relatively prosperous and cosmopolitan town, with an economy based on currency.
It fell into obscurity and poverty, after the completion of the Chūō Main Line railway, which bypassed Tsumago.

In 1968, local residents began an effort to restore historical sites and structures within the town.
By 1971, some 20 houses had been restored, and a charter was agreed to the effect that no place in Tsumago should be “sold, hired out, or destroyed”.

In 1976, the town was designated by the Japanese government as a Nationally Designated Architectural Preservation Site.
Today Tsumago is fully inhabited, though with tourist shops as the town’s main business.

Magome-juku – #43
It was also the last of eleven stations along the Kisoji.

The central feature of Magome is its restored row of houses along the former post road, which runs at a slope between the town’s low and high ends.

Most were built for common people in the mid-18th century, with shops and inns for travelers along the Nakasendō.
A quiet portion of the original highway between Tsumago and Magome has also been restored, which includes a mountain pass.
It is an extremely popular walk for both Japanese and international visitors.

Day 19 – Walking The Nakasendō, Japan – A Magical Landscape Of Waterfalls, Turquoise Water Ravines, and the Central Alps


Day 19 – Walking The Nakasendō, Japan – A Magical Landscape Of Waterfalls, Turquoise Water Ravines, and the Central Alps

It is a very good time of the year to walk the Kiso Valley right now.
The snow on the peaks of the mountains is melting, and clean water creeks are flowing into the Kiso River.

The river is moving fast and around its banks, all the cherry trees are blooming.
Some of the trees have multicolored blooms, ranging from white to pink, to variegated pink and finally to deep reds, all on the same tree.

Our hotel in Nezame is no more than fifty meters from the Nakasendo, and we started walking after a simple breakfast by 9:00am.

The sun was shining bright, giving the sky a deep blue color.
On the horizon, towering above the forests, we could see the snow covered mountain peaks of the central Japan Alps, looking like a smaller version of the grand Himalayan range.

We walked by a tall waterfall and a beautiful wide ravine with huge boulders.
The cleanliness and clarity of the river water with its beautiful blue-green color, was truly striking.

It was an easy scenic walk up and down hills.
At times, the old Nakasendo road climbed up above the flat highway and then down again on many small hills, only to lead us back to the flat highway.
But I didn’t mind the “unnecessary” climbs.
I would rather climb up and down all day than walk in the sun by the trucks speeding up and down the highway.

At the Suhara-Juku train station, we stopped to use the toilets and have an ice cream that we bought in a small shop near the Station.
It was the only open shop that we’d passed since the morning.

A Japanese man, who was also walking the Nakasendo, stopped to chat with us.
He said he was also walking the whole trail, although he was walking many more kilometers per day than us, perhaps intending to “save time.”

I do not know how some of these men can walk 40 or 50 Kilometers every day.
Some have even said that it took them a month to heal after walking the Nakasendo.
Why walk if you are so pressed for time?…
Walking is so very slow…
Time efficiency and walking are oxymorons.

Anyway, we have time.
We do not like to run.
We walk slowly, look around, taste and smell the river, talk to everyone we meet, smell and feel the tenderness of the flowers, and take in the clear mountain air…

We walked on quiet roads through the rural countryside, green and fertile with farmers working the black, fertile soil in their fields.

When we needed a rest, we stopped and just sat by the fields on the small road, to eat the oranges that we’d bought.

On one of the stretches when the Nakasendo paralleled the highway, we stopped at a rest area to have a lunch of Gohei Mochi.
It is a local specialty of the Kiso Valley, and it is very delicious.

It doesn’t look as good as it tastes.
It looks a bit like meatballs on a stick with a brown sauce, but Gohei Mochi are rice balls dipped in a sauce made from crushed walnuts and sesame seeds, mixed with some sweet miso paste, and then grilled over charcoal.
It is a real treat.

The friendly ladies who work at the rest area urged me to try their pickles and help ourselves to as much free green tea as we could drink.

These rest areas always include an indoor farmers market with local produce, as well as a selection of locally made jellies and jams, honey, miso, dry noodles, handicrafts, pickles, dry goods and food.

After our light lunch, we kept on walking.
The weather was beautiful all day, a bit cool early in the morning, but becoming quite warm as the day went on.

