(Koguchi to Nachi Taisha – Distance: 14.5kms. Walking time 5hrs 10 mins to 7 hrs 60mins. Elevation 60m to 870m to 330m.)
At around 2.30pm, the couple I had met four hours earlier at the Jizo-jaya Teahouse arrived at Nachi Taisha. By 3.00pm, though, I started to get a little worried as neither Mik nor Patrick nor any of the other walkers I had passed that day had arrived. I decided to retrace my steps back along the Kumano Kodo and see if I could find my lost friends. Not long after reaching Nachi Kogan Park, I saw some of the hikers I had passed earlier that morning. And then finally I saw Mik. He told me Patrick was still making his way down the track, slowly but surely. Mik continued past me towards Nachi Taisha while I retraced my steps back along the Kumano Kodo in search of Patrick.
Eventually, I saw him. I offered to carry his backpack for the last three or so kilometres to Nachi Taisha, but he would hear none of this. He wanted to complete the Kumano Kodo himself carrying his own backpack. We arrived at Nachi Taisha around 4.30pm and raced down to the bus stop where we caught a bus to Kii-Katsuura and then a train back to Osaka.
And so my Kumano Kodo pilgrimage had come to an end. Was it worth it? Definitely! I experienced a different aspect of Japanese society and culture to what I had experienced in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Hiking through the Japanese wilderness was also a unique experience.
Did the pilgrimage live up to my expectations? It certainly did. I learnt much and experienced many new things. I particularly enjoyed walking through the villages and towns in the countryside of the Kii Peninsula and learning a little bit of what it is like to live life in rural Japan. However, I was disappointed that I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked visiting some of the shrines along the way, particularly Hongu Taisha, and also learning more about the Shinto religion. This was unavoidable, though, due to the short time Mik, Patrick and I had for the trip and because of the limited accommodation at Koguchi.
Did I achieve what I wanted to achieve? Yes I did. Four days of hiking up and down mountains and through forests definitely strengthened my body. I was lucky to avoid injury. Whereas, the opportunity to hike for four days without having to carry a heavy backpack made the entire walk enjoyable. By the final day, I had lost some weight and surprisingly had no muscle aches in either my back or legs. I could have kept on walking.
The walk refreshed me mentally. Away from work and free of most modern conveniences, such as television, mobile phone (not that I have a mobile phone) and tablet, I was able to fully immerse myself in the pilgrimage without fear of being distracted by any inconsequential details of my usual day to day routine. I did not have to worry about whether I had received an email about another professional development opportunity or the next controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s latest tweet. Instead, I could focus upon what was most significant to me, my immediate reality and how I could shape it with my actions. I gave my full attention to what was in front of me, be it a dirt trail, a stone step, a piece of sashimi or the shape of a maple leaf. This allowed me to relax and regain mental balance. Ironically, like a medieval samurai entering a tea garden to perform the tea ceremony so as to find peace for a time from the travails of the outside world, I was able to momentarily rid myself of the ‘dust’ of the world even as I walked along the sometimes dusty trail of the Kumano Kodo.
Did I gain any spiritual insights from walking the Kumano Kodo? I would like to say yes. But apart from a couple of blue beetles guiding me along the trail for a time on Day 4, and entering a moment of extended silence before that on Day 1, I did not. Perhaps if I had prayed and meditated more at some of the numerous shrines dotted along the route then I might have experienced something more profound. But I was in a rush.
Walking the Kumano Kodo did, however, confirm my belief in the interconnection between the body, the mind and the spirit, and how the health of one impacts upon the health of the others. I feel more physically, mentally and spiritually invigorated as a result of walking the Kumano Kodo. And I am once again able to clearly perceive what is most important to me in my life.
Would I walk the Kumano Kodo again? Of course! But next time, I won’t rush so much. Instead, I will give myself more time to appreciate the sights, sounds and tastes of this beautiful part of Japan.