For over 1000 years people from all walks of life, including emperors and aristocrats have made the demanding pilgrimage to Kumano. pilgrims used various routes which are now called the Kumano Kodo, that run right through the mountainous Kii Peninsula.
The walk itself was very much an integral part of the pilgrimage process as they went about religious rites of worship and purification. Walking the ancient Kumano Kodo is a fantastic way to experience the unique cultural landscape of Kumano's spiritual countryside.
In July 2004, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes were registered as UNESCO World Heritage as part of the "Sacred Sites in the Kii Mountain Range"
The Kohechi route cuts its way through the center of the Kii Peninsula from north to south, joining the Buddhist temples of Koyasan and the Kumano Sanzan. It is made up by steep ascents and descents that cross over three passes of over 1000 meters in elevation along its 70 km length. The Kohechi is an isolated walk on its northern sections and hikers should be well prepared when attempting it.
Day 1 Osaka to Koyasan 18/11/18
Sunday morning of the 18/11/18 after breakfast at the Hotel Wing Select Osaka 12 of us gathered for a 9:30 walk to Osaka Station which was only 800m away - We then sorted out the correct fare and travel passes for our train and bus down to Koyasan, this was to take about 2hrs on the train as it was a JR Local train, meaning all stops to reach our destination. Then there was a cable car ride followerd by a bus that dropped us off by the Daimon Gate.
We finally reached Koyasan around 2pm and while I was hungry my real hunger was not to go with the group for lunch but to wander around town and shoot photos.
Koyasan is a spiritual sacred Shingon Buddhist village located in the basin of the Kaii Mountain Range which was founded by the high priest Kukai. Koyasan is surrounded by 8 peaks which in turn represent the petals of the Lotus - The symbol of Enlightenment in Buddhism.
The main sites are : Danjo Garan, Kongobu- Ji Honzan, Okunoin plus the Daimon gate
Tonight we are in a temple stay at Muryoko In Temple, the first time trying out this Japanese Onsen and trying to get used to the fact that there is a set of slippers for each area of the property/ Ryokan (for example your dinning or sleeping slippers remain outside of the toilet and you use the existing pair that are already in the bathroom.)
that was then followed by a traditional Vegetarian Feast while wearing the Yakata as the 12 of us were seated on the floor Japanese style.
After dinner and a few drinks Andrew was talking about "orbs" how they are spotted in the camera at night, So myself Dave and of course Andrew decided to go to Okunoin Cemetery to test this theory out. iam not sure about the orbs but this Cemetery is certainly a must do at day or night if you are in Koyasan.
Cable car up to Koyasan
Day 2 Koyasan to Omata Distance (17km 6 - 8hrs) Elevation gain 690m / Loss 840m - 19/11/18
The next morning at 6am 3 of us took the opportunity to participate in a Buddhist Meditation session (not your western meditation) As we sat watching the monks perform a buddhist meditation ritual that comprised of chanting, percussion and a very well controlled fire burning episode, towards the end we were invited to participate in a blessing.
Our first day on trail after a traditional Japanese vegetarian Breakfast and a brief stop at the "family Mart" for our lunch/ snacks. It was then off to start the trail with day or small over night packs we were only carrying a change of clothes, water, rain shell, snacks, and any safety related gear.
The great thing about the Kumano Kohetchi route is that it draws less popularity to the More travelled Nakahechi Route
The first offical sign of the Kumano Kodo from Koyasan
The trail initially climbs into the forrest reaching the Susuki Toge Pass and soon after we get a our first offical sign of the Kumano Kodo along with the first Pilgrimage stamp of the trek. Today there are longer sections that are on paved roads near Otaki on the Koyasan - Ryujin Skyline road.
We also had varied weather which was mild though it was testing us to put on our rain shells and as lunch was approaching we chose the worst place possible Mizugamine Peak for a break as it was cold and windy, ironically there was a lunch shelter just a few hundreds meters down the road. After lunch we continued along the road in mild overcast weather until a narrow forestry trail that would ultimately lead us to another road descending the mountains and reaching Omata on the Kawarabi - Gawa river and our Minshuku kawarabi (Japanese style bed and breakfast) across the road.
There was no Onsen at this property so we were transported to the public oneand I quickly worked out to save myself from embarrassment by wearing something light under your Yakata -first night on trail was enjoyed by a few beers and sake after dinner.
Andrew being Andrew
Marthese being Marthese
Day 3 Omata to Miura- Guchi Via Obako Toge Pass (15.5kms 6 - 8hrs) Elevation Gain 740m / Loss 1090m 20/11/18
Once we leave the main town and head up to a small settlement where we quickly pick up the trail and pretty much spend the whole day in the forrest at high elevation and there is something quite enchanting about walking through these very tall pines.
Today we were to pass sites such as the kaya- Goya- Ato remains, Obako Dake junction and the mizugamoto tea house remains. After Obako Dake junction the trail becomes a lot more challenging then the pervious ascent of a flatter wider trail with rough varied terrain and very old steps on the final descent to Miura- Guchi. At this point we had a few of our trekking party praying to a end sooner rather than later as they were feeling it in more ways than one.
We finally reach the road at the valley floor - Group Splits on the bridge after much discussion as to where or whom we are going with - I walk with my group a short distance to our accomodation for the night.
We are at a home stay for the night, Male/ female , 6 per house. We were sleeping in a large room with a sliding wooden divide, the requirement was 3 males one side and 3 female the other side.
despite the initial language barrier and with the use of Google translator, the phone was handed to me in communication with a English speaking person on the line in a effort to resolve the questions from a few weary trekkers.
the initial unrest quickly turned on its head once it was known we had Asahi and sake to drink (wow how quick can things change) We ended up having a great night and lots off laughs and the old Japanese host was sitting in the corner somewhat amused to our shenanigans.
thought it was one to remember as the resident dog each time we made noise it would yap its insides out, we felt like KINDLY telling it to SHUT Up - That was the encore to the 4am pooch unrest, poor bugger.
Yeo thats what we want the Obako- Toge Pass
Asahi and Sake calms things down
The host for our home stay in Miura- Guchi
Day 4 Miura - Guchi to Totsukawa Onsen Via Miura Toge Pass 18km (7 - 9hrs) Elevation Gain 815m / Loss 1050m - 21/11/18
Our homestay breakfast was quickly met with a 8:10 gathering outside with the other half of our group and shortly after we set off up the road and back up the trail. One of the most amazing things happened as I said goodbye to our host, the old lady (our host) kept waving, bowing and following us until I reached the first corner on the road - pretty special moment and Japanese tradition.
We had 2 from the group opt out of the next two days of walking as they were already feeling some niggles so they took a private transfer to Totsukawa and Hongu Taisha
The first 10kms is mountain trail up and over the Miura Toge pass
while the final 8kms is basically road walking to end the day. Like many of the ascents are quite flat and wide going up and the descents are more narrow, tricky terrain that you had to negotiate
After our initial road walking we reach a Suspension bridge and cross that to the other side and then its steady climbing up to Miura Toge Pass. I quite enjoyed todays climb as I shot off in front of everyone at my own pace and enjoyed some brief views before reaching Miura Toge Pass Shelter.
After a break waiting for the group we cross the forestry road and head down a narrow trail on our descent we stop for a lunch break about halfway down. Soon after we reach the valley floor for a stint of road walking to our accomodation passing through small settlements along the Nishi Gawa river to finally reach Hotel Subaru / Totsukawa Onsen, here it was like a resort style property although the rooms were still traditional and bathing was of course the Onsen. I liked the Onsen at Totsukawa as there were a few option once inside and also a outside onsen which was quite enjoyable.
The Dinner here was right up there with the best we had on our journey through the Kumano Kodo, with amazing traditional Japanese food.
Day 5 - Totsukawa Onsen to Kumano Hongu Taisha / Yunomine Via Hatenashi Toge Pass (15.5km 7 - 9hrs) Elevation Gain 1075m / Loss 1170m - 22/11/18
The Thirty three Kannon statues of Hatenashi Toge Pass Line this part of the trail beginning at Totsukawa (no 33) Hatenashi Toge Pass (no 17) and Yaiko settlement in Hongu (no 1) Kannon is a buddhist diety referred to as the bodhisattva of mercy whites represented by both male and female.
We depart on road though a old tunnel then we pick up a dirt track that leads us through a series of old houses (Hatenashi Settlement) is a ridge top village that has panoramic backdrop views of the mountains. this was a big day in terms or elevation gain and loss
The ascent was steep although on a wide flat trail passing and stopping at the Kannon Do Temple and then shortly after a day hut which was absolutely gorgeous set in the tall pine forrest.
again i powered ahead to reach the pass which is a very small abrupt area that was rather windy and cold, I waited almost 1 hour with Mathew for the whole group to arrive and then walked on a few more kms to have lunch at the Hanaori Tea House remains. We then continued the some what challenging descent and between Kannon number 11 and 12 is a lookout of the Kumano Gawa River and a view of Hongu.
Shortly after we finally reach the base of the mountain and walk a little further where we come out to the main road and time it perfectly as a bus is just approaching its stop right near the trail head.
once off trail we would have a had another patch of road walking like the day before however we were lucky to meet a bus heading in our direction to Yunomine, we jumped at the chance and got to our accomodation much quicker than we thought.
2 nights here at Yunomine in Ryokan Adumaya with a rest day - Yunonmine is registered as a world heritage site and according to tradition, the colour of the hot springs water changes depending on the day. Just like the previous night there was a outdoor bath within the Onsen and our dinner was like a smorgasbord (Japanese style) as these little offerings of amazing food just kept coming out.
local boiling a basket of eggs in the hot springs
Day 6 - Rest day , Visit Shingu and Hongu Taisha Temple 23/11/18
Today after breakfast and with much debate we decided to head to Shingu, with a short 10 minute bus to Hong (More about Hongu later) then a transfer to Shingu and with a scenic ride around the Kumano - Gawa River we arrived in Shingu and headed for Kumano Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine -
this is one of the shrines of Kumano Sanzan and with time spent here and witnessing the start of a Japanese wedding, we were then off to grab a bite to eat at a family mart store and made our way to Asuka - Jinja shrine and finally Kamikura - Jinja Shrine (shrine on a rock) Kamikura - Jinja is a sacred place where the gods of Kumano first descended - A huge rock called Gotobiki - Iwa, sitting on top of 538 very steep stone steps is the shrine that is known as the enriched object and poses some great views out to the city on Shingu and Ultimately out the ocean.
We then took the bus back to Hongu, some of us decided to stay on in the town and explore the Hongu Taisha Temple and the Visitor centre.
A long stone set of steps leads us to the sacred grounds of the Kumano Hongu Taisha. It is one of the Kumano Sanzan, three grand shrines of Kumano, and head shrine of over 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan.
Kumano Hongu Taisha was originally located at Oyunohara, which is a sandbank at the meeting of the two rivers Kumano and Otonashi. In 1889 a severe flood destroyed most of the shrine buildings and the remains of the pavilions were rebuilt at the current site.
The visitors centre is free and well worth a look as it gives you information about the history to the area, just outside is the entrance to Oyunohara which stands the largest Torii shrine gate in the world (33.9 meters tall and 42 meters wide). It is a formal gateway that presents the entrance to a sacred area. It signifies the division of the secular and the spiritual worlds. This Torii is called Otorii, O means “big”. It was erected in the year 2000 and is made of steel.
Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine Shingu
Hongu Taisha Temple
Day 7 - Yunomine Onsen to Ukegawa - Ukegawa to Koguchi
(14 km 6 hrs) Elevation Gain 670m / Loss 690m - 24/11/18
After breakfast and a short bus ride at 9am to Ukegawa and any snacks that were needed for the day we head south from the bus stop and gradually climbs to Hyakken Gura through pine and Forrests along ridges.
