The Kumano Kodo walk across the Kii Peninsula on the 1200-year-old UNESCO world heritage listed trail to end at Nachi-san, via the sacred Kumano mountains is one of only two world heritage listed walks the other being the Camino de Santiago.

The Kumano area, located at the southern end of the Kii Peninsula just 110 kilometres south-east of Osaka (not much further from Kyoto) is very easy to access. Walking the Kumano Kodo is like taking a step back in time into a period of Japanese cultural history to when pilgrimaging was seen to be the highest goal, for emperors, aristocrats and monks alike

5 day Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Highlights

Self-guided

Discover the must-do walks of the Kumano Kodo, one of only two world heritage listed walks. Stay in traditional Japanese accommodations, enjoy traditional multi-course meals.

Self-guided 5 Days From $1645 Moderate to Challenging What's Included

5 day Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Highlights

BACK
What's Included
  • Walk our favourite walks on the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi over 4 days via the magnificent shrines of Hongu and the much celebrated Nachi waterfall and shrine complex
  • Stay 4 nights in an intimate family run or smallish traditional Japanese lodgings with in-house onsens
  • Walk pack free with luggage transfers from accommodation to accommodation
  • Superb traditional multi-course meals for breakfast and dinner each day on the walk. Plus 3 walkers lunches
  • Itineraries can be flexible to shorten the walking or slow the trip down by adding rest days
  • Enjoy worry-free navigation with Auswalk’s comprehensive track notes and  maps
  • 24/7 support from our representatives on the ground

6 or 7 day Kumano Kodo Nakahechi

Self-guided

Walk the world heritage listed Kumano Kodo in 4 longer days with or without a rest day. At night soak in onsens, stay in Japanese accommodation, savour traditional Japanese meals.

Self-guided 6 or 7 Days From $1855 Moderate to Challenging What's Included

6 or 7 day Kumano Kodo Nakahechi

BACK
What's Included
  • Walk the entire Kumano Kodo Nakahechi from end to end via magnificent shrines ending at the glorious Nachi waterfall and temple complex
  • Walk pack free with luggage transfers from accommodation to accommodation
  • 5 or 6 nights stay in an intimate family run or smallish traditional Japanese lodgings with in-house onsens
  • Superb traditional multi-course meals for breakfast and dinner each day on the walk. Plus 4 walkers lunches
  • Itineraries can be flexible to shorten the walking or slow the trip down by adding more rest days
  • Enjoy worry-free navigation with Auswalk’s authored comprehensive track notes and  maps
  • 24/7 support from our representatives on the ground

8 Day Kumano Kodo Nakahechi

Self-guided

Walk this ancient trail from end to end at a slower pace. Enjoy wondrous views, old forest and bathe in onsens staying in traditional Japanese Ryokans or Minshuku’s.

Self-guided 8 Days From $2395 Moderate to Challenging What's Included

8 Day Kumano Kodo Nakahechi

BACK
What's Included
  • Walk the entire Kumano Kodo Nakahechi from end to end via magnificent shrines ending at the glorious Nachi waterfall and temple complex
  • Walk pack free with luggage transfers from accommodation to accommodation
  • 7 night’s stay in intimate family run or smallish traditional Japanese lodgings with in-house onsens
  • Superb traditional multi-course meals for breakfast and dinner each day on the walk. Plus 4 walkers lunches
  • Itineraries can be flexible to shorten the walking or slow the trip down by adding more rest days
  • Enjoy worry-free navigation with Auswalk’s comprehensive track notes and  maps
  • 24/7 support from our representatives on the ground

9 day Kumano Kodo Nakahechi (& Kohechi)

Self-guided

Walk the Kumano’s sacred mountains and an extra walk on the Kohechi track with stunning views over the Kumano-gawa river. End in beautiful Nachisan.

Self-guided 9 Days From $2545 Moderate to Challenging What's Included

9 day Kumano Kodo Nakahechi (& Kohechi)

BACK
What's Included
  • Walk the entire Kumano Kodo Nakahechi from end to end via magnificent shrines ending at the glorious Nachi waterfall and temple complex plus a day of the Kohechi
  • 8 nights stay in an intimate family run or smallish traditional Japanese lodgings with in-house onsens
  • Walk pack free with luggage transfers from accommodation to accommodation
  • Superb traditional multi-course meals for breakfast and dinner each day on the walk. Plus 6 walkers lunches
  • Itineraries can be flexible to shorten the walking or slow the trip down by adding more rest days
  • Enjoy worry-free navigation with Auswalk’s comprehensive track notes and  maps
  • 24/7 support from our representatives on the ground

10 day Kumano Kodo Nakahechi with Koyasan

Self-guided

Walk the Chioshi Michi in world heritage listed Koyasan (spiritual capital of Shingon Buddhism). Hike the Kodo Nakahechi from beginning to end via temples, waterfalls and forest.

Self-guided 10 Days From $2855 Moderate to Challenging What's Included

10 day Kumano Kodo Nakahechi with Koyasan

BACK
What's Included
  • Walk the entire Kumano Kodo Nakahechi from end to end over via magnificent shrines ending at the glorious Nachi waterfall and temple complex plus substantial pilgrimage walks to Koyasan.
  • Walk pack free with luggage transfers from accommodation to accommodation
  • 7 nights stay in an intimate family run or smallish traditional Japanese lodgings with in-house onsens and 2 nights in a Buddhist temple in Koyasan.
  • Superb traditional multi-course meals for breakfast and dinner each day on the walk. Plus 4 walkers lunches.
  • Itineraries can be flexible to shorten the walking or slow the trip down by adding more rest days.
  • Enjoy worry-free navigation with Auswalk’s comprehensive track notes and maps.
  • 24/7 support from our representatives on the ground.

OVERVIEW

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE KUMANO KODO PILGRIMAGE:

  • This self-guided trip is designed to allow you the opportunity to choose when and who you want to walk with and at your own pace.
  • Walk the full Kumano Kodo Nakahechi trail as it cuts its way through mountains, forest, small villages and to stunning Japanese temples brought to life by the Japanese monks that live there.
  • There’s the opportunity to add the Kohechi route and a couple of days walking at the spiritual capital of Shingon Buddhism in Koyasan. The stunning town of Koyasan at the top of Mount Koya known for its’ temples and its’ natural beauty is world heritage listed. The Kumano Kodo Kohechi route links Koyasan with Hongu Taisha.
  • What makes this walk even more special is the immersive traditional Japanese experience. In the evenings soak in your Ryokan or Minshuku’s onsen, dine traditionally and savour Japanese multi-course dinners and breakfasts. There’s also an opportunity to bath in a 1200-year-old onsen.
  • Witness outstanding natural beauty as you walk, see the Grand Shrines at Hongu and Nachi-san, along with Nachi-taki waterfall, the tallest in Japan.
  • Walk toward becoming a dual pilgrim by walking the Kumano Kodo (the other world heritage listed walk is the (Camino de Santiago) at your own pace with the comforting knowledge that you have local support on the ground.
  • Importantly, we can vary the length of walks on the Kumano Kodo most days. We can also customise itineraries to suit your needs.

