Hike the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route

Tanabe-shi, Japan



47.8 miles

Elevation Gain

8530.2 ft

Route Type



Added by Tam McTavish

One of only two UNESCO World Heritage trails, The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage is a beautiful 3-7 day walk through rolling highlands of central Japan. As you walk the cobbled paths tread by people for one thousand years you can really feel the history, and serenity. The Nakahechi route meanders along the steep ridges of mountainous east-central Japan, passing 99 shrines to minor Buddhist and Shinto deities. This is a unique hike that while not particularly daunting offers a very unique experience.

The Kumano Kodo's Nakahechi route is the most common way to travel. It follows the original Imperial Route as the best marked of all the variations. It also never wanders too far from civilization allowing frequent snack and drink stops, and lodgings the whole length of the route. 

Getting There

To get to the start of the route from Kyoto or Osaka, take the JR West to Kuroshio and get off at Kii-Tanabe. Directly adjacent to the Tanabe train service is a well marked Tourism office where a regular shuttle departs all day to take travelers to the start of the trail. Lunch, and grocery stores are around the corner if you need to stock up.

Ojis, Shrines, and Temples

The route follows "99 Oji's" or small shrines that vary from simple headstones to elaborate temple complexes along the way. At many of them you will be able to use ink stamps to mark your journey. 

When you get to important shrine they are normally marked by tori  gates that guard the entrance, and a water trough. Purify yourself here by using a ladle to scoop water into one hand, then the other, then rinse your mouth, depositing all water outside of the main trough.

From here approach the shrine, put a coin with a hole into the box, ring the bell, bow twice, clap twice, make a prayer, and then bow to complete the ritual. 

The Route

There are plenty of ways to do this route. Because camp sites are rare most people will arrange to move between town sites where accommodation is plentiful. 

A standard route would be Takijiri-oji to Cikatsuyu to Hongu, or Yunomine to Koguchi to Nachi Taisha where the main route ends. From their travelers can stay in Katsuura, or head directly to the last shrine at Shingu. 

The trail itself begins officially at the Takijiri-Oji outside of Tanabe. From here you the trail will normally follow up onto the ridges, and down into the valley villages. The trail is well marked Kumano Kodo signs in english with distances and points of interest marked along the way.

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