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Kumano Kodo Trip Report

MichaelC

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aug 2017: Le Puy to Santiago
Nov 2018: Kumano Kodo (partial)
Jul 2019: San Miniato to Bolsena
#1
I just came back from a trip to the Kumano Kodo region in Japan. I wasn't able to do the four-day Nakahechi Route (the one that earns you the dual compostela), but we did a lot of day hikes & I talked to everyone I could who had just done parts of the trail.

OUR ROUTE

Day one: Koyasan. Temple stay in a remote, 1200-year old Buddhist temple complex on Mount Koya.

This was one of the more beautiful places I've been to anywhere. If you are ever in Kyoto or Osaka I'd recommend planning for at least an overnight trip to Koyasan. It's special.

colors.jpeg rocks.jpeg

Day two: Bus to Kawayu Onsen.

We only met one pilgrim who was taking the bus to Kii-Tanabe to walk the Kumano Kodo with a group. There were two Japanese couples who were following the same itinerary we were. And that was everyone on the bus.

Kawayu Onsen was heavily damaged during a typhoon in September. The famous outdoor onsen were still buried in sediment, and most of the guesthouses were closed. I really liked our pension, but until the village recovers I'd recommend staying in the more scenic Yunomine Onsen.

Whichever you choose, you'll be able to enjoy a thermal mineral bath at the end of your day. Most pilgrims, whether they arrive by bus or by foot, spend two nights here.

yunomine.jpeg

Day three: Two half-day walks. Nakahechi Route from Hosshinmon Oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha. Danichi-goe Route from Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen. Trail maps.

The walk from Hosshinmon is the most popular route, and I've heard it's the most scenic. It's mostly downhill, and passes through a few small villages and a beautiful cedar forest. It only takes few hours, and you arrive in town in time for lunch. The second walk was short but steep and rugged.

mountains.jpeg
trail.jpeg

Day four: Kumano-gawa River Pilgrimage Route. from Hongu Taisha to Kumano Hayatama Taisha. Daimon-zaka trail to Kumano Nachi Taisha.

Part of the pilgrimage involves a boat trip! This was fun. I think the trail for this part was still closed due to typhoon damage, so your only choice is to bus or boat. This was the first day where I started to feel a sense of community, as we ran into the same people throughout the day.

river.jpeg

nachi.jpeg

THOUGHTS

I realize that it's almost impossible to compare a six week walking pilgrimage to a four-day busing-walking-boating pilgrimage ... but I'm going to try anyways. This part is obviously going to be very subjective. The following is partly based on my own experiences, and partly based on talking to others who walked.

Planning: You can make all of your arrangements on the Kumano Tourism Bureau website. I only met one person who was winging it. Everyone else did their trip planning in advance.

Scenery: Wild mountains, old cedar forests, and beautiful shrines & temples - no complaints here! It rivals anything in France or Spain. And the fall colors in November are spectacular.

Difficulty: This is a mountain trail, and pilgrims we met described it as 'mental.' There are no flat areas; you are either going up or down, and except for the last half day the trails are steep. We only met one person who walked the whole route. Everyone else bused through some sections.

Spirituality: In some ways the level of spirituality is far higher than in France or Spain. The Kumano Kodo is a sacred region for the Shinto religion, and Mount Koya is a sacred mountain for Shingon Buddhism. There are shrines everywhere along the path, and the temples are full of Japanese pilgrims. However, I'm not overly familiar with Buddhist or Shinto rituals, so on a personal level I often felt more like an observer than a participant.

Hospitality. The Japanese were invariably warm and gracious, but also a bit formal and reserved. Part of this was due to language barriers, and part to Japanese culture.

Food. Always high quality, but not always exciting. It was much better than the 'pilgrim meals' in Spain, but not quite on the level of those home-cooked meals in France.

