One day in June, I received an email from my American friend John-san. He said he was coming to Japan for a few weeks on business in July, so he asked me if he could meet me somewhere for a day. In fact, I only exchanged emails with John-san, and it would be the first time for us to meet. We talked about going fishing if we were going to see each other, and we decided to go fishing to some genryu where we could go on a day trip.
I got acquainted with John-san through the introduction of Adam-san, who is a fishing friend of mine and the webmaster of this “tenkara fisher”. Adam-san told me that they have been friends since they were teenagers. After that, John-san came to Japan for work when he was on his 20's and get married to a Japanese woman. John-san said that he worked in Tokyo until he was 50 years old. That's why John-san is very fluent in Japanese, especially when it comes to writing and using kanji. I lived in Tokyo for 4 years during my university days and afterwards I was working in Tokyo until I was 40 years old, so We may have met somewhere without knowing.
Well, we exchanged emails several times and decided to go to the genryu of my home river Naka River. However, this time I decided to go to Yukawa, a tributary, instead of the main stream of Naka River I usually go to. John-san told me that he would go to a town near the destination the night before and stay overnight. So, I decided to pick him up at the hotel early in the morning next day.
Yukawa means “river of hot water”. The name derives from the fact that hot springs spring up in the headwaters of Yukawa, and this Yukawa and surrounding areas are a special place because of two reasons. One reason is in the past, along the headwaters of the Yukawa, an old road called Aizu Naka Kaido was crossing the Nasu mountain range from north, Aizu Domain, to the south in Edo period. The road was built along the Yukawa. After the end of Meiji era, there were no more people using the road, and now it has become a trail that is inferior to mountain trails. The remains of this road and iwana fishing at the genryu of Yukawa are introduced in detail in a previous book written by Mr. Takakuwa.(Refer to #45 Takakuwa-san)
Second reason is there is a hot spring source area called 'Hakuyusan” at the tributaries of Yukawa. From the late Edo period to the Meiji period, the folk religion called "Kou" who came to worship “Hakuyusan” as an object of faith was very popular. If you walk upstream along the river for about an hour on the forest road from the car stop of Yukawa, you will find a surprisingly wide flat land in the mountains with an altitude of 1,100m. The size is about 3 soccer courts. This is the place where there used to be a post town called "Santogoya-shuku". During the Edo period, it was used as a post station on the road, and during the Meiji period, it was used as a post town for worshipers of Hakuyusan. During the peak period, more than 30 inns were built in this mountain, and it is said that more than 1,000 worshipers visited on a busy day.
It is said that ko was originally a group formed by Buddhist monks to study doctrines, but later came to refer to groups and acts of folk worshiping ethnic religions and nature. During the Edo period, "Fuji-ko," which worshiped Mt. Fuji as a religious object, was very popular. Here in Yukawa, the source of hot spring "Gohozen", which gushes out in Ozawa, a tributary of Yukawa, had become an object of worship. Hot spring water is still gushing out from Gohozen today, but it is used as a source for the Itamuro hot spring town at the foot of the mountain.
Well, the day came. I left my house early in the morning before sunrise, picked up John-san at the hotel after driving for about two hours, and we arrived at the car stop in Yukawa after 6:00 in the morning. Yukawa around here is taken the water by the intake dam a little upstream, so it is not the original amount of water. However, John-san, who said that it is the first time for genryu fishing in Japan, said that it was a wonderful and beautiful flow. The surrounding mountains create an atmosphere of deep mountains and hidden valleys. There were already two cars parked at the car stop, but as Sawanobori(Stream climbing) is popular around here, I arbitrarily judged they were for sawanobori.
We quickly prepared for fishing and started walking the forest road. For about 30 minutes, the forest road went along the Yukawa, but after that, the road left the stream a little and turns sharply and climbs the slope of the mountain. Before long, Aizu Naka Kaido joined from the right. The stone signpost at the three-way intersection said 'Bakuhan-zaka to the right'. Interesting name. Bakuhan-zaka means “barley rice slope”. According to Takakuwa-san's book, “Once upon a time, if a traveler had cried out to the inn at Santogoya-shuku from the top of Bakuhan-zaka, Inn staff started cooking rice and the rice was cooked about when the traveler arrived at the inn. That is interesting story.
