Nakatsugawa, Magome and Tsumago

A full day’s travel from Hiroshima to Nakatsgawa via Nagoya meant arriving too late to do much the day before. As well as collecting some walks information we did have time for a quick look at the wonderful displays of artworks (plus food, local sweet delicacies etc) at the Tourist Information Centre in Nakatsugawa.

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So after our buffet breakfast we took two buses to reach the start of our main planned walk for the day at the hill town of Magome. Lots of tourists joined us by leaving the bus in Magome

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but after walking up through the somewhat touristy section we found only a few other walkers with us. Into the forest we went. Quite often we had streams of water running near the path. From time to time we passed through small hamlets.

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A couple of times we crossed over the streams as we walked.

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At one point when we were quite high up we came to a series of raised boardwalks which were signposted asking us for our own safety to stay on the boardwalk not go near the soft edges.

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Near the end we were challenged by a stony downhill section.

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After that we crossed a bridge at the edge of a small farming hamlet.

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One of the houses even had the rice drying on a rack.

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Here are some photos of Tsumago, our end destination for the walk, which prides itself on the main row of well maintained/restored houses. It was also where we ate our lunch.

We found this walk in our Lonely Planet Japan guide. If you are in the area it is well worth doing.

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Miyajima Island

Following our sober, reflective time at the Peace Park we jumped on a Green route bus and made our way to the station. There we boarded a train for Miyajima-Guchi station. On our arrival we just followed the crowd down to the wharf only to see a JR boat heading off towards the island. However it wasn’t that long before another returned and we were on our way. Sadly it was a really misty grey sky, one of the rare days like it we had experienced in Japan.

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As we approached the island we noticed not only the famous orange tori gate in the water but to our dismay some grey scaffolding around one of its pillars, as if it had a broken leg.

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On leaving the boat hundreds of us grouped towards the town. However when many took the turn towards the commercial centre of the town we kept to the waterfront promenade. Here we encountered the first of many deer, just like we had in Nara previously.

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At the point we had a good view to the tori gate. Quite a few stand up paddle boarders were there and the occasional boat ferrying tourists around the nearby waters.

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We passed by the main temple as it was being cleaned and there was already a huge queue.  Perhaps we would have a better view of the tori gate from the other side of the little inlet in which it was positioned. Around we walked. Very few people had come this way so I was even able to set up our camera on timer and take an old fashioned version of the ‘selfie’ with the tori gate in the background.

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Our travel mascot, Kirby, also posed for a photo. You can see how mournful he was about the weather and the scaffolding too.

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At one point Karen had thought we might even take a ropeway (cable car) up one of the mountains above the main town but due to the misty, cloudy weather it would have been a waste of money only to see clouds. So we headed back towards the commercial centre to look for some lunch. Along the way we came to the back of the temple complex so I leant over the wall to take a photo with the five level pagoda in the background.

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After I took it Karen pointed out a huge spider web and a rather large colourful spider in it.

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Nearer to town a surprise sighting of a wedding couple being transported in a rickshaw took our eye.

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Once in town we browsed around the cafes and food stalls. In the end we purchased a few skewers of grilled chicken, prawns and vegetables. Karen was also delighted to find this huge soft toy version of Totoro from Gibli movie, My Neighbour Totoro.

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We also spotted this huge wooden spoon, a symbol of the island, on display.

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Given the cloudy weather it was no use waiting for a sunset that wasn’t going to happen so we headed back to the wharf. As it turned out a few hundred others had the same idea as you can see from this queue.

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The good news was that the ships were able to carry hundreds at a time and we returned via the next train to Hiroshima.

Once again we were very pleased at how useful our JR Rail Pass had been. If you want to travel independently in Japan we highly recommend purchasing one.

Return to Hiroshima’s Peace Park

The following morning after breakfast we joined the Orange route hop on hop off bus near our hotel and travelled around to the Peace Park again.

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Our first stop was the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims.

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We made our way down to a large circular room with a pictorial representation of Hiroshima at the time of the bombing. Below this the wall was composed of over 140000 tiles representing the people who were killed. Upstairs another room had photos and details of those who were known. This is a small percentage of the victims but the vast majority were blank as the victims were never identified.

Once outside we passed the Peace Flame again. It is cupped in two large ‘hands’.

