Early Spring Imperial Pilgrimage Route Tour
A couple of months have passed since the end of this great tour and it is now tsuyu – the June rainy season. Like good soba buckwheat noodles, this tour was a treat from beginning to end. It is so rewarding to have a complete family in a group, and this time it was a privilege having the company of two children aged 12 and 14 along with us. Children bring a special dimension to travel and, although I have walked the pilgrimage route more the a dozen times, in the company of children with inquisitive minds it was like walking in another country for the first time.
The gods smiled on us from every rock and tree. And probably had giggle when one hearty member of the group plunged into a crystal clear pool in a sacred forest. There is always a spiritual dimension to travel in this area. The area is conceived of as a mandala with the important centres joined by invisible lines. When walking these lines are the pathways we follow to the three grand Kumano shrines, the routes to and within sacred spaces, and the threads that lead us to meetings with people. We might need our own energy to climb the endless steps on the path, but there do seem to be other forces at work. In Yoshino-Kumano, one has a real sense of the proximity of these natural forces.
We had the good fortune to meet up with the shugendo priest Kosho san. As you will see from the photos, we ended up having a jam session with a range of interesting instruments! We also met fern-man! Yup, a guy who must be the world's greatest fern thrower. In early spring, the paths are lined with large, fresh green ferns. I have always appreciated the emerald carpet of spring ferns under the dark cedar trees, but I had never seen them as darts. Carefully trimmed, ferns can be launched like darts and will sail gracefully down through the forest until they meet an obstacle, invariably one of the myriad dead straight cedar tree trunks. It was the fourteen year old, naturally, whose imagination was captured by this discovery, and who for a couple of days refined the art of fern throwing whilst discoursing on the merits of different wing shapes and their effect on aerodynamics. But I digress.
I wish to fly through the woods
Later we learn to glide young fern shoots
Through the trees
We arrived in Kamikitayama, passing from Wakayma iton Nara in a blizzard of cherry blossom petals. We had a picnic there under the cherry trees to the sound of laughter and traditional Japanese enka music.
Blossoms kiss the sky
An eagle soars overhead
Lips kiss candyfloss
Soft, pale blossoms
Silent in their brilliance
The food, the natural hot spring tubs, and the language and customs proved an endless subject for discussion. And a starting point for haiku poetry-
Why is my foot wet?
And where's the toilet
Oh shit! In my shoe!
It is silence that often moves us. Whether it is the cherry blossom falling, the still forest, or night time in a temple –
I wake to silence
Then the sigh of her soft breath
The sound of rain
Reading the haiku poems we all wrote brings back happy memories of a special tour. We have promised to continue our adventures in the ancient forests of Japan and elsewhere!
Click to read haiku poems
from this tour.