Saturday, July 1, 2017

Kumano Kodo Day 4 : Feeling like royalty as I sail down the Kumanogawa on my way to the Hayatama Taisha

Pilgrims have been enduring hardships and walking the Kumano Kodo for a thousand years.  
But in the early days, a select group of pilgrims,  composed of royalty and later on the aristocrat class,  had access to another,  easier way of doing part of the pilgrimage --  they sailed down the Kumanogawa on their way to visit the three Kumano Grand Shrines.
Ensconced in the comfort and luxury of their royal boats, they could relax and just drift down
the river. 
On the fourth day of our pilgrimage and on our way to visit the second shrine, the Hayatama Taisha, we did as the emperors and aristocrats did (although not in such style)  ... we traveled part of the way by traditional  boats along the river. 

Our expedition started at the Kawabune River Boat Tour Center where we had reservations to the 10:00 a.m. sailing.  To get there,  we took a bus from Yunomine and got off at the bus stop at Hitari.   Then we got into a shuttle bus for the short ride to the riverbank where the boats were waiting for us.  

Part of the safety regulations had us wearing bright orange life jackets.  We were also given native straw hats (which looked so much like our own salakot) as protection from the heat of the sun.

The flat bottomed boats are modelled after the original ones that used to ply these waters, centuries and centuries ago. As a nod to modernity (and faster travel time) the boats have been outfitted with powerful motors. 
Each boat can carry just eight people, including the guide and the boatman.  
While pilgrims of old took days to sail down 40 kilometres of the Kumanogawa, we would 
journey over 16 kilometres and take just 90 minutes to do so.

As in every river, lake, pond, brook, stream, etc that I have seen in Japan, the waters are crystal clear. 
As we sailed through the twists and bends of the river, the water changed colour but it was always beautifully translucently clean ... in the shallower portions, I could see all the way down to the rocks at the bottom.

Our guide was multi-lingual.  As we were a mix of Japanese and Filipinos,  he switched his commentary from Nihongo to English with great ease.  

While the boat was equipped with a motor, we did pass through some rapids where the skill of
the pilot was put to good use.  Would you believe that our pilot, this man in white standing at the back of  the boat, is more than 80 years old?  He was so fit and looked cool and hip.
Our guide said he had been doing this for almost sixty years.  

There are quite a number of interesting and unique rock formations that we passed through.
One large pile of rocks looked to me like a large sleeping puppy.  

We got out of the boat for a brief look-see  and our resident professional geologist and
amigo Mike,  could not resist scrambling up  for a photo.  

It was great to be out in the middle of the river, surrounded by the splendour of Mother Nature.  
And being on a boat was definitely less tiring than walking.

The perfect soundtrack to this blissful boat ride was the sound of wild birds. They would fly high above our boats and sometimes gracefully skim the waters.   They were so swift though and wouldn't keep still for a photo.

We saw this lone fisherman on the riverbank.  I wonder what kind of fish live in the Kumanogawa?

As we neared our destination, the boat slowed down to a stop and our guide whipped out a small native flute.  He serenaded us with a lilting melody that he said was what the royal party in the olden days would have listened to as their boats traveled down the river.
It was like sailing back in time.

Our boat ride ended quite near our goal for today -- the second Kumano Grand Shrine, the
Hayatama Taisha.  The shrine is located by the Kumanogawa in Shingu City.
We were met by our local Mi-Kumano guides and Shingu City residents Masako san and Hitomi san.

Shinto venerates all of nature.  The past four days, our pilgrimage had exposed us to the beauty,
the majesty and yes, the power of nature.
The kami or gods are everywhere.  I am sure they are present in this sacred tree, a  nagi-no ki that is over 800 years old.  It is one of the significant sights in  Hayatama Taisha.   Long may it continue to thrive. 

There is a small building guarded by a fierce looking statue.  This is where Hayatama Taisha's historical and cultural artefacts are kept -- many of them are considered as National Treasures of Japan

The entrance to the main shrine of Hayatama Taisha is vividly vermillion and as in all Shinto shrines, is adorned with a thick shimenawa hanging from its posts.  It is customary to purify yourself at the temizuya and bow before you cross the threshold. 

Hayatama is a most important shrine because this is where the gods Kumano Hayatama no Omikami, Kumano Musubi no Omikami and Ketsumi Miko Omikami are enshrined. 

The gods originally descended atop a steep hill within the Hayatama compound.  There is a shrine there called Kamikura jinja but to reach it, you need to climb over 500 steep and uneven stone steps.  However, for pilgrims on the Kumano Kodo, it is mandatory to visit only the Hayatama Taisha.  

We take our requisite photo in front of the shrine and with this, we have completed two thirds of our Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. 

There are minor shrines within the compound like this one, which is located near the main entrance.

From this point,  it was just a few steps on to the sidewalks of Shingu City.  As I crossed the small bridge,  I looked back at the torii guarding the entrance and bowed deeply -- bidding the gods farewell. 
Having visited two of the three Grand Shrines, my Kumano Kodo pilgrimage was nearing its end. And yet somehow,  I just wanted to keep on walking.   

Lessons Learned

1. The sun can be quite fierce  on the open-air boats, don't forget your sunblock (as I did).
2. You can't bring your backpacks and handbags on board the boat, for obvious safety reasons.  They will put your things on the shuttle bus and give them back to you at the end of the ride.  Bring a small plastic bag to keep your camera and gadgets  in so they won't get wet.


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