Zoe Rees | Destination Expert
Legend has it that the gods of the three main Kumano shrines were ceremonially transferred from Kumano Hongu Taisha and manifested in the Tokei-jinja Shrine. This shrine is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a great place to start your pilgrimage. In the past, many imperial and aristocratic pilgrims would pray at Tokei-jinja for safe passage into the realm of Kumano. Purification and offerings are an important aspect of Japanese spirituality, so partaking in a purifying ceremony is a unique and special experience, one I was fortunate to have before undertaking my recent Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage.
The deep sound of a drum ringing out announces that my ceremony is about to begin. Wearing a robe in symbolic white colour, I kneel on the temple floor waiting to first receive a ritual harae (purification). My local guide explains that the priest will wave a large paper shaker over me in order to cleanse both body and mind and to ward off any bad luck and ill health for my pilgrimage ahead.
It is silent and peaceful in the temple. A gentle breeze blows and fans out the ribbons and flowing garments of the Miko (temple maiden) as she prepares to perform the sacred dance. In the background the priest begins to chant prayers, while the Miko glides across the wooden floor, rhythmically punctuating her graceful slow dance movements with the flick of the bells in her hands. This dance, combined with the prayers, are said to bring me good luck, happiness and protection along the Kumano Kodo.
Next I stand and follow the priest towards the inner sanctuary where I am presented with a tamagushi—a sacred branch used in many ceremonies around Japan, such as funerals and weddings. I am shown how to present and offer this, which is like doing a little methodical dance; flipping it over and around.
Feeling very humbled and zen-like, I exit to the final stage of the ceremony, drinking sake—taking three sips each from three cups poured by the Miko. The priest presents me with a blessed talisman to wear around my neck or tie to my backpack, which I did. Part of me now believes this played a part in my safe completion of my Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage.
This experience is included in the following Kumano Kodo package;
Dual Pilgrim Kumano Kodo in Spring
This experience can also be added to any of our Kumano Kodo packages that start in Kii-Tanabe.