Early Spring Imperial Pilgrimage Tour
The early spring 10-day Imperial Pilgrimage Tour was one full of
surprises. From an unseasonable snowfall on the first day, to a
change of itinerary mid-trek, we came to expect the unexpected.
This made for a memorable trip, and meetings with some remarkable
Mount Koya is stunningly beautiful when covered with deep snow
in winter. At the end of March, however, the light snowfall simply
outlined the graceful shapes of the temple roofs. It was cold –
the thermometer in the temple washhouse indicated an inside temperature
of zero. Fortunately the hot jacuzzi bath, kotatsu , heaters,
and cosy futon , helped keep us all warm.
On Day 2 we had to fit tire chains to drive over a section of the
skyline to Kumano. There was only a centimetre or two of snow in
a few patches but, as always, safety first.
Two days into the 4-day hike along the old Imperial Pilgrimage
Route , a couple of members were suffering with aches and pains,
so I decided to change the itinerary. The Kumano Mountains are quite
a challenge, even if you're fit. Although not that high, the path
goes over many passes with steep climbs. These ascents and descents
test fitness, and are especially trying on the knees.
Fortunately we happened to be in Hongu on the day a local gyoja
(mountain monk who follows the arduous ways of the Shugendo
Buddhist sect) was conducting a monthly fire ceremony. We were invited
to join in the event, together with his family, friends, and local
people. After the ceremony we were treated to a short guided walk
around his village. Along the way we stopped at a very old shrine
in a glade where the forest floor was covered in rich green moss.
Deep in the mountains, and completely natural, the place had an
atmosphere which the famous ‘ kokedera ' ( Moss Temple
) in Kyoto lacks.
The following day we stayed in Nachi, overlooking the highest waterfall
in Japan . On a warm, sunny spring day we found an excellent sushi
bar by the harbour in Nachi Katsuura. The decision not to visit
the whale museum in the nearby old whaling port of Taiji was unanimous.
From there we drove north over the mountains to Asuka to Nara .
Our guide in Nara invited us to a saké brewery.
The samples we tried left us wiser about how saké
is made, and decidedly less sober.
The tour was great fun, and I'm sure Alan, Paula, Carol, and Ern
(alias ‘Udo', winner of the Haiku Competition in Kyoto with the
poem below) enjoyed the fortuitous turn of events as much as I did.
Is Alan pursuing his interests in forestry in New England I wonder?
We cross three bridges
As snow falls. The great cedars
Sing mute, ageless hymns
Click to read haiku poems
from this tour.