Tuesday, December 16, 2008

day 349 - Goodbye Himeji

At Himeji's Historical Museum Lyn had the chance to dress in the junihitoe, the very elaborate and beautiful twelve-layered kimono which was worn by the ladies of the Imperial Court in the Heian period (794- 1185).

Today is our last day in Himeji. We've packed so much into the past 349 days. We can't believe that almost a year has passed in this amazing place.

Monday, December 15, 2008

day 348 - Luminarie

By day it's just white lattice. By night every tiny hand-painted point of light is magic...

Yesterday we went to Kobe for the last time. The annual Luminarie is amazing. The photos speak for themselves...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

day 347 - Last days (2)

Thanks to Ganzan Harada, my inspirational shakuhachi teacher (left).
Ganzan organised a little concert/ farewell party for us that I'll never forget...

Thanks and goodbye to all our Elementary students at Sugo, Joken, Nozato, Jokan, Mega, Johoku, Arakawa, Joyo, Shirahama and Tegara!

Hello to Year of The Cow and Goodbye to Kocho-Sensei Ueda.

Thanks to Itsuyo and her Way of Tea ladies.

Thanks Yoko!

Thanks to our friends at Shirasagi from Australia, New Zealand, US, Canada... and Japan!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

day 346 - Last days...

Our time in Japan is rapidly coming to a close. so we'd like to say goodbye and 

Thanks to all the kids at Joken

goodbye Shirasagi apartment...

goodbye Himeji-jo & bikes...

Goodbye autumn hills of Shinzaike...

Goodbye Shiroyama kids...

Friday, December 12, 2008

day 345 - Nachi Falls

On the last day of our 'pilgrimage holiday' we were lucky enough to see both boys and girls in traditional Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage costume.

With a 133m drop, Nachi-no-taki is Japan's highest waterfall. 

Near the Falls are both a Shinto shrine (Nachi Taisha, built in homage to Nachi's kami or spirit deity) and a Buddhist temple.

We hooked up with a friendly group of young women from Osaka and  hiked up the 800m of stone steps through sugi to the falls. Later we shared lunch with them and sampled to local specialty Soba-no-Kumano.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

day 344 - Kumano Kodo (2)

A few more shots of random stuff we passed on our walk from Yunomine to Hongu:

The Water-wavers. These figures scare the hell out of unsuspecting Walkers by randomly waving. They're connected by ropes to a device operated by flowing water.

A donation left in the crack of this jizo is supposed to relieve ailments. I left this for my dad's back!

Deserted hot water pot, Tea-house ruins.

Shitake mushrooms growing on  logs.

A tea plantation.

Most visitors approach Hongu Taisha via the 158 stone steps, although we came in the back way over the mountains. The original shrine stood further down the valley on a sandbank of the Kumano-gawa, but was washed away by a massive flood in 1889.

The main Hongu Taisha, the holiest shrine of the Kumano faith, which is said to enshrine Izanagi-Okami, the Sea God who gave birth to Japan itself.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

day 343 - Kumano Kodo (1)

Our Big Walk.
The entire Kumano region of Wakayama is covered with dark primeval sugi forest, steep mountains and gorges and dramatic rivers and waterfalls. 
It's not surprising that the ancients believed that gods dwelled here. These local 'natural' deities were synthesised into the Shinto and Buddhist religions so today there are significant shrines and temples everywhere.
Consequently everyone, from emperors to common folk made regular pilgrimages from Kyoto and Osaka to these holiest of sites and the the Kumano Kodo - the Old Kumano Road - came into being.
Parts of the original flagstone road survive and the Kodo was granted World Heritage status a few years ago.
After our earlier walk from Tsumago to Magome on the Old Edo Road we really wanted to trek a part of the Kumano Kodo historical route; between Yunomine and the important Hongu Shrine was the perfect place.

The beginning of our day's walk was this unassuming set of steps just next to our ryokan.

We helped ourselves to a pilgrim's bamboo walking stick and returned it later.

Over the 17 km we walked through a whole range of vegetation:

... very dark sugi forest,

... mossy, fern-filled moist valleys,

and deciduous forest.

Beyond every range of mountains was another, and another.