Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage routes   熊野古道

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Hiking sacred land

For more than 1,000 years, pilgrims have walked the paths of Kumano Kodo, on the Kii Peninsula. Crossing countryside and cedar forests, these paths allow you to reach the three great historical shrines of Hongu, Nachi and Hayatama, designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

Exploring the ancient Kumano Kodo paths is a fantastic way to absorb the cultural richness of Japan while discovering stunning landscapes at a leisurely pace. There are many points of interest to be discovered along the roads: a former tea house, a rock engraved with a poem, statues of Kannon... "Oji", these small stone shrines are secondary shrines of the Great Shrines of Kumano, they punctuate and guide pilgrims along the route.

The three itineraries that lead to the heart of the Kumano Kodo

  • Nakahechi Road

Historically, pilgrims from Kyoto traveled to Tanabe and traveled along the Nakahechi road. Starting at Takijori-ori, it takes two days to reach Kumano Hongu Taisha. A stopover for the night is recommended in Chikatsuyu-oji.

Those wanting to walk only half a day will prefer the route from Hosshinmon-oji, which is where the entrance into the area of Hongu Taisha shrine is. The descent (taking about 2.5 hours) towards the great shrine is picturesque, beginning with crossing some villages and ending in the forest. Stop at Fushiogami-oji, where the pilgrims had a first view of the valley of the shrine. This one was moved in 1889 to hillside because of flooding.

To stay in Hongu Taisha, stop in one of the three onsen cities, a few kilometers away: Yunomine onsen, Kawayu Onsen and Wataze Onsen.

From Hongu Taisha, the pilgrims used a boat as far as Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and went to Kumano Nachi Taisha.

  • From Hongu Taisha to Kumano Nachi Taisha

Before reaching the famous site of Kumano Nachi Taisha, it's necessary to plan for two days of walking. One of the sections of the trail can also be done by bus, with a departure or arrival in the village of Koguchi. The section between Koguchi and Kumano Nachi Taisha is considered to be the hardest stage of the pilgrimage: 5 hours of walking, 14km distance, and 800m of very uneven terrain.

  • Kohechi Road from Koya San to Hongu Taisha

There is also a path that connects the Buddhist center of Koyasan with Hongu Taisha in five days, via the mountains in the center of the Kii Peninsula. The last leg begins in Totsukawa and passes through the Hatenashi Toge pass. The path joins the route coming from Hosshinmon-oji in the heart of the forest.

Some tips before departure

Make sure you are well equipped with appropriate footwear and waterproof clothing before attempting to take on the mountain paths of the Kii Peninsula. Also, make sure you take some supplies, snacks and water, as some routes do not have any shops or vending machines. Finally, at the entrance of the trails, you can borrow a walking stick - one can prove very useful when climbing or making steep descents.

Prepare your itinerary and move

To prepare for your trip, the Kumano tourist office website clearly outlines the possible routes. Some local or regional buses also make it possible to carry out some parts of the journey if you don't want to hike the whole thing.

Happy hiking!

Read also: Visit Kumano

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