It’s worth pointing out that by now we were both exhausted from four continuous days of long 25km hikes. The up and down of all the mountain passes weren’t nearly as tiring as the extended stretches of tarmac between them.
The sensible pilgrim would take a rest day in Owase (尾鷲市) and check out the apparently superb Kumano Historic Trail Information Center (三重県立熊野古道センター). We, however, were committed to another big day, mostly dominated by the assent of Yakiyama (八鬼山頂上).
I woke early, fretting about whether my clothes that I had washed the night before had dried or not (mostly yes). Breakfast was the usual fair of dried fish and rice with a small salad. The lady serving it, kindly offered to drive us to the start of the trail which I declined but in retrospect would have saved some valuable energy.
Once a hub for the commercial fishing and forestry industries, the walk through Owase showed another city in stark decline. Depressingly, the only activity we saw was around a retirement home.
Crossing Nakagawa Bridge (中川橋) we passed the site of the former Owase-Mita Thermal Power Station (尾鷲三田火力発電所跡) which was being dismantled, no doubt another cause/effect of depopulation.
Things began to look up when we reached the trailhead of the 6.6km Yakiyama-goe (八鬼山越え). The gravestones of fallen pilgrims today overlook a sizeable solar power array.
The trail begins gently, gradually getting steeper and steeper. It was a bit of a slog but we were glad for the fine weather since in the rain the moss-covered stones would undoubtedly be treacherous.
My favourite moment of the day was reaching Kojin-do (荒神堂), a Shinto shrine that was rebuilt in 2019. The fresh hinoki (Japanese cypress) timber looked transcendent in the dappled light.
Here we met a couple of friendly ladies who turned out to be staying at the same hotel tonight. Apparently they take walking holidays together every year since their husbands are too busy working the join them!
After crossing Kuki-toge Pass (九木峠) and reaching Yakiyama Peak (八鬼山頂上) (647m) you have the option of taking the Edo or Meiji roads. They both end converge further down the trail, but the former provides access to the Sakura-no-Mori Hiroba (桜の森広場) viewpoint which was the perfect spot to eat our onigiri lunch.
Carefully picking our way down the mountain, we began noticing slogans painted across many of the trees lining the path. Apparently, locals objected to the Ise-ji being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. The reason is unclear why but Japan has long had a contentious relationship with the organisation.
The forest eventually gives way to lush green hills as you make you way into Mikisato (三木里).
Mikisato is little more than a couple of streets running parallel to the beach but it appeared practically deserted. The one open cafe that we tried to visit didn’t seem too keen on out-of-towners so I pressed on while Chen went to catch the train the rest of the way.
If you decide to stay the night at Mikisato Beach Campground (三木里 ビーチキャンプ場), be sure to bring your own supplies.
The last stretch of the day’s walk around the headland encompasses three trails: Yokonemichi (ヨコネ) – 0.5km, Miki-toge Pass (三木峠) – 0.5km, and the Hago-toge Pass (羽後峠) – 2.5km, each requiring up to 380m of elevation gain/loss. Given my already tired state, this was an absolute killer but knowing that a nice hotel and onsen were waiting for me at the other end, I grit my teeth and got on with it.
One curiosity along this stretch are the parcels of land enclosed by stout stone walls yet today covered in dense undergrowth. Known as shishigaki, these walls were apparently built to keep wild boar out of the farmland of smallholders past.
It was dusk as I approached Kata Station (賀田駅) and one kilometre later I arrived at Owase Seaside View (尾鷲シーサイドビュー) around 5 pm. It was a sight for sore legs.
The friendly staff showed me to our room, Chen having arrived a little earlier, after which I headed straight to the onsen downstairs.
Inside were panoramic windows looking straight out onto the sea. Total bliss. An old man stuck up a conversation asking about where I was from and what I was up to. Even with my limited Japanese, it was nice to have a little chat. People are always impressed when you tell them how far you’ve walked!
In the evening, dinner was served in our room. It was an amazing multi-course affair showing off the bounties of the ocean. The sashimi was exquisitely presented and some of the best I’d ever had.
We asked for breakfast at the “late” time of 8.15 am tomorrow. I needed all the sleep I could get.