Trampled by a Typhoon under the Gaze of a Legend


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Asia » Japan » Wakayama » Tanabe » Takahara
August 23rd 2018
Published: May 17th 2019
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Hello my fellow travellers!

After another night's good sleep I felt fully ready to take on the Kumano Kodō pilgrimage trail. I ate a light breakfast together with Kenichi and Yumiji while we watched the news about the typhoon. It seems like I'm in for a rough walk and the Japanese government are advising people to stay indoors in the Tanabe region. I won't be discouraged by this though, I figure that as long as I keep my wits about me and trek with care I should be fine.

We said our goodbyes for this year and I made my way over to the Osaka Tenman-gū to ask about the shuin as a memory of the wonderful and lifesaving time I've spent here with Kenichi and Yumiji. When I arrived at the shrine I made my way over to the shamusho right away and started talking to a kannushi there. He became very excited when he saw my kongō-zue from Mount Fuji and heard about my plans to do the Kumano Kodō.

He was kind enough to allow me to take a few pictures of him as he wrote the shuin for me, it felt like a very
Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)

Osaka Tenman-gū, Osaka
nice addition to my shuinchō and I'm very grateful for it. He was also a really good calligraphist and it might very well be one of the most beautiful ones I have.

I made my way over to the train station and through a couple of interconnections I got on the train bound for Tanabe, the city that serves as a gateway to the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodō pilgrimage trail. Since 2005 much of this route is actually within the extended city of Tanabe since a lot of villages was merged into the city. This city now spans an expense of 1,026 km2 despite only having a population of around 70,000 people.

I arrived at the Kii-Tanabe Station where my eyes fell upon a statue standing on the other side of the road. This turned out to be a statue of Benkei, one of the most impressive men in Japanese history, and that's saying a lot!

Benkei lived between 1155 and 1189 and he was a retainer and close friend to Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the brother of Minamoto no Yoritomo whom I've mentioned many times before. Benkei was a sōhei, a warrior monk, and a massive man standing some two metres tall.

He came into the service of Yoshitsune after losing two consecutive duels to him, the first one at the Gojo Bridge and the second one at the temple Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto. The reason for these duels had been that Benkei was aiming to collect 1,000 swords from samurai whom he found unworthy. He had reached 999 swords and when he found the young Yoshitsune playing flute at the Gojotenjin Shrine and decided that his gilded sword should be the 1,000th and final one.

After he lost the two consecutive duels he grew to respect Yoshitsune and entered his service and fought for him during the Genpei War. After the war ended in 1185 he had a falling out with his suspicious brother Yoritomo after being granted prestigious titles by the retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa. After this Yoshitsune receive imperial authorisation to join with his uncle Minamoto no Yukiie to suppress his brother.

However, this only served to incur the wrath of Yoritomo and Yoshitsune had to flee and head north to seek the protection of his old friend and benefactor Fujiwara no Hidehira. He was taken in and granted a castle near Koromi River along with his last remaining retainers, some twenty strong including Benkei.

Unfortunately Hidehira passed away and despite a promise to honour his father's oath to protect Yoshitsune, the son of Hidehira, Fujiwara no Yasuhira, surrounded the castle with some 500 soldiers to capture Yoshitsune and deliver him to Yoritomo.

As the forces of Yasuhira approached the stronghold Yoshitsune retreated into the inner keep to commit seppuku while his retainers fought to keep the enemy away. After a while Benkei was the last man standing and he took up position at the bridge leading into the castle, challenging any enemy to bring him down.

The soldiers of Yasuhira charged across the bridge, only to be cut down in droves. Wave after wave broke against the giant warrior monk and the dead piled up until none more dared to cross the bridge. Instead the enemy reached for their bows and fired volley after volley at Benkei who kept standing.