 

history

The Kumano Kodo Story

Natural Origins
The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage exists, simply, because the Kumano mountains are blessed with incredible natural beauty, and the forests, waterfalls and hot springs have been drawing people to the area for thousands of years.

The Japanese propensity to appreciate and worship nature even developed into a religion – Shinto – which remains one of the strongest faiths in Japan to this day.

Shinto doesn’t have a founder or a particular scripture to follow, and the Shinto gods, or ‘kami’ take the form of natural elements such as wind, rain, mountains, trees and rivers.

Over time the three grand Shrines of the Kumano were built to represent these natural spirits, and now they form the centre piece of the Pilgrimage.

The World of Darkness
The Kumano region actually used to be called Yomi-no-kuni, which also comes from Shinto, and translates to the Land of the Dead or The World of Darkness.

Yomi-no-kuni isn’t a fire and brimstone kind of place though, it’s simply an underworld where you go when you die, regardless of how you behaved when you were alive. In other words, it’s a Japanese form of heaven.

Buddhism Arrives
In the 6th Century Buddhism arrived in Kumano, and the area became a center of ascetic practices. Eventually the Shinto spirits were believed to be emanations of Buddha, and the three shrines began to be worshipped as one – called the Kumano Sanzo.

This peaceful blending of religions is alive and well today. People happily worship separate deities, or the same ones for different reasons, throughout the region.

Official Kumano pilgrim etiquette even states that you should respect the faith of past and present worshippers, and that you greet others with a smile and a warm heart.

Royalty & Aristocrats
Two centuries later, the next swathe of pilgrims began visiting the region in search of salvation and enlightenment.

The imperial and aristocratic families of the Heian period turned their pilgrim into a reasonably arduous affair, however, crammed with strict spiritual training to purify the mind, body and soul.

Whether they achieved it or not, who knows, but at least they were doing it somewhere beautiful. More and more shrines were built, and accommodation to support the pilgrims began to appear throughout the region.

Between the 11th and 13th Centuries the Japanese Imperial family visited Kumano almost 100 times, however the rise of the Samurai and the warrior class were about to put a stop to that.

The Samurai
Towards the end of the 12th Century, control over the Kumano area was assumed over by a feudal government run by military families. This eventually put an end to the Imperial pilgrimages, but the aristocrats and now an increasing amount of Samurai, began beating a path to the Kumano Sanzo.

Kumano democratised
By the 15th Century an emerging economy allowed wealthy citizens to become pilgrims, and by the 18th Century even more could afford the trip.

Numbers declined in the late 19th Century, when Japan was forced to open to the outside world and the government clamped down on religious freedoms to a certain extent, however in 1990s saw a resurgence in Kumano Kodo visitors.

In 2004 Kumano was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the natural beauty of the area is being discovered once again by Japanese, and overseas pilgrims alike.

Local Cuisine

Coming from the west, Japanese dining is almost as magnificent an adventure as climbing Mount Fuji. And when you’re walking the Kumano Kodo, your hosts in the various Ryokan you stay in, will present you with a wonderful array of tiny dishes for breakfast and dinner.

 

Seafood

Sushi and sashimi, of course, are staples in Japan, and when you’re on the coast – in Tanabe – the variety of dishes available is incredible.

The Kuroshio current flows across the Kii Peninsula, acting like the Gulf Stream bringing warm waters to sustain the coral reefs, and a wide variety of seafood endemic to the region.

Scabberfish sashimi is a meaty delicacy that washes down well with a beer, sake, or a healthy green tea. Grilled squid, prawn dim sum, mackerel nigiri rolls, octopus tempura, yellow tail, tuna, scallops – the list goes on.

Mountain Food

As you move further into the mountains, local plants and animals make their way onto the menu. Mushrooms in particular have a special place in Japanese cooking, and many come with amazing health benefits too.

Shiitake, eryngii, enoki, maitake, matsutakje – again the list goes on, as do the dishes they’re in. Shiitake mushrooms are probably the most well known, and with a meaty, smoky flavour you’ll often find them in soups and stir fries. They’re also anti-viral, stimulate immunity, lower your cholesterol and help promote cancer resistance. So when you’re served a plate of them – eat up!

You might find aubergine presented in a tasty broth with umami miso sauce, delicately sliced beef with a sesame dressing, Japanese curry with croutons, and if you’re lucky, and brave enough – you might have the chance to eat Hachinoko or ‘bee children’.

Served with a siding of rice, Hachinoko is the cooked larvae of the Japanese Giant Hornet, and is said to have a rich earthy taste.

A culinary adventure indeed.

Kaiseki ryori haute-cuisine

Although your meals in a Ryokan will be wide, varied and most often – delicious, they’ll also follow a well established routine.

Kaiseki ryori is traditional Japanese haute cuisine, and although chefs can vary the courses to highlight regional specialities, they’ll generally appear in the following order, with the mains representing a particular cooking method.

Typical Starters

Shokuzen-shu

Your meal begins with a sweet wine, or a locally brewed alcohol of some kind.

Appetizers

A variety of careful prepared, and beautifully presented appetisers will begin to give you a taste of the region.

Common Main Courses

Suimono – Soup

Your soup dish is often a clear miso broth with simple vegetables, mushrooms, tofu or seafood.

Otsukur – Sashimi

The Japanese staple of fresh, thinly sliced raw seafood. Generally delivered
with soy sauce and wasabi, and served on a bed of daikon – Japanese radish.

Nimono – Boiled Dish
Seafood or meat is either simmered, boiled or stewed along with
some vegetables in a sweetened broth of soy sauce and cooking sake.

Yakimono – Grilled Dish
The local speciality will generally be grilled and served for this dish.
Be it seafood of some kind, Wagyu, or Kobe beef for example.
Agemono – Deep Fried Dish

Your Agemono is often tempura, once again consisting of locally
grown or foraged produce, served with a light soy dipping sauce.

Mushimono – Steamed Dish

This dish may come in a little teacup, with a little lid, and a little spoon to eat it with. If it’s Chawanmushi, however, it certainly doesn’t come with a little flavour – the savoury custard with seafood, fish stock, chicken, mushrooms and ginko nuts is packed with flavour, and utterly wonderful.

