Kumano Kodo

 

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Ocean takes a break on the trail

 

A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey, full of thoughtful reflection and moral significance. One of the oldest pilgrimages in Buddhism/Shinto in Japan is the Kumano Kodo trails of the Kii peninsula. They are a series of paths between three major shrines in the mountainous center of the peninsula, which is a 3-hour drive away from our home in Minoh. We spent the third day of our holiday walking one of the trails to the Kumano Shongu Taisha, a big shrine.

The paths have been refurbished in the past 15-20 years, and through excellent marketing, the trails have become a national and international draw for tourists. The paths and shrines are old, dating back to 500 AD, was an area known of ascetic monks and pilgrims purifying themselves through the labor of walking long distances. When Japan began to modernize in the late 1800s, the shrines were taken down because they were a mix of Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. The land was also heavily logged and replanted with Japanese cedar and cypress. The rehabilitation, marketing campaign, and UNESCO World Heritage status have turned it into an economic boom for the interior of the peninsula. They also paired with the Camino de Santiago in Spain to advertise the dual pilgrimage, dual-faith endeavor. There are stamps people can get along the routes, which encourages walkers to complete the circuit.

 

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Morning in our shoji house

 

It was a nice afternoon of walking. The path was partly a paved road going through villages and partly forested dirt trails. There were interesting stops along the way, including bathrooms and places for a cup of coffee or drinks. The mountains of the Kumano river valley are not like the snow-capped Alps, but they are beautiful in their own way. We were not purifying ourselves or reflecting on the spirits of our ancestors or Buddhist deities, but we were spending time together as a family. Oliver loved fighting fantasy opponents with his friend while walking. The rest of us took pleasure in the quiet autumn colors and breath-taking mountain valley views.

 

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The Japanese Maple is spectacular in November

 

A highlight for me was our accommodations. The house was over 100 years old and the owner found it abandoned and brought it to his property. It was a unique experience and gave us a glimpse into how people used to live before modernization. The traditional Shoji architecture caused me to think differently about doors and furniture. The hot water bottle in bed (see my YouTube video) was cozy.

 

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