Japan 2019

Japan 2019: Conclusion

This years trip was my second walking trip in Japan and in many ways different from last years trip to Shikoku. The three main differences were the following.

Firstly, I carried a pack this time instead of the hub and spoke system I used when walking in Shikoku, which enabled me to walk with a day pack instead of a full pack. I was interested to see how I reacted, as I hadn’t practiced carrying a full backpack prior to travelling. My guess is that my bag weighed ca. 8kg, and was usually around 10kg when carrying water and food etc. It was never an issue. Of course, I felt lighter the days I didn’t carry a pack, but I never felt that the pack was a burden.

Secondly, at least the first half of the walk would primarily be in the mountains walking through forest. The first seven days walking were up and down mountain paths and through forest, and it became a little repetitive. But repetitive forest is still far better than endless main roads with cars flying by – which there was some of when walking from Iseji.

Thirdly, I stayed far more often with local people who share their homes – Ryokans. This was a great experience, both for meeting other walkers, meeting the Japanese owners, but also for the fantastic food, often traditional Japanese, they serve. However, it also becomes somewhat repetitive, so I feel there was a good balance this year between Hotels and Ryokans.

I walked a total of 509km, from leaving Osaka airport, until I again set foot in the airport to return home. I walked 11,3 verticle kms – as I recall Mt. Everest is 8,8 verticle kms – and I estimate that I was walking upwards for somewhere between 160 and 180km. Although it was hard work ascending mountains, descending them again was often more demanding and took just as long.

The weather was generally fantastic. Worried about the rain, I had purchased an expensive rain jacket and lightweight umbrella. Luckily, they were hardly needed. It rained heavily three times – the day before I started, the day after I finished and the day I walked down from Koyasan.

I met a lot of very nice people. I would say that people were not as open as on Shikoku, but still extremely helpful. I spoke with many Japanese, especially during the first week walking in the mountains, as it was Golden Week in Japan, so there were many other walkers. I often hear that the Japanese don’t speak English, and it is true that many don’t. But it is also true that many do, and I must admit that this year I met many (and I mean many) Japanese of all ages that spoke excellent English. Never at any point did I feel that language was an issue – we always worked it out. What was interesting this time, was that several people were interested in more than why are you in Japan. They asked to see pictures of Denmark and family, which I have not experienced before.

When walking in Japan, it is a country of two extremes – from the amazingly beautiful, to the amazingly ugly. The scenery, people’s kindness, service focus and the food, are out of this world. Added to that it is a country where things just work – from public transport that runs on time, hotels that are clean and a post service that can deliver a letter from one end of the country to the other overnight (in DK, 1/60th of the size, it takes 5 days!). At the other end of the scale, pretty much all Japanase villages, towns and cities are ugly. There seems to be no planning. Even worse, every road is covered with bright, often illuminated signs with slogans; advertisements for pachinko parlors; giant banners for used cars; loud screaming posters for every business; vending machines at every corner and of course, wires everywhere. Then throw in the concrete up mountain sides to stop landslides, dammed up rivers to stop flooding, and the tsunami walls along the coasts – all of which are there for very good reasons, and Japan is often just downright ugly.

If anybody is considering doing a similar trip my recommendations would be the following.

Firstly, visit Koyasan, not least the cemetery, Okunoin, is fantastic, as is staying in a temple (at least once).

Secondly, if you want to get a good feeling for walking the Kumano Kodo, but aren’t fanatical about doing the whole thing, then I would:

Day 1: Walk from Hosshinmon-oji (10 minute bus ride from Hongu) to the Hongu Taisha Shrine (7km) and visit the shrine and gate and stay in one of the Onsen towns
Day 2: Walk Kogumotori-goe (12,6 km) and max altitude of 450m and then walk the fiirst 2 or 3km up (and back down) Ogumotori-goe to experience the moss covered steps. Overnight in Koguchi
Day 3: Take the bus of boat to the two shrines in Nachi and Shingu

Thirdly, if you want to walk the Iseji but are not fanatical about walking all 170 km, then I would propose that one drops the following stretches:

a: take the train from Ise to Tamaru Station (personally I like the transition from city to countryside, but many don’t)
b: take the train from Tochihara or Kawazoe to Misedani
c. take the bus from the end of the Hajikami-toge pass to the start of the Magose-toge pass
d. take the train from Arii or Koshiyama station to Kii-ida station.

To round off, I spent an immensely enjoyable three weeks in Japan in one the most beautiful and scenic areas in the world. I met a lot of very nice people and ate some fabulous food and lost 3 kilos in weight. What’s not to like? Thanks for reading.

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