08 Aug 21

Walking the Nyonin-michi Women’s Pilgrimage in Koyasan

Chris Kavanagh Japan

Up until 1872, women were not permitted into Koyasan, a village high in the Kii mountains. Instead, they would carry out their pilgrimage in a circumference around the sacred precinct, praying at the entrances. RAW Travel clients can pay homage to these women on a 2.5-hour hike through the forest with a private local guide, as I did on a recent visit.

The hike starts at the final surviving Nyonindo (hall for female pilgrims) and passes by all seven of Koyasan’s traditional entrances, weaving in and out of the forest along a trail that has been compared to the shape of a lotus flower.

RAW Travel’s local guide, Ryochi Takai, was born and raised in Koyasan. He has hiked many of the trails around the area including the Kumano Kodo Nakahechi and Kohechi routes. His grandfather, father and brother are all priests, which provides him with a unique insight into the spiritual practises of Koyasan. He shares this in English, which has been enhanced by years of living in England.

Along the way, walk along dense covered forest paths over tree roots, through Torii gates and past remnants of shrines which are often covered in a moss that is unique to Koyasan.

From time to time, the path breaks out into vistas of open skies with stunning views over the mountainous Kii Peninsula. The uphill sections may not feel as long in comparison to the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, but are still challenging in places.

The finish is at the entrance to Okunoin, the cemetery that houses Koyasan founder Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. I recommend continuing your exploration of Koyasan here, in what must be one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries. The 2km long cobblestone trails are lined with giant and ancient cedar trees, and filled with more than 200,000 gravestones and tombstones. They’re all covered in green moss, which is a stunning sight.

The Nyonin-michi Women’s Pilgrimage is a peaceful walk, and is particularly great if you are missing your daily dose of nature after your Kumano Kodo hike or (as in my case), as a taste of what you can expect prior to your own pilgrimage.

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