A successful twinning between the Camino de Santiago and Kumano Kodo (Japan)

A successful twinning between the Camino de Santiago and Kumano Kodo (Japan)

It was in 2002 that Patrick Jager, having already walked numerous trails in Europe and the East (Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Syria, etc.), decided to launch on the paths of Saint-Jacques, linking Geneva to Compostela (1700 km). “After experiencing the enchanting landscapes of the Orient, this wandering was a return to my origins,” he explains. An illustrated book (1) and an exhibition were born from this trip.

The call of the Orient

But the call from the East remains the strongest. “Moreover,” remarks Patrick Jager, “any self-respecting traveling painter forges a privileged link with Japan, home of the famous Hokusai (2).” Twice, in September 2019 and in May 2023, the traveling painter discovered the paths of the Kii Mountains (3), the cultural cradle and spiritual heart of the Empire of the Rising Sun.

Having completed both the Kumano Kodo and the paths of Santiago de Compostela, Patrick Jager has thus become a dual pilgrim (a “double pilgrim”). “Double pilgrims receive a badge”dual pilgrim“(representing the symbols of the two paths: the scallop shell and the three-legged raven) and are mentioned on the web page spiritual-pilgrimages.com”, explains the website dedicated to this program.

Essential differences…

During his two trips to Japan, Patrick Jager traveled the paths of Kumano Kodo in all directions. “Unlike the routes to Santiago de Compostela,” he explains, “the pilgrim is not heading here towards a single sanctuary. His goal is to visit the three main temples of the peninsula: Hongu, Nachi and Hayatama.” Seven main paths (which are between 70 and 300 km) lead there (see map below).

Continuing his comparison between the two pilgrimage routes, the painter also notes that the Kumano Kodo paths are less frequented, more difficult to travel (mountainous relief, humid heat), and that they are not victims of the commercial abuses that can be experienced the road to Compostela.

And for good reason: “The pilgrim evolves here in a nature recognized as sacred, explains Patrick Jager. Shintoism, which predominates in these mountains, is an animist religion, which venerates the forces of nature. For the inhabitants of these regions, rocks , rivers, trees or waterfalls are inhabited by kamis (spirits or deities). This is why they are often surrounded by a rope made of rice straw, and pilgrims must prostrate themselves before them while ringing a bell.”

…but also similarities!

Despite these differences, the Kumano Kodo and Compostela paths have many similarities. First of all, the Japanese pilgrimage has, like that of Compostela, a symbol: the Yatagarasu, a legendary crow with three legs (one for Heaven, another for Earth and the third for men). The Kumano Kodo pilgrims also have particular attributes: a white jacket, a conical hat, a bumblebee. They also acquire a specific notebook where they have proof of their passage: all along the route, in front of certain elements of nature (tree, river, etc.), a box contains a stamp and ink that each pilgrim can use ; and in large temples, a monk calligraphs the name of the sanctuary.

“Due to this cultural richness and the antiquity of this pilgrimage, which dates back more than 1,200 years,” explains Sébastien Pénari, of the Santiago de Compostela Road Agency, “the Kumano Kodo paths were included in 2004 on the list of World Heritage by UNESCO under the title “Sacred sites and pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountains”.”

Share and transmit

During his first pilgrimage to Japan, in 2019, Patrick Jager was invited by the director of the Kumano Kodo spiritual center, the Hongu Heritage Center, to create an exhibition that would mirror the heritage of these two paths. “As there already existed an exhibition of this painter on the paths of Compostelle, explains Aline Azalbert, of the Agence des chemins de Compostelle (https://www.chemins-compostelle.com), the idea was to create one a short story combining the two pilgrimages and to offer it for rental to make these Japanese paths known in France.”

Thirty digigraphies (digital prints of watercolors) were therefore produced, in partnership with Atout France Japon and with the support of the Occitanie Region. This exhibition, entitled “Crossed perspectives on the path to Compostela and the Kumano Kodo”, is accompanied by a catalog reproducing all of the paintings. “The opening, for which I went on September 4 to the French Institute in Tokyo,” says Sébastien Pénari, “was an opportunity to create new bridges between these two paths, and to strengthen cultural exchanges between France and Japan. To continue this approach of exchange and openness, this exhibition is now available for rental.” A great example of cooperation between East and West!

(1) Notebooks of a painter on the Camino de SantiagoGlénat, 2003, 144 p., 30.50 euros.
(2) Japanese painter, draftsman and engraver from the 18th century.
(3) The pKii Peninsula is located on Japan’s main island, Honshū, below Osaka.

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