In recent years, typhoons have caused extensive damage in this area. The Kodo is also affected and many detours are displayed. I don’t follow everyone.
Shrines with small figures or larger ones with the typical red gates line the path. Statues of small Buddhas are filled with coins and sometimes carry something like a red napkin. I don’t carry water with me, but it’s very popular to buy bottled cold green (roasted) tea for refreshment.
I am very proud to arrive at Kugochi Village at 2:30 p.m., which was still very fast considering the weather conditions, slippery ground and longer sake breaks and two hours ahead of the expected time. The bus to the village where I sleep usually leaves at 3:35 p.m.
The village is small and the only open place I find refuge is a small supermarket run by a tiny old lady who greets me with a warm smile.
She speeds up like a squirrel and, with words I can’t understand, leads me to a chair and gestures for me to rest, taking my hands. She disappears behind a curtain and reappears with a hot cup of tea and freshly fried sardines, which she offers me for free.
A nice Japanese couple from Tokyo arrive a little later and help me translate. The lady helps me find out which bus I have to take at what time. Unfortunately the next bus arrives two hours later because it is a public holiday. Instead of sitting in my hot onsen, I’m stuck because of the Japanese people’s only holiday – it’s a bit ironic. I am very grateful to the old lady and ask the couple to thank the lady from the bottom of my heart, whereupon the lady bows even more often than before.
The bus ride takes more than an hour and unfortunately I am not taken to the village of Yonomine, where I have to go, but to the larger village of Hongu, where I have to wait another hour for another bus. While I’m waiting, two American girls arrive at the bus stop and we can chat. A car stops, an old Japanese man gets out and joins us. He starts a conversation with us and doesn’t care that we don’t understand a single word. At least we understand when he asks where we come from.
Telling him the Japanese word for a German, which is “Deutz”, pleases him and he begins to list all the German cities and car brands that come to mind. He also talks about onsen and many other things. He stays with us until the bus arrives and takes us to the hostel in Yonomine around 7:00 p.m.
The place is hidden in a small valley. Hot springs beneath the surface warm the groundwater. A stream with hot water flows through the valley. Everything smells like sulfur.
I arrive at the hostel and unpack my things when the guy from the reception comes to me to tell me that there is a man waiting for me at the entrance. It’s the old man from the bus stop. I am very surprised. He talks to me in Japanese, again ignoring the fact that I don’t understand anything, but he pulls out a plastic bag and hands it to me. Inside is a net full of freshly boiled onsen eggs (i.e. eggs that have been cooked in a bubbling onsen).
I can’t stop thanking him and bowing, which makes him bow the whole time too. Even after he leaves, I still can’t understand how kind his gesture was, still staring at the door. He went to a store, bought eggs, went to an onsen, boiled the eggs, found the hostel where I was staying and brought them to me…Japanese are always good for surprises! Even the hostel owner can’t believe it.
All houses get their hot water from a boiling hot stream. Usually, onsen are a public place where Japanese people gather. In this village, every single house offers the luxury of its own onsen. My hostel actually has three and I jump into the onsen several times between dinners with lots of eggs.
People even wonder about my high demand, but this is my first time sitting in an onsen. The day was cold and long and my hiking pilgrimage has just begun.