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Voices|Visitors Interview April 28, 2011

Nicholas & Kathryn (Nick and Kitty) Jospé Interview
April 28, 2011

Q. Where did you go during on your holiday to Japan?
A. We arrived in Tokyo, stayed one day, then took the bullet train to Osaka, with connections to Koyasan.  Kumano Travel gave perfect directions for making bus connections, arranged the following lodgings and suggestions for enjoying the following:
-- Koyasan 
-- Tanabe
-- Yunomine and Hongu
-- Guesthouse (Minshuku) in Koguchi, midpoint on the walk from Hongu to Nachi Falls
-- Kii-Katsuura
We also stayed 4 days in Kyoto.

Q. Why did you choose to visit the Kii-Hanto peninsula (Koyasan & Kumano)?
A. We discovered the Kumano Kodo 40 years ago in a used book sale!  We wanted to experience more fully the spiritual heart of Japan.  Our first trip to Japan (2005) involved hiking the beautiful Japanese Alps.  We thought this trip would be a way to enjoy the mountains of the Southwest,  learn more about both Buddhist and Shinto practice followed by a return to Kyoto to visit more gardens and the Imperial villa, Shugakuin.

Q. Many visitors have cancelled their vacations to Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake in the northeast of Japan, but you still decided to visit.  What was your reasoning behind your decision?
A. We were advised by people in Kyoto that there was no problem with safety in the Southwest of Japan.  It would be like saying, “I’m not going to New York City, because of the tornado in St. Louis, or the hurricane devastation in New Orleans, or an earthquake in California.”  We thought that by continuing with our plans, it would be a way to support the Japanese people by bringing in foreign money and to make a visible statement of respect and appreciation of Japanese culture.

Q. Did you have any problems in relation to the situation in the Northeast of Japan?
A. No.  The only evidence we saw were Red Cross boxes in Tokyo, and a sign in the hotel which apologized for being “half lit.”  Some trains were cancelled.  I would like to share this anecdote.  On our second night in Tokyo, we were staying on the 20th floor in the Shinjuku district.  I felt a tremor, and things in the room started to shake.  I hadn’t learned the Japanese words for “should we evacuate the building” – but when stepping out in the hallway, in my broken Japanese and sign language, a very kind Japanese gentleman pulled out his mobile phone, and showed me a picture of Japan, with English numbers showing that the Richter scale for Tokyo was only 3 – and pointed to where it was 6, further to the north.  It was the best sign language reassurance !!  It is devastating to see the aftermath on the news, but important, I think, to help “carry on” with business, as much as it can be, as usual.  

Q. Some visitors cancelled their trips over concerns of safety and were worried that tourists would be received negatively, as inconsiderate for the Japanese people.  Did your safety feel threatened or receive any bad reception from the Japanese people you met on your trip?
A. Absolutely not.  On the contrary, in the Kumano Kodo part of our trip, we were thoroughly welcomed.  In Hongu, our host said, “Thank you so much for coming to Japan.”  At Nachi Falls, we talked to a gentleman (in Japanese) and he also thanked us for coming and we shared the heartfelt sympathy for those affected.  Many Japanese were carrying on their holiday plans to visit these important cultural sites – and it is not out of “indifference” to those who are victims of the disaster. We were assured, that visiting important cultural sites was not inconsiderate, but rather, showed that we cared about Japan.
All our hosts were so delighted to share the best they offer in terms of excellent service, food, and we were overwhelmed with the generous hospitality.

In Kyoto, we saw many school groups, and had a delightful time conversing with them as they practised their English.  In particular, I received 5 hand-made “peace messages” from Junior High students from Ishikawa, where they decorated large cards with origami, told a bit about themselves in English, and made a statement about peace.  It is a pleasure to be able to answer each letter, and establish further connection!  
At the 3 Sisters Inn in Kyoto, we were given a good-by thank you gift of an embroidered bag and a box of elegant chopsticks. 

