Location

Departs Kii-Tanabe

Difficulty

6-7

Challenging to Strenuous

Length

8

Trip Cost

$2895
twin share

Overview

Walk the only other UNESCO World Heritage registered pilgrimage route and become a Dual Pilgrim|Relive your Camino pilgrimage as you share stories and experiences from your walk with others who have also trodden the same path |Experience the annual festival held in Hongu to honour the Kumano Deities and the tradition of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage

  • Become a dual pilgrim in the company of like-minded walkers
  • Experience Kumano Hongu Taisha Spring Festival
  • Participate in a Purification ceremony 
  • Recieve a commemorative Dual Pilgrim shirt & Tenegui 
  • Visit all three grand shrines that are collectively known as the Kumano Sanzan
  • Includes the full length of the Nakahechi trail 
  • Enjoy delicious handmade Japanese food, made with fresh local ingredients
  • Stay in traditional guesthouses with lots of character and friendly hosts
  • Soak in an onsen to soothe your muscles (and spirit!) after a day of walking

The Kumano Kodo is a journey through a thousand years of Buddhist history and offers a window into traditional Japan that contrasts strongly with its hyper-modern cities. The Kumano Kodo’s rugged, forested mountains, quiet rural valleys, rivers and waterfalls provide a spectacular backdrop for hikers. Arriving at your destination each day the traditional local guesthouses offer reviving onsens and wonderful local food. Hiking the Kumano Kodo really is a great immersion into Japanese culture.

This self-guided walking trip combines the freedom and flexibility of a self-guided trek with the support and company of other like-minded travellers. This trip is guaranteed to depart on the dates outlined.

Travelling on your own? No trouble. We will pair you up with another solo traveller of the same gender on a twin share basis.

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Itinerary

DAY 1: ARRIVE KII-TANABE

The best way to reach Kii-Tanabe is by train – there are frequent trains from Kansai Airport, Osaka and Kyoto travelling southwards to Kii-Tanabe (train tickets not included and can be purchased locally). Here the railway line parallels the coast and avoids the steep mountainous interior.  Train travel from Osaka to Kii-Tanabe takes just over 2 hours and from Kyoto approximately 2.5-3 hours. Kansai International Airport (KIX) is the closest to this area.

Kii-Tanabe is the gateway town to the Imperial Route of the Kumano Kodo, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and mountains on the other. The town is also home to the Tanabe Tourist Information Center –  here you will have a group orientation, scheduled for the afternoon. During your orientation you will be presented with your Dual Pilgrim shirt. 

Following your orientation is a special experience to prepare you for your Kumano Kodo – a purification ceremony at the Tokei-jinja Shrine in Kii-Tanabe. Purification and offerings are an important aspect of Japanese spirituality so partaking in a purifying ceremony is a unique opportunity.  The ceremony begins with a ritual purification. Next prayers are offered to the deities for you to have good luck, happiness and protection along your Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.  The ceremony ends with a drink of sake – taking three sips from the cups poured by the miko (shrine maiden) – and being presented with your Talisman to wear on your daypack or self, as you journey along your pilgrimage. You will have a private guide to further enhance the experience and understating of such a sacred ritual. Following the ceremony your guide will take you for a short orientation walk down to the Tanabe Ogigahama beach area before you are transferred to your accommodation.

This evening you will be staying in an eco-tourism complex a few kilometres from the town centre. Before dinner you might like to go for a stroll amidst the orange and ume orchards.

Meals: D

DAY 2: WALK TAKIJIRI-OJI TO CHIKATSUYU (14KM)

It is an early start today and after checking out and picking up your lunch box, you and your fellow pilgrims will take a group taxi to Takijiri where you will commence the walk. The first section of today’s walk will be a continual steep climb up from Takijiri-oji to Takahara, a rural hamlet on a ridge, noted for its ancient shrine surrounded by giant kusu-noki, or camphor trees, and a spectacular view over the surrounding Hatenashi mountain ranges. Reminders of the past, including Buddhist statues and oji shrines, line the route along the ancient highway as you climb upwards.

