Day 1 – Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, Shirahama to Asso, Japan
Day 1 – The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, Shirahama to Asso, Japan
For over 1000 years, people from all walks of life, including emperors and aristocrats, have made the arduous pilgrimage to Kumano.
Pilgrims used a network of routes, now called the Kumano Kodo, which stretches across the mountainous Kii Peninsula.
The walk itself was an integral part of the pilgrimage process, as they undertook rigorous religious rites of worship and purification.
It is said that the very landscape of the Kumano is soaked in spiritual vibrations.
The Kumano has been considered a sacred site associated with Shinto nature worship since prehistoric times.
When Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 6th century, this area became a site of ascetic training for the monks who sought enlightenment by isolating themselves in these remote forest mountains.
As Shinto and Buddhism mixed in Japan, the Kumano area was viewed as a Buddhist Pure Land.
Most people who walk the Imperial Route, called the Nakahechi route, start from Tanabe on the western coast of the Kii Peninsula, and traverse east into the mountains towards the Kumano grand shrines.
It is the most popular route for pilgrims from western Japan. Starting in the 10th century, the Nakahechi route was extensively used by the imperial family, who came on pilgrimage from their palace in Kyoto.
We are starting our walk in Shirahama, which is a bit farther to the west, adding another day or two of walking to the pilgrimage.
We have plenty of time.
In great contrast to the ascetic monks who used to live in the Kumano forests and practiced asceticism, we are loaded with chocolate, cookies and snacks from the Marriott Shirahama.
After breakfast, the hotel asked us to take freshly baked mini muffins, since there are not many guests and they do not want to throw away the food.
They even packed the baked goods for us in a brown paper bag.
Today was the first day we walked with our full backpacks.
They felt heavy, almost too heavy to be climbing mountain trails with.
We are sure that during our previous pilgrimages we carried heavier packs, so this must be something we will adjust to.
We walked only a short distance today, about 14 kilometers from Shirahama Onsen to Asso, where our guesthouse is located.
We chose to walk along the coastline, and were rewarded by nice views of the blue sea.
Right outside of Shirahama along our route, we came upon a Kannon temple that had replicas of all the 33 Saigoku Kannon statues.
People who cannot walk or travel by train to visit the temples can do this mini- pilgrimage to gain merit.
Then we came upon a big farmers market selling all kinds of local foods, including citrus products that are grown in the area, pickles, miso, local honey, seafood products, all sorts of bottled condiments, sweets and more.
The market had lots of places to dine, drink and shop, ice cream places and toilets.
The parking lot was pretty full, and we greeted tourists who came by bus from Shirahama to shop and enjoy the market.
Normally, I would be tempted to try some local produce, but with our bags full of snacks, it makes no sense to carry more.
As we got closer to Asso, we turned inland and walked up over a hill.
We arrived by 1:00pm, and stopped at a small café for iced coffee and small slices of cheese cake and a chocolate gateau.
The cafe had no available seats, but when they saw us some women who had already finished their lunch, quickly offered us their table.
They paid their bill and left.
Afterwards, we stopped into our guesthouse, called Aga-la, and dropped off our backpacks, while the cleaning crew completed straightening up the little house.
The small town of Asso has a few restaurants, but all of them close at six in the evening.
We walked across the street to the Supermarket and bought ingredients for our dinner tonight and for tomorrow’s breakfast.
The guesthouse is a comfortable tatami-mat three room house, with a cozy living room which they have set up with a low table with a heated blanket, covered with another thick blanket.
This blanket heated table is called Kotatsu.
Traditionally, underneath the table was a charcoal heater, but this was replaced by an electric heater and now by a heated blanket, to reduce the risk of fires.
You are meant to sit with your legs warming up underneath the table inside the blanket.
The bedroom has the futons stored in the closet, and we will lay them out before bedtime.
The kitchen is spacious, with a table and chairs and all you need to make meals and cook.
We bought salad ingredients and cooked vegetables at the supermarket, and we heated the food in the guesthouse’s oven.
For dessert we had some strawberries that are grown locally, with green tea.
The guesthouse is nicely warm, and we are ready for tomorrow’s walk.
Today was a sunny day and the temperature was just perfect for walking.
Tomorrow is predicted to be rainy, but not a cold day.
With healing light,
Steps walked – 18,893
14 km. walked
Active walking time – 3.5 hours
Total walking time today – 5 hours
Senko-ji Senshinfudoson Senko Temple 洗心不動尊 千光寺
(Not part of the Saigoku pilgrimage, but it has a mini Saigoku pilgrimage)