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From there we went up to the Children’s Peace Memorial. It is here that thousands upon thousands of paper origami cranes are encased in display cabinets. Stemming from bombing victim Sadako Sasakiho who was two when the bombing occurred. At 11 years of age she developed leukaemia. She decided to fold 1000 origami cranes. The crane is a Japanese symbol of longevity and happiness. She died before completing her aim but her classmates finished the rest. Thousands of children from all over the world have folded and sent cranes here.

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Whilst there we witnessed a school peace ceremony by some older students patiently watched on by a much younger group of students.

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Also a crane delivery by some very young students, who would be flat out understanding the symbolism of what they have done in making their cranes. Perhaps I am underestimating the message they receive in their class. It was very moving watching the two ceremonies.

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It is such a tragedy that WW2 ended in this way with so many civilians being bombed. At the time, clearly America believed in what they were doing in bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki but hopefully there is a lot of regret now for their role in history just as Japan acknowledges and regrets their role of wrongdoing as an aggressor.

“All we are saying is Give Peace a Chance.” – John Lennon

Hello from Hiroshima

After our first Shinkansen trip we arrived mid afternoon in Hiroshima. Once we had settled in we took off for a walk to see some of the sights. First stop was Hiroshima castle in the middle of a beautiful park. Th original castle dated back to 1589 but needless to say after being bombed this one is a reconstruction completed in 1958.

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From there we jumped onto one of the hop on hop off buses that tours the city. The good news was our Japan Rail passes covered it. We left the bus at the A bomb dome just as the sun was fading.

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Built in 1915 as a hall it was one of the few things that partly survived. Lots of school students were checking it out too.

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It was quite eerie being there as the sun set and the floodlighting came on.

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From there we walked down into the Peace Park past the Children’s Peace Monument which wasn’t lit, down to the cenotaph and the Flame of Peace. At the cenotaph a few wreaths had recently been laid. We could read in English the one from Denmark and one from the USA. We would return here the following day to see more.

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As we left the area we moved into a well lit shopping and restaurant sector of the city. Karen had read about the famous local pancake, Okonomiyaki, which sounded similar but different to what we had tried in Osaka. My cousin Andrew had recommended a whole building where lots of little food stalls with attached bars made Okonomiyaki. After a bit of looking we found it. We started on one floor but it was crowded with groups of school students. The same on the next floor but the third floor was fine. We looked around for a stall with an English menu. A husband and wife team welcomed us to their stall, Hirochan. We read the menu and soon made our choices. On a huge hot griddle in front of us they were cooking up orders.

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Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake with layers of noodles, cabbage and whatever you order with it.

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When our orders were cooked they partly chopped it up, but like in Osaka give you a cutting tool along with chopsticks to eat it with. It was really good.

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We chatted with a young Swiiss couple as we ate and drank. We were joined around the bar by quite a few locals/Japanese travellers trying Okonomiyaki too. The whole place had a lovely friendly atmosphere and we really enjoyed the evening.

Himeji castle

En-route from Osaka to Hiroshima we decided to break the journey and visit Himeji castle, an imposing castle dating back to the late 1500s but renovated in recent times. From the station we walked through the shopping street in the correct direction. Along the way we saw this bridal couple, a bit of a bonus, as they were in traditional dress using traditional transport.

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However on reaching the outer park area of the castle we missed any directional signs and went right when apparently we should have turned left.

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This resulted in us almost doing a complete circuit of the gardens surrounding the castle. It wasn’t all bad as I ended up with a rather nice reflection photo of the castle in the moat’s waters.

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After completing a ten minute walk we finally came to the front of the castle. Along with many others we took out our camera and did our best to take a good photo.

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Just after I snapped away a young guy approached us and asked if we would like him to take a photo with both of us in it. We accepted his kind offer.

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Then he had a request for us. He explained he worked for NHK TV. Would we mind being in a promotional video segment. Out of curiosity we agreed. Over to the cameraman and sound lady we went. It was for a show promoting travel in Kansai region. We had to jump up and shout out, “Kansai up!” After three takes they were happy and thanked us. Any reader with cable TV should look for us on NHK at 19:30 on the 28th of October for an amusing moment at our expense. Here’s the crew in the next photo after finishing with another couple who they had roped in.

