Kumano Kodo and Hillbilly Poetry

Long walks either fill me with hope or fill me with despair.  Yesterday, walking through the cedar forests of the Kumano, I stumbled into a spring of wonderful ideas, plans to improve absolutely everything about not just my life but everybody else’s too. Sadly, I had so many brilliant ideas I can’t remember a single one of them, just the trail itself, and a self-hacked hillbilly haiku poem.

The walk began promisingly with some genial guidance from a local farmer. The only odd thing was that he gave me detailed directions entirely in English. At the time I wasn’t even lost, but the fact that he spoke in English reminded me that perhaps I am marooned in a twilight zone as neither a holidaymaker nor resident.

The rugged terrain can’t sustain a permanent path. The soft thin layer of soil, loosed by frequent heavy rain, is vulnerable to catastrophic landslides. The path is well-maintained though, as befitting it’s World Heritage status. I repeat World Heritage  – so very bloody important.


The weather was Welsh-valley wet. Walking required constant care to avoid the lanky brown roots of the evergreen cedar and cypress trees* as well as the stubbly, sharp-edges of granite rock.

The walk wasn’t all cedar forest. I was grateful for any change. Natural features would snap me out of my reverie and back into the misty present: a lemon-coloured butterfly fluttering above the ferns, a fist-sized brown frog inches beneath my boot, the sleek green leaves of the sacred sakaki tree, the chirpy cheeping of the badger-bird, leeches hanging off the branches of a tree (local legend), the howling of wolves (technically extinct since 1905), and the snort of dragons (technically imaginary).

At the start of the walk, I visited an abandoned tea house. In the corner of the seating area was a wooden postbox for posting poetry. Now I spent 20 miles working on this one so please go gently on what is my first published poem. Right, here we go:

/The mist at Kobiro Pass : Once heard the howl of wolves  : Now just the tweeting of tits \

*The enormous cedar and cypress forests seemed somehow empty and haunted. These plantations, introduced to supply affordable timber, fill space once occupied by farming communities, and wolves amongst other creatures. Ironically, the forests themselves are now behind the times, abandoned as Japanese businesses raid the rest of the world for cheap wood. The turnaround, prompted by higher wages and the chance of cheap foreign imports, saw a drop from almost total self-sufficiency in wood in 1955 to just 20% in 2000.

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2 Responses to Kumano Kodo and Hillbilly Poetry

  1. TonyJ2 says:

    With some friends I had the opportunity to do just a few hours of the Kumsno Kodo outside Kawayu Onsen to Hongu. We had a local guide Kyoko who was fabulous in describing the cultural and historical context of just this short part.
    I hope to more in 2017. I look forward to more descriptions of your walk.

    • tomointokyo says:

      Sounds great. Kawayu Onsen, the bath in the river, I have only been there once, on a solo cycling trip many years ago. I still remember being confused about at what exact moment I should take my clothes off. A fantastic experience.

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