Tracing Isabella Bird's tracks in Fukushima (Day 4), July 23, 2016 (イザベラ・バードの福島の足跡を追って(4日目) 2016年7月23日)

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This is the final day, and I started from Aizubange and headed to Kuruma Pass of Nishiaizu Town, near the border to Niigata Pref. Kuruma Pass was Isabella's last stay in Fukushima, before leaving to Niigata. She wrote, 'this house (=yadoya) is magnificently situated, almost hanging over the edge of the knife-edge ridge of the pass of Kuruma, ---'. As I visited Kuruma Pass today, there was nothing but a description board that said Isabella stayed two nights here, as shown above. More details are shown in this article later.

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Leaving the center of Aizubange Town, I pedaled along the old Echigo Kaido (=Highway) all the way to Kuruma Pass. Soon I came to a bridge over the Tadami River at 'the hamlet of Katakado' as she referred to in her book. This is a bridge that Isabella praised such that '---so good a bridge as that by which we crossed the broad river Agano ----'. The name of the bridge is Katakado Bridge and the river was actually the Tadami River not Agano, as shown above.

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From Katakado of Aizubange Town to Nozawa, which is the center of Nishiaizu Town, Isabella took an old mountain route of Echigo Kaido passing over Tabanematsu Pass. The route barely remains today only for walk. The entrance of this route was grass mowed road as shown above.

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Going forward on this path, I found a map board of this old Echigo Kaido route to Tabanematsu Pass as shown above. This map board was created by a local preservation group.

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Photo above shows a view along the road. This reminds me how the actual path looked like in those days. But there were many other narrower and steep up and down mountain paths on the way, especially beyond the Tabanematsu Pass until getting to a regular road. I barely walked this path carrying by bike.

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I finally reached Tabanematsu Pass and found a description board as shown above. It says that there were two tea-houses here and they served some specialty foods.

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Along the path beyond the pass, I could overlook mountainsides and winding Ban-etsu Express way as shown above.

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Also I found a small pretty orange flower of lily (Lilium medeoloide A. Gray) as shown above.

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Then I pedaled along a paved Echigo Kaido, choosing old Echigo Kaido paths if there remained any, until I reached 'village of Nojiri', Nishiaizu Town. Photo above shows an entrance to the old pass of Kuruma. The old Echigo Kaido path remained unpaved and grassy. The current Echigo kaido is Kuruma Tunnel of National Route 49 running just beside this old path.

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Photo above shows a view at Kuruma Pass in wilderness today. There was nothing but a description board for Isabella Bird's track here. The old Echigo Kaido path beyond this pass continued for a while but finally it came to a dead end.
車峠に着くと、そこは草がはびこり何もありませんが、ただ一つ、イザベラ・バードの足跡の看板が立っていました。その先も進みましたが、終に新越後街道に(あと少しでしたが)出ることなく、行き止まりになりました。 (看板に感激して、後で宿の方に聞くと、街おこしの一貫で、建てたとのことでした。)

Since there was no yadoya anymore at Kuruma Pass, I stayed tonight at yadoya in Nozawa. This was the last stay of my bike tour that traced Isabella Bird's tracks in 1878. I think I got some image of how she traveled and how she felt in those days. I am also grateful to local Aizu people for preservation work for history and reminder work for Isabella Bird's track.

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As additional information, I stopped at Tachiki Kannon Hall today, which was located along the old Echigo Kaido. Tachiki Kannon is the 31st of Aizu 33 Kannons for Fudasho tour, which was recently designated as Japan Heritage. The hall building is shown above.

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At Tachiki Kannon, I also got a special collective stamp book for all the Aizu 33 Kannon 'Goshuin', which is a unique red stamp of the temple which Kannon belongs. (Photo above)

The exact route and locations are shown in the map below. The map can be scaled up and down with a click and scroll.
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You can play back the route and altitude on the map below. (Up: 4.8%, gained elevation: 740m, Distance: 47.5km)
下の地図で、ルート再生や標高を見ることができます。(上り4.8%、獲得標高740m、走行距離 47.5km)

Tracing Isabella Bird's tracks in Fukushima (Day 3), July 22, 2016 (イザベラ・バードの福島の足跡を追って(3日目) 2016年7月22日)

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The third day started from Ouchijuku and I headed to Aizubange Town, mostly passing through broad area of Aizumisato Town. In her book 'Unbeaten Tracks in Japan', she referred to 'magnificent pass of Ichikawa'. I believe this is today's Ichino Pass in Asahi-Ichihawa district of Aizumisato Town. Photo above shows a description board at Ichino Pass which says this was a track that Isabella Bird traveled. (The board says the height of the pass is 870m, but my GPS measured 880m.)

