|This morning I said
goodbye to the nice people at Shizuka-en Ryokan, and took my big bag to
the station. I had a reservation in Araimachi at a youth hostel
(no jokes, please) for the next four nights. So I took my bag to
Iwata Station--today's projected stopping-point--then took the train
back to Kakegawa, last night's stopping- and today's starting-point.
For quite a while, I did a lot of
walking, with not much to see.
Then, as I approached Fukuroi--station
number 27-- I saw this funny little building. I think it's a
traveler's information office, but it's in the shape of a kago,
or litter, like the ones used to carry goods and people--especially
people--down the Old Tokaido in the Edo Period. Little did I
realize that before the day was out, I would sit in one!
Shortly after that, I passed this pretty shrine
gate. The sign indicates that the shrine itself is 8/10 of a
kilometer away. As I continued along this stretch of road, I saw a
few more gates to places that were around a kilometer away. I
imagine that in the old days, there was nothing between the gate and the
shrine itself, except maybe forest or fields. Now there are houses
and factories. It seems a little odd to maintain
"frontage" on the now-little-used Tokaido, but I was charmed
by the idea.
Having just entered Fukuroi, I encountered
this scene straight out of Hiroshige's print (below). See
the man lurking in the background? He's a volunteer at the little
city-sponsored teashop. He waits there to ambush unsuspecting
walkers and ply them with tea and make them stay around awhile.
Once he gets his hooks in you, others come out to help him bring you in.
It was devastating.
They were so effective that I had to
shoo them away to get this, my official shot for Fukuroi.
You'll have to look closely to tell the difference between my shot and
Hiroshige's. (Mine is the one with the big guy in the hat.)
When asked if this was the place where
the tree in Hiroshige's print was actually located, ,my lurker friend
replied roundly, "Yes." Then meekly added,
"About." Honesty prevails again.
Hiroshige's Tokaido : Fukuroi, Station
the Old Tokaido
A little shade, a little tea, the sky
for a roof: what else does a traveler need? By the way, the shape
of the sign (where the bird is perched) is still commonly seen today.
One of the lurker's
accomplices asked me if I wanted to see a kago, the litter
mentioned above. It was in his shop, about 100 meters up the
So off we went. It turns out my
new friend, Mr. Tsuneo Yuuki, is a worker in bamboo. (I'm sure
there's a Japanese word for his, but I haven't a clue what it is.)
And the kago was not of the large box type I was familiar with,
but was rather the sporty compact seen here.
Pity the bearers who get this
Here's a picture from some info
Yuuki-san gave me on kagos.
Here's Yuuki-san himself making a
chopstick rest, which he then presented to me.
He also gave me
this beautiful handmade cup. It's all one piece of bamboo; the
bottom is the skin where the bamboo is jointed. It may be simple
handwork from simple materials, but it's priceless to me. And all
Mr. Yuuki asked in return is that I send him a letter or postcard from
the road (which I did later).
Moving on down the road, cup in hand:
this t-shirt is evidence of how Tokaido-crazy Fukuroi really is.
It says "Tokaido 400 Staff." (I nearly bought it.)
[And now, three years later, I really wish I had!]
This old house on the outskirts
of the Fukuroi shuku (station) is reminiscent of some Japanese
ghost stories I've read: a traveler is stranded, finds a house, stays
the night, helps the owner somehow, leaves the next day, returns for
some reason--and the house looks like this.
Close up, I realized that this was Hotei-sama,
one of the Seven Lucky Gods (sometimes erroneously called "the
Laughing Buddha"). But
from across the street, it looked like someone had let the air out of
the Michelin Man!
Is this a former motel? It could
have been. But here in Japan, it's a group of "karaoke
boxes" arranged around a central court.
Today's prayers were said at Daikenji
in Mitsuke. It was closed, so I have no information, except to say
that the neighbors use the grounds for a parking area. There was
just the main hall, an attached house, and the cemetery. Here's
the main hall and a cool pile in the cemetery. (I especially like
the "ghostly" light in this shot.)
As I was praying, a local temple rang
out six o'clock on the big temple bell. It made me think of
Basho's famous haiku which asks if the bell he was hearing was from Ueno
or Asakusa. I'm beginning to miss Tokyo.
This old school in Mitsuke is a
local landmark. Built in 1875, it is said to be the oldest surviving
wooden, Western-style elementary school in Japan
As you can see from the above, I
arrived in Mitsuke--station number 28--after dark. So you'll see
my official shot--and Hiroshige's--tomorrow.
That's all, folkses.
Dang! I almost forgot to tell
you: Mitsuke is considered the halfway-point from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto.
The mileage from Edo to Mitsuke is 236 kilometers; from Edo to Kyoto is
492, so 246 would be halfway; the next station, Hamamatsu, is 252.
So, to quibble with tradition, isn't Hamamatsu nearer the mid-point?
But maybe they used different mileages than the ones in my modern
(Fukuroi, by the way, is the center
station by station count. That is, it's number 27 from each end.)
Well, it's official: I'm old.
When I checked into the youth hostel today, I joined an
association in order to receive a discount. And on my
membership card, in black-and-white, for all the world to see,
the category I belong to is: "Senior." Now
Chie, the nice girl who signed me up, says anything over 19 is
"senior." "NINETY!" I cried.
"No, no," she says, "nine-TEEN."
Kidding, says I.
Anyway, I want to say a word on behalf of the hostel.
I'm sure there are people just down the hill paying more
than double for a room at this very moment. But what
have they got that I ain't got?
For the first time on this trip (besides my friends'
houses) there are laundry facilities right in the building.
I have a spacious room (sleeps eight, but it's all for me).
The bath is large and luxurious. There's a western style
toilet. And as my friend Tom mentioned back in Kamakura,
conversation is readily at hand. Usually in simple
English or my (bad) Japanese, but conversation nonetheless.
Other hostellers have helped me decipher some of the signs
I've seen along the way, and made suggestions for my website.
This kind of exchange of information doesn't happen in a
business hotel, or even a ryokan--unless, perhaps, you take
your meals there.
Oh, yeah, meals are available here, for an added price.
But as a vegetarian, I usually don't try to go for these group
meals (at hostels and ryokans) because it's usually either
frustrating for me or frustrating for the staff. It's
easier on everyone if I graze at the convenience store.
Now, the clincher: I'm in a more-or-less tourist area, near
Lake Hamanako. It's Autumn, a prime season for
traveling. The floor I'm on in the building sleeps--by
my estimate--over 60 people. And how many are here?
C'mon, folks, we gotta use these things, or they're gonna
shut 'em down.