Kumano Kodo Overview
Kumano Kodo refers to a network of trails that have been used for over 1,000 years by people from all walks of life. The trails extend through the Wakayama, Nara, Mie, and Osaka prefectures. Some of the trails have been lost over time, due to urban expansion, but many of the trails are still intact and open to visitors. These trails are registered as a UNESCO World Heritage sight, one of only two pilgrimages in the world to receive the honor.
The trails are part of a religious pilgrimage related to the Shinto religion, but over time, many Buddhist elements were introduced as well. This area appealed to many people in the aristocracy and emperors, samurai, and other nobles would often make the trek from Kyoto to walk the trails as a symbol of religious devotion. It is said that the spirits of the dead would gather, so many believed this area to be spiritually significant.
All the trails of the Kumano Kodo lead to one of the Three Grand Shrines of Kumamoto. There are many different trails visitors can take, but there are traditionally three main routes that connect to the shrines. Along the paths, there are around 100 smaller shrines, called “Oji,” for visitors to pray at during their journey.
The Iseji Trail connects the Iseji Shrine in Mie Prefecture to the Hayatama-taisha Shrine in Wakayama Prefecture. The trail splits in the southern part and gives travelers an option of going toward Hayatama-taisha Shrine or Hongu-taisha Shrine. The full Iseji Trail is quite long, at 170 kilometers, so visitors can choose to visit the highlights of the trail if they don’t have time to complete the entire journey during their vacation. For example, the Magose-toge Pass is particularly popular due to its beautiful Cypress trees and stone paths. This section of the trail is only 7 kilometers long, so it’s perfect for an afternoon outing.
Another popular route is the Nakahechi Route that starts from Tanabe and continues to the eastern part of the peninsula. This path visits the central Hongu-taisha Shrine and then splits into paths to the two other Grand Shrines. As with the Iseji Trail, the Nakahechi Route can be enjoyed over a period of several days or visitors can opt to take shorter hikes.
As mentioned previously, there are several main paths with multiple routes, so visitors should makes plans based on what they’re most interested in. The Ohechi Route runs along the coast and offers great views of the ocean, while the Iseji Route cuts through forests and mountains. The paths range from those suitable for beginners to more difficult paths only recommended to seasoned hikers, so it’s best for would-be hikers to do some research in advance before setting out on their journeys.