Q. What were the highlights of your trip?
A. In Koyasan:  having a guided tour in English by our friendly Monk, of the cemetery, at night (filled with humor as well as fact) and attending the morning services.
In Yunomine:  having our amazing server work his magic delivering our meal of multiple dishes, explaining each one – pointing to the English on a menu and making us feel like royalty!  The “onsen” was terrific – one has a sauna, and the lotions for afterwards are fabulous!   I love the fun of being with Japanese ladies – hearing the chatter, and no one paying attention to the fact we don’t have on a stitch.  
In Hongu:  participating in the festival, especially tossing the portable shrine while jumping in a circle.  Celebration is a universal language!
In Koguchi: staying at our “minshuku”.  We had a meal that rivals any “Kaiseki” experience and a chance to try to practice our very limited Japanese, which was kindly received.

The beauty of the region is unparalleled – Cedar forests like redwood cathedrals; the long calls of what I call the “O-doori bird”*  walking through sun-sifted forest, passing poem monuments, imagining 1300 years of pilgrims.
(*In Hongu, I asked about the name of the bird on the Japanese stamps we used for postcards.  Three people at the info center discussed it, searched on internet. (Above and beyond the call of duty!!!!) It could be this: Blue-and-white flycatcher (Cyanoptila cyanomelana cyanomelana) - Japanese ô-ruri.  However it is, it’s the bird that starts with a long O, then has endless musical phrases in the longest birdsong I’ve ever heard!   a delight of theme and variation!)

We felt a better understanding of Shinto, and were privileged to witness a wedding, and a few other ceremonies;  Several times, we came across chanting in Buddhist temples.  We also enjoyed the requirement of copying sutra and a short ceremony in the Saihoji temple, before visiting the Saihoji gardens.

Although not a highlight, a pervasive sense of well-being:
we never felt judged as outsiders, but rather, welcomed. 

Q. How many days did you walk on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route and was it a good experience?
A. We walked only the following: (3 + days)
5 hrs. Yunomine via Hosshinmon-oeji to Hongu : (beautiful!!!!!!!)
1 hr. short cut walk from Yunomine to Hongu (Dainchi-goe)
6-7 hr. Walk from Hongu to Koguchi  (we didn’t hurry and stopped a lot to admire – so way over guidebook time) (Kogumotori-goe)
7.5 hr. walk from Koguchi to Nachi Falls.  (It is steep in parts, but we took a long time not because of that, but because of the beauty!) (Ogumotori-goe)

Imagine going past ruins of teahouses, listening to frogs singing a spring symphony, mountains covered with clouds of pink cherry, azalea, listening to bamboo in the wind, watching the dance of maple catkins in the breeze.
There is natural conversation – but also the idea of “jizo” nestling in the forest, who might be whispering, or the Shinto Gods, equivalent to the Buddhist Kannon (Mercy), Yakushi (Healing), Amida (compassion) chatting over tea in Divine conversation!!!!!

Q. Were the accommodations and meals satisfactory?

Q. Did the services of the local Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau help you make the most of your trip?

Q. What kind of people do you think would enjoy a journey to Koyasan and Kumano?
A. People who like nature, have an interest in spiritual things, and are open to learning new things.  

Q. Would you recommend others to visit Koyasan and Kumano?
A. Absolutely – see above.  If people are not physically fit, Koyasan does not require any rigorous exercise and is filled with lots of points of interest.   
The Yunomine hotsprings are a delight in and of themselves – and possibly people who are not hikers might enjoy a “hot-spring” introduction.  
The food and service were an experience in themselves!
Also, Nachi could be visited w/ arrival by bus as a full-day experience 

Q. Do you have any tips or suggestions for those planning a trip to the region?
A. We carried everything we would need for 2 weeks in our backpacks.
We ended up using everything we brought – rainjacket, fleece, wool hats, and for Spring, might recommend a pair of gloves.  
However, this makes for a heavy pack, even though we packed light for “city clothes”.  Next time, we would separate “city stuff” and either ship it to Kyoto, or make a round trip itinerary, and use a locker, so we wouldn’t need to lug as much.  
Spring is a fickle season – and Fall would be beautiful as well in the region.

Certainly, the more a visitor tries to learn about both the language and culture, the richer the experience will be.  A “getting along” level of Japanese (politeness, asking directions, expressing appreciation, apologies for not understanding) is helpful.  I learned the Katakana, which is a start in feeling more comfortable in recognizing signs, but not necessary. 

Thank you!

Thank you!

Kitty Jospé

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PRICE Adult 11,000 yen Children 5,500 yen (Children 6 to 11 years old)
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