The Kumano Kodō is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that transverse the Kii Hanto, the largest Peninsula of Japan. These sacred trails were and are used for the pilgrimage to the sacred site “Kumano Sanzan” or the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano: Kumano Hongū Taisha (熊野本宮大社), Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) and Kumano Hayatama Taisha (熊野速玉大社).
The “Kiji” route runs along the west coast of the peninsula to the city of Tanabe where it forks into two: Nakahechi and Ohechi. The Nakahechi route leads into the rugged interior mountains toward Kumano Hongū Taisha. The Nakahechi route was the most popular for pilgrimages from Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. The earliest records of this route dates from the early 10th century. The trail has a long history of use by people with diverse belief backgrounds leading to mixed religious symbolism overlaid and incorporated into the setting and stages of the pilgrimage itself. The UNESCO World Heritage registered section begins at Takijiri-oji which is considered to be the point of entry to the sacred area of Kumano. From here it is about 40 km of mountainous trail before one reaches the mystical Kumano Hongū Taisha.
My Journey Begins
The nearest international airport to the Kumano Kodo is the Kansai International located just outside of Osaka.
The JR rail network connects you with Kii-Tanabe and from Kii-Tanabe you reach the trail head at Takijiri by a local bus that departs from just outside the Kii-Tanabe train station.
Getting to the start.
Around 8 am on Sunday 13th of November 2016, myself and 9 others boarded a train from Osaka-Shin station bound for Kii-Tanabe. The train unlike the 300km/h bullet train that got me to Osaka traveled at a max speed of about 120 km/h. It was comfortable and interesting as I passed through tunnel after tunnel only to discover housing occupying any open space in-between the tunnels. Eventually things did become a little more open and sparse. We arrived at Kii-Tanabe, and as this was a guided trip our guide had organised a briefing at the information centre. After the briefing there was time to grab some food for lunch and snacks for the first day of walking. Being a Sunday and relatively small place then our eating options were limited. We boarded a bus that dropped us off at Takijiri-oji. Bus #1 leaving from Kii-Tanabe is also important for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route with a stop at Takijiri-oji (see timetable (Kii-Tanabe & Shirahama -> Kumano Hongu Taisha),
Day 1 – Takijiri-Oji to Takahara (5km)
As i got off the bus i was surprised at the modest setting but this was the traditional beginning of the Nakahechi Trail. The “Gateway to the gods” and apparently it was once a much larger and more impressive temple complex.
There is a very spacious and comfortable tourist centre with toilet facilities nearby so we took some time to linger before starting out on the trail, which is steep initially for the first 1.5 kilometers and then rather good.
Our accommodation was in the small ridge-top settlement (Takahara) at Kirinosato Takahara Lodge. Takahara is approximately 300 m above sea level which overlooks the Hatenashi mountain range and the accommodation had great views plus the plum wine was something i took a hugh liking too.
Day 1 Links
Day 2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura (Nonaka Area) 16km
We awake and the scenic mountain vistas are blanketed with mist and enjoy breakfast then prepare for the day ahead. A slight drizzle was in the air as we set off and continued to climb into the mountains and at the highest part is the remains of the Uwada-jay Teahouse (690m). The trail then descends quickly past the Three–Fold Moon Viewing area to the creek by Osakamoto-oji as we then continue onto the trail and then reach the highway.
Across the highway is the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Michi-no-Eki rest stop where we stopped and had lunch that was supplied as part of Accom package. The rest stop does have a small shop where we also brought some drinks and snacks. From the rest stop we have a short climb before reaching Hashiori-toge Pass. The trail descends a cobblestone staircase to a viewpoint of the Chikatsuyu Village below. In the village across the Hiki-gawa River on your left is the Chikatsuyu-oji.
This section follows the old highway through Chikatsuyu Village along the south side of Mt. Takao, gradually climbing over 200 meters in elevation.
Just before Tsugizakura-oji we detour to take a 25 minute walk downhill to our accommodation in a family run guesthouse in the Nonaka area of Nakahechi village next to route 311 (Minshuku Nonaka Sanso).
Day 2 Links
Day 3 – Tsugizakura to Hongu Area (27km)
We start the day with breakfast and pack our supplied lunch. Rather then the walk back up to Tsugizakura-oji we elect to catch a bus to Tsugizakura-oji and walk back to we we left the track the prior day as we stopped short of Tsugizakura-oji.
Now we walk to Tsugizakura-oji and in the shrine grove there are massive Nonaka-no-Ipposugi cedar trees and some have a circumference of 8m and are believed to be up to 800 years old.
The Toganoki-jaya Teahouse is located next to the sanctuary.
We follow the old highway on pavement to Kobiro-toge Pass. From here the trail enters forest, climbing and descending a series of passes. Because of damage to the trail there is a 4km detour from Nakado-jaya Teahouse remains to Jagata Jizo.
We then head towards Hosshinmon-oji. From Hosshinmon-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha, the trail switches between forest trail and paved road through settled areas. Across the road is the Kumano Hongu Heritage Centre with exhibits and information centre. From here we catch a bus to our Accommodation in Yunomine Onsen (Ryokan Adumaya). This is one of the main traditional inns in Yunomine Onsen, a hot spring village with over 1800 years of history and the sulphur hot springs provided a distinctive odor.
Day 3 Links
Day 4 – Hongu Area to Koguchi (15km)
Day 5 – Koguchi to Kumano Nachi Taisha (15km)