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After that I walked around to the left to come closer to the castle. I took one more photo of this impressive castle

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before we headed back to the station for our train Hiroshima. Given that a fair section of the castle was covered in scaffolding we didn’t feel we missed much by not having time to go in and explore further but it was well worth stopping in Himeji.

Our first Shinkansen trip.

Arriving at the right time at the right platform was just the start of successfully boarding our 9:18 to Himeji from Osaka. The second part we were blissfully unaware of until a young British couple helped us out. Always check to see if the Shinkansen has 8 or 16 cars because it makes a big difference to which part of the platform you will be queueing at to board the train. On our ticket it told us car 5 and our seats 4a and b. At the last moment we had to move to a totally different part of the the platform thanks to this information. On we jumped with our cases and made our way to our seats.

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As the train very quickly accelerated I just had time to take a photo of the Umeda Skytower.

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At Himeji we left our first Shinkansen and visited the famous 1580 castle. (See the next post for more on this.)

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From Himeji we boarded this rather colourful purple Shinkansen. Unfortunately this lady also wanted a photo as it arrived.

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We had barely found our seats and the train was hitting a fast speed. Sometimes there were tunnels but at other times we had half a view like this. Railings or barriers are built to cut down on the noise I guess.

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At other times we actually could see most of the cities, towns and countryside as we sped along.

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It was certainly a good experience to travel the Shinkansen and as we continue our trip around Japan we will have many more such trips. One thing I have learnt though is that it’s hard to type as the train goes along, especially on a bend at amazing speeds.

Nara

The ancient capital of Nara was a short train trip from Osaka. So we decided to head there for a day trip. Nowadays it’s better known for being the home of the largest wooden temple Todai-Ji which houses a massive bronze Buddha known as Daibutsu. The train trip on the Kintetau line took just on forty minutes. From the station we joined the masses of school students and other visitors walking to the huge temple. It didn’t take long for us to spot some of the famous, and far too numerous, deer in an adjoining park.

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As we approached the temple entry we were a bit surprised to see a wooden boat on a lake.

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We paid our entry fee and approached the door to the main temple through a haze of incense. The giant Buddha was certainly huge but due to the darkness and a bit of an incense haze it was hard to make out all the detail.

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This side view shows him in a better light.

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Movement around the temple was in a clockwise direction. Next to the giant Buddha was another gilt bodhisattva, Kokuzo Bosatsu, to whom students pray for wisdom and memory to help with their studies.

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The next statues we saw were fierce looking guardians of wisdom.

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After exiting the temple we walked up towards a complex of sub-temples. Along the way we passed a massive bell with an equally large pole to ring it.

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Here is is the Nigatsu-do building.

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From its’ balcony we had an excellent view of Nara and the surrounding plain.

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We continued our circuit walk and passed this small temple

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and many of these lanterns, which I love photographing, especially when they have moss or small plants growing on them.

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The last part of the walk saw us going through a couple of the parks with the ubiquitous deer just waiting to be fed and/or photographed.

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Nara was a town of contrasts with the tourist flocking to the well known sights but you could also walk peacefully in the gardens and parks away from the crowds if you chose, as we did.

 

Osaka – a castle and octopus balls

After an excellent night’s sleep we indulged in a breakfast of eggs, bread, pastries, juice and black tea. At Ebisucho station we purchased a Sunday day pass for unlimited use of the subway for only 600¥. Our first destination was Osaka castle. It was in the middle of a massive park. We followed the steady flow of pedestrian traffic until we came to the moat and outer walls.

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As we looked at an information board a uniformed man approached us and explained he was a volunteer guide. He showed us some diagrams and told us about how the castle walls had been built.

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This stone was the fourth biggest and was about 80cm thick.

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As we passed through the Sakuramon Gate on one of the inner walls we were again approached by another volunteer guide. He started to show us the biggest stone in the wall and how it had been constructed. We thanked him and told him another guide had already explained the building process to us. From there the castle was clearly visible. Although it is a reconstruction from the 1930s it certainly looked the part.

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The guy in costume was available for ‘free’ photos if you took your own or the photographic company would sell you theirs.

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We decided to keep moving closer to the castle. However another group in armour were encouraging visitors to be photographed with them, no strings attached. So we quickly jumped in for a photo.