Sense of Community: Very low. I think there's a couple reasons for this. One, the Kumano Kodo is a shorter trail, so there isn't the time for a sense of community to evolve. Also, there aren't the same types of communal spaces that you find in France and Spain - there were no cafes on the plaza where pilgrims could gather and mingle. Guesthouses rarely had lounges for guests. Onsen (hot tubs) were mostly aimed at individuals or couples. The places to stay were also spread out - the pensions and guesthouses weren't on the trail, and usually involved a bus ride from the main village. Finally, I think Japanese formality rubs off on visitors. I didn't see groups casually forming. Even at dinner, each guest or couple would have a placard indicating their table, and so everyone ends up spread out and eating separately.

The only time we actually interacted with others was on buses (where it was often a group effort to watch for the right stop) and on the final boat trip. And so it wasn't until the end of the trip that any type of pilgrim community was starting to form!

That elusive "camino feeling." I didn't feel it. Maybe if we had walked the whole route I would have? I didn't meet any dual-pilgrims to compare notes with.

Final thoughts: This was a great region to explore, and to get a deeper experience of Japan than you'll find in Kyoto or Tokyo. I'm really glad that we went, it was a great trip ... but it did not satisfy that camino craving. I guess I'll have to keep planning for the next one ...
 
Last edited:
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
St Olav/Francés ('16)
Baztanés/Francés ('17)
Ingles ('18)
#2
Mahalonui, Michael. Bookmarked!!!
This has been on my list for some time and I hope it will happen next year or the year after.
Japan is absurdly safe. But would it be to travel solo with no Japanese (beyond what I know from Hawaiian Pidgin, the odd nursery song from childhood, and a few greetings and thank you expressions)?
 

Mark T17

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances Sept 2017 (bike)
#3
Hi, Great summary, I visited Koyasan in 2012 and then did the 4 day Nahecki route in November 2012. I agree with your comments and I stayed in the minshuku's alone each night only seeing 1 or 2 people on the trail each day. I really appreciated being alone for 4 days with my thoughts and found it to be a fantastic journey. A woman from my office recently completed the same route alone in August and felt completely safe, although she did meet others on the trail to walk with during the day. The mountainous trek is exhausting and you should expect to do about 50% of the Napolean route out of SJPDP each day over 4 days. Pre-booking is essential otherwise the guest houses wont let you in.
 

Cybermum

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances may 2019 Portuguese Feb 2019
#4
I just came back from a trip to the Kumano Kodo region in Japan. I wasn't able to do the four-day Nakahechi Route (the one that earns you the dual compostela), but we did a lot of day hikes & I talked to everyone I could who had just done parts of the trail.

OUR ROUTE

Day one: Koyasan. Temple stay in a remote, 1200-year old Buddhist temple complex on Mount Koya.

This was one of the more beautiful places I've been to anywhere. If you are ever in Kyoto or Osaka I'd recommend planning for at least an overnight trip to Koyasan. It's special.

View attachment 48784 View attachment 48790

Day two: Bus to Kawayu Onsen.

We only met one pilgrim who was taking the bus to Kii-Tanabe to walk the Kumano Kodo with a group. There were two Japanese couples who were following the same itinerary we were. And that was everyone on the bus.

Kawayu Onsen was heavily damaged during a typhoon in September. The famous outdoor onsen were still buried in sediment, and most of the guesthouses were closed. I really liked our pension, but until the village recovers I'd recommend staying in the more scenic Yunomine Onsen.

Whichever you choose, you'll be able to enjoy a thermal mineral bath at the end of your day. Most pilgrims, whether they arrive by bus or by foot, spend two nights here.

View attachment 48789

Day three: Two half-day walks. Nakahechi Route from Hosshinmon Oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha. Danichi-goe Route from Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen. Trail maps.

The walk from Hosshinmon is the most popular route, and I've heard it's the most scenic. It's mostly downhill, and passes through a few small villages and a beautiful cedar forest. It only takes few hours, and you arrive in town in time for lunch. The second walk was short but steep and rugged.

View attachment 48785
View attachment 48788

Day four: Kumano-gawa River Pilgrimage Route. from Hongu Taisha to Kumano Hayatama Taisha. Daimon-zaka trail to Kumano Nachi Taisha.

