03 Aug 20

Can children hike Japan’s Kumano Kodo trail?

Chris Kavanagh Japan

Travelling with children offers many benefits for both parents and kids. It’s great to share experiences together and get out of normal routines. The adventure of travelling away from home can also provide opportunities for children to learn and demonstrate courage and develop cultural empathy.

Japan is a particularly great place to travel with children. It’s safe, clean and full of mod cons, and lots of fun! In Tokyo, teenagers, in particular, will get a kick out of the pop culture, neon streetscapes, karaoke in Shibuya, shopping, the Edo-Tokyo Museum, the Tsukiji fish market, glow-in-the-dark bowling and Disneyland, while Kyoto has the International Manga Museum, plus plenty of parks and gardens.

Japan boat cruise

Teens will love the traditional boat trip as a way of exploring the Kumano Kodo from a different perspective.

So can children hike the Kumano Kodo?

This beautiful UNESCO World Heritage listed mountain trek with waterfalls and shrines takes pilgrims through a sparsely populated part of the Japanese mainland. The 68km route can be completed in a 7-day itinerary, but it is physically demanding. It involves up to 9 hours walking each day, often on continuously steep sections. We don’t recommend it for young children, but physically active teenagers with multi-day hiking experience should cope well.

Kumano Kodo signage

You don’t have to walk the whole way and it’s important to have a few rest days so that young travellers
can hang, read a book, or get in touch with friends over Wi-fi, which is readily available in most places.

There are some other important considerations, in addition to the physical demands of the trail. The Kumano Kodo is in a remote area away from medical facilities, and guesthouses serve only Japanese meals, so food can be an issue if your child is a picky or unadventurous eater. Accommodation is dominated by basic (but lovely) Japanese ryokans (traditional inns) and minshukus (family run guesthouses). Guests sleep on futons that are spread on tatami mats and share toilet/bathroom facilities.

Japan Nan Inn Koyasan

The safety of all our travellers is our main priority, so here are a few questions you could ask yourself to determine if this trip is the right one for you and your children: 

  • Could your teenager walk up to 9 hours each day, even in heavy rainfall?
  • Would they be calm in an emergency?
  • Can they carry up to 2 litres of water on each trekking day?
  • How would they cope with eating only traditional Japanese food along the trail?
  • What if they develop large blisters on their feet?
  • Have they done adequate training for this walk, including training up and down steep hills?
  • Are they comfortable walking on rough terrain? This walk has rocky, slippery sections and exposed tree roots.
  • Do they have suitable hiking boots, which are well worn in?
  • Do they have adequate wet weather gear?
  • Are you comfortable taking your children to an area that does not have medical facilities nearby?
  • Are you and your children comfortable with onsen bathing facilities (most onsens in Japan are segregated by sex, and men and women bathe naked after thoroughly scrubbing down)?

kumano kodo child hiker

RAW Travel can advise you about the must-see destinations and create an itinerary that
accommodates your wishes and interests.

“My daughter loved Japan: the cities, the ancient castles, Universal Studios, learning some Japanese words and, particularly on the Kumano Kodo trail, finding out about the Japanese traditional way of life. The walk was very challenging but we did a fair bit of walking and other additional exercise on top of our normal routine beforehand. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the amount of rain that fell out of the sky during our time there, but having the information provided to us by RAW Travel and their local contacts enabled us to have choices to take the bus at various points if we wanted an easier option or if we were just too tired. My daughter also loved collecting the stamps along the way and officially becoming a Kumano Kodo pilgrim by completing a required section of the trail. It was so great to have everything organised by RAW Travel as I would have never known the best spots to stay for an optimum once in a lifetime experience, not to mention dealing with the challenge of the language barrier.” – Natascha Pijper (VIC), April 2017

kumano kodo passport

Teens love collecting the stamps along the way and officially becoming a Kumano Kodo pilgrim!

If you’d like more information or advice, please read about our Kumano Kodo tours and contact one of our Japan destination specialists.

Photos: Courtesy Natascha Pijper

sign up to our newsletter

explore the world with Raw