Michinoku Coastal Trail (MCT) Day 1 : The first step of 1000+ kilometers

We arrived at Soma station (相馬駅) last night and stayed at Ryokan Isamiya (旅館いさみや), which is located 1.5km from the south side trailhead/endpoint of Michinoku Coastal trail (MCT).
After considering our options and some other factors, we decided to walk north bound.

The biggest factors are weather and temperature. As residents of (the southern island of) Shikoku, we were unsure what to expect of the weather and temperature in late March and April in the northern part of Japan, Tohoku. So we decided it would be better to start from south, which should be, at least a little bit, warmer than the more northern part.

Waking to the MCT South trailhead
MCT South Trailhead in Soma, Fukushima

The trailhead is located at a bay-side park, Matsukawaura Environmental Park TERMINUS (松川浦環境公園ターミナス). From there, we started walking along the route. First thing we did was to immediately stop at the first convenience store we passed to get our breakfast and morning coffee.
Today’s route is supposed to go through the busy and residential parts of both Soma city and Shinichi-town (新地町). We were expecting 95% paved road.
Before long, we reached our first obstacle as we came upon a big construction site where they are adding a second bridge across the Koizumi (小泉川) and Uta (宇多川) rivers. There is special path for walkers along the construction site, so we followed it, crossed the bridge and pulled out our iPhones to check the route. (We already uploaded the GPS tracks of the entire route that was provided in MCT Natori Trail Center website in our Garmin and Geographica, as well as downloaded YAMAP and Yamareco maps)

We found that we were supposed to walk a farm road located on a strip of land between the two rivers. But it looked completely impossible to reach due to the construction. I even asked one of the construction workers if there was a way to get to the path, but of course the answer was, “No.” So, we kept walking the main road which follows the river along the south bank until we hit Soma Higashi Ōhashi bridge (相馬東大橋). In the middle of the bridge, there are stairs to go down to the farm road. There we got back on the correct route.

Height limit 1.6m. Erik should not go through here

I was told by a staff member of the MCT club that we should stop by Senkyaku-Banraikan (千客万来館), which is Soma city’s tourist information center. Once we arrived there and went inside, we saw a lot of media reporters and people wearing the same gray coat gathered there. It turned out that today was the second day of the Tokyo Olympic torch relay. The relay started yesterday in a southern part of Fukushima prefecture and this morning the runners ran through Soma city.
The tourism information center staff were very nice. They gave us a free map of the Soma city part of the MCT and MCT Soma city pin badges. They asked us to make a pose for some pictures, probably for their SNS.

We went to the site of the former castle, Soma Nakamura Jō (相馬中村城) which has been turned into a park and shrines. All of the cherry blossoms which stand along the path in long lines have big buds in them. We wished we could’ve come here a week later.

Here, we finally saw a trail sign with MCT logo attached on a wall by the shrine. Up until this point, while we were going through the busy part of the city, we didn’t see any route signs, so we were a bit worried. But from this point onward until today’s goal, we were consistently able to find the route signs at every important corner.

Before we arrived at the gigantic ancient ginkgo trees, while we were walking in the middle of a huge open area filled with rice paddies, a sudden shower came. We stopped under a driveway bridge to seek refuge to avoid getting wet and made use of the time there to take a lunch break. As we took off our backpacks to give our bodies some rest, we ate some light snacks for lunch.

While we were walking today, we kept seeing a lot of houses of which the roofs were covered with blue construction sheets here, there and everywhere. We also saw some houses with cracks in their walls and panes of window glasses that had shattered and that have been boarded up. Some old stone signposts by the road and stone lanterns at a shrine fell on the ground. Apparently, all this damage was caused by a relatively strong earthquake that hit Fukushima prefecture not too long ago.

Our original plan was to call it a day at a convenience store located about 2 km away from Shinchi station (新地駅). Yesterday when we took a taxi from Soma station (相馬駅) to our last lodging, the driver told me that their taxies can come and pick us up at the trailhead of Mt. Karou (鹿狼山). He gave me their number to make a booking by phone.
Arrived at the convenience store, we still felt energetic and motivated. Though I had accidentally fell on my face on the road just before the shop and hit my mouth. Even with slightly bleeding scratches on my palms and lips, luckily I didn’t get any problems with my mobility. Well, Erik got quite a trauma by witnessing me crashing my face straight onto the concrete-paved road. He was so concerned.
Anyway, all things considered, we decided to keep walking to the trailhead and make tomorrows walk a bit easier.

In the last part of today’s walk, we went through an area that was a lot more countryside. Erik said the very windy flat area and the many glass clad greenhouses reminded him of his home country, the Netherlands. Here the open farm lands are crossed by lines of tall cedar trees with bamboo in the undergrowth which function as barriers to block the wind. While walking around, we wondered what the fields of small thin trees which were growing in some of the fields were for. As it was still too early for them to grow their spring leaves, they were completely naked and did not give us any clues as to what kind of trees they were.

We arrived at the Mt. Karou trailhead around 3:30pm. Then we called the taxi company to arrange our pickup. After a short wait, our taxi arrived. Having enough experiences with rural Japan, it was no surprise to us that it was a local countryside grandpa behind the wheel. We really wished we could book the hot spring ryokan by the trailhead, but as today is a Friday and it was already completely booked when I called them several days ago.

We are staying in a new business hotel right in front of Shinchi station for the next two nights.
This has one advantage. We can leave most of our gear at the hotel and lighten our load for the next day’s walk. Tomorrow morning we will take a taxi back to the trailhead and after reaching tomorrows goal, which is a train station, we will take a train back to Shinchi station and our hotel.
A big bonus for us is that this business hotel has a big onsen (hot spring).

Even though a strong wind was continuously blowing while we were walking through the open areas, it helped keeping an ideal temperature for this first day of walking.
Our original plan for today was 18km of walking. But it actually ended up to became 28km, because of the additional distance of walking to the trailhead of Mt. Karou. This distance also includes walking from last night’s lodging to the MCT south trailhead and the construction detour in the morning.

Our MCT Thru-hike : from late March to mid-May, 2021


START : MCT south trailhead

GOAL : Mt. Karou trailhead

  • Distance walked 27.6km
  • Total elevation gain/loss 604m / 471m
  • Time 7h 44m
  • Highest / lowest altitude 135m / 0m