Day 1 – Ise to Tochihara, 25km
Accommodation: Ryokan Okajimaya, ¥7000 including dinner and breakfast, 0598-85-0014
The Japanese map that I’m following:
The weather for the week ahead is forecast for blue skies and temperatures in the high 20s and today certainly felt like summer! I left the guesthouse in Ise at 6am and followed my Japanese map along roads, past school children walking to school and elderly people waiting at junctions to help the children cross. After 9km I reached Tamaru and started to notice Iseji signs. There’s a ryokan in Tamaru and it’s a small town with a castle and train station so if you wanted to limit the road walking, you could take the train and start walking from here.
The only mountain-pass was Meki-toge (short and easy) but before I entered the forest I was walking through a small village and an old man called out to me as I passed his house. He was 85 years old (I really wish I had taken his photo, he had a long grey beard and long grey hair) and said he’d never met an Australian before. He insisted on shaking my hand and was really sweet as he wished me good luck and ‘ki o tsukete’ (take care). Meki-toge pass had a small bamboo forest, a side-trail to a viewpoint at the top and a book that I signed my name in. When I descended and came out the other side of the mountain, it was like I had entered a different world; it was now rural with green tea bushes, rice fields and mountains.
I passed a few Japanese signs explaining the history of the route beside Jizo statues from the Edo period (1603-1868), as well as the 600 year old Senpukuji temple in Yanagihara. I also passed the Gensaka Shuzou sake warehouse and got very excited hoping to taste some sake until I entered the building (hot and sweaty) and was told they don’t do tastings! Much of today felt like the villages hadn’t changed at all over the past few hundred years, except for maybe the green tea harvesting trucks. The ryokan I’m in now is really beautiful and very traditional and the owner Okajima-san is terrific. I had a wonderful dinner and then he sat with me and gave me some tips for the next few days. I asked him how many foreigners he usually has stay in the ryokan throughout the year, and he said maybe 5 a year compared to 100 Japanese people. It’s a beautiful place and I already want to come back! He also let me taste sake from the warehouse that I passed today, he had the exact bottle that I was eyeing off in the factory!
I know some people don’t like walking along roads, but other than a few main roads today with footpaths, the Iseji was largely along small roads through old villages with beautiful old wooden houses and mainly elderly people working in the fields. It felt like an adventure and from the reactions of the locals that I met, it seems like no-one walks through these villages which is such a shame.