Lowell Road Report 1

Up the Tenriugawa

(31 July through 4 August 2002)

  Japanese here


I thought how I had pictured it to myself before starting, and then

how little the facts had fitted the fancy .Percival LOWELL



This is the first report of our survey of the ways which Percival LOWELL took when he made a trip to the Noto Peninsula in 1889. His travel sketch to Noto was originally published as NOTO, An Unexplored Corner of Japan (1891). This book was recently reprinted (ISBN: 140432142X; September 2002).

LOWELL made a trip to the Noto Peninsula at the beginning of May 1889: Its motivation is written as follows:


. . . . . . . . Scanning, one evening, in Tokyo, the map of Japan, in a vague, itinerary way, with the look one first gives to the crowd of faces in a ballroom, my eye was caught by the pose of a province that stood out in graphic mystery from the western coast. It made a striking figure there, with its deep-bosomed bays and its bold headlands. Its name, it appeared, was Noto.


He started from Tokyo and went to Naoetsu (Naoyetsu) facing to the Japan Sea via Nagano by train, and then by the use of three jinrikishas (rickshaw: a small two-wheeled vehicle for carrying one passenger powered by a man pulling) went along the seaside of the Japan Sea, and reached Anamizu (Anamidzu) inside Noto on 9 May, and made a return trip. He eventually took a route down along the Tenryu River (Tenriugawa, Heavenly Dragon River) to Hamamatsu.


The outward route from Tokyo to Noto looks normal, while the way he planned to take on his way back is not usual. He did never pay any attention to the City of Kanazawa which was a distinguished cultured City near Noto (more cultural but less cultivated than Tokyo), but only adhered to a strange route avoiding Kanazawa. In fact he originally attempted to take a route 1) from Toyama to the mountainous side, up to the Harinoki Toge (2,541 metres high), 2) from the Toge down to Ohmachi, Nagano, 3) from Ohmachi to Shiojiri (Shiwojiri) and 4) from Shiojiri to Hamamatsu down along the Tenryu River by a basha or on floats. The newly opened Tohkaidoh line might have brought him from Hamamatsu to Tokyo (Click the map for a larger image).


Why was the Harinoki Toge however at the season when still the higher mountains were covered by heavy snow? We dont know when he made this plan, but the Harinoki Toge has been very famous around the Toyama district and must have been talked in relation with a historic episode. LOWELL just says it was hinted by a guide book, but he also wrote:


We ought to have taken warning from the general skepticism we met with at Toyama, when we proposed the pass. But with the fatal faith of a man in his guidebook, we ignored the native forebodings.


The route LOWELL conceived is really reminiscent of the very route of Harinoki Toge once taken by a brave load of this district in winter. Since then Harinoki Toge has been widely known as a symbol of the braveness and fearlessness. So everyone believed it was a difficult col to pass over in winter, though it did never imply it was very impossible if one were brave. The old episode which has been famous at the area is this: in 1584, just three centuries before, the load called SASSA Narimasa of the Etchiu-Toyama Castle, pressed by the load MAYEDA Toshiie of the neighbouring Kanazawa Castle (under a backup of TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi) wanted to communicate with TOKUGAWA Iyeyasu who stayed still at the Hamamatsu Castle (who was not yet the first Tokugawa Shogun, but was supposed to be a serious rival of Hideyoshi). Narimasa decided to make a secret trip with a troop to go down to Hamamatsu to persuade Iyeyasu. The idea was supposed to be carried in secret during the winter time when no body was active, and the Narimasa troop started from Toyama at the beginning of January and took a route over the Harinoki Pass to Ohmachi, down to the Ina Valley along the Tenryu River to reach the Hamamatsu castle. He planned to come back within 20 days for fear of a leakage, but it took one month for the troop just to reach Hamamatsu. This story has been handed down even to the present time, perhaps because Narimasa governed wisely at the district, but finally ruined by the Hideyoshi sect.


LOWELL at any rate dared to take this route leaving Toyama after lunch in the best of spirits. He reached Yugawa-dani (Riuzan-jita) quite deep into the Tateyama mountainous district, but eventually he met a difficulty, and was forced to retreat:


We had already lost three days; if we kept on, I foresaw the loss of more. It was very disheartening to turn back, but it had to be done.


