Walking: The Ise-ji from Takihara to Kii Nagashima

Inspired, I decided to take a walk. Takihara (滝原) to Kii Nagashima (紀伊長島) in Mie prefecture is a mere blip on a map but enough of a challenge to test a walking novice’s resolve. Hiking in the mountains or cycling all day is something I’m fairly used to but a solo walk on mostly paved roads, exploring quiet villages on a sleepy Sunday with just a small daypack, camera by my side and a GPS trail to follow? That would be new. 

Back in the early 2010s I spent quite a few weekends exploring and cycling the harbours and fishing ports around Kii Nagashima, often chatting with weathered fishermen and taking photos of the working harbours. More recently I spent a day hiking a short section of the Kumano Kodo over Magose Tōge (馬越峠) but had never stopped by any of the mountain villages to the north. A return visit has been long overdue. So I set off early Sunday morning on the first train out of Nagoya to see if this kind of exploring had a future for me. 

There’s little point going into depth about the Ise-ji or the section I walked because everything you need to know about the route can be found here, so instead I’m going to point out some observations I had throughout the day and briefly reflect on what might lie ahead. And of course post some photos. 

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Far more akiya than people.

Contrary to expectations (although I’m not that surprised) I only saw a handful of people but plenty of abandoned homes, or akiya (空き家) in Japanese. I thought I was used to seeing them after all these years cycling but I was genuinely surprised by how many I saw on the walk. My wife and I have occasionally contemplated moving to the countryside and away from the city but with a young daughter I can’t imagine doing that now. Local communities are quickly dying at a frightening pace, leaving behind limited access to health care and schools and other things. Even daily shopping would become a burden. That became glaringly obvious on the walk.

Even walking felt too fast.

It was 28 kilometres from Takihara to Kii Nagashima and after only an hour or so I realised that I’d have to keep moving if I wanted to catch my train back home. Constantly on the move defeated the whole purpose of the walk which was to slow down, explore, and get to know the area. In hindsight I should have made the route a little shorter or stayed overnight at Takihara and started earlier. Either that or ride the route slowly on a bicycle but that would sacrifice the Kumano Kodo and forest sections. Besides, I don’t trust myself to ride slowly.

The Kumano Kodo forested sections were the most fun.

I didn’t particularly enjoy walking on paved roads all day but did enjoy the gravel section of the Kumano Kodo. There’s something about the crunch of gravel underfoot that soothes the soul.

Photographing villages in Japan felt safe.

On the train journey back home I realised that photographing quiet streets in the middle of tiny village communities is something I’d taken for granted. If I were to turn up and photograph the outside of strangers homes in the English or Australian countryside, for example, I would constantly be on my guard in case someone objected and things got nasty. That’s something I can easily imagine in either of those countries. In Japan there’s none of that worry.

Prime lens verses zoom lens.

I took my Zeiss 35mm f/2 prime lens and a new Panasonic 20mm – 60mm f/3.5 – 5.6 kit lens that I purchased with the S5. For the first few hours I shot solely with the Zeiss as was content until I need the extra width of the zoom for one photo. This wasn’t ideal as I’m a firm believer that constraints result in more creativity. However, once I’d switched lenses I never changed back. I suspect it was the autofocus that I enjoyed the most as I wear glasses and it’s sometimes a challenge focusing with a manual lens (even with focus peaking turned on).

October always defies predictions.

October catches me off guard almost every year when it comes to the weather. One day it’s cold and breezy and has me dusting off the winter jacket, the next blistering sunshine and blue skies and accompanying late summer heat. I alway gets caught out and this time was no exception. I prepared for a cool day, with long trousers and a jacket but was instead treated to 30°C temperatures. I’ll never learn.

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So there you go, a few random thoughts. 

I promised myself I’d reserve judgement on how I felt about the day and whether or not I’d want to try it again. New activities need time to settle and a clear mind for any reasonable conclusion to be made, but after a week has passed the day has constantly lingered in the back of my mind. I can feel its pull calling me back for more. 

Cycled since I was a kid, moved to Japan in 2001, bought my first 'serious' camera in 2005. Spent the later half of the 1990s travelling in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Nepal, Japan, and the Philippines and wish I'd photographed a lot more back then.

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