ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Kumano Kodo

Day 8 – KII KATSUURA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 2 of 2, Japan

Before our train journey back to Osaka, we spent some time wandering around Kii Katsuura (紀伊勝浦), a fishing town about 25-minute bus ride from Nachisan. From the train/bus station, we walked through a covered arcade to reach the waterfront market near the main pier. Most shops in the arcade were closed except several souvenir shops selling local souvenir such as the Nachi black candies, binchotan-zumi (a traditional Japanese charcoal) and Kii mandarins. The fishing market was closed in the afternoon. Attracted by the catch-of-the-day live display, we stopped by a local seafood store/eatery and had a delightful seafood lunch which included grilled abalone and assorted local shellfishes, miso soup with lobster meat and squid sashimi. After a satisfying meal, we strolled further out to the pier and had some relaxing moments under the afternoon sun and the refreshing sea breeze. Such pleasant afternoon provided us a perfect closure to our Kumano Kodo experience in the Kii peninsula of the Wakayama Prefecture.

01The town seemed sleepy as many stores at the waterfront market were closed in the afternoon. But in early morning, the market would present a completely different scene when fishing boats returned to the pier with loads of catches. There were some souvenir shops opened for business near the bus/train station, in the covered shopping arcade that connected the waterfront market with the train station.

02There were many restaurants in town but we found this simple corner seafood shop quite interesting. It is a fishmonger doubled as a seafood restaurant.

03Display of catches-of-the-day at the storefront attracted much attention of passersby.

04Sun-drying squids at the storefront.

05Inside the store at the far end, there was a seafood eatery with a few tables. We were given a Japanese menu and we ordered a few tapas-like dishes such as this grilled abalone topped with butter sauce.

06Grilled assorted shellfishes.

07Along the shore, fishermen were drying seaweed under the sun, adding a fresh and aromatic scent to the sea breeze.

08Each day, dozens of tour boats would venture out into the sea for sightseeing, as well as dolphin and whale watching.

09A group of eagles gathered at the pier probably looking for some “quick snacks” at the coastal water.

10We walked out to the furthest pier and could see the Kii Mountain Range behind the town of Kii Katsuura.

11There are a number of mega resort hotels along the shore of Kii Katsuura. Some of which can only be accessed by boat. Parking at the front of this huge resort hotel was a passenger boat which transported hotel guests between the hotel and the main pier. Every time when the passenger boat arrived at the hotel, music would be played which could be heard miles away.

12Many locals were trying their luck along the shore.

13Fishing boats near the main pier.

14Even the floor tiles at the pier reminded us that fishing was the dominating industry in the region.

15It was a scenic train ride along the coastline of the Kii Peninsula enroute to Osaka. The whole trip took about 3 hours and 40 minutes.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


Day 8 – KUMANO NACHI TAISHA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 1 of 2, Japan

After we dropped off our bags at the train station of Kii Katsuura, we took a local bus up to Nachisan, where we would visit the famous Kumano Nachi Taisha, Seiganto-ji Temple and Nachi Waterfall.  We arrived at Daimon-zaka, part of the old cobblestone pilgrim steps that leads up to the sacred Kumano Nachi Taisha, just before noontime. Flanked by old Japanese cedar trees and bamboo groves, the atmospheric Daimon-zaka was the last stretch of the old Kumano Kodo we hiked. We walked on the Daimon-zaka for about half an hour before reaching the main uphill path that leads up to the temple site.

After some more steps and uphill paths, we found ourselves reaching the red torii gate of Kumano Nachi Taisha. The temple ground was packed with tourists, both local and foreign, all were drawn to here by the orange coloured shrine structures, and the iconic three-storey pagoda. The pagoda is part of Seiganto-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple that shares the same site of Kumano Nachi Taisha for centuries. On the way walking to the pagoda, we passed by the most popular vista of Nachi Taisha: the orange pagoda in front of Nachi Waterfall (Nachi no Taki), the tallest waterfall in Japan at 133m. From the pagoda, it was another short hike to the base of the waterfall, where a small shrine and a viewing platform stood.

We then took a bus back to Kii Katsuura.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACenturies old Japanese cedar lined up along the path of Daimon-zaka.

02Along Daimon-zaka, small shrines and bamboo groves added a layer of mystical atmosphere.

03The stones of Daimon-zaka had witnessed centuries of pilgrims in and out of Nachisan.

04The orange torii of Nachi Taisha.

05The shrine structure in the complex of Nachi Taisha.

06A main structure in the taisha complex.

07Little device for worshipers to make their wishes.

08Small wooden plagues for worshipers to write down their wishes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeiganto-ji Temple, the Buddhist temple adjacent to the Kumano Nachi Taisha.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStatue of a monk in front of Seiganto-ji Temple.

