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?"
Your first leg starts at the bus stop of Takijiri-oji. After rummaging through the Pilgrimage Center, your path leads you straight to the Takijiri-Oji.Oji is the name given to the numerous tiny, smaller and sometimes larger shrines and places of worship on the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage. At almost all Ojis you get a stamp in your pilgrim pass. Most pilgrims take their time here just to pause and give a small donation before moving on. The Takijiri-Oji is the gateway to the Kumano Kodo and here you can spiritually prepare for your walk.Afterwards the trail leads you over the first mountain range to the high place Takahara where your today's stage ends. Here you will also find a cozy place to prepare for the next day.Since the arrival of the big cities takes a little time, the first stage is correspondingly shorter. To start your hike, take the train from Osaka to Kii-Tanabe Station. Already on the way here you will slowly find peace when the rows of houses in the metropolis of millions give way to the green mountains and lush bamboo groves. From Kii-Tanabe we continue by bus to Takijiri-Oji.The bus timetable can be found at www2.tb-kumano.jp/en/transport/pdf/Tanabe-Shirahama-to-Hongu-bus.pdf
From Takahara, after breakfast, you will continue through numerous shorter ascents and descents towards the village of Chikatsuyu. Along the way, you'll pass a total of six Oji shrines that have sprung from the Kumano Kodo over many centuries: Daimon-Oji, Jujo-Oji, Osakamoto-Oji, Chikatsuyu-Oji, Hisoharo-Oji, and most recently Tsugizakura-Oji.After passing the remnants of the Uwadawa-jaya Teahouse at the highest point of your hike, we descend steadily down to Chikatsuyu. Teahouses were the pilgrim's historic resting places, where a simple meal and a tea ceremony were held together.Shortly before Chikatsuyu you can take a break at the rest area and have a small meal. There's also a supermarket in Chikatsuyu to stock up on supplies. Then it goes through the center with its classic Japanese houses on to the stage destination Tsugizakura -Oji. There you can admire the huge cedars and then visit your accommodation in nearby Nonaka.
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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.After the leisurely descent, you can thank the patron saint of hikers, Jagata Jinzo, for your safe pass crossing, before embarking on the final ascent of the day. Afterwards it goes through a light cypress forest down to the stage destination Hosshinmon-Oji. The small shrine marks the beginning of the sacred site of the great Kumano-Hongu-Taisha Shrine.From here you can either hike to your accommodation in Yunomine Onsen or Hongu, which are each another eight kilometers away. Alternatively, you can take the bus to save your energy for the next few days.Bus schedules can be found at www2.tb-kumano.jp/en/transport/pdf/Tanabe-Hongu-Hosshinmon-oji-bus.pdf or www2.tb-kumano.jp/en/transport /pdf/Hongu-to-Tanabe-Shirahama-bus.pdf
The fourth stage will take you today in a generous round along the main points of the Hongu area. Of course, even if our planning starts in the spa town of Yunomine, you can of course adapt the starting place to your needs and your place of stay.From Yunomine-Onsen we head north to the small shrine Funatama-Jinja. There you turn off to the Hosshinmon-Oji, which you already visited the day before. From there it goes down to the valley of the Kumano Gawa River. On this piece you will always have great views of the valley ahead and the huge Hongu Shrine Gate.It's best to plan enough time to visit the impressive shrine complex so you can take it easy on yourself. From Hongu the way back to Yunomine. If you want to save yourself this last section, you can easily travel back to the starting point by public bus.
The section from Yunomine to Koguchi is called Kogumotori-goe. The actual starting point is located approximately four kilometers from Yunomine in the small village of Ukegawa. There you will also find a small supermarket where you can provide you with provisions for the hiking day.Over a long and even climb, it goes up about 400 meters up to the viewpoint of Hyakken-Gura. There you can admire the view of the endless mountain ranges of the Kii peninsula in the company of a small Buddha statue.The trail then follows roughly the mountain ridge through towering cedars and then leads down a steep descent over rough steps down to the valley of the Akagi-gawa River. The final steps of the day's journey will take you through the two villages of Kowase and Koguchi, where you will eventually reach your milestone destination.The starting point for the hike can be reached both on foot and by public bus from Yunomine Onsen, Kawayu Onsen or Hongu. In that case, drive to the stop "Ukegawa". We also have the footpath to the starting point built into the tour.The timetable can be found at www2.tb-kumano.jp/en/transport/pdf/Hongu-Koguchi-Shingu-bus.pdf
The final stage, called Ogumotori-goe, holds a great challenge but also great moments for you. From the sleepy village of Koguchi, the trail climbs incredibly steeply over stone and wooden steps to the highest point of the entire hike. On less than five kilometers, you will climb over 800 meters in altitude.The trail leads along ancient cedars, towering cypresses and steaming fern forests. On the way you will find numerous references to the ancient history of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path in the form of ruins, small statues and shrines.After passing the funami-toge pass, descend to the Kumano Nachi-Taisha Shrine. As you take the final step out of the rugged cedar forest, the breathtaking view of the large pagoda, the Nachi Waterfall and the sweeping valley that opens to the Pacific awaits.After the six days in the Japanese mountains, you have reached a spiritual calm that will allow you to fully enjoy this holy place. The view from the pagoda to the surrounding landscape is a great reward for the effort behind you.Full of new experiences, you are happily and happily traveling by bus to Kii-Katsuura Station on the Pacific coast. From there you can travel by train to your next destination.The bus timetable can be found at www2.tb-kumano.jp/en/transport/pdf/Nachi-Kii-Katsuura-bus.pdf