Japan 2018, Kii Peninsula Shikoku 2018

Day 34: Kumano Kodo

Day 2 on the Kumano Kodo didn’t result in a lot of walking, but a lot of beautiful sights. Anybody going to Japan and not taking in the Kii peninsular, is making a big mistake. The nature is not quite as extraordinary as southern Shikoku, but it is close, and based on the three shrines I have seen, these are a step up on the temples in Shikoku.

The onsen at the hotel opened at 5.00, and there were many Japanese that had decided that that was the time for them to visit it, and make sure they made enough noise so everybody knew. It continued for the next couple of hours as people returned in good humour after a good hot water bath.

I had a 8.45 bus, so after breakfast I checked out and walked down to the bus stop. Whilst I waited I corrected yesterdays blog, as I was evidently so tired, that it far from made sense, and some things were missing.

The bus was packed, but everybody got a seat when people got off to walk, or sail down the river. After an hour driving through Switzerland like scenery, I got off and walked to the first shrine, Kumano Hatatama Taisha, just outside Shingu. I assumed everybody would be getting off to visit one of the three famous shines, but it was only me.

Just as with yesterday’s shrine in Hongu, this was beautifully kept. A monk was playing the large drum, which made the whole experience more complete.

I thought that the next shrine was close by, but it turned out to be 22 km away. I walked to the station and the next train was in 45 mins.

I sat in a park and enjoyed the sun. With about 10 minutes to departure time I went to the station, and whilst I stood looking at the timetable, a youngish Japan Rail employee approach me and asked if she could help (in English). We spoke for a few minutes before I went to the platform to wait to catch the train. I may have said it before, but it seems to me to be the female Japanese that want to learn and practice their English, whilst the males are far more reserved.

At the tourist information centre, they had told me that the buses to the shrine Kumano Nachi Taisha started in Kii-Katsuura, which happened to be where I had booked my hotel. So I decided to drop my bag off at the hotel before catching the bus – I arrived at the last minute, but the driver left the doors open as he departed, so I could jump on.

I took the bus as far as I could, whilst most people got off on a preserved part of the trail, I stayed on the bus all the way up, and decided to walk down instead. I got off at the waterfall, Japan’s tallest waterfall, dropping 113m. The amount of noise the falling water makes when it crashes to the ground is pretty amazing. Lots of people had pictures taken in front of the waterfall.

The waterfall is not part of the shrine as such but belongs to an auxiliary shrine called Hiro-jinja. I walked towards a three storey pagoda, up lots of steps again and the view was spectacular of the pagoda and the waterfall.

This must be one of the most picturesque sites in the word. I walked over to the Kunano Nachi Taisha Grand Shine, one of the three ancient shrines called Kumano Sanzan.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much to see, as the shrine is undergoing renovation until 2019. This was a major disappointment, given how beautiful the two others have been. You could still go into the main hall.

As I mentioned earlier most people got off the bus to walk up a 650m long path that has been restored as in ancient times and called the Daimon-zaka slope. The cedar trees along the path are said to be 800 years old. The elevation is more than 100m, and it was tough going upwards, not least for the bus loads of older people on their way up. When you arrive at the shrine, you are greeted by a large red gate.

At the bottom I took the bus back to Kii-Katsuura, hoping to find a supermarket or baker. Kii-Katsuura is a very sleepy town, but happens to be Japan’s leading Tuna fishing port, where the fish are caught using rods and lines, not nets. Therefore the fish caught here are Japans most sought after tuna.

I  took a foot bath at the communal foot and hand bath, where water from the underground is warmed up, with a view over the port and fish market. The are two hotels that you need to sail to and they both looked totally deserted. However, as I walked back to my hotel there was a pier from where you could sail to the hotels. I sat on the port in the afternoon sun and enjoyed the view as bus groups were shipped out to the hotels.

I checked into the hotel and told me I could use the onsen at one of the hotels across the bay. I sailed over, the captain insisted in taking a picture of me with his boat, and had to be with a clenched fist. You can just see the hotel in the background.

The hotel was massive, there was an in-house supermarket, 15 restaurants, thousands of rooms and 4 onsens, two of which are built into caves. I chatted with a Japanese man who was taking pretty much his first holiday in Japan now that he had retired. He was a travelling engineer for Honda and has lived and travelled all over the world.

I bought a beer in the supermarket and sailed back and sat on the port in the wonderful weather. When I checked in, I was told to be on time for dinner. So at 18.30 prompt I was at my table, with a table full of small dishes, and more to come. My best meal in Japan so far.

I started to update todays blog, but decided to go to bed early and was asleep by 21.00. It’s hard work doing pilgrimages.

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