Japan 2019 Kohechi

Day 7: Koyasan to Hashimoto

Today I started the day by making a wrong decision. Going back a year, I was in Koyasan and had planned to walk the Choisi-michi trail between Kudoyama and Koyasan. However, I abandoned the idea due to torrential rain. So I planned to do it today instead. Unfortunately the weather report mentioned rain, so last night I had not made my mind up whether I would walk in the rain, or take the train down the mountain to Hasimoto.

When I went to bed, I leaned towards walking, despite the expected rain. Therefore I did’t set my alarm to 5.30 to get up for the mornings ceremony, and I had already done it last year.

Instead I was up at 6.30, hoping for an early start, only to find out that I couldn’t get breakfast before 8.00. So I packed and was ready at 8.00. It was a common breakfast, sitting on the floor. One of the other guests, a German had just completed Shikoku 88, and now was going to walk the Komando Kodo to Ise. Breakfast was very small.

I was at the bus stop at 8.36, for the bus for the Daimon Gate, the entrance to Koyasan. The timetable said a bus was due at 8.35, but luckily the bus was running a minute late, so I jumped on and off again 170 yen later. As I hadn’t checked bus times and they run very infrequently, I took catching the bus as a good omen and together with the weather report not expecting rain before 13.00, and the trail supposedly being downhill on wide, well looked after paths – wide paths was certainly not the case – I decided to go for it and walk. It would be silly to cancel twice because of rain – then I’d have to come back again! And anyway, what would I do in Hashimoto for a whole day.

Whilst it would be best to do it in sunshine, walking the trail when covered in cloud and mist also has a charm. So off I went.

The Koyasan Choishi-michi Trail is a pilgrimage route extending for ca. 24 km from Jison-in temple (in Kudoyama Town) at the foot of the Koyasan mountain to Okunoin via the Daimon gate. I’d already done from Okunoin, twice, yesterday, so I had ca. 18 left.

It has been a trail walked by the Buddhist monks and faithful since Kobo Daishi founded Koyasan. Along the route are Choishi pillars, stone pillars about 3m in height in the shape of a Gorinto (five-elements pagoda) that were erected in the Kamakura period. Starting from the Konpon Daito and going as far as Jison-in temple, there are 180 of these stone pillars, and another 36 from there to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum at Okunoin. The stone pillars replaced wooden markers in the 12th and 13th centuries, each places at intervals of 1 Cho ca. 109 meters. I wondered how they survived all these years and realised quickly that they hadn’t. The picture above shows a marker with a new top, whilst below a marker that has just missed being hit by a fallen tree.

In the past, Buddhist monks climbed to Koyasan while praying at each of the pillars along the trail, as part of their training. At one point I came to an observation post. This is what I was supposed to see, but below is what I could see.

It was wet, but OK. I managed 4 km in the first hour, before it started to rain, lightly, but still much earlier than expected. I stopped off at candy store at the 60th marker, and bought some chocolate, and it was here I met the first of the 20 or 30 people I saw today – all Japanese, apart from the last three ( I’ll come back to them), and all going in the opposite direction. I didn’t meet anybody walking in the same direction as me.

When it started to rain I used my umbrella. This was OK for an hour or so, but as the rain got heavier, and there was more and more water on the ground, I was getting wetter. So after ca. 3 hours walking and ca. 10 km, I changed into full rain gear.

Shortly afterwards I came to a shelter where a mother and her granddaughter were sitting. The mother was 61, spoke very good English, lived in the area, but had decided to walk to Koyasan. It looked like they both regretted it.

I moved on, but now there were streams of water running along the paths, and if there was anywhere to stand, it was, more often than not, mud, which man sank into. I was seriously regretting it, there was water and mud everywhere.

I’d walked 4 hours and covered 13 km, when I met three American girls. It was 13:00. They looked soaked, had no rain protection and wearing trainers that were covered in mud. I asked them if they were planning to walk to Koyasan, which they affirmed. I told them that the paths were worse ahead. They wanted to know if I thought they could make it by 17:00. I told them that it had taken me 4 hours to get this far, that was downhill with walking gear, so I really doubted it! I had passed a sign to a station a couple of kilometers earlier, and told them to take the train. I heard one of the girls say sorry to the others as we set off in each our direction.

I finally reached the Jison-in temple and shrine, still dry, but tired. After a good look around, I decided I would skip the last kilometer, which went through the town, and instead checked Google maps for the quickest route to my hotel. I could walk 5km or walk 2km and take a train. I got to the station with ten minutes to spare and boarded the train for two stops. I remembered that there was a good baker here, close to the station, and ate a very late lunch, before taking a taxi to the hotel. I just couldn’t be bothered to walk in the rain anymore.

I ate yesterdays lunch box this evening – so no picture, had a warm bath and washed all my clothes. I ended up walking 28 km, ascending 298m and descending 1061 m.

All in all the first 10 km of the trail was a good experience, also walking in the mist, made it a different experience. The last 10 were a pain. I didn’t see any of the great views. The great news is that both I and all my stuff were dry when I got back to the hotel, and I was tired.

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