Meoto Iwa

Follow the trail

The morning we set to head down south, the sky opened up and it was chucking down with rain. Leaving the rainy Tokyo and the intensity of the city behind, we took the Hikari Shinkansen down south to Nagoya where we transit to local JR lines. The cloud disappeared within 15 minutes into the ride. The sky was dark blue and it’s going to be a great day hiking.

1309Japan_DSC_5976x

It was very quiet Inside the Shinkasen. No one was actually talking , if they did they would have walked out between the carriages. It was so quiet I drifted in and out of my consciousness a few times. The landscape rushed by in high speed, and before I know it, we were in the middle of rice field.

1309Japan_DSC_5978x   1309Japan_DSC_5983x

1309Japan_DSC_5984x   1309Japan_DSC_5986x

Thanks to the JR rail pass, we were able to travel on the train (and JR buses) unlimited and it actually bring a great comfort to know that we can jump on to almost any train in case we miss the stop etc.)

I love the graphic on the back of the pass which is one of the Hokusai’s woodcut print work as part of the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series. The work was created around 1820, almost 200 years old. Yet, the style is so modern, it could have been recently made. My blurry snapshot from the iPhone probably does not do the work a justice.

IMG_5765x   1309Japan_DSC_5988x

We are heading to a small town called Magome. From Tokyo, we have to go to Nagoya, then change to a local train to Nakatsugawa. Then we have to catch a bus to Magome. From Magome we will hike along a trail to the village of Tsumago which is around 7km. The trail that connects the two villages together is a section of a much longer, ancient highway called Nakasendo (中山道). It is one of the five arteries that runs across the country linking Edo to Kyoto.

1309Japan_DSC_5989x   1309Japan_DSC_5991x

I have to admit that this time round, I am extremely unfit due to the lack of exercise extensively. I was already heavily panting just walking up the metro stairs. Seven kilometers with 30 Kilogram on my back would be out of question. Luckily there is a luggage forward service at Magome which can deliver your bag to the hotel. The catch is the service stops at 11:30am so if we miss this deadline, it’s going to be a torturous walk.

1309Japan_DSC_5992x   1309Japan_DSC_5996x

 

Waiting area signage for Bus no 3. that we need to take to Magome. There are a lot of graphics on signage and information leaflet that you don’t even need to understand stand Japanese to know where to go. I love it.

1309Japan_DSC_5998x   1309Japan_DSC_5999x   1309Japan_DSC_6000x

We arrived at the beautiful Magome village. It felt the time has stopped here. When we were in Shirakawago last year, the village has a similar feel eventhough it is complete a different style – historical, coherent and organise. How each town manages to develop over time while retaining its identity is intriguing.

1309Japan_DSC_6002x   1309Japan_DSC_6005x  1309Japan_DSC_6009x

A quick study of the trail map just to see where our accommodation is before we set off. The first half is all uphill. I’m looking forward for the latter part already.

1309Japan_DSC_6013x

1309Japan_DSC_6014x   1309Japan_DSC_6021x

Just a small message on the wall but it gives a very warm feeling to the visitor.1309Japan_DSC_6037x   1309Japan_DSC_6041x

 

Photo from the viewing point on the hill right outside Magome village. This mark the begining of this section of the trail.  Coming from big cities, it was an amazing feeling to know that we would have the whole mountain for ourselves. Suddenly you realise it is so quiet and peaceful contrasting to the big cities we have been.

1309Japan_MagomePanox

There are bear bells locating along the path every 500m or so.  A smaller version can be rented and carried with you to help keep the bear off the trail.

1309Japan_DSC_6051x

1309Japan_DSC_6052x

1309Japan_DSC_6054x

1309Japan_DSC_6131x

  1309Japan_DSC_6057x   1309Japan_DSC_6058x

Along the way, we came across houses, shrines, cypress forest,  bridges and waterfall. The change of scenery makes this walk really interesting. The time is just flew by. Though, We have been overtaken many times by groups old people. Oh well, we enjoyed the walk, that counts.

