Tokyo over. The game at Saitama over. Hiroshima, Mt Aso, Saijo and Setoda over. Now a long trip to Kawayu Onsen, the Kumano Kodo and immersion in ritual, culture and history (being it only for 2 days).
With only time to walk a short section of the pilgrimage trail, taking up the volunteer guiding service from Mi-Kumano is a great way gain a strong understanding of this richly spiritual place.
After meeting Kyoko at Hongu, and a short drive to the trailhead, the 7km trek started at Hosshinmon-oji. To be fair, trek is a bit of an exaggeration. This section of the Kumano Kodo from Hosshinmon-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha is essentially flat, in stark contrast to sections of this Nakahechi route, and the companion Kohechi route. A stroll probably is a better description.
Hosshinmon-oji marked the start of the days walk. Hosshinmon-oji is one of the most important sites on the Kumano Kodo marking the outermost entrance into the divine precincts of the grand shrine and destination of our walk – the Kumano Hongu Taisha. With Kyoko explaining this history and spiritual importance against the backdrop of cool mist hanging on the mountain ridge, you could easily be transported back to those heady days of 700 years ago when hundreds of pilgrims walked these very trails.
“Hosshin” means “spiritual awakening” or “aspiration to enlightenment” and “mon” means “gate”. Passage through this gate was a transformational rite marking initiatory death and rebirth in the Pure Land paradise.
As we went along Kyoko explained the significance of other ‘oji’ along this section (Oji being shrines dedicated to child deities, offspring of the deities of Kumano). Detail of these oji can be found here.
If you look at the website link above you will see a mist shrouded picture from the lookout point at Fushiogami-oji. This was just like our day! Just like the pilgrims, we first caught sight of our goal at Kumano Hongu Taisha from this lookout.
The views don’t change, the effort expended won’t change, but having a guide adds a dimension to this walk through relaying of their expertise, being able to ask questions, to be provided interpretations of oji, be shown examples of the old road at varying ages.
Even to be shown some traditional bee hives that we may otherwise have passed by. (Kyoko pointed the hive out, not knowing that Chris is a bee keeper himself back here in Australia, so this was an exciting find!).
I have posted before about volunteer guides at Nikko, Matsumoto and Asakusa. I really enjoy the interaction with local folk. Do yourself a favour when heading out to Kumano Kodo, check out Mi-Kumano for guided hikes.
Markers every 500 metres make it easy for the visitor. Local people spend many weekends maintaining the trail and ancient road, taking great pride in the continuing importance of these pilgrimage trails.