Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Kumano Kōdō X


...the bus left the station at 6:30 a.m. and an hour later, let us off where we'd hitched out yesterday. One stop before, a young woman with a large camera had gotten down. Shortly after starting our own hike, we passed yet another lone woman on the trail. I'm often intrigued by these women who travel alone, as it's not done much here in Japan. I'll always remember the young woman I saw years ago at Koryū-ji, moving about with deliberate slowness as she quietly shot her photos. I was impressed to see so many women traveling alone out here in Kumano, though I wonder if they lose confidence when coming upon Ogin Jizo, dedicated to a Kyoto geisha killed by brigands. An hour after meeting the second woman, we came across another anomaly: a Frenchman sprawling across the trail, writing in his journal.

It was a delight to get on the trail early, to move across a forest floor dappled with light. We followed a stream for much of the morning, crossing bridges covered with moss. A long climb brought us to Mikoshi Pass and its rest hut. Along the way, we saw a deer at Yukawa, grazing lazily up the slope above the shrine, obviously unafraid of humans.

By late morning we arrived at Funatama, and its long boat with a figure of Jizo carved into the prow. Signs warned us off camping here, as it is apparently overrun with vipers. (While wondering if this were a ploy, I was simultaneously bitten by seventeen of the loathsome creatures and expired on the spot. Much better now.) Since dropping down this side of the pass, Mie welcomed us with a variety of signs commanding us to refrain from this or that. Far from the welcome feeling of yesterday.

We climbed up to Hosshin. Our passage through the gate a symbolic step into deeper realms of the spirit. We lunched here, smiling as the Frenchman passed by, in conversation with the woman walker we'd seen, neither no longer solo.

The next descent was through a series of villages and galleries selling veggies and wood carvings. One stretch of homes had wooden dummies lining the route, as if the locals were watching the tourists file past on parade. The tourists were indeed out in great numbers, as they'd take the bus up to Hosshin and follow the gentle slope for an hour and a half down to Hongu. The final reaches were almost anti-climactic, moving through a series of square, squat suburban homes out of the Ike years. Yet the actual arrival at Hongu changed that. Clapping my hands before the shrine, I felt happy, at peace. After years of trying to get to the Nakahechi, my feet had finally led me along this inner, mountainous passage of the Kōdō, the missing link of my now complete traverse between Kyoto and Shingu.

Kumano Hongu was quiet, having changed little since my 2005 visit, the same long steps, the same squat buildings rising from the gravel. One addition was the small stand selling kitschy character trinkets, including items of the JFA who'd adopted Kumano's three-legged crow as mascot. (For the next three days, any time I'd see a crow, my eyes would automatically check for that third leg.)

As on my last visit here, I sat near the base of the steps, eating ice cream and people watching. Both of my previous visits here had been during Golden Week, and today, the place was reasonably quiet. I smiled at my good luck with timing as three buses suddenly puled up to disgorge a large group of women, the older ones wearing sensible shoes, the younger looking like foals on those steps in their heels.

Out front on the new access road, we tried to hitch back to Tanabe, but without luck. I mimicked the facial expressions of the drivers as they passed, pretending not to notice us. On the bus later, I stretched out my tired feet along the back seat and read for the entire two hours back to town. There were a few other hikers on board, looking weary but rewarded. A group of school kids had gotten on at one point, peeling off into little groups as we edged toward town...

On the turntable: "The Rough Guide to Cuban Son"
On the nighttable: Aurobindo, "More Lights on Yoga"

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