Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Kumano Kodo featured in the Irish Times

 "Kumano Kodo: walking Japan’s ancient Camino"
Text: Dan McLaughlin
Published by the Irish Times
Nov 12, 2016

Autumn colours, hot springs, outstanding food and Japan's tallest waterfall make this ideal trekking season in Japan

At the end of Kumano Kodo, a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage trail through the Kii mountains of Japan, travellers are urged to step inside a huge camphor tree that the centuries have hollowed out and turned into a symbol of eternal renewal.

Locals believe that climbing through this sacred, moss-furred giant will revitalise anyone wearied in body or spirit by their journey. But for even the most jaded visitors, the view that lies ahead will do just as well.

Beyond Buddhist and Shinto temples that hug this hillside together, a vermillion pagoda soars above the trees, and high over its shoulder a ribbon of white water unfurls from the forest to a rocky pool far below; when the traveller finally turns – there is the Pacific Ocean gleaming at the other end of the valley.

The tallest waterfall in Japan, 133-metre-high Nachi-no-Otaki has been a place of nature worship since antiquity, and provides a fitting climax to a journey first undertaken by emperors, aristocrats seeking spiritual purification.

Over the centuries, Japanese commoners and then foreigners also took to Kumano Kodo, and word of its beauty and cultural richness spread until it became one of only two pilgrimage routes to be enshrined in Unesco’s list of world heritage sites.

The other is the Camino de Santiago ending near Spain’s Atlantic coast, and now tourism chiefs in Europe’s far west and Asia’s far east are working together to protect and promote these “pilgrimages of the rising and setting sun”.