Day 4 – Furusato to Owase, 26km
Accommodation: Minshuku Shibayama, ¥6480 including dinner and breakfast, 0597-22-5566
Shortly after leaving Furusato the trail turned uphill behind an abandoned hotel to Hirakata toge pass with a beautiful viewpoint called Point Sabohana and rest hut on top.
After the brief descent from this first pass, the trail followed a sea wall passing a small fishing harbour and Doze beach before joining another forest path for the Miura toge pass. Within minutes of starting this next pass, guess what? A snake. Why are they always under my feet?! A short, easy 15 minute ascent to the pass and just after starting the descent I was stopped by another snake in the middle of the path, this one was about 45cm long and very colourful. At first I thought it was maybe a tiger keelback (yamakagashi) but now I’m not so sure. It wasn’t happy to have to move out of the way and was quite aggressive (I was banging my poles on the ground to create the vibrations). It took 30 minutes to descend as I very carefully scanned the track in front of me for any more snakes.
The trail joined a road and passed through the tiny village of Minose and I was grateful to pass some vending machines and buy an ice-cold coffee before starting the next pass, Hajikami toge pass. At the trailhead there was a rest hut, toilet and vending machine and there were a group of women in the rest hut. I didn’t know why until I started climbing the pass and soon after I heard lots of voices and then a big group of scouts were coming down the mountain. I was so excited to see other people, especially because I hoped this meant I now wouldn’t see any snakes on my way up! It was another very scenic pass and I was really enjoying the morning.
After Hajikami toge pass and before Funatsu station, Okajima-san (from the first night ryokan in Tochihara) had marked a house on my map and the name Shibata but I didn’t know what it was. As I was walking past the house (without realising), there was a lady in the front yard doing gardening and she called out and asked me if I was walking the Iseji route and if I would like to take a break. It was 1pm, I’d crossed three mountain passes and I hadn’t had a break yet so it was perfect timing and I happily accepted her offer. She invited me into her beautiful home then dashed off to the kitchen and came back with iced coffee and tea and Japanese sweets, and it was such a wonderful break on a very hot day! She explained her husband was away and he’s the one who knows a lot about the Iseji trail but they try to invite walkers in and provide drinks and a restroom for them – trail angels on the Iseji route! I was so grateful to be sitting on a couch with a cold drink in my hand and my pack off my back. Thank you Shibata-san! After 5 more kilometres along route 42 and small roads through old villages, I came to the final pass for the day, Magose toge pass. The only English brochure I’ve seen about the Iseji route includes only two of the 20 something passes, Magose and Matsumoto, so I knew this one had to be special to be included over all the others. It was definitely very scenic especially with the stone path climbing all the way to the top (but I think the others have been very scenic and worthy of inclusion too!) It took one hour to get to the top and 50 minutes to descend in my slow pace often stopping to take lots of photos.
Near the bottom of Magose pass I ran into a Japanese couple that I had first met the day I arrived in Ise. We met when I was walking between Ise station and the shrine and started talking because we all had the same map in our hands. They were a day ahead of me until now and it was great to meet and be able to chat with others that had just walked the same path. It turned out we were staying at the same accommodation which was very fortunate because I had no idea where the minshuku was (I don’t have a Japanese sim card so I don’t have phone service unless I have wifi). I had tried to find out where the minshuku was but everyone I asked had all said to get to Owase first then ask someone! So the three of us walked together, me following them to our accommodation for the night. They were from Chiba near Tokyo and had also enjoyed the walk but agreed there needed to be more waymarks. Our minshuku was right next to the harbour and attached to the owner’s fishing tours shop so all of the fish at dinner had been caught today. I really enjoyed the company tonight and loved comparing notes about the trail from the past few days.