For five days I had the pleasure to follow the ancient pilgrimage route of the Kumano Kodo. It was an experience full of magic moments that took me into another mysterious and spiritual world. Besides the wonderful nature it also felt like going back in time. I could imagine so vividly how it was for the pilgrims a few hundred years ago.
The Kumano Kodo 熊野古道 is an ancient pilgrimage route in Japan. It has been used since more than 2000 years and played a vital role in the spiritual life of Japan.
Kuma (熊) means bear and no (野) wilderness. It has been a place of nature worship since ancient times.
It is said that if you understand the history of Kumano you understand the history of Japan as well, because the history of this ancient pilgrimage route is intertwined with the history of Japan.
The Kumano Kodo consists of different routes that you lead to the center of worship, the Hongu Area. They are very well described on the official site of the Kumano Kodo. I can really recommend it for planning your trip. They can even help you book your accommodation in advance.
Also I want to highly recommed the official audio guide that you can also find on the website of the Tanabe Tourist Office. I learned so much about the history of the pilgrimage, the area and Japan in general.
I took the Nakahechi route, starting in Tanabe. Passing through Hongu I continued on to Nachisan. It took me five days and four nights. I found the route from Takijiri-Oji to Hongu the most interesting as there were the most historical and spiritual sites.
For budget reasons I did only camping, which worked out pretty well. I did the pilgrimage in the end of November. The trees had amazing colours, during the day it had very pleasant temperatures (many times I was walking with in t-shirt) and at night the temperatures were ok too (the lowest about 3° degrees in a little bit higher altitudes).
Be prepared for rain when you walk the trail. Wakayama is the wettest region of Japan! And it rained a couple of times during my trip.
The Nakahechi Route is really accessible as it passes through many towns and it is not very remote. If you arrive late in the day accommodation and food can be hard to get. Therefore it is really advisable to book accommodation in advance.
For me it has been a wonderful experience to do the pilgrimage. It was very spiritual. The area with its many historical sites, wonderful nature and its many spiritual places is truly a magical, inspiring land. Because of that it has also been recognised as UNESCO world heritage. I would love to do this pilgrimage again! May be another route the next time.
Join me on an adventure on the Kumano Kodo: Start here with day 1
Here are two videos I made about the trip: