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Photo by Michael Jordan, enjoying a meal at sunset, Zangskar Valley, India

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Michael Jordan
enjoying a meal at sunset,
Zangskar Valley, India



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  #1981  
Old 18 Apr 2019
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Just outside of Kumano, we find a stretch of rock along the coast called Onigajo

There's a promenade that's roughly carved into this rocky coast. It lets you walk about a kilometer into this peninsula, made of soft volcanic rock that's been pitted and scarred over the millenia by waves and winds. Legend has it that demons (oni) live in this spooky-looking rock.


Onigajo means Demon's Castle. Very apt!


Sitting on some demon rock, looking out into the Pacific Ocean
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  #1982  
Old 18 Apr 2019
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"It's fun to stay at the Y. M.... K... um... X..." They must sing it differently in Croatia...


Love the way the mountains of the Mie Prefecture are layered, one in front of the other, in the distance


Legend has it that the demons that live in these rocks sport horns that grow out of their noses... So silly, Neda!
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  #1983  
Old 18 Apr 2019
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I'm getting good at deciphering Japanese. This sign reads, "Do not sit on the rocks"

The spring daylight hours are still very short and our whole timeline is a bit shot because of our slow morning ride. There are a few things we want to see in the area before we head to our AirBnB but it looks like we might not have enough time before nightfall.

From Kumano, we hop back on our bikes and rush back inland. 15 minutes later, we come upon a scene that could have been set in ancient Japan.


These are the Maruyuma Senmaida, a collection of hundreds of rice paddies decorating the hillside

So beautiful! Especially with the sun setting in the background. We are here at the absolute right time!

Speaking of the sun, these terraces are actually angled in such a way to catch as much sunlight as possible during the day. With over 1,340 rice paddies, Maruyama is one of the largest Senmaida (rice terraces) in Japan.


The setting sun glints off the rice paddies at Maruyama. And yes, that's a Japanese scarecrow in the bottom-left
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  #1984  
Old 18 Apr 2019
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We are here before the planting season, which begins in Mid-May, so the terraces sit empty, reflecting the sun during the day

Maruyama is a very old senmaida, dating back to the 1600s. It fell into disrepair in the 1950s, but the government has since subsidized the farmers in the area to rehabilitate the senmaida for historical and touristic purposes. Every May, the farmers get dressed up in traditional clothes from the era and perform dances and ceremonies to ensure a bumper crop. That would be so cool to see!

We would have loved to stay and watch the sun set behind the senmaida, but there are still things we want to see before the day is over, and now we're feeling very rushed!

It's another 30 minute ride further into the interior, racing against the setting sun, and we arrive at Kumano Hongu Taisha, a traditional Shinto temple.


But first, 158 steps to get to the temple. But we're in a rush! Hey, cool flags! Okay, let's go!

In addition to the flags, we also see little wooden cards affixed to the railings on the way up. These are called goma. People write their wishes on them and then the cards are burnt by monks.


Me: "Let's see the temple!" Neda: "Wait! Before you go in, you need to cleanse yourself!"

Neda's done all the research into this Shinto temple thing. We stop at a little hut called a Temizuya. We have to perform a cleansing ritual to purify the body before we can enter the temple. First you take the hishaku (dipper) and wash your left hand, then your right hand, and then take a sip to wash out your mouth, then you wash the dipper itself.
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  #1985  
Old 18 Apr 2019
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The sun is slowly disappearing behind the mountains. Despite nobody else being around, we still try to be respectful of the Shinto traditions. Also, it's pretty cool doing what the locals do.

It could be worse. This cleansing ritual is actually a shortened version of Misogi, which requires devotees to cleanse their entire body before entering the temple!


We finally make our way to the shaden, or the main Shinto shrine

The Hongu shrine is one of three Kumano shrines. This temple is the head shrine for over 3,000 other shrines in Japan! Pilgrims make the trek, called the Kumano Kodo, between all three shrines, which are scattered all around the Kii Peninsula.


The yellow lights from lanterns above cast a nice glow on these beautiful wooden temples in the evening


The shrine is host to many ceremonies and festivals throughout the year

The spring festival is associated with the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage and ensures a good rice harvest. There's another festival in late summer called the Fire Festival, where huge 100lb pine torches are carried up the steps to the shrine. Wow! We have to go to one of these festivals, they sound hardcore!
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  #1986  
Old 18 Apr 2019
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Nope, still no cherry blossoms. These are plum trees growing outside the temple. Going to have to travel further south, I think

It's already dark when we leave the temple. The GPS informs us that we are only 30 minutes away from our AirBnB which is in the town of Nachikatsuura, back on the coast. Without the sun warming us, the cold night air permeates through all of our layers on our ride back via pitch-black roads towards the Pacific Ocean. We shiver uncontrollably as there's no windscreen on our naked bikes to hide behind.

There are no street lights on these mountain roads, but instead, reflective discs are set on both sides of the road and median in regular intervals, which reveal the upcoming twists and turns. They are spaced so evenly that it's like playing an old driving video game from the 70s - you see nothing in the darkness but white dots rushing towards you. All you have to do to win the game is stay in the middle of the reflectors, dodge Godzilla, rescue the princess... pew pew pew... Oh wait, no guns in this game.