11The iconic pagoda behind Seiganto-ji, with Nachi Waterfall in the background.

12At 133m Nachi no Taki is the tallest waterfall in Japan.

13Wild flowers and bamboo groves along the way to the base of the waterfall.

14A small shrine at the base of Nachi no Taki.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


Day 7 – WATAZE ONSEN, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 4 of 4, Japan

It was only a short bus ride from Hongu to Wataze Onsen, the hot spring hotel facility where we stayed the night. Wataze Onsen is famous for its outdoor hot spring bathing facilities, some of the largest in the region. We had another relaxing evening at Watarase Onsen Hotel, a perfect getaway destination in the mountains. No foreign tourists could be seen at the outdoor onsen, however, the large hotel complex was decently filled with local visitors to stay the night and some day-trippers who came for the hot spring only.

1Bus ride to Wataze Onsen.

2The bus passed by Kawayu Onsen, a special thermal spring where visitors can enjoy outdoor onsen by the river.

3Bamboo screens were set up along the stream for public use.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter getting off at Wataze Onsen, we found our way down to the main lodging facilities called Watarase Onsen. After crossing a suspended bridge we finally reached the main door of the hot spring hotel.

5The main lobby of Watarase Onsen Hotel.

6A pilgrim monkey of Kumano Kodo at the hotel lobby.

7The rotenburo (outdoor hot spring bath) of Wataze Onsen is one of the largest in West Japan.

8The facility includes separate outdoor pools for male and female, as well as several family pools.

9After bathing in the hot spring, we enjoyed a decent kaiseki-royori (traditional multi-course Japanese dinner) at the Watarase hotel. This fresh assorted sashimi was served as appetizer.

10The Watarase Onsen complex include lodging and bathing facilities along both sides of the river, connected by a suspended bridge.

11After the kaiseki dinner, we took a stroll under the starry night.

12The cherry trees at Watarase Onsen Hotel were still in full bloom.

13It was a peaceful evening with cherry blossoms against the starry sky.

14The next morning, we put on our backpacks again and crossed the suspended bridge one last time towards the bus stop.

15At Watarase Onsen bus stop we waited for the early morning bus that would take us to Kii Katsuura. We would then store our bags in lockers and switch bus for a visit to Nachisan and the Nachi Taisha, one of the three main Kumano grand shrines after Kumano Hongu Taisha.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 7 – KUMANO HONGU TAISHA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 3 of 4, Japan

At Hongu, we dropped off our backpacks at a locker across the street from the main entrance of Kumano Hongu Taisha. We then went to check out the heritage centre where we learnt a little more about the history of Kumano Hongu Grand Taisha and the Kii mountain range. The Kumano Hongu Taisha is the house for the deity of Kumano Gongen, where pilgrims came to pay their respect to the deities of Kumano area for almost 1000 years. Every spring, the Kumano Hongu Taisha Spring Festival would take place with three days of ceremonies.

On a bench outside of the centre, we took out the lunchboxes for a quick lunch. The yummy lunchboxes were ordered online before we left for our trip and delivered to our hotel at Yunomine in the morning. After lunch, we took our time to visit Kumano Hongu Taisha a second time.  This time, we had more time to examine the donor lanterns, flags, signs, etc. along the main access path. After a relaxing stroll around the complex, we walked down the main entrance stairs one last time under the afternoon sun. We picked up our backpacks at the locker and walked over to the bus stop in front of the heritage centre, where we would hop on a bus for Wataze Onsen.

1The banner at Kumano Hongu Heritage Center commemorated the 10th anniversary of inscription into UNESCO’s World Heritage for “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”.

2The Heritage Center represents a good example of modern architecture with a traditional touch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA33.9m tall and 42m wide, the Torii gate at the entrance to the sandbank of Oyunohara is the largest in the world.  This is where the original Kumano Hongu Taisha stood over a century ago, before the devastating floods destroyed much of the old shrines.

4Along with our accommodation and luggage shuttle service, we also reserved this local lunchbox online at http://www.tb-kumano.jp prior our arrival in Japan.

4bHoused in a bamboo box, our lunchbox contained a number of seasonal local delicacies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARebuilt after flood damages, the Zuihouden next to the entrance of Kumano Hongu Taisha houses religious study areas, a hall and a souvenir shop.

6The stair leading up to the main shrine is flanked both sides with donor flags.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWorshipers put all kinds of wishes onto these wooden “ema” to communicate with the deities.

8Tying the Omikuji, the fortune telling paper slips onto trees or ropes at the shrine is a common customs of worshiping.

9Small bamboo flags were another common option for worshipers to leave their messages.

10Before entering the complex, cleaning our hands at the purification trough had become a common practice even for foreign visitors like us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWooden staff in hand, lots of elderly worshipers spend great effort in walking the pilgrim route before reaching Kumano Hongu Taisha.

