We have a wonderful party from Malaysia. They arrived at the Kansai International Airport early this morning and visited Koyasan. They explored the two most sacred areas in Koyasan – Garan Complex area and Okunoin Area, where Kobo Daishi, the founder of Koyasan, is enshrined and Kongobuji Temple. They really enjoyed stunning autumnal leaves while in Koyasan. They experienced staying at a temple called Shukubou for a overnight. We are moving to Kumano Area next morning. This tour will continue until November 10.
We started Day 2 at 8:00 a,m, heading for Kumano via Koya-Ryujin Skyline. We arrived at Kumano around 10:40 and witnessed the Kumano Kodo Picture Scroll Procession, which depicts the pilgrimage of the nobles in Heian Period (794-1185) from the 10th century. Kumano Kodo is a religious place where Japanese people’s faith centered. Peple wear the Heian period costume, walk in the Takahara area every year on November 3rd. Today is the very day for that procession. We were very lucky to see the procession. After seeing the procession, we started the Kumano Kodo hike form the small but the famous Gyuba-doji statue to Chikatsuyu, a small and quiet village. We had lunch there. After lunch we moved to another quiet village called Nonaka to see Lion Dance of Nonaka, which was another event of the festival held only today. We were so happy to be blessed by the Kumano deities. After seeing Lion Dance we had another big surprise! The local guide, Yoshi-san, arranged the meeting with 98 year old man, who is still making pilgrimage hats. We were welcome by him and enjoyed talking and taking pictures with him. It was such a wonderful time meeting a super old man like a god. After that we reached the wonderful hotel and enjoyed onsen and delicious dinner.
We walked Kumano Kodo from Hosshinmon Oji to Kumano Taisha Grand Shrine, 7.5 km. We stated at 9 a.m at Hosshinnmon Oji and took a break at Fushiogami having snack and onsen coffee or shiso juice. Then we kept walking to the final goal, Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine. It is one of the three Grand Shrines in Kumano. We had lunch near the shrine and after lunch we visited Ooyunohara, where the shrines had been located until they were washed away by the big flood in 1889.
We started Day 4 at 8:30. The weather was beautiful!! We have been blessed with very beautiful weather since we started the tour. Today four of us went hiking over the Kogumotori-goe section in Kumano Kodo, mostly in the forested mountain with some nice ridge-walking sections. We started from Ukegawa on the banks of the Kumano-gawa River. Ascends and descends along a ridge until the highest of today’s walk, the Hyakken gura pass, where a beautifully positioned Buddhist statue on a hilltop has a backdrop of the most spectacular lookout of the sacred Kumano Mountain. We finish the hiking at the small village called Kowaze. Total distance was 12km.
The other 5 people went sightseeing to Shirahama, the onsen resort town. We saw spectacular scenic spots including Shirahama beach, a sister beach of Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. We stopped by at Sandanbeki Rock Cliff and visited the underground cave to see the rock formation up close. After that, we stopped by at Senjojiki, a tiered rock formation eroded by the stormy seas. The name Senjjojiki comes from being able to arrange thousands of tatami mats on the rock formation. Then we stopped by at Engetsuto Island, a natural archway carved over time by raging seas. It is a fine example of natural architecture. Its Japanese name Engetsuto comes from its full moon like shape in the middle of the island. It serves as a symbol of Shirahama. After sightseeing we enjoyed shopping at Toretore Ichiba Market and had lunch at Shushi restaurant.
We started Day 5 at 8:00 a.m. Again we were blessed with a sunny day. Only two of us went hiking on Hatenashi Toge Pass, a part of Kohechi Route in Kumano Dodo. This route was mainly extends from Mt Koya to Kumano through the steep mountain range. This route was mainly used by travelling worshippers and merchants since the medieval period of Japan and is one of the toughest. I this trail, we followed Kannon Buddhist images – there are 33 stone Kannon Buddhist images representing 33 temples dedicated to Kannon found throughout the Kansan region. Today’s total distance was 15.2 km. We took about 7 hours.
