Entrance to Kohechi at Yanagimoto Bridge
Today we plan to walk a section of the Kumano Kodo Kohechi, pilgrim trail. Kohechi is the oldest and shortest pilgrim trail from Koyasan to Kumano Hongu Taisha. A distance of about 70 km., through elevations of over 1000m., in the mountains of the Kii peninsula. So, from Mizunosato Hidaka River michi no eki we make for Yanagimoto Bridge on R.168. If you use the bus, the nearest bus stop is ‘Warabio’, or you can stay at Totsugawa onsen the previous night and walk to the Kohechi entrance.
To reach the entrance to this section of the Kumano Kodo, pilgrim trail, you must take a sharp left just before the bridge. Up the hill, a short distance, is a patch of flat land with parking space for about 4 cars. A little further up the hill is the entrance to the Kodo.
If you are intent on walking the whole stretch, this is a serious hike. Most people, probably, only walk as far as the Hatenashi Settlement, a place made famous through TV coverage. To Hatenashi is only a 1.1 kilometre walk but the route is rough and relentlessly upwards.
The distance to the summit is 5.2 km. We followed the Kohechi for about 2km. There are some small Kannon statues along the pass. Not much else except cedar trees. About 40 min. walk from Hatenashi Settlement, we stopped at a flat, open clearing ‘Tensuida’.
This was a site of naturally watered rice paddies, now abandoned. Such fields are rare in Japan where irrigation is the norm. We stopped because the walk, though strenuous, is not very rewarding in terms of views or pleasant surroundings.
Most of the way is through cypress plantations. At one time I was awed by these forests of columns but now I find them tedious. Possibly, this feeling coincided with the onset of Hay Fever. The scenery may improve after the 2km. mark but it didn’t seem as if it would. So, we retraced our steps.
If you carry on walking for another 3 and half hours through the 1000 metre high mountain pass, you reach the bus stop ‘Yagio’. After a further 1 and half hours walk, you arrive at Kumano Hongu Taisha. Not for the faint hearted.
Hatenashi Hamlet 果無集落
In the Hatenashi hamlet, we note a stone tank about a metre square housing three enormous carp. Other houses have similar tanks but their fish, less spectacular.
To the far side of the hamlet is a road with a bus stop, so the place is not so remote as the TV would have you believe. On the other hand, the bus runs only twice in the day and only on Tuesdays.
Near the bottom, on our way down, we meet a party coming up. They were worried about how much further they had to climb. We doubted they would make it as they were struggling at 200 metres.
Ryujin Onsen michi no eki
Once down, we want to make for Ryujin Onsen for the michi no eki and a bath. Unfortunately, we have no food so have to head back to Tanabe for supplies. Finally setting off for Ryujin Onsen the light is failing as we start a 35 km. drive through the mountains.
On reaching the michi no eki Ryujin we discover it to be an unpaved layby, illuminated by a lone coke machine. The toilet, which takes some finding in the dark, (it is next to the next-door café), is, as expected, very primitive.
Kirari Ryujin Onsen
The nearby Kirari Ryujin onsen is a few minutes’ drive. It is in a large, for the area, onsen hotel but is open to the public. I guess we arrived as dinner was being served as both D. and I had our respective baths to ourselves. Very nice it was too.
Then back to a dark deserted, even the café had closed, layby for the night. The only sound the screech of what I took to be an owl. On checking, I read screech owls are found only in the Americas.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.