Most of the day, we walked along the beautiful Kiso River, with the wind blowing petals of white, pink and red Sakura on our heads.
I felt like a royal Indian princess, with Nature loving me and throwing flower petals on the path I walk on, to welcome me into the region.

Beside the Cherry blossoms, the magnolias are in full bloom, as well as the Camellias and the gardenias.
Some of the Camellias have more flowers than I have ever seen on a Camellia bush before.

The post towns that we visited today have spring water that runs down from the mountains.
The water is collected in a hollowed-out wooden log, and filled via a hollowed-out piece of bamboo.
The water is so clean and clear, that you can drink it unfiltered, which of course I did.
But Jules doesn’t trust his body as much as I do mine.
He bought his drinking water from the vending machine in town.

Towards the end of the day, we arrived at the post town of Nojiri.
We walked through the old town with its old buildings and narrow main street.
Almost at the end of the town, we were delighted to find a cafe, serving excellent drip coffee, that was open for business.

It was a hot day, and any opportunity to refresh ourselves with a cool drink while sitting down was a welcomed break from walking.

We were just finishing our coffees when a group of twelve Australian, American and British walkers came in, along with their guide.

They stood around the tiny cafe, trying to make themselves comfortable, use the tiny toilet and take off their backpacks.
Their guide had called to reserve their space before they came in.

We were ready to continue walking, so we gave them our seats and packed up our bags and paid our bill.
They chatted with us and seemed amazed that we were walking the whole Nakasendo.

They asked if we were doing a “self-guided” walk.
We explain that we were not.
In a way, we do guide ourselves, but it involves navigating the roads ourselves and making our own accommodation bookings.

They asked if we were camping, or how did we find places to stay, and did we send our big bags ahead to our accommodations.
We said we do not camp and we have no big bags.
Everything we brought, we carry in the bags on our backs.

They seemed amazed that we were carrying only small hiking packs.
I told them that even these backpacks are filled with more clothing than we really need.

It is true that we have in our backpacks more things than we actually need.
I wish we had brought less.
But with high tech hiking clothes costing so much, I do not have the heart to leave behind a long sleeve T-shirt that cost nearly $100, or other items that are expensive and not easy to replace.

I vowed to take much less on my next pilgrimage.
We really need so little.
Especially in Japan, where we were able to do laundry nearly every day.

We wished them a great adventure on their own walk, and we left to walk towards our hotel for the night.

We had booked the Forest Spa Onsen hotel outside of Nojiri, and even though they do have a shuttle bus pickup from the train station, we walked the extra three kilometers to the hotel.
We wanted to see the Atera valley, with its turquoise mineral waters.

The hotel gave us a spacious Japanese tatami mat room, and I soaked in the hot springs.
Jules told me that there were many men in the men’s bath.
I had no other women in the female hot springs bath.

We had booked our room with dinner and breakfast, as there are no places to eat dinner nearby.
The dinner was good, but included too much seafood for my taste.

I would rather eat only vegetables, rice, pickles, seaweed, tofu and miso soup, but when traveling, we have to be flexible because many guesthouses are not happy to accommodate these kinds of requests.

After dinner we sat in the lobby, the only place where there was internet, to check our emails and plan our route.
Although I no longer have blisters, my feet were throbbing.
Jules’s right foot is not a pretty sight.
He has torn dead skin from blisters that are healing.
It is surprising that it is only his right foot.
But he walks like a trooper, and with no limp.

The Nakasendo is longer than they say.
They say it is a journey of 540 Kilometers, but it is much longer than that.
We have walked to date 434 Kilometers, and we still have almost two more weeks to walk, before arriving in Kyoto.
I have not added to this total the sightseeing day we spent in Matsumoto, just the normal sightseeing that we did while walking the pilgrimage, visiting the post towns and enjoying the natural beauty along our trail.

Wishing you a world of good,
Tali and Jules

Day 19 – Stats:
Total walking time 7.5 hours
Active walking time 6.5 hours
Total steps: 34,490 steps
Daily Kilometers: 25 Kilometers
Total Kilometers walked to date: 434.5 Kilometers

Accommodation: Forerus Kiso Ateraso- an Onsen hotel in the forest near Nojiri.
The hotel is about two kilometers off the Nakasendo, but if you have no more energy to walk, they will pick you up from the Nojiri train station.
It has spacious Japanese style rooms, with a clean hot spring public bath.
It serves dinner and breakfast.

