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Kumano Kodo - Japan’s Camino

Kumano Kodo - Japan’s Camino

Delve into the natural beauty of the forests & rivers of the Kumano Kodo. The region is a hot spring paradise, with Grand Shrines, traditional inns & delicious cuisine. Hike to the Nachi Falls where the water is said to bring good health & long life.

Overview

Nakahechi - The Imperial Route to Kumano

The Nakahechi pilgrimage route starts from Tanabe on the western coast of the Kii Peninsula and traverses east into the mountains towards the Kumano grand shrines.

From the C10th, the Nakahechi route was used by the imperial family on pilgrimage from Kyoto. Much of this ancient landscape is unspoiled and the trail still has traditional lodgings in isolated villages along the way. The paths are well maintained and all the excellent signage is written in both English and Japanese.

On this ancient pilgrim trail, you delve into the natural beauty of the forests and rivers. You'll visit some of the most important sights for Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan. You hike to the Nachi Falls, Japan's tallest single-drop waterfall where the water is said to bring good health and long life.

The region is a hot spring paradise with hot spring bathing available either inside or close to many of our lodgings.

You will be staying in traditional Ryokan inns & Minshuku guest houses, where your hosts serve delicious local cuisine and prepare you a wonderful tradition bedroom with splendid futon style beds on tatami floor mats.

This 7 days / 6 nights pilgrim trail can be combined with a visit to the nearby Koyasan monastery complex, a sacred site where the first monk from China established Buddhism.

We can also arrange additional cultural experiences such as:-

Walk with a Yamabushi ascetic monk on a mountain trail

Washi Paper Making - make your own traditional Japanese paper to be used to produce your Kumano certificate at the Great Shrine of Hongu

Zazen Meditation

Forest Trail of the Kumano Kodo

Local Japanese Partners

We have developed our Japanese pilgrimage experience with a Kumano Kodo specialist organisation who host a Welcome Office near the start of the trail. They will be happy to answer any final questions or requests you may have before setting out. This Kumano Kodo team assists us in preparing your self-guiding information pack and obtaining your travel vouchers, which we send to you before you leave home.

As the Kumano region is so rich in spirituality and history, we prefer to work in partnership with local people who will ensure that your experience is enlightening and culturally immersive.

You will discover a more authentic Japan, far away from the crowds, steeped in nature and welcomed with generosity by the local people you meet along the way.

Itinerary

Kumano Kodo - Nakahechi, The Imperial Route

Day 1 - Transfer to Tanabe
Hike Takijiri to Takahara, 4.5 km / 2.8 miles

Travel by train from Osaka or Kyoto. Short transfer to the trailhead of Kumano Kodo at Takijiri and explore the town and it's Oji Shrines. Takijiri-oji is one of the many Oji Shrines and marks the entrance into Kumano lands. This is where your walk on the Nakahechi route of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage begins with a 3-hour hike to the hill village of Takahara.

Day 2 - Takahara to Chikatsuyu, 10 km / 6.5 miles

480m ascent and 520m descent today as you follow a mountain trail that winds its way through remote villages and mountainous countryside.

You pass several Oji shrines, with some traditional flagstone paths, making easier to negotiate steps on some of the hillsides. There's a steady descent to the village of Chikatsuyu which has riverside thermal baths to soak in.

Day 3 - Chikatsuku to Hongu Taisha Shrine, optional
walk distances up to 25 km / 14.9 miles

The full walk today from Chikatsuku is on a mix of paved trail and forested mountain trail, passing through isolated mountaintop villages with panoramic viewpoints along the way.

Hosshinmon-oji shrine marks the outermost entrance to Kumano Hongu Taisha's sacred precincts. The trail enters the forest at Mizunomi-oji, then you arrive at Fushiogami with its numerous tea plantations and terraced fields.

Following your visit to Hongu Shrine and visitors centre - you have just a short transfer to your lodgings in the famous hot spring town of Yunomine Onsen and a wonderfully restorative soak.
Alternative accommodation may also be provided at Kawayu Onsen, which has a crystal clear river flowing through it, fed by thermal waters. Kawa means River and Yu means Hot. You can easily shorten this day using the local bus service from your hotel, reducing the walk to 15 km / 9 miles or 7 km / 4 miles.

Day 4 - Yunomine Onsen Experience

Enjoy the second night in Yunomine Onsen, where there are various interesting options for a day of complete rest and relaxation or cultural activities.

Or choose one of the following activities -

Hike the Akagigoe Trail - 9 km / 5.5 miles plus 7 km / 4 miles. There are two new sections of the trail which can be combined if you wish a longer walk to finish in Hongu and catch the bus back. Hike the Dainichigoe Trail (3 km / 2 miles). This is the short trail direct to Hongu. Either walk there and back or catch the bus back. Combine both to make a full day circular walk of 19 km / 12.5 miles starting and finishing in Yunomine Onsen and with a visit to Hongu.

