To Fei - and all who helped make this such a...
Aug 26 - Aug 31, 2023
To Fei - and all who helped make this such an enjoyable trip with so many memories to keep. (Sorry if I am slow in sending in this review, and if there may be too much here to read.)
Day 1: This was a long day, taking the train early in the morning from Tokyo to Nagoya and then on to Nakatsugawa, followed by bus to Magome. But the walk from Magome to Tsumago was as marvelous as I had heard it would be. Shade on the trail was welcome, and part of the way through I met and joined up with a couple from Japan. I took a leisurely near four hours for the walk, the trail was very well marked, and I arrived at my destination in good time for dinner at 6:00pm. Dinner and the ryokan accommodation were excellent, as indeed they were at the end of each day’s hike. As a result of this exposure I gained a much better appreciation for Japanese cuisine, and how much variation it has - ‘very welcome indeed.
Day 2: The links to maps and timetables in Fei’s detailed itinerary were very good, and gave me the confidence I needed traveling on my own, but I had not been good at downloading them onto my phone in a format that I could use offline, which I anticipated needing when out of cell phone contact on the trail. So, I walked in to Tsumago and enjoyed looking around, then took a slow walk into Nagiso away from the roads along part of the Nakasendo way - I had cell phone contact to do this.
I had picked up a map at the tourist information office in Tsumago beforehand (“Let’s walk the south-Kiso road”) which had detailed maps of the trail sections from Magome to Tsumago and from Nagiso to Nojiri. I could have used this map, but a little tired from the first day and not sure that I could cover the distance to Nojiri in time, I spent a little longer in Nagiso then enjoyed the train ride into Kiso-Fukushima instead. I hope I might take the trail route to Nojiri another time. At Kiso-Fukushima I looked around, then visited the old Fukushima Nakasendo higway station and the Yamamura Daikan Yashiki Museum among other places
At the Kiso Mikawaya accommodation I really appreciated the onsen baths but, even better, I was lucky to have a room where I could hear the Kiso river as I went to sleep and woke up in the morning.
Day 3: I took the train early from Kiso-Fukushima to Yabuhara. At Kiso-Fukushima station I met two sisters, Janis and Joann, from Singapore, whom I had first met earlier while walking in Tsumago. Also at the station I met a couple, Kim and Wah Fong, from Australia who were originally from Singapore and who had stayed at the same ryokan in Tsumago. The sisters took the train on to Narai, and I joined the couple from Australia for the three of us to walk the trail from Yabuhara to Narai. This was probably the best hike of the trip - definitely one to remember, with many things to stop and see along the way. Kim had the trail directions on his phone, which was reassuring, but the trail was very well marked.
The accommodation at Narai was really quite up-market, and the evening’s dinner was perhaps the best of the trip, although that is a difficult choice to make because it was all so good.
Day 4: After looking at the train times, I decided to take the train from Narai through to Matsumato, instead of walking to Kiso-Hirasawa first. I met the two sisters again at Narai station and we travelled, found coffee in Matsumoto, and then went on a guided tour of Matsumoto Castle together. The castle and grounds are well worth the visit, especially with a guided tour which was provide free by the local tourist’s office. The sisters had to leave the castle early to get back to Tokyo for that evening, but I stayed there enjoying the gardens for a while before going back to Matsumoto station - where I happened to meet Kim and Wah Fong again. We caught the same train on to Karuizawa, before going our separate ways to our accommodation. I was looking forward to the next day’s hike, and was lucky to be at a ryokan for the night that was away from the town and close to the beginning of the path. For each night’s stay the hotel staff were outstanding, helpful and welcoming, but perhaps especially so here. The onsen baths and dinner rounded out another great day.
Day 5: I felt that the planned hike from Karuizawa to Yokokawa was on the long side for me to be certain of being back in Tokyo in time for the evening, where I had to cross the city to retrieve my carry-on luggage. Also, it was the first part of the hike, up to the Usui Pass and Kumano Kotai Jinja that looked the most interesting, and it was indeed beautiful. The trail was paved road all the way but was quiet and winded past waterfalls before giving way to magnificent views from the top of the pass. This choice also meant that I could leave both my small backpack and carryall at the ryokan, instead of taking them on the trail. I took the hike at a leisurely pace before returning to Karuizawa station to take the Shinkansen to Tokyo. I had not been in the Shibuya neighborhood before, and it was a very lively place to spend the night.
Day 6: After walking around Shibuya for a while and enjoying some air conditioning at Miyashita Park, I went to Haneda airport on the subway. Although there had been opportunities to see Mount Fuji earlier at times on the three week trip, it had eluded me each time, being obscured by clouds. However my wish to see it came true from the comfort of the window seat I had, just after the flight took off, with the top of Mount Fuji clearly visible some seventy miles away above the clouds as the sun was beginning to set.
Two things I would do differently on the trail next time around, that are definitely on me and not you. I would go in the spring or autumn, instead of August, when I knew the weather was likely to be hot and humid. But I did not have much choice in the timing because this was a side trip arranged around a trip to Japan for my job. Also, I would either take less with me on the trail or take a slightly larger backpack. I took the 10 liter backpack that I usually carry on trips, but I took more clothing than I needed, and that had to go in a separate carryall bag, which was about another 10 liters. If I had known or planned better, the 10 liter backpack would just about be big enough, although a 15 liter pack would be better. I had left my main carry-on bag in the Tsukiji district of Tokyo before going on the trail, and used the local luggage-forwarding services on the trail when I could, but it was not practicable to do this every day, especially on the first and last days of the trail.
Thank you, sincerely.