The Kumano Kodo 熊野古道

by Nick Anthony

A peaceful night is ended
By the first light of morning
Before a bright Sun soaring
Over the edge of the ocean.

I open my eyes to a starry tent sky
Shining droplets of condensation
Refracting rainbows of morning dew
Formed from the radiant body heat
Of weary pilgrims happily beat
Upon the Kumano Trail.

I unzip the flap to a waking world
Of red, orange, and yellow tendrils
Heralding the swift arrival
Of purple Sky’s golden King.

Despite the chilling sea breeze
Biting at my aching bones
A warm smile crosses my face
So far away, home awaits,
Yet I feel I am already there.

The Kumano Kodo is an old pilgrimage in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. It is famous for its stone paths through mountainous forests. From ancient times, both Shinto and Buddhist pilgrims have walked the paths between the three major temples and shrines of Wakayama: Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha, and Nachisan Taisha. The route we took was a slight variation began in the Edo Period (1603-1800s) the goes for more than 170Km from Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture, to Hayatama Taisha in Wakayama Prefecture.

I will never forget a conversation we had with a local man while on the trail. He said, “Nowadays, the specific religious intent of the pilgrimage has lost much of its former meaning, but I don’t think that is such a bad thing. The point is that we realize everyone walking the trail has their own reasons–everyone is searching for something. I think the beauty of the Kumano Kodo is that we respect all people, their backgrounds and beliefs, who are willing to take the arduous journey. The Kumano Kodo is a symbol of the accepting and welcome nature exemplified by its open joining of Buddhism and Shinto religion. It is this mentality that our world should strive for. Everyone is on a path. Who am I to judge them?”

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