Sometimes in life when all you want is a slice of toast and a soggy Weetabix you’re given a washoku Japanese breakfast of rice, miso soup, grilled fish, tofu, egg, dried seaweed, and more. Given how meticulously prepared it was, I shouldn’t really complain but this isn’t really what I’m looking for before a mammoth hike.
And so it was that we started our day at Owase Seaside View with a fiddly breakfast at the ripe time of 8.15 am. Stomach satiated and with clean clothes on our back, we set off from the hotel around 9 am and almost immediately began the day of endless mountain passes.
Hobo-toge Pass (甫母峠) – 4.7km
The pass takes you over the border between Owase and Kumano rising some 305m with nice glimpses of the sea between the trees. The route is lined with the graves of fallen pilgrims, perhaps worn out by the rigours of yesterdays trek over Yakiyama. Stone for the path came from a nearby quarry which was also used to build the Edo Castle in present-day Tokyo.
Walking beside more shishigaki stone walls, built to protect fields and paddies from wild boars, at the south end you pass a memorial stone commemorating its completion
The pass ends in the tiny village of Nigishima (二木島) where nary a soul stirred. It was already noon and we stopped at a rest area beside the harbour for a drink and an energy bar.
Chen decided to skip the next section and take the train to Atashika (新鹿), kindly carrying some of my things to lighten the load. The ladies we met yesterday turned out to be doing the same thing and I waved them all off from the trailhead above the station.
Nigishima-toge (二木島峠) & Okamizaka-toge Passes (逢神坂峠) – 3.7km
After searching around, the trailhead turned out to be through the garden of an abandoned house but it soon turns into a pleasant 290m rise to the top of the twin passes with a slight dip in the middle.
Atashika, where I regrouped with Chen around 2 pm, turned out to be another ghost village straddling a beach. Fortuitously the only place open was a tiny supermarket where we sat outside to eat the onigiri rice balls and ice creams we purchased.
Hadasu-no-Michi (波田須の道) – 70m
Climbing out of the village, the short Hadasu-no-Michi path has the oldest paving stones used on the Ise-ji route that date back to the Kamakura period (1185‒1333). They are much larger than those used in later periods making them quite distinct.
The idyllic village of Hadasu (波田須) hugs the hillside with farmhouses built on terraces. We passed old folk bent double as they worked on their smallholdings as well as a couple with their two dogs chasing a racoon off their land. It was quite a palaver!
Obuki-toge Pass (大吹峠) – 1.7km
The light was beginning to fade when I dropped Chen off a Hadasu Station at 4 pm. No sooner as I had entered the extensive bamboo grove on the Obuki-toge Pass I encountered a cornucopia of wildlife; first, a wild boar with its child (which ran off as soon as they heard me), followed further on with a countless deer that darted onto the path and ran in front of me. Truly magical.
After all the wondrous nature, Ōdomari (大泊) felt like a very depressed little town. Grey and forgettable, I passed it by way of the sea wall, feeling sad for those living there.
Matsumoto-toge Pass (松本峠) – 0.8km
Finally the last pass of the day! I was surprised that I still had energy at this point but having a lighter bag certainly helped. By chance, I managed to time it perfectly to see the sunset over Kumano City (熊野市) and the long beach stretching towards Shingu, the end in sight!
Arriving at Kumano-shi at 5.30 pm, I was pleasantly surprised by the signs of life in terms of people on the streets and open shops, more so than anywhere we’d visited along the trail since Ise-shi. I met Chen at Wagaranchi Hostel (わがらん家), an old home that has been converted into a guesthouse. We were the only people staying there that night.
Since the hostel didn’t have any showers, we were given discount tickets for Mihamayu (みはま湯) public baths nearby. It made me laugh that the reception lady’s desk overlooked both the woman’s and men’s changing rooms (not that she was paying any attention).
Afterwards we had a quick dinner and then hit the hey, sleep being badly needed for the final push tomorrow.