Kumano Kodo Day 2: Takahara to Chikatsuyu

Sometimes, following the Kumano Kodo signs is a bit challenging with some signs in English and others in Japanese Kanji.  I’d often find myself going in the wrong direction but eventually I found my way after staring at the handy map I picked up from the visitor center at the start of the pilgrimage trail.

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After a solid night’s rest, waking up early was an easy thing to do.  I left before Steven and Michelle, the couple from New York that I met earlier, but I figured I’d probably run into them later in the day.  I felt pretty good and refreshed despite the challenging first day on the Kumano Kodo and was ready to hike up more mountains.  Sometimes, following the Kumano Kodo signs is a bit challenging with some signs in English and others in Japanese Kanji.  I’d often find myself going in the wrong direction but eventually I found my way after staring at the handy map I picked up from the visitor center at the start of the pilgrimage trail.
I really liked the village of Takahara.  I had the opportunity to see more of the village’s quaintness as the trail took me through the village along narrow stone paths, rice fields overlooking the surrounding mountains, and local school grounds.

Starting the next day's hike towards ChikatsuyuA small path leading out of the village of Takahara.Passing by a lush field overlooking the mountains.

I really enjoy the diversity of what I had encountered along the trail.  It eventually took me past the local school and its neighbouring residents.  There were quite a few ‘konnichiwa’s exchanged as I passed by the folks who were already up and working early in the day.  Given the pretty brutal summer heat, I’m not surprised that people would want to get things done before sunrise.

A small stable with a pony (i think) along a small path cutting through the village.An abandoned house along the trail.

I made my way out of the village of Takahara and on to the wooded path.  These parts of the trail are a few of my favourites along the Kumano Kodo.  I figure the dilapidated structures that I’ve encountered along the way must be tied to the damage from past typhoons or storms but I am surprised that these structures are left alone to decay.  Are they not dangerous?  They are nonetheless an impressive sight.

The wooded forest is an entirely different story.  There is something magical about the trail from the tranquil ponds to the stone path laid through the woods despite the fact that there is some trail maintenance that obviously takes place.  A trail can’t be hundreds of years old — let alone a thousand — and not experience overgrowth without folks to maintain it.  I do wonder how old the stones are though.

Fortunately there hasn't been much rain.  The path is slightly slippery but it was a beautiful hike up.A beautiful still pond right next to the trail.More steps to ascend.  I quite enjoyed these sections of the trail.  It was cooler and very pretty.

Today’s hike was not as tough as yesterday’s considering that it was a significantly easier climb.  It also helped a lot that it was an overcast day for the most of the morning and the trail taking us through the mountain exposed us to a very nice consistently cool breeze.

Through out this hike, my mind drifted back and forth and I sometimes a part of me would wonder if it’d be more fun to experience the journey with my friends.  Unfortunately none of them were able to join me for this trek and though I wished that they were able to participate — after a while, I realized that tackling this trail on my own was a part of the mental challenge in this pilgrimage.  Consider it a spiritual journey — sometimes we just need to go through a series of challenges on our own and one of those challenges was traversing through an unknown place alone.

Passing by a small shrine and registration stop.Enjoying the view from the trail.Winding paths are always inspirational.

A part of the reason why I enjoyed the Kumano Kodo so much was the historical nature of the route itself, and along that route there would often be signs explaining the significance of a particular location.  There would very often be signs in Japanese and English and although the signs in English were very brief — I was very grateful that I could at least gain an appreciation of the location’s significance.

I ended up passing by a number of fascinating spots where an old tea house used to exist or where someone’s home used to stand.  Considering that a tea house use to sit in certain places, I wondered how much traffic would actually pass through these routes.

Apparently, this is where the Uwadawa-Jaya teahouse had existed.Taking a short break and being chased down by mosquitoes.As I descend down this part of the trail, the surrounding landscape changes dramatically from typical alpine forest to an almost rain forest-like environment.These waterfalls seem like they are pre-fabricated.  I seemed to encounter a lot of these through out my trek.As the trail follows the stream, I encountered a lot of large spider webs along the trail.  I'd be the one hiker waving my trekking poles in front of me trying to rid the way of webs.