Sunomono – Vinegared Dish

This is often fish, or octopus swimming in a vinaigrette dressing with a sprinkling of vegetables, although it could be anything really, so long as it tastes good in vinegar.

Shokuji

After your main, there’s another set of course before your dessert. You hungry yet? Full up already?

Rice

It’s incredible how even a plain bowl of rice in Japan can be as appetising as is.

Some chefs experiment and add some local flavour, others keep it old school, fluffy, and unbelievably good.

Miso Soup

Another Japanese staple that tastes so much better in Japan, than it does anywhere else. Miso paste and vegetables in a clear, tasty broth. Yum yum.

Tsukemono – Pickles

Rounding off this course is an array of pickled vegetables such as cabbage, plum and daikon.

ACCOMMODATION

A variety of accommodation styles started springing up back in the 11th Century, when the Imperial Family and Aristocrats began their pilgrimages in greater numbers.

Today you can stay in a modern hotel with all the conveniences you’d find in London, Sydney or Singapore, however the more authentic experiences are much more rewarding.

 

Ryokan

These traditional Japanese Inns come in a variety of styles, and prices to suit all budgets.

They’re probably the most well known places to stay on the Kumano Kodo, and certainly offer the most immersive experience – with almost all of them centered around a communal bath, or a hot spring.

Rooms have traditional tatami mats, shoji sliding doors and futons, although some higher end Ryokans will have beds.

One of the highlights, however, are the dinners and breakfasts that come as part of the deal. Kaiseki ryori is traditional Japanese multi-course haute cuisine, which you’ll enjoy served in a communal dining area, before retiring to the bathing area to relax.

Shukobo

Shuboku are Buddhist temples that open their doors to paying guests. Your room may be similar to that in a Ryokan, with futons and shohi sliding doors, however you’ll gain access to the temple’s cultural treasures too.

Enjoy the gardens and the baths, and join in the morning prayers if you like.

Dinners and breakfast will also be served, and they’ll generally be in the Buddhist Shojinryori, vegetarian cuisine.

If it’s your first time in Japan, a night in a Shukubo is not to be missed.

Kokumishukusha

Some of these ‘people’s lodges’ are privately run, and some are government-owned. Once again they lean toward the traditional in their style, and delicious food will generally be on offer.

Homestay

Another rather unique place to stay while walking the Kumano, is in someone else’s house! Kind of like a bed & breakfast, however your hosts will be a lot more welcoming, happy to involve you in their everyday lives around the village and in the community. You’ll eat together, and learn how families live in the Kii Mountains.

Campgrounds & Bungalows

More popular in the summer, of course, the wide variety of campgrounds on offer allow you to remain in touch with nature even when your day’s walking has finished. Many offer bungalows within the grounds too.

Transport

You’re best to fly into Osaka if you’re Kumano bound. It’s the closest big city, with regular flights from all over the world, and direct flights from most of Australia’s population centres.

Getting to Tanabe from Osaka

From Osaka you need to make your way down to the bottom of the Kii Peninsula, and because it’s such a mountainous region, most of the transport routes hug the coastline all the way down.

Bus
The Meiko bus leaves every four hours, costs about $38 AUD and takes just over three hours to get to Tanabe.

Train
The train takes about the same time, with an hour layover on the way, and costs roughly $60 AUD. Or you can take the express, which is only 2  hours and about the same price.

The ‘Kinokuni Line’ hugs the coast between the Pacific and the mountains, and a seat of the right side of the train is best for views of the ocean. Enjoy.

Drive
Driving takes only an hour and a half, however the rugged coastline is dotted with quaint little villages, and you might want to stop along the way. Small cars can be rented for about $65 AUD a day.

Getting to Tanabe from Tokyo

If you fly into Tokyo it takes about five hours on the train to get to Tanabe, however you can fly into the regional Nanki-Shirahama Airport in just over an hour. From there you can take a local bus to Tanabe, or anywhere else in the region to begin your walk.

Getting around the region

The villages and towns are serviced by public buses, and although they’re limited, it’s easy enough to make your way around with a bit of planning. In the larger towns rental bicycles are a nice way to move between the sights, as the distances are pretty short.

How to ride a local bus


Easy when you know how…

  1. Enter through the rear door and take a ticket.
    2. Push the button when you want to get off.
    3. Match ticket number to the electronic fare chart at the front.
    4. Put the exact money on the fare box at the front.
    5. Exit through the front door.

Transport Passes

JR-West, Kansai WIDE Area Pass
The Kansai WIDE Area Pass allows to travel on the “Sanyo Shinkansen” bullet train, and the express and local trains on the JR West railway network.
It costs roughly $92 AUD and lasts for four days.

Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass

This pass gives you access to a larger are and a wider variety of options.
It costs $145 AUD and last for five days, however it’s not available for purchase in Japan, so you’ll have be organised before you go.

Climate & Weather

From the end of March, the temperature begins to increase. In summer it’s quite warm and humid but still good for walking,  particularly if you enjoy warmer temperatures and taking a dip in a stream.

The walk is offered in winter but bring some warm clothes and good rain gear.  The area is just as beautiful if not more and is not busy at all. Soaking in outside onsen in the cool of the night is one of those real authentic Japanese experiences that you can look forward to after a big day on the track.

As walkers, we believe spring and autumn to be the best time as the weather is perfect for walking. You might also catch the cherry blossoms in late March and early April and the changing colours of Autumn in October and November.

See the weather information about Osaka’s average weather at different times of the year.

Terrain

The Kumano Kodo trails crawl their way over the Kii mountains,
which cover the majority of Japan’s southerly Kii Peninsula.

Rising dramatically from the coast, the mountains stretch almost 4,000 feet into the sky and they’re almost entirely covered in trees, including old growth forests with some cedars that are over 500 years old.

As the temperature varies significantly across the range, the species also range from evergreen, coniferous, broadleaf, cedar and cherry.

It’s also a rather wet region, so torrents of water have carved out enormous gorges and river basins. Waterfalls plunge down the side of green-carpeted mountains, and little streams abound.

The mountains also form the outer arc of the Southwestern Japan Arc, part
of the Pacific Ring of Fire, meaning hot springs are to be found throughout.

The entire area has incredible biodiversity, and because people have been drawn to the mountains for thousands of years, there are hundreds of archeologically significant sites too.

Mountains cover much of Japan, as do forests, and fortunately both have taken on a spiritual nature and central place in the culture – so the area is likely to be protected well into the future.

“Mountains continue to inspire a sense of the sacred that unites the Japanese people in a love for the land on which they live and for everything connected with it — from the unearthly heights of heavenly peaks down to the mundane realities of everyday life.”

