Day 5 – The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, A Rest Day In Watarase Onsen, Japan
I am so happy we scheduled a rest day for today.
After a few days of rigorous forest climbing, my legs muscles will most definitely benefit from a soak in the hot springs and a rest.
Walking long distances is very different from forest hiking.
On long walks, we walk mostly on graded roads, so that even if the roads climb steeply up or down, we still have good footing, much less taxing than climbing on the mossy rocks and exposed tree roots of slippery forest paths.
We have been climbing log stairs, boulders and rocks in the forest for hours and hours every day, and I need a break.
From our guesthouse in Hongu, it was only a short walk to Watarase Onsen.
Along the Yomura river, we saw that some of the cherry trees are now blooming.
They looked glorious, completely unaware and unaffected by the coronavirus madness that is the latest cloud on the consciousness of humanity.
We saw a kid skipping rocks over the river, a timeless scene that you can see all over the world.
The kid was not yet very good at skipping stones, and most of his stones fell deep into the river without a single skip.
It made me feel peaceful.
We passed by a busy camping park near the river.
People who had camped over the weekend were now packing up their tents, their pets and all their camping gear.
Locals were working in the fields, planting Buckwheat for soba or rice, and the little shops were displaying their daily offerings.
These peaceful domestic scenes are pleasing to my mind, a reminder that reading the news can darken our view of the world and make us forget how peaceful life can be.
We arrived at the hotel too early to check in, so we sat in the onsen cafe and relaxed.
We had many cups of roasted green tea and a lunch of soba noodles and hot udon noodles with tempura.
After lunch, our room was cleaned and ready and we changed into Yukatas (summer kimonos) and went to soak in the hot springs.
Our hotel is a large complex with two hotels and a big public hot springs, spread across both sides of the river.
The public hot springs baths are all outdoors, overlooking the river.
They were very well attended, despite the current virus fears.
Families came to bathe, and stayed to eat at the noodle shop at the front.
The prevalent belief in Japan for nearly two thousands years, is that hot springs are healing places, not places where one can catch the current ongoing dis- ease.
Many historical records and folk stories in Japan recall famous miraculous healings that occurred while soaking in hot springs.
It is very much like the masses bathing daily in the holy Ganges River in India that is said to be healing, despite the fact that the measured level of bacteria in the river is considered to be extremely dangerous to human life.
As hotel guests, we had keys to use the private family baths.
There were four private baths.
We were delighted to see that each private bath was very large, larger than the public baths in some small inns.
We soaked alone, naked and outdoors, feeling grateful to be alive.
We talked about the next two days’ difficult hikes, about our options if we (mostly I) do not feel strong enough for the rigorous hike, and about our shortcomings and what we need to improve to remove obstacles to our enlightenment.
My leg muscles felt a bit better by the time we left the bath.
Back in our room, we meditated for an hour and then went downstairs for dinner.
Many families filled the dinning hall.
The meal was a traditional Kaiseki meal, only ours was a vegetarian feast.
It was nice to see so many families with children and grandparents, all wearing yukatas, with no face masks, just people enjoying their stay in the onsen.
As is the custom, they set up our beds while we were having our dinner.
We went to bed early, in preparation for tomorrow’s hike.
Wishing you lots of great things,
Steps walked – 9,271
7 km. walked
Active walking time – 2 hours
Total walking time today – 2 hours.
Total walking distance on the Saigoku – 92 km