After a while the monk was completely covered in arrows, yet remained standing. This petrified his enemies but eventually some dared to cross the bridge, only to find that Benkei was dead, but still standing at
Takijiri-ōjiTakijiri-ōjiTakijiri-ōji

Kumano Kodō Pilgrimage Trail, Tanabe
his post. Scattered around his massive, arrow-riddled body lay some 300 dead soldiers, this became known as Benkei no Tachi Ōjō "the Standing Death of Benkei".

In the aftermath of the battle Yasuhira collected the head of Yoshitsune and dipped it in sake and put it in a lacquered box and sent it to Yoritomo. This didn't appease Yoritomo though and instead he marched north and destroyed the Fujiwara clan and killed Yasuhira in 1189.

I switched here to a bus bound for Takajiri where the trail begins. The bus ride took about 40 minutes and on the bus were a few other people that were going to walk the trail. I got to talk to some of them concerning the weather. There was a young Dutch couple, an enthusiastic gentleman from the U.K that filmed the entire bus ride into the mountains and a couple from Taiwan

They told me that there was a notice sent out to everyone walking the trail advising against it because of the typhoon. Having no access to internet I obviously didn't know about this. We were talking a bit amongst each other on the bus and the general consensus seemed
Nakahechi RouteNakahechi RouteNakahechi Route

Kumano Kodō Pilgrimage Trail, Tanabe
to be to follow the advice and not walk the trail. This bus continues to Takahara which is the first destination on the trail and almost everyone had decided to stay on this bus to Takahara.

Looking at the weather, with strong winds and a heavy rain, I could certainly understand them. However, I just couldn't really bring myself to start this pilgrimage by skipping the first part of it. I decided to at least jump of in Takijiri to visit the Takijiri-ōji. It's one of several small roadside shrines that are connected to the Kumano Grand Shrines along the pilgrimage trail that connects them. It's the starting point of the Nakahechi route and I would feel amiss if I at least didn't visit it.

The Kumano Grand Shrines are made up of three main shrines, the Kumano Hayatama Taisha, the Kumano Hongū Taisha and the Kumano Nachi Taisha. These three are the parent shrines of some 3,000 Kumano shrines and I intend to visit all three of them on this pilgrimage.

I wasn't alone in jumping off here, the couple from Taiwan jumped of with me and we made our way over to the Kumano Kodō
Tainai Kuguri (Passing through the Womb)Tainai Kuguri (Passing through the Womb)Tainai Kuguri (Passing through the Womb)

Kumano Kodō Pilgrimage Trail, Tanabe
Kan Pilgrimage Centre located across from the shrine. I started to converse in Japanese with the staff at the information centre to garner some information about the state of the trail ahead. He told me that it would be hard, but certainly still possible to walk the trail as this first leg of the trail isn't really that far, only about 4-5 km and usually takes around 2-3 hours to walk under decent conditions.

I relayed this information to the couple and they also decided to attempt the walk and handed their luggage over to the staff at the centre, it's a paid-for service that was possible to book in advance so that you don't have to carry your luggage on the trail. I was to stubborn to book this service so just as I had to scale Mount Fuji with my backpack I now had to trek across the multitude of peaks ahead of me on the Kumano Kodō pilgrimage trail.

The couple and me made our way over to the Takijiri-ōji and they just took a quick peek at it before they continued onto the trail itself. I stayed behind for a moment and offered up
Chichi-iwa (Milk Rock)Chichi-iwa (Milk Rock)Chichi-iwa (Milk Rock)

Kumano Kodō Pilgrimage Trail, Tanabe
a prayer to the Kumano Sansho Gongen which are the three gongen enshrined at the Kumano Grand Shrines.

Gongen means "avatar" in Japanese and the term signifies a deity that is a blend of a native Japanese kami and a Buddhist deity and that are as such considered exceptionally powerful. I first heard this term last year when I visited Nikkō Tōshō-gū as Tokugawa Ieyasu was deified as Tōshō Daigongen after his death. I never went into this in that post as it would was a heavy enough post without going into this subject as well.

