Day 6 – The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, Watarase Onsen to Koguchi, Japan

Day 6 – The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, Watarase Onsen to Koguchi, Japan

Last night, our hot spring hotel was nearly full to capacity.
This morning, when we came down early for breakfast, every table in the dining room was set, each with a room number and with food for the guests.

We had a lovely breakfast with a variety of cooked and pickled vegetarian items.
Just like yesterday’s dinner, the food was prepared with great attention to detail, and presented beautifully.
It was also very delicious.

We left our backpacks at the front desk, checked out and started walking from Watarase Onsen back to the Kumano Kodo trail.
We had about an hour’s walk by the side of the road, before we got to the forest trail.
Like most mornings, it was initially chilly, but as we started climbing up the steep trail, we quickly got warmed up, and started taking off our cold weather clothing.

Right before we started the forest trail, we bought pre-packaged Bento boxes for our lunches.
I saw three other hikers go up the trail ahead of us.

Since we woke up early, we had time to first do our spiritual lesson and meditate before breakfast.
I was happy to be in the forest.
I put out of my mind all the illusions of the world, the fear, the global coronavirus panic, the news and the extreme measures that many countries are taking, that are not in alignment with any truth principles.

The walk was enjoyable and challenging.
We began the climb up and during the day, we crossed two mountain passes.
Both of them were not very high, but the top offered us great vistas and views of the 3600 mountain peaks in the Kumano region.

The path was dotted with remains of old tea houses, that once were used by pilgrims as places to eat, drink and rest.
Some of these tea houses were also places where pilgrims could stay for longer than one overnight.

A sign by one of the remains of the tea houses said that the tea house owners used to look down the trail and if they saw a pilgrim approaching in the far off distance, they would start preparing Mochi rice cakes and boil water for tea, so tea and a snack would be ready to be served, just as the tired pilgrim arrived.

This forest was dense with trees, rocks, hilly paths, exposed tree roots, and many little song birds.
We often stopped to look up the trees, to spot the little birds, singing with such strong and bright voices.

We hoped to stop at a bench to have tea, but there were none, so we kept on walking.
Our map showed a sheltered picnic table farther up the road, which we would reach by lunchtime.

When we got there, we saw that the only table was already occupied by a couple of hikers.
We announced to them that we would be joining them for lunch.

They were a couple of travelers who had just arrived from the UK.
We talked about how things are now in the UK under the coronavirus scare, how they are in the USA and how they are in Switzerland, since I had just exchanged some detailed information with my girlfriend who lives in Switzerland.

It seems like the fear is being handled pretty much the same everywhere:
Quarantine, stay indoors, social isolation, avoid physical contact with others, do not travel, avoid public spaces, art and music venues are closed, etc.

They updated us with pieces of news information that we had missed, and said that they are also happy to be here, instead of in London right now.

One of the guys was originally from Israel, and he told us more information about how Israel was dealing with the coronavirus.

But the best part of our conversation was when we exchanged travel information, and talked about our route.
They will be staying tonight in the same guesthouse we will be staying at, so we will eat dinner together later in the evening.

We ate our lunch boxes, drank some hot tea and packed our rubbish away to take with us.
After the second mountain pass, the path became easier, with some flat sections.

Right before the last, steep descent into Koguchi, we stopped at a rest area to have an afternoon tea.
We did not want to arrive too soon at the guesthouse.

We met a Japanese photographer who was out taking photos of nature and of the cherry trees blooming in the forest.
We also thought the blooming trees were very beautiful.
He said that he would be not be going down to Koguchi, but back a few kilometers where he had left his car on the road.

The last part of the walk was a steep descent on the remains of an Edo period path laid with stones.
It was slow going down, and we made sure not to slip and to have sure footing.

We made it to the outskirts of Koguchi at about 3pm, and then walked over to the only shop in town that sold food.
We bought some nuts and fruit.
I asked the shop lady about tomorrow’s walk, and she showed us a graph of the very steep climb at the beginning and the very steep descent at the end.
She said there are great views of Katsuura town from the top.

Our guesthouse for the night is a converted junior high school.
Now that the population of the remote village is so small, there is no need for a junior high school any more.
There are few kids living in this remote area.

They converted the old school into a pilgrim’s lodging.
The tatami mat rooms are spacious, and even though they are a bit worn out by the many, many pilgrims who walk the Kumano Kodo yearly, they are still comfortable and clean.
The baths are good and the toilets are communal.

The food is also good, and in a normal season, they would be packed with guests.
We met another young man during dinner.
He was from the UK, but he lives in Japan, majoring in Japanese language at a university in Hokkaido.

All of us agreed that traveling now is a rare treat with many less tourists around.
Some places around the world have become so overburdened by tourism, that it has degraded the experience of visiting and made life for the locals very unpleasant.

They told us about congestion in London, making going to places in your own city, completely impossible.
There is no doubt the world is overpopulated and over crowded.
An overcrowded planet means that we are producing too much rubbish, cutting too many trees for our building needs, emitting too much gas, overburdening our earth and food supply.
And people keep on giving birth to more and more children, and multiplying even more.

