Jim Friesen - Photography

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    We didn't set an alarm or plan to get up early; Ange and I don't do early if we can avoid it. We had our usual fruit & rice cake breakfast and one more macha latte at the local Starbucks, where Angela made a friend. So many people responded to our being from Canada with big grins and exclamations like, "Ohhhh, I want to go there!" I can never say enough about how friendly and helpful everyone was to us.

     But it was a travelling day and we had an adventure waiting for us. We entered the subway maze. The usual morning crowds and sights were waiting for us. 




After a transfer or two we got on a train leaving Tokyo. Before long the landscape started to change ...


... and after two or three hours we were there.


     After the crowded platforms of Tokyo, an abandoned station across from a lumber yard and not far from a farmers field seemed like another world. We took a bus and then we jumped in a cab and found ourselves in Magome. 



     Angela tended to get a little exasperated with my lack of ability to remember place names but I don't think I will ever forget Magome and Tsumago. They are two old towns about half way between Tokyo & Kyoto. They prospered at one time, being linked to a major postal road but modern modes of transportation bypassed them and they declined, until they redefined themselves as tourist attractions maintaining many aspects of historic towns from the Edo period of Japanese history. 

     We had reservations at a traditional inn in Magome so we thought it logical to leave our luggage in lockers there, hike to Tsumago, take a bus back, pick up our luggage and find our inn. We didn't know at the time that most people do the downhill walk from Tsumago to Magome. But if we had done that things wouldn't have turned out the way they did. We put our suitcases away and kept cameras, a tripod and backpacks for the walk. It was early afternoon so we walked through Magome ...






... and stopped for lunch before we hit the trail.


     Like almost all the meals we had in Japan it was delicious.

     Then we started to walk. We had to keep in mind that the last bus from Tsumago to Magome was at five thirty or six o'clock p.m., so we had to keep that in mind as we hiked the seven kilometers and tried to capture in pictures what we saw around us. 













     It was around this point, near the mill, that we got slightly lost. If I had been paying more attention to what the sign said ... 

... instead of how rustic it looked under the bending branches of the tree, we might not have ended up taking the wrong path. There were bells every kilometer or so to warn the bears that there were hikers in the area but when the path we were on started to dwindle into nothing and we stumbled across a bear trap, complete with droppings, we knew we had gone the wrong way. We never did get back to the route everyone else takes but we managed to come across a spot that most of the hikers might have missed. 



     We eventually found our way to Tsumago, and again, it was not the prescribed path but it was ours and we saw things that we wouldn't have seen otherwise ...


... and by the time we arrived in Tsumago the sun was setting and EVERYTHING looked beautiful.





     You would think that would be enough for one day but we still had to go back to the traditional inn. We took the last bus and by the time we made Magome everything was dark and appeared abandoned. We found our lockers, retrieved our luggage and started looking for some way of finding our way to the inn. Panic was setting in when we saw a woman walking across a parking lot. I think we scared her but, like almost everyone we spoke to, she knew a little English and took us to a small lighted shack where a security guard phoned a taxi and we got to the inn. And the inn was fantastic.


     There were two couples, besides Ange and me, staying at the inn. There was a Mexican couple who were designers, travelling Japan to find ideas, and a Canadian Couple, one of whom spoke Japanese. The dining room was a few tables ...

... around a fire pit, with a hanging kettle that looked as if it was designed by Joan Miro or Jean Arp.

     The meal was a traditional 7 course mountain dinner that started with raw horse meat (apologies to all my vegetarian friends), mushroom stew, miso soup, a fried fish, soba noodles and various vegetables. I've probably forgotten something. Everyone got the same thing. There was no menu. 

     Then the owner sang folk songs (he was around my age, 60, and was joined by his teacher, who was at least 15 years older, arrived, sang the one song and then went off to another engagement). Then the owner told us about the history of the area, plying the one Canadian who spoke Japanese with Sake so he would continue translating, and then drove us into the village to view it by moonlight ...


... and then back to the inn and to bed in a room beside a stream that gurgled and laughed me to sleep.

     I know I haven't done it justice but it was a wonderful day and will go down as one of the highlights of my life. 



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