Day 3 – Hongu Taisha to Hayatama Taisha by traditional boat, then onto Kii Katsuura, 18km
Accommodation: Minshuku Kosakoya in Kii Katsuura, ¥7500 including breakfast
I woke up to a rainy morning and after the included breakfast at 7am, I had some spare time before taking a bus to Hitari (25 mins ride) for the starting point of the traditional boat tour down the Kumano Gawa river to Hayatama Shrine in Shingu. The boat runs twice a day at 10am and 2.30pm and costs ¥3,900. The rain stopped me from taking more photos but it was still an enjoyable boat ride and we passed many interesting rock formations and waterfalls and our guide entertained us with his flute and stories of the past. (I was on the boat with three Japanese men who had just walked from Koyasan to Hongu along the Kohechi trail which I’ll be starting in 3 days time.)
When we arrived in Shingu, we boarded a small van and were driven the few minutes to Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine, the second of the Kumano Sanzan shrines for me to visit. I bought a ‘Nagi-mamori’ good luck charm made from nuts of the sacred 1,000 year old nagi tree in the shrine grounds and hope that along with the written oracle and my Kobo Daishi bracelet from temple 1 of the Shikoku pilgrimage that I’m carrying, I’m hopefully going to be protected from any bad luck! (This makes me sound quite superstitious, but the truth is, my knees are killing me and I’ve barely even started!) 😉
After visiting Hayatama Taisha, I went to the tourist office at Shingu station and picked up a map of the area and was recommended to visit two more shrines, Asuka and Kamikura. I went to Kamikura shrine first and climbed the very steep and uneven stone staircase up the hill to the shrine on top with a terrific view overlooking Shingu and the Pacific Ocean. There’s a famous fire festival held in February every year at this shrine when participants carry fire torches while running down these steps – I could barely walk down it was so steep, I really can’t imagine how anyone could run down these steps!
When I was at the tourist office, I asked about walking from here to Kii Katsuura where I’m staying tonight, 18km away. I was given a Japanese map (no English maps available) and the staff told me that not many people walk this route and although the first 6.5km to Miwasaki station via the picturesque Koyazaka slope is fine to walk, after this they warned me there were dangerous road sections with no footpath and it would be safer to take the train from Miwasaki onto Kii Katsuura. This route starts from Hayatama Taisha and there are waymarks along the road to leave Shingu, but after this the waymarks become very few and far between and you definitely need the map and really need to be able to read the Japanese on the map too.
Between Miwasaki and Nachi there are no English signs and very limited Japanese signs and there are two small mountain passes (over the top of road tunnels) and dangerous road-sections with no footpath on a busy bendy coastal highway. I agree with the staff at the tourist office that it’s better to just walk between Miwasaki and Shingu then take a train onto Nachi or Kii Katsuura.