Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kumano Kōdō III


We used Wakayama as base camp for a few days. The Kōdō bisected a series of train lines within short reach of the city, and it made good sense to commute out and walk light. The bath and bed in our hotel room weren't very big, but breakfast and the internet were free. Before setting out each morning, I'd potter down to the lobby in my hotel slippers, the kind that mental patients wear.

We took the train to Hoshiya, where we'd left off. The water in the rice paddies was alive with small snails and tiny fish, a unique and special biosystem. A temple near here looked somewhat Okinawan, all tiled roofs and palm trees. After a fire here, the temple's statue of Kannon had been moved to a new location nearby. Soon afterward, horses in the region began to die suddenly, unexpectedly, until the statue was returned to the rebuilt temple.

Today's scenery was much like yesterday's -- of villages and rice fields and the canals that bisected them with so much rushing water. Many homes were surrounded by stone shale walls, architectural testament to a tropical clime. Along the way, we passed a house of impressive size, which had once been the family estate of the local tax collector. Climbing Yada pass, we found a small cave cut into the hillside, it's own shale walls sheltering a statue of En-no-Gyoja. Over this pass, we soon came to another. Further down, a wasp was backing across the path, dragging the carcass of a spider three times its size. At the bottom of the hill were a cluster of homes, standing amidst grave stones of incredible age, hinting at how long people have inhabited this valley. The trees that shaded them also offered mikan nearly ripe, a nice thirst-quenching treat.

Beyond a street with some very old posters, we stopped for lunch on the broken stone steps of a nearby temple, beneath a beautifully aged gate. A few bites in, we noticed that we were sitting amidst a nest of caterpillars, each the size of my thumb. It took some time to brush them from our bags and clothes.

It was a hot day, the trail mostly unshaded as it passed between houses old and new. We found some respite beside a large Jizo and had some tea. Close by was Spider Lake, whose grubby water was simultaneously disgusting and inviting. The turtles seemed to have found peace with this, their forms breaking the surface again and again. One mother was teaching one of her babies to swim. She'd twist and arc her body in order to push it under the surface. When it attempted to climb upon her shell, she'd dive deeply, surfacing nearby a minute later. The baby would immediately sense where she was, and swim at great speed to her, and the whole process would begin again.

Toward the end of the day, we came to a large temple complex atop a flight of steep stone stairs. The main hall was flanked by hundreds of stone Jizo statues. Inside were dozens of paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. I wandered further up the hill in order to see the sea, but was frustrated by the large Sumitomo factory that rose up at the water's edge. Walking down now, past a few smaller buildings well on their way to ruin.

The final stretch to the station was along a street lined with old houses, each bearing a red plate written with "K.K." A loudspeaker came on to tell us that the local schoolkids were on their way home, and that we should all cooperate in keeping them safe. Japan these days has a hyper-inflated sense of danger. Just yesterday, those 8-years olds we'd met had shown us their cellphones, to be used in the event of a predatory attack. How depressing that children are being taught to be afraid of a big bad hostile world. Childhood ends early here. (I'm tempted to say that perhaps it never ends at all, based on much of the immature behavior I see around me.)

Again in Wakayama, we walked 20 unhappy minutes on aching feet to get Miki's bag situation sorted out. Then, a long expensive bus ride back to city center, followed by a lousy meal in a local eatery, with annoying radio BGM that consisted of nearly 30 minutes of voices nearly shrieking in incredibly high registers. "AHHH SOOO DESU KAAAAA?!!!!!" I de-clenched my teeth at one point to hear an announcement about an upcoming 6-hour Kumano Kōdō walk, limited to 200 people. God help me...

On the turntable: "Beat the Retreat: Songs of Richard Thompson"

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