1309Japan_DSC_6070x   1309Japan_DSC_6072x   1309Japan_DSC_6073x

Jizos are regularly seen along the way as they are the protector of the traveller.

1309Japan_DSC_6082x  1309Japan_DSC_6083x  1309Japan_DSC_6085x

1309Japan_DSC_6103x   1309Japan_DSC_6086x  1309Japan_DSC_6093x  Nakasendox   1309Japan_DSC_6121x

When we arrived at the entrance of Otsumago, we reaslised we have already passed our accommodation. The trail continue for another 1km to Tsumago but we decided not to continue to the end  as it was already late in the evening ( and walking back would be a pain). So we decided to check in and chill out.

1309Japan_DSC_6129x

1309Japan_DSC_6124x

Our accommodation was a traditional house and it was amazingly beautiful. It’s called Minshuku Koshinzuka. An old lady came out to greet us and took us inside. The front room is the living room equipt with fire hearth and pot hook jizaikagi (自在鉤).

1309Japan_DSC_6218x

1309Japan_DSC_6152x

1309Japan_DSC_6133x

When we saw our room it was even more breathtaking. It has a view of the back mountain and there is a small stream right next to the house. You can hear the sound of  running water from your room. That’s lovely. I regret not staying here for longer but hey, we want to visit many places.

1309Japan_DSC_6150x

1309Japan_DSC_6144x

 The family that run the place were very nice and friendly. They do speak a little english and can explain to you where things are, what time is the dinner etc. We book this place through Koshinzuka own website. However, If you can’t speak Japanese and wish to stay here, they prefer you to fax your details. I think finding a fax machine is going to be more difficult than learning Japanese guys.

1309Japan_DSC_6148x

The stream is just behind the Koi pond, just visible from our balcony on the left.

1309Japan_DSC_6149x

1309Japan_DSC_6165x

  1309Japan_DSC_6156x

1309Japan_DSC_6143x

1309Japan_DSC_6159x   1309Japan_DSC_6163x    1309Japan_DSC_6166x   1309Japan_DSC_6167x

I have to add that the toilet doesn’t have any curtain or frost glass. So you have the world’s view and they have yours. Wicked.

1309Japan_DSC_6169x   1309Japan_DSC_6172x

After shower, it was time to chill out. There was no better place to do that than on the balcony while watching the sunset. I could fall asleep there after hot bath and a (kind of ) long walk.

1309Japan_DSC_6174x   1309Japan_DSC_6180x  1309Japan_DSC_6183x

The highlight of staying at a Ryokan or Minshuku like this is the food. You will get to eat to best home cooking with super fresh local ingredient, and quite possibly organic home grown. Here we have the interesting duo main dishes of Ayu fish sashimi and grilled.  I’ve been dying to eat the grill one since Shirakawago but this is amazing to have one cold/fresh and hot/salted versions together.

1309Japan_DSC_6186x

I have to say it is extremely fresh and extremely delicious. I didn’t know we can eat fresh water fish raw? Anyway, it must have been alive a few minutes ago. It was destroyed in a second, clean. The grilled one also suffer the same fate.

1309Japan_DSC_6187x   1309Japan_DSC_6188x

Just when you think you’ve finished, another two dishes arrived. One is the vegetable tempura. Now, I have eaten a lot of tempura but I can tell you this is one really good – crunchy but slightly chewy. Our host must have been perfecting the technique over years. I’d say they deserve Michelin stars.

Oh boy, if only camera can capture smell and taste.

1309Japan_DSC_6196x

1309Japan_DSC_6197x

After dinner our host came to entertain us telling stories and showed us photos, even sing a song. I love him, he was brilliant.

1309Japan_DSC_6204x   1309Japan_DSC_6219x

We decided to go for a quick walk outside, seems like a good idea at the time to walk to Tsumago. But as we went out, it was pitch black. Luckily, we have a keen guide who came rushing out of the shadow and led us the way. I don’t know his name but he is from Shiba. Here he is:

1309Japan_DSC_6233x   1309Japan_DSC_6235x   1309Japan_DSC_6241x

Back to our room, there was a guestbook to sign. I swear I have never seen any better guestbook than this one. People were making art pieces in here. How is it possible that some people manage to have watercolours and stamps in the mountain! I don’t understand.
Is there a competition for free stay to the best drawings?