Total elevation climbed 1,655 meters
Total descent 1,896 meters
Maximum Altitude reached 746 meters

Station Towns visited in Nagano Prefecture:
38. Agematsu-juku (Agematsu, Kiso District)
39. Suhara-juku (Okuwa, Kiso District)
40. Nojiri-juku (Okuwa, Kiso District)

A Bit About the Stations Visited:

Suhara-juku – #39 of the sixty-nine stations of the Nakasendō, as well as the seventh of eleven stations on the Kisoji.
Of all of the post towns along the Kisoji, Suhara was the first one to be established, though originally at a different location.
After the town was washed away by a major flood in 1717, it was moved to its present location.

Suhara had a population of 748 in 1841, and 24 inns.
Today, it has many surviving Edo period buildings, many of them with water troughs in front for the benefit of travelers. 
Several are still operated as inns, and the town exudes a welcoming air of traditional hospitality.

Suhara has a railway station and is, therefore, prosperous without tourist traffic, but accessible to tourists at the same time.

Nojiri-juku – #40 of the sixty-nine stations of the Nakasendō, as well as the eighth of eleven stations on the Kisoji.
Nojiri-juku was the longest post town along the Kisoji, after Narai-juku. Because of all the turns in the road, though, it was often called “Nana-Mawari,” which means “seven turns.”
The turns were built into the road for defensive military purposes, to slow down the advance of any opposing soldiers.
There was a large fire in 1791, which destroyed much of the post town.

Day 18 – Walking The Nakasendō, Japan – Visiting The Beautiful Nezame-No-Toko Gorge, and The Legend of Tarō Urashima

Day 18 – Walking The Nakasendō, Japan – Visiting The Beautiful Nezame-No-Toko Gorge, and The Legend of Tarō Urashima

Today we planned a short day of walking.
We walked from Kiso-Fukushima to Agematsu, which is only 12 kilometers, but with added detours to see the sights in the area, the total came to 16 Kilometers.

The reason for the shorter day was logistical planning.
I was trying to space our walking days as evenly as I could, and I was choosing our daily route based on the availability of places to stay.

After a good breakfast, our hotel shuttle bus dropped us back at the Kiso Train Station, where we were picked up yesterday.

It had rained all night, and it was still raining when we started to walk this morning.
We were totally dressed for the rain.
Everything was covered and wrapped in plastic, we wore raincoats and rainpants, and we even walked with our umbrellas.

But it stopped raining within an hour of beginning our walk.
The day turned out to be lovely, sunny and warm at times.
No more rain for the rest of the day.

We had an easy, beautiful nature walk along the Kiso River.
At times the trail passed through small neighborhoods, and at times it joined or paralleled the highway.

When we split from the highway, the old road was quiet and beautiful.
We passed by the beautiful red Kakehashi Viaduct bridge.
Originally, this viaduct bridge was constructed of wood planks tied with vine ropes, that ran parallel to the cliffs above the Kiso River.

As we walked by the beautiful, clean and wide Kiso River, Jules told me that he felt that today was the most scenic walk of the Nakasendō so far.

This was especially so as we arrived in Agematsu, where the river turns into a stunning gorge, surrounded on both sides by tall, forested mountains.

The river itself has beautiful rock formations in it, which also make its rapids quick and exciting, with violently swirling water.
There were many waterfalls from higher up in the surrounding mountains running into the Kiso.

The rock formations at the Nezame No Toko gorge created some shapes that looked like faces.
It was almost as if the Spirit of the river had taken on a human form.
Over the years, the huge river rocks were bleached by the sun, carved by the rapids and molded and polished by the winds and the water.

The clouds painted beautiful kanji on the big canvas of the blue sky, and the flowing cherry trees enhanced the beauty of the natural scenery.

From mountain to mountain, the clouds looked like they were painted by a brush.
The river and trees glistened in the sun.

Right by the gorge there is an open air sculpture park, with a theme of “Time, Age and Immortality.”
There is a very large sundial, and arches made of stone.

The reason for the “Time, Age and Immortality” theme in this art park is because of the famous Japanese legend of “Tarö Urashima”.

We almost missed out on learning this story, except that we stopped to eat a late lunch at a soba restaurant that was founded in the year 1624.

