Characters in Kiitanabe and Shirahama

After deciding to head south and try to hike some of the Kumano Kodo, we arrived in Kiitanabe with little or no plan. Priorities: avoid other tourists, get some time away from it all in the hills, follow the coastline, meet interesting people who live here. So, where to start?

First, we opted to try the coastal route, less traveled and, well, because water. That route is less developed, which becomes immediately clear when one asks for any materials on the Ohechi route. Blank stares or “you want the Nakahechi route, right?” When we insisted that no, we wanted the Ohechi route along the coast, we were met at the info center with a disbelieving look and a “this is all we have:” and a Japanese route map. Ok, no problem. A few minutes of online research and we were choosing which sections we wanted to walk in our three day window. Exciting, but… doable? What about accommodations? Getting to trailhead? All the other million ways a hike can go sideways?

Enter Kumano Travel, a town-funded agency in Kiitanabe which caters to English speakers and helps them plan routes. Our savior today was Tomomi-san. She helped us decide routes, came up with creative and time-saving alternatives, and even called the poor ferry dude to ask if he’d waive the 3-day-ahead required reservation for us to cross the river tomorrow. Check, check, and check. She was delightful and overall superamazinglyhelpful.

One train ride later (accidentally took the expensive express train with a cheap local ticket, but fessed up on arrival and paid the difference), we found our guest house next to the station (and the tracks). Our host is a delightful woman with no shortage of opinions on things, who set us up in a second floor tatami room with an outside shower and bath (Lisa: “do you wonder where it drains?”) Huge garden spider on the deck freaked our host out and she hurried back in to detail the futons and tomorrow morning’s panda rice breakfast. (We didn’t order, but they’d already bought for the two kids breakfasts, so we accepted). Will be interesting to wake to.

Tonight we walked down the road to a funky little sushi shop– Yano Sushi– where we, the proprietors, and all the patrons laughed crazily through dinner. Pretty sure they were both laughing at and with us, but a lot was lost in translation. Still, the chef happily came out from behind his Tokyo Giants baseball-paraphernalia-laden back wall to take a picture with us. When I said this was all kuru-kuru-pa, he pretty well lost his shit laughing, and repeated that a few times with the necessary hand motions. (Hand spinning at temple followed by brain exploding gesture). And of course, after preparing our lovely sushi sampler, he lit up a smoke right there in his kitchen. The good nights and thank you were stuffed between howls of laughter from the whole bunch.

As we walked back, laughing to ourselves, Lisa said “it was kinda like the whole night they were saying, ‘what the hell are you two doing here?'” I agreed, and characterized the evening as ‘batshit crazy’. But we agreed that overall, it was nice and we actually felt welcome. So it begins…

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