(Takijiri-oji to Tsugizakura-oji – Distance: 18.2kms. Walking time 6hrs 25mins to 9hrs 40mins. Elevation 82m to 688m to 374m)
The Kumano Kodo trail followed the road behind Chikatsuyu-oji and past a primary school. On the school grounds was a climbing frame in the shape of a fighter plane. Its bars were painted mostly white with a few red highlights. Its shape and colour scheme made it appear eerily like a Zero fighter plane from World War II. How different Japanese and Australian primary schools are.
The road climbed sharply, gaining around 100 metres in elevation over a couple of kilometres. Although the road was firm under foot, its steepness left Mik, Patrick and I catching our breath. If we hadn’t covered so many kilometres already, perhaps left from Takahara rather than Takijiri-oji that morning, then this part of the hike would not have been so demanding. It was a challenge for us – the cherry on top of our Kumano Kodo Day 1 cake.
We arrived at Tsugizakura-oji around 4pm and found Minshuku Tsugizakura, our accommodation for the evening. The rooms at Minshuku Tsugizakura were spacious. I was lucky to get my own room as Mik and Patrick who both snored, Patrick very loudly, graciously offered to sleep together in an adjoining room. A sliding shoji screen separated our rooms and tatami mats covered the floors. Our hosts set out our futons and doonas for us. They also gave us slippers and yukata to wear.
Tsugizakura-oji is perched on the side of Mount Takao. The window of my room had a grand view looking down to the valley below and a mountain range in the distance.
That evening there were four other hikers from the United States staying at the minshuku. The owner of Minshuku Tsugizakura, a former chef, cooked for us a multi-dish Japanese feast of sushi, sashimi, rice hot pot and other treats. A young Japanese waiter who spoke very good English with a hybrid New Zealand/United States accent, he had lived in New Zealand for several years growing up, explained the nature of each dish. I enjoyed the food as well as the company. We went to bed around 8.30pm.
There are several good minshuku located in and around Chikatsuyu-oji and Tsugizakura-oji. However, Minshuku Tsugizakura is definitely worth booking if it is available. It is also a good idea to stay at Tsugizakura-oji rather than Chikatsuyu-oji on the first evening of hiking the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo. The next section of the Nakahechi from Tsugizakura-oji to Hongu Taisha is over 22 kilometres, the longest part of the entire 4-Day hike. Beginning Day 2 at Chikatsuyu-oji will add an extra 3 kilometres to that distance, making Day 2 that much harder.