12Our second visit to the Hongu Taisha.  This time we had all the time we needed to wander around the complex.

13Beside the main shrines stood this small and popular shrine under tree shade.

14After a thorough visit, we walked down the main stair once again.

15Lanterns with donor’s name were hung on a rack near the main gate of Kumano Hongu Taisha.

16We bid farewell to the Kumano Hongu Taisha under the late afternoon sun.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 7 – YUNOMINE ONSEN, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 2 of 4, Japan

Since 1800 years ago, Yunomine has always been a popular onsen village in the Kii Mountains.  For centuries, its healing water offers a great reward for pilgrims after their visit to the Hongu Taisha.  Today, this sleepy onsen village has the oldest hotspring in Japan.  Situated at a lush green valley, dozens of timber houses, traditional ryokans and cosy bed and breakfasts cluster along a mountain stream.  At the village centre across the bridge from Ryokan Adumaya stands a public bathhouse where visitors buy admission ticket from a vending machine.1The only vehicle road passed through the centre of sleepy Yunomine.2Traditional ryokans in Yunomine offer visitors a taste of vintage Japan.3A stair leads down to the level of the stream where the fenced pool of hotspring becomes the official cooking spot with water from the hot spring. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Onsen tamago”,eggs slowly boiled in the onsen hot spring, is a popular local dish. Other than eggs, the locals also love to boil yams in the 93 degree onsen water. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAcross the stream from the egg boiling pool stands a hotspring well and pump distributing onsen water to the surrounding houses. 6Yunomine and its historical Tsuboyu Bath is famous as the healing spot for Hangan Oguri, a clan leader of Oguri Castle 600 years ago.  In the background stands the Toko-ji Temple, the main temple in Yunomine.7In front of Toko-ji Temple stands the main grocery store. 8The Toko-ji Temple is located beside the public bathhouse. DSC_0610The shrine at Toko-ji Temple. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entrance of the public bath house of Yunomine 10Bags of uncooked eggs are prepared for visitors to make “onsen tamago” slowly cooking in the hot spring. 11The centuries old Tsuboyu Bath is a tiny bath house by the stream.  Inside it is small and dark, not ideal for people with speluncaphobia.

12From a distance the Tsuboyu Bath seems like a tiny wooden shed that seems vulnerable to flooding.  13These stone steles situate high on the slope by the main road accessible only via a narrow flight of stair.14Bicycle is one of the best means to tour around the Yunomine area. 15The stone wall that separates the open air onsen at Ryokan Adumaya from the main road. 16Before we left Yunomine Onsen, we had a leisure stroll around Yunomine.  After the walk, we decided to return to Hongu Taisha for a second visit.  After a short wait at the only bus stop in the village, we carried our backpacks up the bus heading towards Hongu Taisha.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 7 – RYOKAN ADUMAYA, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 1 of 4, Japan

Founded by a shrine priest in the mid or late Edo Period, Ryokan Adumaya is a very traditional hotspring inn in Yunomine, the oldest onsen town in Japan.  With 22 rooms all finished in traditional Japanese style, the interior of Adumaya is dominated by timber and bamboo.  As an onsen ryokan, Adumaya has its own indoor and outdoor hotspring bathing facilities, which can be visited during the day even for visitors who are not staying the night.   As hotel guests, we were able to enjoy the hotspring facilities at Adumaya 24 hours round the clock.  Despite the short stay, we enjoyed the baths and delicious meals. 0Signage of Ryokan Adumaya was erected in a naturalistic setting in front of the inn. 1Situated in the middle of Yunomine Onse across the street from the public bathhouse, Ryokan Adumaya is one of the most prominent building in the village. 2Beyond the neatly trimmed trees and bushes lies the drop off and main entrance of Ryokan Adumaya. 3Entering the ryokan through the wooden overhang was liking going back an times of Edo Japan. 4Beside the main entrance mounted a board with names of hotel guests written on it. 5Traditional timber finish dominates the lobby and reception area.  We had to take off our shoes during our stay.  We could choose to put on either a pair of indoor slippers when staying indoor, or a pair of outdoor shoes for venturing out into Yunomine. 6The sitting area in the lobby was quite atmospheric.  The door on the left led to the bathing facilities and souvenir shop. 7Upstairs on the second level, the entrance into our room was right at the corner next the the main stair.  The wooden door then led into a vestibule and then into an anteroom before reaching the main living space of our room.  The vestibule also connected to our private toilet. 8Beyond the sliding doors of the anteroom is main living space where we dined and slept on the tatami. 9At the far end of the room there was another set of sliding door leading out to the sun room where a tea table stood. 11The sun room was well lit with natural light. 10At the far end of the sun room was the vanity counter. 12From the window we could see the main street and creek that bisected Yunomine.  Beyond that stood the village shrine on the left, and the public bathhouse at further back.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


