Kumano Kodo

51 Review
Photo: ziggy_mars / Shutterstock.com

For over 1,000 years, Japanese people from all walks of life, including retired emperors and aristocrats, have made the arduous pilgrimage of Wakayama. The Kumano Kodo is a network of ancient pilgrimage routes that traverse the Kii Peninsula in southern Wakayama Prefecture. These sacred paths have become Created to serve as pilgrimage routes to enter the sacred Kumano Sanzan area, which includes the three great shrines of Kumano Hongū Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. In July 2004, the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes were established as part of the "" Holy places and pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountains "" added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Overview

Address

Nachikatsuura, Higashimuro District, Wakayama 〒649-5302 (Directions)

Price

Free entry

Website

https://www.tb-kumano.jp/en/kumano-kodo/

Designations

  • UNESCO World Heritage Site

Related Articles

20 articles
Kumano Kodo-The “Way of St. James” of Japan

Kumano Kodo-The “Way of St. James” of Japan

Alena Eckelmann

You might have heard of The Way of St. James, a Christian pilgrimage route that lead across Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain where the remains of Apostle Saint James are buried. A similar, over 1,000 years old network of pilgrimage routes exits in Japan where all trails lead to the Hongu Taisha, a shrine in Wakayama Prefecture’s Kumano area. The European and the Japanese pilgrimage routes, although tens of thousands kilometres apart, not only share the pilgrimage tradition but they both are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Kumano area, a mountain range full of scenic beauty, traditions and mystery, is often referred to as the spiritual heartland of Japan. For over 1,000 years Kumano has attracted Japanese worshippers and seekers and old trails, more or less intact, cross-cross the Kii Peninsula and lead to some sacred sites. The Kiiji route was the main trail travelled by imperial families and aristocrats from Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital leading along the west coast of the Kii Peninsula via what is now Wakayama City to present-day Tanabe City, both located in Wakayama Prefecture. Near Tanabe City the Kiiji trail splits into the Nakahechi route, which from there cuts across the mountains, and the Ohechi route which continues around the southern tip of the Kii Peninsula. The Kohechi route starts at the Buddhist temple complex of Mt. Koya and runs across the center of the Kii Peninsula. The Iseji route runs along the east coast and connects the Ise Grand Shrine with the Kumano area. As the old saying goes “All roads lead to Rome.” so here too, all trails lead to the Hongu Taisha, one of the three Grand Shrines of Kumano. Parts of the trail were paved with stones to avoid erosion by the elements and apparently to ease the pilgrims’ journey. However, anyone who has walked these stone paths and climbed countless stone steps is forgiven for wondering whether the real purpose was not to test the pilgrim’s spirit and endurance. No one really knows who first laid them or when but some of these stone paths have remained until today and have now become a symbol of the Kumano Kodo. Oji (subsidiary shrines of the Kumano Grand Shrines) were established along the Kiiji Trail and the deities enshrined were thought of as offspring of the gods worshipped at the Three Grand Shrines. These Oji, said to number 99, offered not only places of worship but also places for a much needed rest. Some of these Oji are still there and for the modern-day pilgrim or hiker they mark stages of travel more than places of worship along on the Nakahechi trail. Some of these Oji are still important landmarks as much as they used to be points of passage to the sacred sites in the past. Takijiri-oji marks the beginning of the Nakahechi trail and Chikatsuyu-oji can be found on the way to the Hongu Taisha. In the old days there were also many tea houses along the pilgrimage paths that served pilgrims as a place for rest and information exchange. Today there are only vacant lots and any remains are overgrown by lush green vegetation. Often there are some benches at these spots where you may sit down and rest. You better bring your own tea and provisions though or else you might starve as there are no convenience stores around the next corner of the forest. Let your fantasy take hold and follow the tales of pilgrims and locals who walked and lived along these trails. Many of their tales are retold, even in English, on wooden boards that can be found along the trails.

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Kumano Kodo Overnight-Stay in Chikatsuyu-oji