About 15 minutes later, the steep uphill ended, and the vast plain of the Santogoya-shuku spread out in front of us. There were splendid stone lanterns, water bowls, stone monuments, and signboards explaining Santogoya-shuku, reminiscent of the past. At the end of the post town, there was a path on the right, and at the end there was a magnificent torii gate. There was nothing behind the Torii gate. Only the Ozawa Valley, a tributary that separated it from the Yukawa Valley, and the mountains spread out. I thought the direction ahead of this torii must be the direction of Gohozen, which is the object of Hakuyusan worship.
There were three tents on the side of the forest road, and two people were preparing breakfast. When I greeted them, they said that they had come to camp and sawanobori with two cars at the parking lot.
After passing the ruins of the post town, we parted ways with the mountain trail and followed the ruins of the road Aizu Naka Kaido along the Yukawa. The road was very narrow almost disappearing foot paths. After walking for about 15 minutes, we got off onto Yukawa. Although it is the genryu of Yukawa, decent number of anglers coming up to this area often. Immediately, John-san prepared for fishing and he start fishing. John-san said he does fishing quite often in USA. His casting was very beautiful and there was no problem for fishing in genryu. I thought that if there was a fish, he would catch fish immediately, but there was no bite at all. We decided to walk upstream to the stream divides in two, and we devoted to stream walking for a while. The morning sun had risen considerably, and the sunlight was entering to the valley. The Nasu mountain range was beautiful on both sides of the stream. The weather was forecasted to be downhill from the afternoon, but it looked like there would be no problems until after noon. It was a lovely morning.
After walking for about 30 minutes, we arrived at confluence of the stream. Nakanomata-zawa on the right and Touge-zawa on the left. We proceeded to Toge-zawa to the more upstream side. Toge-zawa means the mountain pass stream. Beyond this stream source was the pass of the Aizu Nakakaido in the Nasu mountain range, and beyond that was the Aizu Domain in Edo period. The water volume of the stream had halved and become smaller, but Touge-zawa is the very upper part of genryu of Yukawa. The water was infinitely clear and beautiful.
Here, I also set the fishing rod and start fishing. There was good looking flow, so when I cast the kebari, iwana came out from the first cast. It was small iwana about 20 cm. It seemed that the downstream of the flow was still good, so I cast once more and another iwana bit kebari at the end of the flow. This time it was a nice iwana about 25cm long.
There was a nice pool with a small waterfall when we walked a little upstream. The depth of the pool was perfect and the water is lush and beautiful. I gave this place to John-san. John-san's cast drew a beautiful loop and the kebari just landed on the water at the falling edge of a small waterfall. When the kebari was drifting in the pool for a while, a nice-sized iwana suddenly bit the kebari. John-san set the hook perfectly, and a beautiful iwana bent John-san's rod. It was John-san's first iwana. At this time of year, the iwana was probably the best size in this stream. I thought it was good that John-san caught a good fish first. John-san was also smiling and taking pictures.
From there, we fished up Touge-zawa that flowed down like a staircase. At the very end of the stream, the spots where we can fish are limited. John-san fished picking up points with a right depth of water. Time passed quickly, it was about noon and the weather was still beautiful with blue skies. The ridgeline of the Nasu mountain range became quite close. We arrived at a place where the old Aizu Naka Kaido crosses Touge-zawa as a mountain trail. John-san seemed to be satisfied with catching 7 or 8 iwana until then, so we folded the fishing rods there.
When we walked a little downstream direction on the trail, the trail split in two. The road on the left toward the ridgeline and crosses the pass to Santogoya Onsen, an old hot spring with 2 onsen inns in the middle of Nasu mountain range, and the road on the right is the old Aizu Naka-kaido. We took right to the old road. We ate lunch on the riverbed on the way and again walked down the old road to the car stop while looking up at the sky where the clouds were moving a little faster.