Sunday, 30 August 2009

I Have XXX Days, What Would You Recommend?

I have XXX days, what would you recommend?
So I've been asked, several times, by people who came across this blog, who wish to explore the Nakasendo but have no desire or opportunity to complete the entire route.

In my opinion, the Kiso Valley stretch (Shiojiri - Nakatsugawa) is easily the most scenic. The forbidding terrain saved the region from over-development. Craggy peaks, the cobalt blue Kiso River, quaint towns and ample tourist facilities (its a popular spot for domestic tourism), the region has plenty going for it. I took 2 days to cross the valley, though I would not recommend anyone do the same. Take your time, give it 3 to 4 days at least.

If you are really short on time, I would recommend Tsumago and Magome, at the Nakatsugawa-end of the valley, they are the two most well-preserved post stations along the Nakasendo. The 2-hour trek between the two is easy and a real joy. An easy day trip.

If walking is not your thing, you can visit the more interest towns and cities along or near the Nakasendo easily by rail. My personal favourites...

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

What's Next For This Foolhardy Goon?

The Nakasendo adventure is well and truly over.

For the past 7 months, my life revolved around the solo Nakasendo attempt. Training, equipping, researching, planning, eventually doing it, and putting all my observations, thoughts and feelings down in this blog. Now that I am done, I cannot help but feel a sense of loss. For 7 months I had a goal, an objective, something that engages my mind, my body, my entire being.

What now?

Plan yet another adventure of course.

On my mind...
  1. Laos - Intent to do this with my wife this Christmas. Bangkok to Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and back to Bangkok by trains, buses and boats.
  2. Seoul to Busan on foot - Another long walk. Intent to do this next Spring. This time I want my wife to join me.
  3. Cairo to Cape Town - From Cairo in Egypt to Cape Town in South Africa by any means but flying. Intend to do this end-2010 or early-2011. Probably the most dangerous and physically demanding trip I will ever undertake, I am at two minds now on whether its a good idea for my wife to join me. I love having her with me of course, but I don't like putting her though excessive hardships.
Follow our adventures here.

Walking The Nakasendo - The Video

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Was It Worth It?

A hundred times yes.

Worth all the sweat, time and expense. One of the best things I had done with myself in a long long time.

If its anything that 3 weeks in Japan had left me, its a new and profound respect for the Japanese people. The kindness I experienced, from total strangers, will always stay with me. Coming from Singapore, even the smallest gesture was a surprise and a breath of fresh air. Living in Singapore, where our humanity seemed to be lost to pragmatism and self-interest, I had grown cynical, I had grown to accept that "kindness" is just a dictionary entry. Coming into contact with a people thats civil and unreservedly kind, I felt more human that 3 weeks than I ever do in Singapore, where everything comes down to "What good is it to me?"

It wasn't any of the scenery, the historical relics, the bright cities or fabulous cuisine that left the deepest impression. It was the people. Which by itself made all the effort worthwhile.

It felt great to feel human again, albeit for just 3 weeks.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Because I Love Stats

Start - 9.30am, 25th Apr, Tokyo Station
End - 8.30am, 9th May, Kyoto Station

Total distance - 566.50km
Longest distance covered in a day - 50.13km, Day 12, Gifu to Maibara
Shortest distance covered in a day - 14.87km, Day 15, Otsu to Kyoto
Average distance covered in a day - 37.77km

Time taken - 13 days 23 hours
Total walking time - 6 days 15 hours 5 minutes
Longest walking day - 14 hours 20 minutes, Day 8, Narai to Okuwa
Shortest walking day - 3 hours 30 minutes, Day 15, Otsu to Kyoto
Average walking day - 10 hours 36 minutes

Highest point - 1534m, Wada Pass
Lowest point - -7m, Itabashi, Tokyo

Total amount spent - 3063.89 SGD (~2125 USD)
Excluding flight (355 SGD) - 2708.89 SGD (~1880 USD)
Amount spent per day - 117.78 SGD (~82 USD)

Tokyo To Kyoto On Foot

Where I started. Where I stopped every night. Where I finished.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Catching Up On My Reading

Finishing the trip diary marks the end of a brief but exciting and enriching chapter to my life. What now? I don't know really. I am never one to let myself idle. I don't wish to, especially when my job is as mind-numbing as it is. The first thing on my mind now? Catching up on my reading. My reading list...

Watchmen. My first and only comic book. I caught the movie and found it to be a singularly unique and rather amazing work of fiction. I love a good story. I love a good story that engages my mind to think even more.
Korean For Dummies. Visited both North and South Korea only last year and already I cannot wait to go back again. In fact, I am already toying with the idea of another long walk, this time from Seoul to Busan, next Spring. Whether or not that's happening, both my wife and I are keen to pick up some basic Korean. Memorized the Hangul before we visited South Korea last Christmas, it did help, a little. I could read signs and menus but that fact that we could not say anything in Korean more than "Thank you" and "I am not Korean" became both a source of comedy and frustration.
Dark Star Safari. A few years ago, I took a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway. A fellow passenger in the cabin handed me his copy of the book. I only managed to finished part of the book before I had to return it as I was getting off. It stirred the desire in me to do the same one day, Cairo to Cape Town by any means but flying. Bought a copy of my own last November. Aiming to do the same myself late 2010 or early 2011, after I am done with my current work contract. Incidentally, I will be done with my mortgage at about the same time. What better way to celebrate becoming debt-free than to go on yet another epic adventure?

