“The entire kisoji is in the mountains” was the first sentence of the famous Japanese novel “Before the dawn” by Toson Shimazaki. The best way to explore the Kiso region of Japan, with its stunning nature and many traditional houses and culture, is by doing the Nakansendo trail. The Nakasendo trail (中山道 which means “middle mountain way”) is the old route that connected Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period. The section of the trail that winds through the Kiso Valley passes through two exceptionally pretty and well-preserved old Japanese towns—Magome and Tsumago, and makes for a nice day trip from Nagoya.
In the last year I visited four times the famous hike from Magome-juku to Tsumago, in a different season, with different company. Every time I see and experience new things, about Japan and sustainability, or even something like silence.
The first time was more like an adventure. Everything was new. We were a bigger group and hiked this in middle of August (2018). Later I would learn that in the height of Japanese summer it is better to hike in higher mountains than hike in lower, more humid areas. Some of us were suffering a bit from the heat. However, when we walked in the forests, there was a nice airflow. Although we were in a big group, sometimes there were moments I walked alone, or between people, and just enjoyed the nature in silence around me.
The second time, I did this hike a with a Chinese friend in late October. First I thought it would be a bit boring, because I have hiked this before. We talked a lot, but the best part was when we took a break and just enjoyed listening to the sounds of nature. I invite often people to join me in listening to nature for some minutes. Actually, what is silence? I realised also that I was not bored at all, and even felt very comfortable that there was no excitement of unknown paths, but a new perspective to something that is familiar.
The third time was with my parents in March. I had to carry their stuff and explain practices and ideas about Japan to them. I had again a different experience. I do not remember that much anymore, maybe because I was not so connected that much with the nature, but more with my parents. But I remember I point to an outstanding tree that I have remarked also the previous times. I do not know why. I just feel it has a story behind it. I greeted the tree in silent as an old friend.
The last time was in June, with my bestie from Norway. When we had coffee in very tranquil and picturesque Magome with a view on old traditional wooden houses, he was in his elements. To a Norwegian man from the countryside, this feels more relaxing holiday than walking after a long flight in a busy mega city like Nagoya (which I let him do the day before)
At some point we were somewhere hiking in an even more quiet place. With a small smile, he said it reminds him to home. I asked “because of the silence?”
“No, because I can hear a chainsaw.”
And that is when also heard the chainsaw. For me this was a very quiet place, and I never remarked the chainsaw, but after his remark that sound became very “loud”. Some minutes later, he added that when you hear a chainsaw in Norway you would see soon a moose; because in Norway they cut pine wood and they like to eat that.
It is interesting how walking with other people we even experience “silence” differently, and therefore even experience the same place or hike in different ways. I invite you to also repeat easy hikes as much as you can, with different people, and also invite them to be silent sometimes. One place, one forest, one hike… has so much to teach. It often let me think… why do I need to always see new places, if you can find so many new experiences in the same natural space close to you?