Why You Should Experience A Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage | CoolJapan

Kumano Kodo, attracting fewer tourists than the Nakasendo trail, not only offers a more authentic experience of the Japanese countryside but also is one of the world’s only two pilgrimage routes to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (The other one is Camino de Santiago in Spain.)


A photo of Kumano Kodo

Early pilgrims even included Japan’s emperors and aristocrats.  It was a trail open to everyone regardless of class or sex. 


A network of pilgrimage trails through the southern Kansai region forms the thousand-year-old spiritual heartland of Japan. The ancient forests in the Kii mountains of Kumano stand stoic, refreshed by the waterfalls and rivers that course through the routes. There is one for everyone, ranging from a few hours to 1000 kilometres if you combine all the routes.  The most popular ones usually take a few days with stopovers in the ryokans along the way or a shukubo, which is a part of the temple for pilgrims.

The Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple offers the best view of the Nachi falls

Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple is renowned for its picture-perfect views of the Nachi falls, Nachi Primeval Forest and the Pacific Ocean.  


In Kumano shrines, totalling about 3000 in Japan, you can find Shide, lightning bolt-shaped folded paper streamers hanging around the revered sites, indicating the presence of a deity.


A photo of a Shimenawa

Shimenawa, a rope adorned with Shide, lightning-bolt shaped folded paper streamers, marks the boundary between the sacred and the mundane.


One such deity is the three-legged sacred raven, Yata-garasu, which symbolises guidance and divine intervention.  You may even purchase paper talismans featuring Yata-garasu in the shrines.

The tallest Torii shrine is in Kumano Kodo

All of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes lead to the world’s largest Torii standing in front of Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine, standing almost 34 metres tall.  


A great way to enjoy your hike is to send your luggage ahead before you begin the trail so you can have it waiting for you at the end of the pilgrimage route. The Kumano Travel Reservation System run by the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau helps with luggage transfers as well as lodgings.  While weather is generally quite mild all year round, perhaps aim for spring and autumn for the temperate weather and breathtaking views.


Autumn at the Doro-Kyo Gorge

Spectacular views of the autumn foliage in Dorokyo Gorge.


The best way to get to the small city of Kii-Tanabe, which serves as the main gateway to the Kumano Kodo, is to take the 135-minute Kuroshio limited express train, a short ride from Tokyo or Kyoto with the Tokaido Shinkansen.  


After completing the trails, don’t forget to reward yourself with local delicacies from Wakayama. Since Wakayama receives the highest volume of fresh tuna in Japan, the locals have created exciting new dishes with their favourite fish, including pinko-breaded deep-fried tuna.

A must-try during a Kumano Kodo pilgramage is the Shojin Ryori

Shojin Ryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, not only provides nutritional balance but also brings your body in equilibrium with the seasons.


For fans of wagyu beef, Wakayama does not disappoint.  In fact, Wakayama beef also known as Kumano-gyu is famous all over Japan for its fine marbling and exceptional taste and is best eaten grilled.  Vegetarians should not despair. Shojin-ryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, masterfully prepared by monks, can be sought out in any one of the 52 shukubo temple lodgings in Koyasan.


A Kumano Kodo travel guide is incomplete without a visit to the Hashikuiiwa Rocks in Wakayama.

One of Japan’s 100 best places to watch the sunrise is the Hashikuiiwa Rocks in Wakayama.


The trail, as relaxing or challenging as you decide it to be, will leave you refreshed and ready for the world waiting outside Kumano Kodo. Until then, soak in the breathtaking views and feed yourself, both body and soul, with the delicious wonders of Wakayama.


(Photos by Wakayama Prefectural Government)

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  1. 1.Kumanokodo Information Centre
  2. 2.Seiganto-ji Temple
  3. 3.Kumano Hongu Taisha
  4. 4.Dorokyo Gorge
  5. 5.Hashikuiiwa Rocks
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