Memory of a Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage (3)

During Golden Week 2009 I first walked the Nakahechi trail of the Kumano Kodo. It leads to the Hongu Taisha, one of the Three Kumano Grand Shrines, a sacred site for the Japanese. Then I continued on and walked to Nachi, where the second of the Grand Shrines is located. My final day I spent in Shingu, location of the third Grand Shrine.

I had only four days for this adventure, which turned out four very long days.

First I walked from Takijiri-oji to Chikatsuyu-oji in one day, and then from Chikatsuyu-oji to Hongu the next day. Hongu to Nachi I did on my third day, and the Koya-zaka and a visit to Shingu on my last day. This pattern is NOT! recommended. The walks each day turned out very long.

It did not help that I carried a heavy laptop in my backpack. What did I think to bring it along? Nowadays we have our smartphones at hand and in most places along the trail we can connect to the internet. No such thing in 2009! I guess I carried my laptop so that I could check the internet at the inn in the evening and see whether I had missed anything in Tokyo. Foolish!

Each day I ascended some peaks and then walked down the slopes into a valley where a village offered shelter overnight at a minshuku, a Japanese-style inn.

After a long day walking, dinner served at the inns tasted super delicious.

I went to bed before 9 pm as there was nothing else to do at all. No neon light disturbed the pitch-black darkness outside and the quaking of frogs in the nearby rice fields soon lulled me into a deep sleep.

Mornings started early with an opulent breakfast, after all, you need strength to tackle a peak each day. The friendly pension owners prepare you a bento (lunch box) and you better take it. There are no convenience stores, the type of Lawson, Seven Eleven or FamilyMart. There are hardly any vending machines either for a quick stop and mini shopping for a cold beverage along the trail.

Both the hat and the staff that I got in Takijiri-oji turned out very handy. The hat sheltered me from the gushing rain on my first day of walk, and the staff helped me in my struggle up and down the hilly terrain, sensing out the trail ahead of me, and with fighting off spider webs.

Stepping over rocks and roots, the bamboo staff’s cling-clang alarmed the forest’s inhabitants of my coming so that I only saw the rear of some deer, a badger and a snake while birds and bees did not seem to be bothered by my presence at all. Crows and kits were fighting with each other, yet undisturbed by the whirring sound of a drone in the air.

The locals seem familiar with the seeker type of people. After all, they have seen and greeted pilgrims throughout the ages.

Tiny old women, so old that they seem ageless, offered big smiles and kind words. A farmer gave me a sip of cool spring water from his well. Another farmer’s woman handed over some oranges that seem present in all seasons in Kumano before she continued working in the fields.

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