Leaving Takahara behind, you head further into the mountains along the old trail, past bamboo forest and then into the pencil pine. You continue to pass by reminders of the old highway, including an ichirizuka distance marker and the sites of old former tea houses, which provided rest and shelter to pilgrims up until the early 20th century. Continuing on, you’ll crest the Hashiori-Toge pass after a short climb. The trail then descends past the Three-Fold Moon viewing area and the Michi-no-Eki rest area, one of a network of rest areas across Japan.

From here you have the last 1.5km, for the day,  which is mostly downhill. Along the way there is a short climb to the small but famous Gyuba-doji statue. This ancient statue shows Kazan, one of the first abdicated emperors to pilgrimage to Kumano, sitting astride both a horse and a cow. Your final descent takes you along a cobbled path and staircase to Chikatsuyu, a small village and one of the few places where you can get limited supplies or drinks. You will stop here for the night. 

6-8 hours walking

Meals: B L D

DAY 3: WALK CHIKATSUYU TO KUMANO HONGU TAISHA (25KM)

Today is your longest walking day and so another early start is required to give you plenty of time to reach Hongu. Along the way you will walk up and down many forest paths and eventually through some mountain top villages before descending to Hongu. 

Your walk begins with a climb to Tsugizakura-oji village. Nearby is a grove of giant cedar trees, some of which are reputed to be 800 years old!  You will then spend much of the day traversing over a number of passes, including a permanent detour in place due to landslides on the main path. There are few facilities on this part of today’s route which is through the forest before eventually leading you to the shrine at Hosshinmon-oji. At this point you also have the option to take a local bus (paid locally) as the road intersects here, or if time permits, carry on down into the valley for the final 7km to Hongu. 

This final section is a highlight for many walkers as you continue through small settlements and get your first glimpse of the great Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine and the giant torii gate called Oyunohara in the valley below.

Kumano Hongu Taisha is the main shrine in the area, to which all roads in the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage lead. A long stone staircase leads to the sacred grounds of the shrine, located on a ridge and surrounded by giant cedar and cypress trees. After looking around the impressive shrine you will  jump on a local bus (paid locally) to your evening destination at nearby Kawayu Onsen, a charming little hot spring village.

Arriving at your overnight location is a treat for tired walkers as the steam billows from the thermal rivers and there is the promise of a relaxing onsen after your exertions. The onsen thermal hot spring baths are an important part of the Kumano Kodo traditions with pilgrims performing hot water purification rituals in preparation for visiting the shrine. For you, it will be more preparation for a delicious Japanese meal in your accommodation and a good night’s sleep!

8 -10 hours walking

Meals: B L D

DAY 4: REST DAY IN HONGU AREA / HONGU TAISHA SPRING FESTIVAL

Hongu village is home to the Kumano Hongu Taisha, one of the Kumano Sanzan (the three grand shrines of Kumano) and head shrine of over 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan. Kumano was said to be the entrance gateway to the land of Yomi, the ‘other world’, which spirits travelled to in Japanese mythology. Across the road from the Kumano Hongu Shrine you will find the Kumano Hongu Heritage Centre, featuring a diversity of exhibitions on the Kumano Kodo – all permanent exhibitions and videos include English translations. Just nearby the centre you will find Oyunohara and Otorii, the largest torii shrine gate in the world at 34 meters tall, signifying the division of the secular and the spiritual worlds.