1309Japan_DSC_6246x       1309Japan_DSC_6249x

After many days of early morning and late night, we slept like babies wrapped in warm duvets (I do want a Japanese duvet by the way). It was so comfortable we actually overslept and missed the breakfast time. When they knocked on our door to say the breakfast was ready we were still in bed.
Having flew out of futon and did the quickest morning dress up, we were at the table 5minutes later. Nobody would ever suspected anything – except my hair was going in different directions. …
My typical full on breakfast normally consist of brown liquid called coffee. Having the whole table full of food was just great but it did filled me up pretty quickly.

1309Japan_DSC_6252x   1309Japan_DSC_6255x

Our host explained to us a little more about the Jizaikagi, the pot hanging hook above the hearth (irori). It is quite a clever mechanical system. The rod (shown on the right side of the photo) can slide up and down allowing the height of the pot to be adjustable whether closer or away from the fire. The fish is used as a locking mechanism. By lifting the tail, you can unlock it. The fish shaped lock has more of a symbolic meanings and decorative. Fish connotes element of water and, by placing it above the fire, it is believed it can help to help suppress it and preventing fire accident which is a real treat to wooden houses. He also explained  fish also does not have eyelid, hence it will always keep their eyes open as a look out for burglar.

1309Japan_DSC_6257x  1309Japan_DSC_6259x   1309Japan_DSC_6263x   1309Japan_DSC_6264x

 

We were very lucky to have again a nice weather. Had it rain while we were in the mountain it would not be much for us to do. Ok, today we set out to finish the route that we didn’t do last night. That is to walk for another kilometer to Tsumago. The temperature was still cool and dry so should make it a very pleasant walk

 1309Japan_DSC_6273x

Here we meet again outside the house, Mr Shiba. I actually don’t know his name but I’m going to call him Shiro, even though he’s not all white. He was really friendly and always keen to go for a walk. He would ran out of his little house to greet us and walk along the road with us.

1309Japan_DSC_6267x   1309Japan_DSC_6270x

The rest of the trip was also amazing. I’ll let the photos do the talking.

1309Japan_DSC_6274x   1309Japan_DSC_6279x   1309Japan_DSC_6283x

The water is amazingly clear.  1309Japan_DSC_6287x

Finally, we arrived at Tsumago.   1309Japan_DSC_6289x

1309Japan_DSC_6301   1309Japan_DSC_6293x   1309Japan_DSC_6302x   1309Japan_DSC_6303x   1309Japan_DSC_6305x   1309Japan_DSC_6307x

The roof of houses around here uses wooden shingle. They are not a durable material and will decade very quickly in wet environment. Our host told us every two years or so, they have to change it. Unlike the Gassho style roof which require a full replacement of straws, the way they do it is quite ingenious. They would flip the shingle upside down and make use of the new wood on the underside as the roof top. Two years after, they would turn the shingle 180 degrees so the part under the overlapping shingles are then expose. This way they only need to replace the roof once in 8 years.

1309Japan_DSC_6308x

We took a bus back to the Minsuku to pick up our stuff. It was sad we had to leave but we have half an hour to kill so we decide to go and hang around the stream at the back.

Hey Shiro, wanna play.

1309Japan_DSC_6310x

Of course, you would.   1309Japan_DSC_6319x   1309Japan_DSC_6328x

1309Japan_DSC_6345x

After a bit of walk and the temperature has risen up, we wouldn’t miss the opportunity to dip our feet in the stream.

1309Japan_DSC_6334x

1309Japan_DSC_6336x

You can’t imagine how cold the water was, even in such hot weather. Numbing but nice all the same.

1309Japan_DSC_6339x

 

While waiting at the bus stop in front of the Minsuku, the lady who run Koshinzuka has just returned from outside. We chatted a bit, said good bye and continue waiting for the bus. The lady went inside to do her work. But just about a minute before the bus arrive, she came out again to keep us company and send us off. Things like this in Japan that I find it very nice and considerate of her that she didn’t want us to just leave without anyone to wave off. It doesn’t feel like we are just another customer. I will definitely coming back here one day.

