In the steps of feu­dal trav­ellers

Trac­ing their foot­steps dur­ing the Edo pe­riod, walks 8km along the Nakasendo

New Straits Times - - Jom! -

THE throng of visi­tors thins as I tread up the stone path that tore through the heart of Magome. The sun is bright, the skies clear but the air is a bit chilly as the town is at an el­e­va­tion. Yet, that doesn’t de­ter visi­tors from flock­ing to tra­di­tional wooden shop houses pre­served in their orig­i­nal forms from the 17th cen­tury, mar­vel­ling at the sim­ple, yet care­fully con­structed ar­chi­tec­ture that have with­stood the test of time.

I ar­rive at Magome, lo­cated deep in the moun­tains of Gifu in cen­tral Ja­pan, two hours from the city of Nagoya. This idyl­lic lit­tle town, sur­rounded by ter­raced paddy fields and dots of houses, is fairly well-con­nected to the net­work of pub­lic trans­porta­tion de­spite be­ing the gate­way to the Nakasendo.

Nakasendo, as aptly de­scribed by its three-char­ac­ter kanji, is lit­er­ally “cen­tral/ in­ner moun­tain road”.

Dur­ing the Edo pe­riod (1603-1868), it was a high-traf­fic “high­way” fre­quented by trav­ellers mak­ing trips between Edo (now Tokyo), where the Toku­gawa shogu­nate resided, and Ky­oto, the seat of the em­peror. Most of them were bands of samu­rai, loyal to the shogun but sub­jected to the un­matched prow­ess of the em­peror.

Th­ese an­cient trav­ellers went on foot and on an­i­mals, need­ing shel­ter along the way. This gave rise to “juku” or post towns, where trav­ellers were as­sured of re­plen­ish­ment for their weary selves at no-frills tra­di­tional inns called min­shuku.

Magome in the Gifu Pre­fec­ture is one of the 69 post towns along the Nakasendo. To­day, I’m not here just to have a glimpse of the mem­ory lane. In­stead, I am go­ing to walk all the way to the next post town 8km away in neigh­bour­ing Nagano Pre­fec­ture on a sec­tion of the high­way known as the Kiso Val­ley.

There­fore, af­ter a leisurely walk to savour the am­bi­ence of the town, I break away from the crowd to fol­low the well­marked trail point­ing to­wards Tsumago, which I hope to ar­rive at in two hours or so.

SEREN­ITY

The serene quiet­ness past the kot­suba — an old wooden no­tice­board on which laws and edicts were etched — at the start of the trail comes as a shock, but thank­fully, I meet an Amer­i­can cou­ple ar­riv­ing from Tsumago. They as­sure me that I am on the right track, thus with a new­found con­fi­dence, I cross the road that takes me into the for­est.

A cop­per bell greets my en­trance into the wilder­ness, a timely re­minder that while the trail is well trod­den by hu­mans, it is still home to oth­ers. Trav­ellers are ad­vised to ring the bells placed along the route to “an­nounce” your pres­ence to the bears. It is also rec­om­mended that a small bell is car­ried along, but this morn­ing, I just give the metal chain at­tached to the bell a strong shake.

It is just af­ter win­ter, so the trees are bar­ren still. Yet the rugged­ness of Ja­panese moun­tains of­fers a dif­fer­ent kind of scenery. Be­fore long, I come across a stretch lined by peb­ble tow­ers. The peb­bles are ir­reg­u­lar yet when rightly placed on top of the other, they form a per­fectly bal­anced stack.

There is a calm­ing, med­i­ta­tive ben­e­fit to this art re­lated to Zen, which can be re­flected as find­ing bal­ance in life. Un­for­tu­nately, I don’t have the chance to dwell more on

Stone steps lead­ing to the gate (torii) of a Shinto shrine en route to Tsumao; An old tea­house where trav­ellers are wel­come to stop by for tea and snacks by its gen­er­ous keeper. A very clear creek wel­comes trav­ellers ap­proach­ing the cen­tre of Tsumago­juku. From Nagoya, take the Ja­pan Rail­way Chuo Line to Nakat­sug­awa (fare: 1,320 yen, around RM50; du­ra­tion: one hour 15 min­utes). Then trans­fer to Ki­taena Bus to Magome (fare: 560 yen, du­ra­tion: 30 min­utes)

From Tsumago, take the bus to Nag­iso sta­tion (fare: 300 yen, du­ra­tion: 15 min­utes). Then trans­fer to Ja­pan Rail­way Shi­nano Line to Nagoya (fare: 3,160 yen, du­ra­tion: 65 min­utes) 1. Pick up a map of the trail from Magome Tourist In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre be­fore start­ing your walk.

2. A small bell can be rented at the cen­tre if you’re wor­ried about bears. How­ever, be as­sured that no re­cent sight­ings have been re­ported. The bell can be re­turned at the tourist in­for­ma­tion cen­tre in Tsumago.

3. Get lo­cal spe­cial­ties such as chest­nut dai­fuku (a type of Ja­panese sweet) as pro­vi­sion for your walk.

4. Wear a pair of proper walk­ing shoes, or even bet­ter, hik­ing boots.

5. Al­low two to three hours to

com­plete the walk.

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