Repeat Traveller

Exploring Japan’s Kumano Kodo

Japan is a destination that warrants repeat visits. When you’ve done the bright lights of Tokyo and spirituality of Kyoto, it’s time to take your journey further afield – but it needn’t be a complete change of direction. If you’re after spirituality and natural beauty, one area which combines the two is the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage in the mountains southeast of Osaka.

Dating back to the 7th century, this sacred trail is one of just two UNESCO listed pilgrimages – the other being the Camino de Santiago (also known as The Way of St James) in Spain.

Nicknamed ‘the pilgrimage of ants’ for the strings of pilgrims who walked in procession along the trail, it was a challenging yet deeply spiritual act of worship for devotees of the Shugendo religion – a hybrid of Shintoism and Buddhism.

In a nutshell, the Kumano Kodo is an elaborate network of trails leading through mountains and valleys of the Kii Peninsula en-route to three sacred grand shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha, and the Kumano Hayatama Taisha.

Though it has a history dating back more than a thousand years, it wasn’t long ago that this trail has been all but forgotten, left to fall into a state of disrepair. Today however, it is experiencing a resurgence of interest from international travellers.

I had the pleasure to travel along a stretch of this sacred route earlier in the year, and am still in a state of awe from its beauty, history, tradition, and spirituality. Looking back through these photos again, I think a repeat visit may be in order.

Here is a taste of the things I experienced on the trip.

Peering into the grounds of the sacred Kumano Hongu Taisha grand shrine
Peering into the grounds of the sacred Kumano Hongu Taisha grand shrine
The inner sanctum of the Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine
The inner sanctum of the Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine
Fortunes tied to a tree outside Tamaki Shrine in Totsukawa Village
Fortunes tied to a tree outside Tamaki Shrine in Totsukawa Village
A waterfall and pagoda at Kumano Nachi Taisha
A waterfall and pagoda at Kumano Nachi Taisha
Modern day pilgrims wearing rented traditional clothing from the Edo Period. In its heydey, women actually wore these clothes while undertaking the walk
Modern day pilgrims wearing rented traditional clothing from the Edo Period. In its heydey, women actually wore these clothes while undertaking the walk
A modern pilgrim walking the Kumano Kodo between Hosshinmon-Oji and Hongu Taisha
A modern pilgrim walking the Kumano Kodo between Hosshinmon-Oji and Hongu Taisha
Yunomine onsen village, a must-visit destination for travellers wanting to relax in Japan's famous hot springs
Yunomine onsen village, a must-visit destination for travellers wanting to relax in Japan’s famous hot springs
The grounds of Kumano Hayatama Taisha
The grounds of Kumano Hayatama Taisha
A woman selling snacks outside Hayatama Taisha
A woman selling snacks outside Hayatama Taisha

kumanopinterest

When You Go 

How to get there: 
The easiest way to explore this area is by purchasing a Wakayama Kumano Pass from one of the JR (Japan Rail) stations in Wakayama Prefecture. You can easily catch a direct train from Osaka Kansai International Airport down to this area. For around 8,500 yen, you can buy a three day hop-on hop-off rail and bus pass that allows you to travel freely on certain routes. The routes take in several of the hot spring villages such as Kawayu and Yunomine.

Where to stay: 
Hotel Subaru – hotel-subaru.jp
Fujiya Ryokan – fuziya.co.jp/english

– I travelled as a guest of Wakayama Prefecture.

Chris Ashton

We’re Chris Ashton and Simon Ceglinski, two Aussie travellers with a love of exploration and adventure, and the odd bit of luxury thrown in. We seek out street art, street food, and scuba diving wherever we go, and prefer the road less travelled over well-worn tourist paths.

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