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After I left Ouchi-juku, I followed the old Nikko Kaido (=Highway) for a while as shown above. This should have been a way Isabella traveled, but this road today had a dead end. So I switched to a paved road instead.

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Soon after, I came to Ouchi Dam Lake as shown above. When Isabella traveled here, there was no such big lake. As she wrote '---passing the pretty little lake of Oyake---', there was actually only small Ouchi Pond. This was expanded to Ouchi Dam Lake afterward. Ouchi Dam is now being used as an upper reservoir for Shimogo Pumped-storage Hydroelectric Power Plant.

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From Ouchi Dam Lake at the height of 800m above sea level, I could see a magnificent view of mountainside on the other direction as shown above. You can overlook Ouchi-juku village on the small basin near the center. I imagine that this may be a similar view that Isabella experienced 138 years ago.

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Near the end of Ouchi Dam Lake, I came to a branch to a mountain road which Isabella Bird traveled. And there was even a sign pillar of her name as shown above.

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There were similar sign pillars with her name in other places as shown above. This mountain road passing Ichino Pass was really a hard one for both ascent and descent.

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Descending from Ichino Pass, I pedaled through a large plain of rice field as shown above and finally came to a town of Aizutakada. This is the center of Aizumisato Town. Isabella wrote, 'An avenue of crypromeria and two handsome and somewhat gilded Buddhist temples denoted the approach to a place of some importance, and such Takata is ---'. I am not sure which temples she meant, but I visited two temples along the way at Aizumisato Town as below.

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The first temple was Fukushoji Temple. The Tomioka Kannondo Hall as shown above is a historic heritage and it is designated as a National Important Tangible Curtural Asset. It is also the 26th of 33 Aizu Kannons for Fudasho tour, which were designated as Japan Heritage.

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The second temple was Ryukoji Temple. Ukimi Kannon of this temple is also one of Aizu 33 Kannons for Fudasho tour, although it is an extra one.

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Lotus flowers were blooming at lotus garden of Ryukoji Temple as shown above. The bloom was in the latter half of the whole stage.

Tonight, I stayed at an inn in Aizubange Town. Isabella also stayed a night at Bange due to fatigue.

The exact route and locations are shown in the map below. The map can be scaled up and down with a click and scroll.
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You can play back the route and altitude on the map below. (Up: 5.4%, gained elevation: 330m, Distance: 36.5km)
下の地図で、ルート再生や標高を見ることができます。(上り5.4%、獲得標高330m、走行距離 36.5km)

Ryumon China workshop and Sakudari Kannondo in Aizumisato Town, Nov. 22, 2015 (会津美里町 の 流紋焼 と 左下り観音堂 2015年11月22日)

Following yesterday, I stayed in Aizumisato Town today and visited Ryumon China workshop and Sakudari Kannondo. Ryumon China is one of the traditional Aizuhongo Pottery group and has its unique beautiful surface pattern and color. Sakudari Kannondo stands on a slope of a rocky cliff creating an astonishing view.

The exact route and locations are shown in the map below. The map can be scaled up and down with a click and scroll.
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Picture above is a view of the Ryumon China workshop. This is one of the 14 pottery and china workshops in Aizuhongo district of the town. Aizuhongo pottery started more than 400 years ago. Today I visited here together with some of the members of Omotenashi Guide Fukushima as a group study tour. A workshop staff explained us in details about the process.

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Ryumon China workshop is dedicated to producing hard china products. Producing china needs special pottery stone which is a rare kind. Okubo pottery stone shown above which is mined from nearby mountain is the only kind available in eastern Japan.

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Ryumon China has its unique pattern on the surface. Pictures above show some of the products. You can see some liquid dropping or flowing pattern on the side. Also they have artistic beautiful colors such as ultramarine.

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Then I visited Sakudari Kannondo located in the southern part of the Aizuhongo district. This building was built in 830 by a famous Buddhist priest Tokuitsu. It stands on a slope of a rocky cliff as shown above. The landscape on which it stands makes the structure very astonishing.

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An entrance of a passage to the building is located along local route 23 as shown above. Some of the explanation boards are also shown above. It takes about 10-minute walk from the entrance to the Kannondo building.

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Last night and tonight, during some visits in Aizumisato Town I stayed at Kamonya Inn as shown above. It is located just adjacent to Nakata Kannon or Koanji Temple I visited yesterday as you can see a gate of the temple in the picture. It was just a normal inn with reasonable charge except it offered a very good home-cooked and healthy meal! I think it is a good choice when you visit around this area.
Welcome! 福が満開、福のしま。
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A man who loves Fukushima (福島大好きおじさん)

Author:A man who loves Fukushima (福島大好きおじさん)
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