Day 6 – KUMANO HONGU TAISHA TO YUNOMINE ONSEN, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 3 of 3, Japan

As one of the Kumano Sanzan, Hongu Taisha is one of the three major shrines of Kumano Shinto shrines, and the main pilgrimage destination in the Kii Mountains since the early 10th century.  Originally built on the river delta of Oyunohara, the historical shrine was partially destroyed by floods in 1889.  Out of the five original main shrine structures at Oyunohara, three were rebuilt at today’s location about 1km from its original spot.  Similar to other Shinto shrines, unfinished wood were widely used in the shrine structures of Kumano Hongu Taisha.  Not a single nail had been used in the magnificent timber structures. After a long day of walk, we arrived at Hongu Taisha at around 5pm.   We entered the complex through its back entrance.  Only a few local visitors were around.  All the shops and vending stalls selling religious souvenirs were already closed.  We quietly wandered around the ground, paid our respect to the deities, and decided to return for another visit the next day.  We exited the ground from its main entrance.  Across the street from the main entrance stood the Kumano Hongu Heritage Centre and the local bus stop.  It was a relief after we realized that the last bus to Yunomine was still yet to come. It was only ten minutes of bus ride from Hongu to Yunomine, the small village famous for its 1800 year old onsen.  From Takijiri to Hongu Taisha, we covered a little over 40km of hiking in two days.  At Yunomine Onsen, it was the time for a well deserved rest and a dip into one of its hotsprings.  We arrived at Yunomine in the evening.  After we checked into our traditional rooms in Ryokan Adumaya, the hotel staff immediately prepared our Kaiseki dinner in our room.  Ryokan Adumaya is the oldest guesthouse in the village, with its own hotspring baths and traditional tatami rooms serving both foreign and local visitors.  After the dinner, the hotel staff set up the bed and blanket for us on the bamboo tatami. 1 We silently walked into the shrine complex from the back entrance, which led us into the outer courtyard of the shrine complex. 2 Unfinished timber gate structure that leads to the inner courtyard of the shrine complex. 3 Gateway into the inner courtyard of the shrine complex. 4 The three main shrine structures at the core of the inner courtyard were off limits to visitors. 5 One of the three main shrine structures rebuilt after the move from the original location in 1889. 6 Bronze features on the rooftop of the shrine structures. 7 Chigi, the crossed detail on rooftop, is a common feature in Japanese Shinto architecture. 8 The main stairway led us to the front entrance of Hongu Taisha. 10 At the bus stop in front of Kumano Hongu Heritage Centre, we waited for the day’s last bus for Yunomine, where we would stay the night at a local hotspring inn. 10a The main creek ran through the entire village of Yunomine at its centre. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The public hotspring bath and the adjacent shop/ eatery were still open at 8 in the evening. 10c Below the village shrine by the creek stood the piping system distributing the hotspring water to different parts of the village. 11 We checked in at Ryokan Adumaya, the oldest hotspring inn at Yunomine. 12 Kaiseki dinner at Ryokan Adumaya. 13 Kaiseki dinner at Ryokan Adumaya. 14 Kaiseki dinner at Ryokan Adumaya. 15 Menu of the Kaiseki dinner at Ryokan Adumaya. 16 Bedding and blanket were all set as soon as we finished the delicious dinner.  Before bedtime, we still managed to visit the hotspring in the ryokan.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 6 – MIKOSHI-TOGE PASS TO HONGU TAISHA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 2 of 3, Japan

