Sakurai 桜井 to Kuzu Jinja 葛神社

I've mentioned before how difficult it is to focus fully on a hike when deep in conversation. Miki had just returned from her month away a few days before, so much of this walk was spent in other places and times. What I do remember is cedars. A whole lot of cedars.

We picked up the Yamanobe in Miwa. On the train in I noticed a high set of torii, supposedly the tallest in Japan. I'd been here before, back in 1994, when a friend and I wanted to pay a visit to this Ōgami Jinja, which enshrines the god of alcohol. We arrived at dusk and couldn't figure out where the shrine was, so we merely sat at the base of the torii, drinking cheap sake bought from a vending machine. Today, Miki and I had a bit more focus. Just off the train, we powered up with a bowl of this town's famous somen. In a warehouse nearby, drying somen noodles hung in bunches like mop heads. We then spent the next half hour retracing our steps from our previous walk here back in July. An abrupt left took us along the Ise Kaido, shadowing a small river through villages alive with farmers doing their thing. We did our obligatory head bobs at the many temples and shrines we saw, though ironically decided to skip the large and famous Hasedera, the both of us having been out here a couple of times already.

After some onigiri and ice cream beside the river, we climbed up to a large dam, then into the forest itself. The middle part of the day was along high mountain trails, which took us up and over two 800 meter peaks. Below them was a small park with a small lake whose surface was covered with new lotus flowers. It was a scene inspired by Monet. Or vice versa. The higher trails were overgrown somewhat, it being still early in the season. (This section hadn't been in our book, and may either be a newer, more challenging section for more seasoned hikers. Or we may simply have lost the trail in the confusion of the park, then rejoined it later. In either case, our legs were certainly surprised.) We chased a fox off the trail, and later, a strange bird soared over the pass, looking slim and sleek. For a moment, I actually thought it was a flying snake. Quite the disturbing sight.

The final descent is still in my knees as I write this. And through it all, I don't recall seeing any trees that weren't cedar. Many of them were strewn about the floor as if by a child throwing a tantrum. This approach to forestry resembled the thought given to city zoning. No sense of order that I could see. Our shadows lengthening now, walking into villages and over the low passes between them. We talked awhile with an old woman having tea beside her field. Nearby, the sudden sound of gunshots surprised us, the blue smoke visible just inside the trees. The road from these high villages led us straight down to Kuzu Jinja, where we were able to quickly hitch a ride to the station. Our luck held as we made a series of good train connections back home.

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