Chosen for my non-fiction group I nominated it because I enjoy an occasional travelogue and this is supposed to be a good one. I was puzzled though because there are no maps or pictures in the book which is supposed to be one of the loveliest in Japan. (He says somewhere in the introduction that he wants to do it this way – sans pictures) and he calls it a “story-map.” I think he’s trying to paint the picture with words alone, but imo a few photos would have greatly enhanced my experience. (I accessed almost all of what I wanted on the internet.) The first time through I listened only but it felt like something someone who was already familiar with the Road would enjoy.
So I read it again with the Kindle to enhance my enjoyment. Yes – it did – the effect of the Japanese hieroglyphics in appropriate place was excellent. And the organization of the trip was more accessible – it’s pretty much one small town per chapter.
Walking the Kiso Road: A Modern-Day Exploration of Old Japan
by William Scott Wilson
2015 / 288 pages
read by Brian Nishi – 7h 58m
rating: 7 / travelogue
I think Wilson is trying to focus not the old and ignore the new as much as possible. He wants to see the old Japan which dates in this area back to ancient times – a couple millennia of peasants and samurai walking this road and putting up temples and statues and telling stories about the places, eating the local foods. That’s what Wilson wants to visit and wants us to “see” without so much contemporary noise, cars and so on. But it’s not avoidable so these things are not completely ignored.
Wilson is a translator, writer and a lifelong traveler who is devoted to Japan, so the inclusion of Japanese poets and writers as sources of epigraphs is natural. He’s written two prior books. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Scott_Wilson
From the publisher:
Step back into old Japan in this fascinating travelogue of the famous Kiso Road, an ancient route used by samurai and warlords, which remains much the same today as it did hundreds of years ago.
Take a trip to old Japan with William Scott Wilson as he travels the ancient Kiso Road, a legendary route that remains much the same today as it was hundreds of years ago. The Kisoji, which runs through the Kiso Valley in the Japanese Alps, has been in use since at least 701 C.E. In the seventeenth century, it was the route that the daimyo (warlords) used for their biennial trips—along with their samurai and porters—to the new capital of Edo (now Tokyo). The natural beauty of the route is renowned—and famously inspired the landscapes of Hiroshige, as well as the work of many other artists and writers. Wilson, esteemed translator of samurai philosophy, has walked the road several times and is a delightful and expert guide to this popular tourist destination; he shares its rich history and lore, literary and artistic significance, cuisine and architecture, as well as his own experiences.
The history was kind of interesting but very limited and topical related to the locations as he came to them. The folktales and people Wilson met were curious and I did ge quite interested at times, but I had to get involved to envision it and when I googled it kind of destroyed the illusion Wilson was weaving. Towards the end the food descriptions felt like filler.
Here are some helps: (or you can Google “Walking the Kiso Road” and the names of the towns – then turn to satellite view and maybe wander the road yourself)
Photos: https://walkjapan.com/tour/nakasendo-way-the-kiso-road. See blue rectangle in lower left of top photo – “View More Images” click and then click through the gallery. Preface : “The Kiso Road—kisoji ￼ in Japanese1—runs about sixty miles through central Nagano Prefecture and mostly follows first the Narai and then the Kiso River (traveling from north to south) through the granite forest-covered mountains of that same name. 2 It is the heart of the longer 340-mile road, the Nakasendo (also called the Kisokaido), which stretches from Tokyo to Kyoto. It is called a “road,” 3 and it often runs parallel to or on Highway 19 but just as often wanders into the mountains as a smaller paved road or just a narrow path of dirt or ancient paving stones. The Kisoji has been in use for perhaps over two thousand years, although it was most popular as a thoroughfare during the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries when travelers walked, rode on horseback, or were carried in palanquins through the mountains, along scary suspension bridges built on cliffs overlooking the swift river and over the steep passes.”
A travel blog: https://bitesofoishii.com/2017/03/11/tsumago-magome-nakasendo/Another one: https://donnykimball.com/kiso-valley-43cc25dc0179
Introduction: Japanese clothing of Meiji/Edo era: https://www.pinterest.com/psych0p4nda/clothing-reference-japan-edo-meiji/
Chapter 1: (Tokyo)
Men’s yukata: https://www.dhgate.com/product/japanese-men-samurai-yukata-kimono-hot-spring/422467592.html
Bishamonten Temple (1595) : https://trulytokyo.com/zenkoku-ji-temple/
Traditional Japanese breakfast: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/traditional-japanese-breakfast-369329(Wilson had “grilled salmon, lightly fried tofu, rice, herbs boiled in a light soy sauce, miso soup and green tea.” – p. 22)
Shiojiri – from https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Shiojiri
• 1 Narai-Juku (奈良井宿) (20 kilometers south of Shiojiri, ¥410 by JR Chuo Honsen). An extremely well-preserved town from the Edo-Kyoto route times, in the beautiful Kiso valley. There are a few ryokans as well. (updated Oct 2015)
Chapter 2: On the Road – Hideshio, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hideshio_Statio
Dosojin (statues where there are walkers)https://www.nakasendoway.com/dosojin/
Chapter 3: Niiekawa: For great visuals google Niekawa Japan And click the map, then then zoom in and click satellite view and zoom in again. You can travel parts of the road this way.
Kiso Road through Yabuhara: ( This map shows a good view with lots of roads to click around on) https://www.google.com/maps/place/Yabuhara,+Kiso,+Kiso+District,+Nagano+399-6201,+Japanemail@example.com,137.6641645,11.02z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x601ce0185a715431:0xe2172c2ddcf7697c!8m2!3d35.9667929!4d137.788423
Chapter 8: Kiso Fukushimia and Mount Ontake Momosuke Bridge across Kiso River – 112 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:150606_Momosuke_Bridge_Nagiso_Nagano_pref_Japan01s3.jpg
Chapter 10: Suhara http://www.kisoji-isan.com/s/en/heritage/28.html