Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail
The only pilgrimage route besides the Camino de Santiago to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kumano Kodo is a network of trails through Kansai. In use for more than 1,000 years, the pilgrimage routes developed as a way to travel between sacred areas, a practice that tourists and pilgrims alike continue today.
There are five distinct trails on the Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi, Kohechi, Ohechi, Iseji, and Omine Okugake. The trails can be walked independently or linked together to complete the pilgrimage. The full route spans the Kii Mountains on the Kii Peninsula, making for an arduous journey. Though challenging, the paths wind through lush forests and pass by and over cascading waterfalls and streams. As well as providing a path between the shrines of Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha, and Nachi Taisha (collectively known as Kumano Sanzan), the Kumano Kodo links Kyoto to the Kii region.
If you’d rather not tackle the journey alone, trek on a tour. Such tours typically include lodging and meals so all you have to worry about is putting one foot in front of the other.
Things to know before you go
- The Kumano Kodo is a historically significant pilgrimage trail and ideal for those who want to deepen their knowledge of Japanese culture.
- The trail is not accessible for wheelchair users.
- There are several traditional accommodations around the trail, most with hot springs.
- A pilgrimage map and audio guide are downloadable from Kumano’s official website.
How to get there
The express Kuroshio train from Shin-Osaka can get you to Kii-Tanabe in two hours. From Kyoto the same train takes around 2.5 hours. From there you can take the 84 Kumano Hongu Line bus to Takijiri, a trailhead that serves as the main entry point for the Kumano Kodo.
When to get there
The trails can be walked year-round but the best times to visit the pilgrimage site are either in spring (March/April) or autumn (September-November). Visiting at those times lets you avoid the crowds and heat of summer, as well as the cold of the winter months. Golden Week (late May) should be avoided: a series of national holidays over several days sees all major tourist attractions fill up and accommodation hard to come by.
There are several guidelines that walkers are requested to abide by while enjoying the Kumano Kodo. These include respecting the faith of worshipers, keeping the routes clean, carrying out all waste, not removing or introducing animals or vegetation, staying on the routes, and greeting others “with a smile and warm heart.”
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