The three gongen that are enshrined here are: Hongū Gongen whom is a blend of the kami Ketsumiko (the Kumano name of Susanoo) and Amida Nyorai. Shingū Gongen whom is a blend of the kami Hayatama and Yakushi Nyorai. Nachi Gongen whom is a blend of the kami Fusumi and Senju Kannon.

After I had offered up my prayer to them I set out on the trail as well. I had known that this first stretch would be quite elevated, however I wasn't ready for the fact that a part of it was completely vertical in nature. I had to scale
Nakahechi RouteNakahechi RouteNakahechi Route

Kumano Kodō Pilgrimage Trail, Tanabe
this part of the trail using not only my staff but my hands and knees, dragging myself up slippery bare rocks with my pack weighing me down. All-the-while water was gushing down the trail, threatening to wash me off into a free-fall back down.

I realised that this might not have been my brightest idea ever but I buckled up and kept pushing forward until the vertical gave way to horizontal. From there it was a significantly gentler path going up into the mountains. The rain kept persisting and the higher up I came the stronger the winds became, at some points the winds were strong enough that I feared they might blow me clean off the mountaintop and into the valley below.

This relatively short walk had several spots that are shrouded in lore. The first of these that I came to is a narrow passageway through a rock which is known as Tainan Kuguri, this literally means "Passing through the Womb" and it's said that women who pass through it shall have the blessing of easy labour.

Close to it is the Chichi-iwa, which literally means "Milk Rock". It's named so because while on their
Standing by the Sculptures of the Hari JizōStanding by the Sculptures of the Hari JizōStanding by the Sculptures of the Hari Jizō

Kumano Kodō Pilgrimage Trail, Tanabe
pilgrimage on this path the wife of the aforementioned Hidehira went into labour by this rock. They decided to leave the baby behind in the cave as they couldn't bring it with them on the pilgrimage. When they later returned on their way back the found the child not only alive, but thriving. The child had been nurtured by a wolf that had been dripping milk down along the rock into the mouth of the child.

A bit further down the path I came to a box with a commemorative stamp on the site where the Nezu-ōji had once been. These stamps are not to be confused with the shuin and shouldn't be put together. You can pick these up for free at some shrines and temples but should never graze the pages of a shuinchō.

I had originally been thinking about collecting these stamps as a memory of this pilgrimage but I knew that any attempt to do so would be doomed in this typhoon as any page I would try to put them on would be instantaneously destroyed.

I just hoped that my shuinchō and sutra in my bad was okay through all of this.
Sculptures of the Fūfu JizōSculptures of the Fūfu JizōSculptures of the Fūfu Jizō

Kumano Kodō Pilgrimage Trail, Tanabe
Even if my backpack has a rain-cover I hadn't anticipated this kind of weather, my poncho was pretty much in tatters already and my hiking boots was completely soaked through despite several layers of water-proofing.

Along the route I also came to three small sculptures of the Hari Jizō and bowed before them before as they are there to protect travellers such as myself and I certainly had need of their protection on this day. I continued on my way and soon came to two small sculptures of the Fūfu Jizō, I've mentioned them before, the married couple that also protect travellers.

Their presence felt reassuring, especially as they marked the area were the forest gave way to an open landscape and houses. I had finally reached the village of Takahara, the first destination on the Nakaheci route. This is a small village that is called kiri-no-sato which literally means "village in the mist" as it's often cloaked in a deep mist with the valley below it turned into a sea of clouds. These days this village is a part of the extended city of Tanabe but still remains an important part of the Kumano Kodō pilgrimage trail.
Honden (Main Hall)Honden (Main Hall)Honden (Main Hall)

Takahara Kumano Shrine, Takahara


It certainly felt like a relief and the first thing I did was to make my way to the Takahara Kumano Shrine and thank the Kumano Sansho Gongen for my safe arrival. This is one of the oldest structures along the trail, dating to 1403.

After I had delivered my thanks I felt that it was time to finally get out of the rain and found my way over to my accommodation for the night, the Kiri-no-Sato Takahara Lodge. I was greeted by a friendly lady and served some tea and water before they showed me to my room. They also showed me where drying room and the bathing facilities were.

