Day 3 – Ise Kashiwazaki to Furusato, 26km
Accommodation: Ryokan Momotaro, ¥8640 including dinner and breakfast, 0597-49-3217
I slept really well, no doubt the bath helped. Embarrassingly at breakfast I had to leave the natto (top left bowl in the pic, it’s
rotten fermented soybeans). When I lived in Japan I tried natto 7 times because of persistent Japanese friends telling me “the next time you try it, you’ll like it,” and I still really dislike it, sorry. I ate everything else I was served!
The first few kilometres followed the Ouchiyamagawa river and there were many fisherman fishing for Amago. Within minutes of starting the first forest path I put my foot directly next to a snake’s head before leaping back. It was only 8.45am and there was no sun on the path so I wasn’t expecting to see a snake, and it was just as I put my foot down that I saw it’s body to the left and it’s head an inch from my foot! I banged my hiking poles on the ground for a few minutes and it eventually slithered away, I think it was an Aodaisho rat snake?
The path joined Route 42 before turning off with large roadsigns for Tsuzurato-toge pass – there were two options here, either this pass (which was the main route until 300 years ago), or the newer pass called Nisaka-toge which was built 300 years ago to replace Tsuzurato. I was interested to walk the older of the two routes, but they are both part of the World Heritage Kumano listing so must both have their merits. Until these mountain passes, none of the Iseji route has been part of the World Heritage area, but from here until Shingu it looks like most of the mountain passes are included, just not the roads connecting them.
Last night’s minshuku owner had told me to take the ‘easier’ Nisaka-toge so I must admit I was a bit nervous about what I was getting myself into by walking the Tsuzurato-toge – the funny name means switchback. The ascent was easy and along a wide path with terrific signs (thanks to the World Heritage listing). The only trouble I had was encountering two snakes on the way up! The first was about 2 metres long and black with a yellow head, it was lying across the trail but quickly moved when I was almost on top of it. The next snake was I think a yamakagashi (tiger keelback) venomous snake but was only about 30cm long and also slithered away without any prompting. I was glad to get to the top where there was a terrific view as well as rest hut and stamp box (nice stamp). There were 4 Japanese people sitting in the hut so I sat with them and had a short break. We chatted and it turned out they worked together and as it was the weekend, they had come to hike up and down the mountain. They were surprised to see a solo foreign female walking the Iseji path and all handed me sweets and took photos! I then started the descent, hoping not to see any more snakes!
The descent was more difficult than the ascent; it was steep and slippery on the foliage with some narrow sections but was stunningly beautiful, as was the ancient flagstone path.
After Tsuzurato-toge pass, the trail followed the river all the way down to the sea at Kii Nagashima which was the largest town I’d been in since Ise. I stocked up on snacks at a convenience store (slight detour off the path) then crossed a bridge over the river to walk through the old part of town passing traditional wooden houses and small shops. I’m really enjoying walking through these old villages and towns.
I had one last mountain-pass between me and my destination of Furusato, called Ikkoku-toge, and it probably should’ve taken 30 minutes, but it took about 50 because I got lost! Well lost is the wrong word… but I took the wrong trail on top (a forest trail rather than the forest road) and after about 300m the forest trail ended and I was walking through waist-high ferns. I passed a deer skull, then further on, a deer leg and started to wonder what was eating the deers?! I followed some pink ribbons around trees until I reached a cliff with the highway way down below then decided it was time to bushwhack back and try the only other option, the forest road. I wasn’t happy, a small arrow would suffice! It turned out the forest road was the right way and soon after (still grumpy) I made it to Furusato and found my awesome Ryokan.
Furusato is a tiny village beside the sea with an onsen, aptly called Furusato Onsen and also seems to be famous for growing mandarins. The seafood dinner was exceptional and enormous and I tried sazae (turbo shell) for the first time – it looked terrible but tasted ok. The homemade umeshu (plum wine) was also delicious. I’m having a great time on this route and I really can’t believe there’s no-one else walking it. I think I need to speak to someone about making some Iseji specific waymarks and come back and mark the route myself!