Trekking along the Kumano Kodo



The Kumano Kodo trail has been in use for over 1,000 years. Pilgrims began walking the trail before organized religion took effect in Japan. Once the shrines were built, pilgrims arrived from throughout Japan to take part in the spiritual walk around Wakayama. The trail surrounds the Kii Peninsula with optional detours in Mt. Koya and Yoshino. Most modern pilgrims and hikers opt for the main power spots, the three shrines of the Kumano Sanzan. There are many hikes available, ranging from multi-day treks to single-day strolls. The routes and shrines have been preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, wrapping everything into the ‘Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes of the Kii Peninsula.’

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    Nakahehi Imperial Route

    The most popular trail on the Kumano Kodo is the Nakahechi, which leads hikers to the UNESCO World Heritage sites. There are multiple ending points for each hike, and every destination acts as a different spiritual power spot. There are three ending points along the Nakahechi trail: Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha. The Hongu Taisha is the first spiritual spot. It is easily spotted by its colossal torii gate, the largest in the world at 33 meters. Treks from and around the Hongu Taisha are popular for day hikers. The torii gate is considered the center of the Kumano Kodo. From there, the rest of the routes are easier to access. It will take about two days from Hongu Taisha to Nachi Taisha or Hayatama Taisha. In total, the Nakahechi trail from Tanabe to Nachi Taisha will take about four days. Hikers can stay the night in small ryokans or pensions.

    Hikers can walk any length of the trail they like. In recent years, they began taking buses through the more rural and desolate parts of the trail. With careful planning, hikers can skip parts of the trail and save days of walking time. The bus system runs through most of the Kumano Kodo and through Mie and Shirahama. Hikers should always carry a bus schedule with them in case of emergency.

    There are also one-day and half-day hikes for time-strained travelers. These hikers should take advantage of the bus system to see all the sights in one day. The shorter hikes showcase rural areas and farmland and lead visitors through the misty forests and viridescent cedar trees of the Kumano Kodo. These routes vary in difficulty, from easy strolls with young children to uphill treks for the more athletically inclined.

    Most of the hikes start from the city of Tanabe. There, hikers can stock up on goods and information. They can also book accommodation and hire luggage-delivery service. The information center offers plenty of maps and bus routes for every hike available. It’s important to have physical copies of the information in case cellular service runs dead. The Nakahechi trail is well-preserved but not well-marked. Pay special attention to the maps to save time and energy. From Tanabe, hikers take a bus to the trailhead in Takijiri Oji to start.

    The weather along the Kumano Kodo is generally misty and cool. Rainy season hits from June to September, and hikers should check the news for signs of typhoons. There is light snowfall in winter, but it’s still mild. There will probably be constant mist and large amounts of rainfall throughout the journey. There are eight rules for hikers along the Kumano Kodo, focusing on preservation and respect. Hikers should keep in mind the history of the trails and continue the preservation for future visitors. They should keep the trails in their original state, leaving no waste behind and refraining from removing any wildlife. Along the hike, visitors can feel the ghosts and memories of pilgrims past. If the trail is well-kept and preserved, future hikers can feel the same.

    Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage
    Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture other
    Free walking
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    By Bus
    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.

    By Train
    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.

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