It was dark when the train pulled in to Kii-Tanabe. Coming from the endless lights and glamour of Tokyo, Tanabe seemed to me a small town being swallowed by the night. Its streets were narrow and abandoned. Its shops were closing after the rain. We came here seeking the trailhead of the Kumano Kodo, a passage that has guided pilgrims through the densely wooded Kii mountains for a thousand years.
We were starving. Along one of the dark alleys we found an izakaya of sorts, ran by a sweet grandmother and her mother. It was warm inside. The lights glowed yellow, boiled treats soaked in a steaming pot, meat and noodles sizzled in a pan. Most of us could not speak their language, but a man with his daughter’s towel around his neck did not mind. They watched us eat with interest, and laughed at we know not what.
Back on the streets, a woman made ramen from the side of her truck, and sold it to the shadows.