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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