After his failure, his description becomes quite blunt or silent about the route he took until he popped up again near the Saru-ga-Banba Toge far down in Nagano and then it becomes vivid again.


Our objective point was now the descent of the Tenriugawa rapids. It was not the shortest way home, but it was part of our projected itinerary and took us through a country typical of the heart of Japan. It began with a fine succession of passes. These I had once taken on a journey years before with a friend, and as we started now up the first one, the Saru ga Bamba no Toge, I tried to make the new impression fit the old remembrance. But man had been at work upon the place without, and imagination still more upon its picture within. It was another toge we climbed in the light of that latter-day afternoon.


Then his route becomes very obvious: LOWELL came down to Shiojiri (Shiwojiri) from Matsumoto, and was installed in an inn (Waki-Honjin) of Shiojiri. Passing the Shiojiri Toge, he went down to Simo-Suwa (Shimo-no-suma) to drop at the Post Office, implying the place had been familiar to him. From Shimo-Suwa he turned southward along the Tenryu River and entered the Ina Valley. He ran by a basha to Iijima, wherefrom he took a boat. He also took a rest at Tokimata for a night. In this way finally he was thus brought to Hamamatsu on board.




This summer the present writer made a trip by car along the Tenryu River upstream from Hamamatsu to Suwa on the occasion of the 2002 CMO Meeting that was held at Ina (amidst the valley between Suwa and Iijima). It was a good opportunity to know under what situation of nature and geography LOWELL hurried and made such sketches.

It was however impossible to go along the Sakuma dam (built in 1956) because the road along the river was blocked due to a landslide. I was therefore forced to take a roundabout mountain pass, but we should say it was good to bypass the artificial part of the river and when I could go down to the river again, the natural beauty of the gorge re-appeared and the impression was not spoiled.


The Tenryu River was more fantastic than I expected. Usually any river begins as a narrow brooklet, then gradually is broadened gathering water from the tributary streams and finally becomes quite wide before flowing out to the sea. The Tenryu is however slightly different: The valley is not the one engraved by erosion, but made of terraces between the two massive mountainous ranges on both sides (the Central Alps and the Southern Alps). We hear no other places in Japan lying between such high mountains of 3,000 metre class and also few even in the East Asia. The River has its source in the Lake of Suwa, and it is full of water flow from the outset as LOWELL wrote, while it turns out to be quite ordinary in the upper Ina Valley. The Valley looks more a plain. The river basin varies however, sometimes to be narrower, and sometimes we may be deserved. The Tenryu River winds more frequently and abruptly than usual.


I started from Hamamatsu (the destination of LOWELL), and first ran over the river bed: The river width at that place looked too wider beyond necessity. The Tenryu has been sometimes called a wild and violent river, but didnt show it sign. The flow must have been fuller when POWELL was on float. He came across the rail iron bridge of the newly built Tohkaidoh line (just in 1889):


. . . . . . . . .in front of us, came out the long outline of the Tokaido bridge, three quarters of a mile in length, like a huge caterpillar crawling methodically across the river-bed. Gradually we drew toward it, till its myriad legs glinted in the sunset glow; and then, as we swept under, it wheeled round to become instantly a gaunt stalking silhouette against the sky.


At the slightly upward town now called Tenryu City, the width became normal, and I could drive nicely taking Route 152 along the river upward. Several bridges were crossed.






However we could not enter the area of the Sakuma Dam because the road was closed, and was forced to take a long detour to the mountain side, as stated before. The presence of the dam implies some part of the Tenriugawa seen by LOWELL was lost. When I again went down to the River, a narrow gorge in a natural situation appeared (at Tenryu Village). Further about 50km drive was needed to reach Tokimata, but during the drive a range of forest often hid me to look down the gorge which must have been most interesting to LOWELL.







I then finally came to a place from which we could overlook the river wholly and arrived at the Tokimata port.





