Kumano Kodo Trail-Nakahechi, Daimonzaka 熊野古道中辺路大門坂
Day 77, November 2016,
After another warm night and a cloudy morning, with only a hint of sunshine, we make directly to another kodo (Nakahechi), Daimonzaka. This trail heads up to Kumano Nachi Taisha and Seigantoji temple. The latter being the Buddhist temple attached to the Shinto shrine. Temples and shrines used to be more aligned, especially the Shugendo sect of mountain ascetics which bridged the two beliefs. This alignment was suppressed after the Meiji Restoration though some twin arrangements survive.
Daimonzaka (Kumano Kodo Nakahechi)
After a short walk along the road from the car park, we find the entrance to the kodo. This is marked by a couple of enormous cedar trees, reputed to be 800 years old. D. assures me that this one is far less severe than yesterday’s.
This road is, again, paved with stone but, the flags are smaller and more regular than our previous experience. There are also more steps than slope so the going is easier. The fact that it is dry, and not treacherously slippery, is another plus. Nevertheless, it is a long hike up through the cedar trees.
On reaching the top, we arrive at the shrine but there are still various flights of steps to climb, these though are regular, concrete steps, before reaching the shrine proper.
Kumano Nachi Taisha 熊野那智大社
The shrine has little to distinguish it from any other. It has the three legged crow symbol dotted around on the flags and lanterns. (Apparently, the crow, in mythology, has eight legs but when depicted with the regulation number of legs, it looks silly. Consequently, it is shown with three.) There is also the flag of the Japanese National Football team, which depicts the crow, pinned up behind the shrine maidens, selling stuff.
There is a brazier where, for 100 yen, you can burn a small piece of wood. D. gets her goshuin book signed and I look at the view. There are a lot of people about, it is a national holiday, but few of them have walked the kodo to get here. Most have arrived in tour buses and not a few are having trouble with the steps from the car park.
Moving on through the shrine to the temple part of the complex, is where things become more interesting.
Seiganto-ji Temple 青岸渡寺
The temple building is more sublime with its dark, cedar bark thatch. Inside the temple, there is a large gong hung high in the rafters. It has a thick rope hanging down with which to gong it. Anyone is free to do this but, none, who try, have much success. At one point a rather severe looking monk, who is in attendance, proves he is not severe at all by showing 3 young men how the gong should be rung. He produces a really loud, solid gong that gradually reverberates away. The young men try but fail in all their subsequent attempts.
We spend some time examining the various things in the temple, a statue of the mythical founder of Shugendo, an obviously very female Kannonsama (goddess?), with her tits rubbed shiny and information about the 65th. Emperor who abdicated at age 17 and joined the temple as a monk.
Outside we view the famous Nachi no Taki waterfall and pagoda. Later we try to get nearer the waterfall but, surprisingly, for such a famous place, we cannot find the access point.
And so, time to retrace our steps to the car park. The decent is not difficult but we are probably careful to a fault as D. fell yesterday and I slipped on the wet leaves somewhere. On our way down, we meet an Australian film crew shooting a young woman who is climbing up. We suspect they filmed us coming down but are not sure of that.
At the car park we discover a huge, orange jeep parked next to our car bearing the message “old men suck” – I thought about keying it.
In the spirit of collecting the whole set, we make next for the second shrine linked to Kumano Nachi Taisha. On the way, we stop at the largest shopping mall in western Japan, where we have lunch. Not a good choice, in retrospect.
Kumano Hayatama Taisha 熊野速玉神社
The shrine, when we arrive, does not appear special in any way. D. gets her book signed, (goshuin) and we leave having decided to go to the southernmost tip of Honshu.
Shionomisaki (Cape) 潮岬
At this southerly point Shionomisaki there are good views and a lot of visible shipping. We count 11 ships and 3 fishing boats and, counting being contagious, at least 24 tonbi, or Black Kite, soaring overhead.
In the information centre, we view artefacts from the Meiji period. We learn that numerous people went to Australia, to dive for shells for the button industry. Apparently 60% of the population of Tories Island or Tuesday Island, as it was then, was Japanese.
I dislike the nationalistic tone of the English explanation stating, as it does, how the Japanese were successful because they were hardworking, resourceful, brave, honest etc. and how they were repressed by the Australians. Not that I doubt the repression. There were a lot of shells with circular holes punched in them, to show how the buttons were made.
Kushimoto Hashiguiiwa michi no eki 橋杭岩
Earlier, we had passed a michi no eki Kushimoto Hashiguiiwa with a view of a spectacular line of jagged rock pillars (Hashiguiiwa rocks) with a boulder field, lying behind the pillars, in a shallow sea. The boulder field was created when a tsunami hit the rock pillars but, there is no indication as to when this event took place. We have chosen this as our parking spot for the night.
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.