From ‘Sacred Mountains of the World’
by Edwin Bernbaum, Senior Fellow at The Mountain Institute

UNESCO Dual Pilgrimage

UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. It was formed in 1945 after the end of the Second World War, and its aim is to build peace in the minds of men and women, preventing war from taking root instead.

One of the ways it does this, is by identifying areas of significance to all humanity, shining a light on and thereby educating people to our shared history.

There are four natural and six cultural criteria that guide selection for the honour of World Heritage Site, ranging from ‘a masterpiece of human creative genius’ to ‘outstanding natural habitat’ and there are only two ‘Pilgrimage Walks’ that make the grade.

The Kumano Kodo and the Camino de Santiago. In 2015 the Dual Pilgrim program began, and now if you complete both walks, you’re welcomed into a rather exclusive club of ‘Dual Pilgrims.’

What you have to do

Caminio de Santiago
Complete one of the Way of St. James routes, walking the final 100km on foot or by horse, or the last 200km by bicycle.

Kumano Kodo
No bikes or horses allowed on the Kumano, so you have to walk any of the following routes:

– Takijiri-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha – 38 km
– Kumano Nachi Taisha to/from Kumano Hongu Taisha – 30 km
– Hosshinmon-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha – 7 km – plus a visit to Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha
– Koyasan to Kumano Hongu Taisha – 70 km

How to prove it

Before you start your walk, simply register at the Kumano Hongu Heritage Center, or the Tanabe Tourist Information Center.

You’ll be given a Passport for you to stamp in little wooden stands at most of the temples. If you can’t find it just ask and you’ll be pointed in the right direction.

One side of the passport is for Kumano, the other for the Way of St. James.

What happens at the end

Once you’ve completed both pilgrimages you’ll be given a certificate, a badge, and if you like you’ll be listed in the Dual Pilgrim website.

If you do the Camino first, and complete your dual pilgrimage at the Kumano Kodo there’s a special Taiko Ceremony at the Kumano Hongu Taisha.
You’ll be invited to express your spiritual journey, thoughts and emotions in the physical realm by banging on the sacred Taiko drum. Please note – you’ll need to register for the ceremony at the office of the Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine.
You’ll also receive a certificate from the Head Priest, made from local Washi Japanese handmade paper, and featuring the character for “Way” in the background. A unique memento of your achievement.

If you want to find out a bit more about the Dual Pilgrimage you can read our blog about it here.

Practicalities

If you’ve never been to Japan before, you’ll find almost everything is totally different from what you’re used to. Which, of course, is part of the fun. Here’s few practicalities to help you get started.

Manners & Customs

Life in Japan is governed by large array of manners and customs that may seem odd to outsiders, yet it’s worthwhile trying to learn a few. Not only will it prevent you from being rude, the locals will appreciate your efforts.

Take off your shoes
Many places require you to take off your shoes before entering.
If the floor is raised, and you see a pile of shoes, please do the same.

Pointing is not on

Extremely rude, and you should try to use open-handed gestures instead.

Don’t eat and walk

Sit down instead, or you’re considered a sloppy eater.

Don’t blow your nose

At least not in public anyway. Many will go to the toilet to do this.

Slurping is good!
Slurping noodles shows that you’re enjoying your meal!

Don’t tip

It’s not expected, and can even be considered rude.

Don’t play with your chopsticks

Just eat with them, that’s all.

Take your backpack off

When you’re on a train.

Language

A few words of Japanese can go a long way:

Hello: Kon’nichiwa

Thank you: Arigato

Thank you very much: Domo Arigato

Cheers!: Kanpai

Bathroom: Basurumu

How much?: Ikura

Delicious: Oishi

Money

There are no ATM machines on the Kumano Kodo trails, and credit cards can’t be counted on (?) so make sure you take plenty of cash with you.

Bathing

Be aware that in most hot springs and communal baths you’re expected to be naked. The etiquette is to take your clothes off in a changing room, rinse off first of all, then soak in the bath and enjoy. 

Yukata

Staying in a Ryokan, you may end up wearing a Yukata, traditional cotton gowns that are also used as pyjamas. Make sure you wear something underneath, fold the left side over the right, secure your belt and you’re good to go. A loose Yakuta is also considered a little rude.

Plugs

You’ll need to take an adaptor plug for your devices. The voltage is 100 Volt, and although the plugs have two pins, identical to this used in North America.

Kumano Kodo Onsens

An Onsen is a naturally occurring hot spring, and since the Kii Mountains lie just south of the Japan Median Tectonic Line, and right on top of the Pacific Ring of Fire, there are quite a lot of them bubbling up through the rock.

They dredge up a diverse array of minerals from beneath the earth’s mantle, and are known to have significant healing properties for anyone who bathes in their waters. They’re highly popular in Japan, and a range of resort-style facilities have sprung up around most of them to cater to the visitors.

Yunomine Onsen

During a walk on the Kumano Kodo you’ll probably spend some time in what’s thought to be Japan’s oldest onsen – the Yunomine Onsen. Discovered roughly 1,800 years ago, Yunomine is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right.

Resting in a onsen after a long days’ walk is a particular delight of the Kumano Kodo, and in Yunomine you can even combine it with a tasty snack.

Next to the river there’s an open section of the hot spring that gets up to 90 degrees Centigrade, and if you buy a few eggs and vegetables you can have them lowered down in a net to cook.

Fast food, old school Japanese style.

Kawayu Onsen

Another Onsen worth mentioning sits on the Oto river, which is a tributary of the Kumano-gawa. One side of the river is a variety of ryokans, minshuks and hotels, while the other side is a scenic forested mountainside.

The hot spring here is 73 degrees, but the river brings it down to a beautiful
40 and the best way to enjoy it is to dig your own little bath out of the pebbles, settle in, and relax.

locations

Tanabe

On the West coast of the Kii Peninsula, crowded in by towering mountains and resting on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, sits the second largest town in the area – Tanabe.

It’s also known as the ‘Gateway to the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage’, and from here the main Nakahechi route strikes up into the mountains towards the Kumano Hungu Taisha, one of the three sacred shrines of Kumano.

You’ll probably spend a night or two at the beginning or the end of your walk.

Make sure you dine out in the entertainment district – the Ajijoji – and take your choice of over 200 restaurants.

The seafood here is pretty special as the surrounding waters are abundant with life – with fishing as the main industry. Tiny ‘Shirasu’ can be found on most menus, along with squid, octopus and the odd Scabberfish – a lot more appealing than it sounds.

Hongu

Although it was merged into Tanabe in 2005, the tiny village of Hongu still has its own distinct personality – dominated by the Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine.

