If you’re an avid hiker maybe you’re ready to expand your long hikes in nature to places abroad or perhaps Japan is on your travel bucket list; a trip to Kumano Kodo may be the perfect travel destination for you.
We will give you an in-depth look at a Kumano Kodo hike and help you decide if it’s the one-of-a-kind travel experience you’ve been looking for throughout your years of traveling.
What Is Kumano Kodo?
Kumano Kodo is in Japan and is located in the southern part of the Kansai region. If you look at a Kumano Kodo map, you will notice a network of trails; these are pilgrimage trails. Pilgrimage routes have long and religious or spiritual histories throughout the globe, and the Kumano Kodo trek is one of the few to be designated as a world heritage site.
People have traveled the Kumano Kodo trail for over 1,000 years, and the network of trails was initially created to allow people on the Kii Peninsula move from one sacred area to the next. Centuries ago, visitors would visit the Kumano Sanzan or the three shrines of Kumano (Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha, and Nachi Taisha).
Although many pilgrims came to visit the shrines, many considered hiking on the trails to be an essential part of the pilgrimage. While some of the trails have disappeared over the years, there are still some trails that follow the Kumano Kodo map and pilgrimage.
A Closer Look At The Remaining Trails Of Kumano Kodo
Each year, many people visit Kumano Kodo to experience the same pilgrimage routes that Emperors and the Imperial Family walked.With a strong emphasis on worshipping and connecting with nature, the Kumano Kodo almost appears to be “frozen” in time, especially when compared to other parts of Japan. Hiking the trails gives you an inside look to an area of Japan that is rarely seen anymore.
While some of the trails along the coastal line no longer exist, we’ll give you an in-depth look at the trails that remain, and some are still traveled by pilgrims and tourists on a daily basis.
The complexity and intertwining of these trails are easier to visualize with a map, so be sure that you have one on you at all times before starting your hike through Kumano Kodo.
If you walk the section of the Nakahechi trail from Takijiri Oji to Hongu, it takes about two days to complete (with an overnight rest); the whole pilgrimage takes about five days. While it does pass through some slight inclines, forests, and villages, the trek is described as “relatively easy.” The trail ends at Hongu Taisha.
This trail is easily the most popular and is most likely to draw the attention of visitors who aren’t necessarily interested in recreating the pilgrimage walk.
Since Ohechi is a coastal trail, it is almost entirely gone due to development and other construction projects. The trail follows the coast from Tanabe to Nachi Taisha. Before you decide to attempt walking along the Ohechi trail, it’s a good idea to make sure you can even access the path
The Iseji trail is another section of coastal trail that is starting to be taken over by development. The trail connects to the Ise Shrine, which is located in Mie Prefecture. If you decide to check out the Iseji trail, you’re better off taking a look at Magose Pass or Matsumoto Pass.
Kohechi connects to Koyasan and is one of the more difficult trails in the Kumano Kodo. Kohechi is a mountaintop route, and if you want to try navigating it, it’s best if you have a lot of experience hiking in the mountains on long, steep, and zig-zagging trails.
Much like Kohechi, Omine Okugake is a dangerous and challenging route that requires following steep mountain ridges. If you are looking for an easy and leisurely hike, this is not the trail to attempt to navigate.
Things To Consider When Visiting Kumano Kodo
It’s difficult to describe all that Kumano Kodo has to offer without visiting the trails yourself. Whether you walk the paths to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature or you want to experience the walk on a spiritual level, you’re likely to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you think you want to put it on your list of things to do when visiting Japan, there are some things to consider.
When Is The Best Time To Go?
The Kumano Kodo is open year-round, so any time of year provides unique opportunities. When you choose to visit depends a lot on your hiking expertise levels or how much of the trail you want to share with others.
The spring months are a favorite time of year to visit Japan, thanks to cherry blossom season and fall is a perfect time to take a look at the foliage.
The summer months can be an excellent time of year to visit, but you should keep in mind that the temperatures are higher and the humidity peaks around August due to the rainfall. People who want to hike in the winter should be skilled hikers and travel at their own risk.
What To Wear
Although the hike takes a few days, you can choose to visit one section of the Kumano Kodo for a day, if you’re limited on time, or you’re not able to walk for an extended period. Regardless of how long you’ll be hiking, you want to make sure that you’re wearing comfortable, lightweight, and breathable clothing.
A waterproof jacket or a rain jacket is good to have on hand, and you should wear shoes with excellent support, such as hiking boots. Even though you may be shaded by the trees in the forested areas, sunglasses or a hat will keep you protected from the sun.
Hiking Gear To Consider
Depending on the length of your hike will determine how much you want to take with you. Since there are lodging opportunities along the way, you won’t need to carry any camping gear, but you may want to bring some hiking gear that will make the trek a little easier.
A small first aid kit always comes in handy and don’t forget to bring allow your mosquito repellant, especially during the hot and humid months. If you are hiking during the summer months, you can expect more extended hours of daylight, but it’s always a good idea to bring a headlamp or a small flashlight just in case it gets dark before you call it a day.
Always bring enough water and a few protein-rich snacks to keep you going strong on your trek; don’t fill up too much as you’ll want to check out some of the local cuisines along the way.
Some information centers provide free bamboo hiking sticks, but if you want, you can bring your own hiking poles. They may be good to have on hand, considering the varying terrain of the trails.
Don’t Forget About Etiquette
Even if you are spending most of your time outdoors and hiking along the trails of Kumano Kodo, you should still think about proper etiquette. If you’re in doubt about what to do, take a cue from people around you. Still unsure? Don’t be afraid to ask.
Removing Your Footwear
For obvious reasons, you will need to wear a good pair of shoes while you’re walking the trails, but don’t forget to remove your shoes, especially when entering a home, a guesthouse (where you may likely be staying), or a religious temple.
Respecting Nature and Religious Shrines
Since your whole trip to Kumano Kodo revolves around nature and visiting the Kumano Sanzan, it’s important to remain respectful. The shrines are open to visitors, but whether you’re a believer in the religion or not, you must remain quiet, stay in designated areas, and look respectable. Talking loudly on a cell phone or to the people in your group is also disrespectful.
When you’re hiking on the trails, avoid going “off the beaten path” and never pick a plant or some other part of nature as a souvenir. The trails are centuries old, respect them and stay on the designated path. If you’re unclear where to go or think you’re lost, ask for help.
Planning Your Trip
There’s a lot to think about when planning your trip to the pilgrimage trails. If you want to know specific places to stay or eat, there are plenty of reviews online from other travelers who went to Kumano Kodo. The Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau is another great resource to help you plan your trip in greater detail.