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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

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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 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