Sunday, November 26, 2017

Another Reason to Choose the Road Less Traveled

-- Susan, every other Sunday

When traveling in Japan, and especially when hiking its glorious mountains, I try to live by the immortal (and lovely) words of Robert Frost:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." (--Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken)

Never once has the less-traveled path disappointed me, and my experience hiking a preserved section of the Nakasendo Road through the Japan Alps last November was no exception.

I set out from the preserved post town of Magome just after dawn, in time to see the sun rise over Mount Ena - one of Japan's "Hundred Famous Peaks."

A glorious start to any day.

I anticipated it would take between 3 and 4 hours to hike the trail over the mountain pass that separates Magome from the (also preserved) historical town of Tsumago. Both served as post towns on the Kisoji and Nakasendo, travel roads that connected Kyoto with Edo (now Tokyo) during Japan's medieval age.

I hiked through forested hills aflame with brilliant foliage and resounding with the calls and cries of many different birds. The air smelled crisp, with undertones of wood smoke and autumn leaves.

In the footsteps of samurai . . .
Because I started early, I had the road to myself and plenty of time to stop and investigate the sights along the way. I stopped at a lovely old mill:

Nakasendo scenery

And a Shintō shrine - both of which I'd noted on my map and planned to see.

The intersection of history, faith, nature, and culture.

But then, about halfway to Tsumago, I saw a sign I hadn't expected sitting beside a fork in the road.

Road Less Traveled Calling. Please pick up the white courtesy phone.

Waterfalls? They weren't on my map - and the sign gave no indication how far I'd have to walk to find them. (A note: this is *extremely* unusual in Japan. Trail markers customarily tell you exactly how far you are from multiple destinations.)

But based on my personal traveling philosophy, they immediately became a part of my itinerary. I stepped off my intended road and headed off in search of adventure.

About ten minutes later, I had my first sight of the waterfall through the trees.

Followed shortly by another sign, pointing me along a narrow, somewhat overgrown path that apparently led to the falls. I followed without hesitation.

This is a far more normal Japanese trail sign.
You might not know where you are, but you know how long it will take to get where you're going.

As promised, almost 50 meters later the path opened onto a bridge.

With a waterfall at the other end....

Although the photo doesn't show it, the wood was significantly weathered and slippery with spray from the waterfall-fed river that ran beneath it.

In case people didn't notice, someone had also posted a warning sign:

Slippery when wet . . . and it's always wet.

I crossed the bridge and found myself facing a lovely, laughing waterfall.

Otaki Falls: approximately 15 meters tall.

It doesn't look that large, but the wind it created was enough to blow my hair back off my face, and its spray dampened my cheeks enough that I had to wipe them off when I walked away.

Otaki Metake falls consists of two waterfalls (Otaki and Metake, which mean "Man" and "Woman" respectively).  After I finished enjoying Otaki falls, I walked about a hundred yards to Metake, which is narrower, but just as high:

Metake Falls

After several minutes photographing the falls and several more just standing nearby and appreciating their beauty, I backtracked to the original trail and set off for Tsumago. The detour cost me a little more than half an hour, but gave me far more enjoyment than the sum of its time and step-based parts.

Back on the trail.

Yet again, the road less traveled made all the difference in a day I will always treasure.



  1. Oh, Susan. I cannot wait. Watch out! Once I get there, I may not want to leave before you do. Make sure I have a round trip ticket with big penalties for changes. Otherwise you won’t be able to get rid of me. :))

    1. I hope you come and stay a good long time! I'd never get tired of your company!

  2. I think it's safe to say you've fallen (not slipped) for Japan in a very big way, Susan. And we're all the richer for it!