Perched on a ridge surrounded by giant cypress and cedar trees, this is one of the one of the three sacred Kumano Sanzan shrines that pilgrims have been visiting for generations.

There’s also an impressive Kumano Hongu Heritage Center, which is well worth a visit, and the Yumonime Onsen isn’t too far away either. A dip in what’s though to be the oldest Onsen in Japan can’t be missed.

Nachi-Katsuura

This coastal hot spring resort is the site of another of the shrines – the Kumano Nachi Taisha. Definitely the most visually impressive of the three, one could easily argue it’s the most impressive in the entire country.

Sitting on the edge of a valley, 350 metres above sea level, halfway up Nachi Mountain with Japan’s highest waterfall cascading down the emerald forest canopy in the distance, you’d be hard pushed to find a more picturesque temple, anywhere.

The waterfall – Nachi-no-Otaki – is 133 meters high and 13 meters wide, and can even be seen from far out at sea.

Whenever you find any images of the Kumano Kodo you’ll see pictures of the Nachi Taisha shrine, and also the Daimon-zaka staircase, which can also be found here. In fact it’s this impressive cobblestone staircase that takes you from the bottom of the valley, to the shrine above.

It’s easy to imagine the history of the place as you stride up the worn steps surrounded by centuries-old trees, stopping to take a breath now and again along the 600 meter, 267 step route.

On the coast away from the shrines are a few resort-style hotels, and the local tuna market is well worth a visit. Nachi-Katsuura happens to be the site of Japan’s largest haul of tuna, and you can watch from the balcony as it gets divided up and sold to the highest bidder.

Nachi-Katsuura is also home to the Kii-Katsuura Station, which is served by various JR train services.

Shingu

The last of the sacred shrines, the Kumano Hayatama Taisha, can be found here in Shingu where the Kumano-gawa river empties the tears of the Kii Mountains into the Pacific.

When you visit make sure you see the 800 year old Nagi-no-Ki tree, a testament to the power of nature the shrine represents.

The river is one of the main features of the city, and boat trips regularly depart full of tourists looking to explore the dramatic Dorokyo Gorge, and the numerous waterfalls along the way.

Pilgrims of old used to travel down the river on little wooden boats from Kumano Hongu Taisha, although most walk nowadays.

 

Religion & Spirituality

At its core, the Kumano Kodo is about worshipping nature. The sheer beauty of the place, the serenity, and the feeling of being close to ‘whatever higher being’ you believe in, is the reason pilgrims have been coming here for years.

Shinto

In fact the Shinto religion, one of the oldest and still one of the strongest faiths in Japan, is actually built on this reverence of nature.

Shinto ‘spirits’, or ‘kami’ take the form of natural elements such as wind, rain, mountains, trees and rivers, and the Kumano Kodo shrines were built over time to represent this.

There is no absolute right and wrong in Shinto, and nobody is perfect. It’s an optimistic faith believing that humans are all fundamentally good, and the evil in the world is thought to be caused by spirits.

These evil spirits can be warded off with ritual, hence the large number of festivals and events that involve purification rights, prayers and offerings.

In the Kumano Kodo, many of these are centered around the three sacred shrines, although they’re not purely ‘Shinto’ anymor

Buddhism

Buddhism arrived from China in the 6th Century, and in search of the sacred, many pilgrims ended up in the Kumano region. Shinto and Buddhism began to intermingle, and the shrines were worshipped as a collective, called the Kumano Sanzo.

The story behind the Yumonine Onsen nicely encapsulates this blending of faiths.

Discovered over 1,800 years ago, the restorative nature of the hot spring at Yumonine was a draw long before religion was part of the picture.

As Shinto emerged the Hongo shrine was built, pilgrims performed

purification rights in the springs, and it stayed this way for centuries.

Eventually Buddhism arrives, and the legend says the hot springs began streaming out of a stone statue of Yakushi Nyorai –  the Buddha of Healing and Medicine – which now takes pride of place at the Buddhist Toko-ji Temple.

So you’ve got a respect for nature combined with Shinto and Buddhist shrines,
all happily co-existing in a beautiful natural setting with undisputed health benefits.

No matter what your beliefs the spiritual nature of the Kumano Kodo is
hard to deny. Best to come with an open mind, take it all in, relax, and enjoy.

Overview

OVERVIEW

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE KUMANO KODO PILGRIMAGE:

  • This self-guided trip is designed to allow you the opportunity to choose when and who you want to walk with and at your own pace.
  • Walk the full Kumano Kodo Nakahechi trail as it cuts its way through mountains, forest, small villages and to stunning Japanese temples brought to life by the Japanese monks that live there.
  • There’s the opportunity to add the Kohechi route and a couple of days walking at the spiritual capital of Shingon Buddhism in Koyasan. The stunning town of Koyasan at the top of Mount Koya known for its’ temples and its’ natural beauty is world heritage listed. The Kumano Kodo Kohechi route links Koyasan with Hongu Taisha.
  • What makes this walk even more special is the immersive traditional Japanese experience. In the evenings soak in your Ryokan or Minshuku’s onsen, dine traditionally and savour Japanese multi-course dinners and breakfasts. There’s also an opportunity to bath in a 1200-year-old onsen.
  • Witness outstanding natural beauty as you walk, see the Grand Shrines at Hongu and Nachi-san, along with Nachi-taki waterfall, the tallest in Japan.
  • Walk toward becoming a dual pilgrim by walking the Kumano Kodo (the other world heritage listed walk is the (Camino de Santiago) at your own pace with the comforting knowledge that you have local support on the ground.
  • Importantly, we can vary the length of walks on the Kumano Kodo most days. We can also customise itineraries to suit your needs.

 

History

History

The Kumano Kodo Story

Natural Origins
The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage exists, simply, because the Kumano mountains are blessed with incredible natural beauty, and the forests, waterfalls and hot springs have been drawing people to the area for thousands of years.

The Japanese propensity to appreciate and worship nature even developed into a religion – Shinto – which remains one of the strongest faiths in Japan to this day.

Shinto doesn’t have a founder or a particular scripture to follow, and the Shinto gods, or ‘kami’ take the form of natural elements such as wind, rain, mountains, trees and rivers.

Over time the three grand Shrines of the Kumano were built to represent these natural spirits, and now they form the centre piece of the Pilgrimage.

The World of Darkness
The Kumano region actually used to be called Yomi-no-kuni, which also comes from Shinto, and translates to the Land of the Dead or The World of Darkness.

Yomi-no-kuni isn’t a fire and brimstone kind of place though, it’s simply an underworld where you go when you die, regardless of how you behaved when you were alive. In other words, it’s a Japanese form of heaven.