After lunch, we had another 10km to cover before reaching Hongu Taisha, the ultimate sacred destination of Kumano Kodo.  The trail in the afternoon was relatively less challenging.  After a short while hiking in the woods, we reached an open spot where slope failure control work was in progress.  It was a spectacular site with bamboo blankets covered a large slope area of a hillside.  Landslides caused by heavy rain or typhoons were not uncommon in this area, posing potential risks to hikers. After the slope failure control area, we walked on and passed by the shrines of Inohana, Hosshinmon, and Mizunomi before reaching different farming villages.  In front of the dramatic backdrop of Kii Mountains, rice paddles and tea farms lined up the narrow plains and rolling hills along the main village path.  Orange trees could be seen in the backyard of village homes.  Apart from ume (Japanese plums), the prefecture of Wakayama is famous for producing the best mandarin oranges in Japan.  In the villages, there were many wooden kiosks selling local goods such as dried produces and tea leaves catered for visiting pilgrims.  Some kiosks were also selling wooden carvings.  After we meandered through the peaceful farming villages and took in some of the best views of Kumano Kodo, we finally reached Fushiogami Oji, the last main oji before reaching the town of Hongu.  The last hour of hike took us through a dense forest on an ancient stone path.  At last we reached a long flight of stairs descending down to Hongu.  At about 5pm we finally passed through the wooden torii gate at the back entrance of Hongu Taisha. 21 A single tree was preserved at the slope failure control area. 22Japanese Maples thrive along Otonashi-gawa River and Kumano Kodo.  Their green leaves reveal a refreshing sense of the spring season. 23The main shrine of Funatama Jinja. 24One of the two guardian fox statues at Funatama Jinja shrine dedicated to kami Inari. 25Many retaining hills were covered with green moss. 26After Mizunomi Oj, we passed by the last few vending machines before reaching Hongu Taisha.  We couldn’t resist but bought a bottle of local soft drink. 27We were a day late to visit the Hongu Taisha spring festival, an annual event with three days full of ceremonies. 29Before reaching the next shrine at Mizunomi Oji, we passed by a few self-served wooden kiosks selling local carvings. 31A tiny shrine along the path was dedicated to the deity that protected worshipers from tooth-ache. 32Many worshipers stopped by Mizunomi Oji to pray for a relief from back pain. 33We walked past the dense woods of the Forest of Rebirth, where pilgrims were meant to cleanse their spirits before reaching Hongu Taisha. 36Wooden kiosks selling all kinds of unique local products, including wooden carvings and agricultural produces. 37Local agricultural products such as tea leaves and pickled vegetables were on sale. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreen tea farms dominated the agricultural lands in villages before reaching Fushiogami Oji. 40Serene mountain views provide a dramatic backdrop to the tea farms near Fushiogami Oji. 41 After a long flight of stairs descending down to the town of Hongu, one of the first things we encountered was this cute signage about unwanted dogs from the area. DSC_0199In late afternoon we finally reached the back entrance of Hongu Taisha.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 6 – TSUGIZAKURA to MIKOSHI-TOGE PASS, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 1 of 3, Japan

Another beautiful day.  Just like the day before, we used the luggage shuttle service to transport our big pack from Tsugizakura to Ryokan Adumaya, a traditional inn where we would spend the night at our next destination Yunomine Onsen.  Leaving Minshuku Tsugizakura behind, we walked uphill to where we left off the day before along Kumano Kodo and continued our journey on the Nakahechi route heading towards Hongu Taisha, a little over 22km away.  It was a long day of hike, but today’s hike allowed us to meander through a few peaceful villages where friendly farmers grew tea bushes and orange trees.  Similar to the day before, we passed by a number of roadside shrines, cedar forests, bamboo groves, and farming villages.  In the morning, we visited the shrines of Nakagawa, Kobiro, and Kumasegawa.  Because of road damages to the trail in 2011, we had to take a 4km detour between Nakado-jaya Teahouse to Mikoshi-toge pass via the winding valley of Jagata Jizo.  By the time we reached Mikoshi-toge Pass it was already noontime.1Toganoki-jaya Teahouse, a reconstructed tea house made of straw and timber in Tsugizakura.  This was where we started our second day on the Kumano Kodo. 2Farewell to the peaceful village, Tsugizakura. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocal artists and residence set up a roadside bulletin board introducing local art works capturing the beauty of Kumano Kodo. These two funny looking wooden figures in front of the bulletin board helped to catch hikers’ attention. During the hike along Kumano Kodo, we encountered a number of creative signposts made by the locals.3After Tsugizakura we once again entered a world covered with green moss. 5Along the moist mountain path, fungi, moss, ferns, grass and trees coexisted in what seemed to be peaceful harmony. 6Cherry blossom is not uncommon when visiting Kumano Kodo in early April.  We were a week late from the peak blossom time.7Soon we stepped upon this small mountain road that led to the towns of Shingu and Hongu, where two of the most important Kumano shrines had been standing for centuries. 8Cherry blossoms gave a sense of poetics to the evergreen forest of Kumano Kodo. 9The road signs for drivers to three most famous onsen in the area: The onsens of Yunomine, Kawayu, and Wataze, which are all within a day of hiking distance.10Soon we reached a valley with a water channel where bright green leaves and moss covered allover.  11Signage of Kumano Kodo appeared every ten minutes or so along our way.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter less than two hours on the road, we reached a sign indicating a 4km detour for hikers, as the main route was damaged by a massive typhoon that struck the area badly in 2011. 14Moss and small plants thrived inside an offering bottle at a small shrine along the detour, revealing the power of nature. That bottle also becomes a piece of art display. 16Soon after we finished the detour and stepped back onto the main route of Kumano Kodo, we reached the next ancient shrine, Yukawa Oji.17By around midday we finally arrived at the park pavilion at Mikoshi-toge Pass where we took a break and had lunch. 18At the pavilion, we took a short lunch break.  Another couple was finishing their lunchboxes when we stepped into the shelter.  We were grateful to find the pavilion sound and tidy, including a sparkling clean modern washroom facility adjacent to the resting area. 19At the pavilion, we unwrapped the bento lunch boxes prepared by the Yuba family at Minshuku Tsugizakura.   We love the onigiri rice balls, wrapped in dried bamboo leaves. The rice balls had lingering aroma from the bamboo leaves. 20In addition to the onigiri rice balls, the bento box also included some side dishes made of local specialties and seasonal ingredients such as bamboo shoots, seaweed, tofu, fish cake, pickles, tamago egg etc. With a mix of flavours (sour, sweet and salty) and textures, the bento box was not meant just to fill up our bellies but also to awaken our taste buds. The bento box also included a bottled green tea and a lovely checker-box patterned mini picnic cloth, pink for the lady, blue for the gentleman. Kawaii !! (cute in Japanese)

