Some travels stay with us long after they’ve ended.
Maybe it’s a place we’ll never return to, an excursion that
changed our lives or simply somewhere we had a great vacation.

Luxury travel and lifestyle magazine, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asiais celebrating it’s 10th anniversary this month.  As part of honouring this important milestone, the magazine asked 10 regular contributors — from past and current editors to writers to photographers — to share their most memorable T+L SEA commissions of the past decade.

My choice was a simple one: trekking the ancient Kumano Kodo on Japan’s Kii Peninsula together with Editor-in-Chief, Chris Kucway.  The result of our nine days and 90km on this 900-year-old pilgrimage was the March 2017 cover feature, “Mystery Trail”.

T+L SEA published my remembrance of this spiritual adventure with Walk Japan, along with one of my favourite photographs from the experience, in a December 2017 feature, “A Decade Celebrated in 10 Favourite Assignments”.

Browse a larger collection of the photography I made on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.

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“Mystery Trail”
March 2017, Scott A. Woodward, Photographer

Over nine days last year, I trekked 90 kilometers of the Kumano Kodo, a 900-year-old pilgrimage on Japan’s Kii Peninsula. Quite simply, it was an unforgettable spiritual and photographic adventure.  A Japanese expression puts it, you die once but are regenerated on the Kumano Kodo. Perhaps, then, it was natural for me to spend the many hours of peaceful hiking through “stands of Japanese cedar and pine, carpets of red maple leaves [and] vivid mossy stepping stones” meditating about loss and grief.  I am not a religious person, but a beloved family member had recently passed away, and throughout my journey along the Kumano Kodo, I couldn’t help but think about her and consider the impact of both her life and her death upon me. Given the Shinto belief that one’s spiritua l energy, or kami, is released and recycled upon death — and that natural environments, like waterfalls and mountains, are places in which the kami reside — it seems inevitable that my thoughts would drift to deep reflection upon her life, our relationship and the close human connection we shared during her lifetime.  As mentioned in the story, “Japan’s Kumano Kodo pilgrimage is more than a trek through sacred mountains.  It’s a puzzle that leads you back to yourself with every carefully chosen step.”  Indeed, the Kumano Kodo presented me with a photographic riddle.  I over-shot on the first couple of days, driven by a mixture of excitement and a niggling anxiety that I might miss something significant.  I was overwhelmed by the natural splendor of the trail, shooting frame after frame. Invariably, as the trek wound on and the adventure unfolded, I relaxed and settled into a natural rhythm, focusing on making more thoughtful and creative imagery, capturing both the more intimate moments surrounding me as well as the bigger picture.

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