From Mitake to Saito the road is quiet and it offers few places to spend the night. Farmers working alongside the old highway during the afternoon hours look-up and express concern for travelers heading for the next post-town, Hosokute.
‘You be careful and reach there before nightfall. It’ll take you at least a couple more hours. And you better have fixed somewhere to stay because there are no inns except Daikokuya in Hosokute itself. And the road is not so easy to follow, you know.’
Indeed, the traveler realizes quickly that it is not easy to trace old pathways across tracts of rice growing land which have been re-aligned in recent years. Beyond this maze the familiar old highway rounds a farm and, for the first time since Kyoto, narrows to a barely discernible pathway before disappearing into woodland. A narrow shelf of rock alongside the road, jutting out from under a graveyard, offers further testimony to the potential difficulties ahead. It was from here that travelers would chip out ‘firestones’ to light their tinder – should the need arise.
Looking back on Mitake from the site of an old teahouse, the traveler sees an ‘end-of-the-line’ rail stop, further emphasizing feelings that, from here on, this is where the hills begin. Even the modern highway, which until now has followed faithfully the line of the old Nakasendo (usually at a respectful distance), turns away to take a longer, but low-lying, route to the south. This friendly, dignified old post-town was actually the first to be formally established on the Nakasendo by Tokugawa Ieyasu, by an order from the shogun dated 24th February, 1602. Although no inns survive today, the place still maintains the charming atmosphere of an original post-town.
Turning ahead once more, the uphill climb through the woodland proves not to be so intimidating after all – especially if it is a sunny spring afternoon. Birdsong fills the air as, picking up a small stone, the traveler carefully places it atop a small cairn beside the path to wish good fortune to those who follow – just as thousands have done before him.
A short way beyond the cairn is Saito which is no more than a dozen houses. The paved road curves away to the left and the Nakasendo continues straight ahead up the hill.