Day 62 – The Chūgoku 33 Temple Kannon Pilgrimage, Japan – A Walk Through the Mountains to Yubara Onsen

Day 62 – The Chūgoku 33 Temple Kannon Pilgrimage, Japan – A
Walk Through the Mountains to Yubara Onsen

From the Sea of Japan in the north, we charted a walking route going south, towards Kiyamaji, Temple #4.
The route involved retracing our steps back to Kurayoshi, taking a taxi south to the Hiruzen Highlands, and then walking south along the “Romantic Route 313.”

We were not sure why it was named a romantic road, except that it was beautifully lined on both sides by a lush forest of beech and camellia trees, lots of creeks, and a river that leads to a big dam.

There were no sidewalks for us to walk on, but whenever we could, we walked by the rice fields and on side streets through the small villages.

I saw on the map that the main road required walking through two long tunnels.
Since there were no sidewalks, we were very reluctant to walk through long tunnels with no space between us and the traffic.
We decided to take the only alternative route, walking along the original mountain road climbing up into the mountains, the road that was used before the tunnels were built.
We crossed our fingers and hoped that it would be passable, even though my maps showed that there was a long and unexplained break in the road.

But before we started climbing, we stopped at a roadside vegetable and farm produce shop.
They sold ice cream, and had outdoor tables in the shade.
It was a very hot day, and we were walking with our full backpacks.

After resting, I decided to ask the shop keeper for advice about the old road.
I wanted to make sure that it actually went all the way through, before we walked all those kilometers up the mountain road.

She told me that nobody drives on the old road any more, and that she is not sure if it can be walked on.
I showed her the tunnels and explained that we were trying to avoid walking through them.

She went into her office and investigated.
Then she asked me to come inside, into her office.
She showed me a more detailed map that showed that the “breaks” in the old road were actually old, one lane tunnels.

Reassured, I told Jules what I been told, and we put on our backpacks and started climbing.
Bypassing the first tunnel, we walked on the winding old road, overgrown with vegetation.
The asphalt was broken In places, but it was easy walking, and we passed through a small decaying tunnel and soon rejoined the main road.

Again there were no sidewalks, and the next tunnel was nearly two kilometers long. We had no way of knowing if there would be sidewalks inside the tunnel.

We decided to continue on the old road, climbing sharply up into the mountains.
We passed by a rock quarry with huge machinery and many trucks, and continued climbing up.

Soon we got to the other break in the road, which also turned out to be an old tunnel, but only this time, the tunnel was completely blocked by a tightly stretched mesh wire, to prevent anyone from walking through.

We saw an the left side of the old tunnel a forest path, and hoped that if we climbed into the forest, we could walk through and above the tunnel, and come down on the other side.

But it was not to be…
We climbed up and up , and then through a forest of Tsubaki and large beech trees.
Tsubaki is a kind of Camellia plant native to Japan.
It grows in a wide area of Japan, from Honshu to Okinawa.
The relationship between Tsubaki and the people of Japan dates back to olden times, to the Jomon period.
A fragrant oil, Tsubaki oil, that is used in many beauty products, is still extracted from the seeds.

Then we came to a dead end.
There were no more trails.
We tried to make our way through the bamboo grove, growing in the shade of the old trees, to see if we could spot any of the trails starting up again.

It became obvious that we were not walking on forest trails, but on service paths leading only to the power lines that dotted the forest.
The service paths were there in case they ever needed to service these power-lines.

Disheartened that we would have to walk all the way back and then still walk through the long tunnel, we admitted defeat and reversed our steps.
We were muddy from the forest hike, and the bamboo grove that we had scrambled through was covered in white mold that was now all over our clothes and backpacks.

We took a little time to tidy ourselves up, and walked back to the main road and towards the tunnel, making sure to give the passing cars and trucks plenty of room.

But as it turned out, we did not need to worry.
The long tunnel was well lit and it did have a narrow sidewalk, and we crossed it safely.

Exiting the tunnel, we sat in the shade to rest our feet for the first time in four hours.
We ate the bananas we had brought with us and drank the two small bottles of water that we had.

From that point on, we had nice sidewalks all the way to Yubara Onsen.
After another hour of walking, we entered the small village and went to one of the two small cafés to drink iced tea and coffee, and to eat a toast.

Our hot spring hotel is located right on the river, in front of the very scenic outdoor open air baths.
There is no charge to use these riverside hot spring baths, and most local people we saw bathed naked in the hot spring pools.

I loved it!
I feel that there should be no shame in nakedness.
And even more, it is so wholesome to be bathing naked in the middle of the hot river, surrounded by a forested canyon with sheer cliffs.
The other people around you are not peepers, but souls who also enjoy this fabulous scenic spot where the hot springs meet the river.

In our hotel, the outdoor hot spring bath had two lounge chairs in the middle of the pool, overlooking the gorge and the river.
I sat naked, slid open the wooden shoji screen and almost fell asleep relaxing in the bath.

The night before I had not slept so well, because of the three cups of coffee I had drunk that day.
For me, coffee is a very strong stimulant, and at home I only drink a cup once per week.

It still amazes me at how much energy we have while walking a pilgrimage.
We start the day very early, walk all day in the sun, often without a place to take a break or even to sit and rest, finish the walk with a hot springs soak and a dinner and have lots of energy left to blog, arrange the photos we took that day, and stay awake almost until midnight.

It is incredible especially to me, who still remembers her old self who used to feel tired in the afternoons, needing a “pick me up” afternoon tea or juice and a snack, and even so, falling asleep early.

This is a good life-lesson.
We all believe that “Greatness” in any field, is due to talent, predisposition or aptitude.
But greatness is comprised of lots of small doable goals.
In other words, greatness is achievable and very doable.
You simply have to achieve many small goals every day, and they all accumulate into an amazing experience.

Our hotel had sent us an email before we arrived, saying that there are not many places to dine nearby, and asking if we wished to book a Kaiseki dinner with them.
They said their chef specializes in making a meal using over fifty vegetables.

We said yes, and that night we were served a lovely vegetarian feast.
The owner of the hotel is a lovely chatty woman, who speaks English and used to live in Hawaii.
She said she owned a vegetarian restaurant in Hawaii before coming back to live here.

The forecast calls for a very rainy day tomorrow.
We have booked a two night stay in Yubara Onsen, intending to also see the old preserved district of the town of Katsuyama.
So we have plenty of options now which allow us to take a rest day, and still walk the rest of the pilgrimage.

With love and blessings,

Daily Stats:
Steps: 32.801 steps
Distance Walked: 24 Kilometers
Active Walking: 6 hours
Total Time: 7 hours

Total distance walked on the pilgrimage so far: 1236.5 Kilometers

Temples Visited: None

Accommodation: Hakkei Onsen hotel, in Yubara Onsen
A Hot Springs hotel with nice Japanese style rooms, located right on the river facing the outdoor open air riverside hot spring pool.
Has lovely mineral hot spring baths indoors and outdoors, fast internet, and great food.
We asked for vegetarian Kaiseki meals, which were wonderful.

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