After the Kumano Hayatama Shrine, 熊野古道 Sensei took me a short walk to the entrance to the Kamikura Jinja 熊野神倉神社 on Mt. Gongen in Shingu, part of UNESCO’S World Heritage as the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes of the Kii Mountain Range’s three key sacred sites, or Sanzan.
The vermillion Torii gate in front of the dark forest cut through with stone steps, looked inviting and promised mystical connection. I purified myself with water and eschewed the wooden walking sticks available. Yet the steep, rocky steps ascending to Kamikura Jinja took Sensei and I a good while to climb as twilight approached and were slick from the rain. The effort was all the more worth it, making me mindful of every step and drinking in the humid region hugging the Pacific Ocean.
Rising to the West of Shingu, Mt Gongen has been revered in Japanese faith as the sacred mountain residence from which the kami, gods, originally descended and inhabited. Kamikura Jinja appears in Japanese myths and is regarded as “Ama-no-Iwate” literally means god’s shield where the gods and Buddha sit on Gotobi Iwa on a precipitous cliff about 100 meters up the mountain near its highest peak, Chihogamine (253 meters), according to information at the site.
It is also referred to as Chingoga-mine because it is thought to be protected by gods and by Buddha. Bells from the Third Century, along with Buddhist sutras primarily from the 12th Century have been found here. The synchronization of Japan’s faiths have all sent pilgrims from ancient times over the centuries to to purify and worship here, such as the Kumano 山伏 Yamabushi, mountain priests, to practice aesthetic disciplines.
Since ancient times Kamikura Jinja has been considered the sacred spot of where the gods descended then later descended again to be enshrined at Kumano Hayatama Shrine located at the bottom of the mountain south of the shrine.
The Kumano Oto matsuri is held annually here on April 6th. On that night, men with torches lit from fires at Kamikura Jinja run up and down these steep steps as part of a religious festival that includes Kumano Faith in Nature and the Yamabushi rites.
After being enveloped in pure nature and Japan’s deep intuitive religious practices once again, praying at the shrine and drinking in the view and moment, I realized how nature and “god” is always prevalent, no matter where you are. But nature is where no material distractions disconnect you from nature’s source. No wonder Kukai and other masters wandered in nature. I learned this on my first forest bathing trip to Mt. Atago in Kyoto that Sensei took me on.
Sensei took me higher behind the shrine to witness more big rocks inhabited by spirit. Rocks really are alive. We really are a part of them. If we just slow down enough to realize it. Being in the body after a humid hike is purifying to the senses and spirit.
After a full day of hiking and praying and more, I relished soaking my tired but happy bones in the healing onsen waters of Hotel Nagisaya. I am grateful to Sensei and for my journey into the heart and Faith in Nature. I am grateful to Nature for the honor of being in Her presence and for giving me Faith in Nature. Nature is coming back, and she is making herself known via the body, not the head, and in the deepest recesses of our psyches where she is pushing up the lost creative energy of life and nature back to the surface of consciousness.