The others went sightseeing for Kumano city in Mie Prefecture. After sending the hiking group, we took about one hour drive to Kumano city. Firstly we enjoyed a short hiking from the starting point of Matsumoto toge. After we met a life-size Jizo, we took a pass leading us to Onigajo castle.
At Onigajo Castle we saw a magnificent rock formation formed from hardened volcanic ash raised up by earthquakes and then eroded by the sea and wind. After Onigajo castle, we had lunch at a local restaurant called Sanchago.
On the way back to the hotel, we dropped by at beautiful paddy fields called Maruyama Senmaida (One thousand paddy fields).
We started Day 6 at 8:30. Firstly we were planning to take a boat from Hongu to Hayamama Taisha Grand Shrine, but the amount of river water was low because of consecutive sunny days, so the river cruse was cancelled. So we went to Hayamata Grand Shrine by our bus instead of the boat, and after that we visited Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine. We walked along the Daimonzaka slope and many steps to Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine and visited Seigantoji Temple as well. We learned about Kumano deities and the fusion of Shintoism and Buddhism, and finally we descended to magnificent Nachi Waterfall. After that we had lunch and did some shopping at local market, and went to the hotel.
We started DAY 7 at 9:00 a.m. Firstly we wetnessed tuna auction market and then we headed for Ise. On the way to Ise, we dropped by at Hana no Iwaya to see the Japanese original form of worshiping natural object, Here a gigantic rock was worshiped as a god named “Izanagi”, the mother of many gods. After we arrived in Ise, we enjoyed beautiful bistro lunch. Then we visited Ise Jingu Naiku and Okage Yokocho ancient style street. Ise JIngu Naiku is dedicated to Amaterasu, the god in the highest position in Japan who shines on the heaven and the people. Okage means “thanks to you”. People thank to others for being able to make a journey to Ise Jingu.
We started Day 8 a little bit later than other days. Firstly we drove to Mt. Asama through Ise-Shima Skyline. At the observatory we took a short walk while enjoying panoramic view of city of Ise, Ise Bay, Matoya Bay and Ago Bay where we stayed. We luckily witnessed a man sky diving from the mountain. On a clear day, Mt Fuji can be seen in a distance, but it was a little bit unclear in a distance today though it was a fine day. Then we moved to Mikimoto Perl Island. We had a chance to see the demonstration by female pearl divers known as Ama and visited the museum to learn about cultured pearl. It was very interesting! After Mikimoto, we went to Ama hut called “Hachiman Kamado” in Osatsu to have lunch. We had a wonderful sea food lunch and leaned about Ama and their culture. In the end they showed us their local dance. We really enjoyed that. Then we took a 30 minutes drive back to our hotel. Still the sunny day have continued.
We started the last day of this tour at 8 a.m. We left the lovely hotel in Ago Bay for the last destination, Akame 48 waterfalls. On the way there, two of us left out party for Tokyo. We sang “Time to say good bye” together, which was very memorable moment. We arrived at Akame around 11:00 a.m. and began hiking. We enjoyed stunning autumnal leaves, clear water and shinning reflection while walking. After two hours hike, we had delicious Shabu-shabu and Sukiyaki lunch at a nice restaurant in Akame area. We left Akame around 3:00 p.m. for Osaka. On the way to Osaka we stopped by at a local market called “Michi-no eki (road station) for the last shopping. We came back to Osaka at 4:50 p.m. Today was the day when Japan’s Imperial couple’s Enthronement Parade was held. We go We witnessed many beautiful spots, ate a lot, laugh and sang together and did a lot of shopping. We were blessed by the weather, 9 consecutive fine days, which is very unusual thought it is usually stable in November. It was a definitely unforgettable 9 days tour. Thank you very much for all of you. All of you are very cooperative and helped me a lot. I really had a great time with you. This 9 day journey has become my treasure. Thank you very much!! Your guide Noriko