Memory of a Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage (2)

So, there I was in a Tanabe guesthouse waking up to pouring rain. I hesitated for a moment to even get up. When I did, I had to run to Tanabe Station to catch the first bus out in direction of Hongu. The bus driver dropped me off at the roadside near Takijiri-oji, the ‘entrance’ of the Nakahechi trail. I walked across the bridge and sought shelter in a little shop, which amazingly was open even on such a rainy day.

The shopkeeper, an elderly Japanese man, asked me whether I had come to the area on a sightseeing trip. I tried to explain that what I was after was more looking inside than gazing at the scenery around me. He looked at me curiously and then got me a hat and a staff.

A conical straw hat and a wooden walking staff are part of the traditional outfit of pilgrims in Japan. I was reluctant at first to get decked in with what I thought was tourist drapery, but OK then, I thought: Maybe it is easier for the Kami-sama and Hotoke-sama, the Japanese Shinto and Buddhist deities, to keep a watchful eye on a foreign woman wandering around in the Japanese forest if I wear a recognizable hat.

A woman walking alone would be close to impossible in many countries of the world but Japan is a safe place still (touch wood!) where women may wander around in the mountains or forests by themselves. I told myself that I was equipped properly to deal with freak weather and I got a map to better navigate the trails which turned out very well sign-posted, even then.

I held the hat in my hands and hesitated a bit to put it on my head. I noticed that there were some words written on the hat あるがままに (“take things as they are”). This seemed a fair motto for a journey of introspection. Let’s be kind to myself and the world; no dissecting, analyzing and interpreting but just let things be.

The shopkeeper accompanied me to the small shrine nearby, the Takijiri-oji as it turned out. The rain still poured down. He showed me how to do a quick prayer Shinto-style, and then he pointed to the trail head behind the shrine before turning back to his shop.

There was nobody else in sight; the rain hammered in large drops on my straw hat; the flimsy rain gear was already in disarray and a very steep incline was ahead of me.

Kumano – The Land of the Gods, I am coming!

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