It is called Echizen-Ya and it is located near our hotel, across from the Nezame gorge.

We ate a delicious lunch of Soba noodles and a delicious local Kiso speciality called Gohei Mochi, a grilled rice ball served with a sweet sesame and walnut sauce.

I noticed that in the restaurant, they had a very large, real taxidermy turtle.

I asked the friendly waitress about the turtle and about the restaurant.
First she confirmed that the restaurant indeed started as a Soba noodle shop in the year 1624, and then she said that the turtle is from the legend of Urashima Tarō.

Here is the legend of Urashima Tarō:

“A long, long time ago, in the small village of Agematsu, lived a young fisherman named Urashima Tarō.
Although he was a fine fisherman, he was mostly known for his kind heart.

One day, as he returned home, he noticed a group of kids who were tormenting a small turtle.

Urashima Tarō’s heart went out to the turtle.

“Children, that is such a fine turtle.
Why not help it back into the sea?”

The children laughed and continued to poke the poor turtle.

“If you will give me the turtle, I will give you all of the fish I caught today,” said Urashima Tarō.

The children looked at the large catch of fish and decided to sell the turtle.

The kindhearted fisherman then set the turtle free, into the waves.

Some days later, Urashima Tarō went again to fish.

“Urashima Tarō-San, Urashima Tarō-San.”
A strange voice called up from the water.

When he looked around, he saw a huge ancient turtle by his side.

“Urashima Tarō-San, I am the one you saved from the children,” said the turtle.
“As repayment for your kindness, I am here to take you into the presence of the king who lives beneath the sea.
I will carry you on my back, and although we must travel far, we will soon complete our journey.”

Urashima Tarō left his fishing line behind to climb on the back of the turtle.
They were gliding down, down, endlessly down.

As the light from the sky dimmed and disappeared, a new light glimmered ahead.
The turtle swam directly to the light.

At last they came to an opening in a wall of coral guarded by swordfish who stood aside for the turtle.

Once on the other side, the turtle said, “You can walk safely here.”

The fisherman dismounted, and to his amazement, he found that he was able to walk in this magical underwater world.

The turtle guided him down streets lined with coral flowers and gently swaying sea grasses.
Sea horses, dolphins, jellyfish, and crabs mingled in peace and harmony.

Soon they were at the door of a majestic palace.
The turtle and the fisherman knelt and bowed before the richly-robed king.

“Is this the fisherman who saved you?” asked the king.

The turtle nodded his head and replied, “Yes, Majesty.”

“Come, fisherman,” said the king. “We have prepared a great entertainment for you.”
The king turned to his right and introduced: “Here is my daughter.”

A beautiful young princess rose from the throne to the right of the king.
Her many kimonos blended the colors of all the fish of the coral reefs.
Her sleeves reached the tatami.
Her long hair was like black silk and it was crowned by beautiful flowers and jewels.
She bowed as she turned to Urashima Tarō.

Urashima Tarō rose and followed the princess.
Together they visited the sea creatures, both those the fisherman knew from home and others more wonderful than he had ever imagined.

Together the princess and the fisherman banqueted on delicacies brought from the seven seas and prepared by the best chefs.
Together they read from many beautifully illustrated old scrolls.

Every day lobsters and crabs played the Biwa and the Koto.
An octopus played the Taiko drums.
Dolphins, whales, and squid danced while tuna fanned the princess and her guest.
The sights, sounds, and tastes were beyond any the fisherman had ever experienced in his life above the waves.

He lost track of time as he listened to the soothing music, ate royal delicacies, and read the tales of the old ones from the sea.

One day he began to miss his home.
Although he tried to keep his spirits happy, the princess could read his thoughts.

The next day Urashima Tarō saw his old friend the turtle with the princess.
“It has been our pleasure to share our life with you here beneath the sea, but now, we understand that you wish to return to your own home.”

“Your Highness, you have been so kind to me. I do not want to appear ungrateful, but in your wisdom, you have guessed correctly.”

“We know your kind heart.
We understand your gratitude.
Now we have summoned the turtle to take you back to your home above the waves.
We have a gift for you.
It will bring you happiness.”

The princess held out a black lacquered box, beautifully made and decorated with the most precious art of the sea.
It was tied with an elegant red ribbon.
“As long as you own this chest and leave it closed, happiness will be yours.”