The Spring festival is held April 13th to 15th every year and is not only a quintessential festival of Kumano but intimately associated with the pilgrimage to Kumano and the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. Early this morning you may like to observe the ceremony at Kumano Hongu Taisha before an opportunity to participate in creating your own souvenir.  The word washi comes from “wa” meaning Japanese and “shi” meaning paper, and traditionally has been used to create shoji screens in Japanese homes. It also has a multitude of other uses including gifts, books, boxes and hats. With this experience you can create your own piece of Washi at the workshop in Hongu and then have it stamped with a special Shuin red seal at the Kumano Grand Shrine at Hongu

Washi paper is also used in your Dual Pilgrim certificate which is endorsed by the head priest and features the character for “Way” in the background. When you visit the Hongu Heritage Centre you will also receive your dual pilgrim badge. You can also choose to be featured on the Dual Pilgrim Spiritual Pilgrimages website.

The rest of the day is free for you to do as you wish. You might like to relax and enjoy the river onsen at your accommodation, or if you want to stretch your legs a little then walk back to Hongu on the Dainichi-goe route from Yunomine Onsen – this is a steep but delightful walk, passing some remarkable old carved statues at Hanakake Jizo, overgrown by tree roots. You might like to visit the tiny Tsuboyu onsen in a wooden cabin at the centre of town in Yunomine Onsen, which is the only UNESCO world heritage listed spa and the oldest in Japan at 1200 years old! The bath can be booked for a 30-minute private bathing and works on a first come first serve basis.

However the main highlight for today is the Spring Festival activities. This afternoon, the festival procession will make its way from Kumano Hongu Taisha to Oyunohara, a sandbank at the confluence of the Kumano and Otonashi Rivers. Legend has it that the Kumano deities, in the form of three moons, descended into the branches of a giant oak tree in this clearing. All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes lead to this sacred site.  At Oyunohara various rituals and celebrations take place, including fire rituals and mochi rice cake scramble. The atmosphere is serene and it is a privilege to witness the upholding of such traditions. At around 4pm the profession returns back to Kumano Hongu Taisha where the final ceremony is held at 5pm.

Meals: B D

DAY 5: WALK HONGU AREA TO KOGUCHI (13KM)

This morning your accommodation will shuttle you the short distance to Ukegawa to begin your walk. Or you have the option to walk an extra 30 minutes along the river from your Ryokan to the trail head. Today’s walk on the  Kogumotori-goe section is fairly gentle, mostly in the forested mountains with some nice ridge-walking sections.  It is considered to be the easiest day of your pilgrimage, and a nice opportunity to stretch the legs and get them warmed up again in preparation for the challenging final day tomorrow. 

The highlight is the Hyakken-gura pass, where a beautifully positioned Buddhist statue on a hilltop has a backdrop of the most spectacular views of the trail. The impressive Hyakken-gura lookout surprises walkers with a lovely panoramic view of the 3600 peaks of Kumano. Take a moment to enjoy this stunning view, as pilgrims have been doing for over 1000 years. 

The trail continues to rise and fall, sometimes gradual and occasionally more steep as you continue towards the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains. The views from the Sakura-jaya teahouse remains, down to the valley and across the mountains are impressive. It is said that when the owners of teahouses saw pilgrims approaching from far off in the distance, they would start to cook mochi rice cakes and boil water for tea, to have things ready to serve just as the pilgrims would arrive at the teahouse. This is also a good location to stop and eat your packed lunch.

From here the trail continues on a forest track and eventually descends into Koguchi, a small and isolated village surrounded by mountains and rivers.

5-6 hours walking

Meals: B L D

DAY 6: WALK KOGUCHI TO KUMANO NACHI TAISHA (14KM)

The Ogumotori-goe is the second day of a two-day trek from the Hongu area to Kumano Nachi Taisha. It is one of the toughest sections of the Nakahechi trail, despite appearing a similar distance in kilometers to the previous day, and a big day’s walk so we recommend an early start. Your accommodation will arrange a shuttle to the trailhead at 7:40 to allow sufficient time. 

Early on in your walk, you will encounter the 2.5-hour uphill climb of the Dogiri-zaka slope. Dogiri-zaka can be directly translated as “Body Breaking Slope”, and this is an appropriate name for this 5km uphill section that rises 800 metres to the Echizen-toge Pass.