Part of the pilgrimage involves a boat trip! This was fun. I think the trail for this part was still closed due to typhoon damage, so your only choice is to bus or boat. This was the first day where I started to feel a sense of community, as we ran into the same people throughout the day.

View attachment 48787

View attachment 48786

THOUGHTS

I realize that it's almost impossible to compare a six week walking pilgrimage to a four-day busing-walking-boating pilgrimage ... but I'm going to try anyways. This part is obviously going to be very subjective. The following is partly based on my own experiences, and partly based on talking to others who walked.

Planning: You can make all of your arrangements on the Kumano Tourism Bureau website. I only met one person who was winging it. Everyone else did their trip planning in advance.

Scenery: Wild mountains, old cedar forests, and beautiful shrines & temples - no complaints here! It rivals anything in France or Spain. And the fall colors in November are spectacular.

Difficulty: This is a mountain trail, and pilgrims we met described it as 'mental.' There are no flat areas; you are either going up or down, and except for the last half day the trails are steep. We only met one person who walked the whole route. Everyone else bused through some sections.

Spirituality: In some ways the level of spirituality is far higher than in France or Spain. The Kumano Kodo is a sacred region for the Shinto religion, and Mount Koya is a sacred mountain for Shingon Buddhism. There are shrines everywhere along the path, and the temples are full of Japanese pilgrims. However, I'm not overly familiar with Buddhist or Shinto rituals, so on a personal level I often felt more like an observer than a participant.

Hospitality. The Japanese were invariably warm and gracious, but also a bit formal and reserved. Part of this was due to language barriers, and part to Japanese culture.

Food. Always high quality, but not always exciting. It was much better than the 'pilgrim meals' in Spain, but not quite on the level of those home-cooked meals in France.

Sense of Community: Very low. I think there's a couple reasons for this. One, the Kumano Kodo is a shorter trail, so there isn't the time for a sense of community to evolve. Also, there aren't the same types of communal spaces that you find in France and Spain - there were no cafes on the plaza where pilgrims could gather and mingle. Guesthouses rarely had lounges for guests. Onsen (hot tubs) were mostly aimed at individuals or couples. The places to stay were also spread out - the pensions and guesthouses weren't on the trail, and usually involved a bus ride from the main village. Finally, I think Japanese formality rubs off on visitors. I didn't see groups casually forming. Even at dinner, each guest or couple would have a placard indicating their table, and so everyone ends up spread out and eating separately.

The only time we actually interacted with others was on buses (where it was often a group effort to watch for the right stop) and on the final boat trip. And so it wasn't until the end of the trip that any type of pilgrim community was starting to form!

That elusive "camino feeling." I didn't feel it. Maybe if we had walked the whole route I would have? I didn't meet any dual-pilgrims to compare notes with.

Final thoughts: This was a great region to explore, and to get a deeper experience of Japan than you'll find in Kyoto or Tokyo. I'm really glad that we went, it was a great trip ... but it did not satisfy that camino craving. I guess I'll have to keep planning for the next one ...
I'm in japan at the moment and done a bit of day walking in ise area ( beginning of camino) also tsumago trails and I second everything you say . I've been in Japan for nearly 9 months on and off and Japanese people 're just different to us Europeans. However I've met quote a few through meet up groups who are very outgoing and speak great English . Amazing country
 

Jill81

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances 2014
Portuguese 2015
Via Francigena 2016
Kumano Kodo, Japan 2017
VdlP 2018 to be cont’d
#5
Mahalonui, Michael. Bookmarked!!!
This has been on my list for some time and I hope it will happen next year or the year after.
Japan is absurdly safe. But would it be to travel solo with no Japanese (beyond what I know from Hawaiian Pidgin, the odd nursery song from childhood, and a few greetings and thank you expressions)?
I found it safe but a very solitary experience. I went off season, in February, and rarely encountered anyone else during the day. Since much of the terrain is heavily forested (and steep!) the thought of how I would deal with an injury on the trail did concern me as there was just no one else around.
For Japanese, I used the offline version of Google Translate and a phrase book, but as Michael says, connecting with local people can be difficult given the social formality.
@VNwalking, PM me if you would like any further info. Happy to help!
 

