The Kumano Kodo is an ancient pilgrimage trail which is today one of Japanís most treasured walking routes. Starting on the Kii Peninsula, on Japanís main island of Honshu, it dates back to the Heian Period (8th to 12th centuries) when the privileged elite, including emperors, sought out the mountains for spiritual escapes. Dominated by the Kii Mountain Range, the Trail takes on the deep valleys, small villages and hilly terrain south from the cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Nara and its ethereal nature still hasnít worn thin, even today.
The main focal points along the Kumano Kodo have always been three highly revered, and indeed grand, shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha, and Hayatama Taisha . All at elevated locations, because religious worship revolved around the sacred power of the mountains during this period, a doctrine known as sangaku shinko. Indeed, Emperor Gotoba (1180-1239) undertook thirty pilgrimages along the Trail. As well as these main shrines, the exquisite walking Trail has many temples and Oji-shrines tucked into its bamboo forests, mountain valleys and villages along the way.
This Kumono Kudo walking holiday starts in Kyoto, where we use Japanís superb train system to link up with the UNESCO World Heritage site and Nakahechi section of the Trail. Walking for four days, and staying at Japanese inns with hot spring baths along the way, we traverse the Kii Peninsula from west to east, finishing in Katsuura, a small fishing town where you have time to enjoy two nights at a locally owned hotel, with typically Japanese thermal baths. The trip ends with a train journey back to Kyoto.
Group meeting at city centre hotel in Kyoto, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
Spend the morning wandering around the sites of ancient Kyoto, before taking a train to Tanabe on the Kii Peninsula to start the trail. From here we take a bus to Takijiri, the gateway to Nakahechi section of the Kumano Kodo Trail. After a two hour trek, we arrive up at Takahara, a small mountain village, where our accommodation for the night is a wooden inn, a work of great craftsmanship overlooking the Kii Mountains. The hot spring baths here, made of cypress wood, or hinoki, are also a treat, topped only by the most delicious dinner, all organic and local.
Today we hike in an easterly direction as far as Chikatsuyu, passing small jizo bodhisattva spiritual icons that people place along the Trail to protect walkers. Your journey will also take you past ancient tea houses (cha-ya), beautiful places of rest for pilgrims along the Trail as recently as the last century. Your rest tonight, however, is at a welcoming, family run guesthouse, our host being the memorable Mr and Mrs Kinoshita, who prepare wonderful, traditional food, including their famous Ďtakikomi-gohaní, rice steamed with vegetables. Their hot spring baths are a big hit with guests too. .
After a short bus ride from Chikatsuyu, todayís trek takes us to Hongu, where one of the Grand Shrines awaits. The Kumano Kodo is famous not only for pilgrims but also for artists that have penned pictures and words along the way. This section is no exception, with stops by small shrines or oji, where artists have pondered life, and written down their thoughts in poetry for centuries. Fine examples of these are at Nonaka and Tsugizakura-oji. The big hike today is along a mountainous ridge through several remote villages to the Hongu Grand Shrine, and then onwards by bus for a quick ride to the ancient Yunomine Hot Spring. And, as is now the norm on our trip, our accommodation is an inn with its own thermal spring, outdoors, enabling you to enjoy the mountain air.
Today is spent on the water, taking a boat down on the Kumano River to the next of the grand shrines at Shingu. We spend one more night at the Yunomine ryokan to enjoy the hot springs and fabulous dinner.
Today we are heading towards the Pacific fishing town of Katsuura, taking in another couple of stunning sections of the Kumano Kodo before we see the sea. First of all we take a bus to Koguchi, and walk our final section of the trail, crossing the Ogumotorigoe Pass with a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean to Nachi Grand Shrine and its impressive waterfall. We make the final descent by bus to Katsuura where we stay in a modern Japanese hotel, although no less impressive than some of the traditional ones as it is built into the rock, overlooking the sea, with a hot spring bath built into a cave, no less.
Saunter by the sea, enjoying the coastal delights of Katsuura, or take on another section of the Kumano Kodo which offers wonderful views out onto the ocean.
Today we head to Kyoto by train, which follows Kii Peninsula all the way to the cultural hub and ancient capital. Farewell dinner with leader guide at one of our favourite Kyoto restaurants.
Breakfast and goodbyes as some guests head for the airport, and others continue on to other parts of the country. We are more than happy to help arrange an extension to your Kumano Kodo walking holiday.
Hello. If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.
Responsible tourism: Kumano Kodo walking holiday, Japan
1. Protection of Local environment / Transport Our tour is small-group, with a maximum of 12 participants. This means we can travel to and from the walking trail by public transport (train and bus) rather than using chartered, large vehicles. We contribute to the viability of these public transport links in the Kumano region, without which people who do not have their own vehicles would become increasingly isolated.
While walking on the Kumano Kodo trail, we ensure that we donít damage vegetation by using only established tracks. We leave what we find, so no taking of plants, rocks, archaeological artefacts, etc. We ensure that tour participants dispose of waste in a responsible way.
2. Suppliers We work with small local businesses rather than international chains. This ensures that our clients' money stays as far as possible in the local community. The owners of all the small inns on this tour are very proud of their locally-sourced produce used in their meals. The inn used on the first night on the trail operates on an organic basis and serves only organic products.
The village of Chikatsuyu, the second village on the trail, is like many small communites in the area and faces decline and depopulation; the small family-run inn we use there is bringing much-needed visitors and income to this rural location. We hope this approach encourages young people who would otherwise leave to find work in the cities to stay and start small-scale sustainable enterprises that cater to visitors.
1. Travelling with respect Our local guides spend a huge amount of time and effort explaining to our clients about local customs and etiquette, so that our clients can interract appropriately with the local community. Japanese culture can feel extremely unfamiliar and habits which we might be second-nature to us (such as blowing our nose) can seem rude to the Japanese. Our pre-departure literature alerts our clients to ways they can avoid giving unintended offence.
2. Local Crafts & Culture The tour introduces clients to the cultural heritage of the Kumano region, which has a history going back centuries, but has perhaps not been fully appreciated in recent decades. Our guides are local, knowledgeable individuals who can introduce our guests to the culture, history and traditions of the Kumano area and its unique brand of religion. Our group walks on the Nakahechi portion of the Kumano Kodo, and this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.