Bears and eel chips

Shogun Ieyasu was a canny chap.  When he became Shogun in 1603 he forced all the great lords to spend every second year with him in Edo, or Tokyo as it is now.  This meant that they spent huge amounts of time and money travelling with their vast retinues along the road between Kyoto and Edo, and consequently had no time or money to be plotting to overthrow the shogun and take his place.

It also means that this ancient route, called the Nakasendo Way, has a series of picturesque old post-towns which used to provide accommodation and food to these travellers.  There are walking trails – often with the original shogun-initiated paving stones still in place –

– and we decided to walk between two of the prettiest towns in the Kiso Valley, not far from Nagoya.


After a stroll through the first town, Magome, which has lovely views and lots of cute houses –

– we started walking through the woods.  And, as they say, If you go down to the woods today …

… you’d better ring that bell hard.

And just in case that wasn’t clear enough –

– there are added visuals to reinforce the message.

There’s a bell every few hundred metres, so we rang them all very hard and I kept a firm grip on the emergency whistle attached to my backpack.  But fortunately no heroics were needed and we had a bear-free day.

Halfway along the route there’s an old house where quaintly-dressed retainers serve tea –

And there’s a traditional irori fire pit, which makes for an authentic, if smoky, experience –

But we soon realised that we weren’t the first Brits to have had tea there –

When we finally arrived in Tsumago, I was thrilled to find that there was a dressing-up opportunity – a small hall with a stage and several traditional outfits just begging to be worn and paraded for a photo opportunity.

The dilemma … how to choose between a kimono and a samurai outfit?

The solution … fusion fashion –

Another problem … four people and three outfits.

The solution … improvisation –

I don’t think anyone would be able to tell that one of these outfits is not traditionally Japanese.

Now that the summer is officially here, the famous Nagoya speciality – eel – is on the menu.  So we went to a recommended eel restaurant to try it and the first thing you see are the eels cooking over hot coals –

– with a large vat of special sauce bubbling away beside them.

I love the way that the ordered and orderly Japanese have rules on how to eat pretty much every dish available – no freestyling here, thank you very much.

It’s not the first time I’ve been given a detailed handout on how to eat something –

So when my eel arrived –

complete with all the necessary components for every stage of the eating process – I obediently divided it into quarters as instructed.

And I have to report that the plain eel, grilled, sauced and served with rice was my absolute favourite.

And what of the eel chips?  Well, they’re actually made from the discarded backbone, which is fried until crunchy –

The general consensus was that they tasted a bit like pork scratchings, only not porky.

But I couldn’t help thinking that they looked rather like a plateful of centipedes –

I’ll definitely be having eel again, but I may give the eel chips a miss next time.