More adventures in Japan!

By Ellie and Jessica

Hiking among trees
Everything is green and lush
The trail is gorgeous

Thursday we arrived at Yunomine Onsen. The town has the world’s only UNESCO registered hot spring. Although none of us have bathed in this onsen, we had the opportunity to use the one at the guest house. Compared to the other towns we have visited, this one is a lot smaller and feels more rural. Yunomine onsen is surrounded by mountains and lush vegetation making it a very relaxing and beautiful place. Unlike the twenty four hours if neon lights in Kyoto, the small family businesses close their doors at sunset.

The town is also important because an ancient pilgrimage route runs through it. The kumano kodo trail stretches from Kyoto, which was the ancient capital, to the Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine. People from all levels of society have hiked this route for over a thousand years. The walk takes about thirty days and travelers would undergo purification rights for the mind, body, and soul along the way.

We had the opportunity to walk part of this path today. We started at Kumano Sankeimichi Nakahechi and walked for approximately four and a half miles until we reached the Shinto Shrine. During our hike we spotted many Jizos. Jizos are Buddhas that have reached enlightenment, but stay on earth to help people. They are called Boddhisattvas. Some of the Jizos we saw were to help with tooth aches, back aches, and for expecting mothers to have safe deliveries.

Something that was noticed along the way were little piles of rocks stacked on tree stumps. It is believed that in the afterlife people would have to cross a river before entering heaven or hell. Before crossing the river they would stack stones from the river bed. The stones you could stack, the better your afterlife would be. The practice along the trail is reminiscent of this tale.

After several hours of hiking we finally reached our destination: the Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine. This shrine has the biggest Torii gate in the world, which is surrounded by rivers on three sides. The shrine was destroyed by a flood in 1889 and its replica was relocated to a safe place nearby. It has two female deities and one male diety. The emblem for Kumano is a three legged crown called a Yatagarasu. Legend says that this divine bird led the first emperor through the mountains.

A big Torri gate
And three rivers on the sides
Mark the sacred shrine

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