Let’s say you only have five days in Japan and you want to do something that will give you a holistic picture of the many rich traditions this country is founded on—more than visiting Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka—I would recommend doing the Kumano Kodo.
The Kumano Kodo is a series of trails linking the three grand shrines of Hanto Peninsula: Kumano Hongū Taisha (熊野本宮大社), Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) and Kumano Hayatama Taisha (熊野速玉大社). Some of the shrines have been around since the 9th Century, and are still in good enough condition for UNESCO to grant them the title of World Heritage Site (see more about the criteria). The trails are mostly wooded, with the occasional highway walk. The towns along the way are small, a world apart from the chaotic heaps of Tokyo. And the history and spirituality are rich. Japan’s first religion was Shinto, a form of nature worship, many of the waterfalls, trees and rivers you encounter along the way were once revered as gods with living spirits. Even now, you still feel the reverence for nature as you walk along the trails.
You can walk for as short as one to two days or as long as 10-12. In October, I took a group of three down to Wakayama Ken and we spent 4 days working our way on foot, by bus and a boat from Kii-Tanabe to Kii-Katsuura. To date, it is one of my favorite experiences in all of Japan.
Day 2 - Kii-Tanabe to Chikatsuyuoji
- Wake up early and grab snacks for the trail before getting the bus from the station to Takijiri.
- Once you get off the bus at Takijiri stop into the Kumano Visitor Center and pick up any additional maps, stamp books, and snacks you want for the trail.
- Stay at Minshuku Chikatsuyu.
- We didn't leave enough daylight to make it to our accommodations. So ended up having to call them and they were able to pick us up in their car and bring us back, thank you so much!
Day 3 - Chikatsuyuoji to Yunomine Onsen via Hongu Taisha
- Take the bus to Hosshinmon and hike to Hongu Taisha from there. Along this route, you'll be able to see down onto the large torii marking Hongu Taisha.
- From Hongu Taisha walk to Yunomine Onsen.
- Yunomine Onsen has a Unesco World Heritage Site onsen, Tsuboyu. Get your entrance ticket to Tsuboyu across from the public bath in town. They let two people in at a time for 30 minute sessions. Bring your own towel and no soap!
- Stay at Minshuku Yunotaniso.
Day 4 - Yunomine Onsen to Kii-Katsuura
- Take the bus from Yunomine Onsen to Kumano Gawa Village.
- From Kumano Gawa Village float down the Kumano Gawa toward Shingu.
- Once in Shingu visit the second of the three grand shrines, Hayatama Taisha.
- Take the train to Kii-Katsuura - beautiful fishing village.
- Stay at Nakanoshima - my absolute favorite ryokan to date.
Day 5 - Kii-Katsuura to Tokyo
- Wake up and take the bus leaving from the train station to Nachi Taisha. You can get off a few stops ahead and walk up the beautiful stone path through the trees.
- There are a few different places to visit, the main shrine, the pagoda and the waterfall. All are worth it. Hike back down to the bus, to Kii-Katsuura.
- Highly recommend Amai Cafe for a spot of lunch or coffee before the train.
- Another 5+ hours of trains to get back to Tokyo. The Kuroshio line hugs the coast most of the way to Osaka and is a truly beautiful and scenic ride.
I’ll be taking a very small group to hike the Kumano, March 26th - 30th (slightly different itinerary than the above). Message me for me details - as of now we have two spots left!
Or you can book accommodations through: