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The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route

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The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route

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  • The start of the Nakahetchi route of the Kumano Kodo with the first Oji shrine. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • A rare chance to escape the trees and get a view of the surrounding highlands. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • A section of trail that meets the road. Most days you will cross plenty of small rural roadways. Be careful because the cars can sneak up on you. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • A Oji shrine on day three.- The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Walking through the cedar forests. These trees are all planted and the forests are very carefully managed. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Wearing a kimono and waiting for dinner. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • A riokan on the morning of day three.- The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Roadway trail. Make sure to keep your eyes out for the little brown trail markers because it can be easy to miss your turn off.- The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Much of the trails are rooted doubletrack that has seen countless travelers pass over the centuries. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Guardian dog watching over a Oji in a dark forested part of the trail.- The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Old cedars flank the tori gate up to an oji just off of the main trail.- The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Looking down the valley to the classic highland terrain through which the Kumano Kodo leads. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Hongu Taisha is the first major shrine complex that is encountered along the trail. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • The main complex contains the shrines to various Buddhist deities. Donation boxes and bells to attract the attention of the deities stand in front. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Hongu Taisha's impressive tori gate.- The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • A concrete replacement to the original tori gate that stood over Hongu Taisha's orginal complex. It is the largest in the world. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Yunomine Onsen, a small valley town centered around an active hot spring. There is a spring right in the center of the town as well as multiple ryokan and hotels offering unique onsen experiences. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • A small oji off the main trail in the town of Koguchi.  At the time of this photo, North Korea was firing missiles over Japan. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Koguchi in the morning.- The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • The last day from Koguchi to Kumano Naichi Taisha is quite a trek up and down, and then up and down again over numerous cobblestone steps that are slick with moss. It is beautiful, but it is also treacherous on rainy days.- The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Classic later stage trail with one of the familiar marking signs.- The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • A tiny oji on the side of the trail. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • Naigachi Taisha Shrine. perched high on the mountain, it is the most spectacular of the shrines. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • With multiple buildings colored with orange, Naigachi Taisha is an incredible sight. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • The pagoda that sits on the northern end of the complex offers incredible views of the waterfall. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • You can also walk down to the base of the waterfall for a more atmospheric view. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
  • A shrine above the town of Shingu, the final destination. - The Kumano Kodo: Nakahechi Route
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Easy trail. Breathtaking walk through important historical landmarks. Short distances. Well maintained trails.
Cons: 
Very busy. Mostly near civilization. Westerners might find the food options challenging. Lots of paved sections.
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Region:
Other,
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
No
Number of days: 
4
Highest point: 
2,201.44 ft (671.00 m)
Year round: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
None
Permit required: 
No
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Fall
Total Distance: 
42.25 mi (68.00 km)
Total elevation gain: 
16,361.55 ft (4,987.00 m)
Trail type: 
Shuttle
Trailhead Elevation: 
688.98 ft (210.00 m)
Typically multi-day: 
Yes
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Pro Contributor

One of only two UNESCO World Heritage trails, the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage is a beautiful three- to seven- day walk through the rolling highlands of central Japan. As you walk the cobbled paths that have been used by people for over a millennium, 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. The highlights are the Hongu Shrine, Nachi Taisha, and Shingu shrines, all of which have been key locations in Japanese Buhddist history. Following this pilgramage route is a terrific way to slowly take them in one at a time. While not particularly daunting, the hike offers a very unique experience. 

The Kumano Kodo's Nakahechi route is the most common way to travel. It follows the original Imperial Route and is 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. 

Definitely check the Wakayam Prefecture's Kumano Kodo website for more information; it's a bit tricky to navigate, but most information is there. 

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. It is usually advisable to have a lunch, but nearly every day ends at a town, and you'll usually pass towns or vending machines. 

Accommodation

Most people stay in lodgings along this trail. Prices vary a fair bit, and it's recommended to do some research. You can book through the Kumano Kodo website. There are hotels as well as traditional ryokans. Ryokans are a unqiue experience. The floors are tatami, and visitors sleep in the traditional style. But also be warned. You are expected to attend dinner at a precise time, and it is expected you will wear the kimono that is provided. The food is very salty, comes in small dishes, and is very, very different than western interpretations of Japanese food. Most places will also take you to an onsen or have a in-house facility. These are bath houses that you share with other people. If you are really uncomfortable with being naked with strangers or find you have trouble with a pure seafood diet, it may be worth only doing one or two nights in a ryokan. But ryokans are also a fascinating insight into a very different culture and a great way to experience something unique. 

A major downside is that this is not a wilderness trek. Camping is pretty tricky, and researching the careful ettitquete of urban camping is highly recommended if you plan to attempt this. 

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. It's a fun way to look back and chart your progress. 

Important shrines are normally marked by a water trough and tori gates that guard the entrance. Purify yourself here by using a ladle to scoop water into one hand, then the other, and then rinse your mouth, depositing all water outside of the main trough. Once you've finished, 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 campsites 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 Shrine, or Yunomine to Koguchi to Nachi Taisha Shrine where the main route ends. From there 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 the trail will normally lead up onto the ridges and down into the valley villages. It's a well maintained trail, almost all doubletrack, though it frequently wanders onto roads, or across causeways. It often follows tone steps up and down as well. Every turn-off is well marked with a distincive sign and an English translation, so navigation is generally not especially challenging. 

You will also encounter numerous historical sites that are all well signed with English explanations. It's well worth stopping and exploring these spots. Having a guide book is recommended if you enjoy hearing more about local folklore and histroy. 

Pack list

  • Notebook or journal to keep stamps.
  • Hiking shoes. While the trail is mostly well built, many of the moss covered cobblestones get slippery when wet, and the days can go as long as six hours. Boots would likely be a little exessive.
  • Umbrella. Since the route is mostly sheltered in the trees and the heat can make rain jackets comfortable, an umbrella is a better choice. A rain jacket isn't a terrible idea in addition, but make sure it's lightweight. 
  • Clothes for the trail and clothes for the towns and villages.
  • Coin purse. You quickly accumulate a lot of change, and vending machines are frequent. Cash, and way to store the bounty of coins you'll develop, is key. 
  • Trekking poles. Many people will appreciate poles particularly on the steeper days.
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