I’ve just been sent on a business trip to Japan to walk along the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path! Well, okay, they thought they were sending me to a conference on calendaring interoperability standards, but that wasn’t really the important bit.
The Kumano Kodo is a strikingly ancient series of paths in the Wakayama province of Japan, used by pilgrims to reach the three major Kumano shrines for at least a thousand years: they’re a combination of Shinto, Buddhist and Shugendo (which, if I understand it correctly, is the local fusion religion combining elements of both plus imports from the local animist religions of the area). All the routes take days to complete; the most common route is from Kii-Tanabe on the west coast to the Kumano Nachi Taisha temple complex on the east coast, which takes about a week, but there’s months’ worth if you want (some of which is quite tough).
Sadly, I only had a few days, and was only able to do two legs of the walk; I bussed to Yonumine Onsen, roughly halfway through the Kii-Tanabe to Nachi route, and walked the rest of the way to Nachi in two days (plus a day exploring in and around Yonumine Onsen itself). I wish I’d been able to stay longer. The forests are astonishing and largely unphotogaphable, a deep rich green dripping with moss and vines, varying from pines to cedar to other tries I was unable to identify. The mountains are craggy and intricate and the path winds in and out of rocky gullies and around steep terraces, with little oji shrines dotted along the path, most with little stories attached. I stayed in local guesthouses, very traditionally Japanese, and learnt all the ins and outs of wearing a yukata (trans: dressing gown) and how to use a Japanese bath.
I ended up with about three hundred photos, and trying to edit them down into just the highlights was practically impossible, but here we are.