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 5 – MINSHUKU TSUGIZAKURA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 3 of 3, Japan

Before nightfall we finally reached Tsugizakura, a small, peaceful village overlooking the Kii Mountains.  We were grateful to be welcomed by the Yuba family of Minshuku Tsugizakura.  Mr. Yuba, the owner of the bed and breakfast, was a professional chef.  Now he and his family take care of the three-room minshuku, offering hikers of the Kumano Kodo a comfortable place to stay the night and delicious meals to fill the belly after a long day’s walk.  After 10 hours of walking, we were so grateful to soak in a traditional hot bath at the minshuku and filled up our belly with fantastic homemade kaiseki dinner. M0Tsugizakura is a peaceful village famous for its traditional oji (shrine) and Nonaka-no-Shimizu spring (renowned for its spring water) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were greeted with welcoming snacks: red bean cake with green tea powder and an apple. M2After a traditional Japanese hot bath, Mr. Yuba prepared us a delicious kaiseki dinner made up of many small dishes.  Every dish was prepared with a combination of local and seasonal ingredients. What they were exactly, we know not but they were delicious.

M3Crab meat on deep fried tofu ball. M4Marinated chicken (left) and vegetable in curry sauce (right). M5The grilled kebabs were cooked on the table. M6Each of us had a little pot in front of us. We didn’t know what’s inside but Mrs Yuba told us not to open to lid until a later time. M7Flavored steam rice. By the time we opened the pot the rice was just ready. M8Orange was in season in the area.  The sweetened red beans gave a Japanese touch to the orange sorbet desert. M9The next morning, the Yuba family prepared another splendid meal for us. M10Morning sunlight from the mountains shone into the dining room where breakfast was served. M11Lunchboxes prepared by Minshuku Tsugizakura which we would carry along. M12Farewell to the Yuba family. Thanks for your hospitality. M13On the slope above Tsugizakura, we continued our Kumano Kodo journey heading northeast towards Hongu Taisha.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 5 – TAKAHARA to TSUGIZAKURA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 2 of 3, Japan

At around 10:30am, we left Takahara and continued to hike east towards Tsugizakura. In the next seven hours, we passed by a number of shrines, including Daimon Oji, Jujo Oji, Osakamoto Oji and stopped by the Chikatsuyu Village.  We took our time along the way, checking out almost every shrine and lookout, some of which required a short detour from the main trail.  The shrines (Oji) were in various conditions of preservation, from decently intact to completely in ruins or even disappeared entirely except an interpretation signpost.  In Tsugizakura, a small village 18km from where we began our hike at Takijiri, we checked in at Minshuku Tsugizakura.

19After Takahara, dense forest took over the scenery of rice fields and green rolling hills.

20Soon after we ventured into the forest we encountered two timber shelters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps these shelters were resting huts for local loggers.

22Evidence of forestry was common along Kumano Kodo.

23At each major oji (shrine) along Kumano Kodo stood a wooden shelter where hikers can obtain a souvenir stamp chop.

25A small porcelain cup at Osakamoto Oji was left for hikers to leave a small offering.

26Although small, the statues at Gyubadoji shrine were beautifully carved.

27More detailed stone carvings were found at Gyubadoji shrine.

28At 3pm, we were approaching the village of Chikatsuyu, a popular destination for hikers to stay the night.

29We entered the village of Chikatsuyu via a bridge spanning across the Hiki-gawa River.  The atmosphere of Chikatsuyu resembled an Alpine village in Europe.

29aWhile many hikers stopped at Chikatsuyu for the night, we still had another 1.5 hour before reaching Tsugizakura, where we could finally rest for the night at Tsugizakura Minshuku.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed by a number of self-served vending spots where local villagers left their agricultural products or handcrafts for sale.

31Along the way, we saw a number of interesting scarecrows.

32Before leaving Chikatsuyu we saw a large school complex.

33Inside the school fence, a cool playground equipment caught our attention.

