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 that was served (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 every mouthful of everything else I was served!
The first few kilometres followed the Ouchiyamagawa river and there were many fisherman fishing for Amago I think. Within minutes of starting the first forest path I put my foot right next to a snake’s head before leaping back. I thought it was still too early (8.45am) and there was no sun on the path and it was just as I put my foot down that I saw it’s body to the left but I hadn’t seen its head on the path! It took a few minutes of banging my hiking poles on the ground for it to slither away as there was no chance I was walking in front of it until it did. I think it’s maybe an Aodaisho rat snake?
The path joined Route 42 for a bit 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 they both have their merits. Until these 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 generally 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 snake was about 2 metres long and black with a yellow head and 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 venemous snake but was only about 30cm long and also slithered away without any prompting. I was glad to get to the top and there was a terrific view as well as rest hut and stamp box. There were 4 Japanese people sitting in the hut and 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 this mountain. They were surprised to see a foreigner, who was a sole female and was walking the Iseji path and they all handed me sweets and took photos and then I started the descent, hoping not to see another snake!
The descent was much more difficult than the ascent; it was steep and slippery on the foliage with some narrow sections but it was stunningly beautiful as was the ancient stone 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 circle K convenience store (slight detour off the path) then crossed a bridge over the river to walk through the old part of town passing traditional old wooden houses and small shops. I’m really enjoying walking through these old villages and towns. There was one last mountain pass between me and my destination of Furusato called Ikkoku toge pass, and it probably should’ve taken 30 minutes all in, but it took me about 50 because I got lost! Lost is the wrong word, but I took the wrong trail on the top. I took 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 to the top of the pass and try 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 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!