Getting Around Kumano Kodo
The Kumano Kodo on the Kii Peninsula in western Japan is one of only two UNESCO registered world heritage pilgrimage routes in the world. Situated mostly deep in the mountains of Wakayama, Nara and Mie prefectures, the various ancient routes of the Kumano Kodo connect the sacred three Grand Shrines of Kumano and have been traveled by the devout and those seeking enlightenment for hundreds of years. Most of the routes are multi-day walks through stunningly beautiful and remote landscapes with walkers staying at ryokans and minshuku along the way, and these days the Kumano Kodo is increasingly popular with foreign visitors.
In recent years the local government has put a lot of work into making the Kumano Kodo an attractive option for people who want to see Japan’s natural, spiritual and more off-the-beaten-track places, and so there is plenty of English signage and good transport links throughout the region.
The most popular route of the Kumano Kodo is the Nakahechi which runs from the small coastal town of Tanabe and finishes deep in the mountains at Kumano Hongu Taisha, one of the three Grand Shrine. As the Kii Peninsula is located between the large cities of Osaka and Nagoya (both of which have international airports and shinkansen links) getting to the Kumano Kodo is surprisingly easy, especially considering the region’s traditionally wild and remote reputation.
JR West and JR East run the train lines which loop around the peninsula, while the Nankai Line runs inland from Osaka to the sacred mountain retreat of Koyasan, which is also the start of the challenging Kohechi(小辺路) route.
The popular Nakahechi(中辺路) route begins (or ends) at Kii-Tanabe Station on the JR Kisei Main Line which hugs the coast on the western side of the Kii Peninsula, with Kuroshio express trains from Osaka arriving in about two hours.
On the eastern side of the peninsula, convenient stations for the Kumano Kodo include Kii-Katsuura and Shingu on the JR Kisei Main Line, with regular trains heading to and from Nagoya in around 3 and a half hours.
The Kumano Kodo is also served by a network of buses which serve both visitors and locals alike. Public buses run from the main hubs of Kii-Tanabe Station, Shingu and the popular beach/hot spring resort of Shirahama to many of the small villages located in the mountains and along the various pilgrim routes. The tourist information centers at Tanabe and Katsuura can give you detailed bus timetables in English.
It is well worth considering a transportation pass if you plan to use the trains and buses to get around the Kumano Kodo. The JR West Kansai Wide Area Pass is a 9,000 yen, four-day pass for unlimited use of the ‘Sanyo Shinkansen’ bullet train, plus express and local trains on the JR West network (which runs as far east as Shingu); the Ise-Kumano-Wakayama Area Tourist Pass is a five-day pass covering most buses and trains across the Kii Peninsula, check online for further details.
For those who prefer to explore at their own pace and on four wheels, renting a car is a good option. Many of the main sights on the Kumano Kodo have good access by road, often with parking nearby. Some of the most popular car rental companies in Japan are Toyota, Hertz, Times Car Rental and Orix. Drivers looking to rent a car in Japan must be over 18 years old and should apply for an International Driving Permit from their country of residence in advance.
Taxis are another option for reaching out-of-the-way places; there will usually be taxis waiting outside major train stations, and hotels and ryokans can help you book them too. Taxis in Japan are very safe and reliable, but can be quite expensive. It also helps to have your destination written down on something to show to the driver, as not all of them can speak English.
Finally, walking around the Kumano Kodo is the most traditional way to see the region, and the reason many people come here in the first place. The most popular pilgrim routes are well signposted, and free maps and itineraries are available from tourist information centers. Regardless of season, bring waterproof clothing and comfortable sturdy footwear for hiking, and enjoy the history and nature in one of Japan’s most spiritual and beautiful regions.
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- Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Route
- Wakayama Pref. Tanabeshi Nakahechichoukurisugawa