33aUpon leaving Chikatsuyu, we passed by a long flight of stair leading up to the torii gate of a local shrine.

34By the time we reached Hisohara Oji in half an hour, it was only twenty minutes away from Tsugizakura.

35Because of the humid climate, much of the stone pavement and walls were carpeted with moss.

36Finally at about 5pm we reached the famous torii gate of Tsugizakura Oji.  Tsugizakura means “grafted cherry tree”.  Accordingly to historical account, an aristocrat from the 12th century passed by a cherry tree grafted on a Japanese cypress at this location.  Today, a number of century-old Japanese cedar trees still remain.

37At top of the stairs beyond the torii gate stood the shrine.  We clapped our hands, paid a small offering, and were grateful for reaching Tsugizakura after a long day of walking in relatively good weather.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 5 – TAKIJIRI to TAKAHARA, Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) 1 of 3, Japan

Along with Way of St. James in Spain, Japan’s Kumano Kodo is one of the two pilgrim routes inscribed as an UNESCO World Heritage.  We first came across Kumano Kodo during travel research when we were looking for an off-the-beaten path destination in Japan.  Learning the historical and spiritual significance of the centuries-old pilgrim trail, we immediately fell in love with Kumano Kodo.  Since the 10th century, pilgrims from Kyoto and other Japanese cities took the Kumano Kodo to reach the sacred sites of Kumano Sanzan (熊野三山) in the Kii Mountains.  The Kumano Sanzan includes three sacred mountain shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha (熊野本宮大社), Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社), and Kumano Hayatama Taisha (熊野速玉大社). Nowadays, the Kumano Kodo is a popular hiking destination for both local and international hikers.  Most visitors do the Kumano Kodo as a three-to-five day hike, staying at minshuku (local bed and breakfast) along the way.  In the middle of Kii Mountains near Kumano Hongu Taisha lies the famous Yunomine Onsen, the oldest hot spring in the country.  Most pilgrims, past or present, would go for a dip in the healing hot spring after days of walking. Out of the various Kumano Kodo routes, we decided to take the popular Nakahechi route from Takijiri to Hongu Taisha.  This route would take two days.  On the first day, we walked from Takijiri to Tsugizakura (18.2km), and the second from Tsugizakura to Hongu Taisha (22.1km). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother rainy day to start off with.  From Tanabe train station, we took the 6:50 bus heading into the mountains.  At 7:28 we get off at Takijiri (滝尻), the official trail head of the Nakahechi route.  The Kumano Kodo visitor centre had not yet opened its doors.  At 7:30, the van of our backpack shuttle service arrived and we gratefully handed over our backpack to the driver, who would deliver our bag to the minshuku where we were staying the night. 2Along the way on Kumano Kodo, there are many oji shrines.  These oji are subsidary shrines of the Kumano grand shrines.  Takijiri Oji is situated right at the trail head of the Nakahechi route of Kumano Kodo. 2aOne of the first things encountered on Kumano Kodo was the beautiful cedar forest. 3The rain stopped soon after we ascended into the mountains.  High up on the first lookout we could admire the picturesque valley and distant mountains of the Kii Mountain Range. 4Mount Meshimori-yama, the first lookout on the trail. 6About 1.5 hour from Takijiri, we were soon approaching the village of Takahara (高原). 5Small family farms overlooking the Kii Mountain Range. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Takahara, we visited a local wood shop.  The scent of the local wood filled the entire shop.  The owner showed us his master piece, wooden frame of a double bed.  Beside the workshop there was a small souvenir shop selling all kinds of things made of wood, from key chains to photo frames. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATakahara is an attractive small mountain village famous for its mountain views and morning sea of clouds. 9Takahara Kumano-jinja, the main shrine in the mountain village of Takahara. 10From Takahara Kiri-no-Sato rest area, we stayed for a short while to enjoy the view. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe vending machine at Takahara Kiri-no-Sato rest area was selling all kinds of drinks. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt Takahara Kiri-no-Sato rest area we ate the snacks that the wood shop owner gave us. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter Takahara Kiri-no-Sato rest area the sign pointing to Chikatsuyu Oji, the next major village about 9km down the road. 14After a few more minutes of walking, we exited the village of Takahara and came to a fork road where a cherry tree stood and a “Kumano Kodo” sign that pointed to an uphill path. 16At the top of the path we came across a number of rice paddy fields.  In the reflection of the blue sky, rows of young seedlings shooting upwards against a backdrop of the Kii mountains.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 4 – PRELUDE OF THE KUMANO KODO, Tanabe (田辺市), Japan

