19 November 2016
After several days of good weather, the weather played punk today. There was slight rain in the morning. Borrowing an umbrella placed outside Charmant Hotel, we donned our rain-proof hiking jackets and headed down towards the wharf, aiming to see the tuna auction at the fish market which starts at 7 AM.
This was what we saw.
Apparently, the fish auction takes place every day, except Saturday. We would have to come back the next morning!
Disappointed, we went back to Charmant Hotel for our breakfast before continuing on our plan for the day.
Breakfast at Charmant Hotel with little English language instruction slips placed on the table. An example of how this hotel breached the language barrier.
The recommended way to visit Nachi Taisha and its waterfall is to take the bus from Kii-Katsuura station and alight at the Daimon-zaka Chushajo-mae (Daimon-zaka parking). From there, hike up the Daimon-zaka trail to the top of hill where Nachi Taisha is located. After exploring the shrine, walk down the path to the Seiganto-ji temple and visit the Nachi waterfall. To return to Kii-Katsuura, take the bus from the bus-stop just outside the Nachi Fall area. And that was what we did.
Charmant Hotel provided free lockers at the lobby to store our backpacks after we checked out. It was drizzling slightly as we walked to the Kii-Katsuura station. A Japanese man, who had just reached home, saw us sharing an umbrella and handed us his umbrella and told us to use it. Such kindness from a stranger.
The bus from Katsuura was crowded with mostly visitors to Nachi. The journey took about 20 minutes. We saw an elderly Japanese woman putting on a waterproof pants over her hiking pants as the bus approaches Daimon-zaka. She was smart and came well-prepared. The sky opened up and torrents of rain were pouring down when we alighted at the Daimon-zaka Chushajo-mae. The umbrellas came in handy.
The rain was not going to dampen anyone’s spirits. Everyone who came down from the bus walked in the rain to the start of the Daimon-zaka. Daimon-zaka means "large gate slope" referring to a gate that once stood nearby.
Now, there is only a small torri gate at the start of the trail. The trail is about 1.5 km distance with a stair of about 600 meters long with 267 steps up the slope.
Near the start of the slope is the impressive Meotosugi - "husband and wife cedar trees", whose roots are entwined beneath the path.
The cobblestone stair is lined with centuries old Japanese cedars, camphor tress and bamboo groves. The huge 800 years old cedar towering over us on both sides of the slope offered no shelter from the pouring rain.
Water was flowing down the stone stairs like a small waterfall and walking on the trail was like walking on a stream. I was glad that I was wearing my waterproof gore-tex hiking shoes in such conditions but my happiness was short-lived. I learnt that it was no use wearing waterproof shoes if we were not wearing a waterproof shell over our hiking pants. Water was getting in through the hiking pants and socks.
Despite the wet feet, I was “singing in the rain” as we made our way up the slope, stopping many times to take photos. The rain actually made the shots more dramatic. With one hand holding the umbrella overhead, I had to make shots using my other free hand. This is where the sculptured grip on the G5X comes in handy, compared to other small cameras or mobile phones camera.
All the hikers who alighted with us from the bus were long gone as we hiked slowly up the stone path.
There was a small sheltered area at the top of the slope, where we took a breather before continuing up more stairs to the Nachi Shrine itself. Along the way, we met an elderly Japanese couple who was also in raincoats and also shooting photos along the way. He helped us to take a couple photo at a photo stop.
At a photo-taking spot before the final climb to Nachi Taisha. All drenched from knees down.
Shops lined the path to the shrine but these shops were not doing much business on this wet day. Tourists and pilgrims were focused on reaching the sheltered compound of the shrine as quickly as possible.
Kumano Nachi Taisha is part of the UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.
Torii gate at the entrance of Nachi Taisha. More stairs after the gate have to be negotiated before reaching the shrine. It was amazing to see that elderly Japanese were amongst those walking up the shrine bravely, in the pouring rain.
Like the other shrines, visitors could pay a small donation and get a paper fortune called the Omikuji. These fortune papers from temples and shrines offer advice for your health, career, and good luck in general. When the prediction is good, keep the paper and bring it home.
When the prediction is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree or a rack of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes in the shrine grounds. It's widely believed that bad luck can be delayed or avoided by leaving the bad fortune right where you found it, on the grounds of the shrine.
The rain lightened up while we were at Nachi Taisha but the clouds soon rolled in, making the atmosphere very heavenly like.
Directly beside the Nachi shrine is the Buddhist temple Seigantoji. It was interesting to see a Shinto Shrine and a Buddhist temple co-located. In fact, for most of their history the buildings were not even under separate control and functioned as one religious institution.
Praying at the Seiganto-ji, a Buddhist temple at the Nachi Shrine
Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy outside the Seiganto-ji, shrouded in mist.
There is a lookout point where we were supposed to see a vermillion three-story pagoda and Nachi Falls (Nachi-no-Otaki). But it was shrouded by the clouds. Some visitors left disappointed that they could not see the tallest waterfall in Japan but we had time on our side. We went to grab some coffee from the nearby souvenir store cum cafe and wait for the clouds to clear. Before we could finished our coffee, our wishes were granted and the cloud lifted.
The clouds with the pagoda and waterfall in the background made this looked like a place in heaven.
And then as if by magic, the low clouds were totally gone.
As per plan, we walked down from the Seigantoji Temple temple to the Nachi Falls.
Postcard perfect picture of the vermillion three-story pagoda and Nachi waterfall. The waterfall is 133 meters high and 13 meters wide and it is the tallest waterfall in Japan. The pagoda is part of the Seigantoji Temple.
Statue of the Laughing Buddha, also known as Buddha of Happiness or Matreiya in Buddhism, on the way to the Nachi Falls
After checking the bus schedule at the bus stop outside of the Nachi Falls **, we walked down a long flights of stairs to the base of the waterfall.
** Note: the frequency of the bus back to Kii-Katsuura is every 30 minutes. We wanted to make it back to Kii-Katsuura before 1 PM as most restaurants in the town are only opened from 11 to 2 PM for lunch.
At the base of the waterfall, pilgrims and visitors say their prayers.
Nachi Falls is one of the most sacred waterfalls in Japan as it has been worshiped as a holy dwelling place of the deities since ancient times.
We managed to make it back to Kii-Katsuura, on time for lunch. Our original plan was to have Kumano beef at the Steakhouse Hinoki restaurant but the whole place was booked by a group. Disappointed, we searched google and decided to try a seafood restaurant opposite the train station called the Bodai instead. Bodai specialises in fresh seafood (particularly sea urchin and tuna) and umeshu plum wine. The menu was in Japanese but they had English menu on a tablet PC. We ordered a lunch set and an ala-carte dish to share.
Fatty tuna set (Nama Maguro Chutoro Katsu Teishoku) for 1500 Yen was real “value for money” lunch. The tuna was coated in bread crumbs and very lightly fried, hence the tuna remained mouth-wateringly raw in the centre. It was served with a citrus dip, rice and side dishes.
Maguro-don for 1800 Yen with similar fatty tuna and something brown, jelly-like and delicious but could not make out what it was.
Not having steak at Kii-Katsuura was a blessing in disguise. Tuna is the food to eat at this seaside town.