Katashina, Gunma → 📍 Konsei Tunnel → Lake Chūzenji, Tochigi

Map of Central Honshu with author’s route from Katashina, Gunma to Lake Chūzenji, Tochigi highlighted. 🗺 Open map in GaiaGPS →

Looking towards the mountains over the roof of a Japanese house, lots of cables, and a small suspension bridge.

A small building with a peeling sign saying COSMO STATION.

A white bench surrounded by red poppies.

A road sign in a forest saying Japanische Romantische Strasse. 📍 Katashina, Gunma

A young girl holds a small grey rabbit against her chest. 📍 Katashina, Gunma

My inner social media consultant tells me that contemporary field notes from an expedition in the Far East require the presence of schoolgirls and rabbits, and I am happy to oblige. Her grandmother served me tea — the girl’s, not the rabbit’s — and we sat by the charcoal burner in their roadside stand, where they sold pickles and walnuts, and we looked at the gray clouds swirling overhead, all bark and no bite.

A man in grey t-shirt stand by his blue Maserati Quattroporte which broke down. 📍 Katashina, Gunma

The Quattroporte idled by the side of the road which led to the high pass into Tochigi Prefecture, doing what Maseratis do on a Sunday morning which might very well be the last nice one for weeks.

Engine problem,” the owner said, dressed fabulously in Crocs and knock-off Kappa sweatpants, and he opened the driver’s side door to demonstrate. TRANSMISSION FAILURE, the display read. It was a beautiful car.

Later, he pulled over in a BMW, and leaned out the window. They’re fixing the Maserati now,” he said, and here’s your lunch.” A grilled rice ball and a bottle of tea in my rucksack, I walked on, into a birch forest, over turquoise mountain lakes, into the clouds.

Closeup of bracken leaves.

A lake in the mountains under a cloudy sky.

A man sits in a fishing boat as seen through a thick forest.

A road in a forest disappears into the fog.

A white Honda Integra drives at high speed along a road in the forest.

Trees peek through the thick fog.

A view of a lake through a forest.

Two men fly-fishing in a boat on a mountain lake.

Trouts grilled on hot coals.

Closeup of the fresh shoots of a spruce tree.

The grilling trouts seen from a different angle. 📍 Katashina, Gunma

The cloud had rolled down from the mountains, the highland forest glowed with the colors of early spring, a cold drizzle soaked the mountain pass at almost 2,000 meters above sea level. It was time for grilled trout, prepared the way whole goats are grilled in Argentina, tilted over hot coals. Outside, Subarus growled on the wet asphalt, past the birch groves, into the tunnel, and I followed.

Panoramic view of a gloomy mountain landscape, with a lone pine against a dark grey sky.

Blue-gray mineral water bubbles up from the ground and forms a small pool.

The cloudy waters of the outside pool of a bathhouse. 📍 Yumoto, Tochigi

The silhouette of Mount Nantai against the evening sky.

The glow of Tokyo, 100 kilometers away, across the waters of Lake Chūzenji. 📍 Lake Chūzenji, Tochigi

This landscape is nothing short of a natural masterpiece,” Fukada Kyūya wrote of the juxtaposition of Mount Nantai and Lake Chūzenji, and when I walked out of the radiant blue waters of the bathhouse into the perfectly silent night, the clouds began to disperse, and the great cone of Nantai emerged from the darkness like a Polaroid frame. Soon, the lake came into view, awakened to life not only by its attendant mountain, which had created it 20,000 years ago, but also by the stars reflected on its surface. I stood on the shore, dipped my fingers into Chūzenji’s cool waters, and watched the midnight glow of Tokyo, 100 kilometers beyond the mountains.

These Walking Dreams is a visual field diary of a 4,300-kilometer walk from one end of Japan to the other, in the spring and summer of 2017.