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