The 1,000 year old Meditative Trail through Japan’s Less Traveled

As exhilarating and exciting as Tokyo is, after some months I was yearning for some real nature. I wanted to go someplace different. I decided to head over to South-West Honshu and follow the foot-steps of the Buddhist monks before me. I would hike the Kumano Kodo trail for 2 and a half days.

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The Kumano Kodo trail is a trail that has been used for over 1,000 years by dedicated Monks, peasants, retired emperors, and the like. There are actually a variety of different routes you can take, but the main goal of this trek is to pray and worship at the three most important shrines of Kumano; Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha, and Nachi Taisha.

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Hongu Taisha
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Nachi Taisha, what a feeling to see this temple and Japan’s largest waterfall after the hardest day of hiking!
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Start in Tanabe

So, I arrived in Tanabe, a small coastal village where I was first introduced to rural Japanese hospitality.  A local on the bus took an interest in me as I sat hunched over my hiking notes. I guess I reminded her of her 24 year old daughter because we ended up speaking broken Japanese-English to each other for the remainder of the ride. When we parted and said our goodbyes, she handed me a bag of the most delicious little baguettes ever—Totoru Pan, トトルパンor Turtle Bread, which was filled with sweet coffee flavored buttery jam (I have since asked every Japanese person I know of this bread, but to my dismay, it seems to be a local specialty because no one knows of it!). That good fortune (but unfortunately not the baguettes) carried me through the rest of the trip. I met numerous other kind Japanese people on my little adventure.

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Delicious Turtle Bread at Hongu Taisha. notice how the mineral hotspring turned my sterling silver ring a temporary coppery color!

The hike goes up beautiful green mountains and through small tranquil villages where the villagers actually greet you as you cross the road. The trail was so serene that I felt as if my soul actually got a bit of cleansing on the walk. Since I went alone, I was able to admire the simplicity of Mother Nature (and spot several snakes, bees, animals, and even a huge large owl!)

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Body-breaking slope. The toughest part of the hike that seems to never end…
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The 3,000 peaks of Kumano Kodo

And just when your instant-gratification-conditioned mind begins to feel impatient, you stumble upon Oji shrines おじ神社scattered along the trail. Hundreds of small carved stones with Kanji (Chinese characters) or otherwise a deity, stand lightly crooked and full of moss; the deity stands there peaceful, unbothered by its slanted stance, with a small content look of approval, keeping an eye out for you as you pay this homage to the past. These stones literally looked like they were placed here hundreds of years ago and naturally began to lean to one side or another due to the natural events of the Earth, and they were just waiting there for you to find them. I appreciated these little surprises on the way.

Up and down the hills–you begin to get tired. Why not stop at the ancient ruins of a Teahouse? Yes, the ones where monks and other pilgrims would plop down into, drink their little leafy tea, and let the blood rush back into their swollen, tired feet! If you’re lucky, the small ruins even have a stamp that you can add to your never-ending collection of ‘Stamps from Japan’ notebook!

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The World’s only World Heritage Onsen- Tsuboyu. つぼ湯 Monks would come soak and cleanse their body so they were pure enough to be able to pray at the temples.  Yunomine Onsen.

So, if you’re looking for a place to have a bit of fresh air, as well as marvel at some of the beautiful nature in Japan, I completely recommend hiking some of the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrim trail. The scenery is diverse, passing through cedar and bamboo trees, as well as over water-smoothed rocks, rivers, villages and viewpoints! Make every effort you can to talk to the locals, because they were really something that changed my outlook on Japan for the better. My tips of advice: don’t go in the middle of summer (I can imagine the heat to be so strong that it could ruin the experience!), wear nonslip shoes, and try to save up some extra money so you can afford the dinner and/or breakfast provided by the lovely Minshuku’s along the trail. Ganbatte!!

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A trail head
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Japanese style guest house, Minshuku (民宿)in Yunomine Onsen 湯飲みね 温泉

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Please share your Japanese experiences with me! Thanks for stopping by! Please like and/or comment if you enjoyed this post because I’m curious to see how many people come across my blog! じゃあまたね!

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