Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Japan, April 10th - Osaka and the Kiso Valley

Our hotel in Osaka was next to the Umeda Sky Building, an enormous two-column skyscraper connected at the top with an observatory with a circular hole in the middle. The escalators to the observatory cross the gap in the middle, offering views of Osaka from both sides. We gazed up on it from below, but decided not to shell out the money to ascend to the observatory, since our corner suite in the hotel already gave us views aplenty, and Osaka is not particularly scenic.

Today we travelled to the old Nakasendo Road in the Kiso Valley. There's an 8km section of the Edo-period postal route between Tokyo and Kyoto there that is known for being well-preserved and scenic. We took a combination of train and bus there and embarked on the hike from Magome to Tsumago. Magome was tiny, ascending the hill at the beginning of the trail, and its noodle shops, inns, and traditional craftsmen were mostly closed on this blustery Monday. It was a 2km walk from Magome to a mountain pass, then 6km downhill to Tsumago. Although there were a bunch of German hikers on our bus, we only saw two other hikers on the trail. But it wasn't as scenic and isolated as we had hoped; the path took us across and along multiple roads, wasn't really landscaped, and didn't have any cherry trees. It is known for a couple of waterfalls said to represent the male and female, but we somehow missed them, and the ruins of a former checkpoint, completely.

Tsumago was very well-preserved, but not as neat and clean as the geisha districts of Kanazawa or as big as the old section of Takayama. And it had a few busloads of Japanese tourists ambling around, as well as a busload of bored-looking tour guides in training. We took a few pictures of the narrow main road and some cherry trees arching over it, then headed back to Kansai for the night.