tominrm

Hiking to Celebrate the End of Working Life.
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2014)
del Norte ( 2015)
Portuguese ( 2016)
Primitivo ( 2017)
VdlP (2018)
#6
I received my Dual Pilgrim certificate on Sept. 27, 2018, after walking Nakahechi Trail in four days. It rained almost all the time due to approaching typhoon making the slopes slippery. I went back to Japan to complete my Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage which I started in 2016 but did not finish. So this hiking was just a side-trip, and I regret I did not spend more time hiking although I did visit all three major temples(Kumano Sanzan) by taking buses and trains.
There are many different routes in this area connecting the three major temples. So if you plan to go to Japan for Dual Pilgrim hike, I recommend to take about two weeks to hike different trails and enjoy onsens(hot spring). In the third picture above (Yunomine Onsen area) lower left side there is a small hole in the rock protected by wooden structure to keep people from falling in is the place where you can cook medium-hard-boiled eggs (called onsen tamago - eggs available from nearby store in net). In this picture the stream is flowing hot water.
I would recommend spring and fall for the hike.
 

Bradypus

Antediluvian
Camino(s) past & future
Too many and too often!
#7
I walked the Nakahechi trail in near-perfect weather in late March. Just as the sakura came into bloom. I hope to return to walk more of the Kumano Kodo options and will probably do so in spring or autumn. The route which most interests me runs from Koyasan to Hongu and is generally closed by snow earlier in the year.
IMG_20180329_125918.jpg
 
Camino(s) past & future
walk last 100 klm in august 2013
#8
Mahalonui, Michael. Bookmarked!!!
This has been on my list for some time and I hope it will happen next year or the year after.
Japan is absurdly safe. But would it be to travel solo with no Japanese (beyond what I know from Hawaiian Pidgin, the odd nursery song from childhood, and a few greetings and thank you expressions)?
Hi VN Walking,
I am a 64 year old female from Melbourne and I walked the 5 day Kumano Kodo camino solo in April this year. I couldnt speak a word of Japanese but had no trouble communicating. I was lucky that whilst the camino is not well known I did get to meet other Aussies and people from various countries that I kept crossing paths with.
The track is mountainous and challanging but incredibly spiritual and beautiful.
I thought I would be afraid walking alone but I never was.
Being a dual pilgrim (I have also done the Camino de Santiago) is so special and I have incredibly special memories of this Japanese camino.
The Tanabe Tourist Office is excellent for organising a worry free trip. Make sure to book many months ahead as accomodation ia limited and fills up fast. Also be prepared to spend some dollars. Having said that I found Japan has lots of cheap options for food. Love their 7Elevens!!
Hope you get to do the trip!
 

MichaelC

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aug 2017: Le Puy to Santiago
Nov 2018: Kumano Kodo (partial)
Jul 2019: San Miniato to Bolsena
#9
I received my Dual Pilgrim certificate on Sept. 27, 2018, after walking Nakahechi Trail in four days. It rained almost all the time due to approaching typhoon making the slopes slippery.
The typhoon did far more damage than I realized. We wanted to do a short day hike north of Kyoto, and the cedars on some of the slopes had been snapped like twigs. The Kumano Kodo trails still have a couple detours to get around landslides, and some of the shorter trails are closed. The river at Kawayu had a couple feet of sediment in it. Our river-boat guide showed us how high the water had risen, and it was hard to imagine. A lot of buildings were damaged in the flooding. It will be awhile before some of these places recover.

I walked the Nakahechi trail in near-perfect weather in late March. Just as the sakura came into bloom. I hope to return to walk more of the Kumano Kodo options and will probably do so in spring or autumn. The route which most interests me runs from Koyasan to Hongu and is generally closed by snow earlier in the year.
Sakura season must be gorgeous.