I KNEW, from a very young age, that I would bring no children in this incarnation on this earth.
I find it hard to explain to those who do not walk the spiritual path, why I chose not to become a mother.
They simply do not understand…

But I have made a firm commitment to enlightenment in THIS INCARNATION.

This is my last body!
The cycle of birth and death will entrap me no more.
I will no longer go from birth to rebirth
This is my last incarnation!
My very last body
I shall have no more relations and ties to the world of illusions.
This is my very last cycle of rebirth.

Once, I saw a TV interview with the famous British artist Tracy Emin.
She explained why she chose not to become a mother in this incarnation, and I watched the interview with my mouth agape.
It was as if she spoke from the depth of my own soul, word by word describing my own feelings.

Then later I read the poems and writings of other women, who felt the same as I do.
This reality we seem to live in, is far from paradise.
In fact, it is hell to live in a rapidly aging and decaying body, that is subject to random illnesses, that unseen viruses can attack from the air, and where everything you worked for, can be wiped away in a few weeks of global insanity.

If this is the “real” world, then death is a much better choice, and all those who have departed this earth recently, should be celebrated.
They went home, away from this sad and lonely earth, in which we walk in small and fragile bodies, with weak minds and devastated dreams.

But the truth is far from this grim dream, that many believe is reality.
We are all powerful gods in embryo, only seemingly walking the earth, completely unaware of our mighty spiritual powers.

In our conversation tonight, the British guys told us that these are “interesting times” to be traveling in.
Hard times encourage us to look deeply around and inside, to examine our minds and beliefs, and maybe, just maybe, awaken to our true powers, and remember who we truly are.

ONLY enlightenment can really cure all illnesses.
Even if someone is cured from cancer or from the coronavirus, the next virus mutation or the next cancer can attack him a bit farther in time.
Enlightenment brings the awareness of spiritual powers, that can never be taken away.

The Yamabushi mountain monks that used to live in these mountains, were all seeking these spiritual powers.
Some found them, some will find them during their next incarnation.
Nobody can fail who seeks to reach the truth.

At dinner, we met two other Japanese pilgrims.
They arrived tired, each wearing the pilgrim’s white clothing, a bamboo sedge hat, a stole and a bamboo pole.
They felt revived at dinner, drinking beer and telling us that they are 72 years young, and what route they hiked today.
We wished each other a safe pilgrimage.

I wish you a safe journey as well, on your own pilgrimage through life….

With endless love,

Daily stats:
Steps walked – 32,505
24 km. walked
Active walking time – 6 hours
Total walking time today – 7 hours.
Total walking distance on the Saigoku to date – 116 km

How We Decided To Walk The Tokyo 33 Temple Kannon Bodhisattva Pilgrimage

How We Decided To Walk The Tokyo 33 Temple Kannon Bodhisattva Pilgrimage

In times of global insecurity, a week seems to pass as slowly as a whole month.
The coronavirus has been spreading fast, its effects causing waves of panic among the public, and countries closing their borders, which have led to many travel cancellations.

As expected, the losses and closures in China has been rattling the global financial markets.

Now, beside needing to decide if we should go on a pilgrimage to Japan while the virus is spreading and many places will be closed, we are also looking at our investment account, taking a deep breath and trying to remember that the financial markets always respond with nervousness to any major news.

We decided that unless the USA puts Japan on its “Do Not Travel” advisory list, we are going to be brave, not to submit to the fear of the unknown, and go.
Right now, Japan is on the advisory level 2 warning list, asking people to delay group travel and exercise caution.

We have been reading news from Japan daily and we know that many public places in Japan will be closed.
Many of the closures will not affect our pilgrimage, but most of the art museums in Tokyo will be closed for several days after our arrival.

We had planned to stay five days in Tokyo, mostly to adjust to the different time zone and to practice walking daily, before we embark on our pilgrimage.
We thought to spend time in cafes, restaurants and see some art.
Now, we have had to devise a new plan.

The first option was not to stay in Tokyo at all, and adjust in a more rural place that we have not yet visited.
But as the global fear and stress over the coronavirus is escalating, we decided that we should pray for our human family and do a mini-pilgrimage in Tokyo.

Tokyo has a 33 temple Kannon Bodhisattva pilgrimage, dating back to the Edo period.
It is not a well known pilgrimage, but all the temples are located in the vicinity of Tokyo.

We might not be able to visit all 33 temples this time and pray in each one for the well being of all sentient beings, but we will try to walk it and visit as many as we can in the days that we have in Tokyo.

I have prepared a scroll to be stamped in each temple, and we have already packed our backpacks in preparation for the journey.
Now I look at our packed bags and feel that this might actually happen….
Although I still read all the news every day, to see if there are any extreme changes in the travel advisory.

As always, we have packed very little, trying to carry as little as we can on our backs.
We plan to leave in our Tokyo hotel the extra scroll and stamp book, while we continue to walk the Saigoku pilgrimage, and pick them up at the end of our journey.

I am excited to have this temple itinerary that will not be affected by the fears and closures in Tokyo.
But I also feel my own fears and doubts, and I plan to open up and share them as we embark on this journey into the unknown….
I know it is foolish to allow fears to occupy our holy minds.

