Autumn Haike — Kumano Kodo 熊野古道


On the morning of 31 October Tito and Richard ventured back into Wakayama, taking a Super Kuroshio express train to Kii-Tanabe and then a bus through Yunomine to Hongu, the end-point of the two-day first leg of our journey along the Kumano Ancient Road from Takijiri-oji back in 2001. After paying our respects in leaden weather at the Hongu Taisha, we visited the site of the original shrine on a river island. All the pilgrim trails of Kii used to lead here.

bereft brothers of the branch

….on the blank grass bank

….where once stood shrines of Kumano

….a wagtail bows   (Oyunohara, Hongu, day 1, Richard)

We walked along the bank of the Kumano River for a few kilometres, then up a tributary from Ukegawa, reaching Kawayu by dark, and enjoyed river hotspring bathing that evening and the next morning, along with warm hospitality at the otherwise-empty minshuku Sumiya. John Dougill joined us for breakfast; then the three of us set out in perfect conditions on a six-hour stretch of the Ancient Path over to Koguchi.

John and Richard

….Ah, Kumano!
….The waists of slender cypress
….Sashed with morning light.   (nr. Matsubata Chaya-ato, day 2, Tito)


….Backing up the slope
….Towards the gentians,
….A frog …
….In the mouth of a snake.   (Kogumotori Pass, day 2, Tito)

Whoever was in front at the time had disturbed one of three snakes we saw that day. John evidently preferred encounters with the pilgrim sentinels on the Path.

mountain-top jizo

….Jizo stands aloof
….Above the piled rocks –

….Rotting persimmon   (Hyakkengura, day 2, John)

We spent the night in lonely luxury – each a large tatami-mat room to himself – at the Koguchi Shizen-no-Ie; then, the morning of day 3 John left us, and we set out on the toughest section of the Path over Ogumotori (Big Cloud-taking) Pass.

….sunning our backs

….above Gut-Busting Slope –

….my leg says “bee!”   (Dougirizaka, day 3, Richard)

Tito on the ancient trail

The stones of the ancient trail were beautifully worn, looking much as they must have done when in regular use hundreds of years ago. But the terrain was dry until we had cleared all the mountain passes.

….Nearing Nachi
….Water runs …
….Rocks wear moss
….Like green hair.   (Nachikougen, day 3, Tito)

Nachi Falls

Tito’s travel friend Naoya Nakano joined us at Nachi Taisha. The 133-metre falls were spectacular, the sub-shrine near the base a place for quiet reflection on the arduous day’s walk. After a night at the bizarre but cave-bath-equipped Urashima Hotel, we attempted the final leg of the Path from Katsuura to Shingu.

….古道の時の流れを 苔と共に王子塚
.The days of the Old Road
continue to roll: a prayer station covered with moss.  (Sano-oji, day 4, Naoya)

Naoya and Tito in Katsuura Bay

If only there had been more of the Old Road left, for apart from the short forested stretch of Takanozaka and some beautiful beaches accented by jumping mullet, much of the trail has been converted to highway. Eventually, we dragged our weary legs into Shingu, but Richard had to return to Kyoto without paying respects at the final destination of Kumano Hayatama Grand Shrine. There, Tito and Naoya offered up a prayer on behalf of all ten pilgrims who had participated in the two halves – 2001 and 2008 – of our Kumano pilgrimage, now complete.

….Leaving his shears
….On the doorstep stone
….The priest fetches us …
….A small surprise!   (Asuga Jinja, Shingu, day 4, Tito)

8 Responses to “Autumn Haike — Kumano Kodo 熊野古道”

  1. John Dougill Says:

    Ah, now I can read about what happened on day 3 after I left… I like the leg telling you ‘bee’…. my limbs often shriek at me too. Nice open ending too in the last line of the last haiku… Too bad about the final highway. Day two through the cedars was highly pleasant. Thanks for the memories… and the poetry too.

  2. Richard Donovan Says:

    Thanks for being our companion on part of the journey. Looking forward to the next one!

  3. Tito, I loved “The waists of slender cypress,” and the lovely verb “sashed.” And the way you saved “in the mouth of a snake” for last– what a punch!

    John, I loved “aloof” for Jizo, just as Richard, I loved “blows” for wagtail!

    Sashed– aloof– blows– one word can make such a difference, no?

  4. Richard Donovan Says:

    Thanks for your feedback on our haiku, Ellis. Just one thing … it’s “bows”, not “blows”! As you say, one word can make such a difference — in this case, to the poor little wagtail….

  5. Er, Ellis, I believe the wagtail was bowing not blowing. One typo can make such a difference, no?!

  6. Hey, Richard! You got in there a few seconds before me!

  7. Richard Donovan Says:

    Yes Tito, the early bird takes a bow, don’t you know. For the later bird, that blows, one might say….

  8. Thanks for a great read !
    It is definitely on my list of walking … some day …

    Greetings from a pink snowy morning in Okayama!



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