Visit Kumano Kudo
Hike: approx. 4 km, about 2.5 hr (signposts 1-7) Elevation: Takajiri-oji (82 m) – Lookout point (336 m) – Takahara Shrine (317 m)
Today, leave Kyoto by train and head to Kumano Kodo, a series of ancient pilgrimage routes, dating back to over 1,000 years, when Japan's imperial ancestors made pilgrimage trips from Kyoto. Located in the Kii Peninsula, the largest in Japan, the trails along Kumano Kodo are an incredible site for hiking.
By train, arrive at Tanabe city, the starting point of the pilgrimage and travel to Takahara. This is the steepest part of the trail, leading to Takahara Shrine, a Shinto shrine surrounded by ancient camphor trees that are about a century old. From the shrine, walk towards Takahara Village, also called “kiri-no-sato” (village in the fog), a small quiet town with rice terraces surrounded by forests.
Overnight in Takahara
After breakfast, follow the hiking trail. After about half an hour, pass by the small Takahara Pond. Continue walking and see the signpost that leads to Daimon-oji. From this point, continue hiking up the mountain before arriving at Jujo-oji (elevation at 593m above sea level).
Resume the hike, reaching the highest point around the teahouse named Uwadawa-jaya (688m above sea level). This is where the trail begins to descend, passing by Osakamoto-oji (388m above sea level) and Chikatsuyu-oji, crossing Kitano-bashi Bridge, and following the road to Nonaka-no-Shimizu, a source of potable water that also belongs to the Top 100 Famous Bodies of Water in Japan.
From Nonaka-no-Shimizu, continue the trek uphill, arriving at a small road with a wooded area on one side and an old thatch-roofed building on the other. Head first towards the woods to see Tsugizakura-oji, the sub-shrine located at the top of the steep stairs leading into a thick forest of huge cedar trees that are believed to be almost a century old. Next to the entrance of Tsugizakura-oji, find Toganoki-jaya, a replica of a traditional Japanese-style teahouse.
Around Nonaka-no-Shimizu, stay in a minshuku, a traditional family-style inn that offers Japanese-style rooms. Dinner will be local Japanese cuisine that consists of special Kumano Kodo dishes.
It is suggested to turn-in early and get ample rest for the longer hike tomorrow or take another relaxing dip in the hot spring bath to ease the muscles.
Overnight in Tsugizakura
Hike: approx. 21 km, about 7-9 hr (signposts 34-43, 51-75) Distance and journey time: Hongu Taisha-mae bus stop to Yunomine Onsen bus stop: approx. 20 min
Today’s hike starts with a slow ascent to Kobiro-toge pass, and then followed by a relatively downward trail to Kumano Hongu Taisha.
Starting at the accommodation, follow the trail that leads to the remains of the cherry tree called Hidehira-zakura, the starting point of today’s hike. Continue walking along the paved road, going up and down a number of slopes, before arriving at the area near Kumasegawa-oji (signpost no. 41; after about 4 km and 1 hour of hiking; elevation changes from 506m to 521m above sea level).
From this point onwards, trek cautiously along an unpaved trail in the forest. Right after signpost no. 43, see a sign that says “Kumano Kodo Detour Route.” The entire trail will take about 1.5 hours depending on pace. Arrive at Jagata-jizo, which is believed to protect the travellers from evil spirits.
Continue on with the hike, crossing over Yukawagawa River (397 m above sea level) and following the trail that leads to Mikoshi-toge pass (548m above sea level).
From this point up to Funatama Shrine, the trail will begin to descend, passing by the thick forests of cedar and cypress trees and crossing over Otonashigawa River.
For the next 2 hours, walk on a series of paved and unpaved roads, mainly following a descending trail before arriving at Kumano Hongu Taisha, the head shrine of more than 3,000 Shinto shrines in Kumano area.
After visiting the shrine, transfer by local bus to Yunomine Onsen, one of the oldest and most crucial hot spring resorts in Japan as it used to be the place where pilgrims cleansed themselves before praying at Kumano Hongu Taisha.
Tonight stay at a ryokan, another traditional Japanese-style inn. Sleep on a futon, have access to the public onsen, and enjoy a typical multi-course dinner.
Overnight in Yunomine Onsen
Hike: approx. 13 km, about 4.5-6 hr (signposts 54-29 *reversed)
This morning, make an early start as it is advisable to take the 08:50 bus from Yunomine Onsen to Ukegawa. At Ukegawa, the 13-kilometre hike will commence, mostly along an unpaved road.
The trailhead follows a path that leads to an area where some private homes are situated. After more than an hour of hiking, pass by the remains of an old teahouse called Matsuhata-jaya. Less than 2 kilometres from this point, arrive in Hyakken-gura (between signposts 43 and 44), one of the top spots in Wakayama Prefecture for sunrise and sunset viewing. From the lookout point, see the surrounding Kumano mountain range, which consists of around 3,600 peaks.
From this point to the remains of Sakura-jaya teahouse, it will be around 1.5 hours more of hiking on a relatively level road. This will be followed by a sudden descend from the hills, along the section with cobblestones that can be slippery especially if wet or covered with moss, so please be careful (the altitude will change from 395 metres to 60 metres above sea level). At the foot of the hill, find some small prayer tablets that have been left there by ascetics and other spiritual hikers as offerings.
The road after signpost no. 3 is paved and relatively flat. From this point, see some small houses and a short bridge. On the other side of the bridge there is a stone tablet, the only remains of the ancient Kowase Ferry Terminal. Nearby, find a restroom and choose to take a break before continuing forward to the accommodation (It is around 1km and less than 30 minutes walk from Kowase Ferry Terminal remains to the lodge).
Tonight, stay in another Japanese-style room, with shared toilet and bath facilities.
Overnight in Koguchi.
Hike: approx. 14.5 km, about 6-8 hr (signposts 29-1 *reversed)
Today’s trail is one of the toughest sections of Kumano Kodo – be prepared to trek through forested hills without any facilities and along unpaved roads. However, a series of historical sites and wonderful views awaits passing Waroda-ishi rock (where the Kumano deities were believed to have met and chatted over tea), through the woods of Irokawatsuji, and over Funami-toge Pass, and have a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.
After hiking for almost 8 hours (14.5 km), arrive in Nachi and see the Nachi Falls, the highest waterfall in Japan, and pay a visit to Kumano Nachi Taisha located halfway up a mountain (about 350 metres above sea level) and one of the major pilgrimage destinations in Kumano Kodo.
Late in the afternoon be transferred by local bus to Katsuura and take a ferry to the accommodation that is located on a separate island. Hotel Urashima is a seaside ryokan that has a large outdoor cave bath overlooking Katsuura Bay. Listening to the sounds of the waves while watching the sunset will surely be on of the most memorable moments in Kumano Kodo.
Overnight in Urashima.
After having breakfast on Urashima, get ready to catch the ferry back to Katsuura, and begin the journey by train to Toba, located in the neighbouring Mie Prefecture.
Overnight stay at a ryokan.
Overnight in Toba.
Today, take a long and scenic train journey to Tokyo, Japan’s capital.
Go on an evening walking tour this evening and be introduced to this busy city’s nightlife scene.
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