Pilgrimage on the Kumano Kodo

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The first day is not as beautiful as the previous days when it was sunny and warm. Instead, it is cold, rainy and stormy. I don’t mind, it just feels more like nature. The day is a holiday. The 21st March is the beginning of spring and for the Japanese people one of the few days off. 

I decided to walk the pilgrimage the opposite direction. The first reason is that it’s more economical, the second reason that I’m just very unique and the third reason is that at this place, at und beginning of my trip, there is the shrine of Kumano Nachi Taisha, and whatever happens, I definitely wanted to see that shrine. The pagoda is situated at a side of a mountain and has a waterfall in the background. The picture of it is incredible. 

There is not one route of the Kumano Kodo but five. They all cross in the middle of the mountains in a big shrine called Kumano Hongu Taisha. Kumano means the area, Hongu is the village and taisha means shrine. The word Kodo describes an old road. 

In advance I read that you have to be aware of poisonous snakes in the area, but in this time of the year I suppose it’s still too cold for the
I get up very early and make my way through the rain. The old pilgrimage route consists of a lot of steps, which are especially slippery right now. It goes mainly through the forest, but as soon as you are in the open you are in the clouds and the wind blows the rain into your face. It’s not only the day with the worst weather, but also it’s the hardest episode of the individual intersections. I’m alone. No one wants to walk in this weather but me. Also, no one walks the same direction as me. In the following days I only meet people coming towards me. No one catches up on me neither do I find someone making a rest. It’s me, myself and my thoughts that wander around. Already before I started frequently to do daily short meditation and I decide to continue on that path. It’s a pilgrimage after all. 

While the weather roars around me I arrive the top of the first peaks and cover myself totally with my jacket, close the eyes and just listen to the storm. I’ll repeat this several times that day. A long sip from the sake I carry helps to feel even more cozy.

In the past years typhoons have caused a lot of damage in this area. Also the Kodo is affected and many detours are displayed. I’m not following all of them. 

Little shrines with little figures or bigger ones with the typical red gates are hemming the way. Statues of little buddhas are filled with coins and sometimes wear something like a red napkin. I don’t carry water with me, but instead it’s very popular to buy cold green (roasted) tea as a refreshment in bottles. 

I am very proud to arrive at the village Kugochi at 14:30, which was still very fast, concerning the weather condition, the slippery underground and the extended sake breaks, and two hours ahead of the estimated time. The bus to the village I sleep at would usually leave 15:35.

The village is small and the only open place that I find shelter at is a little supermarket that is run by a tiny old lady, which welcomes me with a warm smile. She starts speeding up like a squirrel and guides me with words that I cannot understand and taking my hands to a chair and gestures towards me to take a rest. She disppears behind a curtain and shows up again with a hot cup of tea and freshly fried sardines, that she offers me for free.

A nice Japanese couple from Tokyo srrives a little later and helps me to translate. The lady helps me to find out what bus I hve to take to which time. Unfortunately the next bus comes two hours later, since it is a public holiday. Instead of sitting in my hot onsen I am stuck because of the only holiday the Japanese have – it’s a little ironic. I am very gratefull to the old lady and ask the couple to give all my deepest thanks to the lady – which makes the lady bow even more than before.

The bus ride takes more than an hour and unfortunately I am not taken to the village Yonomine, that I need to go to, but the larger village of Hongu before, where I have to wait for another hour for another bus. While I am waiting two American girls join me on the bus stop and we get to talk. A car stops, an old Japanese man exits and joins us. He starts a conversation with us and doesn’t bother, that we don’t understand a single word. We understand when he asks, where we are from, though. Telling him the Japanese word for a German, which is “Deutz”, makes him excited and he numbers all the cities and car brands that are coming to his mind. He is also talking about onsen and many other things. He stays with us until the bus arrives and brings us to the hostel in Yonomine at around 19:00.

The place is hidden in a small valley. Hot springs under the surface heat up the underground water. Through the valley runs a creek of hot water. Everything smells of sulfur.

I arrive at the hostel and unpack my things, when the guy from the reception comes to me to tell me that a man waits at the entrance for me. It’s the old man from the bus stop. I am very surprised. He talks with me in Japanese again and ignores again that I don’t understand any of it at all, but he produces a plastic bag, which he gives to my hands. Inside is a net full of fresh hot boiled Onsen Eggs (eggs boiled in a steaming onsen). I cannot stop thanking him and bowing, which just makes him bowing all the time, as well. Even after he leaves I still cannot get it how nice his gesture was and stare towards the door. He went to a shop, bought eggs, went to an Onsen, boiled the eggs, found the hostel, where I’m staying and brought them to me… Japanese people are such a surprise! Even the hostel owner was suprised, though.

All houses get their hot water from the hot creek. Usually Onsen are a public place where the Japanese people meet. In this village, every single house provides the luxury of its own Onsen. My hostel has even three and between a dinner with a lot of eggs I jump into the Onsen multiple times. People even start wondering about me high rate of visits, but it is my first time sitting in an Onsen. The day was cold and long and my hiking pilgrimage just started.

Continue to Around the Holy Shrine