The Kumano Kodo on the Kii Peninsula in western Japan is one of only two UNESCO registered world heritage pilgrimage routes in the world. For over a millennium, this pilgrimage route have been traveled by the devout and those seeking enlightenment from all levels of society, even including the emperors.
Situated deep in the mountains of Wakayama, Nara and Mie prefectures, the routes of the Kumano Kodo connect the sacred three Grand Shrines of Kumano; Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Nachi Taisha.
Kumano Nachi Taisha
Kumano Hongu Taisha
Kumano Hayatama Taisha
There are 4 routes; Nakahechi Imperial Route, Kohechi Mountains Route, Ohechi Coastal Route and Iseji Eastern Route and the most popular among those are the Nakahechi Imperial Route. Most of these routes are multi-day walks through stunningly beautiful and remote landscapes, so, many hikers tend to stay overnight at ryokan (Japanese style inn) and minshuku (Japanese guest house) along the way, which they book in advance, 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. Make sure to check its official webpage for a more detailed description of this pilgrimage with maps etc prior to your trip.
Nakahechi Imperial Route
The most popular route on the Kumano Kodo from the western Japan is the Nakahechi Imperial Route which its trailhead is about 15 km west of the small coastal town of Tanabe in Wakayama in a place called Takijiri. The trail will finish deep in the mountains at Kumano Hongu Taisha, one of the three Grand Shrines. Due to its easy accessibility by express trains from Kyoto and Osaka where you can use a Japan Rail Pass for these journeys, this route is highly popular. Depending on how fast you walk plus how much time you stop in between to take photos, the number of days to walk will vary but it is estimated to be a three day walk through the mountains from Takijiri to Kumano Hongu Taisha.
A more detailed description of the hike is found here
Best Time to Hike the Kumano Kodo
If you want fewer crowds, then it is recommended to hike during winter but it can snow a bit, however not usually enough to prevent travel. With that being said, the best season would be spring and autumn when the weather is warm and can see a pleasant views of cherries in late March/early April and fall foliage in October and November. During June the main rainy season when mostly the trail is wet and muddy and summer (July to end of August) when it's pretty hot and humid, these are the seasons it is not best preferred for the hike. Yet, this hike can be done all year round so depending on what views you expect to see, it is best to choose the season from there.
Access to the Nakahechi Imperial Route
Take the JR Highway Bus to Tanabe/Shirahama from either Namba OCAT bus terminal or JR Osaka Station. The timetables can be found here.
Once you get off at Tanabe/Shirahama, change bus to Kii-Tanabe. The timetables for this bus can be found here.
Then finally, take the bus from Kii-Tanabe to Takijiri where the trailhead is. Its timeschedule is foud here.
Caution! Each bus is super limited and it may be impossible to take all three buses to the trailhead in just a day. So if you choose to take the bus, plan extra overnight stay and check the timeschedule well.
Accessing the trail is easiest from Osaka. From Tennoji Station, take a Kuroshio Limited Express towards Shingu and get off at Kii-Tanabe Station. The trip takes about two hours.
If you’re coming from Tokyo, take the bullet train to Shin-Osaka Station where you can transfer to the Kuroshio Limited Express to Kii-Tanabe Station.
Once you arrive at Kii-Tanabe station, take the bus to Takijiri where the trailhead is. Its time schedule is found here.