Buddhism Arrives
In the 6th Century Buddhism arrived in Kumano, and the area became a center of ascetic practices. Eventually the Shinto spirits were believed to be emanations of Buddha, and the three shrines began to be worshipped as one – called the Kumano Sanzo.

This peaceful blending of religions is alive and well today. People happily worship separate deities, or the same ones for different reasons, throughout the region.

Official Kumano pilgrim etiquette even states that you should respect the faith of past and present worshippers, and that you greet others with a smile and a warm heart.

Royalty & Aristocrats
Two centuries later, the next swathe of pilgrims began visiting the region in search of salvation and enlightenment.

The imperial and aristocratic families of the Heian period turned their pilgrim into a reasonably arduous affair, however, crammed with strict spiritual training to purify the mind, body and soul.

Whether they achieved it or not, who knows, but at least they were doing it somewhere beautiful. More and more shrines were built, and accommodation to support the pilgrims began to appear throughout the region.

Between the 11th and 13th Centuries the Japanese Imperial family visited Kumano almost 100 times, however the rise of the Samurai and the warrior class were about to put a stop to that.

The Samurai
Towards the end of the 12th Century, control over the Kumano area was assumed over by a feudal government run by military families. This eventually put an end to the Imperial pilgrimages, but the aristocrats and now an increasing amount of Samurai, began beating a path to the Kumano Sanzo.

Kumano democratised
By the 15th Century an emerging economy allowed wealthy citizens to become pilgrims, and by the 18th Century even more could afford the trip.

Numbers declined in the late 19th Century, when Japan was forced to open to the outside world and the government clamped down on religious freedoms to a certain extent, however in 1990s saw a resurgence in Kumano Kodo visitors.

In 2004 Kumano was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the natural beauty of the area is being discovered once again by Japanese, and overseas pilgrims alike.

Local Cuisine

Local Cuisine

Coming from the west, Japanese dining is almost as magnificent an adventure as climbing Mount Fuji. And when you’re walking the Kumano Kodo, your hosts in the various Ryokan you stay in, will present you with a wonderful array of tiny dishes for breakfast and dinner.

 

Seafood

Sushi and sashimi, of course, are staples in Japan, and when you’re on the coast – in Tanabe – the variety of dishes available is incredible.

The Kuroshio current flows across the Kii Peninsula, acting like the Gulf Stream bringing warm waters to sustain the coral reefs, and a wide variety of seafood endemic to the region.

Scabberfish sashimi is a meaty delicacy that washes down well with a beer, sake, or a healthy green tea. Grilled squid, prawn dim sum, mackerel nigiri rolls, octopus tempura, yellow tail, tuna, scallops – the list goes on.

Mountain Food

As you move further into the mountains, local plants and animals make their way onto the menu. Mushrooms in particular have a special place in Japanese cooking, and many come with amazing health benefits too.

Shiitake, eryngii, enoki, maitake, matsutakje – again the list goes on, as do the dishes they’re in. Shiitake mushrooms are probably the most well known, and with a meaty, smoky flavour you’ll often find them in soups and stir fries. They’re also anti-viral, stimulate immunity, lower your cholesterol and help promote cancer resistance. So when you’re served a plate of them – eat up!

You might find aubergine presented in a tasty broth with umami miso sauce, delicately sliced beef with a sesame dressing, Japanese curry with croutons, and if you’re lucky, and brave enough – you might have the chance to eat Hachinoko or ‘bee children’.

Served with a siding of rice, Hachinoko is the cooked larvae of the Japanese Giant Hornet, and is said to have a rich earthy taste.

A culinary adventure indeed.

Kaiseki ryori haute-cuisine

Although your meals in a Ryokan will be wide, varied and most often – delicious, they’ll also follow a well established routine.

Kaiseki ryori is traditional Japanese haute cuisine, and although chefs can vary the courses to highlight regional specialities, they’ll generally appear in the following order, with the mains representing a particular cooking method.

Typical Starters

Shokuzen-shu

Your meal begins with a sweet wine, or a locally brewed alcohol of some kind.

Appetizers

A variety of careful prepared, and beautifully presented appetisers will begin to give you a taste of the region.

Common Main Courses

Suimono – Soup

Your soup dish is often a clear miso broth with simple vegetables, mushrooms, tofu or seafood.

Otsukur – Sashimi

The Japanese staple of fresh, thinly sliced raw seafood. Generally delivered
with soy sauce and wasabi, and served on a bed of daikon – Japanese radish.

Nimono – Boiled Dish
Seafood or meat is either simmered, boiled or stewed along with
some vegetables in a sweetened broth of soy sauce and cooking sake.

Yakimono – Grilled Dish
The local speciality will generally be grilled and served for this dish.
Be it seafood of some kind, Wagyu, or Kobe beef for example.
Agemono – Deep Fried Dish

Your Agemono is often tempura, once again consisting of locally
grown or foraged produce, served with a light soy dipping sauce.

Mushimono – Steamed Dish

This dish may come in a little teacup, with a little lid, and a little spoon to eat it with. If it’s Chawanmushi, however, it certainly doesn’t come with a little flavour – the savoury custard with seafood, fish stock, chicken, mushrooms and ginko nuts is packed with flavour, and utterly wonderful.

Sunomono – Vinegared Dish

This is often fish, or octopus swimming in a vinaigrette dressing with a sprinkling of vegetables, although it could be anything really, so long as it tastes good in vinegar.

Shokuji

After your main, there’s another set of course before your dessert. You hungry yet? Full up already?

Rice

It’s incredible how even a plain bowl of rice in Japan can be as appetising as is.

Some chefs experiment and add some local flavour, others keep it old school, fluffy, and unbelievably good.

Miso Soup

Another Japanese staple that tastes so much better in Japan, than it does anywhere else. Miso paste and vegetables in a clear, tasty broth. Yum yum.

Tsukemono – Pickles

Rounding off this course is an array of pickled vegetables such as cabbage, plum and daikon.

ACCOMMODATION

ACCOMMODATION

A variety of accommodation styles started springing up back in the 11th Century, when the Imperial Family and Aristocrats began their pilgrimages in greater numbers.

Today you can stay in a modern hotel with all the conveniences you’d find in London, Sydney or Singapore, however the more authentic experiences are much more rewarding.

 

Ryokan

These traditional Japanese Inns come in a variety of styles, and prices to suit all budgets.

They’re probably the most well known places to stay on the Kumano Kodo, and certainly offer the most immersive experience – with almost all of them centered around a communal bath, or a hot spring.

Rooms have traditional tatami mats, shoji sliding doors and futons, although some higher end Ryokans will have beds.