As to his boat going from Tokimata down to the Tenryu-Kyo, LOWELL wrote:


While I was still standing gazing at lessening Tokimata, I heard a cry from behind me, and, turning, ducked just in time to escape being unceremoniously somersaulted into the water by a hawser stretched from bank to bank at a level singularly suited to such a trick. The rope was the stationary half of a ferry to which I had neglected to make timely obeisance. It marked, indeed, an incipient stage in the art of suspension bridges, the ferryboat itself supporting a part of the weight, while the ferryman pulled it and himself across. We met several more in the course of the next few minutes, before which we all bowed down into the bottom of the boat, while the hawser scraped, grumbling impotently, overhead.


Our boat was of adaptive build. It was forty-five feet long, not quite four feet wide, and somewhat over two feet deep. These proportions and the character of the wood made it exceeding lithe, so that it bent like a willow before necessity. In the stern stood the head man, wielding for rudder an oar half as long again as those the others used. There was very little rowing done, nor was there need; the current itself took us along at racing speed.


Shortly after ducking under the last ferry rope we reached the gateway to the canon. Some rapids made an introduction, rocks in places jutting out of the foam, and while we were still curveting to the waves the hills suddenly closed in upon the stream in two beetling cliffs, spanned surprisingly by a lofty cantalever bridge. An individual who chanced to cross at the moment stopped in mid path to watch us through. The stream swept us in, and the countryside contracted to a vanishing vista behind. We were launched on our long canon voyage. The change was as sudden as a thunderstorm of a smiling summer afternoon. It was an eclipse of the earth by the earth itself. Dark rocks picketed with trees rose in still darker shadow on either hand, higher than one could see. The black river swirled beside us, silent, sullen, swift. At the bottom of that gorge untrodden by man, borne by the dark flood that untouched by sunlight coiled snakelike along, we seemed adventured on some unforgotten Styx.


For some time we had voyaged thus with a feeling not unlike awe, when all at once there was a bustle among the boatmen, and one of them went forward and stood up in the bow. We swept round a corner, and saw our first great rapids three hundred yards ahead. We could mark a dip in the stream, and then a tumbled mass of white water, while a roar as of rage came out of the body of it. As we swept down upon the spot, the man in the bow began beating the gunwale with his oar in regularly repeated raps. The board gave out a hollow ring that strangely filled the river chasm; a sound well calculated to terrify the evil spirits of the spot. For indeed it was an exorcism of homoeopathic design. His incantation finished, he stood motionless. So did the rest of us, waiting for the plunge. The boat dipped by the bow, darted forward, and in a trice we were in the midst of a deafening turmoil of boiling waters and crashing breakers. The breakers laid violent hands upon us, grappling at the frail gunwale and coming in part aboard, and then, as we slipped from their grasp, impotently flung their spray in our faces, and with a growl dropped astern. The boat trembled like a leaf, and was trembling yet, when, with nightmare speed, the thing had slipped into the past, and we were shot out into the midst of the seething flood below.


Not the least impressive part of the affair was the strange spirit-rapping on the bow. The boatmen valiantly asserted that this was simply for signal to the man in the stern. Undoubtedly now the action has largely cloaked itself in habit, but that it once was superstitious is unquestionable. Devils still constitute far too respected a portion of the community in peasant parts of Japan.


The steering the boatmen did was clever, but the steering the stream managed of its own motion was more so. For between the rapids proper were swirls and whirlpools and races without end. The current took us in hand at the turns, sweeping us down at speed straight for a rock on the opposite bank, and then, just as shipwreck seemed inevitable, whisked us round upon the other tack. A thick cushion of water had fended the boat off, so that to strike would have been as impossible as it looked certain. And then at intervals came the roar of another rapid, like a stirring refrain, with the boatman in the bow to beat the time.


So we swept on, now through inky swirls of tide, now through snow-capped billows, moods these of the passing stream, while above the grand character of the gorge remained eternally the same.


Among his photographs, a good photo of a wooden made bridge is found (cited in a Japanese translation), but I suppose no such a fantastic bridge is there at present. At Tokimata, he wrote about the carp-cooking as follows, and I hear it is also famous around here, but I had no time to make a survey.


