Late March 2021.
We arrived at Soma station 相馬駅 last night and stayed at Ryokan Isamiya 旅館いさみや, located 1.5km from the south trailhead/endpoint of the Michinoku Coastal Trail (MCT) みちのく潮風トレイル.
After considering our options and other factors, we decided to walk northbound. The most significant decision factors were weather and temperature. As residents of (the southern island of) Shikoku, we were unfamiliar with the weather and temperature through late March and April in Tohoku, the northern area of Japan’s main island. So, we decided it would be better to start from the south, which should be warmer at least slightly than more northern areas.
The trailhead is located at a bay-side park called Matsukawaura Environmental Park “Terminus” 松川浦環境公園ターミナス. From there, we started walking south along the route. We first needed to get our breakfast and morning joe (only for me, as Erik is a tea drinker.) We immediately stopped at the first convenience store we found before walking even for 10 minutes.
Today’s route is supposed to go through the busy residential parts of Soma city 相馬市 and the town of Shinchi 新地町, expecting 95% would be paved roads.
Before long, we reached our first obstacle as we came upon a big construction site where they were adding a second bridge across the Koizumigawa 小泉川and Utagawa 宇田川 rivers. We followed a temporary pedestrian/bike path along the construction site, crossed the bridge, and pulled out our iPhones to check the route.
We had already uploaded the GPS tracks of the entire MCT route taken from the MCT official website into Erik’s Garmin and my Geographica app. I downloaded trail maps of the YAMAP and Yamareco apps as well. So, I had triple support for route finding.
According to the GPS, we were supposed to walk on a farm road running across a strip of land between the two rivers. But we saw, far away there, tracks and heavy construction machines were moving around on the supposedly our destination road, looking impossible to enter… I even asked the construction workers on the bridge if we could walk there to follow the MCT route correctly. Not surprisingly, their answer was “no.”
So, we had to stay on a car road along the south bank of the Utagawa river until it crossed under a big bridge on the national road R-6. We walked up and returned north to the middle of the bridge, where the original MCT trail was supposed to run underneath. There, we found stairs to go down to the correct route.
We walked through deserted farmlands, too early for the planting season.
During our hiking preparation, a staff of the NPO Michinoku Trail Club (MCT’s management organization) suggested we should drop by Senkyaku-Banraikan 千客万来館, Soma city’s tourist information center. Entering inside, we found several media and people in the same gray jackets gathered, looking like they were waiting for something.
This day was the second day of the Tokyo Olympic torch relay. The relay started yesterday from a southern part of Fukushima prefecture, and the selected local torch holders ran through Soma city this morning. They were coming to pick up some memorabilia here.
The tourism information center staff were all welcoming and friendly. They gave us an MCT route Soma area map and an MCT-Soma pin badge. They wanted to collect photos of MCT hikers for posting on their social network sites, so we had picture time.
The MCT route then went into the former Somanakamura castle 相馬中村城 site, now a park and shrine. All cherry blossom trees lining both sides of the long path to the shrine had big buds. Coming here a week or so later would have been the best to see them all in full bloom.
For the first time since we started from the trailhead, we finally found an official MCT trail sign attached to a board fence surrounding the shrine. We didn’t see any of this while we were through the city’s busy parts, which worried us a bit.
Thankfully, from this first one onward, MCT signs were consistently set at every important corner all day.
Departing from the city center, we were walking through a vast stretch of dried, empty rice paddies when a sudden shower started pouring. We took shelter under a highway and took advantage of it for a lunch break. Giving some rests to our shoulders from heavy backpacks, we had some nuts and bars. Little did we know that we were right on the Soma city – Shinchi town border then.
The shower passed quickly. Now in our second municipality on the MCT, we kept walking through a still extremely quiet farm field, dropping by a gigantic (and naked, of course) ancient ginkgo tree.
As we strode through hamlets between farms, here and there, many houses had roofs covered with blue construction sheets — also, homes with cracked walls and broken glass windows whose panes were boarded up.
At a village shrine, old roadside stone signposts and stone lanterns fell and smashed on the ground. All this damage appeared relatively new, probably caused by the latest big earthquake that hit the Fukushima area not too long ago.
Our original plan was to call it a day at a convenience store about 2 km from Shinchi station. The MCT route turns to the west at this point and starts going away from the only train line. The convenience store was about 22km from the MCT south trailhead, so it was not too short in our regular daily distance standard. Ideally, we wanted to go 5 km further to get to Mt. Karou 鹿狼山 trailhead as it would make the next day’s route plan much easier, but rooms at an inn with hot springs right by the trailhead were booked out for tonight already several days ago.
Luckily, yesterday, we took a taxi from Soma station to Isamiya, and the driver told me they could come to pick us up at the trailhead, as local day-hikers often asked to. He gave us his taxi company’s phone number.
We were going to see how we would feel at the convenience store to decide whether we wanted to go more or not. Now we were here, feeling still good and with no foot pains. Let’s keep walking.
Walking west, the landscapes around us became even more rural and bucolic.
So windy, and the many glass-clad greenhouses on flat lands. The endlessly spreading farmlands were occasionally divided by windbreak tree belts, tall cedars and undergrowth bamboo. Erik told me his home country, the Netherlands, looks like this.
At some corners of the farm fields, small thin trees, all the same kind, appeared grown. Still too early for spring leaves, the naked trees did not give clues about what trees they were.
Around 3:30 pm, we arrived at the Mt. Karou trailhead.
We called the taxi company number, and our taxi arrived after a short wait. As is often the case in rural areas of Japan, a local old grandpa, looking in his mid 70’s, was behind the wheel.
As mentioned before, the trailhead minshuku was all booked as it was Friday. Instead, we got a room for the next two nights at a newly opened business hotel in front of Shinchi station.
We can leave most of our stuff in our room and hike with much lighter backpacks tomorrow. We are going to come back to this trailhead tomorrow morning by taxi. We will stop walking at another train station further north of Shinchi station and take a train back to the hotel.
A big bonus; our hotel has a big hot spring (onsen) too!
Today, we managed to walk 28km, including the additional 1.2km to the MCT trailhead from Isamiya, without any foot/hip/back problems. Most of the time, strong winds continuously blew against us while walking, but the comfortable temperature made the perfect first day of our MCT thru-hike.
Our MCT Thru-hike : from late March to mid-May, 2021
|Start||MCT south trailhead||Finish||Mt. Karo trailhead|
|Total Elevation Gain/Loss||231m/ 96m||Highest/Lowest Altitude||139m / 0m|
Hotel Grado Shinchi ホテルグラード新地
- The first and most reliable source of information is the MCT official website
- Do a daily check for updates on detours, route changes, and other heads-ups about the route
- Get the MCT Official hiking map books
- Download GPS data provided by MCT
- MCT hiking challenger/alumni registration