I was certainly in need of both of these and as soon as the lady left I stripped down and got into the provided yukata and hung all my clothes up to dry. I also emptied out my backpack and made sure that my shuinchō and sutra had survived the torrential rains. My shuinchō was thankfully completely unscathed but my heart skipped a beat as water had damaged the envelope that my sutra was in. I opened it up but found that thankfully the actual sutra
Finally out of the TyphoonFinally out of the TyphoonFinally out of the Typhoon

Kiri-no-Sato Takahara Lodge, Takahara
had survived quite intact, thank Buddha!

Then I made my way to the bath and to my delight I found that there was no one else there which gave me the opportunity to actually take a picture of myself in bath for once (nothing too revealing). This bath really was a godsend and strengthened my spirits after this trek through the typhoon. It was rough in it's spot, but I was happy that I did it, that I managed to complete the first part of the trail despite the typhoon smashing down upon me.

When my bath was done I returned to my room and rested for a while until it was time for dinner. At dinner the owner of the lodge came out and presented the food in a very enticing and funny way, bringing down a lot of laughter in the dining hall. In the dining hall I recognised some of the passengers from the bus, such as the young Dutch couple, while others, such as the enthusiastic gentleman from the U.K, were nowhere to be found.

I was happy to see that the couple from Taiwan was there. I was glad that they had
Demonstration on How to Prepare the FishDemonstration on How to Prepare the FishDemonstration on How to Prepare the Fish

Kiri-no-Sato Takahara Lodge, Takahara
made it safely through the rain as well. I also met a nice couple from Hawaii and I was told that they had informed the lodge about me arriving as well so that they had been prepared to call out a rescue in case I didn't make it there. It was very assuring to know that the others sharing this path with me would be looking out for me along the trail.

The couple from Hawaii regretted that they hadn't walked the first part instead of taking the advice to go by bus to the lodge, they seemed quite adventurous and I enjoyed talking to them quite a lot.

The dinner that was served was tremendous, I savoured every bite of it and asked for refills of everything that could possibly be refilled. I really needed to stock up on energy as the second part of this trail is three times longer than the first one and it looks like the typhoon is here to stay.

After dinner I retired to my room and spent the evening relaxing, watching the news about the typhoon and it certainly seems like I'll have to trek through it tomorrow as
My Fish is Ready to EatMy Fish is Ready to EatMy Fish is Ready to Eat

Kiri-no-Sato Takahara Lodge, Takahara
well.

Tomorrow I will make my way to another small village named Nonaka, it's the second destination on the trail and after a night's rest there I will go to the Kumano Hongū Taisha which is the first of the Kumano Grand Shrines that I will visit the day after tomorrow. I just hope that the typhoon won't be raging the whole day tomorrow or I will likely have a really tough time ahead of me.

Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!


Additional photos below
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Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)
Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)

Osaka Tenman-gū, Osaka
Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)
Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)

Osaka Tenman-gū, Osaka


21st May 2019
Delicious Evening Meal

True grit
I'm impressed that you pressed on through the rain and met your goal. However I felt your pain when reading about the vertical climb with your backpack while being lashed by rain! The dinner at the Kiri-no-Sato Takahara Lodge looks fabulous. Bet it tasted all the better after the day you'd had :)
21st May 2019
Delicious Evening Meal

True grit
Thank you! =) It was a rough start of this part of the journey, but I was glad that I did it. I feel it would have been a worse start if I had skipped it. Aye, that dinner was very welcome and delicious at that point. =D
26th May 2019

Typhoon Trekking
Wow! What an experience! During the typhoon I experienced in Japan last year, I was more than happy to be holed up inside my hotel room weathering it out. How exhilarating it must have been for you to trek through one! The cosy inn, room and hot bath at the end of the day must indeed have been a welcome treat for you! A very atmospheric read, thank you 😊
11th June 2019

Typhoon Trekking
Thank you! Indeed it was very nice to finally slump down and rest at the end of it. =)

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