Our train would leave from Nagiso to Nagoya then we transit to another train to Ise which takes the total of 3 hours. There are not a lot of regular train passing here so we have to catch this one at noon to get to Ise  before the sunset. Time for a quick lunch.

IMG_5894x

A Bento from nearby supermarket should do the trick nicely. I never get bored of drinking milk outside China though. It is becoming a ritual thing to do.

1309Japan_DSC_6350x

And the kashiwa (oak leave) mochi. 1309Japan_DSC_6357x   1309Japan_DSC_6359x

This is our train to Toba, stopping by Futaminoura Station.  1309Japan_DSC_6360x   1309Japan_DSC_6361x

By the time we arrived Futaminoura (二見浦), It was around 4:30 pm. The original plan was to leave Nagiso at 8am then we would arrive here at 11. Then, we would have the whole day to explore Ise and the coast. We stayed a little longer than expected but it is worth the trading for shorter time here. Our hotel is just a short walk from the station. It is the only one in the area.  The website was all in Japanese. What make it worse was that the text are images too. So we can’t just google translate it and I had to guess the answer and hope that it’s got through. Turns out there was no problem. Mint.

IMG_5920x   1309Japan_DSC_6365x

Where else could the road sign be so cute. 1309Japan_DSC_6366x   1309Japan_DSC_6367x   1309Japan_DSC_6372x

The reason we came here was to see the Meoto Iwa or the wedding rocks (and originally, the Ise shrine but we ran out of time). It is just a short distant any from the hotel. The wind started to pick up and the waves came crushing on the shore relentlessly. Though, the ocean sounds make me miss those scuba days where we would spend the whole week on the boat. I haven’t done that for three years now.

1309Japan_DSC_6378x   1309Japan_DSC_6382x

Meoto Iwa is just a short walk from our hotel. The sun is setting and it should be a beautiful evening to see this.

1309Japan_DSC_6401x   Meoto Iwa  Meoto Iwa

Normally I don’t use tripod because you have to carry it around – an additional weight to make you tired quicker. Also the quality of photos from D800 at high ISO is amazing. You can hardly notice any grains at  3200. At that setting you can pretty much shoot any scene with the brightness that your eyes can still see. However, when shooting landscape, I make an exception to use the Tripod because I would prefer to go for smaller aperture and longer exposure.

Meoto Iwa   Meoto Iwa

Meoto Iwa

A shrine nearby.

1309Japan_DSC_6494x   1309Japan_DSC_6497x   1309Japan_DSC_6499x   1309Japan_DSC_6502x

1309Japan_DSC_6508x  1309Japan_DSC_6509x

The city was very quiet. At 7pm, everything was shut and we can’t really find any place to eat. Though you can says there is nothing much there except the wedding rocks but this is crazy, no noodle stall or yakitori shop? Ise would have been a better place to stay if you are not bother about the landscape. Anyhow, we manage to find a convenient store and get our dinner from there.

1309Japan_DSC_6512x   1309Japan_DSC_6513x

My liquid dinner. Very green and low carb. Yes, I do need ice to chill my beer.

1309Japan_DSC_6517x

And the private bath.IMG_5967x   IMG_5972x

The next morning we set off at 7am. We have been sleeping late and waking up pretty early everyday since day 1 and I’m very sure it’s going to take a toll on us towards the end. The sun has just come up and it cast deep long shadows across the city as we were walking to the station. It’s was a perfect way to start your day and I wonder why I never get up this early normally. Then I remember in Shanghai, it’s always hazy with smog and fumes so you’ll never get to see this in the morning.

1309Japan_DSC_6526x   1309Japan_DSC_6527x   1309Japan_DSC_6531x   1309Japan_DSC_6532x

Today, we are heading to Kyoto and I can’t wait to be back there.

Waiting for the Shinkansen at Nagoya.

1309Japan_DSC_6537x   1309Japan_DSC_6539x

Part 3 to be continued.