Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kumano Kōdō IV


We picked up the Kōdō again in Kainan. Here it was a small trail through the hills, shaded with bamboo and lined with stone Jizo statues of extreme age. Each had different features. This enchanted path led us to the temple I'd visited toward the end of yesterday. Nearby, a modest home stood surrounded by a large overgrown garden. This is the origin of the Suzuki family, and at 403,506 members, is the most common name in Japan. Just beyond was Fujishiro Shrine, hung with a humorous banner written with, "Welcome Suzuki-san!" Nearby, a Kuzunoki tree rose to the heavens, each of its three interwoven trunks nearly the size of a van. Behind the shrine was a full-sized wooden horse, and beside it was a small hall that lit up on approach, revealing the impressive line-up of Buddhas within. One of these was the only physical representation of the Kannon deity that is specific to the Kōdō.

We moved into forest here, the distances marked off in chō rather than in meters. The view was of nothing but the factory below. I marveled that the citizens of Kainan had allowed such a immense structure to be plonked down on the outskirts of town, effectively cutting them off from the sea that gave the town its name. The hill rose and took us away. Midway up was a flat indented stone like a calligraphy inkwell. The legend that accompanied it goes back to the 7th Century. Atop the pass was a simple temple of dull wood, set against the brilliant blue sky. We had lunch here, followed later by a dessert of mikan plucked from trees passed on the descent. This completely made our day, eating fresh fruit as we walked along, tainted slightly by the sight of white chemical residue dried to their thick skins. This valley into which we were now dropping was surrounded by a Tuscan landscape of dry hills bearing colorful orchards. It was hot going, the sun straight above and offering nearly no shade. Midway across the valley, we found what is touted as the first mikan tree in all of Japan, ancestor to all that wonderful sweet fruit to come since.

We faced a long ascent up concrete poured along the steep pitch. Shacks marked the orchards through which we climbed, with winch cables criss-crossing the sky above, forming the expressways that the fruit commuted along on their way to the cities. Near the crest of this high steep mountain, we found a group of very old men singing karaoke in a tiny kōminkan. They graciously gave us water, but warned us that the taste might be off, as they'd earlier sprayed for termites. With the heat, thirst beat prudence. Further up still, large turbines were lined across the top of the ridge, whoop-whooping the air as they churned.

Down the other side now, then immediately faced our second 400 meter climb of the day, into a forest landscape offering plentiful shade. We plucked a kiwi from one tree, but it was too sour to eat. The following descent was of the knee-killing variety all too common in this country, as if trails of this type were designed deliberately by orthopedic surgeons. On the floor of the next valley, we stopped for drinks at a local grocery store, directly across from a group of kids unsuccessfully fishing in a grubby canal.

We made it across the valley quickly, over the Arida River and up into the next group of orchards. This was a lower hill than the last two, and a long gentle descent brought us finally to the town of Yuasa, whose main street had a look centuries old. We passed through a cloud of incense as we made our way to the station, ending a six hour perpendicular crossing of some of the hardest passes on the Kōdō, passes which seem to be competing for the most fatalities...

On the turntable: Soup Dragons, "Lovegod"
On the nighttable: William Warren, "Jim Thompson, The Unsolved Mystery"

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