*Trip to Japan in collaboration with Finnair
In front of me, nothing but the rugged forest in all its glory. I lay myself down on the moss and look up. My head starts spinning as I realize how high the trees can climb to the sky and the bright sunshine blinded my eyes for a bit. I feel small surrounded by this overwhelming and powerful nature. I take a deep breath – shinrin-yoku, as they call it over here. Shinrin-yoku refers to forest bathing as the Japanese believe that taking a deep breath in the forest has great health benefits.
Kumano Kodo is a UNESCO World Heritage site, formed by several pilgrimage routes through statues of Buddhist Gods to shrines and waterfalls along the area. Former emperors and religious contributors have walked Kumano Kodo for centuries already. And still today, the pilgrimage brings peace of mind, healing, and salvation for those willing to hike along the mountains and forests of this spiritual place.
The pilgrimage begins about an hour train ride away from Osaka, where we flew to from Helsinki in just 9 hours with Finnair. The train from Osaka took us to Kii-Tanabe station, from where you can take a local bus to the pilgrimage center.
Kumano Kodo offers several pilgrimage routes suitable for all travelers. Our pilgrimage was 7 km in the forest and mountains and took us a little over 3 hours to complete. There are also routes for several days. Our final destination was Kumano Hungu shrine, but other options are Kumano Hayatama Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha or Nachi waterfall.
I did not go on a pilgrimage for religious reasons, as I don’t practice any, but there are many values in Buddhism that resonate with my mind and soul. To live the full experience, I did stop at some of the Buddhist God statues to pray. One of them was a God which removes tooth pain – perfect for me as I had literally been inhaling painkillers the past two weeks for the worst toothache. Funnily enough, my toothache vanished for the rest of the day for the first time though it still came back when I left Japan. Perhaps a funny coincidence, but you never know for sure…
Despite not doing a pilgrimage for its religious reasons, it was a very meaningful experience to me. The purpose of a pilgrimage is to bring healing, purification, and salvation – which is exactly what I’ve needed after the terrible summer of 2017, which I’d gladly put behind forever. With all honesty, I’ve spent the last two months escaping reality by going from an adventure to another and drinking wine until weird hours of the morning just to stay away from my head for a while. So this pilgrimage was the perfect way to end my escape before coming home and facing reality again.
Halfway through our pilgrimage, we stopped at a little hut to have lunch. Our hotel had given us little lunch boxes wrapped in bamboo leaves for the road. So we just sat there next to the forest in the hot sunshine, enjoying some rice onigiris, fresh salmon, mushrooms, vegetables and the best sweet herbal tea they had prepared for us.
Lunchtime was basically the only time we actually run into other pilgrims, as other than that we got to walk on our own. We had a local guide with us who would stop here and there to tell us more about the Buddhist God statues along the way.
After the pilgrimage, we arrived at Tanabe City, where most pilgrims would spend the night. Tanabe offers restaurants and guesthouses for those wanting to stay or make a stop before continuing their journey again. And if you stay in Tanabe City, make sure to try their tuna sashimi – it’s simply the best in the world!
In Tanabe, not everybody speaks English, so it’s best to arrange your accommodation in advance through Wakayama Tourism,