Tenkawa-mura – the river under heaven – is a village deep in the mountains of Nara prefecture. It’s south of Yoshino, and also is a staging post on the arduous Mount Omine pilgrimage.
The village inludes Dorogawa Hot Spring, a classic Japanese hot spring village with a main street lined with hot spring ryokan. However, Tenkawa-mura is not just a hot spring village. It’s the start of the arduous mountain pilgrimage to Mount Omine.
From May to September each yeay, pilgrims gather here to pray, and fortify themselves before the trek through the mountains to the shrine on the top of Mount Omine.
Around 1,300 years ago, En-no-gyoja undertook religious training for 1,000 days at Mount Omine, and founded the Shugendo faith, a syncretism of Buddhism, Chinese Taoism, and the native Shinto religion.
Shugendo can be translated as “path of training to achieve spiritual powers” and emphasis is put on physical endurance as the path to enlightenment. The area’s rugged and isolated mountains were ideal place for the demanding pilgrimages and training.
Lay worshippers are to be found undertaking training such as standing under waterfalls, chanting.
This time of year the autumn colours arrive in Tenkawa-mura.
In the nearby Benzaiten shrine (the Japanese name for the Hindu goddess Saraswati, and is also a god in the Shinto faith), a ‘mochi-zukuri’ festival was held last week. To the sound of beating drums and rhythmic singing, sticky cooked rice was pounded until it became a thick paste.
Tenkawa-mura also has the spectacular Miterai Gorge, a favourite for fly-fishing but also for its thundering waterfalls.