Reminded me of an old Atari game I used to play called "Night Driver"

As fun as playing video games on the motorcycle is, I don't want to be riding at night again. Not because it's dangerous, but because it's FREEEEZING! We go even slower than the GPS expects us to and it actually takes us over an hour to arrive at our destination because we can't find the AirBnB in the dark! We call the phone number when we get there and a Japanese lady drives up within a few minutes to let us in. This is surprising as most Japanese hosts prefer to deal with their gaijin guests through self-check-in.
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  #1987  
Old 18 Apr 2019
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Riko is our host. She's friendly and her English is very good. She actually works as an interpreter which explains why she is so comfortable with us. She's very interested in us and our motorcycles and asks us a lot of questions as we unpack and bring all our bags inside.


Riko had a map of the world pasted onto the wall and she asked us to show her where we came from


Our AirBnB has a tatami room! Not fancy or anything, just everyday Japanese living!
After our freezing ride, Neda is very much enjoying the kotatsu (electrically-heated table) and a hot cup of matcha tea!


What an action-packed day! Old 70s video games, demon rocks, temples and rice terraces! And more sushi and kotatsu tables! So very cool! We are loving riding around Japan, especially now that we're away from the crowded cities!
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  #1988  
Old 27 Apr 2019
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/397.html



We have some unfinished business to attend to today.

Having visited one of the Kumano grand shrines (taisha) last night, albeit in the dark, we are going to see another one of the three in the area, the Kumano Nachi Taisha. We had planned to see it yesterday, but ran out of time. Hopefully we'll see more things during the light of day!


Mountains and rivers on the Kii Peninsula

Kumano Nachi is very close to where we are staying in Nachikatsuura, just less than 15 minutes ride back into the interior of the peninsula. All the names in this area are a derivitive of Nachi, possibly after Mount Nachi: Nachi River, Nachi Katsuura, Kumano Nachi.


As we approach Kumano Nachi, we pass by all sorts of pay-parking lots. However, at the temple,
an attendent ushers us to a primo spot away from all the cars. Motorcycle parking is free!
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  #1989  
Old 27 Apr 2019
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As we climb the steps towards the taisha, we pass beneath a Torii, a traditional Japanese gate

Toriis are found at the entrance of all Shinto temples. Walking under a Torii is supposed to signify crossing into a sacred, magical place. This reddish-orange is a very popular colour for Torii, and the paint is made from a mineral-based pigment called Vermilion. The colour is said to be able to ward off evil spirits.


Walking right by the temizuya, just like a clueless barbarian gaijin


Neda has to remind me once again to do the cleansing ritual before we enter the temple. Shes so geeky that way...

First wash the left hand, then the right, then rinse the mouth, in that order. The Japanese culture is so etiquette-oriented, it's not enough to perform a task, there's a right way to do it and a wrong way.
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  #1990  
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Wooden wish cards (goma) decorate the railings here, waiting to be burnt by the monks


A Miko (Shinto Shrine Maiden) performing Kagura-Mai - a ceremonial dance involving bells and chimes

The Shinto Shrine Maidens (that would be a cool name for a heavy metal band), dressed in white kimono jackets (haori) and red, pleated skirts (hakama) are involved with the daily running of the temple. They sweep up around the temples, perform cleansing rituals and sit at reception counters, selling incense, goma and other religious trinkets to visitors. It's a popular part-time job for many Japanese girls and doesn't require any sacred vows that the priests and monks have to undertake.

Mikos have been featured prominently in a lot of recent animes and have sparked interest in foreigners who are enamoured with Japanese culture. So much so, that there are now miko-for-a-day programs run at some temples, where you can learn what a Shinto Shrine Maiden does, get dressed up in the haori and hakama, and perform the kagura-mai ceremony yourself! Girls only, though!


Walking around the Kumano Nachi complex
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  #1991  
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Learning how to light incense (osenko) and placing it an incense burner

Like all things Japanese, there is a specific ritual that needs to be observed when burning incense. You light the incense, wait a few seconds, then extinguish the flame using your hands. It's considered improper to blow it out with your mouth. Every Japanese kid learns all the rules for how to be a proper nihonjin very early on.

After you extinguish the flame, the smoke is supposed to have healing powers, so you fan the smoke towards you or a part of your body that hurts. I need a few of these incense sticks for my feet... you know, for when we go hiking...


Rows upon rows of Chõchin - red paper lanterns - are a symbol of celebration. Ringing the bell at the temple is part of the praying ritual

The ritual for praying goes like this: first, throw money into the offering box. Then tug on the rope to ring the huge bell above. This calls the diety's attention. Then bow twice, make your wish or prayer, clap your hands twice and then bow once again before leaving. So interesting watching all the Japanese visitors do this!

Clapping the hands also calls the god's attention, but also wards off evil spirits.


A falcon flies high above our heads. Do you know what the Japanese word for falcon is? It's Hayabusa...

