Imagine a journey through a magic forest. Forest overgrown with green fluffy moss and huge ferns. Forest cut by winding creeks and waterfalls. 40 miles walk through mysterious hills of Kii Peninsula retracing sacred routes taken by Japanese monks. It is Kumano Kodo – not only a huge portion of great views but a true lesson of history too…
From over ten centuries Japanese monks pace holy regions in the south part of Kii Peninsula being called Kumano long time ago. Their target is to visit Kumano Sanzan, Three Grand Shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. On the way to their destination, they stop in small Oji Shrines to give a tribute to Kami. Ancient pilgrimage routes linking temples together are called Kumano Kodo. We wanted to do Kumano Kodo trek at the early beginning of our journey in Japan because after overcrowded and chaotic Asia we wanted to have some peace and get away from all that madness. Few days trekking in Kii Hills was a good idea. It was our introduction to Shinto worship.
Kumano Kodo – routes
It took few hundred years to develope main routes of Kumano Kodo:
- Nakahechi: has its beginning in Tanabe (it is better to start a little bit further, in Takijiri-Oji) and traverses through Kii Peninsula. The most popular route with possibilities to stay in minshuku or ryokan overnight.
- Kohechi: cuts through Kii Peninsula from north to south. Trail links Koyasan Shrine with Kumano Hongu Taisha. It is characterized by steep trails that cross over three passes of over 1000 meters elevation along its 70 km length. The Kohechi is an isolated walk on its northern sections and hikers should be well prepared. It has limited access to tourist infrastucture and shops.
- Ohechi: runs from Tanabe as well. Goes along the coast to Fudarakusan-ji Shrine. Trail is very long but quite easy.
- Iseji: runs along the east coast of Kii Peninsula – from Ise-jingu Shrine to Kumano Sanzan. Most part of the track is paved with cobblestones to stop erosion caused by heavy rains. Walk is very diverted: hills, forests, beaches and rice fields.
We chose Kumano Kodo Nakahechi because we could find a lot of information about it and it has better access to the food supply (but still limited) so in the rest of the post we focus on this trail.
Kumano Kodo Nakahechi
We hiked Nakahechi trail with quite big weight in our backpacks – we carried all our stuff we use in a round the world journey (different things for weather conditions) and food/water on the top of that. Moreover, there were many hills to walk up and down. We took it slow and walked only about 15km every day. If you plan to do Kumano Kodo trek please check maps below first. They are from Kumano Kodo official website.
Here is the trace of the route we walked:
1. Takijiri-oji – Jujo-oji
Distance: 7 km
Food/drink: shop a the beginning of the trail, vending machines with hot and cold drinks in Takahara.
Accommodation: wild camping near Jujo-oji; toilets, water supply, benches.
2. Jujo-oji – Kumasegawa-oji
Distance: 12.4 km
Food/drink: shop about 1km after Osakamoto-oji, possible detour to A-Coop (good selection of products) in Chikatsuyu, getting there adds 2km extra to the route.
Accommodation: wild camping near waterfalls before Kumasegawa-oji, public toilets nearby.
3. Kumasegawa-oji – Hosshinmon-oji
Distance: 11.4 km
Food/drink: none, only at the end of this part in Hongu
Accommodation: Kawayu Campground, 800 JPY per person per night, it is possible to get from Hosshinmon-oji to the campground by bus and it costs 760 JPY per person.
We suggest staying in Hongu a little bit longer (few days). It is worth to visit Kumano Hongu Taisha and huge Tori rising above the town. In Kawayu, near the campground, you can find free onsen (hot spring) on river banks – great place to be after a long walk.
The part from Kawayu to Ukegawa adds 4km extra to the track . We did it on foot, but if you don’t feel like you want to do it just catch a bus for about 300JPY per person.
4. Ukegawa – Koguchi
Distance: 13 km
Food/Drink: shops at the beginning and the end of the trail
Accommodation: Minshuku Momofoku in Koguchi, 8.250 JPY per person per night (dinner and breakfast included)
5. Koguchi – Kumano Nachi Taisha
Distance: 14.5 km
Food/drink: shop in Koguchi, shops/restaurants/vending machines near Kumano Nachi Taisha
Accommodation: Minshuku Oyado Hana in Nachikatsuura, 3600 JPY per person, bus from Kumano Nachi Taisha to Nachikatsuura costs about 620 JPY per person
Trains run to Tanabe and then from the train station you need to take a bus to Takijiri-oji for 960 JPY/pp. More about buses and timetables on the official site here.
We did a wild camping for 2 nights, spent a few nights at the Kawayu Campground (typhoon struck Japan and we had to wait until safe and for a shelter we had garage 🙂 ) and 2 nights in minshuku (traditional Japanese hotel). It is possible to stay in hotels every day, if you wish to (can find them on the maps in above links).
What to eat?
Depend on your budget of course. Ours was low so we were preparing food for ourself, but you can eat at the hotels.
With the backpack or not?
There is an option to hike light on the Takiji – Hongu part. You have to leave your luggage with a driver and then pick it up where ever you want later. It costs 6.600 JPY per person. More about it here.
When is the best time for Kumano Kodo?
Between May and October is the best time to do it if you want to stay in a tent. If you stay in the hotels then it’s OK all year round. We did it in September. In a daytime was nice and warm, overnight was comfortable to sleep lightweight sleeping bags.
Is it worth doing it?
Definitely, YES! If you’re visiting Japan only for a few days then we suggest visiting part of Kumano Kodo at least. Kumano Nachi Taisha + Nachi Waterfall and the next day have a dip in hot waters of Kawayu Onsen.