We’ve spent so much time walking around this forest, and we’re all exhausted. Taro and Ayako have been fighting a bit, and she’s back to ignoring us for the most part. Risa is tired and hungry, too. When they aren’t fighting, we don’t talk a lot. We’ve mostly just been trudging through the forest single file, hoping we’re heading somewhere.
However, a few hours after leaving the cave we managed to stumble back upon the pilgrimage path. There have been signs for Kumano Kodo, which is reassuring as it means that at the very least, we aren’t going in circles. I was worried that didn’t know if we were taking it north or south, but Alex says that you can tell we’re heading south by the way the position of the sun. Taro actually laughed at me when I questioned the direction, and even Ayako smiled. I don’t know why everyone else seems to know these kinds of things. I’d just been thinking about how it would be nice if I had my art supplies and how I could capture the quiet and ancient feel of the forest on canvas.
Apparently if we follow this path for long enough, it will lead us close to Shirahama, where Taro’s family lives. That will be a few days walking though, and I’m worried about out food supply. Most of the family’s food had been kept in the small staff kitchen at school. We’ve just been rationing what we had in out backpacks when we rushed out of the school.
I’ve done parts of this walk before, and if it weren’t for the danger existing in Japan at the moment, I would recommend it as one of the best things to do here. Unfortunately, from what we know the travel ban is still in place, and people are barred from both entering and leaving.
While Alex and Taro were discussing what they knew of the political situation, I talked to Ayako a little and she finally opened up a little. She doesn’t speak English, and my Japanese is patchy, but she told me she used to work as a kindergarten teacher up in Koya. Mt Koya sits between Wakayama and Mie prefectures, and is the home of the Shingon Buddhist sect. She thinks that it would be better for us to go north to there, as the small town is at the top of a mountain and is made up of mostly temples, which might provide sanctuary. I told her that I’d stayed at a temple at Mt Koya once before and that it was one of the highlights of my time in Japan. She seemed happy to hear this, and that more than Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara or Hiroshima, I recommended it to everyone as the number one must-do place in Japan.
When she was young, she worked part time at a temple there and although it was a lot of work making the vegetarian meals for the guests and monks, she loved the lifestyle. Every morning she would wake up early, prepare breakfast with Koya’s famous sesame tofu and go to morning prayers. She left Koya after meeting Taro, but wished her daughter had been able to grow up with the same experiences she had had. Now though, she just hopes for Risa’s safety above all else, and resents what the world has thrown at her. She asked that I try speaking English with Risa, so that at the very least, one aspect of her education will continue. I told her I could do that, and we continued in silence. I’m writing this as we continue our walk through this beautiful, but seemingly endless forest.