One of the highlights, however, are the dinners and breakfasts that come as part of the deal. Kaiseki ryori is traditional Japanese multi-course haute cuisine, which you’ll enjoy served in a communal dining area, before retiring to the bathing area to relax.

Shukobo

Shuboku are Buddhist temples that open their doors to paying guests. Your room may be similar to that in a Ryokan, with futons and shohi sliding doors, however you’ll gain access to the temple’s cultural treasures too.

Enjoy the gardens and the baths, and join in the morning prayers if you like.

Dinners and breakfast will also be served, and they’ll generally be in the Buddhist Shojinryori, vegetarian cuisine.

If it’s your first time in Japan, a night in a Shukubo is not to be missed.

Kokumishukusha

Some of these ‘people’s lodges’ are privately run, and some are government-owned. Once again they lean toward the traditional in their style, and delicious food will generally be on offer.

Homestay

Another rather unique place to stay while walking the Kumano, is in someone else’s house! Kind of like a bed & breakfast, however your hosts will be a lot more welcoming, happy to involve you in their everyday lives around the village and in the community. You’ll eat together, and learn how families live in the Kii Mountains.

Campgrounds & Bungalows

More popular in the summer, of course, the wide variety of campgrounds on offer allow you to remain in touch with nature even when your day’s walking has finished. Many offer bungalows within the grounds too.

Transport

Transport

You’re best to fly into Osaka if you’re Kumano bound. It’s the closest big city, with regular flights from all over the world, and direct flights from most of Australia’s population centres.

1. Getting to Tanabe from Osaka

From Osaka you need to make your way down to the bottom of the Kii Peninsula, and because it’s such a mountainous region, most of the transport routes hug the coastline all the way down.

Bus
The Meiko bus leaves every four hours, costs about $38 AUD and takes just over three hours to get to Tanabe.

Train
The train takes about the same time, with an hour layover on the way, and costs roughly $60 AUD. Or you can take the express, which is only 2  hours and about the same price.

The ‘Kinokuni Line’ hugs the coast between the Pacific and the mountains, and a seat of the right side of the train is best for views of the ocean. Enjoy.

Drive
Driving takes only an hour and a half, however the rugged coastline is dotted with quaint little villages, and you might want to stop along the way. Small cars can be rented for about $65 AUD a day.

2. Getting to Tanabe from Tokyo

If you fly into Tokyo it takes about five hours on the train to get to Tanabe, however you can fly into the regional Nanki-Shirahama Airport in just over an hour. From there you can take a local bus to Tanabe, or anywhere else in the region to begin your walk.

3. Getting around the region

The villages and towns are serviced by public buses, and although they’re limited, it’s easy enough to make your way around with a bit of planning. In the larger towns rental bicycles are a nice way to move between the sights, as the distances are pretty short.

How to ride a local bus


Easy when you know how…

  1. Enter through the rear door and take a ticket.
    2. Push the button when you want to get off.
    3. Match ticket number to the electronic fare chart at the front.
    4. Put the exact money on the fare box at the front.
    5. Exit through the front door.

4. Transport Passes

JR-West, Kansai WIDE Area Pass
The Kansai WIDE Area Pass allows to travel on the “Sanyo Shinkansen” bullet train, and the express and local trains on the JR West railway network.
It costs roughly $92 AUD and lasts for four days.

Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass

This pass gives you access to a larger are and a wider variety of options.
It costs $145 AUD and last for five days, however it’s not available for purchase in Japan, so you’ll have be organised before you go.

Climate & Weather

Climate & Weather

From the end of March, the temperature begins to increase. In summer it’s quite warm and humid but still good for walking,  particularly if you enjoy warmer temperatures and taking a dip in a stream.

The walk is offered in winter but bring some warm clothes and good rain gear.  The area is just as beautiful if not more and is not busy at all. Soaking in outside onsen in the cool of the night is one of those real authentic Japanese experiences that you can look forward to after a big day on the track.

As walkers, we believe spring and autumn to be the best time as the weather is perfect for walking. You might also catch the cherry blossoms in late March and early April and the changing colours of Autumn in October and November.

See the weather information about Osaka’s average weather at different times of the year.

Terrain

Terrain

The Kumano Kodo trails crawl their way over the Kii mountains,
which cover the majority of Japan’s southerly Kii Peninsula.

Rising dramatically from the coast, the mountains stretch almost 4,000 feet into the sky and they’re almost entirely covered in trees, including old growth forests with some cedars that are over 500 years old.

As the temperature varies significantly across the range, the species also range from evergreen, coniferous, broadleaf, cedar and cherry.

It’s also a rather wet region, so torrents of water have carved out enormous gorges and river basins. Waterfalls plunge down the side of green-carpeted mountains, and little streams abound.

The mountains also form the outer arc of the Southwestern Japan Arc, part
of the Pacific Ring of Fire, meaning hot springs are to be found throughout.

The entire area has incredible biodiversity, and because people have been drawn to the mountains for thousands of years, there are hundreds of archeologically significant sites too.

Mountains cover much of Japan, as do forests, and fortunately both have taken on a spiritual nature and central place in the culture – so the area is likely to be protected well into the future.

“Mountains continue to inspire a sense of the sacred that unites the Japanese people in a love for the land on which they live and for everything connected with it — from the unearthly heights of heavenly peaks down to the mundane realities of everyday life.”

From ‘Sacred Mountains of the World’
by Edwin Bernbaum, Senior Fellow at The Mountain Institute

UNESCO Dual Pilgrimage

UNESCO Dual Pilgrimage

UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. It was formed in 1945 after the end of the Second World War, and its aim is to build peace in the minds of men and women, preventing war from taking root instead.

One of the ways it does this, is by identifying areas of significance to all humanity, shining a light on and thereby educating people to our shared history.

There are four natural and six cultural criteria that guide selection for the honour of World Heritage Site, ranging from ‘a masterpiece of human creative genius’ to ‘outstanding natural habitat’ and there are only two ‘Pilgrimage Walks’ that make the grade.

The Kumano Kodo and the Camino de Santiago. In 2015 the Dual Pilgrim program began, and now if you complete both walks, you’re welcomed into a rather exclusive club of ‘Dual Pilgrims.’

What you have to do

Caminio de Santiago
Complete one of the Way of St. James routes, walking the final 100km on foot or by horse, or the last 200km by bicycle.

Kumano Kodo
No bikes or horses allowed on the Kumano, so you have to walk any of the following routes:

– Takijiri-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha – 38 km
– Kumano Nachi Taisha to/from Kumano Hongu Taisha – 30 km
– Hosshinmon-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha – 7 km – plus a visit to Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha
– Koyasan to Kumano Hongu Taisha – 70 km

How to prove it

Before you start your walk, simply register at the Kumano Hongu Heritage Center, or the Tanabe Tourist Information Center.