Boat trip along the Kumano River

Walk with a Yamaboshi ascetic priest

Traditional Washi papermaking workshop. Then walk to Hongu on the short trail and present your own washi paper for your personal Kumano Kodo parchment to be created.

Kawayu River provides wild bathing in thermal waters

Day 5 Koguchi to Nachi Grand Shrine, 15 km 9.3 miles

You begin with a short transfer to Koguchi. This is one of the more challenging sections of the Nakahechi trail, with 980 m of ascent, some of it on rock-hewn steps - the Ogumotorigoe Pass. On a clear day at the top, you can see the rugged Pacific coastline and in the distance the tuna fishing port of Katsuura, also famous for its hot springs.

The trail then descends to Nachi-san, through typical cedar and cypress forest. The Nachi waterfall is 133 meters high, the tallest in Japan, and can be seen from far out on the Pacific Ocean. It has been protected since ancient times and is used for ascetic training by mountain monks who practice Shugendo, a mixed religion of foreign and indigenous beliefs. At last, you arrive at Kumano Nachi Taisha, brightly coloured and one of the three grand shrines of Kumano.

Most people take the short transfer to Kii Katsuura for two nights.

Nachi Option

If the challenging walk from Koguchi to Nachi is not for you, there is another way. You can transfer from Koguchi to Kii Katsuura and walk to Nachi on a short trail of 2.5 km. Then explore Nachi's trails and temples, view the waterfall and climb the 1km paved staircase of Daimonzaka. This cobblestone staircase slope runs from the base of the valley to the Nachi Shrine, Seiganto-ji and Nachi waterfall. It is lined with centuries-old Japanese cedars, camphor trees and bamboo groves. The actual staircase is about 600 meters long with 267 stairs. At the end of the slope is the impressive Meitosugi - "husband and wife cedar trees", whose roots be beneath the path.

Close by is the Daimon-zaka Chaya where you can rent Heian period kimonos, great for some memorial photos. Near the top, you can catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring Nachi falls.

Day 6 - Hayatama Grand Shrine and Shingu

From Kii Katsuura travel by train to Shingu and visit the Kumano Hayatama Shrine - just a 15-minute walk from the railway station. Within the shrine precinct, there is a giant Nagi tree of 1000 years of age. Nagi dolls made with the seeds of this tree are meant to bring lucky encounters with the opposite sex and happy married life to couples. Further on the atmospheric Kamikura Shrine is worth a visit - a large rock worshipped as a god.

Back to Kii-Katsuura to spend a second night here on the coast and enjoy fresh tuna sashimi and a hot spring to celebrate the end of your journey.

Day 7 - Onward Travel

After breakfast why not attend the tuna auction in the early morning, before onward travel by train to Osaka or Kyoto.

Koyasan Option

You can add Koyasan before or after your Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.

Day 1 - Transfer and explore Mt Koya.

We will help you navigate to the Mt Koya monastery by bullet train, local train, and cable car. Enjoy a healthy vegetarian lunch after arrival at your simple lodgings.

Walk the first trail around Koyasan after lunch, to see the atmospheric Okunoin Cemetery.

If you prefer to go straight to Kuman Kodo, travel from Kyoto and Osaka to Tanabe and transfer to Takajiri.-

Day 2 - Koyasan Circuit

The day starts early with meditation and prays led by the monks, followed by a full day touring Koyasan and neighbouring temples. You can also visit the mausoleum of Kodo Daisha, the founder of Shinto Buddhism who also founded many of the temples along the Shikoku Pilgrimage trail.

Participate in Goma fire ceremony and burn away any worries. Write down your wishes and prayers on wooden sticks called Goma as the monk lights a fire, symbolizing the wisdom of Buddha.

Highlights

Yunomine Onsen

A nationally famous hot spring village with one of Japan's oldest hot springs - classified as World Heritage by UNESCO), was founded over 250 years ago by a Shinto priest to serve those travelling to the Kumano region. The 1,800-year-old Tsuboyu is considered by many to be Japan's oldest hot spring.

There are many opportunities to enjoy hot thermal springs. A wide array of in-house hot spring baths, including private 1-2 person baths, outdoor baths, and a hot spring powered steam room.

Kii-Katsuura

This coastal town located on the southern tip of the Kii peninsula, has some of Japan's freshest seafood (the nearby bay prides itself on having the most delicious tuna in Japan). It's easy to find fresh tuna sashimi for dinner. Soak up the sun from the in-house, open air, ocean view hot spring. Great views of the ocean & mountains.
Attend the early morning tuna auction at the port.

Spring and Fall

May and October / November are the best times to visit the Kumano Kodo when the climate is most suitable for walking. Summer is possible too but the weather tends to be fairly sticky and humid.

The second half of May, just after the sakura cherry blossom festival, is when the forests and countryside are at their best. Fresh new life bursts forth as new leaves emerge in a vivid array of brilliant, lush greens.

