For the first portion of my pilgrimage on the Kumano Kodō, my Sensei, Nakamura-san, took me on a pre-pilgrimage visit to an array of shrines that started out in Nara.
First, an unexpected visit to Inunakiyama Tohorinji Temple犬鳴山轉法輪寺 then on to hike and visit the ancient Tamaki Shinto Shrine 玉置神社 , a lovely overnight at the Kamiyusou, Totsukawa onsen to soak our weary bones. (I still miss Japanese onsen so much I could cry.)
The real beginning of walking the dark path for us began at in Wakayama at the 熊野本宮大社, Kumano Hongū Taisha Shinto Shrine, which Sensei said is usually the end point pilgrims exit their journey.
It serves as the head shrine of more than 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan and is part of the sanzan – three famous shrines that cover the route.
Hongu Taisha enshrines its own deity and the deities of the other two Kumano shrines, Hayatama Taisha, Nachi Taisha, as well as the sun goddess Amaterasu.
Japan worships nature. Trees, rocks, water – everything is sacred, related and alive. Up until the mid-20th century Japanese thought it absurd that they were separate from nature, as the West does with its Cartesian rational. Kumano Hongu Shrine highly respects the Sun. Yata Crow is also the Sun God, representing the resurrection of the Sun and salvation of the future.
The Shugendō 修験道 sect of mountain asceticism know nature’s power – leave behind the material world that distracts from the spiritual and purify yourself walking below the canopy of astonishing trees lining this dark path. Practitioners spend months there wandering and unite with the forces of nature. The world melts away and you are united with pure nature. After my immersion, I never wanted to return!
Like Tamaki Shrine, I was privileged to attend a great and rare meeting with the head priest that Nakamura-san arranged to discuss his thesis that Shinto is the path to world peace.
The Priest endorsed it and his book, The Japan Code, that discusses the philosophy and mythology of Shinto and Japan.
I present the beauty and awe of Kumano Hongū Taisha.
I am so grateful to my sensei and whatever I did to deserve such amazing grace. ARIGATO!