Water And Age On The Nakasendo Way
Water and age felt like my constant companions on the Nakasendo Way. In the days leading up to my hike, Japan had been inundated by torrential, flooding rain, and it seemed like every drain, canal, waterfall, grate and dam was bursting with water. The sound of running water was like a constant companion on the […]
Water and age felt like my constant companions on the Nakasendo Way. In the days leading up to my hike, Japan had been inundated by torrential, flooding rain, and it seemed like every drain, canal, waterfall, grate and dam was bursting with water. The sound of running water was like a constant companion on the trip.
Water has a special place in Japanese culture, to point where there are special words, the first bath (hatsuyu) and the first drink of water (wakamizu) of the year. It’s not surprising, given how water intensive the cultivation of rice, Japan’s staple food, that water would be venerated.
Yet, the water I saw in forests of Chifu and Nagano, along the Kiso Road and Nakasendo Way, was so startlingly, breathtakingly, crystalline and pure.
It was a vibrant contrast with the age of the buildings and many of the people I met. A lot has been written on the ageing of Japan’s rural population. It’s true. But, so many of the folks I met wore their age so well. They were old, but old in a way that is still very much alive and vibrant, wanting to keep tradition, craft, community and culture in tact and vibrant.
I believe many of us in the “west” fear growing old because we are disconnected from the virtues of age, like wisdom, kindness, and patience. Time and again I wished my Japanese was better so I could have kept the conversations going with folks I met, who were always willing to engage me and my second-rate Japanese. From volunteers in museums and cultural centres, to shopkeepers and cafe staff, the welcomes and short conversations were filled with warmth.
I particularly remember a group of three men, who can’t have been any younger than 70, out for a day hike in the hills to collect wild mushrooms and nuts. Impeccably dressed, courteous and generous with their time, they walked with us for a while, explaining details of the food that could be foraged in the vicinity and how it was used in local cooking.
Somewhere, amongst the ever present flow of water and the vibrant sense of age in that place, I had my own kind of renewal. The Nakasendo Way has yielded the strongest set of photos I’ve made for a while, certainly the strongest photos since I took a break to write No Missing Tools. It’s also given a place in Japan where I want to return again and again, to make images, talk to the locals and enjoy the special vibe of this ancient road.