Autumn or Fall is made glorious with rich reds, golds and mauves of the Japanese maple trees. Mid October into November is the recommended travel period.

Koyasan

This is a globally famous Buddhist retreat village established in the year 819 by the
famous monk Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi), who brought Buddhism from China. To this day it remains a spiritual retreat and one of the holiest places in Japan.

Despite being a little bit off the beaten path (and missed by most visitors to Japan), Koya-san is fairly easy to access from Osaka and Kyoto, and is an essential destination for travelers interested in Buddhism, history, traditional culture and nature, and in line with tradition you can stay in an active monastery when on the group tour. In certain temples, you will find the monks are very friendly and invite guests to participate in daily activities such as meditation, the Goma fire ceremony and lantern-lit tours of Okunoin cemetery.

Food & Drink

Enjoy the delicious traditional cuisine of the Japanese countryside, both from the sea and from the mountains.

The rich Kuroshio ocean current sweeps across the southern tip of the Kii Peninsula bringing with it a plethora of fresh seafood.

The surrounding lush mountainside has a long culinary history of cooking with wild plants and livestock. Delicious local food, including Wagyu beef raised in the Kumano region and farm-fresh vegetables.

One of the great joys of travelling is to dine on local foods. But this can be an intimidating experience to decipher the menu.

We are working on a menu translation project to allow our clients to experience the joys of eating fresh, delicious, rural Japanese cuisine in a relaxed, authentic environment.

Accommodation

On The Pilgrim Trail

During the Pilgrimage, the first two nights stay are at a traditional Ryokan in the
Buddhist retreat of Koyasan.

On the Kumano Kodo you stay at comfortable Japanese Ryokan inns that have been serving aristocrats and pilgrims for hundreds of years, and sometimes in smaller traditional Minshuku guesthouses.

For your final night, you stay at a coastal Ryokan/hotel with fresh seafood and seaside hot springs.

Lodging is based on twin-occupancy (shared rooms with separate futons), with breakfast and dinner.

You can order picnic lunches or shop locally - we provide advice on this.

A Note about Sleeping on Futons

Accommodations are chosen for their service and authenticity in providing a true Japanese experience.

This means the beds usually available are Japanese-style futons on tatami mats.

Sleeping on a bed is sometimes possible subject to availability and a bed-supplement charge.

Getting There from Osaka or Kyoto

  • It is not difficult to travel to Koyasan. Bus and trains will get you there and very efficient and reliable. The Kyoto to Koyasan pass includes a cable car ride. It is not very convenient to travel from Koyasan to the trailhead, so we arrange for a taxi to transfer you to the trailhead, NB this taxi fare is not included and payable direct.
  • All transportation information and directions will be provided in your self-guided pack.
  • We make your Kumano Kodo arrangements, provide your self-guiding pack with maps and directions.
  • The Kumano Kodo is twinned with Camino de Santiago, so you will have a credencial aka pilgrim passport to be stamped along the way. With a certificate available on completion at Nachi.
  • Most visitors to Japan buy a JR Pass which is valid on all JR Train lines so that you can use it to visit other areas too.

Baggage Transfers

If you would like to have your overnight baggage transferred within the Kumano Kodo area, there is a baggage shuttle service incurring an additional charge. Please ask us for a quote.

As for baggage forwarding, we can help with transferring luggage from hotel to hotel between the big cities and over large distances, so you can just carry the essentials necessary for the hiking part of the trip.

Japanese Signage and Communitcation

There is a lot of information in English around the Kumano Kodo Minshuku and Ryokan lodgings to assist with the routine of the guest house.

We will also provide an information sheet to address common questions and issues.

The bus timetables are not too hard to navigate due to the signage, as we provide an information sheet.

You will encounter language barriers in places, so we provide a guide with information to help give as much background as possible.

If connecting deeply with Japanese culture and spiritual nature of these tours is of paramount importance, we would highly recommend a guided tour. Please ask us for details as we can provide this bespoke service.

Our local partners are available to offer support by mobile phone.

Customer Reviews

Listed below are some reviews from other customers who have already undertaken this tour with Walk the Camino.

  • Review by Al, USA
    The trip was super…really great for us…the scenery was some of the best we have ever seen. We never seen trees like that before. Some trees had the most unbelievable flowers on them - we were completely amazed, honestly not only have we never saw a tree like that but we didn’t even know they existed. The trains all run exactly on time. We did not miss any. On top of all that the accommodations well they were all wonderful experience because it brought us into a world we did not know existed…uniquely Japanese experience of hospitality, wonderful hot bath before dinner and the dinner - well its simply amazing. Everywhere you go friendly people. We cannot speak more than three words of Japanese and the woman running the place did not speak more than three words of English we felt a certain kinship and when she walked us to the door the morning we left there was a certain sadness we had to part with a friend.

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