Away from the crowded subway stations, glaring neon signs and the speeding express trains of the major cities, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route gives you the chance to get acquainted with Japan’s soul. This trail, which leads you along ancient forest paths, over countless mountains and through magical, primeval forests, will reveal the character of the country in a way few ever get to experience. And as the huge cedars and cypresses rise above you, trees which serve as wild shrines, worshipped by the local population—you’ll be blown away by this wilder, more calming side of Japan.
The Kumano Kodo and its associated sacred sites span the entire Kii Peninsula in the south of Osaka. In 2004, the historical paths and grounds were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site through which our trail, the Kiji Route, meanders. Well signposted and easy to follow, it leads you from the Takajiri Oji Shrine to the grand shrine of Hongu and further to the Nachi Waterfall.
In six daily stages, you’ll hike a total of 50 miles (81 kilometers) from west to east, and you’ll conquer more than 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) of elevation. And while that might sound like quite a challenge, we promise it’s worth the effort as there’s no better way to experience the solitude of the Japanese mountains. Just bear in mind that the trail will get noticeably busier on the weekends through the summer, although the beautiful hotels with their local cuisine and access to hot springs will be sure to keep your nice and relaxed.
Although the Kii Peninsula seems remote, the pilgrimage route is easily accessible by bus and train. From Osaka, there is an express train directly to Kii-Tanabe, from where you can reach all the villages of the hike by public bus. This way, you can also opt to complete individual sections of the pilgrimage if you’d rather not do the full six stages. As one final piece of important advice, Japanese hostel owners are seldom prepared for spontaneous visitors, so it is advisable to book accommodation along the way in advance. And so you can at least get by, here are three helpful phrases you might want to master:
"Arigatou gozaimasu" - "Thank you very much."
"Sumimasen” - “Please forgive me.”
"Eigo o hanasu koto ga dekimasu ka?" - "Do you speak English?"
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On the third leg, you will first go from Nonaka back to the pilgrim's way and then start in the direction of the Waraji-Toge-Pass, which you will pass at a height of almost 600 meters.In the next valley, cross a stream and follow the signposted diversion over the next pass. The climb is steep, but it rewards you with a great view of the surrounding valleys.