9 Weeks (& 2 Missing Toenails) On...


Been 9 weeks since I returned home from Japan. Only today am I done with converting the notes I penned down during the trip into blog entries. That by itself was a journey. Looking through the scribbles, recalling everything that had happened and putting it in prose brought new perspectives, a new level of appreciation for all the wonderful experiences. It also felt like I had lived through that 3 weeks again.

So much happened that three weeks. Everyday was filled with new places, new experiences and adventure. The sense of satisfaction, of achievement, of self-actualisation that completing the Nakasendo walk gave me something I had not felt in a long long time. I felt so terrible coming back to Singapore. Writing the trip diary allowed me to escape, back to Japan, back to that epic adventure whenever I sat down in front of my computer. It made adjusting to life here again a lot easier. Adjusting to life here again has and hopefully will not blunt my desire to seek my destiny in life. Life must be more than what I am doing now.

Two of the toenails on my left foot, the same two that turned purple during the Nakasendo walk, dropped off a few days after I got home. The toenails have, by now, fully regrown. They do look a little odd though, in colour, shape and texture. If they stay like that, I guess they'll serve as a reminder of that adventure I will always have on me.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

To Mr Anonymous

Received the following anonymous comment on one of my trip diary entries today.
Bravo…. Not only for the accomplishment in walking the Nakasendo, but the fact that you compiled your notes and detailed your trip in such an entertaining blog. I have cycled the Nakasendo twice and find it amazing that you were able to walk it in 12 days. Cycling takes about 6 days which includes the time spent having to carry your bikes over the various Toge’s. Your blog was not only entertaining, but it brings back memories of the road and the challenges encountered.

A few questions/comments: regarding your accommodations… or lack there of… it seems that you only found one real Minshuku along the way. My Japanese is not much better than yours but on two trips of the same highway I was easily able to locate a low cost Minshuku either in the town I entered at say 5 pm or in the next post town. From your travels, you ended up staying in mostly business hotels, a real downer compared to the old traditional Minshuku which most likely cost the same. My comment for your next walking trip in Japan… when looking for a Minshuku in a small town do not bother asking anyone younger than 60. (therefore, don’t even entertain the prospect of getting an answer out of the convenience store clerks) This tried and tested method will result in you arriving at a Minshuku without detour or delay. Many are not advertised and there is no sign outside the door bigger than a matchbook. So by asking the old folks in town, they point you in the direction of their friend who moonlights their 200 year old home as a B+B. You will be knocking on the door almost at dinner time and more than 50% of the time the lady will try to wave you away. She is trying to get rid of you not because she does not want you to stay but because she had not made you dinner… once you convince her you don’t want food you will be shown to your room. Average cost is 3-4,000 yen including breakfast. Once you explain to the folks that you are traveling the Nakasendo and have a great respect for her (I say ‘her’ as the lady usually runs the show whilst her husband sits in his parlor and watches baseball whilst she does all the work) ancestors who maintained the Nakasendo travelers… you are sure to receive extra traveling goodies packed in rice for your next days trip.

Regarding your planned path, it looks like you used Google Earth to determine the road. Google earth now shows the general Nakasendo labeled in Japanese… it was not the case when I planned each trip… but how did you find the specific mud path Toge’s which are not well marked? How many did you find along the way where you left the paved road and walked through the trees in addition to the Magome section?

I have more questions but will wait to see if you are active on this blog before going on.
First of all, thanks for the wonderful comment. I arrived in Japan with a lot of frustration in my heart. Walking was almost the only way I knew to deal with it. That was really the only reason I walked as long as I did each day. The longer I did, the better I felt. Its a little crazy to finish it in 14 days, my feet were a wreck after but I had no regrets, it was one of the best things I had ever done with myself.

Thanks for the heads up on accommodation. There were several reasons why I did not stay in Minshuku's more often than I did. Like you said, they do not really advertise themselves. People I asked along the way were either clueless or pointed me to business hotels. I was also under the impression that they are uber-expensive. Of the countries I had visited, few impacted me the way Japan did. I will certainly go back again, hopefully to do another long walk. I will keep your advice on finding Minshuku's in mind.

Google Map is not an ideal tool for planning an assault on the Nakasendo, its just convenient. There are several books that describes the Nakasendo in great detail, you can find them easily in any largish bookstore in Japan. They were no good to me since I am as good at Japanese as I am with Greek. Some of the time I followed the Google Map printouts I brought along, some of the time I followed the signpostings along the way, some of the time I asked for directions. I wasn't too bothered about following the Nakasendo faithfully. I got lost a couple of times and just took it in my stride. It was all about reaching the destination on foot, it was all about the adventure. The mountain passes were easy to navigate, those sections were the most well-signposted.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Only Thing Worth Coming Home For

Got home at 2.30am in the morning. Both my wife and my mum were sound asleep. Had a shower and got into bed as gently as I could, not wanting to wake my wife. She got up anyway. And the look on her face when she saw me, for the first time in 23 days, was priceless. I asked her if she wanted to see what I got her in Japan. She nodded gleefully. Though nothing fanciful, largely make-up tools for her work, she was so happy to see what I got her, especially the little white cat paw plush I got her at Hikone. She was also happy to see the pack of dried fish I bought at Tokyo's Ameyoko Arcade. My mum too, jumped with glee when she saw the pack of dried fish later in the morning. I was both amused and glad to see how my mum and my wife take joy in little things. They are the only thing worth coming home for.