You’ll be given a Passport for you to stamp in little wooden stands at most of the temples. If you can’t find it just ask and you’ll be pointed in the right direction.

One side of the passport is for Kumano, the other for the Way of St. James.

What happens at the end

Once you’ve completed both pilgrimages you’ll be given a certificate, a badge, and if you like you’ll be listed in the Dual Pilgrim website.

If you do the Camino first, and complete your dual pilgrimage at the Kumano Kodo there’s a special Taiko Ceremony at the Kumano Hongu Taisha.
You’ll be invited to express your spiritual journey, thoughts and emotions in the physical realm by banging on the sacred Taiko drum. Please note – you’ll need to register for the ceremony at the office of the Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine.
You’ll also receive a certificate from the Head Priest, made from local Washi Japanese handmade paper, and featuring the character for “Way” in the background. A unique memento of your achievement.

If you want to find out a bit more about the Dual Pilgrimage you can read our blog about it here.

Practicalities

Practicalities

If you’ve never been to Japan before, you’ll find almost everything is totally different from what you’re used to. Which, of course, is part of the fun. Here’s few practicalities to help you get started.

Manners & Customs

Life in Japan is governed by large array of manners and customs that may seem odd to outsiders, yet it’s worthwhile trying to learn a few. Not only will it prevent you from being rude, the locals will appreciate your efforts.

Take off your shoes
Many places require you to take off your shoes before entering.
If the floor is raised, and you see a pile of shoes, please do the same.

Pointing is not on

Extremely rude, and you should try to use open-handed gestures instead.

Don’t eat and walk

Sit down instead, or you’re considered a sloppy eater.

Don’t blow your nose

At least not in public anyway. Many will go to the toilet to do this.

Slurping is good!
Slurping noodles shows that you’re enjoying your meal!

Don’t tip

It’s not expected, and can even be considered rude.

Don’t play with your chopsticks

Just eat with them, that’s all.

Take your backpack off

When you’re on a train.

Language

A few words of Japanese can go a long way:

Hello: Kon’nichiwa

Thank you: Arigato

Thank you very much: Domo Arigato

Cheers!: Kanpai

Bathroom: Basurumu

How much?: Ikura

Delicious: Oishi

Money

There are no ATM machines on the Kumano Kodo trails, and credit cards can’t be counted on (?) so make sure you take plenty of cash with you.

Bathing

Be aware that in most hot springs and communal baths you’re expected to be naked. The etiquette is to take your clothes off in a changing room, rinse off first of all, then soak in the bath and enjoy. 

Yukata

Staying in a Ryokan, you may end up wearing a Yukata, traditional cotton gowns that are also used as pyjamas. Make sure you wear something underneath, fold the left side over the right, secure your belt and you’re good to go. A loose Yakuta is also considered a little rude.

Plugs

You’ll need to take an adaptor plug for your devices. The voltage is 100 Volt, and although the plugs have two pins, identical to this used in North America.

Kumano Kodo Onsens

Kumano Kodo Onsens

An Onsen is a naturally occurring hot spring, and since the Kii Mountains lie just south of the Japan Median Tectonic Line, and right on top of the Pacific Ring of Fire, there are quite a lot of them bubbling up through the rock.

They dredge up a diverse array of minerals from beneath the earth’s mantle, and are known to have significant healing properties for anyone who bathes in their waters. They’re highly popular in Japan, and a range of resort-style facilities have sprung up around most of them to cater to the visitors.

Yunomine Onsen

During a walk on the Kumano Kodo you’ll probably spend some time in what’s thought to be Japan’s oldest onsen – the Yunomine Onsen. Discovered roughly 1,800 years ago, Yunomine is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right.

Resting in a onsen after a long days’ walk is a particular delight of the Kumano Kodo, and in Yunomine you can even combine it with a tasty snack.

Next to the river there’s an open section of the hot spring that gets up to 90 degrees Centigrade, and if you buy a few eggs and vegetables you can have them lowered down in a net to cook.

Fast food, old school Japanese style.

Kawayu Onsen

Another Onsen worth mentioning sits on the Oto river, which is a tributary of the Kumano-gawa. One side of the river is a variety of ryokans, minshuks and hotels, while the other side is a scenic forested mountainside.

The hot spring here is 73 degrees, but the river brings it down to a beautiful
40 and the best way to enjoy it is to dig your own little bath out of the pebbles, settle in, and relax.

locations

locations

Religion & Spirituality

Religion & Spirituality

At its core, the Kumano Kodo is about worshipping nature. The sheer beauty of the place, the serenity, and the feeling of being close to ‘whatever higher being’ you believe in, is the reason pilgrims have been coming here for years.

Shinto

In fact the Shinto religion, one of the oldest and still one of the strongest faiths in Japan, is actually built on this reverence of nature.

Shinto ‘spirits’, or ‘kami’ take the form of natural elements such as wind, rain, mountains, trees and rivers, and the Kumano Kodo shrines were built over time to represent this.

There is no absolute right and wrong in Shinto, and nobody is perfect. It’s an optimistic faith believing that humans are all fundamentally good, and the evil in the world is thought to be caused by spirits.

These evil spirits can be warded off with ritual, hence the large number of festivals and events that involve purification rights, prayers and offerings.

In the Kumano Kodo, many of these are centered around the three sacred shrines, although they’re not purely ‘Shinto’ anymor

Buddhism

Buddhism arrived from China in the 6th Century, and in search of the sacred, many pilgrims ended up in the Kumano region. Shinto and Buddhism began to intermingle, and the shrines were worshipped as a collective, called the Kumano Sanzo.

The story behind the Yumonine Onsen nicely encapsulates this blending of faiths.

Discovered over 1,800 years ago, the restorative nature of the hot spring at Yumonine was a draw long before religion was part of the picture.

As Shinto emerged the Hongo shrine was built, pilgrims performed

purification rights in the springs, and it stayed this way for centuries.

Eventually Buddhism arrives, and the legend says the hot springs began streaming out of a stone statue of Yakushi Nyorai –  the Buddha of Healing and Medicine – which now takes pride of place at the Buddhist Toko-ji Temple.

So you’ve got a respect for nature combined with Shinto and Buddhist shrines,
all happily co-existing in a beautiful natural setting with undisputed health benefits.

No matter what your beliefs the spiritual nature of the Kumano Kodo is
hard to deny. Best to come with an open mind, take it all in, relax, and enjoy.

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