I was left to study the carp-pond, with its gold and silver fish, the pivot of attention of the pretty little garden court which stood handy to the kitchen. This juxtaposition was no accident; for such ponds are landscape and larder in one. Between meals the fish are scenery; at the approach of the dinner hour they turn into game. The inn guest having sufficiently enjoyed the gambols of future repasts, picks out his dish to suit his taste or capacity, and the fish is instantly netted and translated to the gridiron.


Next I planned to go to Iijima where LOWELL was first on board. Already I spent six hours to come up to Tokimata, and Mr Toshiaki HIKI (CMO Member) kindly came down from Ina to meet me at Moto-Zenkohji located half-way between Tokimata and Iijima. HIKI brought me easily to the place at Iijima that is supposed to be once a boarding port (he made an inquiry beforehand to the town office). However it was already gathering dusk. He also showed me the place where LOWELL met the muddy obstruction at Miyada and also the winding road.


When we reached the reserved Hotel at Ina where the CMO members were to gather, it was already dark, and eight hours passed since my start at Hamamatsu.


Next afternoon, I tried alone to go down along the Lowell road again to Iijima. It is supposed Route 153 from Sawando downward is identical to the one LOWELL took. We could feel the road was made of somewhere upward and somewhere downward slopes: It looked really old. We can see the ranges of high mountains far on both sides. LOWELL wrote over there the snow-hooded mountains and the deep blue sky and the smiling fields stay with us.


The place where LOWELLs basha was stuck because of an overflow of a tributary at the Miyada Village must have been, as HIKI suspected, around the Ohtagiri River which pours into the Tenryu. The Ohtagiri-gawa brings a good amount of water of the melted snow from the Central Alps (including Mt Kiso-Koma-ga-Take). We can also pass a heavily winding road: This is also seen on the old map (attached is the one made in 1921) and it remains the same even now. Going this way, I became assured that HIKI was right in pinning down the places written by LOWELL as follows:


. . . . . . .a rumor became current that the road had been washed away ahead, and that the basha would have to stop some miles short of where we had hoped to be that night. This was disheartening. . . . . . .. The rumor gathered substance as we advanced, until in consequence we ceased to advance at all. At a certain village, called Miyada, the basha drew up, and we were informed that it was impossible to proceed further.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The road ran along the skirts of the mountains on the right, which fell in one long sweep to the river, a breadth of plain unexpectedly gored by streams. The canons were startlingly abrupt, and the darkness which now came on took nothing from the effect. A sudden zigzag down to a depth of a hundred feet, a careful hitching over a decrepit bridge, and a zigzag up the other side, and we were off at a good trot again. This dispatch on the part of the men brought us in much-improved spirits and in very good time into Iijima, our hoped-for goal.


At Iijima, the town is slightly far from the Tenryu River, and we must go down a zigzagged road. Thus the area of gorge looked quite to stay in a low place. The photos here were taken from the Hisori-bridge toward its downstream:



LOWELLs Down the Tenriugawa begins as follows:


We had made arrangements overnight for a boat, not without difficulty, and in the morning we started in kuruma for the point of embarkation. We were eager to be off upon our voyage, else we should have strolled afoot down the long meadow slope, such invitation lay in it, the dew sparkling on the grass blades, the freshly tilled earth scenting the air, and the larks rising like rockets up into the sky and bursting into song as they went. It seemed the essence of spring, and we had a mile or more of it all before we reached the brink of the canon. For even here the river had begun a gorge for itself through the plain. We left our jinrikisha at the top and zigzagged on foot down the steep descent, and straightway departed the upper life of fields and larks and sunshine for a new and semi-subterranean one. It was not simply a change of scene; it was a complete change of sphere. The world with its face open to the day in a twinkling had ceased to be, and another world, a world of dark water girt by shadowed walls of rock and trees, had taken its place.


I wandered for a while around Hisori up and down.


Same afternoon to evening, returning from Iijima, I ran up again to Ina and further upward to Tasuno which is quite near Suwa. I looked for the roads LOWELL took from Tasuno down. I thought I was able to trace the route: The prefectural highway numbered 19 now is the possible way of LOWELL from Suwa, and then he must have turned at Miyashita to cross the Tenryu and joined R 153 at Oiwak. HIKI agreed me on this point who lives at Kinoshita. Note however the R153 from Kinoshita downward to Sawando is not old, and different from the road LOWELL passed. The old road still remains and some places are less crowded and quiet.