Kumano Kodo Overnight-Stay in Chikatsuyu-oji

Alena Eckelmann

Chikatsuyu-oji is a small village located in a mountain basin about halfway between Takijiri-oji and the Hongu Taisha (the Hongu Grand Shrine) on the Nakahechi pilgrimage trail in the Kumano area. This is an ideal place for staying overnight on a two-day walk to the Hongu Taisha shrine. After walking along the Nakahechi mountain trail for hours, the sight of this small settlement promises a well-deserved break. Soak your tired legs in onsen water and enjoy the hospitality of the locals. You can first catch a glimpse of the river and the Chikatsuyu-oji settlement when you decent from the surrounding mountains. Crossing the bridge over Hiki River, tired pilgrims and hikers will find the most luxurious facilities that a secluded Japanese mountain village can offer, namely a Coop grocery store, a post office and some minshuku (B & B). In the old days pilgrims would perform cold-water purification in the river, one of many religious rites they performed on their way to the tree holy Kumano Grand Shrines. Nowadays you may soak your aching legs in the hot water of a local onsen (hot spring). Whether you want to say a prayer while relaxing in the hot spring waters is entirely up to you but walking along the old Kumano pilgrimage trails lends to introspection and to thinking about your own spiritual roots. An ideal place to stay overnight is Minshuku Chikatsuyu. The modern one-storey house was built right next to Hiki River which you can overlook from the dining room while enjoying a delicious Japanese dinner and breakfast. The rooms are simple Japanese style, meaning that you will sleep on a futon on the tatami floor. The shared indoor onsen is housed in a small building next to the minshuku where guests bath and relax. While there are some other options for accommodation in the area, hikers and pilgrims on the Nakahechi trail appreciate the hot, soothing waters of Hisui-no-yu onsen located right next to the minshuku after a long day’s walk. Guests of the minshuku may use this onsen for free while non-guests pay yen 550 (adult). After crossing the bridge over Hiki River (coming from Takijiri-oji), you will easily find the minshuku and the onsen near Chikatsuyu-oji, the Oji, or subsidiary shrine of the Kumano Grand Shrine, after which the settlement has been named. Searching for this Oji, don’t look for a wooden shrine building but for a large rock with kanji inscription and a shimenawa, a sacred rope, around it. Along the Kumano Kodo trails you will often see these sacred ropes bound around rocks and trees in Japan. These spots notify a shintai, a holy place where a kami is thought to reside. The cost for an overnight stay at Minshuku Chikatsuyu of around 9,400 yen per person (adults; depending on season) includes breakfast and dinner. This might sound a bit expensive at first but you have to consider that some sumptuous Japanese meals are included in the price, in addition to a glass of the owner’s delicious home-made plum liquor. He is also very knowledgeable about the Kumano area and he took time to answer my questions (in Japanese though) and drew a map of the Kumano Kodo trail from Hongu Taisha to Nachi Taisha (Nachi Grand Shrine), the second of the three Kumano Grand Shrines. In fact, there are no other places in the Chikatsuyu-oji settlement other than minshuku and the local Coop store where you can get some meals. I would recommend to take the bento (lunch box) prepared by the owner’s wife at a small extra cost. If you are walking towards the Hongu Taisha, then you have a long day ahead and there are not many options for getting food along the trail. With a delicious bento in the rucksack and some friendly words for the way you are well equipped for your onward journey to the Hongu Taisha, the goal of all pilgrimage trails in Kumano.

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Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage

Jemma King

If the 5 heritage listed sites, spiritual significance and scenery of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage interest you but you do not have a week to complete the journey, there is no need to panic. Sections of the trail can be tackled to get a glimpse of what it offers to help you plan a return trip for next time.

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Hiking on the Kumano Kodo

Hiking on the Kumano Kodo

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Walking the Kumano Kodo is a great way to experience rural Japan and to enjoy its stunning nature. The hiking from Yunomine Onsen to Nachisan offers some of the best views in a 3 days pilgrimage that you won't forget.

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The Kohechi Pilgrimage Route

The Kohechi Pilgrimage Route

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At the Hatenashi pass, the mountain of the same name meets the Kohechi path, literaly, the "little path". Located 1,070 meters of altitude in Totsukawa, it is one of the five pilgrimage routes which constitute the Kumano Kodo.

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Tea Harvest in Kumano

Tea Harvest in Kumano

Alena Eckelmann

Living in a village near Hongu on the the Kumano Kodo trail, I have watched my neighbors pick tea leaves from the tea bushes located all around this small mountain village during the first week of May each year. This year I picked some leaves myself!

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The Green Pheasant - Japan's National Bird

The Green Pheasant - Japan's National Bird

Alena Eckelmann

Did you know that the Green Pheasant is Japan's National Bird? This pheasant is endemic to Japan and one can still see it roaming around in unattended meadows and abandoned paddy fields in the Hongu area, near the Kumano Kodo ancient pilgrimage trails.

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Kumano Kodo in Mie

Kumano Kodo in Mie

Lily Taki

The Magose-toge Pass is part of the Kumano Kodo in Owase City, Mie Prefecture and consists of 6 roads. As a part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, it was registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2004.

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Ise-ji Road of the Kumano Kodo

Ise-ji Road of the Kumano Kodo

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The “Kumano Kodo” pilgrimage road, located in Owase city, Mie prefecture, had been used by many people since the Edo Period. There are 6 roads in total and the “Iseji road” is the one leading from the Kumano area to Ise Grand Shrine.

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Hyakkenzan Gorge

Hyakkenzan Gorge

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Hyakkenzan Gorge, a deep valley in the south of the Kii Peninsula, has your ideal summer hiking course. Why? It is a short trail where water and shade are never far away. There are 30 waterfalls in this valley and they are surrounded by virgin forest.

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Scuba Diving in Kushimoto

Scuba Diving in Kushimoto

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The largest coral colony in the northernmost part of the world is found in the ocean off the southern tip of the Kii Peninsula! This is the perfect location for your first scuba dive, ever!

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Sea Kayak and SUP in Kushimoto

Sea Kayak and SUP in Kushimoto

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Where better be in the summer than at the beach? If you prefer it active, then try sea kayaking or Standup Paddle (SUP) off the coast of Kushimoto City. Your instructors at Beach House Lapin at Hashigui Beach, named after the famous Hashigui Rocks nearby, will teach you how!

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Kumano Nachi Taisha

Kumano Nachi Taisha

The Kumano Nachi Taisha is a Shinto shrine and part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed holy sites and pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountains of Japan. The Kumano Kodo Route connects it with other sites of the same classification, mainly in Wakayama Prefecture This is the perfect area for hiking enthusiasts. The shrine is part of a large complex of neighboring religious sites that illustrate the amalgamation of Buddhist and Shinto influences that is characteristic of the Kumano region. The site also has the highest waterfall in Japan. The 133 meter high Nachi no Taki still impresses many travelers with its strength and natural beauty.

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Nachi Falls

Nachi Falls

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Kamikura Shrine

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