Saturday, May 29, 2010

Kumano Kōdō VI


We rose at six-thirty, the heat at eight. We climbed up the hill to the shrine above our 'camp' in order to meditate and do some yoga. (We had intended to do this every morning, and little did we know that this would be one of only three days that we actually followed through.) Over breakfast we watched the village below us awaken.

We dropped our bags at Gobō Station, as Miki's friend Shiori go off a train just pulling in. With the addition of our guest walker, we'd decided to go light and train it back in order to enjoy the local super-sento and another night at our private and peaceful hilltop campsite.

This was the beginnings of what became yet another long trudge of a day. The heat continued to increase, but the scenery didn't, offering more of the same view of small factories and bland shops lining the prefectural highway. The river that we followed out of town lay in its concrete bed, the hills that made up the southern border of town sprouted with prefab homes. Not far from here is a place called Amerika-mura, a place that I visited about 14 years ago. At that time, I was struck by how well they'd done the California beach town look. Little did I know that this was the tipping point for much of the architecture that has come since. Having seen a lot more of Japan by now, I think they ought to change the town's name, as it no longer lives up to its original distinction. Like the Osaka neighborhood with which its shares the moniker, these interpretations of elements of American culture and design have themselves become, without any sense of irony, something distinctly 21st Century Japanese.

Cresting a small pass, we finally came to the sea. After four days of smelling her perfumes and receiving flirtatious winks from atop the higher passes, we were finally at her side. How better to celebrate than with lunch, in the shade of a temple just below a hiking trail marked with 88 stone Jizo, a forethought on a Shikoku walk still to come. The water before me looked inviting, but for the massive power plant less than a km away. A fisherman assured me the water was fine, and with his three eyes, he was certain to spot any bad stuff.

We followed the sea through a series of small villages. Where'd I'd been expecting lovely scenes of a fishing culture, I found instead more light industry. The villagers themselves were out of sight, but the cats were active. Crabs crawled about in the sewers, their claws out in that international symbol for massage. We stopped for a cold drink in a shop run by a guy who thought that Miki and Shiori were foreigners, and more bizarrely, spoke Japanese only to me.

We next entered Inmi, who at this point in the narrative, holds the lead for the worst trail markers yet. As in none. There were a couple of markers for Ōji, simply for the benefit of the car pilgrims who'd bring in more money. We left this stingy town by climbing a high pass up to Naha Ōji, a shrine which bore a legend about foot relief for walkers. From here it was a long descent through plum groves and rice fields bordered with curtains of drying rice. This was the only green spot in a long day spent on concrete. (Looking back, I think that this was perhaps my least favorite day on the entire Kōdō.) With so little scenery to entertain us, Miki and Shiori fell back on their friendship. Many times in this blog I've mentioned that I hate to talk about things other than what we were encountering immediately before us. I'm generally not interested in being anywhere but here. So while the two of them were engaged in conversations spanning great distances in time and place, I chose to stay a few meters ahead, with my own company. Here and there I would be drawn into conversation, and it was during one of these times that we unknowingly passed an Ōji. It was the only one on the Kōdō to which we didn't offer a prayer.

We finished at Iwashio Station, beside a small oceanside shrine that would have been perfect for camping. With small regret, I boarded the train back to our bags at Gobō. Little did I know that my day wasn't finished...

On the turntable: "Blind Melon"
On the nighttable: Michael Herr, "Dispatches"

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