Amusingly LOWELL wrote an experience he met at the Ina Valley as follows. According to HIKI, there were no more than two elementary schools along the Lowell road at that time. We had a meeting in a conference room of one of them where HIKI teaches:


. . . . . . . ..we under way once more, clattering down the main street of the village. It was not only in the village that we made a stir. A basha is equal to the occasion anywhere. The whole countryside stopped in its tracks to turn and stare as we passed, and at one point we came in for a perfect ovation; for our passage and the noonday recess of a school happening to coincide, the children, at that moment let loose, instantly dashed after us pell-mell, in a mass, shouting. One or two of them were so eager in the chase that they minded not where they went, and, tripping over stones or ruts, fell headlong in the mud. The rest pursued us panting, each according to his legs, and gave over at last only for want of wind.



Next day, HIKI and I went to Simo-Suwa (Shimo-no-suwa) to visit an Inn called Kikyo-ya as to which HIKI inquired beforehand. We were very very pleased to find that the signboard with a Japanese word Ki-kya-u-ya has been still used. The signboard is quite the same as shown in LOWELLs photo from the Lowell Observatory Archives (cited in the Japanese translation of NOTO). This signboard is a new one however, and the old one seems to be in a Museum; another one is also kept inside). The inn called Maru-ya is also present across the street. We met the landlady of the Kikyo-ya: The Inn was founded in 1690 in the Edo Era. According to the landlady, Mrs Morozumi, Kikyo-ya was well-known to the foreigners in the Meiji era, perhaps because of an agency in Yokohama. She for example showed us a photograph in a book titled Bonjour Japon which shows the Kikyo-ya and several foreigners who posed on the photo, taken by Hugues KRAFFT in 1882. She also explained us about the things taken in LOWELLs photo. This is one of the excellent photographs, sharply taken by the use of a tripod, and looks that the photographer directed some stage-performance (David STRAUSS writes in Percival Lowell, The Culture and Science of a Boston Brahimin, Harvard Univ Press, 2001, that The artistic quality of Lowells photographs is evident on first inspection. The images are sharp, an effect that is enhanced by the contrast between light and dark areas. Lowell was a master at framing his pictures.). So we agree this was taken by LOWELL, but suspect that it was produced on another occasion, since he was in a hurry when he was on the way back from Noto.



As often noted, we held the CMO Meeting at Ina: During the days of the Meeting, we visited once more the Kikyo-ya with all of the attendants (when we were given a woodblock print of an old map around Simo-no-Suwa used in the Edo Era), and also looked for the place where the Post Office was once built. It is not far from the Kikyo-ya, and quite near the JR Shimo-Suwa station.


We had started somewhat late, stopped for the lack of umbrella, and now were committed to a digression for letters I expected at Shimonosuwa. I never order my letters to meet me on the line of march but I bitterly repent having chosen that special spot. There is always some excellent reason why it turns out most inconvenient.

From Shimo-Suma, we went up the Shiojiri Toge, and down to the Shiojiri Waki-Honjin in a reverse direction with LOWELL: As to the Inn at Shiojiri, LOWELL wrote as follows:


The inn at Shiwojiri possessed a foreign table and chairs; a bit of furnishing from which the freshness of surprise never wore off. What was even less to be looked for, the son of the house was proficient in English, having studied with a missionary in Tokyo. I had some talk with him later, and lent him an English classic which he showed great desire to see.

Unfortunately, there is nothing to be related with LOWELLs times, while the garden has been preserved: It is said the garden was made in 1839, and the stones looks dark even now because the Inn was burned down in 1882, and so it must be very true the garden was the same that LOWELL saw. The person who spoke English was called Gen-ich KAWAKAMI: He became a member of the House of Representatives, but he lost fortune later, so a present descendant told us. At the backyard, there is a very old Inari shrine constructed before 1766.



After closing the CMO Meeting, I visited Uyeda Castle, Zenko-ji Temple and so on as to which we report in a following page.


(Masatsugu MINAMI, CMO Fukui)

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