For years, the German falcons were in competition with the Japanese falcons to see who could be the fastest. Fears of a backlash due to safety concerns forced the falcons to come to an informal agreement to limit their top speed to 300 km/h, but right before this agreement was put into place, the Japanese falcon topped 312 km/h, securing its place in history as the fastest production falcon ever.

And by falcons, I mean motorcycles...
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  #1992  
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Looking for candy

The Laughing Buddha, or Hotei as he is known in Japan, is actually not related to the religious Buddha. In most Asian mythologies, the Laughing Buddha was a monk who carried around a sack that is either filled with candy or gold - depending on whether you're telling the story to a child or not, I guess.

The word for monk "budai" is very similar to "buddha", so he's nicknamed The Laughing Buddha. He symbolizes wealth, contentment and cavities.


This is what everybody comes to see: The Seiganto-ji temple, on the same grounds as the Kumano Nachi Taisha

The Seiganto-ji temple ia three story pagoda and is very popular with visitors. There's a waterfall in the background (named Nachi Falls - nachirally!) which makes it a favorite shot for photographers to frame the pagoda. In a couple of weeks' time, the bare Cherry Blossom tree in front will bloom and provide a nice pale pink contrast to the orange-coloured temple.

Our quest for Neda's Cherry Blossoms continue. Still too early and cold. Gotta head further south!


Back on the bikes, we delve deeper into the mountains of the Kii Peninsula

We have actually now crossed over to the next prefecture, Wakayama, which is situated mostly on the western side of the peninsula. We are taking a bit of a detour around Road 425, the narrow, nasty broken pavement path that we got stuck on the day before. I just found out the Japanese call these kinds of roads 酷道 - Hidoi - or literally translated "Cruel Road". Haha!

For fun, here's a Google Image search for 酷道 to show what we were dealing with!
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  #1993  
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Our detour on the much wider and more well-paved 169 is more suited to our kind of motorcycle.


From the road, we can see Komori Dam in the distance

From 169, we get on a fun and amazing winding Road 371, which climbs up Mount Gomadan. We're on our way north towards the town of Koya, nestled in the slopes of Mount Koya. I remember the lesson we learnt on our first day of riding - not to go anywhere with "Mount" in the name during the early spring:


We didn't learn our lesson... SO COOOOLD!!!! At the highest point on Road 371, at the Gomasan Sky Tower lookout

It doesn't get much warmer as the twisty road winds its way down the valley and then back up to Mount Koya. We're in the town of Koya because we heard there was a nice temple here.


We ride past a pathway leading into a very old-looking cedar forest.

Pilgrims in white jackets with black Japanese characters written down the spine gather at the gates leading to the temples. Before we join them, we have to eat! It's well past lunch-time and I can sense we're both getting a bit hangry...
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  #1994  
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Is that a noodle bowl on his head? We figure there must be food nearby, and our hunch pays off!

Thankfully the vending machine that you buy your meal ticket from has pictures, so we order a couple of ramen bowls without any linguistic difficulties.

Just like all things Japanese, there is an etiquette to eating as well. In a strange twist, slurping your soup is considered good manners. However, clinking your chopsticks on the table to straighten them is very rude. Oh no! I do that *ALL THE TIME*. You have to straighten them using both hands. Ugh. Everyone must think we are such barbarians! And because I look Japanese, I can't even play the Ignorant Gaijin Card unless I start speaking...

This is one of the drawbacks to Japanese culture. Because they are so etiquette-centric, you don't know what rules you are breaking just by simply walking down the street, entering a temple, burning an incense stick, or even eating... There's a lot of peer-pressure in this society to follow these rules, and if you break them, you face immense judgment and social ostracism. This humiliation or "loss of face" is the worst thing in Japanese society!

Although I find the Japanese way of doing things fascinating, I can't help but feel a bit self-conscious all the time here - it's a continual sense of "What am I doing wrong now?". Often we find out about these rules of etiquette *AFTER* we've broken all of them! We're constantly observing how everyone around us does things to make sure we're not committing any egregious faux-pas!


The temple in Koya is a bit different from the Shinto temples we've been visiting the last couple of days

Kongobu-ji temple is a Buddhist temple, but of the Shingon Buddhism sect, which also worships dieties found in nature, just like Shinto. It's the closest Buddhist sect to Shinto-ism. The architecture here is slightly different from the Kumano Shrines.


Even off the bikes, walking around the temples up here in Koya, it's freezing. Neda says I look like a ninja!
Just trying to fit in, Neda. Just trying to fit in...
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  #1995  
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On our way out of Koya, we pass by this giant shrine on the side of the road

It's getting very late in the afternoon and we're about an hour away from Wakayama, where we are meeting Michael's friend that we're staying with. We definitely don't want to be riding after sunset, especially up here in the mountains. We'll get hypothermia for sure!

From Koya, it's just a single road that leads us back down the mountains to the big city of Wakayama. Because of the traffic, we arrive much later than we had anticipated and Warren has to find us in the dark after we call him up.

Warren pulls up in a scooter and after some brief introductions (making sure that Michael hasn't referred a couple of axe murderers to him), he leads us back to his house.


In addition to his Honda scoot, Warren also has a cool Harley. The first one we've seen in Japan! (picture taken the next morning)
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