Saturday, March 20, 2010

Return to Kumano “Road of Sanctuary”

Our arrival in Shingu, Japan, was like old home week. Within fifteen minutes we had dinner invitations, offers of tours and a hearty welcome from the people we'd met five years ago. Shingu is about the same size as Whitehorse so we appreciated the sense of community.

During our stay we enjoyed catching up on our young friend Takaya who visited us in Whitehorse (and subsequently invented, tested and was rescued from his boat made of plastic pop bottles) and meeting again the interpreters for the Kumano Koda heritage site and the friendly staff of the city tourist information office. We also met the long time English teacher who uses his classes to translate heritage information into English.

Kyoko Fukutsuji took us for a day trip to onsen (hotsprings) up in the mountains. At Yonomine onsen the water bubbles up beside the creek almost boiling. Villagers cook their vegetables and eggs in the upwelling water. Two women offered to share some of their cooking with us and we sampled broccoli, winter greens, podded peas and boiled eggs. A great treat as we sat on the stones beside the spring in the sunshine. It took me a few minutes to realize my buttocks were getting cooked at the same temperature as the broccoli.

Later we walked the last stretch from the mountains down to the important Hongo Taishu Shrine. On our way we met a group of Japanese men with an ambitious weekend of pilgrimage travel before them. Learning we were from Canada got us the by now familiar response, "Ahh, Vancouver Olympics." Together we saw the first view of the largest tori gate in Japan which marks the entrance to the shrine.

This morning we met a priest from the Asuka-jinja Shinto shrine on his day off. We sat together in the spring showers under the sheltering roof of a shrine at the base of the divine mountain of Gongenyama. The rock at the top of the mountain is the landing spot on earth for a pair of the gods. The priest accompanied the bubbling and splashing of the rock runnel by the Tori gate, playing traditional melodies on his wooden flute. The pink petals of the cherry blossoms floated gently to the stones before us.

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