Today was probably one of the easier days as we weren't passing though anything too challenging but it was still rewarding as 5.5kms into the trail we arrived at Hyakken Gura Lookout with panoramic views if the 3600 peaks of Kumano. After a groupie shot we continue on and have the opportunity to view the Sakura- Jaya tea house remains, it is believed that when the owners of the tea house saw pilgrims from afar they would prepare mochi rice balls and have boiled water for tea.
After the tea house we descend into the valley and once again down the weathered moss covered stones through a tiny settlement, across a bridge and through a small pass down to Koguchi.
We then called for a mini bus to take us to Takata Greenland for a over night stay in western style beds but bathing was to be in Onsen's. the food here was one to be forgotten, as it seemed on a mass production scale, anyway I got to play table tennis with locals and drink plenty of Asahi, why not.
A typical random drink machine
Japanese forrest and ancient moss covered steps
Day 8 - Koguchi to Kumano Nachi Taisha Via Echizen Toge Pass (14.5km 7 - 9hrs) Elevation Gain 1260m / Loss 930m - 25/11/18
Just like dinner our breakfast was noting to write home about, at least our rice ball Bento box for lunch passed
Our final day on trail and after the bus dropped us back in Koguchi we made our way to a local store for snacks and then it was up and back into the forrest, this was a fairly full on day as the elevation shows but we were also trying to get to Nachi Taisha by 3pm which we didn't ended up reaching until a little after.
The ascent was probably the most steepest of the whole trail and a good part of the initial ascent was walking up the slippery moss covered stones, Unlike previous ascents the higher we got to the pass the steeper the trail became. The final ascent to Echhizen Toge Pass is dubbed as the "body breaking slope" where it is a 800m elevation in less than 5 kms.
Once at the top of the pass there were no views just a small rocky mound signalling the climb you have achieved, we then descend and eventually get to a unpaved road to where there is the Jizo- Jaya tea house remains and toilets facilities - Great stop for a lunch break. From Jizo- Jaya tea house a gradual ascent of 200m over 4kms to Funami Toge Pass as here it presents fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean and the fishing town of Katsuura.
Our final stop on trail Nachi Taisha which is nestled below the surrounding mountains, The trail makes a fairly steep decent to Nachi Kogen park and re enters the pine forests and there is a series of long and steep stone steps to go down first which seem to go on for ever and then the Town of NACHISAN starts to appear -
WAHOOOO Trail head and the finish of the Kumano Kodo... to the right is the Seiganto- Ji Temple and the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine.
With the rush of finishing in enough time before last light I didn't finish with the group as once I arrived I was doing a quick stress walk around to view the town and Nachi Taisha, not before too long a realised I needed to find the accomodation and with the use of google maps thankfully arrived at our Minshuku Mitaki Sanso. I then dumped my pack and made a quick dash down to Nachi- no Otaki which is the tallest water falls in japan at 133 meters.
I made it back after dark and straight into this tiny onsen then dinner, our final Japanese dinner on the Kumano Kodo - It certainly didn't disappoint, a huge well presented selection of food. And me, I ate of course the extras as we had two extras meals and what anyone else couldn't eat - I was in food heaven.
The night continued with cans of Asahi and we all made ourselves at home in Marthese and Fran's room
one of the many shrines and offerings on trail
Nachi- no Otaki water fall
Day 9 - 26/11/18
I just made sunrise up near Nachi Taisha grand shrine, then it was back down for breakfast and shortly after free time for about 1hr before our 9am departure to Katsuura and a 10:30 train 4hr ride to Osaka and for Me Yen and Dave a onward journey to Hikone
It was a shame to be rushed for time on arrival to Nachisan and have so little time the next morning, there for its a place I would defiantly love to go back to, partly because of its cultural significance.
Yours In Adventure
"This Blog is of the Opinion of my own Personal Experiences and are not necessarily Fact.. and is written to the best of my knowledge, but there may be omissions, errors or mistakes. This blog is for entertainment and/or informational purposes only and shouldn’t be seen as any kind of advice."