The Zen master Rōshi Kodo Sawaki (known as Homeless Kodo, because he did not own a home or a temple) wrote:

“To be born as a human being is a rare thing, and we should be grateful for it and use our lives meaningfully.

It is absurd to get depressed because you do not have money.

It is ridiculous to be neurotic simply because you do not sit in the VIP seat or cannot get a well paying job.

It is foolish to cry because you were rejected by your girlfriend.

Rather, having been born a human being, live a life worth living.”

With light filled blessings and with healing thoughts to all those who are infected or affected by the illusions of the world,

I am adding photos from today’s ski slopes.
Look at the beautiful blue sky.
Rōshi Kodo Sawaki said:

“What is the TRUE self?
It is brilliantly transparent,
like a deep blue sky,
and there is NO gap between it,
and ALL living beings.”

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Taiwan Walk – Day 6 – A Rest Day in Zhiben Hot Springs, Sightseeing Around Taitung, And More About Our Four Abandoned Puppies

Taiwan Walk – Day 6 – A Rest Day in Zhiben Hot Springs, Sightseeing Around Taitung, And More About Our Four Abandoned Puppies

Wendy and Joseph have a friend who lives in Taitung City.
Today he drove us around to enjoy the sights of the area, and helped us with transporting the puppies that we found by the side of the road yesterday.

The phone calls that Wendy made have led her to formulate a plan of action.
Since the puppies cannot go to a shelter until they are at least three months old, Wendy and Joseph have decided to pay to keep them in a veterinary boarding house, where they will be cared for and get vaccinated, and hopefully will eventually be adopted.

If they are not adopted, they will go to the animal shelter after three months.
The cost of boarding the puppies is $500 Taiwanese dollars per day, which is $16.50 US dollars per day.
The three months will cost $1450 US Dollars to board the four puppies.
Not a small amount of money, but puppies are sentient beings and deserve to live and be treated with love and care.

Wendy and Jospeh only allowed me to help with $5000 Taiwanese dollars ($166 US dollars) of the total cost.
Wendy went to a cash machine and got out a large wad of money which she handed to her friend.
He will take the puppies to the veterinarian boarding home and will pay for their care upfront.

Meantime, we photographed each puppy, and Joseph and Wendy’s daughter started a huge Facebook campaign to get the puppies adopted.

Jules and I named the puppies overnight.
We named them: “Tai”, “Pei”, “Wan” and “Tung.”
Their names are a play on:
Taipei (the capital city of Taiwan)
Taiwan and Taitung (The district where we found the puppies.)

Meantime, until the boardinghouse is open, the puppies will spend the night in our Onsen hotel, which has an animal boarding house by the gate, for guests who travel with their pets.

Then we all set off to explore Taitung.
Wendy wanted us to see the highlands, since we have been walking by the coastline for days.

We stopped in town and bought vegetarian wraps from a popular and very busy restaurant.
The thin rice wraps are filled with either peanut or wasabi sauce, topped with vegetables and tofu, and then rolled up and sliced.
They were delicious, as we discovered when we ate them later in a cafe.

We visited the main Taoist temple in Taitung, decorated with beautiful designs both on the roofs and inside.
I took some free booklets on Buddhism and booklets to practice writing the sutras in Chinese characters.

We visited the “Water Running Upwards” site, which clearly shows an old irrigation canal running up the hill, and fairly fast, too!

We walked to some elevated sites to see the views and visited a tourist center selling gifts, Taiwanese foods and teas.

Since we were staying the night in an Onsen Hot Springs hotel, we wanted to go to the hotel with enough time to soak before dinner, and of course to see how our puppies were doing.

The puppies were comfortably sleeping in the guardhouse.
The cage they slept in was large, lined with a big towel, and they had large food bowls that they could not turn over by mistake.

They looked content, and they woke up just as we prepared to check in.
They recognized us and started barking in their little voices, demanding that we hold and hug each one of them.

After checking in, we soaked in the outdoor hot springs.
It was a pleasantly cool night, and the hot springs felt divine.
Dinner was a buffet of local delights.

During this trip, I am trying to eat what Wendy is eating, but with no meat.
She is healthy, fit and slim, and she rarely eats sweets or desserts.
She also eats smaller amounts of food than I normally do.
I watch her at each meal and try my best to follow her example.

After dinner, there were dances and songs by girls and boys from the local tribes.
The most impressive was the bamboo dance, similar to those you can see in traditional Thai and Philippine dancing, when the dancers gracefully jump between two bamboo poles that are clapped together faster and faster.
It was a charming performance and a sweet end to the evening.

Afterwards, Wendy and I went to soak in the hot springs again.
This time we soaked in the indoor hot spring baths.
I enjoyed it so much, I stayed for over two hours and even slept a little in the not too hot pool.

That night, before bedtime, I meditated and visualized an aura of white loving light around our puppies.
I encircled them with love and blessings.
I envisioned them all adopted, loved and that they will have a good life.

May the light of love and protection shine on you tonight,

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