Eventually, I began an extended descent that led me into a section of the trail where the surroundings were dramatically different than what I had experienced before.  It seemed as if this were a temperate zone — almost rain forest-like — and I found myself encountering all sorts of interesting insects I had never seen before, in addition to constantly running into spider webs.  I even spotted some small crabs which puzzled me.  Crabs in the forest?

After making my way through the very diverse and pretty area (and being chased by many mosquitoes), I came across a road station.  This was an excellent place to stop and have lunch so I crossed the road to the road station / rest area and took my place on the benches in the shade.  I had a lot of time to spare before my check-in time for the guesthouse I was staying at in the village of Chikatsuyu so I ended up chilling out for a while.  In fact, I had even tried out a couple of different flavours of iced tea and then ran into Steven and Michelle just as I was about to continue the trek.

Eventually I arrived at a trailhead that was located across the road from a roadside rest area.Stopped by the Michi-no-eki (road station / rest area) to eat lunch and chill out for a while.Gyuba-doji shrine. It's amazing that these sort of statues have remained here for so long.

Once Steven and Michelle finished off their lunch and had their share of rest, we continued towards the village of Chikatsuyu.  On the way, we came across a number of shrines including Gyuba-doji (gyuba means cow and horse).  Apparently, the statue is of the 10th century Emperor Kazan and its location is where a copy of a sutra he had created had been buried.  I imagine the sutra may have been removed for preservation purposes but simply even to imagine the historical significance in terms of the span of time that has passed for the ground below the statue is pretty incredible.

We made our way further on to the trail until it led us out of the forest and into the village of Chikatsuyu.  At this point of the day, the sun was blazing and we were sweating buckets just like yesterday.  Walking into Chikatsuyu, all seemed really quiet, almost desolate in some sense though I guess most people may have been staying indoors.

A beautiful view of the Chikatsuyu along the way down the trail.Rice fields on the way into the village of Chikatsuyu.Crossing over a bridge and entering the village of Chikatsuyu.A pretty run down gas station but it's the only one I saw in the area.Main street Chikatsuyu

There was still plenty of time before I had to check into the guesthouse so I followed Steven and Michelle further up main street until I wished them well and we parted ways.  They still had a few kilometres to hike because they were staying in the next town.  It’s unfortunate I didn’t have a chance to keep in touch with them but we figured that I’d likely run into them during tomorrow’s hike since we would be catching the same bus to the town of Yunomine Onsen.

My map to Minshuku Chikatsuyu was a little puzzling so I was walking back and forth on their “main street” until I finally figured out the right side road to take.  The scenery around the guesthouse was simply brilliant and was located right beside the river that cut through the village.  There were a lot of farms in the area so it made for a very tranquil place to stay.

Finally arriving at Minshuku ChikatsuyuThe beautiful view of the river from the dining area of Minshuku Chikatsuyu.

When I stepped into the Minshuku Chikatsuyu, the owner himself had initially stepped out so it appeared that I was speaking with his wife (or at least trying to).  She took me to my room and indicated to me to wait and eventually a young man showed up to speak with me (I think he was their son) to show me around the guesthouse.  Staying at this guesthouse was one of my most memorable experiences. I was the only person staying there!

The guesthouse was simple but elegant, the food was simply amazing, and the owner was such a kind gentleman.  He offered me all sorts of guidance and advice for tackling tomorrow’s very long hike (27km).  I really appreciated his assistance and his knowledge was quite extensive.

After the excellent meal and some enjoyable conversation, I retired to get to sleep as early as possible because the next day would be a very early start!

Author: Ehren Cheung

An explorer of life and data. Reluctantly philosophical. A seeker of the ultimate cookie. Another tree-friendly soul with an affinity for hiking and sketching.

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