The team head deeper and deeper into Japan. You sent them now to Wakayama Prefecture, isolated from main Japan, and spiritually important to the whole nation. Pilgrimage routes run through this mountainous and forested region, and for runAway it’s time to step back into Ancient Japan. In torrential rain, the Magose-toge trail, is the teams first taste of the Kumano Kodo world renowned pilgrimages. Dean leads the team in a raft down the mighty Kitayama River, they then visit the tallest waterfall in all Japan, Nachinotaki, and finally they end at UNESCO site, Kumano Hongu Taisha – the end point (or start!) to all of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimages…
Dean Newcombe, Duncan Buckley, Megan Page, Natali Jacobsen and Timothy Buerger
Mie and Wakayama Prefectures
Points of Interest
Meoto-Iwa, Ise-Azuchimomoyama Bunkamura (Edo Wonderland), Kobenomiya Shrine, Aiga, Magose-Toge Trail, Owase, Onigajo, Kamikura Shrine, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano-Nongu Taisha, Kitayama River and Nachinotaki Waterfall
The Ninja Village
Visitors to Japan rarely come to ‘Mie Prefecture’ and even less so, to ‘Wakayama Prefecture’. It was the perfect place to see how Japan once was. They headed to the coast of ‘Ise City’ to see ‘Meoto-Iwa’, a rock formation worshiped for generations. After exploring this shrine by the sea with its unique frog themed hand-wash station, the team hiked inland together to reach ‘Ise-Azuchimomoyama Bunkamura’, sometimes known in English as, ‘Edo Wonderland’. At this theme-park like place on the hill, overlooking ‘Ise City’, you can throw ‘Shuriken’ (Japanese weapon), shoot blow darts, try archery, wander around topsy-turvy and haunted houses and even watch a Ninja show. They spend a few hours being entertained and finish their time with a comical conversation with a group of Japanese comedians. To see the real ancient Japan though, Dean must now head off alone into the mountains, where a remote temple will be his finishing point.
The Magose Toge Trail
In the morning Dean returns to the ‘Kobenomiya Shrine’, where rain falls hard. He must ride out of the mountains to the small town of ‘Aiga’, which he reaches, 31km later, completely soaked. Now they must all brave the rain, as they hike an ancient route called the ‘Magose-Toge’ trail. They walk to the first temple on this traditional route, check the maps, and then continue on to the start of the mountain pass. A local man introduces vegetables grown in this region and usefully explains how to keep bears away! Then it’s time to ascend. A film crew are discovered at the start of the trail, who seem to be telling the story of a dragon and a samurai, but our adventurers must continue quickly to finish this trail before dark. With bad weather, even the afternoon light feels like dusk, and soaked to the point of hands starting to wrinkle up, Dean suddenly falls at a waterfall on the path, grabbing a post to save himself from a long drop. He hurts his leg in the process, but Duncan is just happy that he didn’t have to watch his friend fall from this edge! They continue, and soon they reach a hut at the top of the trail. Natali piles stones to mark her journey, and then they continue down the other side. At the end of the trail, typical to Japanese hiking routes, walking sticks are left for travelers to use freely, which can be taken and left at either end of the trail. Before leaving the forest, Natali disappears on a small trail by a river. Duncan follows her and soon Dean manages to track them down too. Natali had led them to a giant waterfall and was lighting candles for the Gods. It’s a spectacular scene and Dean, for once, is pleased with Natali’s disappearance. They make their way off the trail through a graveyard and to the final temple at ‘Owase’. At 5pm a chime is played (as is traditionally in most small towns) to mark the end of the day, and the team chat together in the safety and dryness of the temple hall. The team are soaked to the skin, and yet fulfilled by their short taste of the ‘Kumano Kodo’ ancient pilgrimage routes.
The rain still falls. Dean must again ride in this terrible weather. Roads are blocked by landslides and the van must drive off inland to find a way to reach ‘Kumano City’. Dean checks maps and speaks to local police. He believes he can make his way through a pass, blocked to cars but passible by bike. Going around would be days of effort on a bike and not an option. The van successfully arrives in ‘Kumano’. Dean is nowhere to be found, so they visit ‘Onigajo’ or ‘Devil’s Castle’. Dean is caught struggling up a steep mountain pass and is finally stopped by construction workers. Dean won’t turn back and the construction team think it’s not safe to continue, so the police are called to make the decision. Luckily for Dean, the police decide to escort him through the last part of the mountain pass, and by the time he reaches the other side, the sun finally shines. He cycles on the beach parade and meets a local girl practicing her singing. She shows him some Yoga, and then he’s back on the road to reach ‘Kamikura Shrine’. At the base of the shrine, Dean and Duncan are fascinated by crabs, Megan is tormented by mosquitos and Natali chats to other visitors of this shrine. It’s a long climb up stone stairs to reach the shrine but the view from the top is impressive. They say their prayers and return from the top with one last visit for today at a very special Onsen (hot spring bath). Before bathing they stop to swim in the river and jump from the rocks, and then they settle down in a natural bath formed by hot water rising into a spot by the river.
The sun shines on the team as they return to the ‘Yunomine onsen’ to, instead of bathe, try cooking ‘Onesen Tamago’, which are eggs boiled naturally in hot water springs. After this, they head to a very import Shrine called ‘Kumano Hongu Taisha’, which is the starting point for a great hike known as the ‘Omine-Okugake-Michi’. For today they explore the shrine, Dean signing his name on a wall of messages, before quickly leaving again to go and meet new team member, Tim! They meet him deep in the mountains of ‘Kitayama’ and give him a runAway welcome, rafting down the river. Tim shows what he’s made of, jumping in and climbing overhanging rocks, while the rest of the team jump from high rocks, which is fun until the ‘GoPro’ is knocked from Dean’s head, on impact with the river, and is never seen again! After the excitement of cliff jumping, they leave the river and chat with the raft guide about the importance of the ‘Kitayama River’ for ancient travelers. Tim also speaks of his first experience while they all head for one final stop, at ‘Nachinotaki’, or ‘Nachi Waterfall’. It’s dusk when they arrive and locals have told stories of ghosts at night. The waterfall is Japan’s highest, and there’s more water falling here than in any other waterfall in the country. The spectacular sight is enjoyed while eating the earlier cooked ‘Onsen’ eggs, but it’s an eerie place to finish their journey in ancient Japan.