As the world (hopefully) recovers from the COVID pandemic, some tour operators are reporting that outdoors and wilderness adventures have never been more popular.
So, if that’s how you feel too (like you just want to get out and be out!), and if Japan is a must-see destination on your list, this 11-day pilgrimage trek on the Kii Peninsula and through the Kii Mountains in southern mainland Japan is an excellent option. It’s run by YM Tours, a sister company to Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, and Great Hikes Japan.
The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route is a UNESCO World Heritage site, about 1,000 years old, and is one of the most renowned spiritual hikes in Japan, with temples and shrines dotting your way. Here’s a summary overview and itinerary breakdown, but you should check with the operator for extensive details.
You will trek the Kohechi Pilgrimage route for about 63 kilometres through the Kii Peninsula mountains in southern mainland Japan — the route connects important Buddhist mountaintop temples, and includes three passes of over 1,000 meters.
The second part will see you trek from the village of Kumano Hongu to the Grand Shrine of Nachi, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Overall, you trek about 90 kilometres. And maybe the best part is sampling local Japanese cuisine, and soaking in hot springs almost every night!
Key Itinerary Points
Day 1 | Meet in Wakayama. Get a complimentary tour of this southern Japanese city.
Day 2 | Koyasan World Heritage Site, overnight in temple. Travel to Koyasan, a centre of Buddhist study that lies on a mountaintop. A great place to start your Kumono Kodo trek experience.
Day 3 | Your pilgrimage trek begins. Start the morning with a Buddhist service in the main temple, spend the day trekking from Koyasan to the village of Omata, where you overnight at a local lodge. Before sampling the local cuisine with a delicious dinner, enjoy a classic Japanese onsen (hot springs) soak — which, as you’ll discover, is a recurring ritual on this trip!
Day 4 | At the trail’s highest point, overnight at a local guesthouse. From Omata, the trek takes you steeply thru forest to the Obako Pass (at 1,246 meters), then up the 1,344-meter Mount Obako just for the spectacular view. Descend, and continue the trek to the hamlet of Miura-guchi, where you enjoy a truly amazing experience of being hosted by a local woman: “Her house is noted for its lovely cuisine and warm hospitality.”
Day 5 | Cherry Blossoms and a Giant Cedar. Trek up and out of the valley, up the 1,080-meter Miura Pass. Descend and trek to the village of Nishikawa. From here, you’ll hike on paved road (about 8 km) to Totsukawa Onsen village, where you overnight in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese lodge) and an onsen soak.
Day 6 | End of the Kohechi trek to Kumano Hongu. The day is comprised of trekking to and from the 1,114-meter Hatenashi Pass. Eventually you take a shuttle to a ryokan for the night.
Day 7 | Hike to Kumano Hongu Onsen village, then rest or explore in the afternoon. From your ride to the trailhead, you begin trekking the Nakahechi Route, to the shrine of Kumano Hongu Taisha (the end of the Kohechi route). Pay homage to the trek at the famed shrine, then enjoy a free afternoon. Overnight at a nearby ryokan.
Day 8 | Hike the trail to Hyakeen Gura, a gradual climb (about 5 km) to a lookout for a breathtaking view of mountains. Hike through stunning hills, end the day at the Koguchi Shizen-no-Ie (an old schoolhouse), your lodge for the night.
Day 9 | The final leg of your pilgrimage trek. Head up Mount Dogiri-zaka for about 800 meters, over about 5 kilometres. Trek over rolling hills, till you reach the Funami Pass (where you see the Pacific Ocean), then descend to Nachi Taisha, the end of your trek. By shuttle, head to the coastal town of Katsuura, where you overnight — but not before (you guessed it) an amazing onsen soak and a private dinner with your group.
Days 10 &11 | Back to Wakayama via a stunning ocean coastal ride by train.
Kumano Kodo Trail, Japan | YM Tours (Yamnuska Mountain Adventures)
Further info: [email protected] or call us at 1.866.678.4164 (toll-free North America). OR contact YM Tours directly at [email protected] or 1.877.678.9404 (toll-free North America). See their site at www.greathikesjapan.com.
Length/Departs: 11 days; March and April 2022; ask operator about other/future departs.
Accommodation/Transportation: ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), guesthouses, hotels.
Price: Must contact operator directly for Canadian-dollar cost.
Trek difficulty: Moderate to difficult, rating by the operator.
Optional add-ons: Ask about extending your time in Japan with add-on tours or extensions.