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We continued to walk around the castle and then out through one of the inner gates and over a bridge with the moat beneath. Here we noticed you could board a traditional boat for a guided trip along the moat.

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We continued walking along the paths around the castle gardens. Lots of groups of picnickers were enjoying the sunny day.

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From there we took the subway nearer to the city centre. There is an island in the middle of the river with gardens, paths, cafes etc. After walking along for a while we came to the expansive rose garden. Quite beautiful.

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We sat there eating our picnic lunch and looking at the boats travel along the river.

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After lunch we kept walking and happened upon an art exposition by young talented artists.

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Not long after there was a children’s activity area. Osakans certainly like to get out and about and be involved.

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At the end of the island we made our way to the subway again. Our next stop was a 1300 year old temple. Described as hidden in plain sight in the middle of skyscrapers was pretty apt. However after asking for directions we found it.

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Intriguingly it was the site of a Japanese Romeo and Juliet story with a similarly tragic ending. Apparently Ohatsu and her lover Tokubei committed suicide there in 1703.

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From there we took the subway to the Shin-Osaka station just to familiarise ourselves with the layout for when we would be coming back in peak time two days later. Whilst walking through we noticed a girl at a food stand making one of the local delicacies, octopus balls. We stopped to take a closer look and she gave us quite a performance. Clearly she’d made the odd thousand or so in the past!

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I purchased some and we took them back to our apartment for a late afternoon snack. Really yummy!

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After resting for a while we made our way on the subway. To the nearby Dotombori area, a great restaurant and nightlife area. It was very busy, lots of lighting and advertising signs. Eventually we left the main streets and found a lovely little restaurant making another local delicacy, Okonomiyaki. It was a very thin restaurant with a bar with seating for about a dozen adjacent to a large grill area where the chef was cooking. We were the only non Japanese there. We ordered from an English menu. Drinks arrived quickly but the cooking of our Okonomiyaki dinner was a sideshow; actually it was the main event. When they arrived they were on a small steel hot plate and we received a cutting tool as well as chopsticks.

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Really delicious is a description which doesn’t really describe our eating experience but it will have to suffice. As we paid we had a brief chat with the chef. From there it was back on the subway to our apartment. It had been a really interesting and varied day.

Kumano Kodo – Day 5 – Koguchi to Nachi-san

Awoke to the calming sound of running water. Again breakfast was a lovely meal with such a large number in the dining area. It was good to sit at a regular table even if we were on a stool as the legs were a bit stiff from our walking. By 8:00 we were at the trailhead stamping our Pilgrim passports without having to walk anywhere!

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The first section of 4.8kms would see us climb nearly 800m in elevation and was nicknamed ‘body breaking slope’. By the time we had completed it we had certainly given our lungs and legs a good test, that’s for sure! Not only was it sharply uphill but the rock steps had plenty of moss covering them and if you tried to walk on the edge of them the tree roots made it tricky too.


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Anyway upwards on onwards we walked.

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At one point we had a bit of an obstacle to clamber around

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But after about two hours we finally reached Echizen-toge pass. I used the timer on the camera to give us photographic proof.

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The trail continued in an up and down fashion for nearly two kilometres.

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Occasionally we heard and saw small streams.

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Eventually we came to a place with a shrine, remains of an old tea house and a shelter with seats so we took a well earnt break and ate a snack. A couple of other Aussies came along and we chatted with them. They had an update that parts of the next section of the trail had been damaged by storms so we walked along an adjoining forestry road for about a kilometre instead. We could see evidence of the storm damage as we walked.

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Back on the real trail we had an uphill section walking through water

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but the bonus was we also saw some waterfalls.

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We also had an amazing view across the mountains not long after. Just love the layers of mountains.

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As we continued across a couple of saddles the wind started to bite. So we were pretty pleased to come to Funami-maya tea house remains. It was a it late but another shelter with seats had been constructed here. The view down to Katsuura and the Pacific Ocean was sadly a bit unclear due to the misty, cloudy day.

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Due to the cold wind we put jumpers on before eating our final bento pack of the Kumano Kodo.

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Once finished we moved on ever downward. The signs on this part of the trail were now on stone pillars.

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My knees were not appreciating it but the end of the steps came soon enough, so said the sign. The pile of walking sticks added weight to this line of thought.