It was a rainy day. Leaving Osaka’s Tennoji Station behind, the JR Kuroshio limited express took us southwards to Kii-Tanabe. The train ride took slightly less than 2 hours. The rain stopped by the time we arrived Tanabe in the afternoon. As planned, we walked to the souvenir shop beside the station to pick up the keys of our reserved timber townhouse, where we would stay the night. The host handed us a map and a leaflet of house rules. We put on our backpacks, stepped out the shop, and found our way into the winding streets of Tanabe. Situated along the southwest coast of Kii Peninsula, Tanabe is a fishing city in Wakayama Prefecture. Throughout history, Tanabe had been the traditional starting point of the Kumano Kodo where pilgrims turned away from the coast to enter the inland mountains. Through the mountainous trails eastwards, pilgrims would wind through the Kii Mountains and reached Hongu Taisha, the most sacred shrine in this pilgrimage area in about two days. This route is known as Nakahechi Route, and has become the most popular route among all Kumano Kodo trails today. We also chose to explore Kumano Kodo via Nakahechi Route. Tanabe, therefore, became the obvious place where we would spend the night before heading into the mountains. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at Kii Tanabe in the afternoon. 2We were intrigued by the minimalist house setback from the street on a narrow lot. 3No surprise, the seaside town of Tanabe is a great place for seafood.  We dropped in a local restaurant called Ginchiro Ekimae near the train station.   4The local dish in Tanabe includes the double-decked seafood rice bowl.  The lower bowl contained rice and small silver fish.5The upper bowl included sashimi, cooked seafood and sour plums.  6Community shrine.7Near the railway station there is a network of small lanes lined with restaurants and izakayas.  Two security patrols sat at the central intersection of the main lanes waiting for the night to fall upon.

11Finally we arrived at Konyamachiya Townhouse, the traditional two-storey timber house where we would spend the night. Konyamachiya Townhouse is a Machiya townhouse 町屋, a type of traditional timber townhouse found in much of Kyoto area.

8The house was tidy, spacious, atmospheric and furnished with handmade furniture.  The dining room opened to a small garden deck.  The kitchenette was neatly situated behind a wall of sliding panels, which could be fully concealed when not in use.9There were two tatami bedrooms on the upper level.  The traditional wooden structure of the roof was completely exposed.  It had been raining most of the day.  There scent of the bamboo mats was very strong when we entered the room. 10A neat lamp made of bamboo by local artisan was a decent feature in the bedroom. 12A long and winding yellow street connected the neighborhood of our Konyamachiya Townhouse to the town centre.13The yellow-painted street passed by shops of various kinds.14Traditional shrines and temples were very well maintained in many cities in Japan, including Tanabe.15This shrine near our Konyamachiya Townhouse offered a sense of peacefulness in an already relaxed fishing town. 16At last we stopped by a traditional soba (蕎麦) restaurant for dinner.  It was already quite late in the night.  The chef prepared us whatever left available for us. 17A simple soba dinner, including tempura shrimps and vegetables, was one of the most special meal for our trip.  No tourist menu, and no sample images.  A simple and unpretentious effort from the chef just before the restaurant closed its doors gave us an unforgettable pleasure of a local dining experience in a small Japanese town.  18From the dike of Aizu-gawa River, we looked back at the end of Konya-machi, the street where our townhouse stood.  A quiet night in the sleepy town of Tanabe, we awaited the arrival of the beginning of our hike the next day.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


KANSAI JAPAN, 2015

copyright_bluelapisroad_2015kansai_intro Pastel white, pale crimson, moss blue, bright green, and various shades of charcoal filled up our viewfinder like an Impressionist painting capturing the colour palette of the Japanese spring.  It was the second week of April.  We set off to the Kansai region in central Honshu Island of Japan for a 9-day vacation. We spent over half of our time at the southern Kii Peninsula, where the century-old pilgrimage routes now known as the Kumano Kodo crisscrossing the Kii Mountains in the Wakayama Prefecture.  In the midst of cedar groves, river valleys, bamboo forests, rice paddies, and tea farms lays the legendary Hongu Taisha, the spiritual centrepiece in this part of Honshu, and the charming Yunomine, the nation’s oldest onsen town which had been witnessing 18 centuries of the Japanese bathing culture. Apart from Kumano Kodo, we also had our first ever hanami experience at Mount Yoshino, where 30,000 sakura trees dotted over the hills from foot to summit. Tasting seasonal fruit and indulging in the local cuisines, from seafood in Tanabe and Kii Katsuura, onsen kaiseki in the Kii Mountains, beef teppanyaki in Kobe, to street food in Osaka, also heighten the whole travel experience.  The journey is completed with a visit to the timeless masterpiece by architect Tadao Ando. Having a trip started from hiking in the mountains and visiting ancient temples along the way, and ended with some finest contemporary architecture in Japan allows us to appreciate the connections between Japanese minimalist design to the ancient aesthetic and spatial concepts of Shinto shrines and traditional timber houses. copyright_bluelapisroad_2015kansai_map

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka