Armed with our overnight backpacks we left Tokyo by rail on Tuesday morning. For lunch we ate fried grasshoppers, bee larvae and soba noodles accompanied by local wine and then continued our train journey to the Kiso Valley in central Honshu and the first postal town Kiso-Hirasawa. Kiyo had kindly organised for us to see how lacquer ware is made, for which this town is famous. The sap from the Urushi tree is applied in many coats to wood which eventually gives it the particular lacquer shine. We watched it! The process takes a long time, the workshop smells of the sap. It really made me respect the workmanship. Having bought some nice lacquer ware we started walking in heavy snow. Thankfully we soon reached Narai where we stayed overnight in a family run minshuku guesthouse called Iseya established in 1818. Narai is a beautiful little town with a very long Main Street. They have also hidden their electric wiring which is usually very visible in Japan.
The next morning was extraordinary – blue sky, 15cm fresh snow just magical! Before we started on our walk across the Torii Pass we looked at a pretty 30m long bridge made entirely of Hinoki Cypress, Kiso Ohashi, which crosses the Narai river. Then we visited the Nakamura house which was once owned by a wealthy Edo comb merchant in Narai.
In the Edo period walking across the Torii pass (1197m) was thought to be arduous, thankfully we managed fine despite ankle deep fresh snow. The Torii pass is a dividing range as the Narai river in the north flows into the Sea of Japan and the Kiso river on the other side feeds into the Pacific Ocean.
From the top you can see Mt. Ontake in good weather. The story is that Kiso Yoshinaka (1154-1184), who worshiped Mt. Ontake, prayed for victory in battle at the top of the pass and when he won build the Torii gate shrine. Crossing the pass in fresh snow was special. As we descended towards Yabuhara the snow had almost disappeared. Kiyo took us to a little shop where an elderly couple were still making their own beautiful wooden combs.
The Nakasendo trail then becomes a major road so we took a train from Yabuhara to Kiso- Fukushima where we stayed in a lovely ryokan, Komanoyu, with its own Onsen and a view of Mt. Ontake. Kiyo treated us to a performance of Japanese dancing. The next morning some wild Macaques ran across the road.
More later xxF