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However there turned out to eat about another half hour of steps down to the shrine complex at Nachisan!

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Once there we looked around at the shrine complex. A number of the buildings were bright orange whilst others were plain wood.

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Sadly we couldn’t find where to stamp our Pilgrim passports so we headed down to the triple level pagoda with views to the famous Nachi-no-Otaki waterfall.

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From there it wasn’t really clear which way to go to our accommodation but by continuing down the road we finally made it not long before dinner.

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Dinner was another delicious Japanese meal.

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The good news was we sat at normal height tables with Colin and a couple of young Dutch guys who had walked past us earlier in the day on one of the steep step climbs. The dining room was full with many of the others we had met along the trail or at the various accommodations. So I’m sure they all felt the same sense of fulfilment we did and I’m pretty sure their legs and bodies were as tired as ours!

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If you are reading this and thinking of doing the Kumano Kodo, yes, we would recommend doing it. Just make sure your knees and hips can stand up to the downhill parts and I’m sure your lungs will handle the uphill bits. As an old hiker once said to Karen and I, “you can do it, just so long as you want to and can put one foot in front of the other.”

(Your comments and questions are most welcome.)

Kumano Kodo – Day 4 – Yunomine to Koguchi

Our day started with a lively breakfast at our minshuku in Yunomine. After breakfast we gave our hosts an Australian animal 2017 calendar to thank them. This of course led our hostess to reciprocate by giving us a Japanese bandana in return.

We met travelling companion Colin on the way to the bus stop. Lots of walkers and others clambered on. Along the way we passed two of the other onsen towns. At Ukegawa our driver was kind enough to go past the bus stop and drop all the walkers at the trailhead. (Later on we realised this meant we missed the place to stamp our Pilgrim passports.) Started with a walk past the houses of a few locals before a steep step climb then into the rhythm of a continued climb for quite a while. Some of the trail was quite smooth

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The trail continued up and down but mostly up for some time. The sound of running water made it a peaceful walk. From time to time we crossed small wooden bridges and could see some of the small streams.

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After another 1.4kms we came to a shrine area with an outstanding viewpoint so we stopped for a few photos. It was called Hyakken-gura lookout.

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At about the halfway point the trail met a forestry road with public toilets so we took the chance while we had it. The view from nearby was quite good too so we sat down for a snack.

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As we resumed we seemed to be walking along a ridge part and the trail was smooth and well treed. At one of the many tea house ruins there was a shelter with tables and seats so we stopped for lunch. In our lunch pack there was a large leaf enclosing four rice balls of various flavours and then a bamboo leaf bento box with an assortment of other items. Some really delicious but a few of the pickled vegetables didn’t appeal.

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Not long after, a view down to where we presumed our destination Koguchi was, provided a photo opportunity.

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The trail now went through an area with lots of ferns along its edges beneath the many tall cedar and cypress trees.

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The village below came into view again as the trail descended.

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Sometimes the trail was well stepped but other sections were large rocks covered in moss and very slippery. Just as well we had our poles for balance and support. From time to time we also passed stone pillars which had poems inscribed on them.

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The uneven mossy rocks made the downhill going quite tricky. At times we used the edge of the trail and walked in dirt or mud to avoid the rocks. My right knee was giving me quite a bit of pain by now on the mostly downhill sections.

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Finally we came to the river we had seen from high above. As we crossed it we spotted a few keen fishermen.

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From there we actually went through a short tunnel in the hill.

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On the other side our destination, the converted high school building at Koguchi, came into view.

 

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I asked the kitchen staff for some ice to put on my aching knee which they were able to give me. Sat down for a while icing my knee with a towel wrapped around it until water started to drip.

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Karen had gone for a bath. On her return I also went and had a good soaping and brief shower before enjoying a massive bath all to myself. Very soothing. Dinner at six o’clock was a noisy affair as there were twenty walkers from Japan, Spain, USA as well as several other Aussies. Beautiful food as we have come to expect at dinner time in all the places we have stayed. The tempura was especially wonderful.

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After sitting in the lounge area using the wifi for a while we headed to our room. Sleep on the thin futon mattress finally came.

If this, or any of my other posts about the Kumado Komo walk have interested you or helped you please let me know by making a Comment below or clicking on the Like button. Questions are also welcome. Happy hiking!