Friday, June 2, 2017

On foot and on the road in hidden Japan - the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage

I first learned about the Kumano Kodo many, many years ago, when I was reading about Mt Koya 
or Koyasan, the sacred mountain of Shingon Buddhism.  
The article mentioned the mountain was connected to an important Shinto pilgrimage -- the 
Kumano Kodo
One of the pilgrimage's five routes that junreisha or pilgrims walked over 1,000 years ago started from Koyasan and ended in the Kii Peninsula where pilgrims visited the three Kumano Shinto shrines. 
I did get to visit Koyasan a few years after I had read about it and found it to be every bit as unique and special an experience as I had expected it to be.

The interest in the Kumano Kodo lay dormant in my mind, temporarily set aside by the busy-ness of business.  When I retired two years ago, it pushed itself forward, nudging me and whispering in my ear.
I have not yet learned to ignore these voices speaking to me. 
So I continued my research in earnest and  discovered that the  Kumano Kodo pilgrimage is one of two pilgrimage routes that enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status -- the other route being the French Way of the Camino de Santiago.  
An amazing coincidence ... in 2015, Jay and I had the privilege of walking the last 134 kilometres of the French Way of the Camino, certainly a life enhancing experience  (I also wrote about it on this blog). 

As I continued to read about the Nakahechi route, my enthusiasm grew  -- the way takes pilgrims off the beaten track, into the small towns and villages of Wakayama Prefecture, winding up and down forests and mountain trails.
It would lead me inside a Japan that few foreigners saw and that perhaps not even too many Japanese venture into. 
If I had known that the Kumano Kodo would also take me through steep, uneven and possibly risky trails (at least for on and off hikers like me)  -- would I have decided to do the trek?
A most resounding yes. Or hai, so desu!  as the Japanese would say. 
So gentle reader --  let me tell you in the next posts about my singular experience of trekking through some of the ancient paths of the Kumano Kodo

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