walking the Nose Kaido

06Jul13

The Nose Kaido (能勢街道) is an ancient road that runs from the north part of the city of Osaka, through Toyonaka and Ikeda, and finally up into the Nose area in the far north of Osaka Prefecture.  “Nose” is pronounced like “no say” — not like that large thing that protrudes from your face.  The Nose area is famous for its clear water, which is one of the reasons that sake maker Akishika (秋鹿 — it means ‘Autumn deer’) happens to be based there.  The Nose water company is also based there and the Japanese propensity to brand everything using English leads to the unfortunate (or fortunate?) inevitability that one of their products is called Nose Natural Water.  I’ve had it before, and I can definitively state that Nose water is delicious.

The Nose Kaido has been entirely bypassed by modern transportation infrastructure and so it often takes the form of a small lane that winds its way, mostly unnoticed, through less frequented city neighborhoods.  What once was a main street is now a series of backstreets.  The attraction of the Nose Kaido — other than the fact that it gets you off the beaten track — is that the marks of its ancient provenance are still everywhere to be found: stone markers, Buddhist Jizō shrines, traditional buildings, old paving stones, and the like.  There are plenty of people who have walked the entire length of the Nose Kaido and documented it, and if you want to follow suit, someone has very kindly put together a detailed Google map.

My friend Joe and I decided to walk the distance between Ishibashi, which is near where I live, and the Inagawa river (猪名川) which borders Ikeda city.  In the course of our walk we climbed an ancient kofun (古墳), or burial mound, which is apparently called the 二子塚古墳 mound.  The name translates as “the twin mound mound,” which I think refers to the original shape of the mound, and not who might have been buried there.  It’s estimated to have been built in the 6th century CE, and if you want to know more about it, and about other burial mounds in the Ikeda area, then you should definitely check out this Ikeda kofun page.

The Nose Kaido then took us to Suigetsu Park (水月公園 — ‘water moon park’) where we stopped to wander through the iris garden, which has a Chinese-style moon viewing pavilion at the center.  At the edge of the iris garden is a stone monument that commemorates those children who were killed in the Osaka School Massacre of 2001.

Just outside of the park grounds we stumbled across this poster for the Ikeda Red Army, a junior-league baseball team.  The name is full of irony, considering the perennially tense relationship between China — the country most associated with the phrase “Red Army” — and Japan.  However, this irony only exists in English.  The Japanese for Red Army is 赤軍 (pronounced “seki-gun”), but the kanji used for the Ikeda Red Army is 赤い軍勢 (pronounced “akai-gunzei”).  According to the Ikeda Red Army homepage, they chose this name because it has many implications, but especially because it contains a sense of “fired-up fellowship” (“燃える仲間たち”).  Still, I can’t help but associate this name with the Japanese Red Army, one of the most interesting militant revolutionary groups of the early 1970s.

After resting by the Inogawa for an hour or so with beer and tomato popsicles, we decided to keep walking through Kawanishi and up toward the mountains to see what we would run into.  In the backstreets of Kawanishi we passed a small community pottery workshop that featured this fantastic version of a Rubik’s Cube.  What I love most about this ceramic version of the Cube is that it entirely and completely defeats the original purpose of the cube.  If you can’t move it, you can’t play it.  It’s actually a really sophisticated joke, but I wonder whether or not the person who made it had that in mind.  I also wonder what would happen if you gave it to the Rubik-solving robot at Kawasaki Good Time World.

As Joe and I started our ascent of the mountains above Kawanishi, we came across this “curb your dog” warning sign.  Like so much of the cute signage in Japan, this one contains a fantastically terrible pun.  The phrase at the top of the of the sign tells you to please pick up your dog’s poop (フン — pronounced “foon”) and take it away with you.  But フン — or ふん as it’s registered using Japan’s other phonetic writing system — can also be a sound of complaint (like a word that would be “grumble+damn”).  So the dog is both complaining about the poop, and saying “poop” at the same time.  Clever, isn’t it?  Japanese is full of bad puns like this, which as a class are generally called 親父ギャグ (oyaji-gyagu) — quite literally, “old man gags.”

Where the houses skirting the edge of the mountain stopped, we were given directions to the top of the mountain where we were told there was a place that wasn’t exactly a temple, but that contained a lot of Buddhist statues.  This sounded intriguing, so we followed the directions to a path that led up to the top of the mountain via a series of very old and very steep stone stairs.  It had been raining in Osaka recently — and there was even a little bit of rain during the course of our hike — so the trees that overshadowed the path were dropping their water down onto the cool moss beds that had built up around the steps over the years.

On one of those steps I encountered perhaps the strangest creature I’ve seen in years.  And I had no idea what it was.

At first I thought it must be the famous Japanese mountain leech, since those can sometimes have a yellow tinge.

However, further research revealed that what I was looking at was in fact the Bipalium nobile, a terrestrial flatworm.  Called the 大三筋笄蛭 (“omisujikougaibiru”) in Japanese, the Bipalium nobile can grow up to a meter in length.  They are land planarians, a freakishly large version of those cute flatworms with the funny eyes that we used to be forced to cut into pieces in science class so that we could watch them regenerate.  Bipalium nobile doesn’t have funny eyes (though it would look pretty cute with a pair of googly eyes stuck on it) but it more than makes up for that with it’s crazy stripes and spade-shaped head.  The one we ran into at the top of the mountain was probably just about 15 centimeters long, so a pretty tiny one in comparison with the meter-length version.

There were dozens of Buddhist statues lining the path to the top of the mountain, and even a small graveyard.  As we had been told, there wasn’t really a temple at the top of the mountain.  There was, however, a fenced off white building that looked like it might be a stupa of some sort.

The path to the top of the mountain was very steep, as you can probably make out from the angle on this panorama.  Because the panorama mode on the iPod isn’t very good at adjusting for variable lighting conditions, what you can’t see in the blazing white light between the trees is the view of Kawanishi, and then Ikeda, and finally — off toward the horizon — Osaka proper.

There are actually quite a lot of places for hiking — or “hill walking,” as a former colleague of mine used to call it — in the north of Osaka Prefecture.  There’s a hike along abandoned railroad tracks you can take from Takedao Station, there is the famous walk up to Minoh Waterfall (especially nice when the summer illuminations are on), and in the Nose area you can hike to the top of Mount Myoken.

One of these days I plan to walk the entire length of the Nose Kaido, starting in Osaka.  I think it would take less than a day, though considering the vast amount of distractions encountered during the short Ishibashi to Ikeda stretch it might be a good idea to budget two days and divide the walk in half.  An even more ambitious walk might involve traveling the original route of the Tokaido road, which once connected Kyoto and Tokyo; or perhaps a shot at the Shikoku Pilgrimage, which one really should do on foot, preferably in one shot, just to keep things in the proper spirit.

Until then, I’ll just have to settle for strange local sights, like this photo of Neuschwanstein, hovering mysteriously on the second-floor verandah of an apartment building.  As it turns out, there’s a small gallery just below the right-hand side of the verandah, but if you ask me that still doesn’t go very far in explaining the floating castle.



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