I saw one review online that said the Kohechi route (Koyasan to Hongu) was "a little tougher than Annapurna." Good luck, and buen camino!!!

And one more cool thing I forgot to note: the Japanese are usually reserved, and don't really talk to - or even acknowledge - strangers on the street. But on the trail everyone greeted each other with konnichi-wa.
 

Bradypus

Antediluvian
Camino(s) past & future
Too many and too often!
#10
I saw one review online that said the Kohechi route (Koyasan to Hongu) was "a little tougher than Annapurna." Good luck, and buen camino!!!
I've seen Annapurna - admittedly from a long way off - and I've looked at the elevation profile for the Kohechi route. I think (and certainly hope) the reviewer may be using a bit of artistic licence :) Though it certainly looks pretty challenging. I am fairly well used to hill country and what I have read doesn't worry me unduly.

I find it difficult to understand the many comments about the level of difficulty of the Nakahechi trail which I have read in various forums. It is certainly quite hilly and there are sections with rough or slippery surfaces but nothing which I would have thought would seriously challenge anyone with moderate off-road walking experience. Though my view may be shaped by having spent six weeks or so walking on Shikoku prior to walking the Kumano Kodo and therefore being in fair physical shape at the time.
 

MikeyC

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF - September 2016
CF - April May 2017
Shikoku - October 2017
Kumano Kodo - October 2017
#11
I wasn't able to do the four-day Nakahechi Route (the one that earns you the dual compostela),
There are four options to qualify for the dual pilgrimage in Japan.
Quoting from the Kumano Tourism Bureau link that you include above: (click on link and then see on the right of page where it states "Are you a dual pilgrim?")

● Takijiri-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha on foot (~38 km) or
● Kumano Nachi Taisha to/from Kumano Hongu Taisha on foot (~30 km) or
● Hosshinmon-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha on foot (~7 km) plus a visit to Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha or
● Koyasan to Kumano Hongu Taisha on foot (~70 km)

For those short on time as we were having dawdled on the Shikoku 88 and due to an arriving typhoon we did option 3 which is easily done in 2 days.

Loved the photos you posted - we had continuous rain so our pictures are drab in comparison.
 

MichaelC

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aug 2017: Le Puy to Santiago
Nov 2018: Kumano Kodo (partial)
Jul 2019: San Miniato to Bolsena
#12
There are four options to qualify for the dual pilgrimage in Japan.
Wow, I guess I qualified! I do wish I had gotten a credencial to collect stamps, but I'm not sure if I personally felt enough like a "pilgrim" to have registered as a dual-pilgrim.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Frances 2016
Kumano Kodo 2015
#13
My wife and I walked it, except for a bus connection in the middle and one lift in a van (see below), and found it very safe and easy to organise.
The Japanese were endlessly helpful, we only spoke English and if the person we approached could not speak English they went and found someone who could - even left their ticket office or shop empty to go outside to do this.
We booked through the Tanabe Tourist bureau, very prompt and useful. Some towns have few sleeping spots so I booked these first and then the rest, but in hindsight I should have just told the tourist bureau what we wanted and let them do it. The walking maps are excellent and the trail is well marked.
We mis-estimated the distance for one stage and the owner of the traditional hotel took us in his van for the first part so the remainder was walkable.
We saw few other walkers and were often the only guests but did not feel lonely. Food, bathing and sleeping were mostly traditional Japanese, and hot spring baths are very welcome.
The trails are very steep! but well prepared, 1000 years of track maintenance shows! They also manage it very well now, every 5 metres or so there is a tiny survey number and they do a lot of slope consolidation.
While most of it is in forest, there are points that touch bus routes so it would be easy to do as little walking as you like. There is a luggage transfer service to the end as well.
Compared with the Camino Francaise - in my opinion - it is shorter and more intense, in regards to culture/history/nature/physical effort.
I preferred the timeless, no-planning, pilgrim day after day on the CF and I rate that higher but the Kumano Kodo was short and deeply satisfying, and Japan is certainly worth a visit.
 

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