EX­PE­RI­ENCE Ku mano Kodõ

Weather con­di­tions in the re­gion are gen­er­ally pleas­ant all year round. Spring and au­tumn are pop­u­lar times to visit be­cause of the cooler and drier weather as well as scenery typ­i­cal of th­ese sea­sons. Vis­i­tors should note that most ac­co­mo­da­tions are clos

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at around 300 me­tres. The route con­tin­ued through vil­lages en­dowed with im­pres­sive tea plan­ta­tions that ex­tended up to the Oyuno­hara view­point next to Fush­iogami-oji. This is the spot where pil­grims could see Hongu Taisha from across a val­ley for the first time. ‘Fush­iogami’ means ‘ kneel and pray’ which is what pil­grims used to do here. Kimu and I didn’t reach the view­point but en­joyed our last oni­giri ( Ja­panese rice balls) while dwelling on the site’s spir­i­tual sig­nif­i­cance.

A gen­tle de­scent led us to the bot­tom of the val­ley where Hongu Taisha sits on an el­e­vated plat­form ac­cessed via broad stone stair­cases. The aus­ter­ity of the shrine sur­prised us. The orig­i­nal site of the shrine was at Oyuno­hara, a large sand­bank lo­cated at the con­flu­ence of the Ku­mano and Otonashi Rivers. The shrine was moved after be­ing al­most com­pletely de­stroyed in a great flood in 1889.

After a night in the vicin­ity of Hongu Taisha, we went to Yunomine Onsen where pil­grims en­joy the ther­a­peu­tic prop­er­ties of the wa­ter and per­form hot wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion rit­u­als — an in­te­gral part of the pil­grim­age. Es­tab­lished more than 1,800 years ago, the hot spring is one of the old­est in Ja­pan.

After re­ju­ve­nat­ing our­selves , we sailed on the Ku­mano River to an­other Ku­mano San­zan shrine, Hay­atama Taisha. The or­ange build­ing em­anated a sense of peace and tran­quil­lity. Nearby is the Kamikura-jinja shine and its crown­ing glory, Go­to­biki-iwa, a sa­cred rock within which lo­cals say the gods of the sea dwell. We were re­warded with mag­nif­i­cent views of the city of Shingu against the ocean after climb­ing 500 stone steps up to the rock. We de­cided to re­turn to Hongu Taisha by boat and take the Naka­hechi route through Ukegawa.

In the Kogu­mo­tori sec­tion, we stopped for half an hour at Hyakken- gura, a view­point of­fer­ing in­cred­i­ble moun­tain views and where a Jizo statue stood. In the se­cond sec­tion, be­tween Koguchi and Nachi Taisha, we tra­versed some of the most en­chant­ing land­scapes of the trip. It some­times felt like we were in a fairy tale, and Kimu and I looked at each other in awe. One such mo­ment oc­cured when we came across the three-story pagoda of Nachisan’s Seiganto-ji, a small tem­ple founded by an In­dian monk in the early fifth cen­tury that has the largest wa­ter­fall in Ja­pan as its back­drop. This is also the ori­gin of an­other net­work of pil­grim­age routes that pass some 33 tem­ples in the Kan­sai re­gion.

We were greeted by a large bold or­ange torii gate at the last Ku­mano San­zan shrine, Nachi Taisha. The joy of reach­ing the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion and the sad­ness that the trip had come to an end filled me as I en­tered the tem­ple. After per­form­ing our fi­nal saisen, we de­scended Dai­mon-zaka, a gen­tly slop­ing cob­ble­stone stair­case flanked by enor­mous cedars. Our last stop is the small fish­ing vil­lage of Kat­suura, where we spent our fi­nal day sooth­ing our weary bod­ies in its open-air ther­mal wa­ters and con­tem­plat­ing the hori­zon of the great Pa­cific Ocean. ag

WHEN WHERE

In Ja­pan, torii gates that com­monly mark the en­trances of shrines and tem­ples are said to be gate­ways to the sa­cred world. Cross­ing them is to leave mun­dan­ity be­hind and take a step from the earthly realm to­ward a tran­scen­dent space. To trav­ellers, set­ting foot in new land­scapes can have a sim­i­lar trans­port­ing ef­fect. On a trip around cen­tral Ja­pan, I found my own ver­sion of th­ese gate­ways in the most un­ex­pected places.

In the cen­tral re­gion of Inuyama, I came across my first gate­way. Stand­ing be­fore the Jo-an Tea­house in Urakuen Gar­den, one may be per­plexed by the struc­ture that has been de­scribed as “one of the finest tea­houses in all of Ja­pan”. is, in re­al­ity, an unas­sum­ing cot­tage with pale yel­low walls, a dark wooden roof and small win­dows. The size of a large liv­ing room, the tea­house is un­em­bel­lished and could eas­ily be hid­den by the gar­den’s lush green­ery. To en­ter the court­yard, one needs to first stoop to cross the low door­way. A type of en­trance con­ceived by the Ja­panese philoso­pher Sen no Rikyu, it was built by his dis­ci­ple Oda Uraku in 1618.

In a time he per­ceived to be the height of con­sumer ex­cess, Sen no Rikyu pro­moted the con­cept of wabi-sabi. Roughly trans­lated, this refers to sat­is­fac­tion with sim­plic­ity and aus­ter­ity and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the im­per­fect. In op­po­si­tion to os­ten­ta­tious tea­houses where peo­ple gath­ered to flaunt their wealth, Sen no Rikyu ad­vo­cated small and sim­ple tea­houses hid­den away from the world. It is said that he wanted peo­ple to me­an­der through trees and stones to break ties with the

ABOVE

A sea of clouds shroud the moun­tains of the Ho­taka moun­tain range in Takayama.

ott om rig ht The re­stored Jo-an Tea­house in Inuyama dates back to 1618 and was des­ig­nated as a Na­tional Trea­sure in 1951.

ab ove The en­trance to the tea­house at Urakuen in Inuyama

op­posit e pag e

Vis­i­tors are treated to spec­tac­u­lar views at rest stops along the wooden walk­ing paths of the Ho­taka moun­tain range in Takayama.

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