Afterwards, you pass the Jizo-jaya teahouse remains, to the Moja-no-Deai, ‘Abode of the Dead’. It is believed that the souls of the dead gravitate to these higher mountains, where spirits inhabit this section of the trail. The walk continues through forest and along ridges, the path ascending and descending, until at Funami Toge pass the Pacific Ocean spreads out before you.

From here the trail descends to the Nachisan sanctuary and the brightly colored Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine, another of the three grand shrines of Kumano. Also nearby is the wonderful wooden Seiganto-ji temple and the spectacular Nachi-no-Otaki waterfall, the highest waterfall in Japan and can be seen from far out on the Pacific Ocean. 

Tonight you will stay in Nachisan near the Kumano Nachi shrine.  Relax and enjoy the completion of your extraordinary Kumano Kodo walk!

7-9  hours walking

Meals: B L D

DAY 7: WALK DAIMON-ZAKA / EXPLORE SHINGU

Early this morning you might like to walk back up from your accommodation to the Seiganto-ji Temple for the 5am prayer ceremony held by the monks each day. 

Following breakfast at your accommodation, you can then head out along an extra section of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, the Daimon-zaka, an impressive 600m long cobblestone staircase. Daimon-zaka means “large gate slope” referring to a shrine-gate that once stood nearby. The trail is an impressive cobblestone staircase lined with centuries-old trees and a beautiful walk. At the bottom of the slope is the Daimon-zaka bus stop and from here you catch a local bus to Nachi station and then on to Shingu. While waiting for your bus, visit the local teahouse at the base to collect your stamp for the last Oji (Tafuke-oji).

In Shingu, visit the third of the Kumano grand shrines, Kumano Hayatama Taisha. Though recently rebuilt, the buildings of Hayatama Taisha have occupied the same location since at least the 12th century and the area has been a site of nature worship for much longer. In fact, the nature in and around the shrine is an integral part of this Grand Shrine’s precincts and annual rituals. The ancient 800-year-old Nagi-no-Ki tree highlights the area’s deep tradition of nature worship and is considered a sacred tree of God. Small dolls made from the seeds of this tree are believed to generate luck with the opposite sex or a happily married life to couples. 

We also recommend visiting the nearby Gotobiki-iwa, a gigantic rock worshipped as a sacred object and located halfway up Gongen Mountain. It is believed that it was here that the first Kumano deities descended to earth from the heavens. At the base of this monolith is the Kamikura-jinja shrine. Closely tied with Hayatama Taisha, this small but stunning cliff top shrine is reached by a long 500+ stone staircase. The Shingu Castle remains are also a popular spot for viewing spring cherry blossoms. 

Take the bus to Kii-Katsuura, a small port and fishing town where your accommodation looks out over Katsuura Bay. Several shotengai (covered arcades) radiate out from Kii-Katsuura’s train and bus stations. Enjoy wandering through this area on the short walk to your Ryokan. You will see lots of souvenirs such as the local sake and marine products including dried bonito, seaweed and pickled vegetables. If time permits you might like to stroll around the small harbour before you check -in. 

If you feel a bit tired after walking around today you can soak your feet in the Umi-no-Yu (“Sea Bath”)  foot and hand bath at Katsuura fishing port. Soaking your feet in the footbath while watching fishing boats in the harbor is a great way to unwind and relax.

Meals: B D

DAY 8: DEPART KII-KATSUURA

Today enjoy a leisurely breakfast and then transfer by train to your onwards destination. Train tickets are not included and can be purchased locally at the Kii-Katsuura train station which is a short 10-minute walk from your ryokan. 

