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Koya Bound – Eight Days on the Kumano Kodo (walkkumano.com)
104 points by cmod on Dec 9, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

When I was 18 I traveled to Koya-san to begin and end my Shikoku Pilgrimage. I collected the calligraphy and stamps unique to all 108 temples (including the 20 bangai) along the 1000 mile trail. When I returned to Koya-san I went to the calligraphy window at the temple to have the final page of my nokyocho stamped and signed. The monk at the window took my book, flipping through the ink heavy pages that had taken me months of lonely backpacking to fill. Finally he arrived at the last blank page. He filled it in without question. Black ink strokes and three deliberate red stamps over the black completed my journey. He closed the book and handed it back to me through the window. We looked at one another for a moment in silence. I was sure this monk could sense the power this moment held for me. After a pause he raised his hand and pointed. I followed his finger to a sign on the right of the window. It took me a second to realize I owed him ¥1,000.

Koya-san is a magical place.


Wonderful story!

My walking mentor — John McBride — walked Shikoku when he was 18 (nearly 30 years ago) as well. He stole some money from a temple (he was doing it with no cash). Felt so guilty he went back a few days later and confessed. The priest made him clean the temple for a week and taught him how to beg for food in the traditional pilgrim way: standing out in front of houses and announcing your presence.

He completed the entire pilgrimage that way. This last December we did 10 days of Shikoku and went back to the same temple — the priest was still alive! In his 90s. He didn't remember John, but John had a photo of the two from 30 years prior. Incredible to see him be able to trace back and close that loop.

Amazing little moments abound on walks like these.

Out of interest, what prompted you to make such a trip? When I was 18 (granted this was only a couple of years ago) all I managed to do was stay with a host family for a few weeks in Japan :)

To be honest, after a pretty lackadaisical first year of college I wanted to do something a bit more extreme. So naturally I dropped out and started looking at Pilgrimage trails. I didn’t really understand much of the historical and spiritual significance of the Shikoku trail until I actually started it and spoke with other pilgrims. The experience, at least at the beginning, was more about taking a completely divergent turn and diving into a culture that had fascinated me for years. That said, if you want to go back, its a surprisingly affordable endeavor if you can clear 4-6 weeks.

Awesome story! I'm actually going to Koya-san this weekend to shoot footage for a video I'm making on Kansai. Any suggestions on where to go on the mountain and surrounding area?

I only spent a night up there on both visits, so I made straight for Okunoin. Just kind of sauntering through the cemetery seemed to guide me to the main sites. Okunoin Temple, Kongobu-ji Temple, The Tokugawa Mausoleum, Danjogaran Saito… Also if you feel like splurging, staying at one of the temples that offer rooms is really wonderful. All of Japan has beautiful baths and you can find the bhuddist vegetarian cuisine at many temples, but after walking through a cold misty day on Koya-san it’s a different experience…

I highly recommend the book Japanese Pilgrimage by Oliver Statler listed on the wiki page shown above.

For those looking to create their own webpage like this, it looks like it was based on Lucas Bebber's Storytelling Map:


Yes, they provide this info in the write up as well.

Thank you! It was a pleasant surprise noticing the map indicators with the photos. Was wondering how they did it.

I did this for two weeks back last spring. Walking and hitchhiking, camping in my tent on mountain tops and road stations. Best thing I've done in Japan I think. But be prepared if you set out to do this - the mountains don't lend themselves to camping that well and sometimes it actually takes a couple of hours to find a place to put up a tent in a safe way. You should also have some grasp of Japanese culture and preferably the language first - don't be the (in their eyes) ignorant and disrespectful foreigner who comes and abuses the opportunity. Camping in public areas is not really commonplace in Japan, so you want to be discrete and low-key about it. And yes, Koya-san is awesome in the true sense of the word. You can get lost there, place is yuge. It's got the best graves.

> You should also have some grasp of Japanese culture and preferably the language first - don't be the (in their eyes) ignorant and disrespectful foreigner who comes and abuses the opportunity.

Every time I traveled in the past, I felt extremely self conscious. Like I was but a consumer, experiencing only the most superficial things, greedily taking what a place has to offer without giving anything back. So now I've been using all of my vacation days to go to the same country (Japan), slowly learning the language and culture, making long term friends, frequenting the same small local shops (staff recognize some me at a few places now), etc. It's been a very rewarding experience so far - it feels much deeper than any of the tourism I did in the past. I'll probably move there at some point.

Not really a point to my post, maybe some people would find going to the same place over and over again terribly boring - but thought I'd share.

Absolutely agree — this is why I keep going back to Kumano.

Japan has Nakasendo, Tokaido, the Shikoku pilgrimage, salt roads, Basho's backroads to the north, the paths of Dewasanzan, etc etc etc. It's nearly infinite. I figured if I spend ten years walking Kumano I might have the slightly chance of possibly understanding a small piece of it.

(Co-creator here) — Thanks for the comment. I've hiked these trails over and over and each time I've wondered about camping. I figured being discrete was key. Might give it a go with an ultralight tent or bivy sack this spring.

I've been to Koya-san twice. It's an amazing place/atmosphere, including the trip up.

Third time around I will have to walk there.

Pictures taken from the point rain began look so ghostly and chilling they give me goosebumps. Beautiful journey, beautifully narrated.

Koya-san is one of the most memorable places in Japan. I can recommend visiting in the deep winter when it's very cold with lots of snow and the atmosphere is otherworldly.

Nice web site. I like how the map flows with the photos and storyline. Thanks @metrognome for showing how they did it.

The kickstarter link is broken :(

Oops — fixed. Thanks. Was missing an http. Here it is if you were curious: http://walkkumano.com/kickstarter.com/projects/craigmod/6152...

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