Thursday, June 03, 2010

Kumano Kōdō VIII


We're back where we'd started the morning before. Well before the sun rose, I was awakened by the sounds of trucks loading up nearby. It took some time to give myself to sleep again, sleep that was plagued by dreams about tribes of monkeys coming down the hill to rifle through our bags. In reality, their calls turned out to be those of birds. At six, I was awakened by a completely different voice, that of a woman reciting a story, up on the grassy level above us. It took me a few minutes to confirm that it was indeed English that I was hearing, delivered in a strange and artificial radio announcer intonation. I went up the hill to find a middle-aged woman facing the rising sun and reciting her thing. What made her even more bizarre was the fact that she was standing rigidly still, holding her handbag stiffly at one side. She also had the biggest bust I've ever seen on a Japanese woman.

We hurried to catch our eight a.m. train, riding it with a group of students to the place where we'd finished the previous day's trudge. This day wasn't much better, moving up and around the concrete laden hills between plum orchards. The highlight of the morning was when the trail dropped into what was more jungle than forest, before opening onto the beach. The sand made for tough going, forcing us to take a long rest at a shrine shaded by palm trees. From here, we moved through tall grass up to a low pass, before dropping again to the 'Plum Center.' Once inside, we ignored the exhibits, staying busy by dodging a busload of Hong Kong tourists and raiding the free samples.

The road from here was more drudgery, along a single frontage road that alternated between trees and concreted hillsides. There wasn't a single trace of beauty here. After a monotonous hour of this, we had lunch at a shrine, the two of us weary and bickering. Just beyond the curiously named "Cow's Nose Shrine," we once again met Rte 42, its heavy traffic propelling us into town. We passed the birthplace of the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. It was a vacant lot, just as it had been six years before. (On that earlier visit in 2003, I'd trained a couple of nights with the Tanabe dojo, and had intended to walk the Kōdō for a week over to Shingu, in order to train with Hikitsuchi Shihan, 10th degree black belt. I'd been hoping to write an article, "In the footsteps of O-Sensei," but running out of food on the second day had put the kibosh on that. Hikitsuchi died a short time afterward.) The Kōdō split soon after, but we continued along what had become the Ō-heji, to the Buddha Guest House, our home for the next three nights. It was a lovely spot, run by a friendly young couple. The house was literally filled with incredible Buddhist art from all over Asia, the remnants of the stock of their previous shop. It was all still for sale, at very decent prices.

After dropping our bags and sorting out our upcoming route at the tourist info office, we split up, Miki to buy a few things, and me down to the sea for a swim. The water was perfect, absolutely refreshing after six hard hot days on foot. I lounged awhile on the beach near the Ueshiba statue, then went back into town for an iced coffee. I enjoyed strolling around Tanabe, this being my third visit. I find more to like each time.

I showered a rested awhile in front of the Guest House, satisfied that we'd agreed to a half day off. Then it was beer and dinner, toasting the completion of the Kii-ji portion of the Kōdō...

On the turntable: Sebadoh, "III"
On the nighttable: Pyle/Fass, "Lost Over Laos"

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