If you think you might be able to handle another early start and do not need to rush off, then you might like to venture up to the local fish market, a chance to see a traditional Japanese fish market in less crowded and more informal circumstances than the hugely popular Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Katsuura is only one of two ports in Japan which receives tuna all-year round – in fact more tuna is found here than anywhere else in Japan. At the local fish market, you can watch from designated observation areas as 150 kg specimens are lined up and sold off during the lively early morning auctions. Near the fish market is the bustling Nigiwai Market with many shops selling just about every type of fresh tuna such as sushi and bento boxes – you might like to pick up some lunch to take with you on your onward journey. There are also souvenirs and other local specialities – especially popular are the vinegar made with the water of Katsuura Nachi Falls and Nachi black candy.

Meals: B

 

Dates

From May 8th to October 1st 2020 our special offer of $1 deposit applies to new bookings made in this period for website trips*. $1 is all you will pay in 2020 for trips departing in 2021.

From January 1st 2021 we will invoice you the remainder of the standard deposit ($499*) and the remaining balance payment at the standard 2 months before departure. All your arrangements will be fully confirmed then, as per usual. The $1 deposit offer does not apply to private groups or significant tailormade trip requests, please speak to one of our consultants if you have any questions.

If Government restrictions don’t allow for any travel in your chosen destination at that time (when the balance is due at 60 days prior to departure) then we will either postpone your trip or allow you to transfer to another destination and trip that has availability instead.

*Note - the standard deposit for Peru Lodge trips is $1000.

Start date
12 Apr 2021
End date
19 Apr 2021
Price
$2895
Availability
Available

Inclusions

  • 1 night in Kii-Tanabe (twin share, ensuite)
  • 3 nights in traditional Japanese guesthouses along the Kumano Kodo (twin share, shared bathroom)
  • 2 nights in an onsen village in a traditional ryokan (twin share, ensuite)
  • 1 night Katsuura in a traditional ryokan (twin share, ensuite)
  • Daily meals included as listed in the itinerary
  • Luggage transfers on all trekking days and day 7
  • Group Tour Orientation in Kii-Tanabe at the start of your walk including information pack and maps
  • Pre-departure pack including exclusive RAW Travel Kumano Kodo Guide Book, RAW Travel Buff and Luggage Tags
  • Dual Pilgrim shirt  & Tenegui 
  • Dual Pilgrim completion certificate
  • Purification Ceremony (private/guided)
  • Washi Paper making experience
  • Group transfer by local taxi to your accommodation in Kii-Tanabe on day 1 and to the trailhead on day 2
  • RAW Travel’s exclusive interactive navigation app

Not Included

  • Local bus tickets
  • Train tickets to/from trail
  • Flights to/from destination
  • Travel insurance
  • Beverages other than water/tea at meals
  • Expenses and items of a personal nature

Map & Guide

Reviews

See below our customer experiences from our Kumano Kodo trips:

Michelle Macfadyen – December 2019
WOW what an experience! I wanted to get away from it all and I did! Thanks to RAW Travel I was able to get over to Japan with only a few weeks notice and they looked after all of my accommodation and bookings for me. Everything went so smoothly and I loved the country, the quiet and peaceful walking and the people. Staying in small guesthouses is such a privilege – really getting to know a country through getting to know the people. Thanks RAW Travel.

Hyun Beth Kang – Octoer 2019
Overall, this was a fantastic trip which was well organised. The walk was challenging but at the end extremely rewarding which will give us lasting memories. I loved the relatively authentic Japanese guesthouses, the Japanese bento boxes and the much needed onsen experiences after hours of hiking.

Elizabeth Watkins – October 2019
Walking the Kumano Kodo was an amazing experience. Surrounded by peaceful forest or viewing dramatic vistas

What our Clients Say

Can't recommend this trip enough. Smooth logistics, coherent info and maps made the self-guide easy. Most surprising for Japan was the found solitude - only encountered a handful of other trekkers on the hypnotic, and beautifully maintained track.

George Lancaster

https://rawtravel.com/destination-guides/kumano-kodo-dg-download/download-guide.pdf

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Trip Expert

Chris Kavanagh – Team Leader, Japan

(03) 5976 3763

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Trip Grading

This trip has a difficulty rating of 6-7 out of 10.