Urashima Tarō received the chest in both hands and bowed low.
“I shall guard it always as a remembrance of your kindness,” he said.

With that, he mounted the back of the turtle and began the return journey to his home above the waves.

In what seemed like no time at all, the fisherman found himself standing on the same shores where he had rescued the turtle.
The turtle bowed his head and slipped once again into the sea.

Urashima Tarō hurried to the village, anxious to share his adventures with his family.
But to his amazement, all was changed.
Search as he might, he could not find his home.
When he asked about his family, only the oldest men of the village knew of their family’s name.
They had all passed away now, but they knew some old stories of the fisherman and his parents.

Urashima Tarō built for himself a small hut on a high cliff in the gorge, and began to fish again.
He had no one with whom to share his stories, and sadness filled his heart.

Early one morning he took the chest that the princess gave him, to the edge of the gorge.
He thought of the beautiful princess and her enchanting world.

Perhaps, he thought, she has left me some happiness inside the box.
Ignoring her warning never to open the box, he opened the lid.

A puff of smoke escaped from the box, swirled around Urashima Tarō, and dispersed in the gentle breeze.

In that second, Tarō had aged back 300 years.
He looked down at his hands.
They were gnarled and deeply veined.
As he turned in sorrow to walk back to his hut, his steps were slow and halting.

Villagers who passed by had noticed an old man with very long white hair and white beard, making his unsteady way along the rocks.

It was Urashima Tarō who in his momentary sadness, gave in to his whims instead of being trusting and obedience, and thus had lost the protection of the dragon king, against the effects of Time…”

It is a story with a moral that runs deeper than the Japanese cultural belief that the search for individual happiness, is not as valuable and lasting as obedience to the rules of Nature and of the gods.
It is about not giving in to momentary sadness and discomforts, and trusting that the gods, wants your highest good and highest happiness.

After lunch, we took a long stairway down to river level, to see the Gorge.
By now, I was not even looking to drop off our backpacks at our hotel nearby, or with the friendly waitress at the Soba shop who no doubt would have agreed to keep our packs while we walked into the gorge.
After days of walking and climbing mountain passes, our backpacks had become unnoticeable to me.

That night we had a very delicious dinner at the Nezame Hotel, with many courses of fish and vegetables, including locally grown greens that were superb.
Jules took care of his badly blistered toe, and I was grateful that my feet had healed.

As we drifted off to sleep, I thought about time, aging and eternity….

I remembered recently that I was diving in Indonesia… photographing large turtles with a background of swaying seaweed and colorful coral…

Reality, stories, myths and legends…
They tend to blend and interchange…

Illusions and dreams….. what is real and what we are all dreaming… even now do I dream that we are walking the Nakasendo in the land of legends and dreams….

With love and sweet dreams,
Tali and Jules

Day 18 – Stats:
Total walking time 5.5 hours
Active walking time 4.5 hours
Total steps: 21,409 steps
Daily Kilometers: 16 Kilometers
Total Kilometers walked up to date: 419.5 Kilometers

Accommodation: Nezame Hotel in Agematsu, located across from the Nezamenotoko Gorge.
The hotel is on the busy route 19, which gives it the look of a motel, but it has spacious but simple western style rooms with a clean hot spring public bath.
It serves very good dinner and breakfast.

Total elevation climbed 1,325 meters
Total descent 1,375 meters
Maximum Altitude reached 792 meters

Station Towns visited in Nagano Prefecture:
37. Fukushima-juku (Kiso (town), Kiso District)
38. Agematsu-juku (Agematsu, Kiso District

A Bit About the Station Visited:

Agematsu-juku, #38 of the sixty-nine stations of the Nakasendō, as well as the sixth of eleven stations on the Kisoji.
It originally flourished as a logging town.

Agematsu was well-known in the Edo period for being the location of the office for the forest commissioners of the Kiso valley.
Rules regarding access to the valuable timber resources of the valley were very strict, and punishments were severe even for those caught trying to glean a little firewood without permission.
The town was quite large in 1841, with a population of just under fifteen hundred.

Agematsu also had the largest number of inns (35) of any town in the Kiso valley.
It remains an important service town in the valley today, with many modern shops clustered around the station.
Unlike neighboring Kiso-Fukushima, however, express trains do not stop here and so the potential for further growth is limited.